My wife, 16 year old daughter and I returned yesterday from a 7-night cruise onboard Crystal Symphony from Athens to Athens. This was our first Crystal cruise which we chose due to itinerary, date and curiosity as we have always wanted to try Crystal. My wife and I are in our mid forties and are addicted to cruising. I've completed over 70 cruises on all lines ranging from budget to very luxurious. I started cruising at age 13. With age, as our taste and budge changed we have particularly found Oceania and Regent cruises to best suit us. This review is by no means a comparison of lines. The reason we have found Oceania and Regent to be so desirable is their commitment to quality ships, service, food and entertainment. Most importantly, when we sail on these lines we always feel special. We have for the most part abandoned mass market cruising unless if for a group or special event.
I did have some trepidation about trying Crystal as I had heard it is "old school", "formal" and "stuffy". Although old school might have been appealing we certainly don't care for venues which are formal, stuffy or even pretentious. Additionally, my family always dresses well, but the idea of having to put on a tuxedo on a vacation seems ridiculous to me. Unless I'm going to a black tie wedding or the Academy Awards I don't see the purpose of a tuxedo on vacation.
Well - Crystal debunked any myths of ill fated pre-conceived notions and grossly exceeded our expectations in every area. We found Crystal to be perhaps our favorite cruise line and cannot imaging how our experience could have been better - unless I really wanted to nitpick which would be ridiculous, but I will do it anyway because otherwise this review will seem too perfect. The ship is certainly older and as such the staterooms and suites are smaller than the competition's new builds and a bit aged, but extremely well done. The only other little detail I would suggest is one which would improve the lunch experience at the Trident Grill. The Trident Grill can get backed up during peak hours with lines and wait times. A solution would be to take passengers orders and have tables labeled with numbers which would go on the order and then the food could be delivered when ready allowing passengers to sit comfortably instead of stand waiting for their food. This would prevent the bottleneck that happens during peak hours and works well on lines such as Oceania and Regent. The fact that I have no other critical comments or suggestions is remarkable and kudos to Crystal!
Fellow passengers hailed from all over the world and many age ranges and situations were represented from solo travelers to couples, families, and friends traveling together. The age range of passengers was all over the map. One thing was apparent - Crystal seems to appeal to and attract fun loving people who are young at heart. Passengers were well traveled and seemed to all have a strong preference for uber luxury in a comfortable atmosphere. Many passengers are repeat Crystal loyalists who expressed they would never dream of trying a different line. As mentioned we traveled with my 16 year old daughter who was the only teenager on board. We traveled with her so we could all spend time together and she did not miss having other teens on board. There were a few very well behaved toddlers on board.
One significant area where Crystal stands out is with it's staff. A happy ship equals a happy trip. In all of my travels I have never experienced a more warm, passionate, friendly and genuinely sincere crew eager to please the passengers. From the time of embarkation we immediately felt welcomed on board as if we were visiting family. Remarkably - and almost immediately - the staff addresses passengers by their names and remembers even their little desires. I cannot reduce to words how incredible the crew of the Crystal Symphony are.
From the moment you embark on Crystal Symphony you sense something special. An ambience which is very classy, upscale, yet comfortable like your local country club. The fellow passengers and crew interact like old friends - and in fact many passengers and crew have become old friends over the years and passenger loyalty is apparent as is that of the crew. Many crew members have been with Crystal since the beginning. My family found there was nothing stuffy or pretentious about Crystal. In fact, just the opposite. I think being a luxury line and attracting passengers who appreciate such an experience breeds a natural comfort level which creates an environment of warmth and community which feels familiar to that which the guests are accustomed. The ambiance reminds me a lot of a Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons, but the overall experience Trumps both chains many times over. I've never experienced service at any luxury hotel that exceeds that received on Crystal.
