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Crystal Symphony at anchor off Patmos, Greece (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Just Back From Crystal Symphony's First Cruise: Hits and Misses

Crystal Symphony at anchor off Patmos, Greece (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
Senior Editor, News and Features
Aaron Saunders

Sep 8, 2023

Read time
6 min read

(4:30 p.m. EDT) -- It's not every day you take a cruise on a 28-year-old ship and come away saying, "Wow". But that's the case with Crystal's Crystal Symphony, which has just returned to service after a substantial refurbishment, and which completes Crystal's full rebirth turn under new ownership from Abercrombie & Kent.

A&K bought the line's two oceangoing vessels (Crystal Symphony and fleetmate Crystal Serenity) and brand after Crystal's untimely 2022 demise at the hands of Genting Group. And after spending just four days onboard sailing from Piraeus, Greece to Izmir, Turkey, it's clear that Crystal is back, and firing on all cylinders.

This is due in no small part to former Silversea founder Manfredi Lefebvre d'Ovidio, who has brought with him an incredible team of talented folks that are both visible and hidden to passengers. Visible in the form of Fernando de Oliveira, Silversea's personable former brand ambassador who brings his talent and vision to Crystal. Hidden in the form of a dedicated shipboard and landside operations team, many of whom hail from not only Crystal, but also Disney Cruise Line, Seabourn, Silversea and other luxe brands.

The result is a ship -- and a line -- that feels like it never left service, filled with passengers and crew who are elated to be back.

Hits: The New Crystal Symphony is Everything We'd Hoped It Would Be

The Starlite Lounge on Deck 6 aboard Crystal Symphony is a great bar and show lounge (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Like the sequel to a great movie, there's a bit of trepidation whenever a cruise line refits a ship. Will the changes make the ship better, or will it alter its features to the point where it takes away from the experience for cruisers old and new alike? Maritime history is littered with examples of both fabulous and flawed refits. Fortunately, Crystal Symphony's refit fits squarely into the former.

A&K management has wisely decided to leave many of the ship's public rooms as they are, opting instead to make minor cosmetic changes to soft furnishings like carpeting, upholstery and drapery. Of the rooms that have been changed (Osteria d'Ovidio and The Bistro are excellent examples), décor has been changed to be more modern and welcoming, benefitting the overall look of the ship.

The spacious Promenade Deck aboard Crystal Symphony (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Other improvements are visible throughout, like completely redone teak decking on the Promenade Deck, and new carpeting, signage and wall treatments in all passenger corridors. Lighting has been redone in many areas, along with ceiling tiles and other things that often give away a vessel's age.

Crystal Symphony's newly-created Sapphire Veranda Suites offer 430 square feet of living space (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Perhaps the loveliest part of the massive 2023 upgrade that Crystal put Crystal Symphony through are the improvements to its suites. All suites on Decks 7 and 8 were completely redone and select rooms on Deck 9 were totally renovated as well, creating all new suites and refurbishing existing ones. (You can read all about it on our comprehensive Crystal Symphony Ship Review, now launched here on Cruise Critic.)

This refit is a win -- and it's one that other cruise lines should draw inspiration from as they look to refresh their more classic fleet.

Hits: Crystal's Service is Incredible

Crystal Symphony at anchor off Santorini, Greece (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Since the advent of the global health pandemic, everyone has become used to a decline in service that seemingly reaches across the service and tourism industries to affect nearly every aspect of the travel experience. Cruise lines -- even those with brand-new ships -- have not been immune to staffing issues.

Perhaps that's what makes the service aboard Crystal Symphony so flabbergasting: it's impeccable. To be more succinct, it actually feels over-staffed. At every turn, we were met with smiling crew members who were only too pleased to help with any issue we needed. Even those crew who are new to the entire industry -- and there are some -- were personable, upbeat, and excited.

