Having sailed with Crystal a few times before one is always wondering if like other cruise lines cutbacks and nickel and diming features have crept in which are so common on other mainstream cruising companies. Crystal promotes itself as a ... Read More
Having sailed with Crystal a few times before one is always wondering if like other cruise lines cutbacks and nickel and diming features have crept in which are so common on other mainstream cruising companies. Crystal promotes itself as a luxury cruise line and has an outstanding record of winning top awards in this class over the years.
The November 2015 cruise was a 14 day Caribbean cruise from and returning to Miami. I do not propose to write about any of the ports I will just concentrate on the ship and on-board facilities and activities.
The website has a very comprehensive and easy to navigate pre cruise section for those booked allowing tours and spa treatments to be viewed and booked, pre payment is not required, I believe that changes can be made on-board if desired. Speciality restaurant bookings can be made, on a 14 day cruise two visits to each restaurant are complimentary, it is possible to tie up speciality dining with other guests whom you know to be on-board via this pre-cruise website. Each voyage has a dedicated website section showing full details of Principal Officers, entertainers and speakers. Crystal often attach themes to their cruises and appropriate details are viewable online.
I had booked a guarantee stateroom, ten days before cruising I was able to find out which room had been allocated via the pre booking website, I had expected either my agent or Crystal to email me with a room number but this did not happen, I think it is a courtesy to inform a guest their room allocation if decided before embarkation day.
Embarkation in Miami went smoothly and on-time, the Miami onshore staff were rather dictatorial in telling guests where to sit in order to determine boarding time, those arriving early boarded first, perhaps it would have been better to have handed out cards with numbers so that waiting guests could sit where and with whom they wanted.
Once boarded we were directed to the Starlite Lounge where keycards were handed out by on-board by Crystal crew members and passports were kept. At this stage the cruise started with a lovely leisurely champagne lunch in the main dining room, for those wanting a less formally served lunch burgers and pizza were available at Tastes on the Lido deck.
How does a luxury cruise differ from a mass market ship some will ask apart from the obvious price difference? Better guest space ratio, service from staff who quickly get to know you and anticipate your every wish within reason, food which is better in taste, variety and quality and freely available quality drinks and wines. An interesting enrichment program is expected on a luxury cruise. Did Crystal Symphony tick these boxes?
The ship takes around 950 guests when full, there were rarely any lines, the lido buffet was occasionally busy at breakfast when guests had tours booked, once the ship was docked and cleared, tables were always available and there were rarely waits to order omelettes or other cooked to order dishes, often the omelette chef would deliver the food himself to my table, now that is service!
Sunbeds were readily available on sea days, surprisingly there was a small element of the towels on beds reserving syndrome. Lido servers are very evident in seeing whether sunbathing guests want drinks and are happy to bring whatever you want be it water or alcoholic cocktails. They also brought around cool towels.
There are often comments that the Crystal Symphony rooms are small, compared with rooms on newer ships like the newer “S” class Celebrity ships with which I am familiar, the fact is that yes the rooms are smaller however there seems to be more drawer space and an equal amount of wardrobe space, the bathrooms are probably bigger with a double sink and small bath tub with shower. I found the room very adequate, new mattresses have been supplied which are very comfortable, the TV in my room was one of the older type, I understand that they are gradually replacing them with modern flat screen models.
The servicing of the room by my stewardess was first class, she got to know my routine and did the room when I was out and about the ship. I told her the type of drinks that I wanted my refrigerator stocked with and she made sure that they were replenished without asking.
The bathroom had a small plumbing problem and she ensured that it was fixed when I mentioned it, I was surprised that she had not noticed it without being pointed out by me when it got particularly evident one evening.
