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Sail Date: March 2007
PANAMA SPLENDOR - MIAMI TO LOS ANGELES CRYSTAL SYMPHONY FEBRUARY 2007 I recently returned from my fifth cruise on Crystal Symphony, a 14-day trip from Miami to Los Angeles via the Panama Canal. I had been through the canal once before, ... Read More
PANAMA SPLENDOR - MIAMI TO LOS ANGELES CRYSTAL SYMPHONY FEBRUARY 2007 I recently returned from my fifth cruise on Crystal Symphony, a 14-day trip from Miami to Los Angeles via the Panama Canal. I had been through the canal once before, but wanted to do it again, after having read David McCullough's definitive book on the canal: Path Between The Seas - The Creation of the Panama Canal. Another factor was the number of sea days, which I enjoy more than port calls. The original itinerary included port calls at Cozumel, Mexico; Grand Cayman; Caldera, Costa Rica; Acapulco; and Cabo San Lucas. However, in late January Crystal informed us that Cozumel was being replaced by Cartagena, Colombia. This reportedly was because of U.S. Government reinterpretation of the Passenger Vessel Services Act, which sets rules for foreign-flagged ships sailing between U.S. ports. Some passengers were disappointed to have their Cozumel plans disrupted, but personally I didn't mind the change, never having visited Colombia. EMBARKATION As is my usual practice when I make my own air arrangements, I flew Miami the day before embarkation. Although departure from Burlington, Vermont (where I had left my dog with my son) was delayed a little, I still made my connection at Washington Dulles with no problem and arrived in Miami in the early evening. I prefer to stay at the Holiday Inn on Biscayne Blvd, opposite the port, but it had been fully booked months in advance (learned that this was related to that weekend's start of the huge Miami boat show), so stayed at the Best Western on the 79th Street Causeway between Miami and Miami Beach. One mistake: never thought a downtown budget hotel would have airport shuttle service, so spent $21 (up from $15 last year) unnecessarily on the Super Shuttle. I had again obtained a visitor's pass for my sister, so on embarkation day she met me at the hotel for lunch and then we headed for the port. Unfortunately, our timing wasn't very good, as several thousand people were trying to get to a 2 o'clock Miami Heat pro basketball game near the port entrance. So, it took us about an hour to drive the short distance from 79th Street to the port - no harm done other than the frustration of sitting in traffic. Check-in and embarkation were the usual painless Crystal operation, so we were on board in plenty of time for afternoon tea. THE "NEW" CRYSTAL SYMPHONY This was my first cruise since the multi-million dollar re-fit of the Symphony in late 2006; I was anxious to see the changes for myself, having read a lot of the posts on this subject on the Cruise Critic boards. My impressions: - New carpet throughout the ship: very attractive. I like the use of different colors in the hallways of different decks. - Starlite Club: removal of the wall on the starboard side of the room and replacement of the old bar with an inviting circular one really open up the room and make it very inviting. The stage and dance floor area are unchanged, which is welcome considering how several other cruise lines keep reducing dance floor space. - Luxe Nightclub: not my cup of tea, and not many people in there in the early evening; I understand it has become a popular late night room for younger passengers. It is a much more practical venue for Karaoke than the Avenue Saloon. It has created a problem with noise levels in the Deck 7 staterooms directly above and I've heard that in the future they may use these cabins for staff and entertainers. Space taken from casino to create Luxe doesn't appear to be missed. - Cabins: New headboards and bedside lamps are very attractive, although the LED reading lamps in the headboard don't seem very practical. The new flat-screen TVs provide excellent picture, but have one shortcoming: input jacks are all on the back of the monitor, making it nearly impossible to plug in a digital camera cable to review pictures. TV reception of CNN, Fox News, etc, ranged from excellent much of the time to non existent in some areas off the Pacific coast of Mexico. Changes in cabin furnishings make little sense. replacement of the love seats with high-back chairs provides little additional floor space life jackets, formerly stored under the love seat cushions, now take up closet space. An even worse decision is the replacement of the former light-weight desk/dressing table chairs with heavy, curved back chairs which cannot be pushed under the desk when not in use. And, they have to be wrestled aside to open the center desk drawer. There have been a lot of comments on the surface-mounted glass "salad bowl" lavatory basins. I'm sure they look great in interior decorating publications, but they are not very practical. Also, they don't appear to have overflows, so it's probably only a matter of time until somebody floods a cabin and those below. In my opinion, a lot of money was spent unnecessarily in the bathrooms. LIFE ON BOARD Although this was only my fifth Crystal cruise, I immediately started running into both crew and fellow passengers I have met before. Maitre d' Victor assigned me to the captain's table, a first