One Fabulous Experience: Crystal Symphony Cruise Review by Seafairer

Crystal Symphony 5
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One Fabulous Experience

Sail Date: November 2013
Destination: Eastern Caribbean
Embarkation: New York (Manhattan)
We’re so glad we decided to try Crystal, after many years with Silversea. This was a classic Crystal cruise: a leisurely 14 days, nice selection of ports, plenty of days at sea and all of the special activities that are among the line’s hallmarks. Our hopes were high. Would Crystal measure up to our best Silversea experiences? It did, indeed. And then some.

The Crystal Symphony was docked at the Manhattan cruise ship terminal and boarding began at noon – lots of time to settle in. Boarding was quick, because we pre-registered with Crystal’s PCPC feature (a tip we picked up at CruiseCritic’s helpful Community/Forum). We left our carry-ons with the staff, headed to the Crystal Dining Room for a leisurely lunch, and strolled around the ship until cabins were ready at 3:00.

We were very happy with our Deck 7 stateroom. We knew that the Symphony’s cabins (below the Penthouse category) are a little smaller than Silversea’s. Not a More problem. Lots of well-planned storage, drawers we didn’t even use, everything fit in the closet, luggage went under the bed. An easy-to-use thermostat. The bed and pillows were quite comfortable, and having lovely Frette linens didn’t hurt. TV channels include CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, BBC, Sky, CNBC, TMC, TCM, TNT, ESPN. Plenty of room to move around comfortably and we felt quite at home by Day Two. We loved the bathroom’s generous storage: 3 shelves above either side of the double sinks, plus below-counter shelves and cabinets. The tub/shower has a nifty grab rail built into its surrounding glass panel, is easy to step into (not too high) and water pressure and temperature stay blissfully constant, even during high-use periods. Lots of thick, fluffy towels.

The Symphony sailed down the Hudson at midnight. Our 4471-mile adventure began, gliding past the sparkling NYC skyline and Statue of Liberty, heading for Baltimore, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, Grand Turk, Curacao, Aruba, Miami. This cruise sold out quite early. We had 840 passengers, a number of whom traveled solo. Most were from the U.S. (several from the U.K.), were repeat passengers, and chose this voyage for the attractive itinerary and relative ease of meeting the ship in New York.

The consistently high level of service was a delight. Luxury lines shine in this area, but there really is something special about Crystal. Everyone, and I mean everyone, greets you with a smile. Waiters remembered our names and preferences after the first day. There’s no such thing as a venue being “out of” your favorite tea, jam or wine – waiters will run all over the ship to get it elsewhere. When my husband found his mattress a little too soft, our stewardess replaced it with a new one; that was a touch too hard, so she placed a thin foam topper on it. Perfect!

We were very impressed with our meals in the Dining Room, both the menu choices and the quality. The focus is on good fresh food, beautifully prepared – not on fancy culinary hijinks. Dover Sole Meuniere was sublime. Ditto the filet mignon. The Walnut Shrimp Cantonese Style was so good I requested it a few nights later. How wonderful to truly look forward to dinner each and every night.

We made a reservation in each specialty restaurant before the cruise and made another reservation onboard. Prego’s falling-off-the-bone osso bucco was delicious and a neighbor said her thick, pink lamb chops were the best she ever had. Our Silk Road waiter delighted in offering samples of a number of dishes. Both restaurants are small, with a quiet ambience and beautiful lighting. (As an aside, it was so nice to see waiters who tended casual breakfasts and lunches suited up to deliver extremely fine, polished service in Prego and Silk Road.)

We had most breakfasts and lunches at the Lido Café buffet, with its generous variety of choices, all beautifully presented. The food stations are arranged so there are no lines. Special “theme” buffets were presented on 3 sea days: Asian, American Classic, Nuevo Latino. I guess I was looking a little lost when the chef spotted me at the Asian Buffet; I didn’t see my usual salad fixings, so he went down to the galley himself and returned with a nice big salad, just the way I liked it. On another sea day, an extensive Grand Gala luncheon buffet was laid out in the Crystal Plaza, showcasing the pride of Crystal’s various food departments, with open seating in the Dining Room. I noticed that all of Crystal’s buffets are manned by staff that provides assistance and also keeps an eye out to ensure good sanitary practices. Smart.

The Trident Grill area, just aft of the pool, was really handy, whether for a quick burger, cold drink, ice cream and cookies, or as a comfy spot for reading.

