This was my third cruise and my first on Crystal. Bottom line, it was a great experience. It was a 7-day cruise (which is unusual for this ship, most cruises are longer) for the Western Caribbean from Miami (stops at Progresso and Cozumel in Mexico, Belize, and Key West, with 2 sea days). I traveled as a solo, which was not uncommon as Crystal has a particularly low single supplement rate.
The passengers were mostly 60s and 70s, with a significant number in their 40s and 50s and even more over 70. No children and only a few 30 somethings. Although this is considered a luxury line, the passengers seemed to be from a range of income levels, with most apparently middle class (although it's hard to say because money was not discussed much except to talk about where to find bargains). I thought there were few people with mobility problems, particularly given the age level of many passengers. Everyone one was very friendly and welcoming. A lot of passengers were repeat travelers with a large number apparently limiting their cruising to Crystal-the cruise line apparently has one of the highest percentage of repeat customers in the industry and many were staying on for back-to-back cruises.
The ship holds about 1,000 passengers and is not new-it first sailed in 1995, but it has been kept up immaculately, showing absolutely no signs of wear; it looks like it was recently launched. I had to look up its date of launch when I got back because I found it hard to believe its been around for more than a few years. The crew kept all the brass sparkling and carpets clean; never any sign of poor maintenance, including the out-of-the-way places like restrooms and less-frequented outside deck areas. The ship is very well laid out, with most public rooms on the 6th and 11th decks. Art auctions are limited to a small lounge. There is promenade deck that fully circles the ship and plenty of padded lounge chairs around the ships two (relatively small) pools. Plenty of shaded areas as well as places to get some sun. No intrusive piped in music by the pool or in the public areas, although there was plenty of live music around the ship (and poolside at certain times of day). There was a nice movie theatre, a show lounge that was comfortable with good lines of sight, and two public rooms with nice dance floors.
The cabins were beautiful with plenty of lighting including 2 private adjustable reading lamps above the bed (something I really appreciated since I like to read in my room and often hotel room/cruise ship cabin lighting is too dim). There was also a built in night light (a small light under a mirror near the hall) that could be turned on and from a nightstand switch-a nice touch. The bed was large and comfortable (with a mattress with rounded corners). There was plenty of storage room in the closets and desk and the cabin (verandah, non-penthouse) came with a flat-screen tv with built-in DVD player-very nice. For a single there was plenty of room; I thought comparable to the QM2, but someone else who was sharing a cabin and had recently sailed on that ship said the QM2 had larger cabins and the Symphony's was a little tight. A great bathroom with a tub/shower combination with removable shower head and twin sinks. The verandah had two padded chairs and a small table. The cabin also had a small table with adjustable height for in-cabin dining (although I did not test it out).
Activities and Shore Excursions
There was plenty to do on board, particularly during sea days, with lectures (port and special topics), movies (every afternoon and evening), trivia contests (which I played), bingo (which I did not), classes (art, music, computer (which I tried), languages (which I also tried), and a couple galley tours. The classes I took were very user-friendly and helpful; the lectures were interesting and repeated on the tv. I found the shore excursions very well run. There was a presentation on every shore excursion run all day long on one of the tv channels and it provided very complete information about the ports and highlights for those not taking excursions, as well as about the various ship excursions. The descriptions of shore excursions were soft-sells-explaining the bad parts of the tours as well as the highlights, for example that you could not be guaranteed to see wildlife, that some boats did not have restrooms, the full length of bus trips and those locations that had primitive restrooms, and the modest nature of some provided lunches. The buses were all very comfortable and tour guides interesting and knowledgeable. Excursions could be canceled with no questions asked. The excursion desk was very helpful to me in making a decision about going on an all-day tour. I had a great time at every port in which I took a tour and would highly recommend the ship tours.
Because this ship was smaller than the two others I have been on I was concerned that the entertainment would suffer. I had no need to worry; the shows were great with fantastic singers and dancers that were in sync more than most on shows I have seen. I was totally satisfied with the entertainment, which is always a high-point for me. I was on a special theme cruise-a jazz cruise, but my comments on the entertainment were on the regular ship's shows and musicians. The jazz (which was great) was just an add-on to the regular entertainment. The television was also good, with a number of channels showing good movies, one channel that showed classic shows (Mary Tyler Moore, Sgt. Bilko, etc.), and a number of channels with information on port excursions and shopping (which was both informative and entertaining). DVDs could be checked out of the ship's library, which had a good selection and a wide variety of genres. The ship's movie theater had movies every afternoon and 2 showing at night (movies were about 6 months after their theater debuts).
The food was excellent in all the dining venues I tried. I am not an expert on food, but I thought the selections and taste were good in all the restaurants. The main dining room had two set seating (unusual for the luxury lines), but I much preferred this arrangement from open seating. If you want to eat at other times, the ship has two specialty restaurants-one Italian, one Asian (Japanese/Chinese/Thai) (a modest $7 each). Also good food in the Lido buffet, where staff will carry your tray-a nice touch. There were two specialty poolside buffets during my cruise-one with a Latino theme, the other Asian. The former was particularly good-some of the best food I have every had. There was also afternoon tea served every day in one of the large lounges (Palm Court), with nice sandwiches, cookies, and other treats. On the two sea days there were particularly lavish theme teas-one English, one Austrian (the Mozart tea), that were particularly good. There was a relatively extensive menu for in-room dining, with the option of ordering anything off the regular dining room menu during dinner hours. I limited myself to one late-night snack and there were plenty of choices-sandwiches, pizza, salads, and some similar-type entrees (if I remember), as well as a number of appetizers and desserts, all available 24 hours a day. Service was incredible at all the dining places, fast, non-intrusive, polite.
Speaking of which, the best part of this cruise was probably the high level of service. My stewardess not only met my expressed needs-asking my preferred fruit and drink and then making sure my cabin was stocked with them every day (all non-alcoholic beverages are free and fruit and flowers are provided in all cabins), but anticipated needs I didn't express. Without asking, she found a stopper from a bottle of champagne I had left unfinished in my cabin and when I finished a small box of tissues I had brought with me from my pre-cruise trip and had left on my desk, she replaced it with a new box, even though there was a tissue dispenser in the bathroom. I found that it I ordered the same drink in a lounge two days in a row, the third day they would know what to bring me (although they asked first to be sure). Fantastic service in every lounge, every dining room, throughout the ship, and in the cabin.
Although I wrote that the best part about the cruise was the service, actually the best part were the fellow passengers. Everyone was friendly, polite, and a pleasure to spend time with, a particularly important factor for solo travelers like me. I would recommend this ship and, in fact, made an open booking on board for a future cruise (to be determined).