You can get into some serious debates online about which luxury cruise line is "best" -- and both Crystal Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises have die-hard fans that will lobby for their respective causes. Both lines have a long history of providing carefully crafted service to passengers, and both continue to innovate with new ships and fleet upgrades.
Editors' note: Crystal cruises has been acquired by Abercrombie & Kent. The two ships will undergo refurbishment and debut under the Crystal name in 2023.
Crystal currently has two cruise ships, both of which were recently refurbished to lower the passenger count: the 848-passenger Crystal Symphony (launched 1995, refurbished in 2017) and the 980-passenger Crystal Serenity (launched 2003, refurbished in 2018). The line also has one yacht, the 62-passenger Crystal Esprit (2015), but will add Crystal Endeavor, a polar-class, mega-yacht, to its fleet in August 2020.
The line also has plans to introduce Diamond Class ships (formerly called Exclusive Class), the first of which will launch in 2022. They will be approximately 67,000 GRT and can accommodate about 800 passengers -- a 20 percent reduction in tonnage-to-passenger ratio -- and will not have the originally announced residences.
The line also sails five riverboats: the 154-passenger Crystal Mozart (2016), the 110-passenger Crystal Bach (2017), and the 106-passenger Crystal Debussy (2018), Crystal Mahler (2017) and Crystal Ravel (2018).
For the purpose of this story, we'll focus on the cruise ships.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Regent Seven Seas has four cruise ships. The 750-passenger Seven Seas Explorer launched in 2016; the 700-passenger Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Mariner launched in 2003 and 2001, respectively; and the 490-passenger Seven Seas Navigator launched in 1999.
The current fleet's three older ships underwent a $125-million refurbishment, starting with Seven Seas Navigator and Seven Seas Voyager in 2016, and Seven Seas Mariner in 2018. A new 750-passenger ship and sister to Explorer -- Seven Seas Splendor -- is scheduled to join the fleet in February 2020.
Although both lines claim to be all-inclusive, Crystal fares will generally be lower than Regent's because that line packages more extras (including free shore tours and airfare) into its price. When choosing between the two lines, you need to determine what's included in the fare, and see if those inclusions match your cruise style. After all, is there any reason to pay more for a cruise that includes complimentary shore excursions if you never plan on leaving the ship?
Choose Crystal if you're looking for value.
Crystal strikes a good balance by including many sought-after extras in its cruise fares without weighing them down with too many options you might not exercise. Wi-Fi and gratuities are included in the fare. Crystal's all-inclusive policy for beverages includes coffee/tea, bottled water, fresh juice and soda as well as select wines, Champagne and sparkling wine, spirits and beer.
You can enjoy afternoon tea in Palm Court, order room service from a standard menu, and dine once for free at each of the two for-fee specialty restaurants: Prego and Nobu Matsuhisa's Umi Uma (formerly Silk Road). Other intimate dining venues, such as Silk Kitchen and Churrascaria, are complimentary. Shore excursions cost extra.
If you do like more perks bundled into your cruise fare, book a Penthouse suite. With this level of accommodation, you can get afternoon tea served ensuite, receive an automatic complimentary in-cabin bar setup (in-room mini-bars in other categories are not replenished daily), and order room service from any of the specialty restaurants.
Choose Regent if you want a truly all-inclusive cruise.
Regent's approach to pricing a voyage is to include as many extras as possible so passengers are treated to a seriously all-inclusive vacation. This way of packaging options is ideal for anyone who wants to pull out all the stops and enjoy a carefree experience onboard. Central to this inclusivity is free airfare plus unlimited shore excursions for every passenger in every port. Dining onboard is always complimentary, whether in specialty restaurants or through 24-hour room service.
Like Crystal, Regent pays all gratuities on your behalf and offers unlimited complimentary beverages, including soda, coffee/tea, select wines, spirits and beer. Bars and lounges are open throughout the day, but your suite is also outfitted with a complete liquor bar setup and minibar that are replenished daily. You'll also enjoy free Wi-Fi throughout your ship.
Regent offers a free one-night, pre-cruise hotel stay for those booked into Concierge or higher accommodations. (It can also be used a credit, if they book their own).
You can sail the globe with both Crystal Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and both plan annual world cruises and grand voyages. So, how do you decide which line for your preferred itinerary?
Choose Crystal if you need to book a weeklong cruise.
All luxury lines offer amazing cruise calendars with itineraries that call on all corners of the earth, but they tend to be long voyages. Not all of us can -- or want to -- take off more than a week from work or family obligations back home.
If you count yourself among that group, Crystal is an excellent choice, with an average year offering 50+ voyages that last nine or fewer nights aboard Crystal Serenity, Crystal Symphony and the yacht, Crystal Esprit. Options might include weeklong Mediterranean and Asian itineraries, some Caribbean adventures, and voyages within South America. During that same time period, Regent offers 30 itineraries of nine or fewer nights, with 13 of those sailings being one-week Alaska itineraries.
