We decided to do this "Cruise To Nowhere" immediately after doing it last year. Crystal, I believe, has only done this itinerary a couple of times.
Starting in San Pedro, it heads North to Santa Barbara, spends 2 days in San Francisco before returning south to Ensenada and San Diego. Being from Southern California and having spent a lot of time in all of these destinations, we termed this the "Cruise To Nowhere" last year. We were taking this Thanksgiving Cruise primarily to enjoy the ship, the food, and the usually stellar service.
I am rating the overall cruise a 4 star, but in reality it's more like a 4.5 or 4.6. I unfortunately cannot rate it a 5, at least from our perspective.
Here, in no particular order are my observations:
Cabin: We were on the fifth deck, Category D. Cabin was in a great location. Lower deck right outside the main lobby and the Crystal Dining Room. It's a bit small, but typical of most outside cabins. Bathroom with 2 sinks and great toiletries was nice. Shower/Tub had a hand set shower unit with nice power. Downside is the quality of the beds. Mattress is very firm and all of the pillows were too soft. They tried a trick with an egg crate upside down, but it did not help much. Crystal needs to redo the beds. Many would agree. 4 stars
Food: Nothing more to say than ...SIMPLY AWESOME!. We had no complaints whatsoever. The food in the MDR was 5 star or better every single meal. From the fish to the bread to the soup to the venison, it was a taste sensation every meal. Even one step higher were the Specialty restaurants: Silk Road and Prego. Outstanding preparation and my hat is off to the chefs and servers throughout the ship. 5 stars plus
All Inclusive Drinks and Wine: We had a great Sommelier and the wines offered were quite nice. Our mixed drinks at the bars were also served quickly and were quite good. I cannot complain at all about this aspect of AI. We are not big drinkers, but apparently you can also have 2 bottles of complementary hard liquor or champagne in your stateroom. See your stewardess and she will get you all set up. 5 stars
Enrichment: Because we only had one sea day, the Crystal Enrichment program was at a bare minimum. This was unfortunate. Last year we at least had Art and Music classes, and I was expecting it again this year. It was even listed in the itinerary on the web. The Speaker, Louis Rene Beres, an international law expert focused on the middle east, was excellent, but they only gave him one day to speak. He had apparently prepared four lectures. I do understand that on Port Days, the ship expects everyone to be out exploring. But on this particular cruise, I'd say a good proportion of people stayed on the ship, a lot. Ensenada, in particular, seemed to have very few "adventurers". we were fine with not having many activities on the sea days, as our objective was just to relax, but to have the option of a few things would have been nice. Last year, for instance, we did some art and actually had it displayed at an "Art Show" on the ship. 3 stars
Jazz Themed Cruise: Perhaps some of the minimization of the enrichment program was due to the Jazz we had on board. There were several musicians on board, playing for several hours every day at various venues. The Talent was superb Old Styled Jazz with top notch solos. The groups were part of an organization called "Jazzdagen". One of their band leaders is a guy named Pieter Meijers, who plays a Clarinet like you would not believe. I would rate this entertainment 5 stars plus, and was a unique experience we had not encountered in any of our previous cruises. Well done!
Service: This was the surprise for us. Last year, we had the best service of any cruise we've ever been on. They made an effort to know our names. I would be up early and try to meet my wife later in the lido for breakfast. The Lido staff would be able to pinpoint me and direct my wife to my table. It was unprecendented. The Dinner staff were equally accomading. that Was last year.
This year, for whatever reason ,was a complete reversal, at least for us. Our stewardess was just adequate, if not worse. We had early dining, and on 2 nights we returned to our room after dinner to find that she was still cleaning the stateroom. This was at 830pm! So she got embarrassed and said she would hurredly finish, meaning of course, not thoroughly cleaning perhaps. Our dinner waiter was equally incompetent, if I can use that term. We were a table of 8 at the very aft end of the room. We were invariably the last table to get served. Some orders were wrong: he forgot who ordered what, that sort of thing. We had to switch our plates after he served the wrong dishes to the wtrong people Desserts were forgotten. Coffee and Tea was not served with dessert, perhaps 5-10 minutes after dessert. I mean it wasn't all bad, but it was also not that great. He never recommended any meals or described how the dishes were prepared. I don't know, but for some reason, we got stuck with perhaps the worst waiter on the ship. Now our dinner mates were great, and our interesting conversations were able to carry us through the delays, but still, I like to eat in a timely fashion. All dinners took about 2 hours from start to finish. We were usually about the last people out of the dining room. Not because of lingerring to talk, but lingering for our after dinner tea or coffe to arrive.
Surprising thing however...the lunch service was excellent. Maybe less crowded, but we were in and out on 45 minutes and completely satisfied. The waiters/eaitresses vary for lunch, so we had a glimpse of some others. Most were stellar, but a couple were again just not so good.
Service is the most important aspect of a luxury cruisre, and we just felt that we were treated pretty mush average if that. In direct comparison to the best serviced cruise of our life, last year, we just this was on par with a mega ship, not a smaller luxury ship known for it's sevice. And Crystal is not inexpensive, so this was just a bit incomprehensible for us.
Oh, one other thing, our stateroom toilet went out of service briefly. I went to the front desk to anounce it (front desk is 30 feet from our room if that). Then we heard that toilets were out on that entire side of the ship for our floor at least, including the public bathroom. Two elderly women came out of the bathroom to say the same thing (toilets not working) so I went right back to the front desk. I thought this was pretty important. The front desk staffperson did not and just non-chalantly said someone would be notified. I went back to the room a couple hours later and the toilet was working, thank goodness. Went to the same front desk person to say "thanks, it looks like our toilet is working again." She was sort of caught off guard and said, "Oh okay, thanks for letting us know". Bottom line: She didn't put any emphasis or care in the toilets being out, and had no idea that the situation was resolved nor did any announcement come directly to us that our staeroom toilet was working again.
Not a shining Service moment for Crystal, IMHO.
Overall Service: 3 Stars
We had a great cruise, but it was not the "6 Star" luxury we had expected, coming off our truly "6 Star" treatment on the same cruise last year. Hard to say if it was due to the "All Inclusive" changeover this year, or just our specific bad luck of having a less than stellar stewardess and waiter. Could also be that several crew members may have been at their last week of their contract, i.e. burned out. The Symphony was heading to the South Pacific and Australia, so it would make sense that a new crew was being sent "Down Under". Still, it is the ship's responsibility to make sure everyone is adequately taken care of.
The Jazz was great and the food was great and the wine was great. Service was only adequate, so the overall experince was a bit diminished.
Would we sail Crystal again...surely, but the price would have to be commensurate with the service. In this case, it was not.