We are not rich people. The financial hoops we leapt through in order to afford this experience, this ULTIMATE luxury experience, were monumental. But we did it.
We managed to book the Crystal Penthouse aboard the Crystal Symphony for an 11 day cruise around the British Isles. This is our story.
One of the perks of the Crystal Penthouse is two private car transfers to and from the ship. On the morning of our sail date, we were picked up at our hotel by a smartly dressed Englishman in a VERY expensive and gorgeous Mercedes Limo. As he drove us to the ship, London to Dover, he spoke of British history and pointed out significant landmarks. The ride to Dover was a wonderful start to our vacation.
We were met at the dock terminal by luggage porters who whisked our bags away. We walked the short distance to a reception desk and waited in a very short line to check in with the Crystal staff. We then were asked to be seated in the reception area with our fellow early-arrivers and wait for a crew member to lead us to the gang plank and aboard our own personal 'ship of dreams'.
An important point here: This was the first example of a very valid Crystal precept. Even though we were booked into the most expensive cabin on the ship, we were treated no differently than the folks who had a cabin with an obstructed ocean view. Crystal treats everyone equally. And Crystal treats them all VERY well.
As we entered the ship we were met by a crew member who led us to the Starlight lounge where we completed our check in and had our (oh so horrible) pictures taken for our ship identification key-cards. Once done, we were set free to wander.
Once aboard we decided to explore a little. Deck after deck from top to bottom were examined, scrutinized and critiqued and much to our surprise we did find fault. Albeit small and somewhat picky, we found certain areas of carpeting worn or stained and some public areas showing some wear and tear despite the recent dry-dock. However, these tiny imperfections paled in comparison to the glaring positives that the Symphony gifted us with.
She is truly a beautiful ship, built in the style of understated elegance that is totally lost on the gigantic floating resort cities that call themselves cruise ships today; she greets you with soft colors and rich woods. Her public areas are welcoming and cozy, furnished with stylish chairs and sofas that are as comfortable as they are lovely. Subtle elegance.
After exploring we began to get hungry so it was off to the Crystal Dining Room for lunch.
A warm welcome. A perfectly set table. An offer of bread and request for drink orders. And then the magnificent Cobb Salad.
The wait staff was harried but attentive and the food was pure Crystal. Near perfection.
After lunch we sat in the Crystal Cove waiting till 3:00pm when our room was to be ready. We were met by a lovely young lady who asked if we wanted drinks. We asked for bottled water and got it immediately. This same lovely young lady brought us cocktails in the Casino our first night at sea and from that moment on remembered our drink orders and asked if we "wanted the usual" whenever she saw us. Which brings me to...
Here is where Crystal absolutely shines and comes as close to perfection as possible. With ONE exception and only ONE the crew of the Symphony exceeded all our expectations. Smiles and "Yes" were the order of the day, every day. The feeling of family was tangible and the welcoming attitudes and actions were constant and seemingly effortless. Crystal has MASTERED this aspect of
The dining room staff was wonderful and phenomenally attentive. We had all but three nights of our cruise in the Crystal Dining Room. Table number ten for four people at 9:15. We sat with our travel companions and were treated like crowned royalty. We got to know our wait staff and became friendly with them. We heard wonderful stories about their lives and travels. Their kindness and friendship never ONCE compromised their amazing attention to our needs or their fantastic service.
Sadly, the dining room is the place where we met the one "bad" crew member. He was our sommelier and it was his first contract with Crystal. I'm very sure it will be his last. The combination of his less-then-stellar attitude (and that's being kind) and his total lack of attentiveness will not last at Crystal.
But that one 'bad apple' could not ruin the magnificent experience that was The Crystal Dining Room.
We also dined two nights in Prego, the Italian restaurant on board. The food was beyond words and the service... well... let me say this: We could not have been treated any better, or with more kindness and attentive affection, than had we been in a loving Italian home in Naples, being served by a gracious Italian family. The staff of Prego is tremendous.
