Crystal Symphony -- Baltic Dreams, June 16 to June 27, 2012 Hamburg, Oslo, Copenhagen, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn & Stockholm
Better than we anticipated!
We'd never sailed on the Crystal Symphony, prior to this trip. We'd been on the Radisson / Regent "Seven Seas" prior to this cruise and were anxious to see how they stack up against one another, although it has been several years since those sailings.
We learned several weeks before our departure that the Symphony would be in dry-dock for renovations immediately preceding our cruise date of June 16, In a way, that added a bit of intrigue to the trip in not knowing just what was going to be updated. Personally, when we booked passage nearly 6 months earlier I'll confess that there were a lot of questions about the cost of a cruise on a ship that was 17 years old and how would it stack up to the hype, even if it's launching godmother was Angela Lansbury! But not to worry; if there were any signs that this ship was showing its age, they were invisible to us. It was as sparkling and pristine as any luxury cruise ship we'd been on, and thankfully, with none of "bling" and garishness that passes for decor on the mega-ships of the NCL, Royal Caribbean and the like. I'll have to leave it to others who've sailed on the Symphony prior the June 16 re-launch to make the comparisons and whether the current iteration is better than the previous. We thought it was as nice as you'd care to have it.
Our group of 6 were able to get cabin assignments in close proximity to each other, on the Promenade Deck about midship. My wife and I were in cabin #7071 and right near the elevator lobby and the exit door to the deck. This was really perfect for us as my wife has some difficulty in walking, this put us just a deck or two above the Crystal Dining Room and the Lobby Bar. Our cabins were not involved in the recent renovation but were in great shape and showed no wear. As mentioned by "Steph27" in an earlier reviews, it was very comfortable and seemed to have an amazing amount of drawers and shelving for storage and a very ample closet. The bed was very comfortable, there were as many pillows as you could want and, of course, the right height from the floor to get the suitcases out of the way. We were late booking so we weren't able to select a cabin with a veranda, so we ended up with an "E" category described as having a "large picture window with a view that is limited or extremely limited". I can't speak for the other "E" category cabins, except for those of our group; none of us had a problem with the view at all. As for having a veranda, I'm afraid it may have been a bit too cool and/or windy to fully enjoy that amenity. One other point about being on the Promenade Deck and a concern about people "promenading" in front of the cabin window. Yes, the outside deck was a bit below the cabin window, but during the day it was impossible to see in from the outside due to the silver mirror-like tinting on the windows. While at night, with the drapes closed, there wasn't a problem. Our cabin proved to be very inviting and comfortable.
If there is a criticism it would be with the on-line requirements for information after paying for the ticket. There was too much repetitive information required and the inability to answer questions about both my wife and I at the same time gave me a lot of frustration. Hopefully, that will be corrected in the future. Also, there were too many problems with trying to make dinner reservations for a party of eight (later changed to a party of six). We also couldn't find much out about the menus, relating to dietary and health restrictions. That being said, we needn't have worried. Contrary to what some have written, we NEVER had difficulty getting a table for our group and likewise never had difficulty either changing our assigned dinner times, coming later than anticipated nor staying as long as we chose. Our seating time in the Crystal Dining room was "around" 6:45 and often were leaving dinner at 8:30 or closer to 9:00.
The service in the Dining Room was impeccable and the food was extraordinary. Not that it mattered to us, but by the second day our wait staff had our names down pat. Nothing, and mean nothing was too much to ask. Prego was wonderful and Silk Road was a good experience. (Asian food isn't high on my list of preferred cuisines, so I'll leave it to others with more cosmopolitan palates to pass judgment on the Silk Road.) As a matter of fact, right after having dinner at Prego we booked another reservation for later in the week (not difficult), but cancelled when we all were satisfied with our experience in the Crystal Dining Room.
Our most recent cruise, prior to the Symphony, was on the NCL Pearl, where dining in the main dining room was akin to being downgraded from 1st class to economy on a plane. If you chose not to frequent the 4 or 5 "up charge" restaurants, then back to the galley! On that ship, two huge main dining rooms, each serving exactly the same menus and of questionable quality.
Dining in the Crystal Dining Room was a pleasure!
As for breakfast in the Lido Cafe absolutely no complaints. Generally, my wife and I would be there around 815 or a bit earlier if we had a tour start by 9 am. It was extremely rare that we couldn't we find a table and we never had to search one out on our own, always being assisted in that task by one of the waiters, who also knew our names, I might add.
Breakfast was also available in the main dining room, as well. Normally breakfast buffets, nor any other buffets, are not on our radar. But to call the Lido Cafe a "buffet" is way off the mark! First off, there are no trays and consequently no long line of rails to push your tray along. The Lido is arranged with many "islands" of selected foods, such as the chef-attended omellette and waffle section, there's cold cereal, with fruits, another area for meat & cheeses, another section for Asian Kimchee and soups, etc. As you choose your selection, no tray? No problem! As out of nowhere a server appears to carry your plate back to the table, if you choose. Actually, quite nice.
Late risers probably were a bit out of luck and would have to settle for breakfast in the mid-ship Trident Bar and Grill, where the selections were somewhat limited but certainly not frugal.
I might respond to some of the other writer's comments about the wine selections. As everything is life, wine is a relative thing! And again, those who consistently cruise on the "all inclusives" might be able to jump in and make some comparisons of the wine lists of the various ships. We on the other hand were more than happy with the selections, whether red, white or champagne. We were happy not because we were forced to drink inferior wines; not at all! Several times we disliked a selection at dinner, only to have the Sommelier rush out to select something else. It was the effort that counted as much as the wine. In the Crystal Cove Bar on Deck #5 were our crowd generally would meet and have a few cocktails before dinner. Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio was always available. Where I'm from a bottle of that goes for about $18.00 a bottle. I know you can spend more, but we all thought that was a pretty nice, "pedestrian" type of wine. Besides, the ladies also like the "Sake Berry" martinis they made in the Cove Bar.
The itinerary of Symphony's Baltic Dreams was the reason we chose this particular cruise. A couple of people in our group had been to one or another of the cities, but you know how that is when it's work -- you never get to see anything. For my wife and I it was all new and fun to visit. The weather was mostly cooperative, but we got rained out of Tallinn and had a bit of rain in Stockholm. St. Petersburg was amazingly interesting and the lunches we had were exceptional, possibly helped by my Eastern European roots.
As for tours, we chose to plan and book our St. Petersburg tours before we ever left home. While expensive, it included group visas, lunches, all transportation and admission fees. We were able to select where we wished to go and what we wanted to see. We even got the V.I.P. treatment by always being "1st in line and shown to special entrances where we would always be assured of being shown to head of the line. We took our private tours on Friday and Sunday, and on Saturday were part of a free courtesy tour sponsored by American Express. That was a fun way to meet other cruisers at a pre-tour mixer and during the tour itself.
In most of the other cities we availed ourselves of the "Hop-on-Hop-off" bus system, which was always combined with a canal boat tour. Much less expensive and with a little research before hand, you could quite easily do your own thing, stopping at interesting sites along the way and then wait for the next bus to continue on, taking as much or as little time as the schedule allowed.
There are probably a few "nits" that I could pick, but they all fade into insignificance when compared to the total experience.
We are extremely glad that we took this cruise with Crystal and will be looking for the next time we can again say "All Aboard" with one of their ships.