Since I began cruising in the late 90's I have heard and read things about Crystal Cruises which made me doubt it would ever be a cruise line I would like. The usual gist of the comments were "why pay more when it is nearly the same as what you get on [fill in the blank]?" And too, there was always some allusion to the ratio of older passengers. In order to keep my comments brief, I will say only that none of this is true. What IS true in my mind is that Crystal Cruises is tailor made for the discerning traveler. I will leave the specific comparisons of food, entertainment and quality of service for others to comment on. They are all good to great, but they are not what sets Crystal apart in my mind.
Let me explain:
Cruising is about leaving cares and troubles behind for a time and enjoying life. This begins with embarkation. If you have to enter a terminal, figure out WHAT LINE YOU BELONG IN, or figure out which line is moving the fastest, then you are NOT on Crystal. My first Crystal experience taught me that one merely needs to walk onto the ship and pick up the room key. VOILA!
If you are reminded everyday what benefits you get based on how many times you have cruised, you are not on Crystal. As first time cruisers we were given $100 shipboard credit each and an additional $200 each as part of our booking. Everyone I talked to received credit just for booking which one that gets to decide on how to use, e.g., internet, spa, stores, excursions, private dance instruction.
This gets to the heart of what impressed me the most about Crystal. At no point did I detect or recognize the difference in passengers. Officers did not parade into the dining room with privileged guests, suite passengers received no special dining room or specialty restaurant booking privileges, there was no mention anywhere that if you are such and such you get such and such. No private parties for "special" groups. We did have a cruise critic party, but anyone could attend. If the cruise line does this sort of thing, it is discreet and that is really my point. They make it their business to treat everyone on board as a first class passenger. No difference is the difference! This is a brilliant business strategy in my way of thinking.
The other key business strategy that puts Crystal at the very top is the public space to passenger ratio. Read: no crowds anywhere!!! No buffet lines, no chair hogs because there are so many wonderful choices, lots of dance floor. A WIDE WRAP AROUND PROMENADE for those who love to walk or run. Space, space, space.
Another small example that speaks volumes: I learned Crystal has guest laundry services. HURRAY! I followed a sign, found it, and discovered, wow, no charge to use the machines. But alas, no machine for laundry soap. I thought, ah ha, this is where they will get you, they will charge $10 for soap! So I checked the stores and then asked at the desk with a rather wry look on my face. She looked at me quizzically and said, "madam, you simply push the button when you need soap". You mean bing, bang, boom, it is free? She laughed at me. Then, to top it off, I learned there is not one guest laundry, no, there is one ON EVERY FLOOR!
A big example of how Crystal is out-thinking other cruise lines is their strategy of transatlantic big band dance cruises. If you are a dance lover, there is no better ship venue. The professional instructors (4) gave multiple group lessons every sea day, private instruction and they performed at various times with each other, crew and passengers. I count myself as a dance instruction snob and they outclassed the competition on land and sea by a mile. Seven dance ambassadors were onboard and were tireless in dancing with the ladies on-board. This has to be the best kept secret in the cruising industry but I think it is just starting to take off so if you are interested, act fast and book!
Finally, let me say a word about the passengers. The first week I kept asking myself, "is it the passengers aboard who make this a more enjoyable experience, or is it the way Crystal does business that makes every happier and therefore the experience more enjoyable?" I have concluded that it must be both.On Crystal, you will see smiling octogenarians showing the middle aged folks how to have fun. Common etiquette is evident everywhere. If you are on a ship with whiners, complainers, "me too" or "me first" needy type folks, you are not on Crystal!
Before I conclude, I will point out two areas that are good but could be better. The spa. It is disconnected in culture from the rest of the ship. To be brief, they should be more inviting and offer more amenities in the locker room, especially at those prices. Second, the regular production stage performers (not the professional ballroom instructors onboard) are good, not great. I might point to Azamara as a cruise line that excels in maximizing the potential of a small dance/vocal performer group.
Crystal cruises are a class act all the way. The discerning cruiser will see it at every turn and it will be experienced as a warmth that melts ones cares away. The ships are large enough to provide a smooth ocean experience, but small enough to make friends and find your way around. It is, after all, the perfect all around luxury cruise experience.