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. Both lines also offer some excellent evening entertainment.
Editors' note: Crystal cruises has been acquired by Abercrombie & Kent. The two ships will undergo refurbishment and debut under the Crystal name in 2023.
You're probably most familiar with Crystal's two cruise ships: the 848-passenger Crystal Symphony (launched 1995, refurbished in 2017) and 980-passenger Crystal Serenity (2003, refurbished 2018). The line also sails the 62-passenger Crystal Esprit yacht (2015) and 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).
Crystal will also introduce a new Diamond Class ship in 2022. The Diamond Class vessel will be about 67,000 GRT and can accommodate around 800 passengers. Crystal Endeavour, a polar-class mega-yacht, will debut August 2020.
For the purpose of this story, we'll focus mainly on the cruise ships.
Seabourn Cruise Line
Seabourn sails three sister ships: Seabourn Odyssey (launched in 2009; refurbished in 2017), Seabourn Quest (2011; 2016 refurb) and Seabourn Sojourn (2010; 2017 refurb), each accommodating 458 passengers. Two 600-passenger sister ships -- Seabourn Encore and Seabourn Ovation -- debuted in 2016 and 2018, respectively.
Two new expedition ships are also set to launch in June 2021 and May 2022. Both are 23,000 GRT and meet PC6 Polar Class standards for Artic and Antarctica cruises. Each vessel will have 132 balcony suites, two submarines, 24 Zodiacs and a kayak fleet, and will accommodate 264 passengers,.
Crystal and Seabourn's fares include a great mix of perks. Crystal's all-inclusive fare includes Wi-Fi and gratuities for housekeeping, restaurant and bar service, plus butler service for Penthouse guests. Seabourn charges for Internet access but says "tipping is neither required, nor expected."
Both lines offer complimentary beverages, wines and spirits onboard at all times, but Seabourn goes beyond by stocking your in-suite bar with your preferences. Crystal provides passengers with an evening of specialty dining in each of its two for-fee restaurants, but on Seabourn, all dining venues -- including the Grill by Thomas Keller -- are complimentary, as is the popular show "An Evening with Tim Rice."
Choose Crystal if you want free Wi-Fi.
Crystal includes unlimited complimentary Internet for all passengers. It even strengthened its Wi-Fi signal during its ship refurbs, adding signal boosters in all cabins. Seabourn, despite being a highly inclusive line, still charges for Wi-Fi.
Choose Seabourn if you never want to pay for dining.
Foodies love Seabourn because the line doesn't charge for any of its dining experiences -- even The Grill by Thomas Keller. On Crystal, you will get one complimentary meal at Nobu Matsuhisa's Asian-inspired Umi Uma and the Italian Prego. Additional reservations carry a $30 surcharge.
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, Africa and Mediterranean sailings can also be booked on both lines. Crystal offers a full world cruise annually, while Seabourn has scheduled a world cruise in 2020 -- its first official World Cruise in six years.
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 Nobu Matsuhisa (designer of Crystal's own Umi Uma and Sushi Bar, which was formerly called Silk Road), 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, partake in a hands-on cooking class in the galley, or even a join a trip to a local spice market onshore.
In addition to the Wine & Food Festival voyages, Crystal offers several theme voyages hosted by Jean-Michel Cousteau of the Ocean Futures Society, a plethora of Crystal on Broadway sailings as well as itineraries focused on magic, big band and ballroom dance, film and theater, golf, jazz and more.
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 slightly more seven-night itineraries throughout the year than Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony.
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-night itineraries in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Adriatic Sea.
These two cruise lines have similar approaches to shore excursions, and you'll find a variety of tours that include gentle walking options, motor coach explorations beyond the city center, active adventures (think kayaking and other water sports) as well as tours with a hands-on component, such as a cooking class or wine tasting. Both cruise lines charge extra for shore tours but Seabourn does throw in a special freebie experience -- such as Caviar in the Surf or Shopping with the Chef -- in select ports on some voyages.
Choose Crystal if you want to participate in voluntourism activities during your cruise.
Passengers who want to give back to the region they're traveling in can join "You Care. We Care. Crystal Volunturism Adventures." These hands-on tours offer a hyper-local look at a destination as well as opportunities to meet people and help in a project that will benefit the local community. Examples of these voluntourism tours include maintaining a botanical garden in Darwin, Australia, and working at a food bank in San Francisco.
Choose Seabourn if you want to enjoy a festive and free event with fellow passengers.
On some cruises, Seabourn hosts a free activity where everyone can gather together and have some fun. On some Caribbean sailings, Seabourn puts on its signature event: Caviar in the Surf. Tuxedo-clad waiters pile a surfboard high with caviar-filled silver bowls while servers stand at the ready -- some even waist-deep in the waves -- to serve Champagne to guests enjoying a beach day. (The line also throws this event during colder cruises, but it takes place on deck and is called Caviar on Ice.) In Alaska, Seabourn offers an exclusive Klemtu Cultural Experience on select voyages.
The line also offers Shopping with the Chef in some ports, which is limited to a small group and available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Or if you want an in-depth exploration of an exotic location.
On some sailings, look for Ventures By Seabourn. The line brings aboard an expedition team that includes naturalists, scientists and scholars. While on the ship, expect formal lectures and presentations as well as more informal conversations with the team as they mingle with passengers while at sea. Then get ready as the team leads some active shore excursions either aboard Zodiacs or double sea kayaks. Look for the Ventures By Seabourn program on sailings to Alaska and British Columbia, Antarctica and Patagonia, Northern Europe, Australia and the South Pacific, and the Amazon.
