In every port, Crystal offers a menu of shore excursions that range from standard tours such as "panoramic " and "highlights" sightseeing tours aimed at first-time visitors, to more niche choices such as art and culinary tours. In most ports, there's a (gentle) recreational tour that includes snorkeling, hiking, cycling or kayaking. Keep an eye out for the occasional "boutique adventure"; on a Baltic cruise, passengers could opt to take a Formula One powerboat ride in Helsinki or visit a private Faberge egg museum in Saint Petersburg.
Reservations can be made via Crystal's website ahead of time -- and we recommend that you do as much advance planning as possible because tours do book up. The concierge can also recommend and arrange private tours for an additional cost.
* May require additional fees
Crystal has long operated its pioneering "You Care. We Care" series of voluntourism tours. They're available on select itineraries and can range from reading to children to painting a school. There's no charge to participate.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Whether you stay onboard while the ship is in port or are geared up for a busy day at sea, Crystal schedules plenty of diversions, most of which are traditional cruise activities, such as bingo, needlepoint, dance classes and wine tasting. The line excels in enrichment opportunities, detailed below. A well-stocked library offers comfortable nooks for reading, and the Hollywood Theater cinema on Deck 6 shows recent-release matinees and evening flicks (with fresh popped popcorn and drinks service).
The Resorts World At Sea casino, also on Deck 6, has blackjack, roulette, three card poker, Ultimate Texas Hold'em, and slot and video poker games. Various casino tournaments are scheduled throughout the sailing. Luxe is the VIP casino area that is used when select passengers are invited onboard for casino play or by request.
The Bridge Lounge, a space that also doubles as a presentation locale with a new podium and AV system, has convertible game tables.
Magicians affiliated with Magic Castle offer intimate magic shows to a mere 20 passengers per performance on select days, usually when the ship is sailing. There's no charge but you must obtain tickets beforehand at the library during open hours. The show focuses on close-up magic -- sleight of hand with cards, ropes, rings and coins -- and is all the more impressive because you can't see the trick even sitting just a few feet from the magician. The magicians rotate through, so each cruise the show will be different.
With the introduction of open-seating dining onboard, Crystal has had to rethink its evening entertainment, with people flowing in and out of dinner at all times. The end result is continuous entertainment options throughout the evening. Many evenings feature two shows, with two showings each; one show is held in the Galaxy Lounge, the main theater, with the other in the Starlite Club, a more versatile lounge for performances, dancing and gathering at the bar.
One show is typically a created-just-for-Crystal dance and song performance, featuring the ship's singers and dancers. A new production, "Crystal in Motion," is shown on the first night of a cruise as a taster of what's to come, which includes singing, dancing, big band, ballroom music, solo recitals and stand-up comedy. Other shows might be ballroom dance showcases or an homage to Broadway or rock 'n' roll.
The second show is typically a guest entertainer, such as a comedian, solo singer, musician or even an a capella group. We found the guest performers to be of high quality on our cruise.
Options for dancing, listening to music or both are also plentiful at night. In the Crystal Cove, a series of pianists, guitarists and violinists play background music for the folks enjoying pre- or post-dinner drinks at the bar. The ship's house band, the Crystal Quartet, will play dance music in the Starlite Club or Palm Court, with the line's Ambassador Hosts (well-mannered gentlemen of a certain age) inviting partnerless ladies up to dance. Otherwise, a duo will play pre-dinner in the Palm Court.
A DJ entertains the late-night crowd in the Starlite Club until late.
New for 2018 is the Crystal White Extravaganza, which takes place in the atrium and Crystal Cove. Passengers are encouraged to dress in white (the majority do), and the atrium is decorated with white streamers. The Crystal Showband, soloists, Latin dancers and other onboard performers play and entertain, while passengers enjoy special white cocktails and join in the dancing with the Ambassador Hosts.
The other happening entertainment venue is the Avenue Saloon, where a pianist-singer holds court until 1 a.m. The occasional karaoke night takes place here as well.
Crystal's reputation for outstanding enrichment is well deserved, and itineraries almost always involve multiple days at sea that are jam-packed with myriad educational activities. Sea days will feature up to three lectures from a destinations expert, world affairs speaker or -- on especially long or sea-day heavy sailings -- experts in any number of topics, from politics and sports to finance and history.
For those interested in painting, sculpture or crafts, art specialists come aboard most sailings as part of the Odyssey Art at Sea program. Passengers can simply drop in to do the day's art activity (be prepared to stay awhile) or work on one project throughout the sailing.
The Computer University @ Sea, which on Crystal originally aimed to help computer neophytes learn basic skills, has morphed into an even more sophisticated operation as passengers have also acquired superior skills. A partnership with the USC School of Cinematic Arts has resulted in classes on making videos via iPad; on our trip, these were so popular they were standing room only.