for me, although I have been at officers' tables previously with both Crystal and Cunard. I think that the fact that I am usually one of the few solo male passengers works in my favor in getting good table assignments. Table 60 was a table for 10, 11 on nights Captain Giske joined us, but we moved around each night, so soon got to know each other. An interesting group of couples and singles. I had cruised with two of the solo ladies on at least one previous cruise. As usual, I joined a team for the sea-day trivia contests. We were a good team but were getting frustrated at finishing second (twice after tie breaks). We finally pulled out a win the last day! I also attended the dance class on most sea days. Big group every class! The dance team of Alex and Felicity is new to Crystal, with both the Longs and Paul & Cheryl having moved on. They performed at several shows, including the first and last nights, and are terrific performers. They spent some class time each day on "progressive" dances, i.e. continually changing partners. I would have preferred to have the time devoted to basic dance steps, but that's a personal preference, as others seemed to enjoy the progressive dances. Theme of the cruise was Wine and Food, and we had two guest chefs, four theme lecturers, and two wine lecturers on board. I found the several food lectures I attended interesting, but most of the dishes demonstrated were more complicated than I would ever bother with, as I live alone. I also attended a number of lectures by special interest lecturers and destination lecturer Larry Rudner. There have been two changes in the production shows since my last cruise. The old Pirates opening night production has been replaced by selections from Applause Applause and Grand Hotel, a welcome change as the Pirates theme was getting a bit old. The other change was the addition of a new production show, The Envelope Please, featuring Academy Award music. I enjoyed it, although my favorite remains Curtain Call which I've seen at least four times. One interesting development was the loss of first one and then a second male singer-dancer. This meant that both the above mentioned shows had to be completely re-blocked practically overnight. Anybody familiar with musicals will understand what this involves. They even drafted one member of the Full Sail quartet for a singing role. The net results were that only somebody who counted the number of male and female chorus members would have noticed anything different. Full Sail is an excellent acapella quartet who performed a number of time throughout the cruise, and they were well received. Nice guys, too. Comic Ventriloquist Mark Merchant was a lot of fun, with some cutting edge humor that seemed to have been updated daily based on the morning news on CNN. I also enjoyed the other headline performers: Harpist Shirley Dominguez; pianist Bernart Walz; Violinist Ian Cooper; and vocalist Dorothy Bishop. In previous reviews I have commented on the talents of Galaxy Orchestra pianist Stacey Benn, who can plan anything from classical to jazz. So, I was pleased to see that Stacey has moved up to Bandmaster and does a great job both playing the piano and leading the band. My favorite entertainer for this cruise was Jeff Deutch who played nightly in the Avenue Saloon. I hadn't cruised with Jeff before, but I think he is the best I have experienced. He has an amazing repertoire, all completely memorized, and it wasn't very often a request stumped him. About eight of us seemed to be the ones closing the Avenue most nights, and Jeff was willing to keep playing into the wee hours as long as people were making requests and having fun. The Avenue remains my favorite room on Symphony. It's even more fun when various entertainers and ships officers stop by in late evening - Mark, Stacey, Victor, shirley and Dorothy among others on this cruise. Besides the two dance teams who've left Crystal over the last year or so, two other staff members familiar to Symphony regulars are leaving Crystal. Crystal Society Hostess Megan Mavor has just left to move to Norway and Cruise Consultant Billy Hare submitted his resignation the day I boarded. Remi was scheduled to replace Victor as maitre d' at the end of the cruise, with Victor moving to Serenity after some leave. ITINERARY I won't go into detailed port descriptions here, as there is lots of on-line and written information on all of them, as well as their being familiar to most regular cruisers. Some personal comments and observations: - Grand Cayman: very crowded with seven ships in port, including the mega ships Star Princess and Disney Magic. When I removed the price label from a mug I bought for my housekeeper found that it was "Made in China - Cartagena: As this was my first visit to this fascinating city and time was short, took the ship's boat and bus tour, which included a visit to one of the city's historic fortresses and a walking tour of the old city. Also, of course, a shopping opportunity. I am not a gem expert, but quality and pricing of emeralds appeared to be a lot better than on the Caribbean islands. They should be, with Colombia being the world's principal emerald producer. - Panama Canal. Particularly interesting for me as a retired civil engineer. Excellent on-board commentator for the entire passage. Heard a few complaints about how hot it was. Would did they expect, close to