Our preference is for ships of a decent size able to offer a variety of venues whilst maintaining a high level of service.
We dislike smaller ships, ships within a ship, ships with specific areas reserved for specific cabin types or titanium plus members etc, continually signing for goods and services, mandatory tipping, crowded spaces etc. We like what we have found on crystal and are beginning to think we’ve found our Goldilocks cruise line.
This was our third crystal cruise (2nd on Symphony) and her first sailing after dry dock.
We’ve attempted to summarise our highlights and closed by listing our favourite 5 and least favourite 5, I confess we were scraping the barrel to come up with 5 things we liked less!!
An email arrived the evening before sailing to inform us that there would be a 24 hour delay leaving port, but that no ports of call would be missed and we were each to receive $150 on board credit for any inconvenience. We felt this was very fair and crystal also laid on a half day complimentary excursion for the additional day in Lisbon although we chose to do our own thing (a highly recommended visit to Sintra.)
We are always late boarding so embarkation is a breeze, we then stop by the cabin and head up to the trident grill for a snack and glass of champagne. Because of the delayed departure the emergency drill was postponed to the following day which was nice as we felt more able to relax and have a look round the refreshed areas of the ship. We knew about the dry dock and expected a few glitches; we heard (from a lady in the lift ;-) that some of the deck 9 cabins were not ready and that a number of guests had been accommodated on land for the first night. We subsequently heard that those guests were well taken care of for the inconvenience.
Our cabin on deck 8 was as expected although it had not been properly cleaned (several items in drawers and bits of debris on the floor) our room attendant was lovely and we felt bad for bringing these things to her attention, it appeared that someone else had made up some of her rooms. During our conversations we got the impression that the room maids have more work than before (she wasn’t complaining - we were probing) She did however provide us with excellent service throughout the cruise and the shaky start was soon forgotten. The only change in the regular cabin is the new TV and desk chair which now fits under the desk more readily than the previous chair. I had hoped to be able to order room service and check billing / menus etc. through the interactive TV but that functionality was not available on our cruise; hopefully this will change in future. We did on occasion hear the TV in the neighbouring room and whilst not an issue for us it could be if larks and owls end up as neighbours.
Internet was spotty, I didn’t have too much trouble but was aware that others did and there was a mention in reflections regarding internet connectivity one day. Again I’m sure these things are all tied up in the refit and will be ironed out.
In over 40 cruises across a variety of cruise lines we felt that the entertainment in terms of variety and quality was the best we have ever experienced on a cruise ship and we’re really glad we made the effort to get to most of the shows. The only thing to take the edge from this was the lack of drink service before the shows, particularly as there is no convenient bar serving the theatre.
The quality and consistency of food was excellent throughout the ship, bearing in mind that the staff in the main dining room did not only have to adapt to open seating but also a new ordering system on small hand held devices. One evening, two of everything we had ordered was delivered which caused some amusement. There was a short line for dinner on the first black tie night but the wait was not significant. The team was under some pressure though they coped admirably. This was the only occasion when it was noticeable that tables are quite close, on other nights we rarely had a neighbour when seated where the tables are closely grouped together. We were also asked if we would like to join an open table, we chose not to so can’t say how this worked. Wine is now generally served by your waiter although sommeliers are on hand and delivered other drinks (ordered via the servers hand held device)
The trident grill functions like clockwork, we’re always impressed by the way the main man keeps those lines short and the rest of his team in check. Sadly there were no fries or onion rings for the first few days which was good for my waistline but piled pressure on the staff as every second guest questioned “when will you have fries” something which they very obviously didn’t have the answer to. The Churrascaria was a delight with the additional opportunity to eat outdoors, it’s nice to have an informal option for those evenings when you just want something simple washed down with a nice cold beer. You have a little card labelled yes please one side and no thanks on the other for when you want the meat to continue coming or to stop. It’s not the easiest thing for the meat waiter to see and perhaps a coloured light or flag would make their life easier.
Silk was another absolute pleasure and has its own evening ambience to differentiate itself. We felt the food to be authentic and thoroughly enjoyable. I have a shellfish intolerance and am a little nervous in restaurants where a fair amount of shrimp is used. The staff were wonderfully accommodating and we ended up eating there several times. Umi Uma and Prego are pretty much unchanged in appearance and food offer.
What we liked best
1. The phenomenal staff, many of whom are new to crystal though you would never know it. I hate to pick out favourites when they are all so good but on this trip Sophia (waterside and bistro) and Fabio (waterside) we felt were truly brilliant.
2. The transformation of deck 11, the way in which new venues have been laid out gives each a separate and clear identity and a really nice fresh feel.
3. Entertainment was truly fantastic each and every evening and we also loved the greater use of starlight for shows than we had experienced previously
4. Food throughout the ship was outstanding
5. Our fellow passengers – we have never failed to meet wonderful passengers on Crystal and this journey was exactly the same.
What we liked least
1. Lack of drink service pre-show in the theatre (especially as the nearest bar is some walk away)
2. Avenue saloon vibe was not the same this trip; we just didn’t warm to the pianist (nothing wrong with him) guess we have been spoiled previously. The plus side to this being a far less woolly head the following day.
3. Movie selection in the theatre was odd, I think we had wonder woman one day followed by Spiderman the next plus a few other oddities in the mix (again just my opinion)
4. Birthday breakfast was a bit of a damp squib, this was the first time we had been to breakfast in the restaurant and we didn’t find it decadent or particularly special, just a bit strange.
5. Although I’ve said the food was top notch throughout we still comment on the use of reformed frozen onion rings with the beautiful steak at dinner.
It should be obvious from the list of things we liked least that we thoroughly enjoyed this cruise, in fact we both agreed this was our best cruise ever with the exception of our very first on P&O Canberra in 1992. (I think your first cruise will always be special)
We’re struggling to find a crystal cruise to fit our travel plans for next year even though everyone on our sailing received a letter offering ($1000 per room - $500 pp On board credit) for a booking in 2018/19.
The only answer is for us to change our travel plans!!