Serenity cruise cut short

By John Leach
This item appears on page 13 of the April 2022 issue.
After the Crystal Serenity’s last main show, Cruise Director Rick Spath led the audience in singing “We’ll Meet Again” as all the crew, staff and officers paraded through the theater. Photo by John Leach

My wife, Eileen, and I were sailing on the Crystal Serenity when Crystal Cruises ( emailed on Jan. 19, “Today, Crystal is announcing that it has suspended operations for its Ocean and Expedition ships through April 29, 2022.” Our ship was to prematurely end its voyage in Aruba on Jan. 30.

We had joined Serenity in Miami on Jan. 17 at the start of its “Grand Cruise.” While there were no parties, due to COVID precautions, the majority of the approximately 400 passengers had booked for a full 4-month cruise. Eileen and I only planned to do the first two segments, Miami to Aruba and Aruba to Puerto Rico, 22 days in all.

For the next week and a half, our port calls kept changing. The planned total of nine stops turned into just three. On the 19th we were told that the ship was trying to get permission to end the cruise in Miami, but the next evening we were told that would not be possible.

On the 22nd, passengers discovered why we could not end the cruise in Miami when someone found a link to a story indicating that a judge had issued an “arrest warrant” for sister ship Crystal Symphony, forcing her to divert from Miami to Bimini, in the Bahamas. Apparently, Genting Hong Kong, the owners of Crystal Cruises, owed millions for unpaid fuel bills in Miami. It appeared that we all were fugitives!

John and Eileen Leach with entertainers Anna and Humberto aboard Crystal Serenity in January 2022. Photo by by Humberto Pérez Henao

This was confirmed later in the day when the captain announced the reason we were skipping Jamaica was we owed them money and that we had barely gotten out of Cozumel because we owed them money too!

On Jan. 29, after numerous sea days, we expected to awaken in Aruba, but when Eileen and I went down to breakfast, the headwaiter informed us that we had been denied docking and were heading to Bimini (where another Genting company has a casino/resort and a dock).

We got to Bimini about midday on Jan. 31. Passengers began transferring to a large ferry around 5 p.m., and it arrived in Ft. Lauderdale around 8:50. Clearly, the port was not used to getting about 400 passengers and at least 1,500 pieces of luggage disgorged simultaneously. (Many passengers on our “Grand Cruise” had a LOT of luggage.)

Passengers were taken by bus to Miami and put up in hotels by Crystal. Eileen and I got to our room at 12:35 a.m. on Feb. 1, flew back to Charlotte that afternoon and got home in the early evening.

In Bimini, Bahamas, we transferred from Crystal Serenity onto the ferry taking us to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Photo by John Leach

What about the cruise in general? It was, in some ways, a surrealistic experience — at the same time one of the best and one of the worst cruises we have ever taken.

Best because everyone gave it their all; the crew were magnificent, and the lecturers and guest entertainers were all doing extra lectures and shows. Worst because, apparently, we were faced with this being our last cruise with Crystal, with whom Eileen and I have taken 70 cruises over a 20-year period (equal to 81 “milestone” cruises, since longer cruises each count as two). For us, Crystal functioned as a “second home.”

When we heard of the suspension of cruises, all the passengers were devastated, not just for ourselves (it was just a vacation for us, after all) but for all of our friends who made up the crew, staff and officers.

Despite this, the crew continued to do a fantastic job and kept smiling (behind their masks). I commented on this to our favorite bar waiter, Camila, and she said that Crystal had treated them so well over the years (she was a 10-year veteran), they still felt grateful to the company.

On any Crystal cruise, service is always great, but since we all were concerned this might be the last Crystal cruise, everyone was putting out enormous effort. I think the dancers gave us higher jumps and lifts and the singers, more emotional presentations. There were many tears.

Our welcome party in Puerto Limón, Costa Rica. Photo by John Leach

This left a huge emotional toll on us all, having to say goodbye to so many of our friends who had looked after us so well over the years. Eileen and I arrived home emotionally drained. We are keeping them all in our thoughts and prayers.

Hickory, NC