If you're deciding between a cruise aboard Oceania Cruises or a Crystal Cruises sailing -- both high-end lines with large-for-luxury ships -- you really can't go wrong. However, which line is best will hinge on your personal preferences. If you prefer newer ships and more modern and flexible "dine anytime" open seating at meals, Oceania's newest O-class ships, Marina and Riviera, are in the lead. If you prefer more personalized service, an intimate ship experience and top-notch nightly entertainment, you can't go wrong with Crystal.
Let's delve into all the things that make both of these lines special, so you can make a solid comparison between Oceania Cruises and Crystal Cruises and choose the best luxury cruise line for you and your traveling companions.
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The Oceania Cruises fleet includes six ships. The four 684-passenger, older-yet-beloved R-class ships -- Insignia, Nautica, Regatta and Sirena -- joined the Oceania fleet in 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2016, respectively. The two newer, 1,250-passenger O-class ships were built specifically for the cruise line; Marina launched in 2011, and Riviera launched in 2012. The newer, larger ships offer more bells and whistles than their smaller, older siblings.
Crystal currently has two cruise ships -- the 922-passenger Crystal Symphony (launched 1995) and 1,070-passenger Crystal Serenity (2003) -- and one yacht, the 62-passenger Crystal Esprit (2015). Crystal Endeavour, a polar-class mega-yacht, debuts August 2018, and the line has three Crystal Exclusive Class ships with onboard residences on order; the first is scheduled to launch in 2022.
For the purpose of this story, we'll focus mainly on the cruise ships.
Choose Oceania's O-class if you want a newer, more boisterous ship.
Oceania Riviera and Marina are Oceania's newest and largest ships. They tend to draw a slightly younger crowd than Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. Riviera and Marina each have a capacity for 1,250 passengers and that translates into a certain hum of energy onboard. There are more daily announcements on Oceania than Crystal (which usually has just one per day), and the main dining room aboard both O-class vessels can feel crowded and fast-paced at times. Some love that energy and connection with other passengers, while others prefer the quieter, more sophisticated tone of Crystal's dining rooms.
Or choose Oceania's R-class ships if you're looking for a small-ship experience.
Many cruisers want an intimate onboard experience and Oceania can carry that off with aplomb aboard its R-class ships: Insignia, Nautica, Regatta and Sirena. These ships may be the sweet spot when it comes to size vs. amenities. With a capacity for 684 passengers, there's plenty of room on the ship for an observation lounge, coffee bar, multiple restaurants, pool and even a Canyon Ranch SpaClub. Yet the ship feels cozy, and its open-seating dining policy makes it easy for you to get to know other travelers during dinner. Yes, cabins may be smaller than what you'll find on some newer/larger ships and you might feel a bit more movement during rough seas, but overall Oceania's R-class ships are ideal if you want a high-end, intimate voyage.
Choose Crystal if you prefer more space and personalized service.
If you happened to see one of Crystal's ships in port alongside either of Oceania's O-class ships, you'd see that they are comparable in size. Crystal Serenity is 820 feet long and Symphony is 781 feet long. Oceania's O-class ships are both 785 feet long. But -- this is the important part -- despite all four ships being very close in physical size, O-class ships accommodate 1,250 people each while Crystal Serenity welcomes 1,070 guests and Crystal Symphony accommodates 922. That means passengers aboard Crystal ships have more personal space -- on the pool deck, in lounges and at dinner. Fewer passengers also translates to an overall higher level of service, since the crew can take more time with each person, get to know him or her and really offer customized and caring attention.
Or if you want to give yachting a try.
Crystal Esprit, the line's first yacht, is your best bet if you want to sail with a very small complement of passengers without giving up quality of service. The yacht is staffed by 91 crew members that cater to just 62 passengers. This beautifully refurbished vessel is more like a boutique hotel than a cruise ship, yet it's got the hallmarks of some fantastic sailing vessels. You'll find a retractable aft marina and a small splash pool on deck. There are several restaurants onboard and the same excellent selection of wine is available on Esprit as it is on Crystal Serenity and Symphony.
