This was my fourth and best cruise, ever! My wife was experiencing cruising for the first time. She was told regularly by folks we met on board that this trip would spoil her for all other cruises. My, how right they were!
Crystal advertises itself as a luxury cruise line. If you have any doubt, check the fares compared to the other lines on which I've sailed, Carnival, Holland America, and Royal Caribbean. Each of those lines provides a "nice experience," but none of those prepares you for the luxury of Crystal.
We arrived at the Port of Miami for early boarding, a privilege you may request when booking your trip, and one well worth pursuing. We were greeted at the curb by cruiseline ambassadors and baggage handlers. From that moment on, we were treated like royalty, as the baggage handlers kindly and eagerly assisted with our luggage and the ambassador checked our tickets and escorted us to the entry. At the top of the escalator another ambassador directed us to a small waiting area where we watched as our fellow travellers were escorted to pleasant, happy folk who processed us, gave us or ship board ID's and invited us to board the ship they so clearly love.
As soon as we stepped on board we were greeted by members of the staff. It was too early to go to our cabin. Instead, we were given a tour of the public areas of the ship and then escorted to the dining room for our lunch. An elegant shipboard meal served by the dining room staff who made us feel welcome. The food alone justified our early boarding. We then strolled the decks and made our reservations at the spa and for the alternative dining venues. Around 2pm we were invited to go to our cabin where our luggage awaited.
Our cabin. This "simple, lowly" Class A cabin with sliding glass window/wall and balcony. A beautiful wood paneled built in desk with mirror, tv and both direct and indirect lighting. A full scale closet with additional drawers, a safe, and our personal Crystal Cruise terry cloth robes and slippers, night stands on either side of the king sized bed, a bed so comfortable I would like to have taken it home. the bath with a full sized tub/shower, full sized toilet and a double sink made from granite. Sufficient cabinet space so that when fully unpacked, there was room left over!
Our clothes and gear stowed we began to tour the ship in more detail, lounged on the deck as we awaited the mandatory life boat drill and then relaxing on our balcony before dinner. A trip to the Whiskey Saloon for a pre-dinner cocktail. Soft drinks, coffee, coffee drinks and bottled water are free throughout the ship. Alcoholic drinks are reasonably priced. Tips are automatically added to bar bills. No cash exchanged hands, everything is charged to your room account.
Our first two days were at sea. On the first day my wife and I each had a spa appointment. The spa is worth visiting just to get a sense of the services and to see all the beautiful people (male and female) who work there. Peggy had a facial and I had my teeth whitened. Several days later she had an algea skin treatment/massage. (She wants to immediately go back on board just for this treatment!)
We enjoyed the breezes of the ocean as we travelled rapidly south (22 knots/hour on six engines) and began to meet some of our fellow travellers. A crowd of older folks, mostly, some with 25 or 30 cruises under their belt and then folks like us, new to cruising or only a few cruises in our experience. Most of the older folks seemed to be lively and pleasant. As in all crowds, there is the occasional grump.
Each day began with a trip to the Lido deck for morning coffee and then breakfast. Each day we were greeted by 3 or 4 deck hands who quickly learned our names and our preferences. My coffee was poured and I was led to my favorite table in just the time it took to say "Good Morning, Ross" or Benjamin or Nat or Raymond. Friendly, pleasant and anxious to serve. No mandatory tipping here, but I gladly tipped each of these men who made each morning so wonderful as did the other servers such as Patricia and Maja.
Breakfast was consistent at the Lido: fruits, rolls, pastries, donuts, bagels, hot and cold cereals, eggs to order, pancakes, waffles, fresh squeezed juices, coffee, espresso and just about anything you could think of. Should you choose breakfast in the dining room, there are perfectly poached eggs, three variations of eggs benedict, pancakes, waffles and more and more.
