This is my 4th Crystal cruise, my 3rd on the Symphony, and it was wonderful in so many ways. I love the Symphony, because it is luxurious but casual (I feel like I can take my shoes off and put my feet up on the couch to read), and carries a nice amount of passengers (about 750-ish) - not too few that I see the same people everywhere, but not too many that I feel crowded or anonymous. I was traveling solo on this cruise, but knew a few people on board from previous cruises and met several more mutual friends while on board.
As I said in the title, there's been a little slippage in the food and service on the ship since its drydock, but in other ways there's been a lot of improvements since the drydock. There are 2 additional dinner restaurants on board, both of which outshine the main dining room ("Waterside") in service and food quality. Both of the new restaurants do not count towards your allotted number of included visits to specialty restaurants -- those (Umi Uma and Prego) still remain the premiere dinner spots on the ship, in my opinion. Crystal put a limit on the number of included visits to those spots several years ago (generally 2 per week) in an effort to keep people from monopolizing them, but now that there are more dining options, I wonder if they will continue to do so (extra visits beyond your allotted amount are $30 each, which is still an incredible bargain for that quality and ambience).
Of the new restaurants, I particularly recommend Churrascarria, which is Lido deck aft, in the same location where the breakfast and lunch buffets are......you get views of the sunset, and excellent food. Salads, veggies, and side dishes are available as a buffet, and 6 varieties of grilled meat are brought to your table on skewers (chicken, shrimp, pork, lamb, beef). Be sure and stay for some grilled pineapple for dessert.
My friends on board very much enjoyed the evening shows, but I never attended (I don't, on any cruise), but I did enjoy the musicians who played in the lounges throughout the ship. Afternoon tea is served every afternoon (even port days), and it was a good time and place for our friends to meet up to chat before dinner.
Going through the Panama Canal was interesting, but I don't feel the need to do it again. As this was an August cruise, in general the ports were all hot and humid, and I stayed on board for most of them. A warning should you take a Crystal cruise that stops in Bimini: The tender to port is at least 30 minutes, so you should take that into consideration before deciding if you want to go ashore. I did not, as there wasn't much on shore I was interested in seeing, especially if it meant an hour (round trip) in a crowded tender.
Service is known to be wonderful on Crystal, but this trip I found it to be lacking in several places. Some was still wonderful (restaurants other than Waterside, cabin attendant, library and computer room), but some had slipped from terrific to merely good (Lido deck) or from terrific to pretty bad (Waterside). I submitted my concerns to Crystal in their post-voyage survey, so I hope these are just growing pains that will be worked out now that there have been some significant changes since the dry dock.
Interesting, but honestly I was mostly jet-lagged. I highly recommend the Palace Hotel for its comfort and location
Tender port, and it was mostly filled with American tourist-themed bars, cheap souvenirs, and with pharmacies selling meds to Americans without prescriptions. Not interesting, not beautiful, not worth the 10 minute tender ride.
I just took the provided shuttle to the little tourist market on the port.....I'd heard there was a post office there, but if there was, it was closed. But the market was pretty (such beautiful coloured fabrics!) and partially shaded, and I spent a nice half hour there. I bought a hat, but otherwise I really was there just to look, not shop
There's really nothing there, so unless you've got an excursion, you may not want to bother. I took the shuttle bus into Puntarenas, which is a dusty, run down city......Lots of cruisers were disappointed because there were very few shops or restaurants open (it was a Sunday morning), but I just wandered the town with my camera for 30 minutes so I wasn't expecting much. But other than some storefront churches and colourful graffiti, there wasn't much to see.
The old city of Cartagena was beautiful, and well worth going (with or without an excursion). I took a taxi into the old town (shared with other cruisers), and then wandered around the town for a few hours....I would have stayed longer if it hadn't been so hot and humid. Decades ago, Cartagena was considered a risky city, but these days the old city is safe and, even wandering around as a solo woman or taking a taxi back to the ship alone, I was not worried at all about safety.
Lovely historic area of the city, and I wish it hadn't been so hot and humid! The ship docks very close to the old city and the market (which is really just a collection of souvenir stalls), which is nice because you can easily walk anywhere. There is beautiful art, architecture, and history there, and it's worth wandering the streets to see for yourself.
What can you say? Manhattan is iconic, both good and bad. I stayed an extra few days in Manhattan (Tribeca), and got around either by walking, taking the subway, taking a cab, or a Lyft car. It's crowded, noisy, smelly, and energized. There's great things, and ordinary things. I always felt safe, I never was bored, and it was a great visit.