As a newbie to Crystal I was excited to experience my first luxury cruise. I had been looking at Crystal, Regent and Seabourn. I ultimately decided on Crystal due to the sail date, wonderful itinerary and the very reasonable cruise fare. I booked in September for the May 21 voyage on the Symphony called European Discoveries. This would also be the annual President's Cruise so the expectation of special events and programs was also an enticement.
-Great itinerary and the ports were all terrific.
-All inclusive fare with alcohol and gratuities included.
-Free Shuttle buses to town
-No need to sign slips for a large variety of table wines wines and spirits.
-Excellent customer service, the best we have had onboard any ship.
-Treated same by the crew if you were in an ocean view room or a penthouse.
-No speical treatment like priority tendering for those with elite status.
-Pre booking shorex in advance but not charged until you are on the ship.
-Bistro extra hours and quality of cheeses, cured meats, fruits and desserts.
-Fellow passengers were interesting and great cruising companions.
-Inconsistent food in the Crystal dining room.
-High price for Crystal shore excursions (although the ones we took were excellent).
-Crowding. As our cruise was sold out it was often hard to find a seat in the Lido for breakfast.
-Enrichment program was weak. Too many lectures on the Middle East when presentations on WWII and the D-Day invasion would have been much more appropriate and interesting.
-Terrible quality of the coffee in the Lido.
-Mozart Tea was just ok. Tea was weak. Why can't Crystal serve loose leaf tea?
We boarded the Symphony in Southampton on a Monday afternoon. Embarkation through security at the City Terminal was tedious. We had to keep showing our passports. Once onboard the ship the check in was completed which only took a few minutes. I don't think it was any faster to do it this way than in the cruise terminal. I am guessing that Crystal can save money by not paying as much for the port staff and would prefer to process people onboard the ship. Of course I could be wrong about that too.
We had a category C Deluxe stateroom with large window. On my past 12 cruises I have always had a veranda and booked a window this time in order to save $1000 on the per person cruise fare. Our stateroom 7117 was located in the aft area of the ship. The window was quite large and during the day provided a great view across the Promenade Deck to the sea. You cannot see out of the window at night due to high intensity flood lights on the deck. With this being the only drawback we did not miss having a balcony at all. Our itinerary was very port intensive interspersed with 3 sea days. For a cruise with many more sea days the balcony might be nice so you can sit out during the day and also see out at night.
Our category C (which is he same size as category D and E) stateroom was elegant and spacious. The Murano glass night table lamps and crystal mirror sconces were beautiful. Deck 7 where the Category C rooms are located has a lavender, cream and gold theme. I love lavender and was delighted! It was just a short walk out the door on Deck 7 to the outdoor area at the back of the ship and also just a short walk and elevator ride up to the Lido on Deck 11. The beds were very comfortable and had a top sheet and fluffy white duvets. I requested special pillows from among the 4 options on the pillow menu and was quite happy. Our room had plenty of storage, 15 drawers and a very nice closet with a motion activated light.
The bathroom was a nice size with glass sinks. There was limited counter space. The shower was very steamy and was great for some of my wrinkled dresses. The only downside to the steam was that the room became very wet. The walls were absolutely drenched. A glass door instead of a curtain would be a welcome addition for the tub/shower.
I would describe the look and feel of the Symphony as more understated elegance than beautiful. There was no "wow" factor to Symphony that can be found on several new builds. The Symphony entered service in 1995. There have been several refurbs since then including the one immediately following our voyage. Our favorite area of the ship was the layout of Decks 5 and 6. They were joined by a central sweeping staircase and provided a high class feel. The Bistro on deck 6 was another highlight with an excellent selection of specialty cheeses, cured meats, fruits and pastries. We made regular visits to the bistro during our cruise.
The two specialty restaurants, Silk Road and Prego are available at no additional charge. We tried both and although Asian food is my favorite, we were not impressed with Silk Road and preferred Prego for its excellent Italian dishes. The carpaccio in Prego was fantastic. We both had pasta which was flavorful and well presented.
Prior to the cruise immediately after final payment you can login in to Crystal's PCPC and book all you dining times in advance. I loved this and booked all our meals for either 7:15 pm or 7:30 pm. We met some guests who did not book in advance and were eating at times they found inconvenient. The food in the Crystal Dining room was hit and miss. Perhaps we made the wrong choices but we only had a few meals that we liked. The rest were as Simon Cowell would say, "forgettable". If I did not take photos I would have no memory of what we ate there. The lobster was excellent and I had several yummy desserts. However, a shrimp Cobb salad without any lettuce and a few unappealing fish dishes that were dried out left me disappointed.