the equator in dry season? - Caldera: having done the long, hot excursion to San Jose on a previous visit, I opted for the half-day excursion to a large nearby commercial orchid farm, where they took us through the entire process from propagation of plants to packing and shipping of cut flowers to North America and Europe. We each received a small orchid bouquet which lasted very nicely in an improvised vase (Perrier bottle) for the rest of the cruise. - Acapulco. We were scheduled to dock, but learned the previous afternoon that we would be anchoring, as another ship had some major hull damage and couldn't leave the pier. However, we were able to dock in a different berth, as the NCL ship scheduled for it wasn't arriving until afternoon. The damaged ship was the Regal Princess, which had been supposed to depart on a cruise to Puerto Rico two or three days earlier. Passengers for that cruise whom several of us talked to were having a great time sitting on the ship with free liquor and shore excursions while Princess was figuring out how to get 1,500 people back to where they had come from. Ship was scheduled to go into dry-dock (in Panama, I heard) as soon as they got all the passengers off. Official Princess story was that she "touched bottom" at the previous port. Must have been quite a "touch" to do enough damage to require dry dock repairs and cancellation of two, if not three, cruises. I didn't take any excursions (been there - done that) just walked up into the old city for a while. Again, a loud complaints about how hot it was. Unlike the canal, it really was hot in the city. - Cabo San Lucas: a short call, as the ship really had to push to arrive in LA Sunday morning. I took a bus tour to get an overview of Cabo, not having been to Baja California before. Tour included a stop at a glass blowing factory, which I could have done without, a drive to the old city of San Jose del Cabo, with some shopping time, and visit to Cacti Mundo gardens, the largest display of cacti I've ever seen. Construction everywhere along the coast! Back at the tender pier, loud complaints from one passenger that short stay didn't allow time for both touring and shopping, and why did we have to be in such a hurry to get to LA early in the morning. Obviously clueless about what it takes to turn a ship around for a new cruise the same day! Also, do people not read the materials Crystal provides? The schedule for the Cabo and other port calls was published at least a year ago! HOMEWARD BOUND A good percentage of the passengers were from California, whom we east coasters envied a bit, as they would be almost home when we got to LA. The ship was pushed to maximum speed for the long leg back to LA, with all five engines at full power, and fighting both a headwind and opposing current. This is the only time there was any noticeable vibration. Despite these efforts, we arrived in LA about 1-1/2 hours behind schedule, but disembarkation was handled quickly, without the usual requirement that all baggage be ashore before anybody could disembark, so the Crystal transfers got us to the airport in plenty of time, theoretically, to check in for flights. I say theoretically because as soon as I got to LAX I started regretting that I hadn't stayed on the ship for the next cruise, as getting back to Vermont was to be a bit of an adventure. Virtually nothing was flying east because of storms - I was supposed to go through Washington, but it was completely closed, and nothing available to Philadelphia, New York, or Boston. Helpful United agent got me on the standby list for an afternoon flight to Chicago and then standby on to Burlington Monday morning. Learned something interesting: my 100,000+ United miles moves me to the top of the standby list, and I got on both flights with no problem. So, I got to Burlington about 12 hours later than planned - I was lucky - talked to people who had been at O'Hare for three days trying to get out. Learned later that even some San Francisco passengers had delays because aircraft and/or crews were stuck somewhere. Got home to NH to find a foot of snow from the Valentine's Day storm, and we had another 10 to 12" a few days later, so it still looks like winter here, regardless of what the calendar says. CONCLUSION All in all, another great Crystal cruise with a lot of nice people. I'm looking forward to my only other scheduled 2007 Crystal cruise, the November Lisbon-to-Miami big band crossing on the Serenity. This will be my first Serenity experience, so I'm looking forward to it. Several people I met on this cruise are also booked on the November crossing. I'm also anxiously awaiting Crystal's announcement of 2008 cruise themes so I can start planning for next year. Comments will be welcome either on the Crystal's Cruise Critic message boards or by e-mail. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2007
The Crystal Symphony made a single stop in Honolulu on its trans-pacific crossing from Los Angeles to Hong Kong. Never having sailed on Crystal, this gave us an easy opportunity to see what the so-call "Crystallization" was all ... Read More