You'll have to crunch the numbers carefully to determine if you should take a particular Oceania voyage over a similar Crystal Cruise. We looked at a 10-night Caribbean cruise on Oceania and compared it to a 9-night Amazon/Caribbean itinerary on Crystal. To try to keep the comparison as close as possible, we looked at a 282-square-foot veranda stateroom on Oceania Marina and a deluxe stateroom with veranda (269 square feet) on Crystal Serenity. The Oceania cruise fare was about $380 per person less than the Crystal cruise.
However, we also compared a 12-night Caribbean voyage on Oceania Marina with a 14-night Caribbean itinerary on Crystal Serenity (again comparing the B4 veranda on Oceania with the deluxe stateroom with veranda on Crystal Serenity). This time the Crystal cruise was cheaper, by $1,304 per passenger.
Remember that airfare is included from certain gateways with Oceania, or you can get a credit applied to your cruise if you buy your own flights. Both of the Oceania voyages we looked at were eligible for the OLife Choice program, which gives cruisers unlimited Internet plus their choice of one more perk. (In this case, the perks were six free shore excursions, a free beverage package or a $600 shipboard credit.) Of course, you will need to factor in tips on Oceania whereas they are included in Crystal's fare, as are all beverages.
So which is the better value? That really depends on you and the itinerary you've selected. If pricing is close, determine which cruise to book based on which ship and itinerary you like best and which cruise line most closely matches your cruise style. In many cases, Oceania cruises with the OLife perks package will be a better value than the comparable Crystal voyage -- but not always.
Choose Oceania Cruises if you like a la carte cruise fares.
While Oceania includes plenty in its cruise fare -- airfare (which you can opt out of in favor of a credit so you can book on your own), reservations at all of the ship's restaurants and unlimited soft drinks, bottled water, specialty coffees, teas and juices -- it doesn't include things like tips, alcoholic beverages, Internet access or shore excursions. Gratuities will run you $16 per person, per day ($23 for passengers booking a Penthouse, Oceania, Vista or Owner's Suite) and those tips are added directly to your onboard account. You'll also pay an 18 percent service charge on all paid beverages, spa services and dinner at La Reserve. (Meals are complimentary aboard Oceania ships with the exception of this unique wine pairing dinner sponsored by Wine Spectator.)
For extras such as alcoholic beverages and shore excursions, Oceania offers a variety of packages. See the Shore Excursions and Drink Inclusions sections below for full details.
If you've been pricing Oceania voyages, you've likely seen the company's OLife Choice promotion. Nearly all of Oceania's itineraries are eligible, and cruisers receive free unlimited Internet plus one perk of choice: either free shore excursions (the number of which is dependent on the cruise you select), a House Select beverage package (see below) or onboard credit. Certain sailings are eligible for the OLife Ultimate promotion, in which you can get all of those perks thrown in for free. OLife makes Oceania fare inclusions more competitive with what you'll find on many luxury lines.
Choose Crystal Cruises if you want to have a more all-inclusive experience.
Crystal offers a cruise fare that encompasses a lot of extras. The per-person fare is inclusive of beverages, including wines, Champagne, premium spirits and all nonalcoholic beverages such as bottled water, soft drinks and specialty coffees; gratuities for housekeeping, dining and bar staff; specialty dining (one visit to each restaurant per passenger); and personal Penthouse Butler service. Everyone gets at least 60 minutes per day of Internet/Wi-Fi (90 minutes per day in Penthouse Suites and unlimited in the Crystal Penthouse). This makes for a pretty carefree day-to-day experience onboard. You won't be signing chits all day long, and you'll really only need to dip into your stash of cash for things like shore excursions, spa treatments and purchases from the ship's boutique.
When it comes to itineraries, you can sail around the world with either cruise line. Both offer a range of port-intensive voyages. For those with limited vacation time, you'll find weeklong itineraries on both Oceania and Crystal, as well as 10-night or longer options. Both lines program some excellent "grand voyages" that last a month or more, and both offer full world cruises. Look at Oceania Insignia for an 180-day option; Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity both offer various world cruise routes.
Choose Oceania Cruises if you're looking for a cruise to a remote locale on a smaller cruise ship.
