5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating
Crystal's biggest challenge is in, ironically, the main feature that differentiates it from smaller-ship luxury lines like Seabourn Cruise Line, Silversea Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises: With bigger ships carrying more passengers, how does it successfully offer exemplary service, outstanding cuisine and freedom of choice on such a large scale?
Usually, it manages. Beyond the company's innovative programming and ship features, it has one of the industry's highest passenger-to-staff and passenger-to-space ratios, and, perhaps not coincidentally, one of the most loyal repeat passenger bases afloat. There's a huge positive to Crystal's biggest-ships-in-luxury-class status as well; there are simply far more options, in terms of entertainment, socializing, casinos, spa and fitness facilities, activities and enrichment opportunities, than there are on its smaller luxury brethren.
Perhaps the biggest dilemma that has faced Crystal Cruises in the past is the fact that, of all the luxury lines, it's the only one to have two set dinner seatings in the main dining room -- a mainstay of mass-market lines that doesn't necessarily appeal to the eat-when-we-want vagaries of the upper-end cruiser. This was addressed in 2011 with the introduction of the more flexible Perfect Choice Dining in the main dining rooms, where open seating dining will become available by reservation (called, not surprisingly, Open Dining By Reservation). In addition, Crystal has long offered alternatives to its main dining room; its Italian and Japanese restaurants onboard both Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity are outstanding, but are generally in huge demand, so make reservations as early as possible. Another wonderful alternative is ultra-casual pool deck dining at The Trident Grill on designated nights during each voyage.
All dining can be pre-booked on an online system, the Priority Check-in and Planning Center, which displays a full, personalized itinerary for each passenger, including everything from restaurant reservations to spa bookings, shore excursions and even tuxedo rental.
The company has been an innovator in the onboard experience -- Crystal was one of the first cruise lines (a decade ago) to embrace the concept of boutique restaurants, and it enthusiastically incorporated cyber cafes on its ships well before others (and offered how-to classes to encourage its passengers' computer skills). This innovation has been taken a step further with big-screen iMac workstations that can run Apple's own operating system or Windows, giving passengers a choice. Classes in Computer University @ Sea (Crystal's technology training for passengers) include a seminar on social media.
Crystal was also the first luxury line to make a significant commitment to attracting families, by upgrading children's onboard facilities and activities. And yet, it faithfully maintains cornerstone cruise traditions: elegant afternoon tea, paddle tennis, casinos, activities like bingo and napkin folding, and assigned main restaurant dining for those who want it. (Despite the introduction of Perfect Choice Dining, Crystal executives confirm that there is no intention whatsoever of doing away with the traditional dinner seatings.)
Cabin-wise, accommodations on Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity -- particularly in the upper ranges -- are plush and comfortable. However, lower-level categories can feel cramped for a luxury ship at this price tag.
Longer, more exotic cruises attract a 55-plus crowd, but Crystal, developing a reputation as the multi-generational family cruise line of choice for well-heeled travelers, appeals to a more diverse group of passengers for Alaska and, occasionally, Caribbean, itineraries.
Clothing onboard is dressy, particularly on formal nights (good time to break out those sequins). Even on other nights, passengers tend to wear cocktail attire (women) and suits (men). During the day, elegant casual permeates.
In 2012, Crystal joined the ranks of other luxury lines by going the nearly all-inclusive route. Fares now include beverages and gratuities. Starting in 2014, all members of the line's Crystal Society past passenger loyalty program now receive free Internet (at least 60 minutes free per person, per day).
As previously noted, the longer and more exotic the cruise, the older the clientele (typically the 55-plus crowd). Well-heeled travellers have also jumped at the opportunity to bring their children and grandchildren onboard Crystal's family friendly ships, and multi-generational groups are common. On shorter (weeklong) trips -- mostly Alaska, less commonly Caribbean, itineraries -- the cruise line appeals to a more diverse group of passengers.