I'm finding this review a little difficult to start since it's really hard to put into words why Crystal continues to garner awards such as the Conde' Nast Traveler best large-ship cruise line for 16 consecutive years and the Travel + Leisure for 14 consecutive years. Until you sail the line, it's hard to say.
CABIN - We were in a B Veranda cabin on deck eight, starboard side Aft in 8125. The cabin was smaller than our entry-level suite on the Regent Voyager, but it was certainly very nice. There was no curtain to separate the sitting area, but there was a comfortable loveseat, adjustable table and a chair along with a small desk. Although there was no walk-in closet (they have them in the Penthouse suites), the closet was large and automatically lighted with plenty of quality hangers. The TV was not flat and a bit too high for my liking but had good reception and plenty of channels (I like that every day they gave you a new list of the channels with what movies were playing). The bedding was very nice with great pillows and a pillow menu. The mini-refrigerator was stocked with sodas and mini-Perrier (you can also have beer if you are in a Penthouse or higher). The dEcor was a bit non-descript for my taste, but was fine. The deck chairs were not loungers but they did recline. The bathroom was smaller than the Voyager, but had a nice shower and double sink along with big bottles of Aveda amenities and plush large towels!
FOOD - As I said in previous reviews, my husband and I travel a lot and love good food. We did come with high expectations of the Crystal dining and they were met! We were reluctant to go back to set seating but it worked out fine for us (especially since I was on the cruise for the last three nights by myself) (you can go the section on day-to-day for more on the why of that and how it worked out). We had interesting tablemates and so enjoyed our evenings. The food was very good in all venues of the ship including the main dining room, the Lido and the two specialty restaurants (for which there is no extra charge). Prego is a fine dining Italian experience and Silk Road, the creation of celebrity Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, is simply amazing (and it has a sushi bar). Since my husband is an oenophile, we had to try the special dinner at the Vintage Room. This is a private dining room on deck 7 that will hold 14, which you can reserve just for your group or just join other guests for an amazing dining experience of food paired with reserve wines, and all hosted by Head Sommelier Ales Machac. The menu with the wine pairings was really quite special. They also provided beautiful souvenir packages with our names, the menu, the wine descriptions and a list of the guests.
The special lunch buffets (Asian and Mediterranean) around the Neptune Pool were beautifully presented and delicious and the Grand Gala Buffet on Deck Five was simply stunning (the cakes were too pretty to eat).
Room service is available 24 hours a day and those in Penthouse and higher can even order from the Specialty restaurants. Although the breakfast food was good I would say that breakfast offered more interest and variety on Regent.
STAFF/SERVICE - Here is where Crystal really shines! With Crystal's two ships, it's not about the hardware but the software and that is their crew and staff! It's what you don't see that creates a sensation. Truly amazing! Throughout the ship the service was impeccable and friendly and felt genuinely so. From the servers at the pool and Lido to the Cruise Director and Captain - it was truly a difference that is hard to beat. The Guest space ratio is 64, so it never feels crowded and the staff to guest ratio is 0.61 (655 crew for 1070 guests). Time and again other guests said the same thing - that the crew remembers your name (and your partner's) (I don't know how they do it even remembering several years later when guest return). It's really more than that as they somehow make you feel like welcome guests rather than paying customers.
SHIP - I had recently toured the refurbished Crystal Symphony in New York so was anxious to compare the Serenity. The Serenity is larger (11,000 more tons) but only has 540 cabins (vs. 470 on the Symphony). There are no inside cabins (on either ship) and the ship is laid out very well with a lot of intimate public spaces. I loved that there is a true 360 degree Promenade for walking (wide teak with benches to sit and watch the ocean). I really like that the Aft section of the ship was not full of cabins so that decks 6 through 12 had space in the back for lounging or other activities sheltered from the wind (golf nets, shuffle board, and just tables and loungers). What is lost in a larger guest capacity (vs. Regent Voyager or the much smaller Seabourn triplets), is gained in some lovely indoor spaces like the real Movie Theatre, the Palm Court with it's Sunset bar and the many places for the onboard enrichment including a large room for the Yamaha keyboard classes and a large room for the Computer University@Sea classes. This ship still has its indoor pool (the roof can be opened but I think it is not done so frequently). The indoor pool on the Symphony was just removed, as this is the area used for the specialty buffet lunches. There is also golf nets at the back and full size paddle tennis. I did miss having a pool bar to relax and socialize and meet other guests but pool side service was more than amazing. But the Sunset Bar, Avenue Saloon (with talented pianist Colin Salter) and the Crystal Cove (with great pianist John Mentis) are all great places to enjoy a cocktail and meet other guests while enjoying good music.
INTERNET - This ship is equipped for wireless Internet and we could use our laptop in the cabin (but it was faster in the public areas as our cabin was too far aft) but the Computer lent Ethernet cords to use in the cabins. There was nothing on their plan between 2 hours (too little) and ten so it was a little expensive but unavoidable. The computer center was staffed for extended hours with knowledgeable and friendly experts who would even help with iPhone, blackberries and other mobile devices.