Prego means "you're welcome" in Italian but on Crystal, Prego means MAGNIFICENT.
The only other night away from The Crystal Dining room was our dinner in Silk Road, the Asian/Sushi Restaurant on board. The experience was flawed and troubled. We seemed to have a new or newly trained waiter and while he was extremely kind and attentive, he didn't seem to "know his stuff". A couple of our glasses had lipstick marks on them and trying to order sushi at the table rather than the sushi bar proved confusing and convoluted. And quite frankly we all felt that the food was sub-par compared to the other venues.
This is where I, the most verbose person you will ever read, may run out of words of praise. However, three words that will go down in the annals of our own personal history as being words of the highest possible acclaim are these: The Crystal Penthouse.
Nine-hundred and eighty-two square feet of pure, delicious, tangible elegance is The Crystal Penthouse. From marble floors, to hardwood floors, to plush carpeted floors. From sleek, elegant furnishings to fully stocked mirrored bar. From giant flat-screen TV's to Bose surround sound systems. From a dining area with walls of glass that looks out over the open ocean to a veranda with teak furniture. From floor to ceiling sliding glass doors to heavy embossed draperies. From two walk-in closets to a separate powder room for guests. From a plush Queen sized bed to a full en suite vanity area. This stateroom was a jaw-dropping star. But nothing, I repeat nothing, could compare with the bathroom.
Heated marble floors inlaid with volcanic glass tiles, a separate water closet with toilet, bidet, phone, towel-rack and soap dish. A double sink counter of marble with large square marble sinks. Rich dark wooden cabinets below the sinks and mirrored medicine cabinets above. There was a full sized Jacuzzi tub that was bordered on two sides by walls of glass overlooking the ocean. The marble wall at the foot of the tub was replete with an inset television. The window blinds were remote controlled and the towels were mammoth and plush.
The shower was nothing short of a religious experience. Situated between the huge double sink counter and the tub, the shower stood in the middle of the bathroom surrounded by walls of glass. The shower head offered five different flow patterns including a 'waterfall' which was just that, a small waterfall that would cascade down on you as you abluted.
Every one of our showers was an experience beyond words as we did something as mundane as washing our hair. But in the bathroom of the Crystal Penthouse, we were washing our hair under a waterfall and watching the ocean flow by us as we journeyed to a new and exciting port of call.
And finally, no expression of delight or appreciation for our accommodation in The Crystal Penthouse would be complete without a few words of total and complete praise for the man that took a very special room and made it a MAGICAL one; our butler Sebastian.
Warm. Funny. Kind. Caring. Impeccably professional and endearing beyond all thought was our Sebastian. No request was too great. No question was unanswered. Sebastian could do, and did, anyything. No words of praise will ever be enough for this wonderful man.
Ports of Call & Shore Excursions:
The itinerary for this cruise suited us well. There was much British history to be savored and learned anew. Belfast was the only disappointment (as it is not a very pleasant city) but I'm sure some might find it pleasing.
We availed ourselves of two official Shore Excursions. One to Sterling Castle in Scotland and one to Stonehenge in Portland, England. Both were pretty standard Shore Excursion fare, but Crystal does even that better than most.
Crystal's policy of having a shuttle to mid-city at every available port is a huge bonus and we availed ourselves of that service many times. The shuttles ran on time and as scheduled.
As Crystal Penthouse passengers we received the perk of being personally escorted off the ship to retrieve our luggage and make our way to our provided car. We waited in the Crystal Cove (ending our trip just a few chairs away from where we began it) and waited to be met. Very shortly a lovely Crystal staff member met us and walked us off the ship and to our car. It went flawlessly.
While nothing is perfect, perfection in fact is a concept not a reality, Crystal Cruises comes pretty darned close. Our complaints could fill a small post-it note while our praises could fill several volumes with fine printed text. We were treated royally by Crystal as were our travel companions who were in an Ocean View Room.
King or surf, Crystal treats you as if you mattered more to them than anyone else in the world. And that truly is, the Crystal Difference.