It has been close to a month since we embarked on our Crystal Symphony Holiday Cruise in Auckland, but the memories of it linger fondly. We thought we would share this review. For ease of reference, we have broken our review down by categories, more or less.
1. Embarkation: Embarkation was a breeze. From the moment we entered the shipyard it took less than three minutes to board the ship and registration under two minutes if that. Efficiently and quickly handled, we were on our way to the MDR for our traditional lunch of Cobb Salad and along the way we saw several familiar and welcoming faces.
2. Computer and Wi-Fi: The folks who staff the Computer University deserve a medal of valor. We were able to set up our iPads quickly to access the WiFi and though I had a bit of difficulty at first due to the demand for WiFi of all of the guests logging in at once, that soon resolved itself. Sadly, we saw several guests over the first week of the cruise who were terribly rude and disrespectful of the CU staff complaining endlessly about the WiFi connectivity and how much better it was on other ships and how it was not like being at home. To their credit the staff was consistently polite (far more than I would have been under like circumstances). Though Crystal makes numerous efforts in its materials to give guests a realistic set of expectations, some just don't get it and the rudeness was appalling. Through it all, though, the staff did their best and kept trying to please and offering suggestions. During the course of the cruise, connectivity was excellent for the most part in both common areas and in our stateroom on the 10th floor.
3. MDR, PREGO and SILK ROAD: The food was consistently excellent. Special ordered foods were prepared precisely as requested. Portion sizes were reasonable and we noted little waste of food or food left on plates at the end of the meal which is a great sign that the food was delicious and also of the desire to not waste food. The selection was always good. Service in the MDR was excellent (Kudos to Celso, Renjith, Hayley and our sommelier Kremena and her assistant Michaelangelo all of whom were top notch!) Service in Prego was outstanding as always and the food scrumptious. Service in Silk Road we found to be a bit intrusive at the wrong times and rushed, especially by the sommelier who looked like he was in a hurry to meet demand for his services. A special note about AI. We did not note any delay in sommelier service at our table for 8. Kremena was seemingly always there when a glass needed filling and extremely knowledgeable about the choice of wines being offered and other options.
4. SHOWS: We enjoyed the shows and especially noted that there was not a single repetition of shows during the cruise. Every night had different entertainment. We did find the decision to have some shows for late seating diners at 7 p.m. to be confusing and as a result missed a show designed by Marvin Hamlisch that we really wanted to see. That being said, the artists brought on board were wonderful and we enjoyed them thoroughly. Our only criticisum would be that we noted that members of the Crystal Ensemble of Singers and Dancers on a couple of occasions took seats in what we woulc consider prime locations in the Galaxy meaning that passengers had to find seats way along the perimeter of the showroom. The same held true on several nights in the Avenue Saloon where an entire side of the room was taken with Crystal Ensemble dancers and singers and passengers had no place to sit. As we soon learned, Mark Farris is one of the hottest tickets on the 7 seas and he could sure use a larger venue to perform but probably the intimacy of the Saloon is what makes him so great among other things like his sense of humor and his musical skills. Special kudos for the great DIVA show which was tops and excellent shows by Will Martin and by Boys in the Band.
5. MAGIC AT SEA: We recall the catty postings about the prospect of Magic at Sea before it launched that we read on these boards. Magic at Sea this time around with Andrew Goldenhersh was a GREAT experience. Andrew is a world class magician and the chance to see him in an intimate setting with 20 passengers was not to be missed. Apparently almost half of those on board concurred as his shows were full and standing room only on some instances we are told. There was nothing but class and quality in his act. Best of all, he involved willing passengers and each attendee was within a few feet of him as he performed complex effects with great finesse. Furthermore, the tickets we each received to use in the future to get access to the World Famous Magic Castle pribate club in Los Angeles were an added bonus. Being one of the hardest tickets in Los Angeles to get (you either have to be a member of the Academy of Magical Arts or know a member to get in the door), getting a free pass to get in at some time in the future was icing on the cake. We hope Crystal keeps this program going.
6. USC CINEMA SCHOOL IPAD IMOVIE CLASSES: Dave attended this class and loved it. The instructors Claudia and David from USC School of Cinema were wonderful, patient and helpful. Both spent extra time outside of the class time with Dave helping him learn how to use the iMovie program. The written materials and the hands on help which were provided were stellar. Dave intends to take the class again when he is next onboard to refine his knowledge of the program. Having two left hands when it comes to this type of technology, Dave really found the classes great and the instructors patient and easy to learn from for which he is grateful.
7. SPA AND GYM: We both had spa services and used Brian to train us privately in the gym. The spa was lovely though smaller than the Serenity. Brian was simply fantastic. He was encouraging, put us through quite a work out each time, and very positive. He is clearly knowledgeable about personal fitness and health and we cannot wait to be back on board to train with him again. Dave tried his first spinning class with Brian and found it to be very challenging. Brian was encouraging and Dave will definitely do it again thanks to Brian's kind words and feedback.