You could lunch at the Lido most days, each day with a different theme, then there were the grills for later lunches and alternatives including specialty sandwiches, hot dogs and big juicy hamburgers and chicken burgers and the best gazpacho you will ever taste! Once again, the deck service was impeccable. Of course there was the ice cream bar open all afternoon, room service always available and finally dinner. C'est dommage, only three choices for dinner (not counting room service in your stateroom). the main dining room with two seatings or the two specialty restaurants Prego, an Italian restaurant and Silk Road, a Japanese restaurant cum sushi bar. Prego: FABULOUS! excellent food and service. Silk Road also fabulous, but we had a better time in Prego. The food in the main dining room was good. I expected great. It just never got to great. Prego achieved great! I love sushi but the sushi bar only has nine seats and it is on a first come/first served basis. I preferred a reserved seat in the dining rooms.
No late night buffet on this ship...frankly who needs one? with an older group, the ship slowed down quickly after the second show in the Galaxy Lounge let out. In fact, few older folks made it through the second show.
The quality of the entertainment was mixed. Some really good production shows an some very pedestrian production shows. some very good solo performers and a couple of "stars" who should have been left on shore somewhere. The piano bars (Whiskey Saloon and Crystal Lounge) were really nice. The dance band in the Palm Court was darned good.
The fit and finish of the ship is incredible. Clean. Beautiful. Elegant. Tasteful. The Palm Court with, of course, palm trees, bamboochairs and wicker tables. Lovely paintings on walls in the corridors. Sculpture at the landings of each stairway. Paneled wood. Polished and elegant. Brass, chrome, glass all sparkling. Public Restrooms you would think were never used. Always quiet. Always clean. No odors. No stains. No sense of wear. Anywhere.
Disembarking at the ports was easy. Groups gathered in the Galaxy to be sent off on shore excursions. If you were not on a shore excursion you simply passed through security and were on your merry way. We did shore excursions at three of the five stops: Aruba, Bonaire and Barbados.
In the morning we "shopped" in Aruba. That was about as exciting as watching corn grow. After lunch we boarded a launch which took us to the submarine. we got to descend 150 feet below sea level. We saw coral. We saw 3 fish. Whoppee (what a rip)(snore).
Bonaire was the BEST! We kayaked in the Mangrove forest. This was an incredible experience that we loved! Elly, the Owner/Guide of this unique excursion loves here mangrove forest, a nationally protected site. She explained the eco-system, pointed our fish, birds,jelly fish. She guided use through the tunnels of mangrove root and helped us to understand and appreciate this fragile resource. Hooray for Elly! this trip was fabulous (and she isn't bad to look at either!) We were told by others that the snorkeling was great!
On Granada we shared a private taxi tour with another couple. I guess we got lucky. Our drive, Edmond, loves his Island and was very kind to show us not only the usual tourist places but also stopping at non-tourist locations. He was really nice and really informative. It was well worth the US$25 per person for this tour and it seemed like a much better value than those sold by the ship.
On Barbados we did take a ship-sold excursion which included a drive across the island with a lot of information from our tour guide, a trip through a beautiful private garden and a stop at an Atlantic Ocean side hotel for a drink (included) followed by a ride to the fusilier road where we saw the remaining guard outpost and the famous lion carved by (?).
When we docked at Antigua we were joined by three other cruise ships. We decided to do our gift shopping here and found an interesting area specifically aimed at the tourist dollar. We were able to work some deals and got some nice stuff. As to Antigua...well, we really didn't see it. Many folks told us about the great beaches.
Formal nights on board the ship are lovely. While tuxes are not mandatory, many men wore tuxes and the ladies wore beautiful gowns. Of course, there was the ubiquitous ship's photographer at each event an the art auction and the bingo games but unlike all of the other lines I've sailed, I never felt like someone was always trying to get me to spend money, buy things or squeeze a tip out of me. I NEVER felt that on this ship.
We tipped our stewardess because she gave us WONDERFUL service, was pleasant and caring. We others because they made us feel special. Tipping is expected, but you can deal with it as part of your ship board account. We tipped some people directly and others through the ship board account.
Oh, yes, the casino. It is there. It is relatively small. Peggy played black jack and slots. I played slots...and won, everyday! (Hard to imagine a shipboard casino that actually pays jackpots on is slot machines!)
Would we cruise Crystal again? IN A HEARTBEAT!