Crystal Serenity’s Modern Cuisine
Earlier this week, I wrote about Tastes, a new dining venue on Crystal Serenity that ranked among guests’ favorite food outlet during my cruise from Southampton to Rome, a voyage that ended today in the port city for Rome, Civitavecchia. In this post, I feature additional dining venues on Crystal Serenity and a few dining program changes that delighted some guests and disappointed others.
New Charges For Nobu, Paying For Prego
Let’s get the disappointments front and center. Crystal Serenity (and Crystal Symphony) each have two specialty restaurants situated aft, Prego, featuring fine Italian cuisine; and The Sushi Bar/Silk Road, the only restaurant at sea operated by acclaimed master chef Nobu Matsuhisa.
Dining at both restaurants was complimentary until this past January. That’s when a new policy went into effect stipulating that guests may dine at each of these restaurants for no additional charge only once (more often on voyages exceeding 14 days). On voyages up to two weeks, however, dine more than once at each and you’ll need to pony up $30 per person, still a relative bargain when you consider what Nobu costs on land, but a sore spot nonetheless among some guests.
Is Crystal Trying To Nickel-&-Dime Its Guests?
I put the question to Thomas Mazloum, executive vice president of operations for Crystal Cruises. “It was a guest experience issue and it was an issue of giving people equal access to the restaurants,” he told me. “We did it to enhance the customer experience, because we did get comments before that [these restaurants] were so full … and most importantly, and this was our biggest issue, was that people were going there five, six, seven times while others couldn’t get in at all.”
On a vessel carrying around 1,100 guests when all berths are occupied, the two speciality restaurants, with a dinner capacity of only around 100 each, were often fully booked — and often by the same people every night. Other guests could not get reservations, a disappointment for many.
It’s hard for someone like me to say whether there are better ways to manage the specialty restaurants than to implement charges on what is positioned as an all-inclusive luxury product, but in fairness, it should be noted Crystal isn’t alone in charging for sushi and such. Silversea Cruises, for example, charges for dining at Seishin on Silver Spirit and fleetwide on Le Champagne, the only Relais & Chateaux restaurant at sea. The surcharges on Crystal and on Silversea seemed to be aimed at controlling capacity and not at bilking guests for additional dollars.
Even so, like many other Crystal guests, I was disappointed when I learned that I could dine only once in each specialty restaurant without paying, but I suppose the fee is something we need get used to — at least for now. Crystal management thought long and hard about implementing the fee, and after my discussions with management and guests, I believe Crystal executives made the best decision they could. One guest told me that he applauded the change in policy because now he could make reservations in the two restaurants that often had been hard to get into in the past.
Surely, we haven’t heard the end of this one. Crystal’s new dining initiatives, including Tastes on Crystal Serenity, may lessen demand for the two other specialty restaurants, thus eliminating the need for fees. Time will tell. Guests do have a third choice when in comes to specialty restaurants on Crystal Serenity.
Modern Cuisine, Easy To Swallow, Hard To Convey
Another new initiative on Crystal Serenity was Modern Cuisine, which on my sailing became known as the left-side of the dinner menu. That’s because the menu featured two styles of dining, Modern (on the left page) and Classic (on the right page).
The implementation of modern cuisine on Crystal was the “most ambitious, most aggressive, most innovative” product enhancement since the inception of Crystal Cruises, Mazloum told me. “We looked at what are the types of food that are being served around the world and what is it that our customers still like very much? And how do we serve that, not in the specialty restaurants,” but in the main dining room?
Mazloum and his team set out to create sort of a restaurant within a restaurant. Working with Tony Neumeister, who heads up food and beverage for Crystal Cruises, and with food scientists and consultants, Mazloum and company came up with two “completely different types of cuisines that are being served in our Crystal dining room,” he explained to me.
On one side of the menu you have the Classic Cuisine, which is created by using ingredients, equipment and techniques based on how Western cuisine was built. On the other side, you have Modern Cuisine, which is the latest and greatest of contemporary cuisine using different ingredients, different equipment and different cooking techniques.
To execute Modern Cuisine, Crystal purchased new equipment for the galley, retrained chefs and wait staff. Mazloum said he believes that his team has “revolutionized” not just how food is being served on cruise ships but also in restaurants, as there are few, if any, restaurants worldwide that serve both menus at once.
Surely, when you come to understand the complexity of preparing the Modern Cuisine and the time and effort and energy, you gain an appreciation of what the galley is trying to do. Modern Cuisine, however, proved challenging for me to convey and articulate. What I can say was what a frequent guest told me: “As a general comment, the food overall on Crystal Serenity has been extraordinary. I’ve always said the food was good, but I think they’ve kicked everything up a notch. Maybe they felt it from some competitors who have made a big deal about food, and it really shows on Crystal Serenity.”
Taken as a whole, the cuisine on Crystal Serenity is deserving of a luxury cruise product that has won numerous awards during the past two decades. Whether the cuisine on Crystal is better than on its competitors is hard to say, but in a game where the players from all teams are so very good at what they do, there are no losers, and in the end the only true winners are the spectators, the guests who cruise on the luxury cruise lines.
Bonus: Interview with Thomas Mazloum about Modern Cuisine.
Trouble listening to the interview? Listen on SoundCloud.