We had much better food off the ship than during our 11 night cruise. There were also a few buffets on the sea days. The Asia buffet seemed very Filipino and the Med buffet was horrific. I love Mediterranean food so this was a surprise. I ended up with a Reuben from the Trident Grill.
At times our meals in the Crystal Dining Room felt very rushed. They served the food quickly and had us out the door on most nights between 8:15 pm to 8:30 pm.
Our ports for the cruise were Southampton; La Coruna, Spain; Bilbao, Spain; St. Jean de Luz, France; St. Malo, France; Honfleur, France and Hamburg, Germany. It was a fantastic itinerary and we were fortunate to have excellent weather up until our arrival in Hamburg where it was drizzling. The seas were so smooth and I didn't have to wear my pressure wristbands at all. It was my first cruise where I was sad to disembark the ship. We booked our next Crystal Cruise while onboard for the beginning of 2014.
We are eager to see the improvements made to Symphony in Hamburg following the recent refurb. The photos, especially of the new Palm Court (which previously looked like a retirement home) make 2014 seem a long way off. Overall we were very impressed with Crystal and look forward to future voyages.
Ports: There is no option on the CC menu for many of our ports.
In Bilbao, Spain we took the bus independently to San Sebastian. We had a long but fabulous day. Loved San Sebastian. The town is beautiful and we had the most amazing pinxtos lunch that we will remember for along time. We also visited La Perla Thalassotherapy spa and spent about 2 hours there doing the circuit and enjoying the hot pools. Rating would be a 4.
For Saint Jean de Luz we were ultimately able to tender after a few tense moments with delays. We visited both St. Jean de Luz and Biarritz on a Crystal excursion which was fabulous. Both places had great shopping and restaurants. The history was fascinating. Would love to go back. Rating would be a 5.
In St. Malo, France we tendered again but it was much easier. We took another Crystal excursion, this time to Dinan and Dinard. Had a great guide and really enjoyed it. I would rate it a 5. After our excursion we walked around the ramparts in St. Malo and had a delicious lunch at Brasserie du Sillon facing the beach. I rate this port a 5.
7117 was a Deluxe station with window. It had a great location on the ship near the aft doors. Lots of storage space, 15 drawers and a roomy closet. Murano glass side lamps and mirror sconces were very elegant. Loved the lavendar, cream and gold colors in the room.
We did not spend anytime in Southampton except boarding the ship. It was very easy to get to by private car from London Heathrow (about 90 minutes) and also the Red Jet Ferry from Isle of Wight. Crystal provides a free shuttle service to one of the shopping areas near John Lewis. We boarded in the late afternoon so did not take advantage of this. The City Cruise terminal was spacious and they had free copies of magazines to take on board.
We docked in La Coruna, not Vigo but the former is not available on the pull down menu on CC. We took the train independently to Santiago de Compostela. We attended mass at the cathedral, had lunch at Dos Reis at the Parador (which is beautiful)and did some window shopping. The town is very historic and it would have been even better if we could have seen the swinging of the Botafumeiro which did happend later that night. Rats! We took the 3:25 pm train back to La Coruna and were back on board Symphony by 4:20 pm. The ship sailed at 5:00 pm so we were very happy our trains were on time.
This was a great port! We were fortunate to visit during a holiday. Stores were open and they had a very cute parade with model boats and children dressed as sailors marching through town. The art galleries and other shopping venues were amazing. We actually spent the night off the ship (pre-arranged) and took the bus to Deauville where we walked around for about 2 1/2 hours and then took the train to Bayeux to see the Tapestry and take an independent D-Day tour booked with Overlord. We were able to see much more having two days in Normandy. The D-Day tour was excellent and the Norman countryside was beautiful. Hopefully we will be going back soon. This port was a 5+.
The ship overnighted here but we pre-arranged to disembark the first afternoon in port. In the morning we left the ship to do some shopping and walk around the city. Hamburg is a great mixture of old and new and quite vibrant. Apparently they have the highest GDP in Germany which was evident by some of the high end shopping. We checked into the Fairmont hotel without our luggage. We had lunch nearby and then went to the model train museum which was not very well organized but still interesting. We took the Crystal shuttle back to the ship, collected our bags and took a taxi to the Fairmont. The hotel was exceptional and had a great Asian restaurant. The next day we took the hop on hop off bus and toured the northern part of Hamburg which is very beautiful. Saw the outside of Jil Sander's home and Michael Sticht's. My only regret is we did not have any time to take the boat across the Alster Lake. We enjoyed the excellent shopping in Hamburg and will definitely return.