If you're considering a sailing on either Crystal Cruises or Seabourn, you're in luck! Both lines are known for exemplary service and sail interesting itineraries throughout the world. You will definitely feel pampered, no matter which line you select.
Celebrity chefs work their magic on ships across both fleets, and both have fabulous sun decks where you can splash in the pool or sip an umbrella drink while watching the world from your perch in the hot tub. While both lines have relaxed dress code standards a bit in recent years -- allowing for a more casual atmosphere in the evenings in certain dining venues -- Crystal is probably still a smidge more formal. Habits die hard, and Crystal loyalists tend to love to dress for dinner, especially for special events like the Captain's Welcome. Dancing and bridge are standby pastimes aboard Crystal while more active pursuits -- like swimming and kayaking and waterskiing from the aft marina/sports platform -- are very popular aboard Seabourn ships.
You're probably most familiar with Crystal's two cruise ships: the 922-passenger Crystal Symphony (launched 1995) and 1,070-passenger Crystal Serenity (2003). In 2015, the line also added the 62-passenger Crystal Esprit yacht to its fleet.
Starting in July 2016, the line will introduce five riverboats, and three Crystal Exclusive Class ships with onboard residences -- the first of which will launch in 2019 with additional ships debuting thereafter (dates to be determined). Crystal Endeavour, a polar-class megayacht, debuts August 2018. The line also signed a purchase option to restore the historic ocean liner, the S.S. United States.
For the purpose of this story, we'll focus mainly on the cruise ships.
Seabourn Cruise Line
Seabourn sails three sister ships: Seabourn Odyssey (2009) and Seabourn Quest (2011) accommodate 450 passengers, and Seabourn Sojourn (2010) has room for 462 passengers. Two 600-passenger sister ships -- Seabourn Encore and Seabourn Ovation -- are set to debut in 2016 and 2018, respectively.
Choose Crystal Cruises if you're looking for a lower cruise fare.
We looked at six sailings across the globe to compare prices between Crystal Cruises and Seabourn. In all cases, Crystal's per diem was lower. A Baltic cruise was 31 percent cheaper, a Caribbean voyage was 39 percent less, and both Mediterranean and Antarctica itineraries were less expensive on Crystal than comparable Seabourn cruises.
Choose Seabourn if you don't mind paying a higher per diem for a smaller, newer ship.
If you're wondering about the cost differential between these two luxury lines, you'll find two factors at play. Crystal ships are both larger and older than Seabourn's offerings and that means lower cruise fares. You might decide that you'd rather pay more for a younger, more intimate ship. Seabourn Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest accommodate less than half the passengers of Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity. Though the ships are smaller, they have some added-value advantages -- such as an aft marina/water sports platform -- that the Crystal ships lack. And if you feel more comfortable on newer ships, know that Crystal's latest cruise ship, Serenity, debuted in 2003, while Seabourn's oldest vessel, Seabourn Odyssey, didn't launch until 2009.
Both Crystal Cruises and Seabourn sail the seven seas and hit just about every corner of the globe; they both even offer a few Antarctica voyages, which is a bit far afield for most luxury cruise lines. Both lines visit Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific as well as Southeast Asia and China, Korea and Japan. Northern Europe, Baltic and Mediterranean sailings can also be booked on both lines. Crystal offers several itineraries in Africa while Seabourn does not, but Seabourn offers more options for the Norwegian Fjords than Crystal does. Crystal offers a full world cruise annually and while Seabourn does not, it does program longer sailings that can be reserved back-to-back for a world cruise-like experience.
Choose Crystal Cruises if you'd like to try a theme cruise.
All cruise lines, including Seabourn, offer theme voyages from time to time, but Crystal Cruises focuses on a few itineraries each year that have developed a loyal following. Crystal's Wine & Food Festival -- offered on several cruises per year -- is legendary. A lineup of wine experts and guest chefs like Matsuhisa Nobu (designer of Crystal's own Silk Road and Sushi Bar), Miami's Michael Schwartz and Britain's Alexis Gauthier (of London's Gauthier Soho House) and Jamie Oliver have been featured guests in the past. Special hosted dinners and exclusive menus are offered throughout the voyage, and you'll have the opportunity to attend a cooking demonstration, hands-on cooking class in the galley, or even a trip to a local spice market onshore. In addition to the Wine & Food Festival voyages, Crystal offers a Big Band and Ballroom Dance option as well as itineraries focused on fashion and style, film and theater, golf, jazz and more.
Interesting side note: Whenever a Crystal ship leaves any port, head to an open deck or sit on your private verandah. You'll be treated to the dulcet tones of Louis Armstrong singing "What a Wonderful World" -- it's a traditional aboard all of Crystal's ships.
Choose Seabourn if you're looking for a seven-night voyage.
Some of us can't tear ourselves away from work or family obligations for more than a week. If that describes your situation, you're better off sailing with Seabourn than Crystal. That's because Seabourn offers about 35 seven-night itineraries throughout the year, while Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony only offer about 15. Seabourn's weeklong voyages can take you to the Baltic states and Northern Europe, the Greek Isles and Mediterranean as well as the Caribbean. (If you want to give Crystal a try but need a shorter sailing, consider its Crystal Esprit yacht that offers seven- and nine-night itineraries in the Seychelles and Adriatic Sea.)
Choose Crystal if you want an elegantly designed suite.
