As a longtime Crystal cruiser (12 years and counting) and long curious to visit the much-talked about, but little-seen, Middle East, it took me mere minutes to decide to book Crystal Symphony's 2 week Dubai-Athens voyage. Boasting such exotic destinations as Oman and Jordan, taking this voyage on one of my favorite ships seemed like a no-brainer. For those interested in reading about this, my 22nd cruise, I will divide the critique up into sections.
THE SHIP: Entering service in 1995, Crystal Symphony is practically considered a "veteran" in this age of mega-ships. She was renovated in 2006. Symphony looks great. You can tell she's not a young woman anymore, but well-done cosmetic surgery has helped her to conceal her age. Changes made to the ship in 2006 are both positive and negative. The staterooms have been vastly improved, given the look of a high-end boutique hotel. Even the much-maligned glass sink in the bathroom and armless reading chair didn't bother me. I found them to be fanciful elements. The former Stars Disco has been converted into Luxe, a trendy nightclub with a Miami feel, which was sorely underused on our voyage. Also, the mid-ships Starlite Room had major changes. Once an enclosed lounge, the room is now open to the rest of the ship with a central bar (with a beautifully-done blue lit icy centerpiece). The openness of this room is great for attracting a crowd for dancing or shows. However, the talking and cackling of people passing in the hallway is annoying if there is a lecture going on. The ship's alternative Italian restaurant, Prego, is as phenomenal - if not better - than before. The food (especially the mushroom soup and crab salad) were consistently mouth-watering 5-star fare. As for Silk Road, the ship's alternative Asian venue, food was good, the decor high-end and hip, but the space is small and too loud if at capacity. Overall, Crystal Symphony is still as elegant as ever - one of the grand ladies of the seas.
SERVICE: Crystal has long won accolades for its seamless, friendly European service staff. The staff is one of the main reasons I've returned to Crystal time and again. This time, all seemed off. Our Senior Waiter in the Crystal Dining Room, Dusko, was fantastic! However, he along with the other servers and Maitre 'Ds were overwhelming - even suffocating. They would constantly circle our table and would constantly try to engage us in conversation. More times than not, I wasn't even able to finish a conversation with my family before they would interrupt to ask us how dinner was, how our day was, what we were doing that night, what we were doing the next day. Don't get me wrong - we have always had a great relationship with our servers, getting to know them, trading jokes. But this time the experience was intrusive to the point we wanted to avoid the dining room alltogether. The only problem was, Prego servers were exactly the same. We were exhausted by the time dinners ended. Also, on a negative note, the front desk staff and many bar staff were - for the first time ever - aloof and unmotivated. Every other aspect of the service staff onboard was fantastic, however. Especially, the stewardesses and the Lido staff. One night when most of the ship returned from a 12-hour excursion in Egypt, we were greeted by the stewardesses from each floor lined up and gathered on the staircase landings to give us a warm welcome back! Each floor I went to, there were at least 15 stewardesses smiling and welcoming us back. It was lovely. The Lido staff would call us by our name, even from the first day. What was weird was that we had never given them our names or room number. Their attention to detail was incredible and very memorable.
Quiet, towards the end of the hallway in the stern; great balcony; small closets; small, but well-equipped bathroom; brand new flat-screen tv's and DVD player.