We are a couple in our mid-fifties. We have been on 15 cruises, but only the last three have been without the kids. This was our first luxury cruise.
Travel To Port of Embarkation
We flew SAS business class to Stockholm. Crystal had a good deal on an upgrade and it was well worth the extra money to fly business class. The flight and taxi ride to the hotel went very smoothly. In Stockholm, make sure you take a taxi that says Taxi Stockholm and has a large green leaf painted on the side. There are many other taxis with similar names and they will overcharge you.
Hotel and Embarkation
We got to Stockholm a day before we could board the Symphony and stayed at the Sheraton. We arrived at the Sheraton at 9:30am and were very pleased that they had a room ready for us. The Sheraton is in an excellent location, walking distance from many interesting places. We had a wonderful day sightseeing and sampling great foods and pastries and managed to stay up until 10:00 pm.
The next day, we checked out of the hotel around noon and took a cab to the Crystal Symphony, since I had read on Cruise Critic that you could usually check in at noon and have a champagne lunch. Check-in and boarding were quick and efficient. We checked our hand luggage and had a lovely champagne lunch. The many staff were efficient and gracious. Several people welcomed us back, which was odd, since this was our first Crystal cruise. Maybe they thought since we knew you could board early, we had cruised Crystal before.
Our cabin was small, but adequate. There was very good storage space and the bed was comfortable.
The food in the main dining room was very good. The appetizers were excellent. We really enjoyed Silk Road and Prego. We had no trouble getting all the reservations we wanted in either restaurant and the food and service were superb.
We enjoyed the breakfasts in the Lido. There was a nice selection and everything was fresh and well prepared, and this was definitely the best buffet breakfast we've had on a ship.
The Bistro was one of my favorite places on the ship. They have excellent coffees, teas, beer and wine. There is a good selection of snacks, both savory and sweet. The service was excellent and the snacks were constantly replenished. I wished that The Bistro had longer hours.
We enjoyed The Mozart tea. The waiters were dressed up in costume and there were musicians playing Mozart as well as other classical pieces. They served small sandwiches and pastries, which were quite good.
There were only two sea days, so we didn't have enough time to attend many of the activities on board. We really enjoyed the enrichment lectures by Marc Ginsburg and the wonderful historical storyteller, Dr. Jay Wolff.
The service in the Lido for breakfast was outstanding. There were many staff to help carry our trays and refill our coffee. They went out of their way to remember our names and what we liked to eat. The waiters even ordered my husband's waffle for him and brought it to the table when ready. The service at Silk Road and Prego was also outstanding. However, our regular waiter and assistant waiter were good, but did nothing to make them stand out from good waiters on other cruises. Our room stewardess also did a good job, but nothing special. We had to ask to get our robes since by the second day, there were only empty robe hangers in the closet. We certainly got anything we asked for promptly, and it was nice that crystal didn't keep trying to sell us things. In fact, the stores on the ship closed for good before we had a chance to buy everything we wanted. They didn't open after the 10:00 pm sailaway from Rostock. The next morning we were docked in Copenhagen for an overnight stay before we had to disembark the following morning.
The ship's singers, dancers and band were excellent. There were a lot of songs from musicals, which I enjoyed very much. My husband didn't enjoy them as much but that was because of the type of music, not the caliber of the performers.
The dance couple on board, Beverly Durrant and Chris Curtis, were excellent and really fun to watch. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to take any of their dance lessons.
There was a British singer, Robert Meadmore, who sang songs from musicals and had an excellent voice.
Comedian/Singer Kenny Smiles was very funny.
There was a pianist, Naki Ataman, who performed this hour-long piece that included music from 19 different countries around the world, and used "Around the World in 80 Days" as a transition piece. He was accompanied by the bass player and drummer from the band.
A London musical show singer Jacqueline Scott was good. She could play piano as well as sing. She sang show tunes, the Minute Waltz, a medley of Beatles songs.
The Liars' Club was fun. The panel included the ship's rabbi, monsignor, Dr. Jay Wolff, and comedian, Kenny Smiles. The audience formed teams. Each panelist gave a different definition for each of 4 words. Each panelist also elaborated with stories and jokes. It was funny and entertaining.
Port & Shore Excursions
The cruise had a wonderful itinerary. It began with an overnight stay in Stockholm, followed by a day at sea, then a two-night stay in St. Petersburg, a day in Helsinki, a day at sea, a day in Gdansk, a day in Rostock and an overnight stay in Copenhagen.
Free shuttle buses: Crystal provided free shuttle buses from the ship to Stockholm, Helsinki, Gydnia, and Copenhagen. In Germany, Crystal provided free shuttle buses to both Warnemunde and Rostock, since our ship docked in Rostock, rather than the more commonly used port, Warnemunde.
