Updated by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributor
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating
Updated by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributor
It is hard to believe that the now-venerable Crystal Symphony debuted decades ago because the ship is so fresh and light with a sleek, contemporary ambiance that's completely on trend today. That hasn't happened by accident. Crystal has invested millions since the ship launched in refurbishing, upgrading and adapting Symphony as travel tastes have changed. The most recent upgrade, in October 2017, was a dramatic one, adding two new Penthouse categories, making significant changes to the dining arrangements and creating two new restaurants.
It's been a long time coming but Crystal, in line with its ultra-luxurious rivals, is finally going open seating at dinnertime. So it's goodbye to two sittings in what was the Crystal Dining Room, now renamed Waterside. To accommodate the fact that all 848 guests could decide to dine at the same time, two new restaurants have been added to an already impressive selection, including a churrascaria and an Asian comfort food venue, Silk Kitchen & Bar.
Two new stateroom categories have been created, reducing the overall number of passengers and creating more accommodation at the luxury end of the scale. All staterooms, though, continue to offer multiple creature comforts in a sleek, boutique hotel-style atmosphere. This feeling of casual elegance permeates the whole ship, from the beautiful sun deck, with its bright loungers and oversized Jacuzzi to chic cocktail lounges and a Feng Shui-inspired spa.
And yet, what's carried Crystal through the years as one of the industry's best luxury cruise experiences is that it knows what not to "fix." Whether it's your first time or 20th onboard, you'll find hallmark restaurants the Italian Prego and Nobu Matsuhisa's Umi Uma (formerly named Silk Road) to be first-rate; better, even, with longstanding specialties like the former's mushroom soup in a bread bowl and the latter's miso cod alongside adventurous new dishes.
The ship's enrichment programs, ranging from arts-and-crafts workshops to making movies on iPads, continue to thrive, with an impressive array of guest speakers, classes and daytime activities.
And there's one more, very crucial, aspect of the Crystal Symphony experience that has not changed: Its crew offers superb service across the board, from cabin stewards and waiters to butlers and spa therapists. You notice after a day or so onboard that you feel at home every time you return from port and -- as lovely as the ship is -- it's the crew that delivers that message. And, why wouldn't they? So many of the talented and well-trained staff onboard have worked for Crystal so long that Symphony is a home away from home for them, too.
Fellow passengers are very well traveled and primarily in the 60-plus age range. While many, more than the industry average, are repeat passengers, the line is trying to appeal to a broader demographic by introducing shorter-than-usual itineraries (seven to 10 days) and marketing these to families, particularly multigenerational groups.
Crystal has expanded beyond its North American roots and attracts travelers from other English-speaking countries, such as the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, along with a growing number of groups from Asia.
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During the day, Crystal passengers wear what the line calls "active resort wear," which ranges from shorts and T-shirts to sundresses. At night, Crystal has two dress codes that are in effect after 6 p.m. On Crystal Casual nights, women wear dressy slacks, skirts and dresses, while men opt for open-collared and collared shirts along with dress pants or European smart trousers. On Crystal's Black Tie Optional evenings, suggested attire includes formal cocktail dresses, evening gowns or elegant evening separates for women. For men, a dark suit (either with a tie or without) and tuxedo are recommended choices.
For a luxury line, Crystal is moderately inclusive. Cocktails, beer and wine, sodas and specialty coffees are included in the fare (though only Penthouse category-and-above cabins receive free spirits in their mini-bars). One dinner at each of Prego and Umi Uma is offered at no charge per person per one-week cruise (repeat visits cost $30 per person), while dining in all the other restaurants is included. Wi-Fi is free throughout the ship and is significantly faster than previously, thanks to a big service upgrade.
Gratuities for housekeepers, butlers and wait staff are also covered, but spa treatments do incur an 18 percent auto-gratuity.
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