This was our fourth Crystal cruise and our second on board the Crystal Symphony. Our first ever Crystal cruise was on the Symphony in 2005 and, as it has undergone many refits since then, we were looking forward to seeing the changes. We have cruised on the Crystal Serenity in both 2011 and 2012 and hoped we would enjoy this holiday as much as on those occasions. We were certainly not disappointed.
We spent two nights in Rome prior to joining the ship and this helped us unwind from the hassle of the flights and transfers, and also to get in the holiday mood. We would always recommend staying at least one night prior to the cruise either in, or near to, the embarkation port.
We made our own way by train to Civitavecchia to join the ship; however, we had pre-booked our tickets and seats via the Internet before leaving home so it was all quite easy and stress free, apart from the sheer volume of people in Rome's Termini Station that morning. Arriving in Civitavecchia, we soon made our way to the port entrance and were soon aboard the Crystal shuttle bus heading to the cruise terminal. Although the embarkation desks were not yet open, as we were perhaps a bit early, it was a great relief that we were able immediately to leave our cases in a separate holding area ready for loading by the crew. After a short wait we were able to check in and get aboard where the final check-in procedures were carried out quickly and efficiently. We were then free to have lunch in the Trident grill, which we washed down with a very welcome glass of champagne, and our holiday had begun. By the time we had finished lunch and met some fellow passengers, our stateroom was ready and we were able to unpack and relax by the pool. Our stateroom was located on Deck 5, just behind the Concierge Desk, and in the end it proved to be a very handy location for all the amenities.
As the layout of the ship is more or less the same as on the Serenity', we found it easy to find our bearings and get around. We preferred the layout of both the 'Crystal Cove' and 'Avenue Saloon' bars here, compared to those on the 'Serenity', as we found them more user- friendly. We also visited the 'Lux' nightclub most evenings and our only slight criticism would be its common access into the Casino area.
All the public areas throughout the ship were spotlessly clean as usual; however, we were never really aware of the army of staff who were responsible for keeping it that way.
The exterior of the ship was perhaps starting to look a bit jaded with very obvious rust patches and dirty marks caused by the oily ropes; however, we only really noticed these when travelling on the tender boats.
Our Stateroom Stewardess (Chan) looked after us very well and kept us well supplied with towels and ice.
Food and drinks
As always, the standard of the food on board was excellent in all the eating venues. We loved to have breakfast and lunch outside in the Lido caf' where the food was always fresh and of great variety. We particularly loved the days when special themed meals were laid on, such as the Oriental buffet and the Kebab lunch when chefs from Istanbul were brought on board to cook and serve. Very different and so tasty. It was amusing to see the reaction of one American guest who perused the food at the Kebab lunch and then turned away in disdain uttering in a stage whisper 'Oh it's all Turkish' ' the poor Turkish chef just shrugged his shoulders and we all thought ' Dah , you are in Istanbul !'
We had dinner every evening in the Main Dining Room, apart from two nights when we ate in the 'Prego' restaurant, and the menu choice and standard food was superb. Even my partner, who tends to prefer plain foods, was tempted to try different things and loved them all- especially the desserts of course! Our Dining Room Head Waiter (Allwyn) and his assistant (Franklin) were simply fantastic and treated us so well the whole time. Both were so attentive and friendly that we looked forward to seeing them every evening. We also had great craic with our excellent Brazilian Sommelier (Luiz) and our Maitre' D (Mariko). The standard of the wines served in both the Main Dining Room and at 'Prego' were first class.
We went to 'Prego' twice during the cruise, including one occasion with three new- found friends, and can honestly say they were the best experiences we have ever had at a 'Prego' restaurant on either the Symphony or Serenity. The food was excellent as usual but the staff were so friendly and helpful that it really made the whole experience very relaxed and special.
Afternoon tea in 'The Bistro', with cakes of course, was our daily wicked indulgence. We felt that the layout of 'The Bistro' was perhaps better on the 'Serenity' than on this ship, and that the positioning of the buffet island in the centre of the space tended to cause congestion at times.
