I flew from Sydney to New York via Dallas and stayed one night at the Casablanca Hotel in Times Square before boarding the ship at 1230 on the day of embarkation. This was my first time on Crystal and I chose these two sectors based on the itinerary.
The Crystal Symphony is an elegant ship. The public rooms are lovely and even though the ship can hold 900+ passengers, at no time did it feel crowded. I particularly liked the beautiful Palm Court, deck 11 forward, and spent time there reading every day. The ship was extremely stable and sometimes I had to look twice to see if we were really moving. I really enjoyed the ship.
My cabin was on deck 7 aft. Deck 7 is the promenade deck and there is a wrap-around walking track so it was very easy to go out for a walk.
My first reaction was that the cabin was small and the bathroom tiny however the space was well utilised and there were lots of places to put things. It certainly helped that I was travelling on my own. The closet was tiny and I just managed to fit my suitcase and carry-on in it.
The bathroom had 2 sinks and a shower that was in the bath. At first I didn't like this but found that it was very easy to climb into the bath. The shower made up for it because once on the correct setting, it was the perfect shower, good temperature and excellent water pressure.
The bed was hard as a rock. I didn't bother asking for an egg crate topper because I don't like them. However after 23 days, I got used to the bed. It seems silly that the bed linen, doona and pillows are so comfortable but the mattress sucks.
Dinner in the dining room was a big issue for me. I did not like the fixed seating at all. On the first sector (New York to Reykjavik), my table of 8 seemed to be continually rotating with people coming and going. One night I sat next to a very rude man who fortunately I did not see again.
On the second sector (Reykjavik to Southampton), I had fabulous tablemates and we all got on well. One night, though, I sat at the table of 8 by myself as the others were off at the specialty restaurants. I had the waiters to talk to but I didn't particularly like the experience. I'm quite happy to have lunch by myself, but not dinner.
I ate at the Trident Grill (loved those sweet potato fries) and the Lido Buffet was nice at lunch time - it's also a lovely venue with lots of light and windows. Most of the time though, I enjoyed lunching in the dining room.
I liked the Bistro for a coffee or tea and there was always something yummy to eat there, be it fruit, cakes, cheese & biscuits, smoked salmon etc. I also liked the ice cream bar with a large range of ice cream, sherberts and yoghurts.
I loved Prego, the Italian specialty restaurant and ate there 3 times (it wasn't enough). The carpaccio and the limoncello souffle were excellent. The signature mushroom soup was nice but a little too salty for my liking.
I do enjoy Japanese food but I wasn't overly impressed with Silk Road. I had a nice meal there but decided to cancel my second reservation.
I really liked the variety of restaurants and bars to choose from.
Although there was a huge choice, I was never really wowed by the food although at no time did I go hungry and I enjoyed everything that I ate.
I nearly always eat my breakfast in my cabin and this cruise was no different. I loved the bircher muesli but then I discovered the freshly made waffles with maple syrup and fresh fruit. They were a delight.
Room service was very basic - no table cloth or plates being laid out, not at all like the room service that I have been used to on Silversea.
On port days, there was not much happening but on sea days there were lots of activities scheduled. The Symphony's computer room is, hands down, the best I've ever experienced on a ship and I attended some very good classes on digital photo editing. I liked that it gave me the opportunity to try some new software.
Trivia was a disappointment. It was only held on sea days and at 12 noon so on the first sector, it was almost a week before we had any trivia. I went to a few on the first sector but none on the second sector. I'm used to having trivia on every day.
I enjoyed Bill Miller's lecture on the ocean liners - he was a very engaging speaker. Some of the other speakers, I found boring. I guess it's just what you are interested in.
I liked the promenade walking track and tried to walk every day although that was very dependent on the weather and we had some really horrible weather during this cruise.
I loved the dedicated movie theatre, Hollywood Theatre, and the popcorn but the choice of movies was terrible. I managed to see Skyfall and Taken2 which were great but considering there are tons of movies to choose from, I didn't think much of the offering. I think they could throw in some comedies and not repeat the same movie the following day.
Port & Shore Excursions
Shore excursions were generally very good. Everyone would gather in the Starlite Club and wait for their tour number to be called.
I did the following excursions:
New York - Hudson River cruise to see the Statue of Liberty and various other landmarks, ending at Battery Park. Walk up to Wall Street and the 9/11 Memorial, followed by a brief stop at The High Line. This was my first trip to New York and I thoroughly enjoyed this excursion, even if it was freezing.
Newport - Fort Adam and the sights of Newport. This was basically an overview of the area and the weather did not cooperate at all. Next time, I would probably do a tour of one of the mansions.
Boston - I went to Marblehead and Salem. Marblehead has beautiful homes and Salem is famous for the witch hanging. The weather didn't cooperate again but even so, this was a very interesting excursion.
Bar Harbor - I went to the beautiful Arcadia National Park. This is a place that I would love to come back to in autumn to see the changing colour of the leaves.
Halifax - I went to Peggy's Cove. This is a charming little lobster fishing town with interesting rock formations caused by glaciers. Also there is a memorial to those who perished in the Swissair plane crash in 1998.
St Johns - the weather was nice so I decided to wander around the town on my own. It's a quaint little city with lots of different coloured houses. Easy to walk around on your own.
Reykjavik - The weather was dreadful but I managed to see the Gulfoss waterfall, the town of Geysir where a lot of geothermal activity takes place, the Thingvellir National Park where the two techtonic plates meet, and the Pearl Dome which sits atop of the hot water storage tanks in the city. I loved this tour.
