Overall one of our best cruises, the real rating is 4.5 stars due to a bout of food poisoning and the filthy condition of our stateroom on arrival and the lack of response from the Hotel Director. The service of the staff outshine their managerial staff. I think if it had been a short cruise it would have been our first and last time on Crystal but with 19 nights the good times well and truly outshone these early mishaps. Anyway onto the review:
My wife and I are an Australian couple in our 40's who are early retirees and now wander the globe with no home base. We have progressively added more cruises to our itinerary over the last couple of years. We booked this cruise to celebrate my wifes birthday and to help us relocate to our next destination - South America. After booking this cruise early we booked several other cruises and this became the final leg of a 6 cruise 91 days at sea odyssey! I am pleased to report we ended on a high (despite 2 major hiccups - more to follow). This was our first Crystal cruise and we also tried Seabourn and Viking for the first time in the months preceding.
We spent several days in NOLA beforehand (2nd visit), loved the WW2 museum.
Embarkation: 2 parts to this experience. Firstly, we boarded at a makeshift terminal but this was no issue and the process was very good as we were met by an abundance of on ground staff and quickly ushered onto the ship where processing was very quick. A glass of champagne and into the dining room for the first off many excellent dining experiences. We then self toured the ship and this is when our first major problem occurred. We passed our room and thought we might drop our hand luggage off (still 60 minutes until rooms were ready), we noticed our luggage was in the room so asked a passing stewardess if this meant the room was ready reiterating that we did not want to rush them and were happy to wait, she replied it was. We entered the room and immediately noticed bits of rubbish on the floors in both the bathroom and room so we left assuming the cleaning had not been completed. We returned at the designated time and found it in the same condition, our stewardess arrived and we pointed this out and she assured us it had been vacuumed but would do it again. She left and as we started unpacking we noticed the air conditioner was not working, we also noticed rubbish in several drawers and in the cupboard, that the hair dryer had not been packed away, we also began to notice that we could not breathe properly and I started having an asthma attack within 30 minutes. We called her back and she noticed the broken a/c, we also noticed there was dust on every surface. She attempted to clean up but after the drill we noticed the hallway was also dusty and difficult to breathe in (we noticed that repair work was constant in the ceilings on this level and the one above for the entire cruise but never received an explanation). We immediately went to Concierge who were apologetic and offered to move us rooms. We waited until 7.30pm for the room to be ready (I didn't mind as requested a deep clean). We were told it was an upgrade, seemed exactly the same to me. The concierge was apologetic but I requested an explanation as to how a cabin could be inspected and be made available but none was forthcoming, I also requested to speak to the Hotel Director but was instead sent a letter and chocolates, this is nice but a telephone call or meeting should have occurred. An email to guest relations was also unanswered. Luckily my asthma attack only lasted 2 days and didn't destroy our cruise experience.
Ship: noticeably older than our recent experiences on Seabourn and Viking but nevertheless a lovely ship. Very impressed by the amount of space (enhanced by the fact the ship was only half full). Enjoyed all the available spaces on the aft decks, walking availability via the promenade and the upper deck, loved paddle tennis and table tennis. Crows nest bar was gorgeous, enjoyed the Cove, loved the dedicated movie cinema, great library with a wonderful dedicated librarian. The theatre was an intimate venue with no line of sight problems as encountered on her competitors. We are not pool people on cruise ships although we did like the design of the pool deck with couches, loungers, tables etc providing a good variety of lounging choice. One glaring problem is the showers are a long way from the pool and hence no one used them, we noticed many people come straight from jogging and gym workouts and jump straight into pool and jacuzzi in sweaty gym wear, also heard multiple guests complaining of stomach upsets while in the jacuzzi - so did not even contemplate using pool or spa which was a shame on such a hot cruise. Overall we love the size and design of this ship.
Cabin: We booked an oceanview guarantee and were assigned an E1, which I have discovered is a one category upgrade after the above incident we were moved to a C1 (apparently a 2 level upgrade). There was no difference in the cabins themselves and in fact the location of the upgrade was at the very rear of the ship as opposed to the other which was mid, I later found out our first cabin had a slightly obstructed view (we never noticed). The cabins are probably Crystal's weak point, they are not bad but in comparison to Seabourn and even Viking they are small and basic. The bed was very comfortable, the TV system excellent (except no access to daily menus), the small sofa and desk were typical of major lines. Storage was sufficient but well short of Seabourn and Regent. The airconditioning was very basic and a little inconsistent. The cabin overlooked the promenade. The bathroom was small (very narrow) but the double sinks were nice. The shower doubles as a bath with a curtain, water temperature and pressure were excellent. We noticed the toilet often needed multiple flushes, probably just the age of the ship. Our room attendant was excellent!
