This was our fifth Crystal cruise, all have been on the Symphony. Our first, in 2010, was the best. Since then, the quality of Crystal's offerings have declined slightly, but noticeably, with each succeeding cruise.
There seems generally to be less attention to detail. For example, there were stains on our stateroom carpet, there was a broken table in the stern lounge area that was never repaired, there never (not once) were both red and white wine glasses for each place setting at our dinner table in the main dining room, and there were windows that needed washing, especially in Palm Court. This was especially irritating on Feb. 8, 2014 as we viewed New Zealand's majestic fjords through dirty windows. Why were they not washed in Dunedin (the previous port). Finally, the wines offered in the all inclusive service were generally rather mediocre and so was the coffee in the restaurants. These offerings need to be upgraded.
Crystal seems no longer to be competitive with Seabourne and, perhaps, not with Regent either. People at our dinner table compared Crystal unfavorably with Oceania and we believe that the Symphony could even be in danger of becoming an all inclusive version of Holland America or Celebrity.
We suspect much of this has to do with a cost driven attempt to increase staff productivity. Many of the public contact personnel seem to be seriously overworked. Perhaps the new CEO will make the restoration of Crystal's image of very high quality and attention to detail one of her priorities.
Here are some of the things Crystal continues to do well:
Louis Armstrong at sail away is a lovely tradition. The spa is excellent and the health club is also first rate. Our cabin attendants have always been excellent and the butler on our 2012 cruise (Greg) was absolutely outstanding. The talent of the on-board performers is remarkable. Where do they get these people?
We understand free internet access is being added to the all inclusive package this fall. Bravo!
We have friends in Auckland who were our guides, so our account is a bit unusual. But Auckland and it's surrounding area is a destination not to be missed. We had two full days there and wished we had more. Don't miss the wildlife refuge and national park just out of town.
Swimming (snorkeling) in these crystal clear waters with stingrays and small sharks is an experience that created life-long memories. Extraordinary.
Christchurch is so deeply wounded by the 2011-2012 earthquakes that it will be at least a decade before it returns to anywhere near normal. We were taken back by how little reconstruction seems the have taken place and, in fact, how much demolition remains to be done.
The entire city center is fenced off and retailers are operating out of shipping container modules. The shopkeepers are pretty creative, but our overall memory is of sadness for this city and it's inhabitants.
Dunedin is absolutely charming and we enjoyed every minute there. For us, the Victorian train station was the number one stop and both its exterior and interior are not to be missed. However, much of the architecture of the city is very interesting and reminiscent of Edinburgh or London.
We heard an organ concert in Paul's that was memorable and had a lovely lunch at the Ale House Restaurant at Speight's Brewery. Don't miss a pint of their Gold Medal Ale.
Dunedin is the best place in New Zealand to buy woolens, especially sweaters. High quality craftsmanship at reasonable prices.
It was an easy walk from the port to Hobart's city center and we found it to be an interesting and cosmopolitan. Salamanca Plaza was a fun grouping of restaurants, bars, and shops featuring Tasmanian goods. We spent the morning in Hobart.
In the afternoon we went on the wine tasting and oyster tour. At the oyster beds we learned about oyster farming and sampled oysters that were in the bay an hour or two before. Tasmanian wine is good, but not memorable. We bought a bottle of a very decent Pinot Noir that we had sampled to share at our table at dinner. The Pinots seem to be the best of what is produced there.
It is long ride even in a very comfortable bus from Sydney to Hunter Valley. While we enjoyed the tours and sampled better wines than the norm for wine tours, all things considered since we only had four days in Sydney, the time might have been better spent in the city.
We always book a hop-on-hop off tour when in a new city. It is a great way to survey all the points of interest and then to visit those one selects. We booked two days and used it extensively.
However, no tour of Sydney would be complete without taking the ferry to Maney. This provides a great harbor tour as well as some superb views of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge.
And don't miss lunch at The Lord Nelson pub, the oldest in Sydney, and a pint of their beer.
Magnificent. We toured on a rainy Sunday, a superb way to spend an afternoon. We were most taken with the Concert Hall that is one the most imposing venues we have ever seen. It is somewhat reminiscent of the Disney in Los Angeles, and we suspect that Gehry could have been influenced by this remarkable venue. The symphony performs here so the Opera House is not exclusively opera. Operas are performed in the smaller Southerland venue.
This is a tour that one can easily book at the Opera House and it is not to be missed.
We did a pre-cruise at the Intercontinental Resort in Papeete. It is an outstanding facility featuring a truly world class restaurant. If staying in Papeete, there is nothing else that even comes close to the Intercontinental .