We love cruises and had been looking for one to Croatia. Our previous cruises had been with the big middle market lines - Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Princess, etc. We picked this 1-week Venice to Croatia cruise for three reasons.
First, most of the big ships stop in only one or two ports in Croatia, but Esprit stops in six different ports on a one-week cruise. The small size (they refer to it as a yacht) enables them to go to the smaller places that are less crowded and often more enjoyable. Second, we went with a group hosted by a family that owns a winery in Napa that we love and are club members of. So there were a number of special dinners, receptions and wine tours that were offered as part of this particular cruise, and we even got to visit their sister winery in Croatia. Almost half the 61 passengers aboard were part of our winery group, but we met and made friends with every guest on the boat. Lastly, we wanted to try a smaller boat. Last year, we went on a brand new Royal Caribbean ship that had 4,500 passengers and 1,500 crew. Though it had lots of high tech entertainment, it was overcrowded and overwhelming. With a max of 62 passengers and 90+ crew, we thought Esprit would be a very different experience. And it was.
Embarkation in Venice was a cinch. We embarked from the San Basilio port, easily reached by public water taxi from our hotel in Santa Croce. Check-in was relaxed - no crowds at all, and we could embark anytime during the afternoon.
All suites are the same size except for one larger owner's suite. We opted for S3 222 which was close to reception, the 24-hr. self-serve food and beverage pantry, one of stairways, and the gangway. This made it easy to get on/off, or to use the stairways to dining and other activities. I saw one review here that claimed this cabin had a lot of ship noise and another that said it was pretty soundproof. We agree with the latter.
Dinners were top notch. Open seating, great service, nice selection of wonderful dishes - just like eating in a five star restaurant every night. The quality of the food and service was so good that we always opted to eat dinner on the boat rather than on shore. As we celebrated my wife's birthday while on board, we asked the chef the day before to make a special dish we wanted, and it was no problem. The included wine was pretty good and always served in Reidel glasses. The wine selections varied each day (we also had complimentary wine available from our group's winery host on several nights). There is also a premium wine list with some excellent choices that cost extra. We didn't see anyone opt for those given the decent quality of the complimentary wine. We enjoyed the informal buffet breakfasts and lunches too. There was a large selection of foods given such a small number of guests, and the food quality and service was, of course, excellent. We discovered about 5 days into the cruise that in addition to the buffet, there is actually a breakfast menu where you can order Japanese breakfasts or poached eggs (e.g., eggs benedict). The pantry was stocked with fancy sandwiches, snacks, desserts, fruit, cookies, beverages, etc. There was also an outdoor grill that had pizza (not great IMHO), hamburgers, and especially good salmon burgers. And room service.
The entertainment was rather limited, but that's not what we chose this cruise for. There was a singer/piano player that would perform songs on his own or by your request pre- and after dinner. As with other high-end lines, all drinks were complimentary, all the time. One night, there was an excellent local Croatian music group that entertained us before dinner.
In terms of water activities, we only tried the jet skis which were fun (and complimentary). There is a two-seater submersible which we thought was a bit pricey for a 20 minute dive. But it's amazing that they even have one. Guests we spoke with who tried it were a bit disappointed in what they could see in the Adriatic. I suspect this will be great when the yacht repositions to the Caribbean.
There were at least two complimentary shore excursions in every port, plus others that involved special activities (bicycling, kayaking, zip lines, or private tours) for an added fee. We always opted for the complimentary excursions and enjoyed all but one of them (as we didn't think that local guide was very good). There is always a host from the ship along with the local guide, making sure no one gets separated especially in crowded ports like Split. Each group seemed limited to about a max of 10 people - Crystal just adds more groups to the popular excursions. Transportation was always in new luxury vans. On one of the islands, our local guide was a professor who teaches Croatian history and culture at universities throughout Croatia. Needless to say, he was incredible.
There were a couple of things that really impressed my wife and me. As you embark, they take your photo for your ID card. Within an hour, every staff member we passed on the ship greeted us by name on sight. Wow. I've read that Crystal employees have to go to a very extensive service training program before working on the boat. Many of the staff, including the ever present reception hostesses, Jackie and Kiki, had worked for Crystal on other ships for 12-14 years. It shows. The second thing might seem small, but when you are traveling for 3 weeks, it's not. Each cabin deck has a self-serve washer and dryer. That enabled us to pack fewer clothes for our trip, and change 2-3 times a day (important given the heat during our shore excursions). If you were off at dinner, you could simply ask your butler (available 24x7) to pick up your laundry for you, or to even press your clothes. No charge for any of this.
Even though Crystal is more expensive than any other cruise line we've taken (and I think Esprit is more expensive than Crystal Symphony, Serenity, etc.), we are seriously thinking about booking another trip, or at least staying within the Crystal family.
The cabin is spacious. We had a comfy king size bed, sofa, small desk, flat screen TV, coffee maker, mini-fridge, bottles of the wine selections of the day and numerous other drinks, iPad, binoculars, double sinks, TV in bathroom, two types of robes, free unlimited (but slow) wifi. Petit fours or other bite-size desserts left in your room each evening. No balcony, but very large windows.
Each suite has two butlers assigned - one for the day and one for the night. So if you ever need something, just ring for them.
Tip #1:Though the wifi was slow, I was able to use my phone as a hotspot with a SIM card I had picked up in Venice since we sailed along the Croatian coast and were close enough to shore to get good reception. Starting this past summer, SIM cards from most EU countries work in other EU countries without roaming charges. So make sure your phone is unlocked (at least for this Venice to Dubrovnik itinerary) and pick up a prepaid tourist SIM card with a good data plan which will allow you to use Skype for voice calls too).
Tip #2: We didn't fully appreciate until later in the week that they restock your cabin continuously. The bottles of wine are replenished as needed, as are the chocolates - if you eat three of the truffles, they will replace them.
Tip #3: There are two remotes for the bathroom TV. One simply turns it on, the other controls the channels. I'm sure that has something to do with the way the system is wired. Ask your butler to show you.
Tip #4: There is a thermostat that can be set within a certain range. If your room is generall too hot or cold for your liking, let the staff know and they will make some sort of adjustment and then the thermostat works well within that range. We discovered this from another review.
Tip #5: If you've been traveling for awhile before the cruise, start a load of laundry soon after embarkation because the machines on that first day will be busy - everyone is anxious to get their pre-cruise clothes cleaned.