"" Writer's Wanderings: Return To Crystal Cruise Serenity

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Return To Crystal Cruise Serenity

Those of you who follow along with our travels will remember the ill-fated Grand Voyage of 2022. It started out as a world cruise but became a “grand voyage” because some ports were closed or still in the process of opening because of COVID. At that point in time, we didn’t care where we went we just wanted to get back out in the world, The cruise line and ship we chose was a favorite. What we didn’t anticipate was that the company that owned the cruise line would go bankrupt and our cruise would end abruptly.

Fast forward a little more than a year and a half. The cruise line was purchased by Manfredi Lefebvre d'Ovidio who had owned Silverseas and sold it. He wanted to get back into the cruise industry again and compliment it with the travel company A&K Travel Group that he owns. Crystal Cruises was reborn. Our favorite ship, the Serenity, given a makeover returned to the sea at the end of July. Now, how could we resist revisiting our old friend. 

While the ship is like home after we have spent several cruises on it including a world cruise in 2015, it is the staff and crew that make it warm and inviting. The good news we heard was that 80% of the former crew jumped at the chance to return to Serenity and her sister ship, the Symphony. So with great anticipation, we booked a nine day cruise around Iceland (also a favorite place) and our time to travel arrived.

Bob had found that the most convenient and economical flight to Reykjavik was from Detroit so on Tuesday, the 29th, we drove west to the airport, about a four hour drive from us. The fun part of the drive was that we had to pass Toledo where our oldest grandson started his senior year just the day before. Thankfully he was available to have lunch and catch up with all that he’d done in his summer internship at NASA. We met at a place he suggested, Ye Olde Durty Bird. It turned out to be a great little place with a good corned beef reuben.

When we finally made it to Detroit, we easily found the parking lot for our car and were pleasantly surprised to find a nice clean airport that wasn’t so busy with crowds. The last time we flew to Iceland, we drove to Toronto. That was okay but a much busier place and a little longer drive. We found an Outback in the airport and had a leisurely dinner while we waited for our flight time.

Icelandair is a nice airline and provided a very clean and somewhat roomy plane for us. I appreciated the leg room as we would be flying almost six hours and overnight. Neither of us got much sleep however on the flight. So working on maybe two hours of sleep, we arrived at 6:30 in the morning in Reykjavik (Iceland time, about 2:30 our time back home) to a busy bustling and small airport. The terminal in Reykjavik is not very large although it appears they are expanding with many people choosing to use that as a convenient and less expensive way to fly to Europe. Several people we met were connecting to London through Reykjavik.

Bob had made plans for a driver (think Uber but it booked like a tour) to pick us up and take us to the cruise terminal. The drive is about an hour from the airport. There were several other options, something called a FlyBus and others, but they dropped you off at a central station downtown and then you had to get another bus to go out to the cruise port. With three bags of luggage (this cruise was a little dressier than cruises on other lines plus cold weather gear) we didn’t want to have to shlep luggage from one bus to another.

Our driver was kind enough to load our luggage and our drive to the cruise terminal was smooth except for a little morning traffic that he apologized for. Did I mention the Icelanders are really nice people? At least the ones we’ve met. Our only problem was that Icelandair had provided no breakfast snack or even the option to buy anything—not even a cup of coffee. The lights in the cabin had come on about a half hour before landing and that was it. We were beginning to get hungry.

Our ride dropped us at the door to the terminal and we saw where baggage drop was but no one came out to help us. We soon discovered that they would not begin accepting passengers, baggage or guests, for another couple of hours. The man we asked pointed out the main room in the terminal where we could sit and wait.

A couple of hours later, we asked again about the time we could leave baggage and were told that nothing would be done until noon when security would have their operation set up. I finally found a security guard who was there for departing and transit guests (those staying on for the next cruise) and asked if there were any place we could leave our bags. I explained that we’d just flown in and really needed to find some breakfast somewhere. There was nothing in the terminal but an information desk. Not even a pot of coffee. He agreed to unlock the baggage drop and let us put our bags there and he would lock the door again but said at least three times that he would not take responsibility. We felt safe enough with that and left the bags, hopped on the cruise/city shuttle and went into town to find something to eat.

On the ride in with several couples, we caught up on the news of how things were going with the ship and their transatlantic cruise that brought them to Reykjavik. One couple had actually been with us on the fateful 2022 cruise and we reminisced about those last days.

A little way from the drop off place for the shuttle, we could smell bakery and found its source in a little corner place that was so very welcoming to two hungry travelers. Bob had a grilled ham and cheese that was available all day and I settled on French toast. His was good but mine was absolutely delicious. A thick cut of brioche I think, dipped and fried and topped with maple syrup and blueberries and something they called crispy ham. It turned out to be very thin sliced bacon. The coffees were good and juice fresh squeezed but by the time we converted the krona to US dollars our breakfast was almost $50!

We walked up to the Hallgrimskirka, the iconic church building in the city. Uphill and with a heavy backpack that held my computer, my kindle and several other things that I wouldn’t leave anywhere unattended, I could feel my legs and back screaming at me by the time we were done. We revisited the inside of the church but opted out of going up into the tower. There is a lift but we were jet lagged and sleep deprived and it was getting to us.

On the opposite corner we peeked into a sculpture garden but as we started to wander around, a gentle misty rain began to fall. When it started to get a little heavier, we headed out and toward the shuttle stop.

Thankfully getting back to the shuttle stop was all downhill. We walked through the main shopping area to get there and marveled at some of the storefront offerings. One had the craziest looking assortment of hose with cat patterns and other designs including one with a zipper up the back of the leg. The rain eased up before we got too wet and found the shuttle again.

It was another half hour wait until finally the embarkation process could begin. It went quite smoothly and soon we were back on the ship that made us feel like we had returned “home.” As we were waiting in line in the lobby area to finish our boarding process, a wonderful familiar face beamed at us. I couldn’t help it. I called out. “Marcin, you’re here!” His welcome back and a hug almost brought tears. We had worried about him, our favorite waiter, and so many others as the bankruptcy had left them with no guarantees of a paycheck and a way home back in 2022. We would spend time later catching up.

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