We are experienced cruisers, a mature couple, with a preference for Crystal. Two years ago, we sailed from Valparaiso to Bali on the Symphony, and we found the journey marvelous. This time we took a shorter cruise from Valparaiso to Miami, some twenty days. The experience was as grand and as elegant as before.
The Crystal Symphony remains an excellent ship: the food, the bars, the service, the accommodations, the public areas (especially its palm court), all are first class. The stateroom and the bathroom were a marvel of grace and efficiency, if in a compact space. My wife has mobility problems – using a wheelchair, however, was comparatively easy throughout the ship. And the staff were always helpful. One note: the Symphony has an excellent and unobtrusive group of photographers, a minor plus on a cruise ship since once upon a time this breed were real pests. Another virtue: 60 minutes of internet per person per day free.
Mostly we ate in the main dining room where you were always assured of something delicious – I was especially impressed with the quality of the beef and the seafood. I was not so taken by the so-called “Modern Cuisine,” a separate section of the menu of often weird dishes, mixing exotic ingredients, which look better than they taste. Sometimes it seemed the chef was playing a joke on us – vegetarian jambalaya for instance, eggplant everywhere, bland tasting scallops. But the main menu always had excellent classics for traditional diners, including a good Caesar salad and a marvelous array of cheeses. The complimentary wine list boasted a pleasing and diverse selection, including some excellent Chilean reds. The Prego, one of the specialty restaurants, remained superb – try the lamb or the seafood pasta, both stellar. The Silk Road, the other specialty restaurant, has slipped a bit I fear, or perhaps it was just off that night – less zest, less taste than before. Two complimentary visits each were included but we decided not to visit the Silk Road again, favoring instead the dining room.
There was one spectacular Gala lunch, a buffet outside the main dining room, full of savory dishes, beef, seafood, chicken, cheeses, salads and fruits, breads, desserts, and just a general abundance. The grill and the Lido were more busy, so we didn't use these much, but both provided excellent food. We did frequent the small Bistro, however: good coffee and tea, all kinds of treats – smoked salmon, ham and cheeses, many kinds of sweets, fresh fruit as well. If you enjoy food in all its splendid variety, Crystal Symphony is the place to relish that variety.
The itinerary included ports and places we have visited before. There were pricey excursions to Machu Picchu (my wife had gone there) and the Galapagos (that we'd cruised years ago). Still the three ports in Peru were all interesting, and especially Salaverry, since that allowed excursions to some fascinating pre-Inca sites, notably El Brujo. The excursion organized by the Symphony to that site and to the city of Trujillo was well worth the cost – a real pleasure. The other highlights were visits to Serena and especially Arica in Chile – the latter also full of pre-Inca artifacts, including some famed mummies – and later Cartagena in Columbia, a colorful and diverse city, also full of museums. The passage through the canal, complete with a good commentary, was as always interesting. We skipped the visit to Ocho Rios, preferring peace and life on the Symphony, but enjoyed the sights and attractions of the always interesting Key West – in particular an old-fashioned but well-maintained and intriguing aquarium. The Symphony maintains the practice of offering a complimentary shuttle, where the local authorities allow, which makes it possible for people to get to the center of town easily and conveniently.
My only complaint was with the lectures and the entertainment. There are plenty of lectures. The only ones I found worthwhile were a series on the Panama canal. Otherwise the Crystal Symphony seems wedded to offering speakers on politics and international affairs (why? – cruising is supposed to be an escape, isn't it?) and Dr. Jay Wolff, an accomplished speaker on matters historical but I tired of his pet theories two years ago and didn't bother going to his performances this time round. (To be fair clearly many passengers relished his talks.) Personally I would have hoped for some expert in archeology who could have explored the extraordinary variety of civilizations, notably the Moche, which once flourished in the apparently harsh environs of Peru. Or some historian able to discuss broadly the Spanish empire and postcolonial societies of South America. Or a treatment of South American art and literature (not the Broadway musicals which were on offer).
The invited comedians and singers did not impress, with the singular exception of the dancers, including the Crystal ensemble, who were very good, full of energy and verve, better than two years before. But if you really like evening entertainment, go to Princess – the food and service may be problematic there but the shows are superb. Crystal cannot match these. Still you can always find compensations, relaxation, movies, bar life, Casino, dancing, if you need alternatives.
In all travelling on the Crystal Symphony is a most enjoyable experience, one of life's finer pleasures. Here at least the marketing speak does have some substance.