The Crystal Symphony made a single stop in Honolulu on its trans-pacific crossing from Los Angeles to Hong Kong. Never having sailed on Crystal, this gave us an easy opportunity to see what the so-call "Crystallization" was all about. This, therefore, is a review through the eyes of a Crystal newbie and primarily about the Symphony, since it did not stop again until docking in Hong Kong. Sailing day started when I watched the Symphony sail by Waikiki from my patio. She was to have arrived the evening before but, due to some paperwork mix-up, had to slow down for a morning arrival instead. We had heard there were some disgruntled folks but this apparently quickly ended when Crystal gave all of those aboard a $150 shipboard credit ... enough to cover wine most of the way across the Pacific. Getting to embarkation was easy ... dropped my wife and luggage at the dock, parked at my office, and walked back down. I thought the procedure itself would be a snap since less than 150 Honolulu passengers were boarding, but it turned out to be somewhat of a mess ... couldn't tell whether it was the local dock contractor or because Crystal, not visiting often, did not have the procedures down pat. With the exception of the now infamous chairs provisioned in the Symphony's recent overhaul, our stateroom was a pleasant surprise. From the miniscule deck plans, it appeared that the verandahs at the aft end of the ship were larger. They are indeed, and could easily have accommodated four people at a sit down dinner. The storage was more than adequate. Besides my "monkey suit", my wife brought 10 outfits, all of which were stowed with room to spare. The stateroom was also very convenient for early morning coffee ... a couple of flights up on the outside stairs led directly to the coffee station in the Lido Cafe. The glitzy glass "salad bowl" basins in the bath are controversial. At our first dinner, one of the ladies mentioned that she almost hit her head on the basin. Forewarned, I still bumped my head the next morning, and did it again the next day ... a slow learner. Closer inspection revealed that they overhang the counter, which actually provides for a roomier bath. Standard inset basins would require a countertop about 4-6 inches deeper ... a good trade-off. Having sailed on larger and smaller ships, the Symphony just felt like the "right size". There are an amazing number and variety of specialty venues that are on the ship without being crowded. Besides the regular dining, buffet, grill, showroom, library, casino, cardroom, and classrooms there is a movie theater, espresso bar, second showroom (Starlight), and disco. Bars ... of course, with the absence of a martini bar that seem to be so popular on other ships. The general decor is not elegant classical ... it is tasteful but more Las Vegas glass and chrome. At the far edge of glass and chrome, it is almost impossible to walk past the Luxe without investigating because of the intriguing violet lighting peeping around the entrance curtain. Preferring open seating, we approach the first dinner on a set-seated ship with some apprehension. We enjoy open seating for the opportunity to meet new and interesting people every night and, if a "deadly" pairing is encountered, the slate is cleared when the meal is over. We had chosen the late seating at an 8-place table knowing we would be with others from Hawaii since the LAX passengers were assigned to tables 6 days previously. Expecting parochial discussions of local politics and problems, we were pleasantly surprised with a truly eclectic group including a couple of part-time residents, one of which was a German using the voyage to exit the U.S. to renew his visa. Table 73 really took advantage of the Crystal policy of "never say no" (unless it really isn't possible). Special orders were placed for evenings 2 through 11 including foie gras, ris de veau, frog legs, steak tartar, cherries jubilee, Salzburger Nockerln, and Marnier & chocolate souffle, among others. This being said, we were a bit disappointed with the Crystal cuisine. Although excellent, it was below what we have experienced on another cruise line, which shall remain nameless in this Crystal review. The service was superior, ship wide. To close the topic of dining, the absolute highlight of our voyage was our evening at the Vintage Room, which was pricey but worth every cent. Being a celebration of the pairing of wine and food, it is not for Friends of Bill W. One did not have to be a wine expert because Pasquale, the sommelier, presented and discussed each (superior) wine that accompanied the seven courses. Pasquale's philosophy is that enjoyment of wine is one of life's blessings and he does everything to make this happen at these events and he was successful ... it became a bit boisterous by the end of the evening. It was an evening never to be forgotten. We were surprised at the number of ship-sponsored cocktail receptions ... almost one every other day. I noticed that the Chardonnay served was quite good and asked about it. I thought it would be a good value because they probably don't serve pricey brands at these events. Unfortunately we were told that it was from the Captain's cellar and not available for sale at tables. In retrospect, I should have tested the Crystal "never say no" policy on this one. With apologies to real patrons, we occasionally attend the art auctions for the free champagne and to be entertained by the flim-flam auctioneer ... the one on board the voyage was especially fast and smooth. The shipboard programs, speakers, and show productions were better than on any other ship we have been on. Ambassador Ed Peck was terrific, and