We enjoyed seeing Stockholm, Helsinki and Copenhagen on our own. We had good guidebooks and maps and it was nice to see what we wanted to see at our own pace.
The highlight of the cruise was St. Petersburg. We had booked a private tour with Anastasia Tours for just my husband and me. (FYI, When we boarded the ship for the last time before sailaway to St. Petersburg, Crystal took our passports. They returned them the next day with one copy of the main page.)
We were scheduled to meet our guide from Anastasia Tours at 9:30. We left the ship around 9:00 and had no trouble with passport control. There was a short line. They needed our passport, a copy of the main page of the passport, and our ticket from Anastasia Tours. They gave us a small, red laminated card that we had to turn back in before we got on the ship at the end of the day. I had made copies of our passport pictures for all three days, but they only asked for them on the first day. They did look at our passports and our Anastasia tickets all three days. The next two days, we got off the ship about 8:30 am, and there was no line and there were no problems. I don't know if the ships tours had already left, but there were no issues.
Our guide, Natalya and driver Dimitri were excellent. Natalya spoke excellent English. She had an advanced degree in English from St.Petersburg University and taught there, as well as being a tour guide. She also loved St.Petersburg and knew the history in great detail. Her grandmother, who was still living in St. Petersburg, had been there during the siege and Natalya had many interesting stories to tell. Since it was just the three of us, we never had to wait in line. Natalya always moved us to the front of the line and we got in right away. Anastasia told me that this is perfectly acceptable procedure for groups of five and under. We even had priority embarkation to get on the hydrofoil and we were the only three passengers on our canal cruise. We got to see a lot in three days, and had two wonderful Russian meals and (at my request) a trip to a supermarket. It was like a very nice Walmart, huge with everything you could think of. There was a lot of fresh fish and more Vodka than I had ever seen in one place. I highly recommend Anastasia Tours. The price was very reasonable for such a great, three-day private tour. We took a ship's tour in Gdansk that basically provided bus transportation to Gdansk with a guide explaining things as we drove. We had two hours on our own in Gdansk. We asked the tour guide if we could be dropped off in Gdynia, spent about an hour in Gdynia and took the Crystal Shuttle bus back to the ship. We had done a lot of sightseeing by this point and wanted an easy day. Our ship docked in Rostock, not Warnemunde. I knew this ahead of time and it is much more difficult to take the train from the Port of Rostock than from Warnemunde. None of the ship's tours sounded that good go me. We had decided not to go to Berlin. We've never been there and we didn't want to spend 3 hours each way getting to Berlin and back to spend only 6 or 7 hours in such a great city.
I was very happy when I discovered Friends of Dave Tours on Cruise Critic. Dave is American who has lived in Germany the past ten years. He is extremely knowledgeable about the area and was extremely helpful. He even went to the Port of Rostock to check it out ahead of time and contacted Crystal Cruises to find out their plan for shuttle buses. Dave arranged a wonderful tour to Wismar for us and another family. We took the Crystal shuttle bus to Rostock and Dave was waiting for us at the bus stop. We then embarked on a very interesting day in Germany. After a short walk around Rostock, we took the tram and then the train to Wismar. We were extremely glad to have Dave as our guide. It was by no means obvious what to do and where to go at the train station and Dave already had our tickets and was leading the way. After an hour's train ride to Wismar, he took us all around this wonderful city and told us all about the culture and history. He also took us to a 500 year old Brewery for an absolutely wonderful lunch. His rates are per person and are very reasonable. The price included the train tickets, lunch and drinks at an outdoor restaurant. His website is friendsofdavetours.com
Crystal really excelled here. Our flight wasn't until 3:30 pm. We got off the ship about 9:45 am and Crystal bussed passengers with later flights to a very nice hotel with a hospitality lounge with pastries and drinks. The hotel, The Imperial, was right in the middle of downtown Copenhagen, so we could leave our luggage there and sightsee for a few hours.
Depending on the time of your flight, Crystal either provided taxi vouchers for passengers to get to the airport or they provided a bus at 12:30 pm. I thought this was handled very well.
Our first two days on the ship, several waiters welcomed us back or otherwise recognized us from previous cruises. It was pretty odd at first, since we had not been on a Crystal cruise before. We guessed that we looked a lot like another couple that had cruised with Crystal before or the staff were trained to "remember" passengers in order to make them feel special. The ship is beautiful and very clean. It was only about half full, so there was never a line and there were lots of helpful crew members.
This was the best cruise we have taken although Crystal didn't meet quite meet my expectations. This may be because I have read for years about how wonderful Crystal is and perhaps my expectations were unrealistically high. We will most likely cruise with Crystal for our next cruise.