A classic reborn: That's how best to describe the 1995-built Crystal Symphony, which returned to service on September 1, 2023 for the first time since Abercrombie & Kent purchased the Crystal Cruises' brand and oceangoing ships.
Together with newer sister-ship Crystal Serenity, Crystal Symphony offers an inclusive cruise experience that seeks to pamper at every turn. Drinks are inclusive, gratuities covered, restaurants complimentary. Suites -- a term that applies to every room onboard -- include the services of Crystal's gracious butlers and stewards. It's more familial and less stuffy than one might imagine; in fact, service throughout our inaugural voyage was intuitively genuine. That "Crystal Family" feeling keeps guests coming back sailing after sailing and is also why over 80 percent of the line's former crewmembers have returned to work for the "new" Crystal Cruises, which is now just dubbed "Crystal".
With a plethora of brand-new luxury ships launched in the past few years, questions may be asked of how the 28-year-plus Crystal Symphony stands up. A&K injected a ton of cash into Crystal Symphony, overhauling the ship's marine, technical and crew areas, and also tweaking passenger areas and accommodations. The former Casino is gone, replaced with a quiet lounge for reading and games. The Bistro -- Crystal Symphony's go-to-spot for light bites and premium coffees -- was completely redone. Passenger corridors received new wall treatments and door coverings; brass was refreshed and renewed on the elevator banks and stairwells; the line's Italian specialty restaurant concept was taken back to the drawing board; and several existing suites were combined to make even larger suites and reduce the passenger capacity to just 606 -- a far cry from the 900+ guests that the ship was originally designed for.
And yet, Crystal, under the watchful eye of A&K executive and former Silversea chairman Manfredi Lefebvre d'Ovidio, showed remarkable restraint in what it kept the same. The former Crystal had always done a good job of continually refitting its ships from stem to stern, with most public areas benefiting from a 2017 refresh. Those who have sailed Crystal in the past will find the Crystal Symphony they know and love, spruced up and improved. Those who are new to the brand will find plenty to love about this classic ship, like its abundance of open deck spaces; teak-lined wraparound promenade deck; and oversized picture windows that grace nearly every public room onboard.
At 781 feet in length, Crystal Symphony offers an abundance of that other luxe prerequisite: space. Rare is the occasion where you won't be able to find your favorite deck chair or seat in the bar. There are so many bars, lounges and entertainment venues onboard that the ship almost feels overloaded with options. And that's ok -- having plenty of choice onboard is another way Crystal seeks to elevate its onboard experience.
Crystal Symphony is not new or flashy, and if you look hard enough (really, really hard), you'll see signs of the ship's age. There are some little things the line is working through on these early voyages, like issues with the new telephone system onboard and the odd leak here and there from the ship's plumbing.
What Crystal Symphony is -- and what makes it so special -- is something less tangible. It's the same reason a Patek Phillippe watch is desirable, or a Hermes bag: it offers timeless elegance that is continually appealing to those who appreciate both style and value. Crystal just happens to offer both of those things, in spades.
After four days onboard Crystal Symphony, we found ourselves wishing that other lines would take a page from Crystal's playbook. It's true that ships have finite lives compared to lavish and historic hotels like New York's Plaza or London's Savoy. Arguably, Crystal Symphony is like both: a grand dame of the seas that, from stem to stern, is just a pleasure to spend time aboard.
The Crystal Symphony deck plan includes plenty of thoughtful changes following the ship's 2023 refit, from new amenities and dining venues to spaces that have been entirely re-thought.
One of the biggest and most noticeable changes to the Crystal Symphony deck plan is the removal of the former casino on Deck 6 forward. This space has been converted into a quiet games and reading lounge, outfitted with plenty of tables and great views from the windows on either side of the ship. Adjacent to it, the former VIP gaming salon has been turned into the Jade Nightclub -- a hopping, intimate late-night bar that doesn't even open until 10 p.m. most evenings.
Other changes to the Crystal Symphony deck plan during the 2023 refit include the conversion of Crystal's former Italian specialty restaurant, Prego, into Osteria d'Ovidio, a new specialty dining venue that better reflects authentic tastes from various regions of Italy. The restaurant also sports a crisp new décor style and color palette, along with extensive views of the ocean.
Beyond those changes -- and the addition of new suites (see below), the Crystal Symphony deck plan exists largely as it did after the ship's sweeping 2017 refit. Flow between public rooms is excellent, and it's relatively easy to find your way around after just a few hours onboard, in stark contrast to some of the megaships plying the oceans today.