Evening dining is one of the highlights of the day. The maitre di placed me as requested on a table for eight, he worked his magic and gathered together a wonderful group of table mates. We were lucky to have a marvellous Portuguese waitress who took care of our dining requirements in exemplary style. The training given to dining and bar staff on Crystal must surely equate to standards found in the best establishments in the world. The sommelier ensured that wine flowed freely and she was pleased to explain and recommend the complimentary wines available if she was busy our waitress made sure that the glasses were replenished herself.
Food quality and variety is most important on any cruise ship, Crystal ticks all the boxes there, lido lunches are often themed, sometimes to echo the ship’s location, the dining room is also open most days for lunch for those who like a relaxed served meal. The coffee bar Bistro is open most of the day with comprehensive self service food items, breads, cakes, meats and cheeses. These are constantly refreshed so do not become tired. The available food items here are very welcome if you arrive back from tour in the afternoon after the buffet has closed and want a snack other than the burgers, pizza and ice cream available from Tastes on the Lido deck.
Afternoon tea is professionally served in the deck 11 Palm Court lounge. The evening dining menu has choices of modern cuisine on one side of the menu or more traditional items on the other side, there is no problem mixing between the two menus, small portions can be ordered if desired to make an extra course or for those who do not want to be outfaced with a standard sized portion. By arrangement with the section maitre di special requests can be served if ordered the night before.
I believe that Crystal stand alone in the luxury cruise market in still having two evening meal sittings, for those who prefer more flexibility there is an option of Dining by Reservation which affords you ultimate freedom, inviting you to dine at a different time, at a different table, just for two or with other guests with whom you choose to dine. This option can be selected at the time of booking. Once your cruise is fully paid, you may then reserve your personal dining times on the pre cruise website section. Times and table size can also be arranged on-board with the maitre di.
The two speciality restaurants are pre-bookable via the website once full payment has been made as well as when you are on-board, Silk Road has Nobu trained chefs specialising in oriental fusion food and sushi.
Prego is the Italian inspired restaurant my favourite dish being mushroom soup served in a bowl made of bread. Both of these restaurants are well regarded by regular Crystal cruisers it is indeed a treat to dine in either, service food and ambiance is excellent.
The enrichment program changes on each voyage, Crystal bring on-board an amazing galaxy of quality speakers and expert teachers who take classes. Some of the classes available on sea days included Berlitz languages, computing, dancing, bridge, knitting and sewing, art, iPad for movies classes and exercise classes including yoga, stretch and Pilates, all complimentary. Its up to you whether you take it easy or rush around the ship doing as much as possible in the day.
Entertainment generally consists of evening shows repeated twice, one for early and one for late sitting, like most cruise lines some of the shows have been running for a number of years, changes have been made, I believe that some of the scenery props have been replaced by back projection. The Crystal ensemble of singers and dancers were very talented and I thought that the shows were well produced and performed to a high standard, I especially enjoyed the Elton John show, apparently the principal performer is flown to the ship for each voyage, he may perform the show at the end of one cruise and the beginning of the next one.
Crystal seem to have a number of show time performers who appear regularly on their ships so if you are a repeat cruiser it is highly likely that you will have seen the act before. Close up magic shows are presented on sea days, tickets are available in the library on a first come basis, they may put on three performances on each sea day with tickets limited to around 15 guests each show.
Crystal Cruises seem to have the ability to retain staff, on any voyage there can be a good number of staff who you have previously met, they invariably remember previous guests and some even remember your preferences, this relationship is unusual in todays cruise industry and it does make Crystal special. The staff greet you with a genuine welcome home when they recognise a past cruiser, this is special.
I started this review by mentioning cutbacks on other cruise lines, what has changed on Crystal Symphony over the years, I can only bring to mind three things, there are no more pillow chocolates, I am quite happy to live without this, some years ago caviar was available on request, it is still available but is chargeable, thirdly not a cut back, trivia held on sea days has been changed to a game of multiple choice using an electronic handheld keypad, Crystal please bring back the old game with no multiple choice but using genuine brainpower and memory and no electronics. Read Less