Bridge instructors give lessons and host games in the Bridge Lounge. PGA-certified golf pros are onboard to lead workshops and offer one-on-one instruction. (Taylor golf clubs are also available to rent for onshore play.) The ship's ballroom dancers teach classes on sea days, with the Ambassador Hosts on hand to partner solos. Some passengers are avid dancers, which can be intimidating, but all are welcome to learn the steps.
Crystal Symphony has a range of bars and lounges that each have their own ambiance and style, and many passengers have a favorite. If you're drinking late at night, generally around 11 p.m. to midnight, waiters will come by the Avenue Saloon, Crystal Cove and Starlite Club with snacks like pizza and mini tuna melts.
Crystal Cove (Deck 5): Tucked beneath a dazzling waterfall, this horseshoe-shaped bar, with a scattering of couch and armchair settings, lies in the atrium. It's often crowded for pre-dinner drinks since Waterside is nearby, but other times it can be serene, punctuated only by the soothing sounds of the water falling. Various soloists and musical duos trade off throughout the night to provide pleasant background music.
Starlite Club (Deck 5): Large and sprawling, this secondary theater is ringed by comfortable seating, with a bar along the open hallway that runs alongside the club. The venue has been newly done out in a dark blue, silver and teal color scheme. It's a lively spot for watching dancing and performances, and listening to lecturers. A DJ spins tunes until late.
Avenue Saloon (Deck 6): The only bar onboard that's behind walls rather than open to the walkways, the Avenue Saloon is elegantly dark-paneled with a long L-shaped mahogany bar and brown-stained plantation shutters. It feels like something out of a 1930s movie. The resident pianist plays and entertains during select hours each evening; it's usually a quiet place to chat and sip. Watch out though for karaoke night! If you get a good crowd, it's a hoot -- and often packed.
The Connoisseur Club (Deck 6): Tucked next to the Avenue Saloon, this small but elegant room is the only spot onboard for cigar smoking. It's staffed from 5 p.m., but if you want to order cigars or drinks (including premium ports and Armagnacs), call down to the Crystal Cove for service.
The Silk Bar (Deck 11): A hybrid space, replacing the ice cream bar in the 2018 refurb, the Silk Bar is located just outside its namesake restaurant, between the pool and the Marketplace. It's a bright and airy daytime spot for reading, napping on the cushioned rattan deck furniture and playing cards at the dining tables that run alongside the floor-to-ceiling windows. At night, it's perfect for a pre-dinner cocktail before a meal at Silk. Perch at the bar or one of the wonderfully comfortable pink-and-black swinging chairs.
The Palm Court (Deck 11): The Palm Court is Crystal Symphony's best observation spot, located top of the ship and forward. The light woods and fabrics on the furnishings, combined with sea foam and muted teal accents, gives the space an elegant tropical feel. It hosts popular events, like afternoon tea and meet and greets, and between activities is a casual spot to relax onboard. It also serves as one of the ship's elegant dancing spots, with gentleman hosts to dance with ladies.
The "big event," sports-wise, on Crystal Symphony revolves around the ship's paddle-tennis court on Deck 12. It is always busy (or so it seemed). For those not in the know, paddle-tennis is more like miniature tennis than Ping-Pong; imagine a compact tennis court and more stubby rackets (or paddles).
Golf driving nets and putting greens are also found on Deck 12. A Ping-Pong table is hidden away on Deck 8 aft and netted to keep balls from flying everywhere.
Another popular spot is the full, wraparound promenade deck for walking and jogging on Deck 6; 3.7 laps equals a mile. Shuffleboard courts are also found along the promenade.
Crystal offers two fitness programs for walkers. The first is called Walking on Water, and it basically consists of cotton vests with pockets for weights that add resistance. The vests are loaned out on a complimentary basis, and the workout definitely requires a comfortable bit of extra exertion. (Try the vests while walking stairs if you are really feeling energetic.) In addition, the ship offers Nordic walking poles, again to increase the calorie-burning from your daily walk. The fitness center trainers host walking classes both morning and afternoon to instruct passengers in the proper use of these accessories.
The pool deck is stunning, with the feel of an upscale resort. Gorgeous deck furniture creates a plush, contemporary look. Featured are white loungers and circular double sun beds in white rattan with splashes of burnt orange and turquoise in the cushions that add a bright, summery touch. There's a giant Jacuzzi, seating up to 20, by the main Seahorse pool, great for socializing on cool-weather cruises.
The ship's service desks -- customer service, shore excursions and concierge -- are located in the Crystal Plaza, Symphony's atrium, on Deck 5. As well, there's a medical facility on this deck with rather more generous operating times than on many ships; here it's open from 8 a.m. to noon and again from 2 to 6 p.m. Emergency service is available around the clock.
