My husband and I decided to join a friend on a five-week cruise on Crystal's Symphony. She gave it glowing reviews and we were excited about the trip from Auckland across the Pacific to Valparaiso. That dream soon turned to a ... Read More
My husband and I decided to join a friend on a five-week cruise on Crystal's Symphony. She gave it glowing reviews and we were excited about the trip from Auckland across the Pacific to Valparaiso. That dream soon turned to a nightmare, as explained toward the end of this review.
Let me start with the really great part: Crystal employees are devoted and loyal and give first-class service. This part of the trip did meet expectations. It could not exceed them, because they were so high I would have felt harassed if they had tried to do more.
Also, we met lots of great people, though that's generally the case however and wherever we travel. And, having wifi available most of the time at no extra charge was great.
However, once aboard we discovered not all was as described. Contrary to Crystal's hype, the ship has not been entirely refurbished. The public areas of the ship have been refurbished and reconfigured. Suites may have been upgraded and electronics redone in all staterooms. But aside from electronics and a spotlessly clean bathroom, the condition of our small stateroom was less than we'd expect on an aging, economy-priced ship. The sheer curtains were filthy and so creased they did not meet in the middle and our window overlooked the Promenade deck. Wallpaper was peeling from the walls. Decorative tile in the shower has been scrubbed for so many years half the design has worn off. The carpet was beginning to show ground in grime and wear.
That was just the beginning. Three different times we were freezing to death with the thermostat set on high and had to call to have the ventilation adjusted. At least one day the entire ship was uncomfortably cold due to HVAC problems. The plumber was in the room at least once a week. The first time a clogged pipe soaked the carpet, requiring two days of heat and fans to dry out. What a nuisance! A faucet leaked from the top, causing water to puddle on the counter and later the floor. White bubbly slime oozed from the floor drain a few times, and once water emerged, soaking the bathmat. The bathroom smelled like sewer gas half the time.
I will give them credit. The plumber always arrived promptly, and when I mentioned the state of the room to the hotel manager, we immediately received new sheers. They would have replaced the wallpaper, but we didn't want the disruption, and we already knew the room was a mess. We just expect better than this from a cruise line that doesn't discount cabins even when the ship is half full because, according to one travel agent I met aboard, "They don't want just anyone on this ship!"
Food was a disappointment. Many did rave about it, but I'm not one of them. If only for this reason, I would not sail on Crystal again. Waterside, the main dining room, had a monotonous dinner menu in that it always featured French-inspired or other innovative cuisine and each dish seemed an effort to out-sauce and out-do the others. Veggies were generally used as garnish for modest portions of meat, not nutritional elements. Room service dinners I ordered while ill were awful. A steak I'd ordered medium rare was huge, totally gray, cold, and tough. A pasta dish the next next night was as salty as sea water.
Specialty restaurant alternatives to the Waterside were a disappointment. Two of the three main dishes I ordered in Prego, the Italian one, were tasteless and not well prepared. They should have been sent back, but I didn't want to hold up my fellow diners. The third was edible but not memorable. My previous experience with Tuscan food has been great. This was not what I think of as Tuscan. We are not fans of Asian food and the other two specialty restaurants were Chinese and Japanese, so that didn't leave us many options.
The buffet varied a few items each day within each category (breads, pastries, soups, casseroles, meats, etc.), but within that variation everything remained the same. One sandwich may have been offered each day, but constructing one to our own taste involved running up and down the line a few times and was not easy to do. I missed the panini station I enjoy on Celebrity ships. I also missed PIZZA. The Trident grill offered something called pizza ─ a wafer thin crust with a smear of sauce and hint of cheese. The one day I ordered it, it was charred on the bottom.
The buffet morphed into Churrascaria in the evening. This semi-buffet venue offers a variety of side dishes and Brazilian barbecue. Like the French food in Waterside, ostensibly is a key concept. French and Brazilian cuisine offer inspiration as a starting point for innovation, some more successful than others.
Desserts were, I'm told, awesome. I'm not a dessert eater myself, but they did look delicious.
Appetizers offered in cocktail venues at Happy Hour were tedious and generally tasteless. Each evening two would be offered from a lineup of prosciutto-wrapped melon balls, cream cheese stuffed green olives, some green paste they called guacamole, and small burger sliders or tiny pigs-in-blankets. Once or twice they had tiny quiches. These were passed by circulating waiters and after the first week they were boring.
Which brings us to beverages. The list of included alcoholic beverages was extensive, and servings liberal. While it's a kick to order a drink, and then another and perhaps yet a third, without signing a thing or reaching for a tip, this temptation may not be in everyone's best interests. Coffee was first rate.
Some of the shows, like the ventriloquist and similar acts, were great. Music performances were always way too loud for me and I generally skipped them, as I do on other cruise lines. Small venue performers were good, especially the violinist and Crystal Cove pianist, but these people come and go. Also, on the second leg, at least two evening performances were repeated. What's with that?!
Visiting speakers were generally first rate. We enjoyed most. Presumably we could watch lectures later on screen in our stateroom if we missed one, but I never figured out how.
Now for the nightmare that occurred early on. I became ill a couple of days after we left Auckland and was ultimately ordered off the ship to be hospitalized in Fiji. Thank God, unlike the ship's doctor, the hospital doctor is not obliged to practice defensive medicine on behalf of the cruise line, and I was not admitted to the hospital in this third world country. My husband left the ship with me, and we were able to catch up with the ship in Tonga a couple of days later. To our horror, the ship decreed that since we'd both left the ship ALL OUR BELONGINGS had to be packed for shipping home. Our cabin had to be emptied. The cabin we'd paid to use. That meant when I got back on, instead of falling into bed to relax, I had to spend several hours sorting things in the suitcases left on the bed and figuring out once again where to put things, and arranging to have the rumpled clothes packed by strangers pressed. To their credit, after two long, tense meetings, Crystal did a lot to calm us down. I do understand and respect why the doctor made the decision she did, though perhaps my options could have been made more clear. This part may have been the same on any cruise line. I have no idea whether other cruise lines require belongings to be packed if all occupants of a stateroom leave. Be aware this could happen and don't hesitate to push back should the occasion arise.
Finally, shore excursions. We generally make our own arrangements for these and our limited experience with official Crystal excursions validates the wisdom of this. Neither of the two we took lived up to expectations. The second, on Easter Island, was unacceptable. A large group was divided onto two small busses with a single guide. We had no narrative as we drove through the countryside and had to spend valuable minutes during short stops at each site listening to cursory explanations. We all felt rushed. Furthermore, the windows on the busses were smeared with a muddy film, so no pictures from most seats on the bus were possible and the general view was obscured.
This excursion cost more than twice what others paid for a private tour the same length of the same sites, and they were in small groups in vans with constant narrative from their guides. When they left the vans, they were ready to start walking and clicking shutters. We had similar experiences with pick-up tours at other ports. Something is VERY wrong with this picture! Read Less