This was our first Crystal cruise (we're Regent regulars) which we chose primarily for the itinerary but also because we wanted to see if Crystal lived up to the hype we sometimes read from its substantial fan base at Cruise Critic and elsewhere.
We made our own flight arrangements from Melbourne to Auckland (Emirates) to Papeete (Air Tahiti Nui) and neither were particularly good in terms of service or comfort but OK as a necessary means to an end. We stayed at the Intercontinental resort Papeete for 2 nights - International Date Line, long story - which was comfortable and convenient to the airport and the ship. The hotel is set in a stunning location with lovely views of Moorea. We came across a couple of Crystal reps in the hotel lobby who were friendly and helpful until they discovered we weren't part of the large Crystal group also staying there and we were more or less given the brush off. We decided to book our own taxi to the ship and were glad we did thereby escaping the chaotic scenes of people + bags milling around waiting for transport on embarkation day and were almost first on board an almost deserted Symphony as a result.
This will not be a day by day travelogue, so here are some more general (useful?) points in no particular order.
The Ship : Beautiful and well laid out. The public areas are spacious and plentiful so there is always a peaceful spot to read, have a drink, relax. It lacks a central atrium but the Lobby/Crystal Cove is a very pleasant central meeting point. The forward facing Palm Court is very elegant for afternoon tea, quiet cocktails and useful for "watching the horizon" if things get rough (which they did! ). The Starlight Lounge is the centre of many daytime and evening activities but the extremely heavy and awkward to manoeuvre swivel armchairs caused problems. I know they are necessary on a moving ship but they weigh a TON. The Galaxy Theatre is comfortable and well laid out with plenty of room between the rows of seats and a large stage. The Hollywood movie theatre is great. The Casino is big - too big? - with dozens of lonely slot machines. We saw it busy but even then it wasn't even half full. It seemed like a waste of precious space. And speaking of a waste of space, the Luxe nightclub was mostly totally deserted every night except for karaoke night. The Saloon is a lively and very popular piano bar, especially after dinner. The smokers lounge/bar with very similar decor next door seemed to have a regular set of patrons but as non smokers we didn't go in there. The Bridge Room is clean and bright. The main Crystal Dining Room, Lido Cafe, Bistro and speciality dining venues are pretty much what you'd expect. The library is well stocked, the computer room very comfortable and the shops offer a wide range of "cruise stuff". The pool/hot tub is a generous size and the Lido "Garden" is a lovely spot but in hot weather it gets extremely hot even with the glass roof retracted.
The Staff : Quite simply, the best service we have ever experienced. Friendly, professional and a pleasure to sail with. Waiters, bar staff, housekeeping, officers, front desk, everyone was wonderful and went above and beyond. The only slightly sour note was the rather grumpy Maître D who was very intimidating to approach and even a simple request was treated like a major imposition. It was very unnecessary and left a bad impression I'm afraid.
The Entertainment : Superb, there's no other word. The quality of the professional and versatile "in house" musicians, dancers and entertainers as well as the guest artistes was exceptional. Bravo! With one exception (I won't name and shame) the Guest Speakers were interesting, informative and entertaining.
The Staterooms : Not generous in size but perfectly adequate for the purpose. Very comfortable bed with quality linens and beautifully soft, fluffy pillows. Ample storage space. The bathroom is "snug" to say the least and they really couldn't be any smaller especially with those rather cumbersome "salad bowl" basins. The mini bath isn't much use to man nor beast but the shower over it has good water pressure and the clever handle on the shower screen is extremely useful during a bumpy ride. Again, plenty of storage and the Aveda toiletries are a nice touch.
Excursions : This is a tricky one. Our ports of call were small Pacific islands with sometimes very basic facilities and infrastructure so naturally the excursions on offer were somewhat limited but didn't represent value for money. If you enjoy snorkelling on coral reefs there was plenty to choose from. If you prefer visiting land based places of "interest" then your options become fewer. One tour bus in particular in Tonga was barely roadworthy - lack of aircon and competent guide is one thing; lack of tread on the tyres, a burned out clutch, iffy brakes and rusty holes in the floor is another. In future we will do more research and arrange our own tours.
The ship handles rough weather very well - and we had some very rough weather for a couple of days so few, if any, green faces around the ship as we rocked and rolled from Fiji to New Zealand. The last overnight stop in beautiful Auckland in perfect weather was a great finale although the boisterous Cloud 9 nightclub right next to the ship kept a lot of people awake until the small hours.
In a nutshell, we had a terrific cruise and apart from a few very minor quibbles Crystal most certainly did live up to the hype and we wouldn't hesitate to recommend. Our next Crystal cruise is already booked.