Oceania's smaller R-class ships -- Insignia, Nautica, Regatta and Sirena -- can sail into some remote bays and harbors that can't accommodate today's larger vessels. If you're looking for a cruise that doesn't visit ports that are jam-packed with other tourists, look at the R-class itineraries. Sirena offers a variety of cruises in the South Pacific. Spend more than a week discovering Tahiti, Moorea, Nuku Hiva, Fakarava, Rangiroa, Bora Bora, Raiatea and Huahine in French Polynesia. It's a trip that's not to be missed.
Another unique sailing is Nautica's 15-day South African Explorer. It's a roundtrip from Cape Town that calls on Mossel Bay, Richards Bay, Durban, East London and Port Elizabeth in South Africa, as well as Maputo, Mozambique and Walvis Bay, Namibia. The cruise is eligible for the OLife Choice perk program and you also get a free, three-night land tour.
Choose Crystal if you're looking for some off-the-beaten path, adventurous itineraries.
Some cruisers may have the idea that Crystal is a stodgy formal cruise line that only attracts seniors. If that's your vision of Crystal cruisers, you'll be surprised to find that while travelers do skew older, they are well traveled and active and all share a passion for travel -- especially to places that most Americans only dream about.
In 2016, Crystal Serenity was the first luxury ship to sail the Northwest Passage, a remote route that connects the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans through the Arctic. The journey transited 7,297 nautical miles over 32 days. The onboard expedition team was augmented by local Inuit guides that helped provide a unique prospective on the historic itinerary. The ship will make the journey again in 2017.
It might also surprise you to learn that Crystal Serenity offers some Antarctica itineraries -- mainly South America voyages with a stop in Elephant Island off the coast of Antarctica. The voyages include calls in Buenos Aires, Puerto Madryn and Ushuaia, Argentina; Montevideo, Uruguay; Valparaiso and Punta Arenas, Chile; and Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. Plus, they visit the Chilean Fjords, and sail around Cape Horn and through the Drake Passage. If you always wished you could visit Antarctica but don't want to get on an expedition ship, this itinerary could be a good option for you. You'll still enjoy lectures and outings led by a team of naturalists and you'll make landings via skiff, but you'll also have access to luxurious staterooms and suites in an all-inclusive experience.
One area where you might find some differences between Oceania and Crystal are in the shore excursions the lines offer. Both offer a variety of options, from gentle city walking tours and motor-coach excursions to more active adventures that can include snorkeling, paddleboarding and hiking. On Oceania, though, you'll need to book more expensive tours (Oceania Exclusive Excursions) if you want a small group experience, whereas Crystal makes a point to ensure its shore excursions aren't oversold. For example, the line makes sure there are empty seats on motor-coach tours so every passenger is comfortable and there is room for the group to spread out.
Choose Oceania if you want to take a lot of ship-sponsored tours and snag a discount.
Oceania offers shore excursion packages to help take the sting out of touring expenses. The Unlimited Passport Collection gives you access to unlimited excursions throughout your cruise, but you must select from a set list of options. The package doesn't include every shore excursion sold on an a la carte basis by the company. While you can't choose from the complete list of tours, you will get up to 40 percent off the tours that are included in the Unlimited Passport Collection. The other option is the Your World Collection package that allows you to custom-design your shore time by selecting any of Oceania's available tours. You'll get 25 percent off a la carte prices, and you'll need to book a certain minimum of tours to get the discount. (The minimum is dependent on the particular cruise you've selected.)
Or if you're a foodie and are interested in tours that delve into a region's cuisine and dining customs.
Oceania's Culinary Discovery Tours get high marks from cruisers, and if you're a foodie, it's worth booking an Oceania voyage to try one or two of the options. These specialized shore tours focus on visits to local markets, restaurants where you meet the chef, wineries and more. Some tours include a meal.
Choose Crystal if you want to custom-design a private shore excursion.
Crystal Cruises offers passengers the opportunity to work with its shore excursions team to create highly customized, private shore tours. Cruisers interested in Crystal Private Adventures kick-start the planning process by filling out a tour request and paying a $100 nonrefundable deposit (applied to the excursion if you end up booking it). You can ask Crystal's team to plan a tour that's essentially the same as the line's publicly offered options, or use your imagination to create something totally unique. Crystal's team can get you a private tour of the Hermitage Museum in Russia, arrange for a meal at the chef's table of a Michelin-starred restaurant or offer a picnic lunch on a nearly deserted beach. It's an option that many use for special occasions or multigenerational trips where you'd like your group to travel together -- whether that means by luxury sedan, minibus or catamaran.