Dining for us on board Crystal Symphony was old school. We had a 830pm dining time. It's been years since we've had fixed dining and we LOVED IT! We truly enjoyed getting to know our waiter, busboy, head waiter and maître d'. Every dinner was excellent with service to match. Preferences were quickly learned on the first evening and remembered. Our waiter asked us on the first night how we liked our dining experience to be paced and kept it constant throughout. He wanted to know if we wanted to enjoy slow two hour dinners with time between courses or whether he should move things along. Our preference was to move things along - as we like to make it to the shows - he did a perfect job. Quality and presentation of the food was on par even with Michelin 1 and 2 star restaurants in my opinion. We enjoyed Silk Road and Prego as well. Silk Road was excellent, but being frequent patrons of Nobu in Los Angeles found the atmosphere not to be typical of a Nobu and although the sushi was fresh it did not seem quite on par with the land based experience. Nonetheless, I would still rate Silk Road as excellent.
I could go on for pages about the entertainment. My entertainment expectations were no expectations. After all how could a small line with only 2 cruise ships provide any type of jaw dropping entertainment. Wow! Was I wrong. I'm quite critical when it comes to entertainment and have been fortunate to experience the best entertainment Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Broadway has to offer. Every show we saw on board was outstanding! The singers and dancers were extremely talented and major production shows being very well produced and captivating. The production shows were complimented by the Crystal orchestra. Guest entertainers and ballroom dancers were amazing. One of the most pleasant surprises was Mark Farris who lit up the piano bar every evening with his brilliant talent, wit and ability to engage the audience. Lastly, but certainly not our cruise director Paul McFarland is the best we have ever experienced. He truly set the tone for the whole cruise experience.
CABINS & SHIP IN GENERAL:
Despite the age of the ship and not having some of the glitz and glamour of newer vessels - Crystal Symphony is perfect! She is a comfortable and contemporary ship that that has been updated for the times with a timeless elegance. Her size and passenger capacity is just perfect. We never felt like the ship was crowded. No significant wear and tear in any area was recognized. Our accommodations were in a Penthouse Suite which was very comfortable and of adequate size with excellent design and décor. However, don't expect to compare the staterooms on board Crystal Symphony with new builds like the Regent Seven Seas Explorer where the entry level suites (the ship is all suites) are larger than the Crystal Penthouse Suites. I saw cabins in other categories and despite being small are very well appointed. The cabin sizes would not impact my decision to consider another Crystal cruise. Public rooms are comfortable and flow between areas is excellent. Of note, upon arrival in our cabin and unpacking my daughter's feet became soaked when entering the walk in closet. Apparently, a clean water pipe from the level above had leaked. Within minutes the Chief Housekeeper arrived on scene and workers were ripping up the ceiling to repair the leak and drying up and shampooing the affected carpeting. Several other repairs were required during the cruise on this pipe and were done when we were not in our stateroom. The day of embarkation we were offered to immediately have our stateroom moved and to have the staff pack up all of our things. We declined as the problem was a fixable one. Later in the cruise we received a bouquet of flowers with a note thanking us for our cooperation and apologizing for any inconvenience. Class act Crystal!
This was a fabulous week of Greek island ports with embarkation and disembarkation being the port of Athens. Originally, the cruise was supposed to conclude in Istanbul, Turkey, but the itinerary was changed due to safety concerns. The itinerary was port intensive, but fabulous nonetheless. Some ports were repeats for us and some were new. What a pleasant surprise Naphlion and Hydra were.
Crystal has earned our loyalty and business perhaps as our new favorite cruise line and we look forward to continuing cruising on Crystal for years to come. Apparently, Crystal is arranging for 3 new build cruise ships. I imagine Crystal's ambitious and innovative CEO Edie Rodriguez will continue to have her finger on the pulse and incorporate more relevant and modern features on the new ships that were not typically the standard of luxury cruising when Crystal Symphony was launched in 1995. The bottom line is that Crystal Symphony is a 21 year old ship that has wowed us like no other! I can only imagine combining the food, service and Crystal standards applied to new build cruise ships. I'm certain that when the new ships launch any question of competition will be drowned. There will be no competition. Even now, despite a number of cruise lines being marketed in the luxury catergory - Crystal is in a class of its own. Thank you Crystal!