Crystal Symphony Entertainment
One of the best aspects of Crystal's itineraries is that each is padded with a solid number of sea days. And while one can find many opportunities to simply relax, kick back and work on his or her tan, days onboard are also filled with enrichment activities -- from notable guest lecturers to the line's Creative Learning Institute offerings.
Through that program, unique to Crystal, passengers can participate in classes on the arts, wellness and history. There are also courses in computer-related skills, piano-playing, golf and language instruction. Crystal features occasional wine and food festivals, too.
I've long been a big fan of the enormous effort that Crystal makes to enrich and entertain its passengers. But on this cruise, I was disappointed that the program seemed stuck in a rut. Our port lecturer, billed as a journalist-expert, presented dry, outdated lectures on the places we visited. The wine tastings were banal. The French class, hosted in conjunction with Berlitz, was absurdly low-tech -- our instructor pointed to pictures in a book to teach us words.
With all the resources -- and commitment -- that Crystal brings to its enrichment activities, it sorely needs to bring the program up-to-date.
Beyond the above, there's Team Trivia, Scrabble, Mah-Jongg, movies in the cinema, bingo, dance classes, an art auction, arts and crafts and napkin-folding.
Evenings are, at least in the early stages, a bit more low-key. The Starlite enjoyed a post-refurbishment rush for pre-dinner cocktails; a band plays on the stage, and there's a dance floor. Gentleman hosts are available to dance with single women (or those whose husbands won't venture onto the floor).
The casino is tucked between Luxe, the ship's nightclub, and the Galaxy Lounge (perfectly placed to capture the crowd as it moves from each evening's theatrical performance to its "after hours" nightclub).
In the Avenue Saloon, a pianist plays Broadway tunes and sentimental favorites. The Connoisseur's Club (for the cigar-smoking crowd) is a charming hideaway, located next door. The Palm Court is the ship's airy observation lounge -- a great place to be at sailaway.
Itineraries mix and mingle styles of post-dinner entertainment; sometimes it's low-key, and during other times, big production shows are offered. The latter are featured in Galaxy, the ship's primary theater.
And don't miss a visit to LUXE. It doesn't even open until 10 p.m.! A D.J. spins dance favorites, and karaoke is a staple.
Crystal Symphony Public Rooms
Crystal Plaza is Crystal Symphony's central, two-story atrium. Its focal feature is a lovely waterfall, though the heart of the atrium is the Crystal Cove lounge, a spot that's ideally placed for people-watching and pre-dinner cocktails. The ship's shops, recently redesigned, ring around the atrium's second level; they're visually stunning, but I have to admit that, in order to achieve the minimalist look, less merchandise is on display -- and there wasn't much to buy.
The library, just off the Atrium, offers a reasonable selection of books (and, to its credit, quite a few new releases); there are also games, DVD's and CD's. Thumbs-up to its staff for creating a special shelf for guidebooks, whose destinations are featured on current itineraries. Passengers can't check them out and must read them in the library, but the good news is that whenever you need to check a guide, you have access to it.
The Bridge Lounge, which was part of the recent refurbishment, is another great place to hang out. New convertible game tables and armchairs have been added. The space also can double as presentation locale with a new podium, credenza and A-V system.
The Internet center offers a dozen computer terminals with Internet access, and its onsite staffers answer questions and provide assistance. As well, for those who bring their own laptops aboard, wireless connections are available throughout the ship (and worked extremely well in cabins). Large-screen iMacs are being introduced and will provide those taking the Computer University @ Sea classes with a chance to learn about Apple's operating system, as well as Windows. (The iMacs run both.) The per-minute charge for Internet connection is relatively high at 74 cents, but reasonable packages are available: two hours ($50), 10 hours ($200) and 25 hours ($300). Starting in Fall 2014, all members of the line's Crystal Society past passenger loyalty program will receive free Internet (up to 60 minutes free per day).
Editor's Note: GSM phones worked pretty consistently while onboard, even when at sea, but be wary of high charges for roaming when calls are routed through the ship's satellite.
Crystal Symphony has three self-serve laundry facilities. There's no charge to use them, and soap and dryer sheets are provided.
Crystal Symphony Spa & Fitness
The "big event," sports-wise, on Crystal Symphony revolves around the ship's paddle-tennis court. It is always (or so it seemed) busy! The promenade on Deck 7 wraps fully around the ship and attracts walkers and runners. Most move at a slower-than-jogging pace.
Crystal offers an interesting fitness program for walkers. Called Walking on Water, it basically consists of cotton vests with pockets for weights that add resistance. The vests are loaned out on a complimentary basis, and the workout definitely requires a comfortable bit of extra exertion. (Try the vests while walking stairs if you are really feeling energetic.) Plus, since October 2009, Crystal has offered Nordic Walking through a partnership with LEKI USA. Passengers can enjoy complimentary use of walking poles onboard.
The pool deck is one of the areas that was changed most during the recent refit. One pool, the Neptune, and its adjacent Jacuzzi, have been taken away (see Dining, above) to create extensive outdoor seating around the Trident Bar & Grill. The area surrounding the main Crystal pool (a proper lap pool, incidentally) has also received a makeover. The two small whirlpools have gone, and a huge, 20-person Jacuzzi has been installed, great for socializing on cool-weather cruises. On our Baltic sailing, there wasn't too much action at the pool, but the ambience (if not the weather) was pleasant. On the other hand, during a tropical trip along the Mexican Riviera, the pool scene was electric.
New deck furniture creates a plush, contemporary look. Featured are white loungers and circular double sunbeds in white rattan with splashes of burnt orange and turquoise in the cushions that add a bright, summery touch.
The spa and beauty salon on Crystal Symphony are two of the nicest at sea. Each facility is decorated with an Asian theme. The cost for a basic Swedish massage is a bit pricier than average at $132 for 50 minutes, but the treatments we tried (this massage, an 80-minute salt and lime ginger scrub and a shiatsu massage) were excellent -- and there was no heavy selling of products, which you find in Steiner-run spas on some cruise ships. Facials start at $79 for a New York Lunchtime Peel Facial (20 minutes). Acupuncture treatments are a relatively new addition to spa services. We loved the locker room, featuring multi-head showers, a sauna and Aveda toiletries -- not to mention (and this falls in the "nice touch" category) a mini-fridge, stocked with complimentary carbonated and noncarbonated water.
The fitness facility has a full line of equipment that's nicely grouped in stations. There are plenty of treadmills and stationary bicycles (each equipped with a flat-screen television); on sea days, there were signup sheets to prevent congestion.