By Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief; updated by Dori Saltzman, News Editor(5.5)
It's 1 a.m., and an enthusiastic -- if not altogether talented -- would-be American Idolist is wailing her way through Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive." Fellow night-clubbers, armed with Cosmopolitans, and glasses of cabernet sauvignon and Veuve Clicquot, are cheering her on while dancing, cuddling on the art-nouveau-meets-21st-century banquettes or perching atop Philippe Stark barstools. It's another karaoke night at LUXE, and again, for the third time in a week, we've broken "curfew" and stayed up way, way, way past our bedtimes.
You'd think we were party animals on a three-night cruise to nowhere.
Once one of cruising's more sedate vessels (and, by all means, you can still enjoy the peace and quiet), Crystal Symphony underwent three major refurbishments, one in 2006, turning what was effectively an elegant dowager into a sophisticated socialite, and a second in 2009 that added some really stylish and, in some areas, ambitious boutique hotel-like touches. The third refurbishment, in 2012, completed the five year plan to redesign every room onboard the ship. Combined, the five-year-long project cost a whopping $65 million and was the most significant ship redo in Crystal's history.
In 2006, a lot of work was done in the public areas and cabins. The refurbishment added LUXE, the pocket-sized nightclub tucked into a corner between the atrium and the casino. Looking at how busy it is nowadays, you wonder how the ship ever did without it. Sleek and colorful -- almost raucously so -- this 10 p.m.-until-late venue would feel right at home on South Beach.
The casino was remodeled, as was the Bistro cafe, the all-new atrium shops and the aforementioned LUXE. Cabins got facelifts, too: The decor now feels more boutique-hotel than luxury-cruise-ship, featuring beds with leather headboards and bathrooms with now-trendy bowl sinks.
Also completely redesigned was the Starlite Club; walls were removed and new, almost Starbucks-like clusters of wonderfully cozy armchairs were arranged around a brand-new circular bar (one of the best people-watching spots onboard).
In 2009, the Lido Cafe was completely remodeled; Prego, the Italian specialty restaurant, received a total overhaul; and dramatic changes were made to the Lido Deck, adding a 20-person Jacuzzi but removing an entire pool to create a rather beautiful lounging area. The Penthouses, the ship's premier suites, were all refitted.
2012's refurbishment saw the redesign of several of the ship's public spaces, including Avenue Saloon, which relocated the piano to make more room for brass-tack couches, embossed-leaf barstools and tufted booths. Seating was also changed in the panoramic-view Palm Court, and the dance floor was enlarged.
The ship's two theaters also underwent significant updates. In addition to new furniture and decor, a new stage extension expands the performance space in the Galaxy Lounge by 30 percent. And both the Galaxy Lounge and Hollywood Theatre received technological upgrades to lighting, sound and projectors.
New following the refurbishment is a tender embarkation foyer with comfortable seating and five-foot-tall travel photographs from around the world.
What Crystal understands better than any other luxury cruise line is how to add more contemporary elements without changing its essential ambience. Plus, despite all this expenditure, the line's priority remains stalwartly planted in creating a sense of community among those onboard -- whether it's passengers, crew or both.
And, despite all this expenditure, the line's priority remains stalwartly planted in creating a sense of community among those onboard -- whether it's passengers, crew or both.
Crystal Symphony Fellow Passengers
Fellow passengers are very well-traveled. Many -- more than the industry average -- were repeat Crystal passengers. Demographically, passengers were primarily in their 50's, though there was a smattering of three-generation family groups traveling together.
Crystal Symphony Dress Code
During the daytime, country club casual proliferates. At night, folks tend to dress up (except for "informal" evenings, when the resortwear code continues). Our 10-night trip had three formal nights -- men wore tuxedos and suits, while women wore long gowns and elegant pants outfits.
Crystal Symphony Gratuity
Crystal's recommendations are as follows: $5 each for stewardess and waiter, $3 for junior waiters and $5 for penthouse deck butlers. That's on a per-day, per-person, basis. One note: Many Crystal passengers book through travel agents, who actually purchase gratuity packages for their customers as a way of saying thanks for their business.
However, gratuities and beverages will be included in all Crystal cruise fares beginning with Crystal Symphony's March 19, 2012, transatlantic sailing. From that date forward, passengers do not need to tip, but may do so for exceptional service.
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