You'll enjoy the design, decor and amenities of cabins aboard both Crystal and Seabourn ships. Entry-level cabins are larger on Seabourn ships. However, if you're booking an upper-tier category, Crystal offers butler service in all its Penthouse suites while butlers aren't available at all on Seabourn ships.
Choose Crystal if you want a cheaper ocean-view cabin.
Both Crystal Serenity and Symphony offer deluxe staterooms with large windows while only Seabourn Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest offer a similar cabin category. If you're looking for the least expensive, entry-level cabin on a luxury cruise, Crystal may fit your bill. Of course, part of the reason why the cabin may be cheaper is because it is smaller than comparable Seabourn accommodations. Crystal's deluxe stateroom with large picture window is 202 square feet on Symphony and 226 square feet on Serenity. Ocean-view cabins aboard Seabourn Odyssey, Quest and Sojourn are all 295 square feet. (There are no ocean-view cabins on Seabourn Ovation or Seabourn Encore.)
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.
Veranda suites on Seabourn are more than 100 square feet larger than similar cabins on Crystal ships. If you want a very large suite, your options are a bit more varied with Seabourn's Penthouse, Penthouse Spa, Owners, Signature and Wintergarden suites versus Crystal's Seabreeze Penthouse Suites, Penthouse Suites and the top Crystal Penthouse Suite.
You won't lose weight on a Crystal or Seabourn cruise. That's because both lines put an emphasis on the cuisine they serve and you'll want to try it all. Both call on celebrity chefs to design some of their dining experiences (Nobu Matsuhisa for Crystal and Thomas Keller on Seabourn). Seabourn's buffets get high marks and Crystal added a Brazilian Churrascaria in 2017 that's already a hit with passengers.
Choose Crystal for more dining variety.
Crystal cruise ships have a wider array of dining options than Seabourn vessels (especially Seabourn's smaller trio). Aboard Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony, you'll find the main dining room Waterside as well as specialty restaurants Prego, Umi Uma 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 ship's buffet (which becomes a Brazilian Churrascaria at night), the new Silk Kitchen and Bar that serves Chinese comfort food family-style, and the Trident Grill for burgers and pizza.
Plus, Crystal Serenity now features the Stardust Supper Club, which offers a four-course menu paired with live music. Both ships have the Vintage Room for extra-fee, intimate wine dinners.
Seabourn also has a highly acclaimed main dining room, The Restaurant, plus The Colonnade for buffet breakfasts and lunches and casual dinners; a poolside grill which turns into the international Earth & Ocean at night; and The Grill by Thomas Keller. Encore-class ships also have a small sushi restaurant.
Choose Crystal if you love Asian cuisine and sushi.
Famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa has collaborated with Crystal Cruises since 2003, and he is the culinary mind behind both Umi Uma and The Sushi Bar, aboard both Serenity and Symphony. Japanese-Peruvian dishes such as lobster with truffle-yuzu sauce, miso black cod and wagyu beef anticuchos (meat marinated in vinegar and spices) aren't out of place. The restaurant also serves complimentary sake.
If you love sushi and can't get a table at Umi Uma, belly up to The Sushi Bar, which has an up-close view of the chefs at work and is first come, first served. The new casual, Chinese comfort-food establishment, Silk Kitchen and Bar, is also a hit with cruisers. (For Asian cuisine, Seabourn only has a small restaurant with a limited sushi menu, available on two of its ships.)
Choose Seabourn if you're a Thomas Keller fan.
The Grill by famed chef Thomas Keller is available fleetwide. 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. The Grill features 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.
In addition, Keller's dishes show up as extra options on The Restaurant's menu on select nights and as special set-menu dinners in the Colonnade.
Or if you're a caviar fan.
Seabourn is your best bet if you love caviar and want to indulge on your cruise. You can sample complimentary caviar just about anywhere onboard at any time. Just make your request and a spread will be delivered. Plus, the line offers its fun Caviar in the Surf event during warm-weather cruises in the Caribbean or Mediterranean (or Caviar on Ice when sailing colder destinations). On Crystal, you'll have to pay for caviar except on the occasional formal night when it's offered in Waterside, the main dining room.
Both lines excel in different aspects of the entertainment spectrum. Both have excellent evening shows. Seabourn presents "An Evening with Tim Rice," which includes talented singers in a concert-style revue combined with a video screen that shows Mr. Rice telling stories about songs he wrote, including "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" and the Lion King's "Hakuna Matata.
Crystal comes to the table with multiple entertainment options each evening, as well as Crystal on Broadway. In partnership with Tony award-winning producer Kevin McCollum, the line brings Broadway performers onboard for a variety of performances and lecture-style events.
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.
Or if a large array of entertainment options is important to you.
Crystal offers two theater shows nightly in additional to plenty of opportunities to dance the night away or see a film in the ship's movie theater. On most sailings, you'll find a plethora of enrichment activities that will make it tough to justify just hanging by the pool. If you want to keep busy on your voyage and have fun, Crystal is a fantastic option.
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 or duo 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. The ships even have a decided space for kids to play, though it's much smaller than what you'd find on a mainstream ship.
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. (On select cruises with higher-than-average numbers of children, Seabourn will bring onboard a couple of youth counselors to lead activities for the kids, and keep them occupied away from adult areas.)
Choose Crystal if you're looking to experience a themed cruise in an elegant suite, superb Asian cuisine and dining variety, an array of onboard activities and entertainment, and voluntourism opportunities.
Choose Seabourn if you're looking for more spacious accommodations, VIP-type events with plenty of Champagne and caviar, and dining by Thomas Keller.