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5 Crystal Panama Canal & Central America Cruise Reviews

This is my 4th Crystal cruise, my 3rd on the Symphony, and it was wonderful in so many ways. I love the Symphony, because it is luxurious but casual (I feel like I can take my shoes off and put my feet up on the couch to read), and ... Read More
This is my 4th Crystal cruise, my 3rd on the Symphony, and it was wonderful in so many ways. I love the Symphony, because it is luxurious but casual (I feel like I can take my shoes off and put my feet up on the couch to read), and carries a nice amount of passengers (about 750-ish) - not too few that I see the same people everywhere, but not too many that I feel crowded or anonymous. I was traveling solo on this cruise, but knew a few people on board from previous cruises and met several more mutual friends while on board. As I said in the title, there's been a little slippage in the food and service on the ship since its drydock, but in other ways there's been a lot of improvements since the drydock. There are 2 additional dinner restaurants on board, both of which outshine the main dining room ("Waterside") in service and food quality. Both of the new restaurants do not count towards your allotted number of included visits to specialty restaurants -- those (Umi Uma and Prego) still remain the premiere dinner spots on the ship, in my opinion. Crystal put a limit on the number of included visits to those spots several years ago (generally 2 per week) in an effort to keep people from monopolizing them, but now that there are more dining options, I wonder if they will continue to do so (extra visits beyond your allotted amount are $30 each, which is still an incredible bargain for that quality and ambience). Of the new restaurants, I particularly recommend Churrascarria, which is Lido deck aft, in the same location where the breakfast and lunch buffets are......you get views of the sunset, and excellent food. Salads, veggies, and side dishes are available as a buffet, and 6 varieties of grilled meat are brought to your table on skewers (chicken, shrimp, pork, lamb, beef). Be sure and stay for some grilled pineapple for dessert. My friends on board very much enjoyed the evening shows, but I never attended (I don't, on any cruise), but I did enjoy the musicians who played in the lounges throughout the ship. Afternoon tea is served every afternoon (even port days), and it was a good time and place for our friends to meet up to chat before dinner. Going through the Panama Canal was interesting, but I don't feel the need to do it again. As this was an August cruise, in general the ports were all hot and humid, and I stayed on board for most of them. A warning should you take a Crystal cruise that stops in Bimini: The tender to port is at least 30 minutes, so you should take that into consideration before deciding if you want to go ashore. I did not, as there wasn't much on shore I was interested in seeing, especially if it meant an hour (round trip) in a crowded tender. Service is known to be wonderful on Crystal, but this trip I found it to be lacking in several places. Some was still wonderful (restaurants other than Waterside, cabin attendant, library and computer room), but some had slipped from terrific to merely good (Lido deck) or from terrific to pretty bad (Waterside). I submitted my concerns to Crystal in their post-voyage survey, so I hope these are just growing pains that will be worked out now that there have been some significant changes since the dry dock. Read Less
Sail Date August 2018
I have just read a previous review about Crystal Symphony and the expression "not a good fit" fits perfectly for my husband and I and our two travel companions also. Yes most passengers were in their 70s/80s (we are in our early ... Read More
I have just read a previous review about Crystal Symphony and the expression "not a good fit" fits perfectly for my husband and I and our two travel companions also. Yes most passengers were in their 70s/80s (we are in our early 60s) and were there to experience a floating hotel. We on the other hand love the experience of being at sea, which is close to our hearts as our whole working and social life revolves around the sea. Our cabin was typical of a ship of this size. Very welled equipped. A sliding door rather than an opening one was appreciated as it allows much more room on the balcony. The men found the bathroom a little squashy, two basins was probably an overkill as only one person could be in there at a time. Our main disappointment was not being able to eat casually at night in the Lido restaurant where views to the ocean are unrestricted. We were therefore confined to eating before 6pm at the outdoor pool bar or in the very noisy main dining room where we could not see out and missed some magnificent sunsets. Also there was no area outside to have sunset drinks which is probably our most treasured time of day when at sea. Yes we had a balcony but that meant we could not socialise with others. The few shops had some very old and tattered clothing left and were closed during our cruise as they were to be reopened by someone else. The shore excursions were as expected buy I must say extremely well executed. The hotel staff were all very friendly and professional and agreed that it was unfortunate that we were all sent inside at 6pm like children on a school night. I would not sail with Crystal again. Read Less
Sail Date June 2014
We returned this week from our second cruise on the Serenity - about our 25th cruise overall. This was a 14 day itinerary from Miami to LA through the Panama Canal. Boarding was effortless. A nice buffet was ready for us to help kill ... Read More