gave amazing insight to the diplomatic relations and thought processes. Herb Keyser provided nice insight to theater, breaking into song throughout his presentations ... sort of like a Bollywood movie. Other presentations included journalism, graphology, filmmaking, astronomy, digital photography, and ... get this ... gas turbine engines (which I attended). It was not possible to attend all programs and presentations because time conflict(s). Being a golfer, I attended many of the sessions by Bruce Murray, the PGA professional on board. With all the sea days he really had to work hard, presenting lectures every morning and swing analysis and corrections in the afternoon for everyone ... a truly patient and gracious pro. My mother being wheelchair-bound, I have great empathy for those with disabilities. I, however, was a little concerned by the fact that the de-facto storage area for wheelchairs and walkers appears to be the hallway. There were dozens of them scattered around stateroom corridors. We had a smooth sailing, but it could get interesting on a heavy day when just walking can become challenging ... more so if simultaneously dodging wheeled devices. In summary, we have no regrets about making the voyage and, in fact, filed a tentative on-board reservation to take advantage of the discount. However, about 9 days into the voyage we realized that the shipboard routine became just that ... routine. Luxurious and interesting, it remained breakfast, program(s), lunch, program(s), tea, dinner, and show with no exotic new port to look forward to the next morning. It provided a confirmation that we are "ship-as-a-conveyance" as opposed to "ship-as-a-destination" people. The seed catalyst was introduced, but we are not yet "Crystallized". Read Less
Sail Date: December 2006
This was our second cruise and our second one with Crystal. While I was blown away by the unexpected pleasures on my first cruise, on this one we knew what to expect. Embarkation: Very smooth. We went right to the terminal, checked our ... Read More
This was our second cruise and our second one with Crystal. While I was blown away by the unexpected pleasures on my first cruise, on this one we knew what to expect. Embarkation: Very smooth. We went right to the terminal, checked our baggage and went right on board. Once there our luggage showed up almost immediately. there was a small housekeeping problem in the room that was immediately fixed by our stewardess. Public rooms. These are large and spacious. The recently redone Starlight Lounge was a big hit. It was airy and used for all sorts of functions, from the guest speakers to receptions. The Palm Court is beautiful, but under used as it is an observation deck, and with the early sunsets, and port heavy itinerary, there was not much time to use it. Cabins: These were a bit tight, but well designed. Large closed and ample bath. Much better than the Harmony Fitness facilities: These were first class. The best touch was the free bottle water that was handed out as you were working out. Dining: The true highlight of the experience. While not cutting edge, the food was in the tradition of a European grand hotel. The service was impeccable. If you go, get a reservation at the Vintage Room for a truly memorable food and wine dinner. Prego, for Italian Food, and Jade Garden for Asian Fusion food, were as good if not better than anything available on land. Entertainment. This was hit or miss. I did not care for the shows. However, the special acts, the Mexican Folk ensemble and the Adage team were truly special. The enrichment lectures were pretty good. The New Year's Eve party was special. Rocking out at midnight was memorable. I only went on 1 shore excursion, and that was in Cabo, and it was an ATV adventure and it was a lot of fun. The children's program is unique. The facilities are adequate, but were Crystal really excels is in the quality of the Jr. Activities Directors. They are first rate and my son loved the cruise. They do talent shows, arts and crafts, Karaoke, and all sorts of other things. They had dance lessons with the ballroom dance team, singing lessons from the Acapello quartet, and all sorts of other activities that kept the kids engaged throughout the voyage. Service as exceptional. It seemed as if every member of the Lido deck team knew us buy name. Really incredible. Overall, this is an expensive cruise, but well worth every penny. If I am going to cruise, it will only be on Crystal or another similar line. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2006
This was my 4th Crystal Cruise, and 25th overall. It was an eastbound crossing, from Miami to Lisbon - 8 sea days, no ports. Theme was the same as my 2005 Crystal cruise on the Symphony, Big Band with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Since I ... Read More
