Celestyal Crystal was the first ship to offer round-Cuba sailings (in 2013), operating seven-day Havana-to-Havana itineraries, stopping at five Cuban ports and Montego Bay, Jamaica. For three years it has operated seasonally (November to March), redeploying to the Greek islands for the summer. However, from November 2016 the ship has been based in Havana year-round due to the huge increase in demand from passengers keen to see the island before it changes permanently.
It is still one of the few lines which offers round-Cuba sailings and offers the chance to get a real feel for the island. The seven-night cruise stays two nights in the capital, allowing you to enjoy the city's nightlife; before pressing onto Punta Frances, a pristine beach at the southern tip of Isla de Juventud; Cienfuegos, for the UNESCO World Heritage town of Trinidad; and the second city at the far eastern tip of the island, Santiago del Cuba, which provides a wonderful contrast to Havana. The cruise also includes a stop in Montego Bay, Jamaica, to refuel and pick up and disembark passengers, which provides a stark contrast to Cuba.
The ship has had a colorful life: It started off as a passenger ferry in 1980 before being converted into a cruise ship in 1986. It was destroyed by fire in 1990 and completely rebuilt; partially sunk in 1994 and rebuilt again; renamed five times; and owned by five different lines, including Norwegian Cruise Line (where it sailed as MS Leeward), before ending up with its current owners as Louis Cristal in 2007. The name changed to Celestyal Crystal in 2015 when Louis Cruises rebranded. Past passengers include Sweden's Royal Couple, who stayed onboard during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and President George H. W. Bush, who stayed onboard in November 1995.
It's a small ship by modern standards, but it has a big-ship feel. Holding 1,200 passengers on 10 decks, it has everything you would expect on a big ship, but it's scaled down. You'll find a casino, kids facilities, a library, a spa and gym, a pool and hot tub, three bars, two main dining rooms and a self-service buffet. The only thing it lacks is specialty restaurants, which were removed once it became based in Havana full-time. It's just all in miniature -- except, that is, for the main theater, which could rival that found on any big ship in terms of atmosphere and design.
Celestyal Crystal harkens back to an earlier age of cruising. The corridors are wide, as are the cabin doors, which are solid and aluminum-clad. There are 12 cabin types, and all have a distinct style, as opposed to a modern cookie-cutter one. The ship boasts large picture windows with huge screws and thick metal frames; triangular-shaped balconies cut from the superstructure, rather than jutting out; and lots of polished mahogany decks and banisters.
In late 2015, Crystal went through a significant drydock refurbishment which saw the addition of 43 new balconies (increasing the number to 53), as well as new carpets and furnishings in the converted cabins. It had a smaller-scale drydock ahead at the end of 2016 which saw the replacement of the show lounge revolving chairs and cocktail table tops to improve sight lines in the theatre, and increase capacity by 100. Celestyal also installed cabling in all passenger accommodation areas, so Wi Fi is now available in all cabins, whereas previously it was available only in the public areas.