Crystal Symphony Cruise Review by TravelKnitter: Taste of the British Isles Crystal Cruise Voyage #4219
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Taste of the British Isles Crystal Cruise Voyage #4219
This was my husband's and my first Crystal Cruise, and we're hooked. The food was outstanding (see below for my reviews on having to eat gluten free) and the crew most caring.
Crystal is first class, all the way, not only in the quality of service but in the way they handle it. We loved that the cruise was all-inclusive. We felt it improved our cruising experience on a number of levels. Of course, it's liberating not to have to think about how much you're paying for drinks, tips, etc., but what we appreciated the most was the sophistication of being left alone and not being "hounded" to purchase drinks, photos, etc.
We're foodies. To us, every vacation is first and foremost ALL ABOUT THE FOOD.
My husband is discerning, but he's fairly easy to please. I am not easy to please, and I have a habit of being overly-critical of dining experiences.
My husband can eat anything (and everything!). I cannot. I have acute gluten-sensitivity and an allergy to More wheat, and if I get even the smallest bit of cross-contamination, it can make me very sick -- often for up to a week.
My gluten intolerance creates a challenge on two levels, the first being that I need to make sure that where I eat will not make me sick. The second is more difficult. Being a foodie (and a bit of a bitchy foodie at that), I want my dining experience to be NO DIFFERENT than if I could eat whatever I wish. While I expect to have to give up some things that would not be safe for me to eat, I still expect what is offered to satisfy me and taste great.
I researched cruise lines inside and out, and the number one reason why we chose Crystal is their attention to food and food sensitivities. They delivered!
Let me begin by reviewing the dining, in general. Both my husband and I were happy with most all of our meals, and we found almost all of them to be outstanding. We ate most of our meals in the dining room and loved it.
Tip: If you love fresh fish, try the Asian breakfast with black cod (preferred) or the cooked salmon. If you don't want the sticky rice (which is cooked perfectly) and condiments that come with the breakfast, order the fish on the side along with your other breakfast order. The black cod is especially good and goes well with eggs, toast and such.
I cannot speak highly enough of the lox (smoked salmon). I ordered some for breakfast almost every day. They were the freshest, most tender lox I've ever eaten . . . and I've eaten a lot of lox. If you order smoked salmon in the dining room, you get two slices. If you want more, go to the Bistro and help yourself.
Prego: Loved it. The food and service were amazing.
Silk Road: Loved the sushi and sashimi -- it was the best ever, but we were not impressed with the soup, main course or desserts. When we go again, we will probably make sushi and sashimi our entire meal.
The Vintage Room: This is an add-on dining experience and a must-do. You'll experience some of the finest wines in the world (full pours and if you want more, there's plenty) along with perfect parings and an amazing meal. The sommelier also gave a history of the wine and was brilliant. Plan on the evening lasting about three hours. Sadly, the copy of our menu was missing when we unpacked. I'm still searching for it. If I find the menu, I'll post it.
Crew: The best! We particularly enjoyed head waiter Vlada, room stewardess Tatiana, and a delightful waitress in the bar on Deck 5: Patricia (from Poland) -- she is the sweetest, most caring person, and she has a warm heart. I predict she'll go far with Crystal and end up in charge of something. If you cruise Symphony, look for her. She's a special one!
Hubby loved the cigar room and it helped make his cruise as enjoyable as possible. He loves a good cigar and was particularly appreciative of being able to smoke one in a handsome lounge (which was unexpectedly well-ventilated -- even I could sit in there, if only for a short time -- I do not like cigar smoke, alas.) Tommy, the cigar room attendant was excellent and very personable.
Day One: St. Peter Port, Guernsey. On this day, we explored Guernsey on our own. It is beautiful--a quaint and charming seaside village that oozes with personality and photo opportunities. We'd love to return. Recommended: Bypass the first designer chocolate shop and instead visit master chocolatier Ben Le Prevost at his shop of the same name -- it is maybe a ten minute walk from port. The prices are probably better there, but that's not why you'll want to go. Seriously, his chocolate may just be the best in the world. Genius flavor combinations. If you love chocolate, this is your heaven. (Bonus: almost all of it is gluten-free.) Next time we go, we'll want to also try Guernsey ice cream. The cream in Guernsey is amazing, and the ice cream is supposed to be the best.
Day Two: Waterford, Ireland. We did the Panoramic Drive and Pub Visit. The scenery was exactly what we hoped for, with beautiful landscapes and architecture, including thatched cottages. The pub was crowded but fun -- good trad Irish folk music and an excellent Irish coffee. Tip: If you long to play a bodhrán in public, sit to the immediate left of the head singer and stomp your feet, clap your hands -- show you're enjoying the show and can keep a beat . . . he might just hand you the drum before the entertainment ends.
Day Three: Holyhead Wales. This is another day where we took it easy and just explored the port. We cancelled one excursion due to it being too much walking and hoped for another, but it remained sold out.
Day Four: Liverpool, England. Being a Beatles fan, this was the highlight of my trip. We booked the "In the Footsteps of the Beatles" excursion and were blessed to have Ringo Starr's childhood friend Marie Maguire as our tour guide. There were many buses that day, and somehow we got the one with her! Not only did she show us all of the popular Beatles sites, she also made sure to show us Ringo's childhood home (she lived across the street) as well as George's. The day was filled with information and LOTS of personal stories from Marie's experience with The Beatles, their families and managers. I cannot speak highly enough of this excursion. Tip: I believe Marie also does private tours. If you visit Liverpool, look her up!
