(7:22 a.m. EDT) -- Friday, September 1, 2023 marked a major milestone in the Crystal Cruises canon. Following the July restart of Crystal Serenity, the resurrected luxury line officially relaunched its most beloved ship, Crystal Symphony, which set out from Piraeus, Greece on its maiden revenue voyage following a celebratory firework spectacular.
Passengers assembled in Port of Piraeus' Terminal 2 were welcomed by Cruise Director Russ Thomas Grieve, who threw colored streamers into the air. "Let's get this party started!" he said, to cheers from the assembled passengers - many of whom leapt up to hug Grieve or enthusiastically shake his hand. For many passengers and crew alike, who for the most part all know each other like family, this is the first time they've seen each other since the COVID-19 pandemic and Crystal's January 2022 collapse following the bankruptcy of parent company Genting Hong Kong.
Rebranded simply as Crystal and spearheaded by former Silversea Cruises head Manfredi Lefebvre d'Ovidio, the return of Crystal Symphony to revenue service marks the relaunch of a Crystal that's gone back to its roots, one that is singularly focused on delivering the same superb luxury cruise product its passengers have come to know and love since the line's original inception in 1988.
Abercrombie & Kent CEO and acting Crystal CEO Cristina Levis addressed a small group of media and local dignitaries assembled in the ship's Palm Court observation lounge overlooking the Port of Piraeus prior to the ship's first guests coming onboard.
"We have given new life to two ladies, Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony, that our crew and beloved guests call home," Levis told the crowd, before poignantly concluding, "At Crystal, we do not sell voyages. We sell memories."
Crystal Symphony entered service in April 1995, christened by the late acclaimed actress, Angela Lansbury. Candid 35mm still photos of the event still line the Deck 6 corridor running aft towards the Avenue Saloon and make for a charming look at the ship's earliest days.
While the focus on the cruise industry tends to be on the newest, splashiest ships, the relaunch of Crystal Symphony is noteworthy in its own right. Crystal parent company Abercrombie & Kent injected millions of dollars into a full refit of the vessel, a careful process designed to respect the line's heritage and passenger expectations. Refitting everything stem to stern is easy from a design process; selectively refitting cabins and lounges while leaving rooms that are already purpose-built is an exercise in cautious restraint.
The result is a ship that is curiously modern, yet warm and original in many areas. Splashes of 1995 can be seen in the gold brass that adorns elevator banks and stairwells, while suite corridors now sport stylish new charcoal-grey wall and door treatments. Furniture and wall treatments and have been refreshed or replaced, while the ship's most iconic features -- like its two-story atrium adorned by a cascading waterfall -- have been respectfully left largely as they were.
While many of the changes made by Crystal during Crystal Symphony's stint in drydock at Fincantieri's yards at Trieste involve technical or below-deck areas that remain out of sight to the average passenger, the line also put significant investment into refitting select areas of the 28-year-old ship. It also combined several suites into brand-new Sapphire Suites; oversized rooms up to 430 square feet that either offer picture windows or full balconies, along with spacious showers, oversize bathrooms and welcoming sitting and sleeping areas.
The reduction of suites onboard also meant a drop in passengers; Crystal Symphony now carries just 606 passengers -- a far cry from the 960 passengers the 781-foot-long ship was originally designed to hold. That translates into more space per passenger throughout the ship, from the spacious pool deck to the bars, restaurants and lounges -- none of which have ever felt crowded during our short time onboard.
New ships could take a page from Crystal Symphony's design book. The ship sports a gorgeous, teak-lined promenade deck that wraps attractively around both bow and stern, flanked by decks that cascade attractively both forward and aft -- and which are fully accessible by passengers. Its public rooms are connected by spacious corridors fitted with oversized picture windows -- in fact, there is barely a public room onboard that doesn't offer some kind of sweeping view of the ocean.
In an age where ships have to have increasingly more dramatic diversions, like submarines on the luxury expedition end, or go-kart tracks and roller coasters on the mainstream end of the spectrum, Crystal Symphony is refreshingly uncomplicated. It is luxury cruising at its best: a ship that seeks to compliment, rather than define, the overall passenger experience.
What can we say? Old school is still pretty darn cool.
Here's a look at the "new" Crystal Symphony, live from our Mediterranean voyage between Piraeus and Istanbul:
Stay tuned to Cruise Critic for more coverage of Crystal's full return to service, including our voyage aboard Crystal Symphony. Curious about the ship? Ask us your questions on the Crystal forum on Cruise Critic, and we'll do our best to answer.