Among cabins on Crystal Symphony, the most interesting development is the creation of a number of new Junior Crystal Suites, Sapphire Oceanview Suites and Sapphire Veranda Suites. The Sapphire suites offer brand-new décor and up to 430 square feet of living space, along with separate living and sleeping areas, a walk-in closet, dual vanities, and an oversized shower that offers push-button rainforest, jetted or wand options. Junior Crystal Suites add even more space -- up to 645 square feet, not including the 161-square-foot verandas that are as big as an entry-level cabin on some cruise ships.
A multitude of lighting options are available in these suites, which also offer two interactive flat-panel television sets and plenty of North American, European and USB and USB-C power outlets.
Balconies, too, are generously sized and equipped with two plush chairs with footstools for lounging. In fact, the only place in the entire room where you can tell these suites were originally carved out of the space occupied by two is on the balconies, where the steel supports for the now-removed balcony divider still stand.
Crystal Symphony also offers cruisers a unique option within multiple accommodation categories: the chance to stay in a Classic, Aquamarine or Fully Refitted suite, where décor differs within the same category of room depending on which deck you're staying on.
Suites on Decks 7 and 8 were entirely refitted in 2023; no matter where you are on these decks, your room will have been completely redone prior to Crystal Symphony's return to service.
Deck 9 has a mixture of suites that were either fully refitted in 2023 (9001-9019 and 9060-9077) or 2017 (most of 9020-9059).
Deck 10 has suites that Crystal is terming, "Classic", meaning they have more traditional décor and weren't refitted in either 2017 or 2023 with new hard furnishings and wall treatments. Beds, bedding and soft furnishings have, however been refitted -- these rooms certainly have not been neglected!
It's a unique concept -- we hear the Classic rooms actually sell out faster on some voyages -- that truly allows guests to tailor every aspect of their voyage to their particular tastes.
Crystal has always focused on quality cuisine and service, and that has not changed aboard the refreshed Crystal Symphony. From its casual eateries to more formal dining experiences, passengers can expect a truly elevated level of cuisine onboard.
With one exception (see our Dining section) these venues carry no additional cost -- including acclaimed chef Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matusuhisa's signature Umi Uma Restaurant and Sushi Bar. Rounding out the mix include the traditional Waterside main dining room on Deck 5, the brand-new authentic Italian Osteria d'Ovidio, Tastes Kitchen and Bar, and casual dining options like the Marketplace Buffet, which in all honesty is too upscale to really be termed a buffet, except that you do serve yourself.
For the true connoisseur, the Vintage Room offers an exceptional degustation experience that is limited to just 12 guests, in an intimate room tucked away off the port side of the Starlite Club on Deck 6. This is the only dining venue on the entire ship to carry an extra charge.
Whether it's a cold ice cream at Scoops or late-night bites courtesy of Crystal's round-the-clock room service, going hungry aboard Crystal Symphony just isn't an option.
It might be surprising, but families with kids are welcome aboard Crystal Symphony. The ship boasts two dedicated areas for younger cruisers: the Fantasia Children's Playroom and Waves Teen Center. Both are cleverly tucked away on Deck 11 forward just aft of the Palm Court observation lounge, and both offer a place for kids to hang out and be, well, kids.
While Crystal Symphony's kids' facilities won't outdo Disney Cruise Line or Royal Caribbean anytime soon, it is refreshing to see that families are welcomed aboard Crystal Symphony. The line's oversized suites and exceptional service are a great pairing for families looking to truly relax in a way that just isn't possible on the larger ships.
All onboard entertainment
All drinks, except ultra-premium selections
Meals in all specialty restaurants (excluding Vintage Room)
In-room Mini Bars
Passengers aboard Crystal Symphony have a lot of cruises under their belts -- most with Crystal itself. Hailing predominantly from the United States, passengers are typically 50+, well-off and well-travelled.
But don't let that deter you if you don't fit squarely into that category: we saw plenty of young adults and teenagers travelling with parents and grandparents on our inaugural voyage, as well as some first-time Crystal passengers. The passenger base is curious about the world, loves travel and cruising, and, more importantly, considers Crystal to be a part of their family and their lifestyle. It's a theme that is more prevalent here than even lines like Cunard and Holland America, both known for their legions of longtime passengers.
While we didn't notice specific LGBTQ+ meetups scheduled onboard, travelers who identify as being part of that group will find themselves welcomed aboard Crystal.
A "Friends of Bill W." meetup (alcoholics anonymous) was held on one afternoon onboard. Crystal holds Catholic Mass and Interdenominational services on Sundays.