This was my 4th Crystal Cruise, and 25th overall. It was an eastbound crossing, from Miami to Lisbon - 8 sea days, no ports. Theme was the same as my 2005 Crystal cruise on the Symphony, Big Band with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Since I made my own air travel arrangements, I flew to Miami from Boston a day early to be on the safe side. Obviously, if you miss the ship on a transatlantic cruise, there is no catching up to it! I stayed at the Port of Miami Holiday Inn on Biscayne Blvd. Nothing special, but within sight of the port and also directly across the street from the lively Bayside Market Place. "Super Shuttle" fare from airport to downtown is only $15 per person and they deliver you to the door of your hotel. Hotel to port would be a short taxi ride, but my sister, who was in Florida for the winter, took me to the ship, where she joined me for tea as a visitor. Speaking of visitors, Crystal, unlike some cruise lines who banned visitors after 9/11, is very accommodating. The request form is available on their website; they say to allow two weeks before sailing, but I have normally received approval within a couple of days after faxing the form to them. Boarding was Crystal's normal painless process. Crystal's staff never cease amaze to me. One of their ground staff recognized my sister and me immediately, even though it had been a year since he had seen us in Ft. Lauderdale, and he even remembered that she lives in Rhode Island when not in Florida! Crystal had upgraded me twice, once from my usual Deck 7 cabin to a balcony room on Deck 8, and finally, when they decided to use the crossing for Deck 8 cabin refurbishing, to a Deck 9 cabin. This turned out not to be as desirable as I thought, as during rough weather there is a lot more motion in the higher-up, forward cabin, than amidships on Deck 7. Cabins appear to be identical in size, layout and dEcor, except for addition of balconies on Decks 8 and 9. If offered a similar upgrade on a future crossing I would be tempted to say, "Thanks but no thanks." We sailed on schedule, Captain Giske having warned us that it might be a bit rough when we got into the Atlantic. It was, but not so bad as to curtail first-night activities. At the end of my February Amazon cruise I had mentioned to Maitre d' Remi Szutikiewicz that I'd like to be at the Chief Engineer's table sometime, and sure enough I found myself assigned to the table hosted by Chief Engineer Torbjoern Mathisen and his charming wife Penny. One nice touch is that on formal, officer-hosted nights, place cards are used so everybody has a turn to sit near enough to the hosts to converse. We had a good group at the table - eight most nights, but expanded to 10 on nights the Chief was hosting. No need to comment again on food and service - it is still tops. I'm told that even on Crystal's full world cruises, no menu is ever repeated. On several nights our waiter informed us that a special dessert, in addition to those on the menu, was being offered. Thankfully, the tacky baked Alaska parades are long gone from Crystal. Overnight the swell got progressively larger, around 30 feet, so by morning the ship was pitching quite a bit. The stabilizers do a good job in preventing any appreciable roll. Showering and shaving before dinner was quite a challenge. By afternoon it was obvious that it would be foolish to try to put on a production show, so pianist Naki Ataman agreed to do his show a day early. As usual, his "Around the World" program was terrific. Due to the relative shortness of this cruse, there wasn't time for him to do his second program. The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra went on as scheduled in the Palm Court, although some band members were obviously a bit under the weather. Unfortunately, Buddy Morrow, who normally leads the band, had been ill so did not make the trip. Direction was ably taken over by Daryl "Flea" Campbell, another old time big band musician who played with the Dorsey Brothers after Tommy and Jimmy put aside their feud and got back together, in the early '50s, I think. Only one or two couples attempted to dance, as the Palm Court really moves in rough seas because of its high-up, forward location. However, the seas calmed day-by-day as we headed east, so there was lots of good music and dancing for the rest of the crossing. Speaking of dancing, dance team Tony and Margaret Long returned from leave and re-boarded in Miami, and as usual held very well-attended dance classes every day. I also took a few private lessons with Margaret, who continued to try to teach me the Tango. Sadly for Crystal, the Longs will be leaving the company at the end of their current contract in July to join a studio in Arizona. I'm sure it is a good career move for them, but they will be missed on Crystal. Lecturers were up to Crystal's usual standard and I particularly enjoyed those by big band theme lecturer Loren Schoenberg. He could easily have drawn a crowd for several more sessions, but there weren't any more openings in the busy daily schedules. Loren is also an accomplished tenor sax player and sat in with the band and the jazz combo on several occasions. As mentioned by Cruise Director Paul McFarland, this cruise draws people who like the shipboard life, rather than lots of port calls. I would guess that between 75% and 80% of the passengers were repeaters. I ran into a number of people I had met on previous cruises, although this was only my 4th time on Crystal. Even with the couple of days of rough seas, a good time was had by all. Liveliest late-night venue continues to be the Avenue Saloon, especially on Karaoke nights. No way I would get up there and sing, but lots of fun to watch. Performers range from quite professional to some who shouldn't even be allowed near a microphone, sort of like the early rounds of American Idol. Arrival clearance in Lisbon was painless and quick, once they solved a mechanical problem with one of the baggage conveyors. One recommendation for Lisbon arrivals. I had bought the ship's airport transfer at a cost of $46; I learned when we arrived that taxis to the airport only cost 16 Euros, about $20. The spring eastbound crossing by Symphony is not on the 2007 schedule, as the ship will reposition from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean via the Far East. However, the November 2007 Lisbon - Miami crossing by the Serenity will have a big band theme, so I've already booked it. My next Crystal cruise will probably be the February 2007 Miami to Los Angeles Panama Canal transit. Perhaps one of these days I'll run into some of my fellow "Cruise Critics." Read Less
