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CRUISE control.

Byline: EDWARD STEPHENS

WE HAD only been on board ship for a few minutes when there was a knock on the cabin door.

Opening it I came face to face with a dignified man, resplendent in tails who politely introduced himself as Mahir, and declared he was to be our butler for the cruise.

You don't win best large cruise ship company for 14 consecutive years without setting standards others struggle to meet.

Crystal Cruises are at the top end of the ever expanding cruise market, so guests can afford to be picky.

They won't return if it's not the best. But come back they do.

When I was on the Serenity in September one couple had completed 153 cruises with the company, which I reckon must conservatively amount to pounds 2m.

And it's easy to see why it's so popular.

This is cruising in style..

For starters our penthouse cabin on deck 10 would have done justice to any five-star hotel.

There was space in abundance with a large bedroom area, separate dressing room and generous balcony.

Despite an impressive itinerary on the cruise the weather wasn't too kind to us.

We had a 12-hour storm in Venice, leaving us soaked, it poured down in Rome and most of the day in Dubrovnik.

But on the Serenity there was always something to do.

The 60,000-tonne ship was built in 2003 and christened in Southampton by Julie Andrews, who is now its official godmother.

Crystal Serenity can take 1,080 passengers and has 655 crew, so there are plenty of people on board to look after you whatever your needs.

What did surprise me was the number of high rollers on board always ready for a session in the casino - perhaps hoping to win back a little of the cost of their cruise.

Daytime on board was packed with a lot if little niceties like the typically British "tea at 3" feature in the Palm Court lounge where white gloved waiters served the finest blends accompanied by triangular sandwiches and scones with clotted cream.

For most people one of the highlights of cruising is the food. The breakfast menu was probably the most extensive I have ever seen on a ship at sea, making the start to the day a real delight.

Dinner in the Crystal dining room was a true culinary experience each night with dishes which had your mouth watering just from reading the menu.

Main courses included such delights as broiled fresh lobster from Maine with melted butter or sauce hollandaise, served with steamed green asparagus and truffle leek ri- sotto or marinated quail with porcini mushroom stuffing, champagne honey-braised summer cabbage, thyme-roasted artichokes, glazed young carrots and Madeira sauce.

But cruising has to have variety, and for those passengers who could tear themselves away from the delights of the main dining room there were also three speciality restaurants.

Our destinations, apart from those already mentioned, were Taormina in Sicily, Sorrento, Livorno - for easy access to Florence - and, unusually, the tiny Italian island of Elba, best known as the location where Napoleon chose to be exiled to.

In Taormina we wandered the narrow streets and alleyways of the pretty hilltop town as well as taking in the shops.

In Sorrento we left Serenity only to board a hydrofoil to the pretty, but expensive island of Capri before returning to do a late night exploration of

Sorrento as the ship didn't sail until 10pm.

Elba was the only destination I hadn't visited before and it certainly whet my appetite for a longer stay, particularly as both of Napoleon's villas were closed the day we called.

This largely uncommercialised island has some superb beaches and interesting towns.

Its capital Portoferraio was one of the destinations where Jason stopped in his search for the golden fleece, although it was always referred to by its mythical name of Porto Argo.

Crystal offer a wide variety of excursions at every port of call but they also generously offer complimentary transfers from the ship to the main towns at every destination.

A Crystal cruise is a voyage to remember for all the right reasons.

Regular cruisers talk about being Crystalised, and for me our Italian Treasures cruise certainly was a sweet experience..

FOR 2009 Crystal Cruises offers a range of Mediterranean itineraries costing from pounds 2,144 per person including return scheduled flights, transfers, accommodation in a deluxe stateroom with picture window with all meals and soft drinks, port taxes and basic gratuities. Call Crystal Cruises on 020 7292 2384 or visit www.crystalcruises.

co.uk.

getting there

CAPTION(S):

LUXURY: Crystal Serenity can take 1,080 passengers and has 655 crew. SEAFRONT: The Isle of Elba, a largely unspoilt island with superb beachs and interesting towns.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:May 24, 2009
Words:795
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