This was our first cruise with Crystal, but certainly it will not be our last. We have cruised previously with other lines, most recently Holland America, Princess and Celebrity. We can honestly say that we have enjoyed every one of our cruises, but this Crystal cruise was in a category of its own. It was, in a word, wonderful.
We are in our early 50's. The age range on this cruise was broad. There were many passengers over 70 on this cruise, but there were many activities to appeal to all ages. We do not know what the childrens' programs are like.
We arrived in Miami on Thursday evening. The cruise sailed on Saturday evening. We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott in South Beach. It was well located for our desire to roam around South Beach, and we had a good time. There are alot of great restaurants, shops, and people watching in South Beach. Lincoln Mall is a pedestrian only area of 5 or 6 blocks - great in the evenings. Lots of outdoor dining. We took a cab to the cruise terminal on Saturday.
Embarkation was very easy. We arrived at the cruise terminal not long after noon. Porters were right there near the cab for luggage drop off. There were almost no lines inside. Our particular embarkation agent was very pleasant but hesitant in communication and perhaps hesitant in her english skills. We were really taken by surprise that our passports were not returned to us. She seemed equally surprised that we asked about that, and told us "don't worry". Crystal is the the first cruise line we have sailed with that holds the passengers' passports. Neither of us had surrendered our passports in decades (and the last time had been to a country that restricted visitors greatly), and we felt uneasy. We had cruised recently to the same ports on another line and knew that, at least earlier this year, the countries visited did not require this. The adjacent agent immediately sensed our hesitancy and explained Crystal policy and when the passports would be returned. His information and professional delivery addressed my concern that an error had been made in not returning them to us. This was the first of many very good customer service experiences. We had the usual embarkation photograph and headed on board. The cabins would not be ready for a several hours. We were welcomed on board and advised that lunch was available in the Dining Room. There was a table at which you could check your carry on luggage. We only had backpacks, so that was not necessary for us. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch accompanied by complementary champagne. The "Crystallization" process had begun!
After lunch we followed signs to the area near the specialty restaurants where we confirmed that we had been assigned our preference of a table for two. The advantage of fewer passengers was immediately evident. There was only a short "line" for this, but in fact, it was not a line at all. There were chairs available and a member of the dining room staff keeping track of whose "turn" it was to go in next. It was really a most pleasant way to do this. We also took a look at the specialty restaurant menus. We had made reservations for one evening at Prego and one evening at Jade several months before.
On this ship, the safety drill was held outdoors, on the Promenade deck. It was held at 8 pm, between the early and late dinner seatings. The ship sailed at 9 pm.
The ship is lovely. It is exceptionally well kept up. Our cabin was wonderful. The bed was very comfortable and the linens were very nice as well. I have to thank the person on the Crystal Message Board who suggested rearranging the furniture. We followed that advice and moved the table to the corner and moved the desk chair under the window, creating a very nice sitting area and more clear floor space. The shower water pressure was excellent. Extra pillows were provided the first evening at our request. Our excellent stewardess looked after our needs well and kept the refrigerator stocked with our preference of waters (I had asked her to remove the sodas). We had plenty of storage space for our short cruise. I imagine that people are pretty creative in their packing and storing when they take a world cruise. The true promenade deck was a joy for walking, relaxing and watching the beautiful views. A few times sections of the promenade deck were closed for painting or varnishing, but not often. Every part of the ship was easy to access. Some of the elevators were compact (really more deep than wide), but there was rarely any wait. In comparison to every other ship on which we have cruised, there was a remarkable lack of sound transmitted into the cabin from adjacent cabins or hallways.
This cruise was a themed "Jazz Cruise". A group of a couple hundred or so jazz aficionados were on board, along with probably two dozen or so jazz musicians. Often, large groups have a negative impact on the experience of cruisers that are not part of the group, but in this case, the group and their performances (which were open to all) really enhanced the cruise experience for us. We are not big jazz fans, but we really enjoyed and appreciated a lot of the performances.
We were wonderfully surprised by the excellent quality of the production shows. We attended all of them. The singers, dancers and musicians were excellent. We especially enjoyed the classical pianist's performances. The bar and dance musicians were also excellent.
We did not take any of the shore excursions. We did take several classes at the Computer University @ Sea and they were very well done and well worth the time. The facility is excellent. The galley tour was excellent. The movie theater was well designed and we enjoyed both movies and live telecast football games. One of our few suggestions on our comment cards was to have more, late night movies. My husband used the spa every day. While the sauna and steam rooms were not very large, they were very nice. The library had a nice selection of books and videos.
The dining experience was far and away the best we have ever had on board a ship. The food was well prepared and well presented. Dining service was outstanding. The wine list had good choices in a variety of price ranges. Prego, the Italian specialty restaurant, had a separate wine list showcasing Italian wines. Dining was the highlight of this excellent cruise. We could go on and on about the meals and the service. Outstanding.
The Bistro was a wonderful place for coffee and snacks. We enjoyed the buffet for several breakfasts and lunches. On this cruise there were two outdoor, themed, lunch buffets: Latin American and Asian. Both very good. Many people enjoyed eating out near the pools. We were pleased that tables were also available indoors. A fellow Cruise Critic highly recommended the french fries at the Trident Grill. She was so right!
Disembarkation was a breeze. The easiest and most pleasant we have ever experienced. We were off the ship and in a cab headed to the airport in under 15 minutes. The porters were readily available and helpful. There were nine ships in port that day. We were glad to get to the airport early. Miami's airport is, to put it nicely, an experience. Close to two hours to get through check in and security. Airport personnel were pleasant and hardworking, but not numerous enough for the crush of passengers. There is some greatly needed airport expansion underway. The ticket agent told me that it was not a particularly busy day (Saturday) and that Sunday was always worse. Once we were on the other side of security, no problem. We were flying on American Airlines, perhaps other airlines have lower passenger volume and would be less overwhelmed.
A large number of the passengers on board the ship were repeat cruisers with Crystal. Many had taken long, multiple segment voyages. All of the fellow cruisers we met were friendly and interesting. You can easily have as much or as little interaction with fellow passengers as you wish and have a good time either way.
We had been looking forward to our first Crystal cruise for many months. The information that was on the Cruise Critic Message Board was invaluable. The cruise was fantastic. The Crystal staff made us feel very comfortable and well looked after. The service, the food, the facilities...all outstanding. It was a wonderful vacation.