Having previously sailed on Symphony and posted a review, I decided to file a follow-up of the differences from our previous experience. It's said that there is only one chance to make a good first impression. This is true, but our second impression was equally good.
We signed-on to this voyage for the obligatory "bucket list" transit of the Panama Canal, and were not disappointed. I selected cabin 8001, which is the most forward one can get on the starboard side. From the photos of Symphony, I noticed that its balcony partition seemed to be cut to provide a forward view when standing at the rail. This is true and provided great vistas during the passage. I had some concerns about wind, and it was breezy at times. However, the aerodynamics of the ship appears to result in an interesting phenomenon: Cabins aft of us were windier and, in fact, their verandas got wet during an intervals of high seas and rain ... 8001 did not. I would recommend 8001 to other Panama Canal bucket-listers.
We were lucky because the Symphony made the passage through the port channel. This provided us with a view of the central area of the canal and the large container ship accompanying us in the starboard channel. The (I believe) HAL Zuiderdam preceded us in the lock ahead, but stopped in Gatun Lake and headed back in the afternoon.
There was a Society of Wine Educators lecturer aboard who presented a series of three tasting/lecture sessions. The sessions were listed as limited to 50, but when the waiting list expanded the number to 120, they just opened it up to everyone. Pasquale, the sommelier, and his staff had to work hard for these events ... the arithmetic extends to more than 400 wine tasting glasses to set-up and pour (followed by clean-up). It was excellent, and the price was right … gratis.
We had a nice laugh with Pasquale about what became a somewhat "lively" evening at the Vintage Room on our prior voyage. A tip from Pasquale: He gets a budget for these events and can and will arrange it the way you want. Therefore, if you tell him to, he will ease-up a little on the cuisine and put the emphasis on better wines ... something to remember if you are an oenophile.
Having booked the voyage to visit the canal, we had no expectations for the ports of call. Cartegena was a pleasant surprise, the old town being quite well preserved and attractive. We were not disappointed with the ports of Grand Cayman, Acapulco, and Cabo because they pretty much met our expectations ... none. To be fair, we live where many folks come to lie on the beach and buy tee shirts and tacky trinkets ... but we did this anyway. Heard in all ports: "Prices coming down … almost free".
After the wives went back to the ship after a morning of hard bargaining in the Acapulco Artisan Market, the husbands continued wandering. We were approached and asked if we wanted to visit a "Happy Hotel". When told the wives probably wouldn't approve of that, the response was "you don't have to bring them" ... yikes, time to get back to the ship!
Having experienced the Crystal "never say no", I had planned to special order Clams Casino. This resulted in the only major disappointment on the cruise when the answer was no, all clams are allocated to Prego where, incidentally, Clams Casino is not available. Oh well, there were certainly many other excellent dining options.
The cuisine highlight for us was the Silk Road. Earlier this year my wife took me to the local Nobu's for my birthday and the small sampler menu totaled about $100/person. For the amount we "sampled" in Silk road on our three visits there, at "retail", the cost of our voyage was very well "subsidized". Now, they aren't trolling for Ahi from the stern of Symphony as we sail, so the fish was not alive on the morning of our meals. However, it was still as excellent as it could be.
We were joined in Silk Road by our "Table 84" mates from Central Canada, where the fish is only raw when hauled over the stern of their boat. They were terrific sports and made it through the entire meal with chopsticks. We hope to reconvene with them in Silk Road at some time in the future.
Crystallization Status: The crystals are larger, but not set. Crystal is the best cruise line we have experienced to-date but don't feel parochial enough to declare that it should be sailed to the exclusion of all others.