ENTERTAINMENT - Here is another area where Crystal is superior to other lines. Their onboard entertainment is very good and the Crystal Ensemble of Singers and Dancers are quite talented. We enjoyed all the production shows (and liked doing the backstage tour with the Line Leaders - we really got a sense of why the crew is so great since Crystal treats them so well) The Galaxy Orchestra is very good. The Headline entertainers brought on board for the sailing were also quite good - I especially enjoyed the Mind Reader Marc Paul and the singer Petrina Johnson from the West End of London One nice thing about the two set seating arrangement is that there are early and late shows so we got to see them (vs. the one show on an open seating ship that never seemed to work for our dinner times) The Ambassador Host program is very popular and the gentlemen are cultured and all good dancers. I thought it was an interesting statement about the line that they flew in cost two extra gentleman hosts at a considerable when the contingent of single women were visibly unhappy having to wait for a dancing partner! Although he may not be classified as "entertainment" I have to give kudos to the great cruise director, Rick Spath.
ENRICHMENT - Crystal is known for the enrichment options on board and they are plentiful - everything from the Odyssey@Sea, Yamaha classes, Berlitz, Bridge and on every sailing a PGA golf pro offer so much to do and to learn and is wonderful for sea days. The guest lecturers were very good and well above the caliber offered on other lines. We had the privilege of having Dr. Jennie Congleton the destination lecturer at our table who was very knowledgeable and a great presenter.
CASINO - Although I am not a gambler I thought the casino was well placed and had a lot to offer from the typical slots to blackjack and craps. My husband even entered and won the Blackjack tournament so that was nice!
SHOPS - Unlike the typical shops on the larger Major cruise lines, Crystal's three shops had more interesting fare although I admit the price points were higher (they carried Hermes scarves, Joseph Ribkoff, and even Judith Leiber bags) (I bought a Crystal tee-shirt!) Facets, the upscale jewelry store, even had a special designer on board and we enjoyed her company one night for dinner. She is Rhonda Faber Green and her collections were beautiful.
SPA/GYM - The gym is very nice with up to date equipment including individual TV's, a Kinesis wall workout system and a nice area for classes (with two Fitness Directors). Their array of optional classes such as spin, cardio, Pilates and yoga are all were complementary. And all the machines were working with TVs on the cardio and were constantly set up with water, towels and headphones. I also tried the Walk on Water and the Nordic fitness on the Promenade deck and enjoyed that.
THEME - Crystal is also known for offering various Theme cruises throughout the year and I was excited that ours was Focus on Photography. This was probably the only disappointment of the cruise. I had thought (as others did) that there would be more substance to the theme. The one speaker was very good but there were only 3 short lectures and no classes. We did get to meet with her in the Palm Court in the afternoon and she offered suggestions on our cameras and answered questions. She even said she would have loved to have done a photography excursion. (The fact that there was another Master Portrait photographer onboard, Simon John, to take portraits was not for me a selling point)
MISC - It's wonderful not to be disturbed with constant announcements. Although the demographics of the passengers can vary by dates and itineraries this one was interesting since Americans were the smallest group on board - (almost 1/3 of the ship were Asian and the rest European and South American.) The library was nice and well stocked with books, DVDs and CDS. I did like that the price on Regent included the gratuities as I don't enjoy the "stress" of the last day(s) trying to make sure the right staff are compensated properly. But it's not a negative about Crystal per se. I also thought that their daily bulletin, Reflections, was very good with maps, great information, write-ups on the guest speakers and entertainers and well organized. The first day it included a concise schedule of the itinerary but only the dress code, the evening program and the dining room dinner theme. Crystal also participates in the Five & Alive charity and publicizes it nicely to the guests who can donate easily with envelopes in the cabin. So far they have raised over $90,000 - Five & Alive information
PORTS AND EXCURSIONS - This cruise was port intensive but it was also a great itinerary because of the three Sea days! We were not sure how the weather might be in November but we were lucky and it was mild and mostly sunny. The Canary Islands were warm as they are generally temperate year round. If you want more information you can go to the day by day section. The ports we thought were highlights were: Barcelona - We were just here on a port stop in September so it was nice not to take an excursion but just to walk the Ramblas and explore on our own. We really enjoy discovering the wonderful local Tapas restaurant. Malaga - We loved this port not for Malaga but for Granada for the Alhambra! Arrecife, Canary Islands - This volcanic island was quite interesting and we loved our camel ride. Funchal, Maderia, Portugal - A beautiful port with lots to do and enjoy and the memorable basket toboggan ride down the steep streets!
EXCEEDED EXPECTATIONS: • Service and Staff - that's an understatement • Food - Consistently great in all venues and the specialty opportunities were quite memorable • ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT - gosh other than the Theme minor disappointment, there really isn't any. Crystal truly does everything to make their guests have an enjoyable cruise experience.