Crystal Cruises' suites may be smaller than what you'll find aboard Seabourn but the decor is so stunning you might not care about giving up a few square feet. The categories you'll want to look at include the top-end Crystal Penthouse with Verandah, Penthouse Suite with Verandah and Penthouse with Verandah. All suites feature queen beds and whirlpool tubs in the master bath. There are four 1,345-square-foot Crystal Penthouses, and each has a custom stone entry foyer, butler's pantry, living room, media room (which can double as a second bedroom), dining area, bedroom, master bath and a guest half-bath with shower. The balcony is large enough to accommodate two chairs and side tables as well as one chaise lounge. Amenities of the suite include Swarovski crystal sconces, Italian mosaic tile, Villeroy & Boch china, Riedel crystal and a Duravit spa flotation tub with ocean view in the master bath.
Choose Seabourn if you want a larger cabin and spacious bathroom.
One of the major differences between Seabourn and Crystal are the accommodations. Seabourn's ships are newer and were purpose-built to provide what today's cruisers want: a balcony, plenty of space in the bedroom/living area and a bathroom where you're not smacking your elbows on the shower walls. Even the cheapest cabin on Seabourn ships has a separate bathtub and shower in the bathroom. That's a nice perk! Comparable Crystal cabins have a tub/shower combo in the bathroom.
The lowest category oceanview suites aboard Seabourn are 295 square feet while Crystal's similar accommodations are about 226 square feet. Veranda suites on Seabourn are 100 square feet larger than similar cabins on Crystal ships. And, if you want a very large suite, your options are more varied with Seabourn's Penthouse, Penthouse Spa, Owners, Signature and Wintergarden suites versus Crystal's Penthouse Suites.
Crystal cruise ships have a wider array of dining options than Seabourn vessels. Aboard Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony, you'll find the Crystal Dining Room as well as specialty restaurants Prego, Silk Road and The Sushi Bar. (You may dine at each specialty restaurant for free once per voyage, but additional reservations do have a surcharge.) For more casual meals, you also have your choice of the Lido Cafe buffet, Tastes with its menu of hip "street food," The Bistro for coffee and snacks, and Trident Bar & Grill for burgers and wraps by the pool. Seabourn has the highly acclaimed main dining room, The Restaurant, as well as the new Grill by Thomas Keller for continental cuisine. The Colonnade is Seabourn's indoor/outdoor buffet option for breakfasts and lunches, and the poolside Patio Grill offers grilled specialties and salads.
Choose Crystal if you love Japanese cuisine and sushi.
Famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa has collaborated with Crystal Cruises since 2003, and he is the culinary mind behind both Silk Road and The Sushi Bar aboard both Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. At Silk Road, Japanese-Peruvian menu items like lobster with truffle-yuzu sauce, miso black cod and wagyu beef anticuchos (meat marinated in vinegar and spices) aren't out of place. Silk Road also serves complimentary sake. At The Sushi Bar you can either dine at a table or "at the bar," which has an up-close view of the chefs at work.
Or if you yearn for a casual -- but delicious -- sit-down restaurant at dinnertime.
Crystal's Tastes dining room is open after 6 p.m. to serve up casual but yummy dishes with regional appeal. The menu ranges from hand-tossed pizzas and tacos to Chinese noodles and dumplings to Scottish-cured salmon and Caesar salads. It's a nice change of pace when you don't feel like dressing for dinner or spending a lot of time at supper.
Choose Seabourn if you're a Thomas Keller fan.
The Grill by chef Thomas Keller makes it Seabourn debut in May 2016. Known for his restaurants The French Laundry in Napa Valley and Per Se in New York City, Keller is the only American-born chef to hold multiple three-star ratings from the Michelin Guide. While The Grill begins its culinary life on Quest, it will soon be reprised throughout Seabourn's entire fleet. In the meantime, you can sample Thomas Keller menu items at both Colonnade and The Restaurant. What is the menu like? There will be tableside presentations such as made-to-order Caesar salad, plus luscious steaks and rich seafood dishes like lobster thermidor. Save room for a signature ice cream sundae for dessert.
Choose Crystal Cruises if you want to dance every single night of your voyage.
Dancing is a popular evening pastime at the Stardust lounge, and Crystal even offers special ballroom dance theme cruises for true devotees. If you love to dance but don't have a partner, don't worry: Crystal will provide one for you through its Ambassador Hosts program. Hosts are personable, accomplished ballroom dancers. All voyages set sail with male hosts onboard, and female dance hosts are also available on certain sailings throughout the year.
Choose Seabourn if you like partying under the stars.
Seabourn ships may be intimate but there is no lack of entertainment available in the evenings. One night you can see a cabaret-style show in the theater, and the next night you'll try your hand at blackjack or poker in the small casino. The piano player in the Observation Lounge always draws a crowd. But the main event is the once-per-cruise Evening Under the Stars deck party, complete with live music and dancing with stars twinkling overhead. The line also offers Movies Under the Stars, where you can lounge on deck with a bowl of popcorn to watch a film. And if you just feel like a nightcap, you can get one at the Sky Bar.
Choose Crystal if you are traveling with young kids.
You might find it hard to believe, but Crystal Cruises does provide limited childcare and fun activities for kids on a handful of cruises throughout the year. Organized activities are available during certain holiday and summer voyages, and in-cabin private babysitting is also available. And while some cruise lines charge full fare for children, Crystal discounts the rate by 50 percent for children 11 and younger when they travel with two adults paying full price. "Children sail free" specials -- based on sharing a room with two adults -- are also occasionally offered.
Choose Seabourn if you travel with mature teenagers.
Seabourn doesn't offer any permanent kids club or children's program onboard its ships, so it's not the ideal choice for anyone traveling with little ones. However, it can be a fine option if you travel with teenagers who are respectful and well mannered and don't need to have high-octane entertainment choices at every turn. If that describes your kids or grandkids, consider Seabourn. Young people especially enjoy the aft marina/water sports platform from which they can enjoy the in-sea pool and borrow personal watercraft including kayaks and pedal boats.