Choose Regent if you want to cruise Alaska in style.
Regent is probably your best bet for luxury cruising in Alaska. Each season the line brings noted anthropologist Terry Breen onboard to present lectures and lead wildlife spotting sessions from the deck. She is a well-regarded guest speaker and was voted "most popular and personable lecturer ever to board a Regent Seven Seas Cruises ship" by previous passengers. If you want a truly immersive and educational experience in Alaska without giving up all the creature comforts, this is the way to go. (Crystal does sail to Alaska, but doesn't offer as many itineraries as Regent does.)
Both lines offer a similar range of shore tours, though Regent includes unlimited land excursions in its cruise fare.
Choose Crystal if you'd take advantage of exclusive events and private visits to museums and other cultural centers.
Crystal exceeds in offering shoreside tours that will make you feel like a VIP. The line has built strong relationships with tour providers on land to make sure your experience off the ships is exceptional. These aren't necessarily experiences that other lines don't offer, but they are unique and worthwhile forays into a port. You'll get to see sights with just your Crystal Cruises' excursion group and sans the hordes of crowds that normally descend on tourist attractions.
In Venice, for example, you can book a private visit to the Doge's Palace; discover Dorona, a very rare white-wine grape variety on the Italian island of Mazzorbo; or view the process of turning molten glass into mirrors, chandeliers and more in Murano, a Venetian glassmaking center for more than 700 years.
Choose Regent if you prefer more active shore tours.
Regent offers a nice mix of excursions that help you work up a bit of a sweat while seeing the region. Expect to find tours that include activities including hiking, biking, kayaking and more. For example, in Civitavecchia outside of Rome, you can take a cycling tour of the medieval walled city of Tarquinia. In Hoi An, Vietnam, practice yoga on a beach before exploring the heritage town, and in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, you can kayak along a mangrove river that winds through a national park.
Or if you like to take ship's tours in every port.
It bears repeating that Regent includes a selection of complimentary shore excursions in every port. These include everything from highlights tours to active options (hiking, kayaking) and wine tastings. The line is a good choice for cruisers who prefer ship-sponsored tours and can take advantage of this inclusion. Cruisers who prefer private tours or independent wandering in port would do better with Crystal, where they're not paying for tours they're not taking.
Regent also offers some upgraded, for-fee tour options, and claims it offers those excursions at a discount, compared with the full cost you might pay on another less inclusive line.
Whether you select Crystal or Regent for your cruise, you'll likely fall in love with your stateroom. Both lines offer well-designed and decorated cabins, and penthouse categories and above on both lines include the services of a personal butler.
Choose Crystal if you need a hypoallergenic stateroom.
According to the cruise line, Crystal is the only company that offers this solution for allergy sufferers. Deluxe PURE Staterooms can be found in categories P1 and P2 aboard Crystal Serenity and A2 and A3 aboard Crystal Symphony. A comprehensive, seven-step process purifies the air and all surfaces in the cabins, which are inspected every six months.
Choose Regent if you want more choice in top suites or a roomier standard cabin.
When comparing Crystal Serenity's cabins with Seven Seas Voyager's, for example, you'll find that Regent offers a wider range of top suites. While Crystal Serenity offers the glorious 1,345-square-foot Crystal Penthouse with Verandah, its next largest suite is the Seabreeze Penthouse Suite with Verandah at 538 square feet. Aboard Voyager, the top suite is the 1,403-square-foot Master Suite and there are three additional spacious suite categories: Grand Suite (876 square feet), Voyager Suite (604 square feet) and the Seven Seas Suite (681 square feet). Which means, if booking a suite and its interior space are important to you, Regent may have the edge.
But Regent doesn't just win out in the top digs category. If you're looking at a standard cabin, Regent's accommodations are also larger than Crystal's, which begin at 202 square feet. An entry-level Deluxe Veranda on Regent's Seven Seas Mariner is 252 square feet, 253 square feet on Explorer (with a lower Veranda category at 219), and 301 square feet on Navigator. If the size of your cabin matters, carefully compare the options on Crystal and Regent.
All Regent dining venues are included in its cruise fare while Crystal offers two for-fee specialty restaurants. Crystal recently revamped its entire dining program, which included the introduction of more flexible "dine anytime" options (instead of its previous set seating plan).
Choose Crystal if you love sushi and other Asian cuisine.
Serenity and Symphony are the only two ships at sea that have restaurants (Umi Uma -- formerly Silk Road -- and The Sushi Bar) with menus designed by famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa. While you may wait weeks for a reservation at one of his venues on land, you're guaranteed at least one reservation per week at these oceangoing specialty restaurants.
Regent offers a top-notch, pan-Asian restaurant, but it can't compete with Nobu. From creamy king crab to Nobu-style lobster with truffle sauce to lobster spring roll or signature black cod with miso to grilled wagyu beef ribeye steak, Umi Uma pleases the discerning palate.