Sail Date: April 2006
Crystal Symphony Buenos Aires  Miami April 13  April 29, 2006 and Iguassu Iguassu The trip to Iguassu was not part of the cruise - but it was part of our trip of which the cruise was the center piece. I booked flights with TAM and ... Read More
Crystal Symphony Buenos Aires  Miami April 13  April 29, 2006 and Iguassu Iguassu The trip to Iguassu was not part of the cruise - but it was part of our trip of which the cruise was the center piece. I booked flights with TAM and a hotel-tour arrangement with Iguassu Falls Tours (www.iguassufallstour.com). TAM mailed me e-tickets. Iguassu Falls Tours emailed me that our guide would be Edson. They also emailed me pictures of Edson and of the car that should take us on our tour. Our flight from Buenos Aires left one hour earlier than indicated on our tickets. We had to change planes in Curitiba. The plane from Curitiba left one hour late. In Foz do Iguassu Edson was waiting. The car, a Renault MEgane Scenic, was big and comfortable. We were brought to our hotel, the Tropical das Cataratas. There we changed quickly and walked the Brazilian side of the falls. While we were changing Edson brought the car to the end of the trail. By the time we were ready Edson was already waiting for us. During our walk Edson kept informing us about everything we wanted to know and I kept recording on video tape. We just had enough time to walk the trail and look around at its end before it got dark. At the hotel we were lucky to get a table. The food was good but we had had better and we were going to have better on the cruise ship. The next morning Edson was waiting for us when we were ready. First he took us to the Itaipu dam and then to the Argentinean side of the water falls. Having visited the falls twice before I was really impressed by the sights we got from the top of the falls (devils throat). That walk way had not existed when I visited before. I was also happy to see two caimans each about one meter long. We walked almost all afternoon on the different paths and Edson pointed to this fall, that bird, named the butterflies that landed and stayed on us. Toward the evening we went to the three lands marks and then back to the hotel. Again it was dark by the time we got there. And we had willingly skipped the boat ride underneath the water falls (since we did not want to get soaked) as well as the alternatives Edson had offered us. The next morning we were scheduled to fly at 6.50 a.m. Again Edson was at the hotel by the time we were ready. He brought us to the airport in time. Unfortunately there was fog so all planes had to wait for two hours before they could leave. This time we had to stop in Sao Paolo. The ground staff of TAM was very helpful so we got a connection to Buenos Aires without even having the time to sit down. At Buenos Aires international airport the taxi that was supposed to drive us to the hotel had left during our delay but the man who manages taxis to different hotels had the hotel taxi pick us up in about half an hour. Summary of the trip to Iguassu: It was worthwhile. We crammed too much into too little time. On the first afternoon we got really wet (from the falls and from sweat) on the second day we were fine (watch out about the season). Buenos Aires and Cruise Our hotel was about one mile from the cruise ship pier. So the taxi to the pier cost less than $10.--. Since we had two rooms, one that we were happy with and one that we were not as happy with  not that we were really unhappy - I will not give more information about the hotel. According to Crystal we were supposed to board at 3 p.m. and the ship was supposed to leave at 5 p.m. So we took a taxi to the port at about 12.30 p.m. Embarkation took only seconds  well about 7200 of them. We were neither the first no the last in line. I wonder what time Symphony would have left if everyone had come to the pier at 3 p.m. People in wheelchairs and with obvious problems to stand were escorted to the front of the line. On the ship we were escorted to our cabin. Then we went for lunch where we were offered a glass of sparkling wine. Choice and preparation of food was very good throughout the cruise (I do not use the word excellent for qualifications). We went to the two specialty restaurants but beside the advantage that we could chose the time we wanted to start our dinner I see no big pros or cons to go to the specialty restaurants. I did not find Crystal to be any dressier than other cruise ships I had been on some five years ago. The pool was just like on any other cruise ship I remember. There rarely were many people in it at the same time. What I disliked was that there was little space by the pool where I could lay