Our favourite bars were 'Crystal Cove' and 'the Avenue Saloon', mainly due to the great staff working there. We always had pre-dinner drinks in 'Crystal Cove' and had great craic with the bar staff, Paula and Camilla, who were not only very good at their job but they made us feel like old friends. We would invariably meet the same guests there every night as they also loved the relaxed, friendly atmosphere fostered by all the staff. A special thank you to Nilo who was always tempting us with delicious hors d'oeuvres and just before dinner too!
We liked to go to the 'Avenue Saloon' after dinner as it was a very comfortable place to relax and chat with fellow guests. Here again, all the bar staff were just so efficient and attentive, especially Eduardo and Marco. It still amazes me that from day one staff would remember our names, and even what we liked to drink.
The 'Lux' nightclub was also a regular late night haunt for us however, there did seem to be a problem with underage drinkers on most nights, despite the DJ's repeated warnings on the subject. We would have found it hard to determine the age of some of the teenagers on board, let alone the poor bar staff who may have found it difficult to question the age of guests. We appreciate that there may be little for teenagers to do in the evenings on cruise ships and perhaps this is something which Crystal might consider addressing for the future.
One of our fellow guests asked if the ship would host a 'Friends of Dorothy' get together for the gay and lesbian guests on board and we were delighted when they agreed. It was held one evening before dinner in the 'Lux' nightclub, complete with nibbles, and was greatly appreciated by all those who attended.
We feel that the move to 'all inclusive' last year continues to be a great innovation and, rather than guests over indulging, in our experience it has had the opposite effect and everyone seemed to drink sensibly and in moderation.
The Ports of Call
All our previous Crystal cruises had been around the Mediterranean and we chose this particular cruise mainly because it was visiting unusual ports and countries which were new to us. We really enjoyed all the ports, except for Constanta in Romania (of which more later), and were very pleasantly surprised and impressed with Odessa, Yalta and Sochi. Odessa was a very grand city which had a very relaxed and safe atmosphere with some beautiful buildings and was easy to get around. Yalta was also not what we had expected ' in a good way. We opted to take the 'Sochi Highlights' excursion when we got to Russia and were astounded by the beauty of the city and its surrounding countryside. It was so green and lush that it was hard to believe that this was actually in Russia. The highlight of the tour was a visit to Stalin's dacha on the outskirts of Sochi and was a fascinating insight into that period of history. We were very fortunate to have an excellent tour guide called Olga who not only knew her facts but was passionate, and at times emotional, about her city and country.
It is sad to report that our visit to Constanta in Romania was less than pleasant. We did not have high expectations prior to the visit and unfortunately they were well founded. Constanta can only be described as very grim and as soon as we stepped off the shuttle bus in the town centre we realised that it had little to commend it. There were virtually no proper roads or pavements, just mounds of stones and rubble everywhere making it difficult and dangerous to walk. We did not feel safe in any sense during our entire time there and, after a very brief walkabout, decided to hot foot it back to the safety of the ship. During the shuttle bus journey back to the ship we met two fellow guests who had just been almost robbed of their cameras in the main street. Luckily, both men were of a large build and were able to fend off the would- be thieves, however, they were still shaken by the experience and were also beating a hasty retreat back to the ship. On returning to the ship we subsequently heard that another guest had not been quite so fortunate and that he had in fact been robbed that same morning in the town centre. Presumably these incidents will have been reported to the Concierge/Security staff on the ship. We did not meet anyone who visited Constanta that day who would ever want to return there. We would recommend that Crystal seriously reviews the suitability of Constanta as a port of call on any future 'Black Sea' cruises.
Our cruise ended in Istanbul and unfortunately we only had a very brief time to see the city but would be keen to return on a future occasion.
We are not avid show goers so cannot really comment on them. We still did miss the live band playing in the afternoons on the Lido deck, especially at sail away. Even some music from the DJ would have added to the atmosphere.
The crew, as ever, made the whole cruise special and, although we have mentioned by name those with whom we probably had the most contact, we must praise all crew for their efficiency, friendliness and patience. . They are Crystal's biggest asset. It is perhaps a little sad that the entertainers from the shows are not just so friendly and tend to keep very much to themselves, rather than interact with the guests.
Overall cruise experience
This was a very relaxing and enjoyable cruise and we loved every minute. We met some great fellow passengers with whom we are still in contact and we look forward to planning our next Crystal cruise in 2014. Keep up the good work Crystal!