Ringing the upper level of the Crystal Plaza on Deck 6 is a series of three shops that sell perfume, expensive jewelry and watches, handbags and clothing, and both logo-wear and more formal attire. Keep an eye out for trunk shows and a rotating lineup of featured bags and purses. A small sundries shop is tucked away by the logo-wear.
An Internet Center on Deck 6 offers a dozen terminals and on-site staffers to assist with questions. A handful of the terminals are dedicated readers, with complimentary access to a selection of newspapers and magazines.
Wi-Fi is accessible in cabins and throughout the ship and is free of charge. It's also much faster than previously, thanks to an upgrade of Crystal's satellite service. A new portal, Crystal Connect, means guests can access all kinds of services on their own devices, from restaurant menus to the daily Reflection newsletter, lectures, movies and onboard bill.
Crystal Symphony has three complimentary self-serve laundry and ironing facilities. Soap and dryer sheets are provided. These are found on Decks 8, 9 and 10.
Asian themed in decor, the Crystal Spa and Salon may not have the bells and whistles of newer luxury ships, such as a thalassotherapy pool and fancy thermal suite, but it's got everything you need for a choice of relaxing and rejuvenating treatments.
The cost for a basic Swedish massage is, at $131 for 50 minutes, about average for the industry. The treatments we tried, including massages using bamboo and herbal poultice were first-rate. Other possibilities of spa treatments include facials, detox treatments and body scrubs, acupuncture and medi-spa options. Auto-gratuities are billed at 18 percent.
The ship's salon, adjacent to the spa, offers haircuts and blow-outs, color and dying, pedicures and manicures. There's a dedicated range for men, such as an express shave and beard trims, and waxing for women. Tooth whitening is also available.
Even though this is a luxury cruise ship, passengers still reported getting upsells during the treatment (including being offered an extra service, only to discover after the fact that it came with a hefty fee) and product or treatment pitches afterward. No one wants to hear about their dry skin or fine lines when they're trying to relax.
The steam room and sauna in the mens' and womens' locker rooms are available to use at no charge. The locker rooms, which feature multihead showers, are stocked with complimentary toiletries (including razors, shower caps and combs) and outfitted with mini-fridges full of complimentary carbonated and noncarbonated water.
The fitness facility has a full line of Technogym equipment. There are five treadmills, five elliptical trainers and five stationary bicycles (each equipped with a flat-screen television), along with free weights, resistance machines, kettlebells and weighted balls and yoga mats. You can grab waters and foam covers for the headphones attached to each cardio machine at the station near the door.
Classes in yoga, Pilates, Zumba, stretching, Kinesis and indoor cycling are free of charge and take place at the mirrored end of the gym. Fitness training is available for an additional cost, as are health assessments and nutritional consulting. You'll find extra outdoor fitness equipment (including basic elliptical trainers and resistance machines) tucked away on aft Decks 7, 8 and 12. While not meant for hearty workouts, they offer a fun way to exercise with a great view.
One of the few luxury lines to incorporate kids' facilities onboard its ships, Crystal does court the family market, particularly during summer and school holiday seasons. It offers shorter-than-usual itineraries, and staffs its Junior Activities Program (for those from 3 to 12) and a slightly less active teen club, up to age 17. It also has family-friendly staterooms, many of which either connect, or have a third berth available, or both, including in the Penthouse category. On a summer Baltic sailing, there were about 30 kids onboard. The minimum age to sail is six months but Crystal reserves the right to limit the number of children younger than 3 on each sailing.
Kids ages 3 to 12 hang out in Fantasia, with teens in the adjacent Waves; both are tucked between the pool deck and the elevator bank on Deck 11 forward. The spaces are small but colorfully decorated and versatile to accommodate whatever activity is planned, with chairs and tables for arts and crafts or games, TVs that can be hidden behind cabinet doors and beanbags for lounging. The teen area is lined with large monitors for video game play.
On a trip with a pair of pre-teens, it was obvious that younger kids were kept happy and busy through junior activities such as scavenger hunts, crafting friendship bracelets, competing in Wii tournaments and having private viewings of age-appropriate performances such as a magician and a musical.
Many kids, especially older ones, prefer to participate in adult activities onboard. The Odyssey@Sea art workshop is often a hit with young cruisers, and the resident artists are often warm and welcoming. Swimming, reading poolside, watching movies or hanging out in the cabin with an iPad or portable game system are also typical activities for the younger set. The crew of Crystal Symphony will engage the children and make the experience superb.
For smaller children, in-cabin babysitting is offered at $10 per hour for one child, $15 per hour for two and $20 per hour for three. Kids must be at least a year old. Bookings should be made 24 hours in advance via the concierge.