Even more fascinating is that as exacting and polite as service is on Crystal, it's also friendly. Crew joke good-naturedly with passengers and always seem to have a lighthearted, jovial quip ready. Smiles are easy and relaxed. From the butlers to the officers to the engineer in grease-stained overalls we passed on the promenade deck, everyone has a hearty "Good morning/afternoon/evening!" ready as guests pass.

It is maybe the friendliest crew we've encountered at sea since the pandemic. And that doesn't happen accidentally. It's another indication of how much effort A&K has put into this "new" Crystal -- and we're here for it.

Hits: Osteria d'Ovidio is Sublime

Osteria d'Ovidio, Crystal Symphony's new Italian specialty dining venue (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Hear us out: Osteria d'Ovidio is a fantastic addition to the Crystal culinary scene. Although it replaces the much-beloved Prego, the experience here is now authentically Italian, presented either as an a'la carte menu or a selection of tasting menus that group together dishes by geographical region.

It's not Prego, which focused more on what might best be termed Italian-American comfort food. But the menu encompasses so many different dishes paired with fine Italian wines that we found our meal here was akin to dining at a fine restaurant ashore in Italy -- for free.

Osteria d'Ovidio is Crystal Symphony's new Italian restaurant (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

The room's new décor, too, is sure to make an impression. The dark décor, gold columns, wall murals and Olive Garden-esque lighting fixtures are gone, replaced instead with a cool grey-blue interior design, excellent sightlines, and crisp new furniture that complements the venue and its delicious food offerings.

While Osteria d'Ovidio will no doubt impress passengers who are new to Crystal, time will tell if the line's legion of fans will be won over by the concept. We hope they will.

Hits: The Onboard Atmosphere Is Far from Stuffy

Crystal Symphony's atrium, by night, is a space for entertainment. (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

One thing that may surprise people who are new to the Crystal brand (indeed, it surprised us) is that the onboard atmosphere is so relaxed and convivial. Though the line's pedigree harkens back to a time when tuxedos and formal gowns were practically a given, Crystal has, for the most part, a relaxed dress code on its shorter sailings. That means jackets and ties are optional, and country club casual reigns supreme. Indeed, very few passengers were dressed to the nines on our voyage, which was part of a weeklong sailing to Istanbul. We hear that longer sailings have a more formal evening, but we certainly never felt out of place in polo shirts and slacks during the evening hours.

Misses: The Casino Removal Was an Odd Choice

The former Casino aboard Crystal Symphony is now a lounge (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

As with fleetmate Crystal Serenity, Crystal removed the casino from its home on Deck 7 forward when it refitted Crystal Symphony, along with its private gaming room that was created by former owners Genting Hong Kong.

The private gaming room has been turned into a cool late-night club called Jade, where music and drinks start from 10 p.m. onward. But the former Casino has been converted into another lounge that offers tables and chairs and games, but little else. It has no bar, so anyone wanting drinks has to go to the Crystal Cove bar in the atrium for a libation, and no real entertainment.

It's a nice enough place to sit, but we feel it could benefit from some scheduled entertainment or some kind of hook to draw passengers in. Mostly, it remained empty every time we walked past.

Misses: Some Minor Technical Gremlins Remain

Crystal Symphony at anchor off Patmos, Greece (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Crystal Symphony is, at its heart, a 28-year-old ship. It's been out of service for some time, which is never an arrangement that complex technical machinery has benefitted from. Passengers on initial voyages should give Crystal a little bit of leeway with minor technical gremlins that pop up, which on our sailing included some AC fluctuations, a water shut-off, and elevator buttons that illuminated but never called the actual elevator.

But these are minor quibbles that staff, crew and technicians moved to rectify at breakneck speed. They're also likely to become less and less of an issue the longer the ship is in continuous service.

FIreworks welcome Crystal Symphony back into service in Piraeus on September 1, 2023 (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

All in all, Crystal Symphony provides that rarest of things: a throwback to a simpler time, with all the amenities, conveniences, and delights of modern cruising. As far as relaunches go, we have to say the new Crystal is pretty darn perfect, right out of the gate.

Updated September 08, 2023
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