Day Five: Greenock, Scotland. We took the Panoramic Drive of Glasgow and visited the Glasgow Art Museum, home of Christ of St John of the Cross by Salvador Dali as well as many equally wonderful works of art. Tip: Try to stay for the organ music. Sadly, our tour guide told us we had to leave at the same time the music started, which turned out to be music from Phantom of the Opera. I heard only a minute or two. It was breathtaking. How I wish we could have stayed for the rest.
Day Six: Dublin, Ireland. This was supposed to be Oban, Scotland, but it was cancelled due to bad weather. We took the Panoramic Dublin/Trinity College Book of Kells excursion -- we were staying in Dublin for four days after the cruise, but we decided to book this excursion anyway as we were told it would allow us to bypass the lines for the Book of Kells (note: we were not told this by the cruise line but instead by a fellow cruiser).
Unfortunately, we were not allowed by bypass the line, and the line was so long that by the time we entered the exhibit, we had to skip the preface exhibit that explains the Book of Kells and jump directly into the Book of Kells room, which was extremely crowded.
Having to rush through the exhibit lessened our experience as we would have enjoyed reading about the history. Because we were able to see so much of Dublin on our own over the following days, via the hop-on-hop off bus, this tour proved to be a poor choice for us, although it might have been an excellent choice for someone who would not otherwise have had the chance to visit Trinity College.
Some thoughts on gluten-free dining on the Crystal Symphony:
The food is safely prepared. I am highly sensitive and ate without issue. It was wonderful to be able to relax, knowing that head waiter Vlada and the rest of the kitchen staff were taking good care of me.
I had only one issue, which ended up being no big deal as I caught it in time: A new waiter who appeared to be in training, brought me my gluten-free bread on top of the regular bread tray. Every other time gluten free bread was served to me, it was served separately, as it should be, because touching my bread to wheat will cause cross-contamination. When I pointed this out to him, he took care of it immediately by throwing away the bread and bringing me two fresh pieces. No biggie, but I'm glad I caught it!
All of the meals in the main dining room were above-the-top. Vlada was sure to tell me that if I wanted something that was not gluten-free, that the kitchen would do everything they could to adjust the recipe so it would be safe for me. Not everything was adaptable, but there were so many outstanding choices that were available as gluten-free, I felt pampered beyond belief.
The food was excellent. Only on the first day, at lunch, was I disappointed. The filet was overcooked and tasted over marinated. My husband disagreed and said it was delicious -- like I said, I can be a bit critical at times. Mind you, I could have easily sent the steak back and asked for another, but I didn't, so that really leaves me little room to complain.
The gluten free bread is amazing and the best I've had at any dining venue. It does need to be toasted, but when it is toasted, it is so, so, so, so good. This meant a lot to me. There was white bread as well as brown. Both were equally good.
The desserts were okay, but I had hoped for more. Most of what was available gluten free were puddings, ice cream, creme brulee and creme caramel (flan). These are similar to the desserts offered everywhere in restaurants, and I would have deeply appreciated seeing some good gluten-free pastries, cookies, and cakes offered. I am so sick of having creme brulee as the only restaurant dessert option (for years), it makes me cringe. That said, I did end up trying the creme brulee, it it was excellent -- just not what I had hoped for. I did not care for the creme caramel. It needs to be richer and made with a heavier cream base.
The Palm Court did purchase a little, pre-wrapped gluten free cake for me during shore time. It wasn't good, though. I also did not care for the gluten-free finger sandwiches as the bread was not toasted (they need to taste these things before serving them -- they were not edible. That said, I do not see this as being the fault of the Palm Court. They did their best, and tea finger sandwiches are never toasted. Next time, I'll ask for a different preparation, and I'll ask if they can have a better selection of sweets.
Lido Cafe: I LOVED that they had the gluten-free items clearly marked. They also have the gluten-free dishes separated from selections that might cause cross-contamination -- BRAVO! The desserts are in individual dishes and also safe. Mostly puddings, but appreciated.
Bistro: Coffee, tea, latte -- all enjoyed without issue. The self-serve food service area has little to no gluten-free selections, except for the smoked salmon, which would be take-at-your-own risk as bread crumbs may drop or other cross contamination may occur. I would guess that if you ask someone from the Bistro to bring you smoked salmon from the back, they'd be happy to do so. Again, I would have loved to see some gluten-free sweets here, and gluten-free savory pastries would have been welcome.
The next time I cruise Crystal, I plan to call ahead to request that there be more variety in the desserts offered. We'll see if it makes a difference.
If I find the menu or think of anything else, I'll add it. My head is still swimming from our long flight home.
I can hardly wait to cruise Crystal again . . . we've already booked our next cruise! Less
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Cabin review: 5017
The next time we travel on Crystal Symphony, we will definitely want to stay on Deck 5 again. We love being close to the dining room and lounge. On our cruise of the British Isles, the weather was cool and damp, so a veranda didn't seem practical. We were right and glad we spent the veranda money on other things, such as dining in The Vintage Room and taking every excursion we wanted. The deluxe rooms are small but extremely well-designed. We felt as though we had more space than in larger staterooms we had stayed in previously. There is also a lot of storage space and, thank goodness, many hangers provided. I was able to unpack quickly, and I felt organized throughout the cruise. This is not easy for me. I have a tendency to forget where I place things. However, the storage in our room allowed me to organize everything with ease (and I over pack). Suitcases fit under the bed easily. I particularly appreciated how well-thought-out the room designed was. The shower and bathtub are easy to leave, with handles exactly where you need them. The rounded storage on both sides of the bathroom sinks made it easy to keep cosmetics, etc. close at hand. I loved the reading lights above both sides of the queen bed. These are perfect for reading in bed, but equally perfect for giving just enough light should you happen to need to get up in the middle of the night . . . and without waking your partner.