I also drove through the Reykjanes peninsula on the way to the Blue Lagoon. This area is a barren waste of lava fields'it's quite a sight. The Blue Lagoon is loads of fun and I highly recommend it. The geothermal lagoon is man made and is a by-product of a nearby geothermal power plant. The warm water (39C) is rich in minerals and is reputed to help people suffering from skin diseases. There is a strict code of hygiene there which is very impressive. I loved this tour.
Heimaey - Unfortunately, the weather was awful (again!) and during my overview tour, the island was shrouded in fog. Heimaey Island is the only inhabited island in an archipelago off the coast of Iceland. It's claim to fame is the eruption of the Eldfell volcano in 1973 and the fact that the Icelanders sprayed sea water on the lava to slow its movement. It was a very impressive feat but it didn't stop nearly 70 homes and farms being buried under the tephra and lava. This was a very interesting little island.
Torshavn - in the Faroe Islands. I took advantage of the sunny weather and walked around the town. We were there on a Sunday so not many shops were open. The Faroes is where the whale hunt called grindadrap occurs. The Faroese consider the hunt an important part of their culture but in reality it is a totally cruel and disgusting practice where hundreds of whales are slaughtered annually in a horrific manner.
Alesund - another very foggy day but by the time I got to the summit of the mountain, the fog lifted and I got a fantastic view of the city. The city is spread across 7 islands and all the islands are linked together by tunnels. I did the overview tour and saw some very nice scenic views.
Geiranger - the best weather on the trip and we were the only ship anchored there. Tshirts and 19C, sunshine, blue sky. It was fabulous, given that most of the trip was very cold for me. A tiny little town at the end of a massive fjord with some of the most spectacular scenery that I have ever seen. I did a walk through the town and up the hill there is the Norwegian Fjord Centre. There I watched a slideshow of fantastic nature pictures from the high mountains to the fjords in all the different seasons. Well worth the walk up the hill.
Bergen - we were docked with one of the Cunard Queens and the Ventura so there were thousands of people in Bergen that day. I didn't want to wait 1 hour to get on the cable car so did a walk around the markets instead. In certain ports, Crystal offers a 'voluntouring' excursion and I chose this in Bergen. I had a wonderful time at the Rescue Centre for Homeless Cats. As a cat lover, this was my favourite excursion. It was free and about 20 of us cat lovers spent two hours at the home. It was a unique experience whilst being on holidays.
Eidfjord - is the orchard area of Norway. I took a full day tour called Orchards and Glaciers. I saw the magnificent Voringsfossen waterfall, a 4D film about Norway which is probably the best DVD I've ever seen. It showed all of Norway's fjords as if you were in a helicopter and, at times, I had to close my eyes because of the perceived motion. We had lunch at the Hotel Ullensvang where Edvard Grieg's composer's cabin was located. The hotel is family run and despite it's size is so cosy. I also saw the new Hardanger Bridge (or Norway Sky Bridge) that looks exactly like the Golden Gate Bridge but is 20 metres longer. The weather was lovely and we were able to walk around an orchard and view Norway's unusual method of growing fruit trees. All in all, a nice day in Norway with some fabulous fjord scenery.
Stavanger - our last port of call in Norway. The weather was awful and I was glad that I hadn't taken a tour. I walked around the town in the pouring rain and that was enough for me.
I enjoyed most of the acts especially the singers and musicians. I don't like the dancing much even though the dancers were from Australia. I particularly liked a Canadian singer in her show called "Diva" and an Australian pianist. There were a couple of other singers from New Zealand and Scotland that I liked too. I didn't bother with the magician. One thing that I thought odd was that the only time I ever saw the cruise director, was when he was MCing at the shows. I'm used to seeing and conversing with cruise directors during my cruise and on this trip, I never spoke to him once. I have no idea what he actually does on the ship.
The service is first class. The only crew member who knew my name was Francis at the ice cream bar. I was his best customer, every lunch time without fail. The waiters in the dining room were outstanding (Muzo and Elio) and the meals were brought promptly and always piping hot. The only shortcoming in service was the night of casual dining in the Lido Buffet where I waited 30 minutes for my meal. Everyone was frantic that night as they hadn't expected so many people to show up at the same time.
The disembarkation was orderly and fast. Everyone sat in the Starlite Club and awaited the call for their colour coded baggage tag. I quickly found my bag and got on the bus. I was going straight to Heathrow for a flight to Toronto that departed at 1620. We were taken to the Sofitel at Heathrow and there was an area set up exclusively for Crystal passengers. We were given refreshments and some lunch. Most of us were departing at a similar time so at 1400, we were taken to Terminal 5 for departure. Staying at the Sofitel for a few hours was much nicer than being dropped at the airport and having to wait there.
Whilst Crystal has one of the best single supplements in cruising, I didn't feel that they looked after their single cruisers. The only thing organised was a Table for 8 solos at the speciality restaurants and you had to eat at 6pm. On another cruiseline, I have had invitations to tables hosted by crew members and I think this is much nicer. One single gentleman who experienced the same issue as me, where all his tablemates were off at a specialty restaurant, was seated on his own at dinner. He mentioned to me that this would never have happened on Seabourn. He didn't like the fixed seating either and won't be back on Crystal. Although Crystal isn't my cruiseline of choice, I loved the ship. I haven't been able to find another itinerary that suits me so whether I sail again on Crystal remains to be seen.
If anyone has any questions, pls email me.