Or if you'd like to do some voluntourism during your voyage.
Crystal offers a variety of tours where you can give something back to the region in which you're traveling. These hands-on tours are called "You Care. We Care. Crystal Voluntourism Adventures" and they provide a hyper-local look at the destination in terms of its history and current challenges. During the tours, you'll have the opportunity to meet people and help in a project that will better their community. Tours are available in destinations ranging from Cartagena, Colombia (to work with underserved communities) to Darwin, Australia (to help maintain a botanical garden) and San Francisco (to work at a food bank).
Both lines have some worthy entertainment options onboard, though each excels in different areas. Cooking enthusiasts are happy with the breadth and variety of cooking pastimes aboard Oceania ships, with O-class Marina and Riviera coming to the table with a massive Culinary Arts kitchen and workshop program. Oceania's larger ships also have the Artists Loft, where passengers can get creative with the resident artist. Crystal, on the other hand, has a knack for educational enrichment with its Creative Learning Institute, guest lectures and even computer classes.
Choose Oceania if you enjoy cooking.
Oceania's larger ships, Marina and Riviera, are unique in that they have a structured learning facility for chefs: the Culinary Center. Picture a bright and airy teaching kitchen complete with cooking workstations for passengers. This state-of-the-art teaching facility is manned by chefs from around the globe who help cruisers become better cooks. Classes range from Italian pasta creations and pizza to Cuban specialties and baked treats.
Choose Crystal if enrichment and learning is important to you.
In addition to fascinating and well-known guest lecturers, Crystal offers its Creative Learning Institute. While onboard, you can take a variety of classes that focus on a wide range of topics from learning a foreign language to wine tasting, tai chi and wellness. Highly regarded organizations like Berlitz, the Tai Chi Cultural Center and the Cleveland Clinic partner with Crystal to make the Creative Learning Institute a true powerhouse of knowledge.
Crystal also offers art instruction through its Odyssey Art at Sea program, and computer classes through Computer University@Sea.
Or if you love live music and dancing.
Crystal takes a refined approach to evening entertainment and is perhaps best known for its Ambassador Hosts dance partner program. The line screens accomplished ballroom dancers to make sure each passenger will have the opportunity to twirl across the dance floor with an interesting partner. Male hosts are on every sailing, and female hosts can be found on select sailings throughout the year. Crystal ships also have their own onboard orchestras and six-piece bands plus a harpist, pianist, string quartet and a cappella group. (While Oceania does have an eight-piece orchestra, string quartet and other performers onboard its ships, its entertainment program as a whole is not yet as accomplished as the one Crystal has perfected.)
Overall, you'll find Crystal's staterooms to be more spacious than those on Oceania's ships -- especially the line's older R-class vessels. But room size evens out when you're comparing the upper-level suites. Both lines have tapped famous designers -- Dakota Jackson and Ralph Lauren Home on Oceania and Toronto's II BY IV on Crystal, for example -- to create highly stylized and comfortable suites.
Choose Oceania if you want a range of accommodation options.
Depending on which ships you sail -- Oceania's older R-class or newer O-class -- you'll have a plethora of cabin types to choose from, including inside staterooms (which Crystal doesn't have). In addition to the most inexpensive inside cabins, Ocean offers ocean-view, veranda and Concierge-level veranda staterooms as well as suites (Penthouse, Vista and Owner's). The mattresses aboard all Oceania ships are excellent; called Prestige Tranquility beds, they are exclusive to the line and each has a two-inch-thick, gel-filled pillow top. (You will sleep like a baby in this bed!) All cabins are also decked out with an excellent assortment of Bulgari bath products, and in the evenings your room steward will leave fine Belgian chocolates for your enjoyment.