8. SMOKING: We spent less than 10 minutes in the entire cruise at the Crystal Cove. The smoke was overpowering. Similarly we found ourselves having to leave the Avenue Saloon a few times due to smoking. We realize that smoking in those venues is soon to be a thing of the past and are sure that the performers and workers in those venues cannot wait for that day to come on both ships. We did not note a lot of smokers on the Lido deck, but then again we did not go looking for them. We did note a fair amount of Crystal employees smoking at the fore of the ship and imagine a smoking ban might really impact them more than one might have thought.
9. FORMAL NIGHTS: Call us old fashioned but being in our late 50's--early 60's we do still enjoy formal nights. It is a hassle to bring all of the items required for formal dress but we are always glad we did so. We noted that folks looked very nice on those nights and even on informal nights too. We did not see more than one instance of what might be considered inappropriate attire in the MDR at dinner. We hope Crystal will maintain the Formal Nights on the cruises.
10. ALL INCLUSIVE: Being that we are not big drinkers, free and unlimited alcohol held no allure for us. That being said, we only noted one instance in the Avenue Saloon where a woman was sleeping with her head in her husband's lap during one of Mark's shows. We do not know if that was excess alcohol or fatigue but it struck us that if she was that sleepy, she should have gone up to her room. We also, as is our custom, provided gifts to some of the folks who served us for XMAS and extra gratuities especially for our butler, room stewardess, Senior Waiter, Head Waiter, Assistant Waiter, Lido and Gym personnel and a few other folks all of whom looked surprised to receive anything and were very appreciative. COnsistently during our cruise we noted smiling and happy faces among the crew. Not once did we encounter a rude or sour or unhappy crew member.
11. CONCIERGE SERVICES: We need to express our thanks publically to Gareth and Patrick at the concierge desk for their excellent assistance. They promptly and very skillfully handled multiple arrangements for us and kept us informed of their progress and confirmed everything in writing. They are the very best at what they do and very personable to boot.
12: SHORE EXCURSIONS: We enjoyed the shore excursions and only wished that perhaps a few more culinary excursions or cooking experiences could have been arranged. And we were sorry to have missed the chance to bike around Napier but did enjoy that Art Deco tour in the old Packard auto with Tony!
13. LIDO DECK: Having sailed on both Crystal ships we cannot help but compare our last cruise on the Serenity in March 2012 with this holiday cruise. The difference was most noticeable on the Lido Deck. On the Serenity (before they went AI), we were constantly asked by Lido crew if we wanted any food or drinks. We found on this cruise that we were asked about drinks from time to time, but outside of the late risers breakfast service, the solicitation of our food and beverage desires was more sporadic. It seemed like there were fewer crew on the Lido deck during lunch and afternoon than we were accustomed to. Still, the guys who approached us and helped us were wonderful and the burgers and ice cream can't be beat!
14. OUR PENTHOUSE: We've sailed both ships before and the highlight of the cruises starts when we are greeted by our dear butler IGOR BABICK who makes each sailing a special joy. He and Sheetal our stewardess made sure we had everything we needed and were charming to deal with. We cannot say enough about our cabin crew and how wonderful they are. The room is a bit smaller than on the Serenity and there is less drawer space, but when IGOR enters the room and greets us, the space is just right.
15. NEW YEARS EVE: Crystal outdid themselves for New Year's Eve. Yes second seating dinner was a bit harried, but the views and location of the catamaran near the Sydney Harbor Bridge was the best seat bar none and we were front and center. We will NEVER forget the wonders of 12/31/12 and ringing in the new year in Sydney Harbor. We doubt Crystal could ever top that excursion though we suspect that they will continue to try to do so in coming years.
16. REMI AND OUR DINING ROOM TABLEMATES: As always we asked for a late seating and a table of 8. Remi, ever the magician, put together an absolutely splendid table of dinner mates for us. We enjoyed every dinner together, periodically becoming so lost in the conversation and laughter that we practically were the last ones out of the MDR at night. We do not know how he does it, but it is a special skill. We had such a great time that we have all agreed to sail on the Northern Cape July 2014 voyage together and to request the same table and table mates again. We know we'll keep in touch with Mary, Fran, Lyn, Nancy, Cathy and Ernie and see them from time to time if our travels permit either here where we live or in their home towns and we can't wait.
17. COMPLAINTS: Aside from our observation about crew taking prime seats at some entertainment venues, we only have one other complaint and it is one which Crystal cannot do much about. As we expected, a holiday cruise has children on it and sadly, some of the children onboard had parents who were not attentive to their children's behaviors or chose to ignore it. Running up and down the hallways, playing in the elevator, trying to glide down the bannisters and running around on the dance floors was hardly appropriate conduct. We noted young children teetering on bar stools near the ice cream bar, picking through the cookies in the box there and putting cookies back that they had touched. We heard of children pushing doorbells late at night at certain staterooms. As noted above, sadly, some folks do not know how to behave and therefore do not teach their children about appropriate behavior on the ship. Again we do not fault Crystal for that and we did note several families with extremely well behaved children.
Finally, as we have found to be consistently true, we ended our cruise longing to stay longer and realizing that we simply had to wait until our next cruise comes around (in a mere 130 or so days). We left the ship feeling so relaxed and having seen such marvelous places and sights, and having made some wonderful new friends and acquaintances and concluded, as we always do, that there is simply nothing better than a Crystal cruise.