Our cruise began in Dover with the traditional sail-off song by Louis Armstrong, "It's a Wonderful World." Prior to sail-off we had settled in our cabin, been introduced to our cabin stewardess, been greeted by a flank of tuxedoed attendants (reminded me of the Titanic), done the requisite life-jacket drill, and toured the ship. The public areas of the ship are lovely and our cabin, while small (no verandah) had adequate storage space, a comfortable bed, flat screen television, and a shower/tub combination. We are middle-age, professors, well-travelled, and enjoy food. I have broken this review into parts to better focus on the experience of the cruise.
The public areas are easy to locate and navigate after very little time on board. We did not use the gambling area so cannot comment on this aspect of the ship experience. The library is large and contained files on each port. The computer center has enough computers for those that check email and must do work even on vacation. Be warned that the speed of the Internet is slow, cost to use the computers high ($50 for 2 hours), and the log-off procedures require 2 separate actions. The latter was an issue as I failed to log-off and someone else got the benefit of my 2 hours of time. Crystal should devise a better method to login to the computer that is consistent with how most people use a public computer. The bar areas had excellent service and each a different ambience. The Avenues Bar had a great pianist but the smoking in the area (very small so smoke filters all over) made it a place to avoid. We enjoyed dancing and smaller shows in the Starlite but did not venture into the disco Luxe. The bar area on level 5 by the Bistro had a great pianist and killer sunset views but again, smoking is allowed in this bar in a designated area which is next to those that do not smoke. We did not use the pool or spa but noted that the spa was in almost constant use. The Galaxy lounge performances were wonderful and professional, not the usual cheesy song and dance reviews that we were expecting. All the entertainment onboard was of high caliber with exception of the comedian (Marty Brill). The lecturers were informative and thought-provoking. Ship photographers were available to take photos (for sale later) and did a good job of capturing you at your best. Movies in the theater are close to first run and include a waiter with fresh-popped popcorn. The ship stores have an interesting selection of jewelry and clothing for purchase while sailing (closed during docking). Summary: Great entertainment, attentive bar service, and the public areas never feel crowded. Only down-note is the smoking.
We go on a cruise for the food as well as the itinerary so the food was a major component in our decision to book a Crystal cruise. In general, all the food was significantly better than any cruise ship we have sailed. Breakfasts on the Lido deck were fresh and wonderful. The breakfast is served buffet style with fresh options available (such as eggs, omelets, waffles). Our trays were always carried by staff and our coffee refilled and plates cleared with attentive service. We ate lunch a few times at the Trident grill and found the hamburgers freshly made and the pizza very good. We did not eat lunch in the dining room. Our dining room experience was the least satisfying of our food experiences. While all the food was good, it was not exceptional. We did not ask for special preparations but will try that on our next cruise. Food was delivered promptly and wait staff was always attentive. The wine selections are fairly priced. I understand that wine can be brought onboard and a small corkage fee charged to open it and we will try this option next time. The dining room has 2 seatings and while we booked the late seating (due to lots of late-ending tours) we often ate at the early seating. It is possible to walk up to the maitre' d and ask to be seated at a different time. Our cruise was about half-full so there were many tables available for this request. The noise level in the dining room is loud and many families brought everyone (including crying babies) to the table. We tried Prego twice and while some items were great (try the mushroom soup) most of the food could have been better prepared. An example was the mashed potatoes with Kalamata olives—eating a purplish mash-up was just not appetizing. I ordered lamb medium rare and it was delivered medium well. I asked our head waiter how he thought it looked and he confirmed it was medium well. While another effort was underway the maitre d' came over and explained that the light from the window can make meat look over-cooked. (That has to be one of the funniest excuses I have ever heard). The second lamb effort was correctly cooked but tasted gamey and certainly was not a fresh piece of lamb. Waiters were attentive and the sommelier was willing to prepare us a special wine flight for our courses. We also ate at Silk Road and felt that this is the best restaurant and a top dining experience. We attempted to get reservations for the Vintage Room but were not successful (missed by 1 couple). The lunch buffet was great with a large variety of food using fresh ingredients. The grand buffet was not as great with large amounts of food with no particular flavor but it was a great photo opportunity. We did not try room service. The Bistro is great for a late breakfast or tea. I loved the magazine selection that included the Wine Spectator and Food and Wine. We did not do a formal tea as we were out touring. Summary: Way above average food and the specialty restaurants are worth a try.
Our cabin was small but functional. Two people do have to time their dressing activities or risk getting entangled. Our tub faucets stopped working on one of the formal nights and it took several calls to fix the problem. The bedspread looks a bit tired but the bed and pillows are very comfortable. Loved the old movies on the television but they should show movies themed to the area we were visiting (i.e., Dr. Zhivago for Russia). CNN was difficult to catch with satellite loss but Fox news came in great—we wondered if there was a political message there. Our cabin stewardess did a great job although a couple times my side of the bed was short-sheeted. When we arrived there were half full water bottles left in the cabin and refrigerator but they were promptly taken away and replaced. It was a relief not to have towel animals every night. We did hear noise from adjoining cabins the last night as folks were opening and closing drawers to pack. Summary: small cabin unless you pay for an expensive upgrade but adequate for sleeping.
We used the ship tours for almost all of our touring. We were off the boat for 10 hours every day. By the end we were tired of buses. The ship tours are a great way to see a country in a general way. One tour ended early as the driver got lost and one stop had an unexpected water problem. We did bring this to the excursion director's attention but no compensation was made. All tours were exactly as described (except for the lost tour). Be aware that even though you see everything described, you will have no time to linger. Conversely, one tour included an excessive 2 hours at a glass shop designed for shopping. Our tour buses had expert guides, water, a bathroom, and were only partially full. The food at each stop while described as unique local restaurants was very poor. Our best tour was arranged with the excursion desk for the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. It was incredible the difference between a ship tour and with a private guide and driver. While expensive ( a full-day is $800+) it was memorable. I had not been to any of the countries we visited and enjoyed every stop. Summary: arrange your own tours using the excursion desk or on your own if you want to see a lot in small amount of time.
Yes, we'd take the cruise again with Crystal. The forums refer to this as being "crystallized" and we are as we have booked another cruise (6 weeks later) and for one in the fall. While the cruise line and experience were not perfect, it is so much better than other lines we have experienced (Cunard, Seabourn, Sitmar). The line offers a good compromise between the small experience of the yachts and the large experience of the big ships. Fellow cruisers will be middle-age and well-traveled. There were kids onboard our summer cruise and for the most part were well-behaved (some screaming babies at dinner). Staff are attentive and everyone works hard to make sure your experience is great and of course, they want to be remembered with a gratuity. This cruise line works hard to deliver an exceptional experience and if you are interested in an upscale experience, this cruise line is for you.