When you up the ante and book a Concierge-level stateroom or suite, you'll get some perks like priority embarkation and luggage delivery, priority for reservations at the specialty restaurants, and even unlimited access to the Spa Terrace at the ship's Canyon Ranch SpaClub. Those staying in a Penthouse Suite and higher also get butler service plus a complimentary, in-suite bar setup with six full-size bottles of premium spirits and wines.
Choose Crystal if you want to book the high-end suites.
Crystal's suites are stunning; it would be tough to book one and find many faults. The "top" suite is the Crystal Penthouse with Verandah but you should also consider the Penthouse Suite with Verandah and Penthouse with Verandah. Each option features a queen bed in the master bedroom and a whirlpool tub in the master bath. A stone entry foyer welcomes you to the 1,345-square-foot Crystal Penthouse, which also features Swarovski crystal sconces, Italian mosaic tile, Villeroy & Boch china, Riedel crystal and a Duravit spa flotation tub with ocean view in the master bath. The spacious layout includes a dining area, living room, butler's pantry, passenger half-bath, and a media room that can be converted into a second bedroom. Crystal Penthouse cruisers spend a lot of time on the balcony, which is large enough to include two chairs and side tables as well as one chaise lounge.
Both Oceania and Crystal get great reviews when it comes to the food served onboard. Both lines have relationships with star chefs, and both do their best to offer a range of options from the traditional main dining room and specialty restaurants to buffets and specialty outlets for ice cream and pastries. Crystal still offers traditional, set-seating dining times as well as more flexible, reservation-style "Perfect Choice" options, while Oceania offers open seating across its fleet. All of Oceania's restaurants -- with the exception of the La Reserve wine dinner -- are included in the cruise fare. Passengers can dine once for free at each of Crystal's specialty restaurants, but they can pay for additional reservations.
Choose Oceania if you enjoy no-fee dining at multiple venues with very different menus.
Oceania ships offer a wide range of dining venues for cruisers. Its newest vessels, Marina and Riviera, offer a main restaurant, buffet and four specialty dining venues, compared to Crystal, which offers just two alternative restaurants in addition to its main dining room and buffet. Plus, Oceania's executive culinary director is the renowned Jacques Pepin. He designs menus and oversees quality control onboard all the ships, in contrast to Nobu Matsuhisa, who lends his expertise to just one restaurant on Crystal.
Oceania sets a high bar on its food and beverage offerings -- which is apparent by the number of times Cruise Critic readers and editors have called out the line as the best in dining. There is an emphasis on high-quality provisions and inventive menus. Aboard the O-class ships you can enjoy dinner in numerous no-fee restaurants, including the Main Dining Room (also open at breakfast and lunch); the steakhouse Polo Grill; Toscana, for Mediterranean cuisine; a French bistro called Jacques; Asian-inspired Red Ginger; and the Terrace Cafe (also open for lunch) for indoor or outdoor dining. Waves Grill by the pool rounds out the no-fee offerings. It's generally easy to get a table at whatever restaurant you wish to visit, but if you want a prime dining time -- especially at Jacques or Red Ginger -- try to make reservations in advance. La Reserve, in partnership with Wine Spectator, offers a delicious, multicourse wine-pairing dinner, and it's the only restaurant onboard that charges an additional fee. (On Crystal, you'll need to pay if you want to eat in either of its alternative venues a second or third time.)
Choose Crystal Cruises if you want set-seating dining.
Crystal offers three "flavors" of its Perfect Choice Dining system in the evening. You can select Classic Main (with a seating at 6:30 p.m.) or Late Seating (at 8:30 p.m.) and sit at the same table with the same travel companions and the same waiter serving you. You'll get to know the wait staff, and they will provide you with intuitive service once they understand your likes and dislikes. You can request a table for two, four, six or eight (though larger tables can be arranged if you speak with the maitre d'). Cruisers who love meeting new people on vacation, however, will be pleased that Crystal also offers Dinner by Reservation. This means you can sit at a different table each evening and meet new people (or you can request a table for two if you prefer to dine a deux). This makes it easy to really get to know as many of your fellow cruisers as possible over a meal.
Or if you love sushi and Asian fusion.
