Dispatch, Crystal Serenity: Paddle tennis at sea


 Travel Weekly's Tom Stieghorst was invited aboard the Crystal Serenity to cover the 23rd Sales Achievement Awards Gala, which rewards about 90 travel agents who sold more than $500,000 of Crystal Cruises in 2013. Tom's first dispatch from the ship follows.

One of the areas on a cruise ship that is hard to program is the very top deck. Exposed to the wind, it is sometimes relegated to sun bathing or mini-golf.

On Crystal Serenity, Deck 13 is used for paddle tennis, and I was eager to try this variant of tennis that uses short wood paddles and a deflated ball on a junior-sized court.

The pair of courts on Serenity were surprisingly full. I ran into one woman who said her husband booked the ship expressly because he could play paddle tennis. “He’s up here all the time,” she said.

After waiting about 10 minutes for the court to clear, I began batting the ball about with one of my colleagues. His teenage son was also sailing and they took turns across the net from me.

Crystal Serenity paddle tennis courts

Striking the ball with a wooden paddle isn’t exactly like using a full-sized frame strung with nylon. But it isn’t as far removed as one would think. The main difference is the sound the ball makes, a kind of flat thunk.

All of the same lessons from lawn tennis apply to paddle tennis. Don’t be tentative. Follow through. A few are more important than ever. I found that keeping my eye on the ball was a must, because the racquet is much shorter than I was used to. Bending my knees was also important because the punctured ball never bounces too high off the deck.

It was a fresh, sunny mid-afternoon, with winds of perhaps 10 to 15 miles an hour that seemed amplified at the top of the ship. I felt happy to have brought some sweatpants, and though I feared it would be cold, it was actually just refreshing after a warm-up period.

I had never played paddle tennis before, and certainly not on a ship. I could feel the slight sway and pitch of the ship moving beneath me, but it wasn’t enough to affect play. And the wind wasn’t the factor I thought it would be because the ball doesn’t travel very far on the small court.

Only a few other cruise lines offer paddle tennis, including Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Cunard Line on some ships. They say that cruise guests 50 years and older are looking to collect experiences, and that certainly applied to me and paddle tennis.

Atop Crystal Serenity moving across a wide blue ocean midway between England and France, I thought to myself that here’s something you can do on a cruise that can’t be duplicated on land.

My sparring partners don’t play as much tennis as I do, so I beat them both in mini-sets of a couple games each. There are better players — much better than me — onboard, including Freddy, the guy who booked Crystal Serenity just to play paddle tennis.

I’m looking for another match now that I’ve learned a few tricks. Watch out, Freddy!

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly. 

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