Crystal is a bit better than the average cruise line, but in no way is it '6 star cruising' and certainly not worth the extra cost. I don't believe it represents good value for money, and personally wouldn't cruise with them again.
Cabins are really small. We'd booked one for two adults, a three year old in a bed and a baby (6 months) in a cot. The three year old was OK in a chair which folded out into a bed (but I wouldn't want to put a child who was much older than that in there). But when the bed was folded out the table in the room had to go under the dressing table, the chair from the dressing table had to be removed from the room completely and the baby had to sleep in our bed as there was absolutely no room for a cot. This wasn't great, but given the fact we had to pay for the baby when he had nowhere to sleep and no food provided it wasn't acceptable. We were told the lowest category of cabin with a fold out bed available was Cat C. We would have much preferred adjacent cabins with an adjoining door in Cat E but we were told this wasn't available. Very frustrating then that someone we were travelling with was allocated just such a cabin and it definitely did have a fold out bed.
The size of the cabin meant there wasn't enough room for all our clothes -- I think we would have struggled with just two people in the cabin -- but with two children quite a lot of our clothes had to remain in the suitcase under the bed, which we could only get out when the fold out bed was folded up.
Liked the mini-bath in the bathroom, great for bathing the kids. The twin sink looks great, but as you can't get more than one person in the bathroom at a time it would actually been better to have one bigger sink. Loved the Aveda toiletries.
The waiting staff and the room stewards were generally excellent but the reception staff ranged from dismissive to downright unhelpful. Personally I found the entertainment poor. The program didn't vary day to day -- bingo at 10, quiz at 11, dance lessons at 2.30, etc -- the only thing that seemed to change was the guest lecturers. There are obviously a certain portion of people this appeals to but it completely lacked imagination and innovation, nothing that hasn't been done for years.
The brochure advertises that there are dedicated rooms for kids but that is quite literally all they are, just a room -- no entertainment at all is provided and there were no toys whatsoever available in the room (which was quite often closed as it was being used by the golf program or the photographers). I understand that there are no dedicated staff available outside of selected cruises but that is absolutely no excuse for not having toys available in the kids room. If nothing else that would mean the children would have somewhere to play away from passengers who didn't want children on-board. There was a kids menu in the dining room but this didn't vary at all, and unsurprisingly my son was getting bored of eating the same things after two weeks on-board. There was very little that was suitable for children otherwise, and absolutely no baby food was available.
The food in general was good, and portion sizes in the main restaurant were ideal. The lunch buffet was quite repetitive though, and only a few hot dishes varied day to day, with other counters not changing at all during the two weeks. I found the opening times of both the restaurant and the lunch buffet too limited (trying to fit in getting the children fed and naps meant that quite often I missed the buffet and had to eat at the lido). Other people who ate breakfast quite late or were on the late sitting for dinner might also have found the lunch closing at 1.30 to early also. After 6.30 the only options were the restaurant or the food being served in the restaurant as room service. With the kids asleep in the room, room service was not an option so it would have been nice to have somewhere else to go. Crystal might argue that there isn't the demand for it but the long wait for a table on the two nights there was casual dining in the evening in the buffet room would suggest otherwise.
We really struggled to get bookings at the speciality restaurant at suitable times, in the end we only got a booking at all by e-mailing Crystal. We were therefore really annoyed when we did get in to find that we were the only fare paying passengers there save for one other table. All the other tables were taken up by staff, some of them with their guests. I understand that staff might want to take their guests in, but this should not be to the detriment of fare paying passengers, who should get preference. Many of the staff seemed to treat the passenger areas as their own, often taking up tables in the bistro and the lido area, leaving no seats available for the paying passengers. This also meant that the waiting staff were having to serve them drinks, etc increasing the length of time passengers were having to wait. I really didn't think this was acceptable.
The boat itself has recently been refurbished but it really is beginning to show its age. We experienced rough weather but I've been on rougher seas in other boats and they were able to cope much better than this ship did. We were scheduled to call at 4 ports -- Dublin, Akureyri, Reykjavik and Halifax. Two of these stops were cancelled due to bad weather (which although the boat made hard work of it wasn't that bad). We were also delayed for over 5 hours getting out of Reykjavik, this was put down to the sea being too rough but the Brilliance of the Seas was out at sea waiting for our berth to become available and didn't seem to be experiencing any problems. As 'compensation' for missing two of the four stops we were given 100$ per person. Unfortunately this was only given to the full fare paying passengers, so no compensation at all for the baby, not even a pro-rata rebate. This works out in the region of 1% of the total cost of the holiday, and given that we missed 50% of the stops we though this was somewhat insulting. One formal night was cancelled, as it was a bit choppy, and never reinstated on another night. And no effort was made to change the entertainment program to alleviate the boredom of spending endless unplanned days at sea.
I found that the tours were excessively expensive. For example we did a tour to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. It seemed expensive but we though this might be because the entry to the Blue Lagoon was expensive, but this wasn't the case. We were also under the impression that the tours were free for the under 4s. In fact they charged us 50% of the full fare for our 3 year old. This was despite the fact that it was completely free for him to get into the Blue Lagoon. So effectively we had to pay $60 for a bus trip which was less than half an hour each way. Needless to say we didn't take any more trips, and would have struggled to do so as the stops were cancelled anyway!
The debarkation was the worst I have experienced. Crystal have a no passenger announcements policy, which generally is OK but when their organisation goes so spectacularly awry they are really needed. Debarkation was scheduled to commence from around 8am, with passengers being told to wait in the Starlight lounge at specific times and passengers would be directed from there. However 9am came and went with no sign of anyone getting off. The two staff present were hopelessly inundated and had no idea what was happening. By 10am it felt like the entire ship was trying to fit into the lounge and when they did begin letting people off the first ones off where the last ones to arrive as those who should have been let off were trapped in the lounge by those who had arrived for a later departure. Utter chaos, and I'd be surprised if people didn't miss their flights because of it. Especially frustrating as we could see passengers on the Carnival ship, which arrived after us, getting of before us. But this event summed up the entire cruise -- lack of customer care, staff largely absent and uninterested and no better (and quite often worse) than any other cruise line.