Background:Crystal is absolutely my favorite cruise line but I booked this cruise with some doubts. I had a lingering suspicion that using Crystal for what is essentially a routine Caribbean cruise is a bit like using a Ferrari to drive to the corner drug store. I booked the cruise only for a unique circumstance. I had 2 bucket list cruises, New York to Miami on the Symphony and the Prinsendam to the Amazon 10 days later from Ft. Lauderdale. I wanted to do something in those 10 days I wouldn't do normally, and my initial reaction was Epic, Allure, or Oasis. I eventually decided that while I wouldn't normally book those I was free to do so anytime and a convenient (for me) Crystal Caribbean cruise was a very rare event.
Ship info: The Crystal Symphony was built in 1995, and has been updated regularly since then, most recently in 2012. It is moderately large, and extremely spacious for the passenger capacity. My voyage was completely sold out, but never crowded. The open decks are especially spacious, and there is a wide, wrap-around Promenade Deck.
Staterooms: With the exception of the penthouses on deck 10, the rooms are essentially the same. There are only 8 categories, 3 for penthouse, regular and deluxe verandas, depending on the deck, and 3 categories of penthouse cabins. The rooms are well equipped, especially the baths, with a full tub in even the lowest category rooms. There is ample storage space.
Dining: Until recently, dinner in the main dining room has always been served in 2 seatings, usually 6 or 6:30 and 8:30, but Crystal now offers an option of a flexible dining time . In addition to the Crystal Dining Room, there are 2 specialty restaurants, Silk Road with Japanese cuisine and Prego with Italian cuisine. These restaurants require reservations but have no surcharge other than a suggested gratuity. The Lido Cafe does not typically open for dinner but will once or twice most cruises (but not this one). The Lido Cafe serves breakfast and lunch, starting with coffee and pastries around 5AM. There are special theme buffets in the lido, typically about every 3 days. While nominally a buffet, the lido is staffed by several incredible stewards who greeted me by name by day 3, learned my preferences, and generally provide very personal service. A grill midships on the lido serves a late breakfast plus burgers and sandwiches with a few extras. The selection of side dishes is limited, but it is just steps from the Lido Cafe, so these extras are readily available. The Crystal Dining serves a traditional breakfast and lunch with open seating, with one grand gala luncheon buffet sometime during the cruise. The Bistro a deck above the dining room serves pastries and other snacks. Dining as such pretty well closes after dinner, but each room has a refrigerator and is stocked with beverages and fruit, routinely restocked by the Stewardess on her regular visits. Light snacks are served in the lounges in the evening, and there is excellent 24-hour room service..
Activities and entertainment: Activities are geared to a mature demographic and a wide variety are offered. Many cruises have a theme. The Crystal Visions Enhancement is very strong, even on a cruise like this, always providing opportunities for ample feedback from the audience.
The spa and fitness staff is very strong, including 2 innovative programs for walkers. The walkvest program uses vests with removable weights (up to about 16 pounds) to improve the strength benefits of walking. A new program uses trekking poles to get more muscles involved in the walking process. There is a log sheet on the Promenade deck where passengers can record their progress and receive shirts and certificates at the end of their cruise celebrating their progress. One slight disadvantage of the ship's design is that the Promenade doors are frequently subject to wind turbulence and often closed, but the aft doors are almost always available.
Other regular enhancement activities include computer and other classes and excellent dance instructors.
There are daily activities including bingo, team trivia, concerts, and movies in the Hollywood Theater. There are 4 significant routine venues for activities, the Palm Court (Deck 11), and the Galaxy Lounge, Hollywood Theater, and Starlite Club on deck 6). It is routine to see simultaneous activities in 3 of these venues, and not unusual to have them in all 4.
In the evening there are several venues featuring several varieties of musical entertainment, and a daily presentation in the Galaxy Theater. The excellent Crystal Ensemble of Singers and Dancers presents about 5 or 6 shows per voyage, with other headline entertainers brought on board for the remaining nights of the cruise.
Children: There is a children's program with 2 facilities set aside for programs, one for younger children and another for teenagers, but most of the cruises I have been on do not attract a large number of children.
Disembarkation: Disembarkation was smooth and easy.
Summary: Crystal provides a stunningly superior product in every respect. While I can say it was my best Caribbean cruise ever, I didn't feel like the Crystal difference came through as much as it does on a typical itinerary. Just one example: On mass market cruises shore excursions typically join the mass exodus from the ship and line up to assemble at a dock. With Crystal we wait in a lounge and the tour goes out in a group with an escort and directly boards the bus. Here the process started in typical Crystal fashion, but once on the dock we still lined up and waited for the guides to come. Not quite mass market but not quite Crystal either.