We were first time cruisers on Crystal Symphony, having cruised many times on its principal competitors - Seabourn, Silverseas, Regent and the Queens Grill categories of Cunard. In our view, in a number of respects, Crystal compares ... Read More
We were first time cruisers on Crystal Symphony, having cruised many times on its principal competitors - Seabourn, Silverseas, Regent and the Queens Grill categories of Cunard. In our view, in a number of respects, Crystal compares unfavorably to all of these.
Food quality in the main restaurant and Lido Café was average at best and occasionally fair to poor (particularly seafood and fish, which on several occasions were served nearing the end of their shelf-life). In both venues hot food was often served (or in the case of the Lido Café made available on the buffet stands) at room temperature. Service in both venues was rarely better than average. Courses in the main restaurant were often served too quickly. Often times, one course followed the removal of the previous course within less than a minute. When on two occasions we asked that something that tasted bad be swapped for another choice - things as simple as replacing a wilted salad with a soup - we were told we could do it, but only if the replacement was served with the main course, as the main course "was ready". Table settings were often oddly incomplete - missing wine glasses, cutlery, etc. The dining by reservation program does not work. If you select a middle range dinner time - for instance 745pm or 800pm, you eat during the clean-up of the first seating and set-up of the second - it's very unpleasant to eat amid the transitional chaos of the removal of dirty dishes, cutlery and table linens throughout the entire restaurant and the rushed delivery from the kitchen area of their replacements for the next seating. You get the very real sense that you are there at the wrong time - that while yes, they offer dining by reservation, the restaurant remains geared up only for what is essentially a two seating service. Also, nearly 50% of the nighttime entertainment/shows were scheduled on a one time presentation basis only, always at 745pm (designed to begin at the completion of the first seating and to end just before the start of the second seating). If you selected a middle range time when dining by reservation (which you are required to do before sailing and in advance of show scheduling), you missed the nightly entertainment. Had we known this before we sailed, we would have chosen different times. The Lido Café was overcrowded for lunch - with opening hours too compressed and a very short time period to serve the rush of guests arriving at the conclusion of morning shore excursions. On a number of occasions featured food items ran out and were not replaced. Closing times were fairly strictly enforced, with food removed shortly thereafter. Rarely, if ever, were we offered assistance with maneuvering our plates through the crowded eating area to our table. When simple requests for things as mundane as mustard were made, we were told that they would have to order it from the main dining room and that "it would take a long time".
There is an oddly ungenerous quality to the "all-inclusive" program on Crystal. Small things (presumably to save money or create additional revenue) build to create the sense of pettiness. Delivery of the daily news summaries have been eliminated from the rooms - guests are invited to read them in the library - under the guise of protecting the environment - but in the same paragraph of the first day's daily itinerary guests are invited to subscribe to a $6.50 a day to a newspaper delivery service. Drink service in the show lounge is limited - you must arrive and order your drink before the show begins or you are not served (this with the explanation that they didn't want disturb the show - with signs posted at the entry to the venue). Plan on arriving early if you want to be served a drink. The specialty restaurants are $30 per person after the initial visit to each. While advertised as a way to ensure that all guests have the opportunity to eat at both venues, the fee was enforced even during the latter stages of the cruise when each of the two restaurants had many empty tables. That said, Prego and Silk Road were both excellent. We ultimately chose to pay the add-on fees to eat at each of these restaurants more than once, mostly to limit our exposure to the main restaurant. There were only two nights when the Lido Café was open for dinner (with Crystal's daily program emphasizing that both seating and selections were limited). The Trident Grill closes at 6pm. There was never outdoor evening dining there, which would have been nice given the warm weather venues. We tried that Vintage Room one night. The wines, while better than those served in the main restaurant, weren't worth the steep $420 fee for two charged for the Vintage Room dinner.
Shipboard activities during port call days (which on our cruise were 10 of the 13 days) were virtually non-existent (much more so than on Crystal's competitors). The much touted Crystal enrichment program was surprisingly limited. The port/current affairs lectures were good, but not unique to Crystal. This was a wine and food specialty cruise - there were two food demos (one scheduled when many passengers were on land excursions in Cambodia). It was truly a demo, no participation and no tastings. A mixologist was on board and we found his lectures excellent and fun. There were several wine tasting presentations (decent, but serving to some extent as a promo for ordering the wines available for purchase on board). A very ordinary galley tour was touted by the cruise director as being a part of the wine and food program.
We were in a penthouse suite with verandah, but had an opportunity to look at the basic "suites". They were quite small in comparison to those offered on Seabourn. The penthouse verandah suite was a decent size (but at a very high price). Fixtures and furnishings in the room were ok, but looking a little tired and worn.
Be mindful of Crystal's policy regarding shipment of private luggage on departure, which we only learned about onboard and too late to effectively make alternative arrangements. We had booked and paid for a disembarkation luggage shipment (with a well-known and reputable luggage shipping company that we had done business with many times on the competitor lines). In this case, we had a very tight connecting flight necessitating the baggage shipment. We learned only several days before disembarkation that Crystal would not allow any company other than it's "exclusive" shipping service - Luggage Concierge - to retrieve bags left onboard with the front desk or at port with its local agent for same day pick-up. No manner of attempts to get the front desk or onboard concierge (or the home office of Crystal) to accommodate us were successful. Crystal's policy was that we would have to do a luggage handoff ourselves (which was not possible with a 7am departure time) if we wanted to use a competitor shipping service. We were offered a free phone call to our shipping company to make alternative arrangement (which in our case meant to call to cancel the luggage shipment). If you plan to ship your bags home, pay the extra fee charged by Luggage Concierge, unless you are there to hand your bags over yourself to another shipping company.
Cabin steward and butler service were excellent. Front desk and concierge service was institutional and cold. Embarkation greetings were perfunctory and unfriendly. The daily program had an odd tendency to repeat silly disclaimers of liability for a whole host of things, everything ranging from failing to complete port entry forms correctly to being untruthful when completing customs forms when returning to one's home country. Reading the daily itinerary should be a source of excitement for the guests - not the delivery mechanism for legalistic disclaimers already addressed in the booking contract. When returning to the ship each day, disengaged card swipers and security screeners rarely said hello or smiled. We had one sail away function on deck a number of days after embarkation. It consisted of the band playing a set of songs. Nothing else. Perhaps the ship is too large to offer the personalized level of service and warmth offered by its price point competitors. Whatever the explanation, there is substantial room for improvement.