As very experienced travelers, I tend to always look for the best value and usually book directly with airlines, hotels, etc. I found that the price of the cruise we booked was no cheaper booking online vs using a travel agent so we found an excellent local TA who had personally been to all of the ports we went to and had been on many cruises as well. We felt if you can get that level of expertise without additional expense it was the best way to go.
The overall cruise lived up to our expectations and far exceeded them in some numerous areas.
The entire ship was meticulously maintained with everything in excellent working order and virtually nothing showing any visible wear & tear including all public area seating, surfaces, flooring, windows, railings, etc. Cleanliness is apparently a top priority as well as there was no spills or dirt seen in any area including corners, nooks & crannies which commonly get overlooked.
Our A-class cabin on Deck 9 was excellent with promised queen bed actually king bed width which was a pleasant surprise. Well designed storage and use of cabin space. Though the cabin is somewhat small, it was comfortable with a nicely appointed bath. Outstanding cabin service twice per day provided by very a cheerful stewardess from South Africa.
Throughout the ship, crew members went out of their way to be polite and helpful. This was especially true on Deck 12 around the pool and in the casual dining areas where crew members were very attentive to customer needs, introducing themselves and checking continually to see if you needed anything. These crew members appeared to adopt passengers and greet you whenever you came into their area.
The food on the ship was outstanding regardless if it was from the Lido or Bistro buffets, made-to-order pool area dining options, Crystal Dining Room or Prego. Prego & the Crystal Dining Room have an elegant design and an appealing look to them while Silk Road felt like a very stark large space with tables and little character. To me Prego is the superior restaurant on the ship while Silk Road was a disappointment.
Areas that could be improved-
The embarkation process in Venice was unsatisfactory. Many Crystal cruise passengers arrive at the cruise terminal via water taxi which has a scheduled arrival every 30-minutes and I expected someone to meet us along with other passengers on the dock and assist in some way like a larger less exclusive cruise ship at the same terminal who immediately took their passengers luggage on the dock. After searching for some sign of Crystal there was a young man with a sign standing up a ramp to the road who informed us that a shuttle bus would be by in 20-30 minutes or we could walk to the terminal(200-300 yards). About 20-passengers schlepped their luggage to the terminal which did not make a good 1st impression.
As Open Dining by Reservation guests, It is a nice benefit to begin making dinner reservations once final payment was made however Crystal needs to advise guests which nights they are having theme dinners in the Crystal Dining Room. We had booked Prego & Silk Road on theme nights and had to reschedule once onboard but could only get acceptable times at the end of the cruise. Cocktail parties ie; Cruise Critic, Signature need to be communicated prior to the cruise.
While Crystal offers the Open Dining by Reservation dinner reservation option you run the ship based on early & late dining. Announcements onboard as well as special activities in the evening refer to early & late seating.
The #1 complaint I had with Crystal was the lack of information regarding confirmation of prepaid gratuities and shipboard credit. Since Crystal did not provide any of this important information prior to the cruise I ask my TA to confirm. He contacted Crystal and received confirmation from the various departments responsible for the credits and forwarded copies to me. In spite of his efforts, upon arrival Oct. 1 I found that I was missing shipboard credits that Crystal HQ had confirmed and it took 2 separate requests and 5-days to resolve the problem even though I presented them with written documentation.
Crystals onboard activities are a star attraction with the Computer University equipped with the latest computers and a knowledgeable staff and special presenters who professionally help users and present classes. I expected the Taylor Made golf clinics to achieve the same high standards and the instructor lived up to those high standards however the groups were too large (30 or more people at each session) to provide any personal attention and none of the Taylor Made clubs were of current designs. In addition I expected a cruise line like Crystal to have golf simulators rather than nets with targets.
We were really looking forward to the tours we had signed up for and although they all involved motor coach transportation we thought that Crystal would somehow take the group tour experience to a higher level. The tours were all very enjoyable with sights we truly enjoyed. Looking back on the tours, we had an unrealistic expectation as we realized that all cruise ship group tours use similar motor coaches, guides and visit the same places in the various ports. Our only suggestion involves grouping guests with good walking ability separately from guests who have limitations. This came to light on the Rome tour when at our 1st stop, the Coliseum the tour guide determined that the majority of the group was not able to climb the stairs to the upper levels and correctly modified the tour plans. She offered those of us with more stamina the opportunity to briefly explore the upper areas. We were accompanied by the Crystal tour helper but were unsuccessful in finding stairs that were open as none of the three of us knew where to go. When you have multiple groups for a given tour I suggest that Crystal make special provisions for those guest with limitations.
A real tour frustration occurred in crowded venues like the Vatican. The tour guide continually stopped to count guests and on more than one occasion stalled the tours progress to locate guests who had separated from the group. While you dont want to lose anyone, reducing the experience of +25 other people seems inappropriate. A viable solution would be to provide an if you get separated meeting place & time plus on this tour there were two additional people assisting the tour guide so they could look for the missing guests while the tour proceeds. Friends who were part of another group said they had to wait 30-minutes at one point while missing guests were located.