The Mozart Tea deserves its own plug. It was just lovely, very tastefully done. In addition to Crystal’s usual Afternoon Tea offerings of finger sandwiches and very nice scones with real clotted cream, the Mozart Tea featured an expanded selection of delicious desserts, waitstaff in attractive 18th century garb, and the gentle strains of music by you-know-who. Chalk up another special sea day memory.

We enjoyed the evening entertainment. The 14 nights featured a full menu of nighttime shows in the Galaxy Lounge. We particularly liked the talented Crystal Ensemble of singers and dancers in several production shows, ballroom dancers Adam and Patricia Kent, the unusual “Imagine” show (performed in total darkness with zones of the dancers’ outfits lit via computerized programming), Donny Ray Evins’s tribute to Nat King Cole, the hilarious ventriloquist Mark Merchant and his 2 highly-opinionated dummies. There were many more performers. We missed a few shows simply to see some films in the comfortable Hollywood Theatre – such a luxury to have a small theater dedicated just for movies, day and night (with popcorn, of course). Not to be missed in the evening: Joe Fos’s cabaret tunes and classical medleys on the Crystal Cove piano and the genial Mark Farris, singing the night away at his piano and chatting with guests in the intimate Avenue Saloon. We never made it to the Palm Court or Starlight for late night dancing. Next time.

We didn’t anticipate how much we’d enjoy having all of these different venues, compared to smaller ships. It was really nice to have a little more of a choice.

Crystal pulls out all the stops on its sea days, which are filled with a variety of enrichment choices. World Affairs lecturer Dr. Robert Schrire gave 3 absorbing talks: democracy in Putin’s Russia, China/India relations, the future of the European Union. Destination Speaker Ken Rees discussed the histories of upcoming ports. And speaking of enrichment, Crystal has an impressive library with strong selections in a variety of areas. I’ll leave my own books at home next time.

And there were complimentary classes in fitness, bridge, ballroom dancing, art, a galley tour. The art classes culminated with an exhibit in the Crystal Plaza – everyone did a splendid job and it was so nice of Crystal to showcase their work.

This cruise had a special “Film & Theatre Festival” theme. Frankly, I didn’t think we’d be particularly interested in it. Was I wrong! TCM film historian Jeremy Arnold gave a fascinating talk on Marilyn Monroe and introduced many of her films, shown during the day in the Hollywood Theatre. Actor and playwright Jim Brochu performed his touching, funny, inspiring “Character Man” tribute to life on Broadway and gave superb talks on Katharine Hepburn, The Golden Age of Hollywood, and A History of Musical Theater. Actress Kate Burton shared memories of her life in the theater. Makeup artist and stylist William Squire gave 3 “insider” talks on Hollywood beauty and style. And much, much more was offered.

After a few days, we realized that between port visits and the multitude of sea day activities, you could easily spend entire days going from one activity to another – and many do, they’re that enticing. But we decided to pull back a little, relax the pace, and skip some things (many talks are re-broadcast on the stateroom’s TV). We didn’t want to miss the experience of simply being at sea on a fabulous ship, with no particular schedule to follow.

Charleston and Savannah were highlights of this voyage, and the trolley tour excursions were a good way for us first-timers to orient ourselves and learn about these beautiful, historic cities; the guides for both excursions were excellent and informative. We passed up the Caribbean excursions and spent those rather hot days onboard.

A note on the dress code: Crystal recently adjusted it so the dressiest night is now “Black Tie (Formal) Optional” – tuxedo OR dark suit with tie OR jacket & optional tie. On our 2 Formal Optional nights, half the men wore tuxedos and half wore dark suits. Crystal sanctions all 3 choices, so just choose the option you’re most comfortable with and don’t give it another thought. Really.

Little things we loved: the thoughtful built-in night light with its on/off switch on the night table. The 50-foot pool, great for laps. Easy-to-use washers and dryers in the 3 laundry rooms. The extra-long shoehorn. Cinnamon raisin French toast with a dab of raspberry jam.

And, finally, we met so many really pleasant, interesting passengers and enjoyed a great many memorable conversations. It says a lot about Crystal, that they attract such companionable travelers, most of whom return again and again.

Yes, there really is something special about Crystal. Everything has to be “the best,” lesser substitutes not accepted, whether it’s food, service, enrichment offerings. I think it boils down to this: the best of the best is simply the way they do business. Period. Crystal doesn’t consider that approach out of the ordinary, and that’s why it’s such a wonderful experience. Less

Published 12/10/13

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