We returned this week from our second cruise on the Serenity - about our 25th cruise overall. This was a 14 day itinerary from Miami to LA through the Panama Canal. Boarding was effortless. A nice buffet was ready for us to help kill time until our cabin was ready. Food - Overall the food was excellent with one notable exception. We requested a table for 2. We were assigned one but in a very poor location that could not be corrected for a couple of days. Apparently many more oele than expected requested early seating and this created seating issues. Eventually more and more people starting opting for room service and this opened up more tables in the dining room. My wife did get I'll afterveating in the Italian restaurant - not sure exactly what the culprit was but it took her a couple of days to recover. Food at the grill was very good. Room service was quick but the food could have been hotter. I thought the lunch buffet could have had more variety - roast chicken of one type or another every day. The 2 special buffets were excellent. Cabin - we had a deluxe stateroom with balcony. Nice size, comfortable bed, very nice towels in the bathroom. Our stewardess was fantastic. Major drawback was shortage of electrical outlets. Service - the room, pool, and bar staff were friendly, knowledgeable, and very good at their jobs. Atmosphere - I am 59 years old and felt very young, definitely in the youngest 20 percent of the guests. The ship seemed very empty except just before and after the early dinner seating. I'm not a fan of formal nights but most everyone on this ship loved it. No other options other than room service. Someone even complained because some people dared to walk around the ship not appropriately dressed up. Too snobby for my tastes and almost a deal killer if I consider Crystal again. Excursions - one of Crystal's strongpoints and excellent on this cruise. Read Less
Sail Date January 2012
We went on this cruise with another couple, who have travelled with Crystal Harmony 4 times before. We flied to N.Y. the night before, spent an evening in N.Y., then boarded the ship just before noon. We stayed in Ink48, which is 10 ... Read More
We went on this cruise with another couple, who have travelled with Crystal Harmony 4 times before. We flied to N.Y. the night before, spent an evening in N.Y., then boarded the ship just before noon. We stayed in Ink48, which is 10 minutes cab ride to the pier. We really liked the hotel, clean, modern, and quiet, with very comfortable bed. This is not a 5 star hotel, good enough for a short stay but a bit far from theatre district. Boarding took about an hour, when we got on the ship, our room was not ready. We checked our hand luggage, which took another half hour, then went to the Dining Room for lunch. Around 2:30pm, we were in our room. Our luggage was delivered to our room, including our hand luggage. So bring extra lock for your hand luggage. The room was clean, but small. The sitting area looked bigger in picture. With the coffee table pushed closer to the couch so that we could access the drawers, there was not enough leg room for two persons to sit on the couch, only one person at a time. I am only going to talk about the few things that I have always wanted to know but never found the answers here. With the 2 for 1 pricing, was the food as good as they said? Maybe it normally is, but not on this sailing. Compared to the 5 star restaurants found in any big city, the food served on this cruise would only get a 3.5 rating. Someone told me the regular chef was on vacation. More than 1/3 of the time our food arrived luke warm. A few times, we waited 40 minutes for our dinner. Soup was watery. Most of the time, chicken consomme was served and it tasted like Campbell soup. On the Galley tour, one lady asked the Executive Chef Manfred Schaller why the soup choice was getting more and more limited. His reply was that "There is just not a lot of demand". Well, if the soup did not taste good time after time, people would not order them. Steak was tough and always came overcooked. Order a medium rare if you want a medium well. Seafood was a lot better and most patrons did order fish. This may be the reason why they did this very well. Souffle was one of the few dishes that was met our expectation. Lobster was also very good but for a 19 days cruise, they only served it once. If you want another lobster dinner, place the order the night before. Is the cruise on Crystal worth the money? Base on our experience, with the 2 for 1 pricing, and a $2,200 shipboard credit, I would say yes. But if you are young and active, wants to do a lot and see a lot on board and on land, then the answer is no. This ship caters to clients over 70 years old, who are rich and shameless. Their money works for them and not the other way around. I met a lot of nice people, who have sailed with Crystal numerous times (easily over 15 times). One thing I found is that they are "crystalized", and have not travelled with any other cruise line since they sailed with Crystal. With no other experience to compared with lately, they simply don't know what they are missing. Service was excellent. We haven't met one single rude employee. Bathroom is small but has enough storage space. Shower has great water pressure. They still have receptionists making the wake-up calls personally; therefore there may be 5 - 6 minutes delay on a port day. I have very sensitive skin, and reacts to strong commercial detergent used by the Princess Cruise ships. I was hoping that Crystal might be different. On the 4th day, my skin started to break out in rash. My cabin steward replaced the linen promptly with what I brought from home. The rash subsided. She ordered special sheets for me, catered to people with sensitive skin. It did not work. After