Crystal offers several specialty restaurants, and passengers get to dine at each one for no extra charge. (Additional reservations might be available for $30 per person.) Crystal works closely with chef Nobu Matsuhisa, the mastermind not only behind the glorious Nobu restaurants on land but also of Crystal's Silk Road and Sushi Bar. If you've dined at his other restaurants, you'll recognize favorites like yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno and tuna tataki with ponzu sauce. But the onboard chefs also use local ingredients -- such as soft-shell crab, lobster and shrimp -- to create nightly specialties. Prego is the other specialty restaurant, in partnership with chef Piero Selvaggio (of Valentino in Las Vegas). It's worth the calorie splurge to taste dishes like hand-rolled spinach cannelloni or Black Angus beef carpaccio. While Oceania also offers Asian and Italian alternative dining at no extra charge, many cruisers feel Silk Road tops Oceania's Red Ginger, and that Prego is better than its Oceania counterpart, Toscana.
Oceania does not include alcoholic beverages in its cruise fare, while Crystal does. However, there are beverage packages on offer from Oceania that can level the playing field.
Choose Oceania Cruises if you want a customized beverage package.
If you're not a big drinker, you might want to pay for your alcohol by the drink (though some past Oceania cruisers feel that the line's a la carte prices are a bit high). Alternately, you can purchase a beverage package. The first option is the House Select package. At $39.95 per day, it gives you unlimited Champagne, wine and beer with lunch and dinner only; if you want to drink before or after mealtimes, you'll have to dip into your wallet. If you want a package that covers you whenever and wherever, go for the Prestige Select package. It costs $59.95 per day and includes unlimited premium spirits, Champagne, wine and beer at all times of the day or night. Wine drinkers like the Wine by the Bottle package that includes seven bottles, each priced at $47.50 (gratuity included). Even though you purchase a beverage package, you still need to sign a check each time you order a drink at any of the ship's bars or restaurants. Of course, you can also select a free beverage package as your OLife bonus perk.
Choose Crystal if you want the freedom to drink for free anytime -- day or night.
Crystal's per-passenger fare includes fine wines and Champagne, as well as premium spirits and all nonalcoholic beverages such as bottled water, soft drinks and specialty coffees. You can order anything you wish at any of Crystal's bars, lounges and restaurants. You'll also find a bottle of Champagne in your suite upon embarkation, and your ensuite mini-bar will be filled with soft drinks and bottled water. You can request select beer, wine and spirits as well.
Luxury lines aren't in the habit of catering to children but Oceania and Crystal can both be good options for families in certain circumstances.
Choose Oceania if you're traveling with mature teens or young adults.
Oceania's O-class ships offer a range of activities that can appeal to mature teenagers and young adults. If the kids in your family fall into those categories, a trip aboard Marina or Riviera could be ideal. Artsy kids will like the Artist Loft, where they can meet the artist-in-residence and take an enrichment class or two. By the end of the voyage, your kids could have a watercolor painting or digital photography portfolio under their belts. Young adults interested in cooking can take exciting, hands-on classes at the Culinary Center; participants get to work on a fully equipped workstation while the chef teaches from the front of the room. Even if your kids aren't into joining activities, there is always the pool and three hot tubs, as well as a sports deck which offers a putting green, shuffleboard, paddle tennis, croquet/bocce and a fitness track.
Or if you're going to Alaska with younger kids.
Oceania doesn't have a formal children's program or onboard facilities. But its Alaska itineraries during the summer are so popular with families that the line offers a special Alaska Explorer Youth Program. Designed for kids between the ages of 5 and 12, the program brings together experienced youth counselors with junior cruisers for a variety of games and educational activities that tie into the region.
Choose Crystal if you're traveling with young children or teens.
While Crystal doesn't offer the same level of children's programming that a mass-market line like Royal Caribbean does, it actually comes to the table with fairly robust childcare options for a luxury line. During holiday and summertime cruises, Crystal brings aboard experienced youth counselors. If you sail aboard Crystal Serenity or Crystal Symphony, look for Fantasia, a playroom where kids can play board games, watch cartoons or movies on a large-screen TV, or take part in arts and crafts lessons. To accommodate teenagers, Crystal offers Waves. This video arcade has Wii, Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation kiosks. Crystal also offers in-cabin babysitting services if you'd like to enjoy a meal on your own.