Silk Kitchen and Bar, a new dining venue on both Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony, is all about Chinese comfort food served in family-style plates. Located in what used to be the seating area of Trident Grill in Deck 11, Silk features crispy duck salad, stir-fried beef and other Asian favorites.
Or if you love South American and Latin food.
Another new addition aboard Crystal Symphony is Churrascaria, a Brazilian steakhouse that celebrates South American and Latin food with a selection of meats on skewers, various tapas such as prosciutto with melon and stuffed mini bell peppers, and Brazilian caipirinhas to wash it all down. You can choose from different meats including steak, pork, lamb and chicken; try garlic shrimp; and even go all-out vegetarian with a main course of salads.
Choose Regent if you love seafood and steak.
While Prime 7, Regent's steakhouse, gets accolades for prime grade and 28-day, dry-aged beef, the menu also has some standout seafood dishes. Try the jumbo lump crabcake or clam chowder for appetizers and then move on to 2 pounds of Alaskan king crab legs or a whole Maine lobster, both served with warm drawn butter. The steaks (a 32-ounce porterhouse, 12-ounce New York strip and 6- or 10-ounce filet mignons, all prime) are delectable, too. For dessert, go for the molten Callebaut chocolate cake.
Or if you prefer French cuisine.
With the replacement of Signatures with Chartreuse, Regent transformed French cuisine onboard Seven Seas Voyager, Mariner and Explorer from traditional to classic with a twist. For starters, try charcuterie, escargot in red wine sauce or beef tartare. Mains include Coquilles St.-Jacques, seared foie gras and veal with apple confit. For dessert, there's chocolate banana verrine, almond tart, ile flottante, creme anglaise and, of course, various French cheeses. Don't forget your takeaway box of macarons before you leave.
Keep in mind that, in general, "nightlife" aboard a luxury ship is probably a bit more sedate than what you've come to expect on, say, a Celebrity or Royal Caribbean ship that offers multiple nightclubs and lavish productions in the theater.
Choose Crystal Cruises if you love to dance.
Crystal makes sure you'll always have a dance partner through its Ambassador Hosts program. These accomplished ballroom dancers are screened by the line to ensure you'll have plenty of shared interests to chat about as you twirl across the Stardust lounge dance floor for pre- or post-dinner dancing. Male hosts are on every sailing. (Ballroom dancing is especially popular on Crystal ships, but you can also find opportunities to dance aboard Regent ships.)
Or love to take part in varied enrichment activities.
Crystal makes sure it programs a little something for everyone. If you love bridge, you'll be able to play onboard Crystal ships. If you'd prefer to brush up on some computer skills, you can do that too, in specially curated classes. You can meet an artist in residence or attend a magic show.
And there are no shortage of theme sailings that cover everything from golf to music. In fact, certain Crystal sailings are themed as "Crystal on Broadway." On those itineraries, Broadway performers are invited aboard to both entertain and participate in lecture-style events. These special sailings have been developed in partnership with Tony award-winning producer Kevin McCollum.
Choose Regent Seven Seas Cruises if you like to cook and are sailing Explorer or Splendor.
On Regent's two newest ships -- Explorer and Splendor -- you'll find the Culinary Arts Kitchen. This is not a space to showcase passive cooking demonstrations. Instead, you'll sign up to be an active participant at one of 18 workstations equipped with an induction cooktop, stainless-steel sink and all the culinary tools needed for the class. The offerings appeal to beginners as well as seasoned home chefs. The classes, which range from "brunch favorites" to "bounty of the sea" to a "taste of Spain," cost $89 per person.
Choose Crystal if you are traveling with children and want a dedicated kids club.
Both Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony house the Fantasia playroom that -- during specific sailings over the summer and holidays -- offers arts and crafts activities, plus board games and a large-screen TV for group viewing of movies and cartoons. Teens have a video arcade called Waves that is outfitted with Sony PlayStation, Wii and X Box 360 kiosks.
Junior activities directors are only onboard during holiday voyages and some summer itineraries in order to offer additional children's activities. Private babysitting is also an option. A children's menu is available across the fleet for angst-free dining with your kids or grandkids.
Choose Regent if you want a destination-based voyage so you can truly introduce your children to the world.
If your children are tweens or teens, Regent could be the right fit because it offers unlimited complimentary shore excursions. This means you can easily introduce your kids to the wildlife of Alaska or the ancient cities of Turkey and Greece without being out-of-pocket for guided tours.
Regent also has its own Club Mariner Youth Program, which runs from May through September in Alaska, the Mediterranean, Northern Europe and the Baltics. Trained counselors offer group activities around the ship, but there is no formal playroom.
Choose Crystal if you want many sought-after extras without paying for unwanted options; enjoy enrichment programs or evening shows; love to dance; or want the kids to have a great time at sea through a dedicated kids club.
Choose Regent for a truly all-inclusive cruise aboard intimate ships, complete with a variety of free specialty restaurants, active shore excursions and spacious suites.