The Crystal Symphony made a single stop in Honolulu on its trans-pacific crossing from Los Angeles to Hong Kong. Never having sailed on Crystal, this gave us an easy opportunity to see what the so-call "Crystallization" was all about. This, therefore, is a review through the eyes of a Crystal newbie and primarily about the Symphony, since it did not stop again until docking in Hong Kong.
Sailing day started when I watched the Symphony sail by Waikiki from my patio. She was to have arrived the evening before but, due to some paperwork mix-up, had to slow down for a morning arrival instead. We had heard there were some disgruntled folks but this apparently quickly ended when Crystal gave all of those aboard a $150 shipboard credit ... enough to cover wine most of the way across the Pacific.
Getting to embarkation was easy ... dropped my wife and luggage at the dock, parked at my office, and walked back down. I thought the procedure itself would be a snap since less than 150 Honolulu passengers were boarding, but it turned out to be somewhat of a mess ... couldn't tell whether it was the local dock contractor or because Crystal, not visiting often, did not have the procedures down pat.
With the exception of the now infamous chairs provisioned in the Symphony's recent overhaul, our stateroom was a pleasant surprise. From the miniscule deck plans, it appeared that the verandahs at the aft end of the ship were larger. They are indeed, and could easily have accommodated four people at a sit down dinner. The storage was more than adequate. Besides my "monkey suit", my wife brought 10 outfits, all of which were stowed with room to spare. The stateroom was also very convenient for early morning coffee ... a couple of flights up on the outside stairs led directly to the coffee station in the Lido Cafe.
The glitzy glass "salad bowl" basins in the bath are controversial. At our first dinner, one of the ladies mentioned that she almost hit her head on the basin. Forewarned, I still bumped my head the next morning, and did it again the next day ... a slow learner. Closer inspection revealed that they overhang the counter, which actually provides for a roomier bath. Standard inset basins would require a countertop about 4-6 inches deeper ... a good trade-off.
Having sailed on larger and smaller ships, the Symphony just felt like the “right size”. There are an amazing number and variety of specialty venues that are on the ship without being crowded. Besides the regular dining, buffet, grill, showroom, library, casino, cardroom, and classrooms there is a movie theater, espresso bar, second showroom (Starlight), and disco. Bars … of course, with the absence of a martini bar that seem to be so popular on other ships. The general decor is not elegant classical … it is tasteful but more Las Vegas glass and chrome. At the far edge of glass and chrome, it is almost impossible to walk past the Luxe without investigating because of the intriguing violet lighting peeping around the entrance curtain.
Preferring open seating, we approach the first dinner on a set-seated ship with some apprehension. We enjoy open seating for the opportunity to meet new and interesting people every night and, if a “deadly” pairing is encountered, the slate is cleared when the meal is over. We had chosen the late seating at an 8-place table knowing we would be with others from Hawaii since the LAX passengers were assigned to tables 6 days previously. Expecting parochial discussions of local politics and problems, we were pleasantly surprised with a truly eclectic group including a couple of part-time residents, one of which was a German using the voyage to exit the U.S. to renew his visa.
Table 73 really took advantage of the Crystal policy of “never say no” (unless it really isn’t possible). Special orders were placed for evenings 2 through 11 including foie gras, ris de veau, frog legs, steak tartar, cherries jubilee, Salzburger Nockerln, and Marnier & chocolate souffle, among others. This being said, we were a bit disappointed with the Crystal cuisine. Although excellent, it was below what we have experienced on another cruise line, which shall remain nameless in this Crystal review. The service was superior, ship wide.
To close the topic of dining, the absolute highlight of our voyage was our evening at the Vintage Room, which was pricey but worth every cent. Being a celebration of the pairing of wine and food, it is not for Friends of Bill W. One did not have to be a wine expert because Pasquale, the sommelier, presented and discussed each (superior) wine that accompanied the seven courses. Pasquale’s philosophy is that enjoyment of wine is one of life’s blessings and he does everything to make this happen at these events and he was successful … it became a bit boisterous by the end of the evening. It was an evening never to be forgotten.
We were surprised at the number of ship-sponsored cocktail receptions … almost one every other day. I noticed that the Chardonnay served was quite good and asked about it. I thought it would be a good value because they probably don’t serve pricey brands at these events. Unfortunately we were told that it was from the Captain’s cellar and not available for sale at tables. In retrospect, I should have tested the Crystal “never say no” policy on this one. With apologies to real patrons, we occasionally attend the art auctions for the free champagne and to be entertained by the flim-flam auctioneer … the one on board the voyage was especially fast and smooth.
The shipboard programs, speakers, and show productions were better than on any other ship we have been on. Ambassador Ed Peck was terrific, and gave amazing insight to the diplomatic relations and thought processes. Herb Keyser provided nice insight to theater, breaking into song throughout his presentations … sort of like a Bollywood movie. Other presentations included journalism, graphology, filmmaking, astronomy, digital photography, and … get this … gas turbine engines (which I attended). It was not possible to attend all programs and presentations because time conflict(s). Being a golfer, I attended many of the sessions by Bruce Murray, the PGA professional on board. With all the sea days he really had to work hard, presenting lectures every morning and swing analysis and corrections in the afternoon for everyone … a truly patient and gracious pro.
My mother being wheelchair-bound, I have great empathy for those with disabilities. I, however, was a little concerned by the fact that the de-facto storage area for wheelchairs and walkers appears to be the hallway. There were dozens of them scattered around stateroom corridors. We had a smooth sailing, but it could get interesting on a heavy day when just walking can become challenging … more so if simultaneously dodging wheeled devices.
In summary, we have no regrets about making the voyage and, in fact, filed a tentative on-board reservation to take advantage of the discount. However, about 9 days into the voyage we realized that the shipboard routine became just that … routine. Luxurious and interesting, it remained breakfast, program(s), lunch, program(s), tea, dinner, and show with no exotic new port to look forward to the next morning. It provided a confirmation that we are “ship-as-a-conveyance” as opposed to “ship-as-a-destination” people. The seed catalyst was introduced, but we are not yet “Crystallized”.