Dining: Phenomenal. The restaurant managers were great and our experiences were always excellent. This was the best food we have had at sea. The dining room for dinner was superb with great service, interesting menus, tasty food with great presentation. Unlike on the other lines we were treated very favourably, we found preference was often given to more mature passengers on those lines but the staff on Crystal gave us the 5 star treatment. We loved the fact service was always professional but the staff could still be personal and funny. Umi Uma was first class Japanese, simply surperb. Prego was very good but it did depend on what you ordered, too many dishes were "deconstructed". We also loved the variety and casualness provided by the 2 other major restaurants, Churrascaria and Silk. There was plenty of variety and choices for lunch with the main restaurant (the best choice but not as good as at night), the grill (we tended to use more for snacks), the buffet (good without being great), Silk (only ate once). A special mention for the room service, this became our go to option for breakfast, we never had to pre-order, we simply called and it was always there in less than 30 minutes (often much faster), it was always correct and it was always hot, easily the best we have encountered. We had a special breakfast for my wifes birthday in the mdr and it was incredible, really got her special day off to a grand start. Unfortunately, we had one major miss when I suffered food poisoning after my second dinner at Silk (on night 4), 24 hours holed up in my bathroom, followed by another 2 days to fully recover. At this point I thought I was cursed and that Crystal was trying to kill me. The maitre D was very professional on follow up and the F&B manager did chat to me (after I enquired why officers do not follow up on major issues) and assured me they had reviewed it.
The coffee bar was a nice place (not a patch on Seabourn Square in feel but much better offerings food and drink wise) and was a nice casual place to grab a snack or late night dessert.
The bars were excellent and I think the bar tenders made some of the best cocktails we have tasted. The ship had an extensive G&T menu and Manhattan Menu, I did my best to try each one. Wines were good and we never encountered any resistance if we wanted something different. Table service was good. There was regular canapes and late night snacks being offered.
Entertainment/Activities: Another highlight. We tend to find the small luxury lines struggle with entertainment but that cannot be levelled at Crystal. The cruise finished with a special Carnerval group in Rio that was exactly the same as you would witness at the Samba clubs. We had a huge variety of guest acts including: motown group, comedian, comedian ventriloquist, classical pianist, violinst, modern pianist, Broadway siblings (phenomenal); trumpeter and singer, modern vocalist/piano - truly something for everyone. Add in several production shows which were good without being great with the exception of the Imagine/illuminate show which was exceptional. Neil Lockwood did Elton impersonation and own show. Add to this the phenomenal nightly exploits of Mark Farris in the piano bar, you also add latin dance performers, encore presentations, singer from Brazil, guitarist, there was nightly live music for the ballroom dancers, nightly classic piano and violin and a young duet couple - phew! How did we see so much of it?
Enrichment involved several lecturers, covering a wide array of subjects from economics, history of places we visited, ocean sailings,geopolitical and military talks etc. Most were excellent however my wife did feel that the lecturers were all mature American white males and there could have been more diversity as we noticed on Viking. Further to this there was art classes, knitting classes, trivia, bridge, ipad and photography courses, golf sessions, wine tasting etc etc etc. My only nit pick would be we like some of those silly activities and games (baggo, putting etc) we noticed on Seabourn and Regent. Also a minor complaint was that Crystal hands out discount coupons as prizes, this is no prize simply an incentive to spend which was even more crass in that they were next to impossible to use due to multiple caveats (we refused to accept them), the CD was clearly embarrassed when the subject was mentioned. Speaking of the CD, we had Russ who has apparently moved from a long standing position at Azamara (apparently well loved by guests there). At first we found him mostly absent but as the cruise progressed had many interactions with him and found him to be one of the most personable CD's we have come across and seemed to know a large amount of passengers by name. He also produced 2 daily shows on the TV which were a lot of fun. If all that was not enough to keep you entertained there was 2 daily fitness classes, paddle tennis, table tennis, daily movies in the cinema (amazing popcorn), the extensive library with books and games and daily puzzles. White night was a great event and it might have been good to have another party event or 2. Oh, I have forgotten the great magic castle show and also dancing lessons!
Service: Exceptional, best we have encountered at sea. Great blend of professionalism and joviality. The staff seemed content relative to other cruise lines. Service was very consistent which I hypothesise is due to the many long standing senior staff as they were very visible and active. The officers had mostly changed over at the start of the cruise and this seemingly had no negative impact.
Fellow passengers: mostly American and mature which was not surprising given it was a long cruise originating from the US. The cruise was clearly not a popular sailing and was broken into smaller segment at a later stage this did see more passengers from Brazil joining at later stages. The atmosphere early in the cruise felt quiet and uptight but loosened considerably over the course of the sailing. We found the crowd to be more fun and sociable than Viking but not quite as diverse as Seabourn and Regent.
We will continue to cruise on a variety of lines including the main stream brands but will always remain on alert for good deals on Crystal and will probably become our favoured brand for luxury experiences.
Please see above for more detail. Small relative to other luxury lines. Comfortable bed, good tv system, adequate storage, small but functional bathroom.
WW2 museum excellent, must visit cafe du monde. Get away from Bourbon street, better alternatives.
This time just spent the day on that beautiful beach
Good shopping and a colourful downtown make for a fun stop.
A Sunday meant everything was closed. Too many touts!
So much to do, just be careful!