the 3rd day, my skin broke out in rash again. So if you have sensitive skin like mine and had similar experience, bring your own sheet. I did not seem to have any problem with the Celebrity cruise line. Spa was very nice and cozy. Fitness centre was usually only half full. If you are booking this cruise to transit the Panama Canal, the best view is on open deck, not in the Palm Court. You just would not get a great picture there due to the window frame. Order room service early in the morning, then head straight to the open deck, if you are fit and nimble. I asked my friends how this cruise compared to their previous cruises with Crystal, they said that this one does not even come close to what they experienced before. We had a full ship on this sailing. On the afternoon of the so called Mozart tea, everyone showed up. So instead of having the pastry brought to us, we had to take our plate and lined up for them. Tea was served in tea bag instead of loose tea leaves. I would not call that a High Tea at all. I had better experience in a side walk cafe. Read Less
Sail Date November 2010
Having previously sailed on Symphony and posted a review, I decided to file a follow-up of the differences from our previous experience. It's said that there is only one chance to make a good first impression. This is true, but our ... Read More
Having previously sailed on Symphony and posted a review, I decided to file a follow-up of the differences from our previous experience. It's said that there is only one chance to make a good first impression. This is true, but our second impression was equally good. We signed-on to this voyage for the obligatory "bucket list" transit of the Panama Canal, and were not disappointed. I selected cabin 8001, which is the most forward one can get on the starboard side. From the photos of Symphony, I noticed that its balcony partition seemed to be cut to provide a forward view when standing at the rail. This is true and provided great vistas during the passage. I had some concerns about wind, and it was breezy at times. However, the aerodynamics of the ship appears to result in an interesting phenomenon: Cabins aft of us were windier and, in fact, their verandas got wet during an intervals of high seas and rain ... 8001 did not. I would recommend 8001 to other Panama Canal bucket-listers. We were lucky because the Symphony made the passage through the port channel. This provided us with a view of the central area of the canal and the large container ship accompanying us in the starboard channel. The (I believe) HAL Zuiderdam preceded us in the lock ahead, but stopped in Gatun Lake and headed back in the afternoon. There was a Society of Wine Educators lecturer aboard who presented a series of three tasting/lecture sessions. The sessions were listed as limited to 50, but when the waiting list expanded the number to 120, they just opened it up to everyone. Pasquale, the sommelier, and his staff had to work hard for these events ... the arithmetic extends to more than 400 wine tasting glasses to set-up and pour (followed by clean-up). It was excellent, and the price was right ... gratis. We had a nice laugh with Pasquale about what became a somewhat "lively" evening at the Vintage Room on our prior voyage. A tip from Pasquale: He gets a budget for these events and can and will arrange it the way you want. Therefore, if you tell him to, he will ease-up a little on the cuisine and put the emphasis on better wines ... something to remember if you are an oenophile. Having booked the voyage to visit the canal, we had no expectations for the ports of call. Cartegena was a pleasant surprise, the old town being quite well preserved and attractive. We were not disappointed with the ports of Grand Cayman, Acapulco, and Cabo because they pretty much met our expectations ... none. To be fair, we live where many folks come to lie on the beach and buy tee shirts and tacky trinkets ... but we did this anyway. Heard in all ports: "Prices coming down ... almost free". After the wives went back to the ship after a morning of hard bargaining in the Acapulco Artisan Market, the husbands continued wandering. We were approached and asked if we wanted to visit a "Happy Hotel". When told the wives probably wouldn't approve of that, the response was "you don't have to bring them" ... yikes, time to get back to the ship! Having experienced the Crystal "never say no", I had planned to special order Clams Casino. This resulted in the only major disappointment on the cruise when the answer was no, all clams are allocated to Prego where, incidentally, Clams Casino is not available. Oh well, there were certainly many other excellent dining options. The cuisine highlight for us was the Silk Road. Earlier this year my wife took me to the local Nobu's for my birthday and the small sampler menu totaled about $100/person. For the amount we "sampled" in Silk road on our three visits there, at "retail", the cost of our voyage was very well "subsidized". Now, they aren't trolling for Ahi from the stern of Symphony as we sail, so the fish was not alive on the morning of our meals. However, it was still as excellent as it could be. We were joined in Silk Road by our "Table 84" mates from Central Canada, where the fish is only raw when hauled over the stern of their boat. They were terrific sports and made it through the entire meal with chopsticks. We hope to reconvene with them in Silk Road at some time in the future. Crystallization Status: The crystals are larger, but not set. Crystal is the best cruise line we have experienced to-date but don't feel parochial enough to declare that it should be sailed to the exclusion of all others. Read Less
Sail Date November 2008
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