in the shade for a few ours. Either the sun would shine on the head or on the feet after rather short moments or if laying close to the doors by the forward elevators the air-conditioning would make me feel uncomfortable. The level of the seat rows in the theater differs little. That enables you to conduct a profound study about the shape of the head of person sitting between you and the stage. Unfortunately if you like to watch the shows you can miss good parts of them. Rooms  I do not know about suites  seemed rather small to me. They are not smaller than the ones I had on other cruises but since the closets are on one side of the bed it just meant that we had to squeeze by each other. I found it supportable but not really comfortable. What we did appreciate were the free washing machines. Unfortunately we were not the only ones so we had to look for the right moments to use them. Stating that I cannot make a statement about the entertainment shows that there was a lot and many events took place at the same time. So we had to decide what we wanted to attend. Shore excursions: buses seemed to be among the best in each town and I have nothing to complain about the guides. Shore tours were expensive. We were in Montevideo on Good Friday. Our tour took us to Etchegarays house where we could see a collection of fine furniture, watch a tango dance, listen to the musicians and sip a drink. The house did though seem rather crowded with one bus. Shops were mostly closed except for one big shopping center. There was a free shuttle to that center. To my disliking they did not run according to the times they told us but only when the next shuttle had arrived. Therefore we lost a lot of time waiting for the bus to leave. As a result we missed the walk I had intended to take. In Rio de Janeiro we took the $ 107.-- tour to the Corcovado, a Churrascaria lunch and the Sugar Loaf. Unfortunately it was cloudy when we reached the top of the Corcovado. The statue could barely be seen trough the mist and the city could not be seen at all. Then it started to rain  well pour is more precise. So we went for lunch. The food was very good. After lunch we had to wait for the bus outside the restaurant. That was no problem since there were only a few drops. After boarding the bus we left for the Sugar Loaf. While we were driving a long the Copa Cabana Beach the weather turned to storm. As a result the cable car to the Sugar Loaf would not run. The alternative program was to visit the cathedral where only few people left the bus. I consider that we got little value for $ 107.-- per person. In Salvador it started to rain shortly after we got on the bus. And the rain continued with brief interruptions throughout our tour. First we went to the Upper City from where we could view the port. Then we walked to the cathedral, to the Franciscan church and through a small part of the historic center. After that we took the bus to the Carlos Costa Pinto Museum. The churches were certainly worth seeing but the city tour over all was a lot shorter than the two city tours I had taken on earlier stays in Salvador de Bahia. So I was rather disappointed about that part of this tour. However I was very impressed by the Museum that had opened exclusively for our cruise. I would have liked to spend more time there. It was too bad too that we were not allowed to take pictures or video recordings. After that we drove back to the ship. Some fellow cruisers left the bus at the Mercado Modello. In the afternoon the sun was out so we walked to the Mercado Modello ourselves. When we were in Fortaleza, Brazil enjoyed a holiday. Good for them  bad for us. There were few people so traffic was very fluid but we did not see what the city would be like on a normal day. The highlights of our tour were certainly the Teatro JosE de Alencar and the handicraft market in a former prison where the majority but not all of the shops were open. In Bridgetown we visited the Graeme Hall Swamp and a museum in a former fortress. I was happy to see both attractions. Arrival in Miami was comparable to the other ports. I did not see the usual long lines for immigration  but I did not miss them. I was not happy with the schedule to leave the ship. The good things were first that we could wait in our room and second that we got off as scheduled. Fares for taxi transfers to the airport Miami were at a flat rate of $ 24 plus & I do not remember having any reason to complain about a cruise director on a previous cruise. And this time was largely comparable: the information we got was okay including when he pointed out the Southern Cross. Rather special to me was the debarkation talk where I remember hearing that Crystal does not accept a very good but wants and excellent. Now this subject was not treated that briefly. The message I remember is that the passenger should comply with the expectations of the company. I would have preferred the company tell the employees how to do the job  and make sure that the resources to do it are sufficient  rather than tell the passengers or even the employees how they want the passengers to qualify the service they received - on the last full day of the cruise. Deciding what is excellent, very good and what is good seems quite difficult to me. Lousy service can only be qualified as poor. I would consider it fair that it also be split in lets say: throw the person into the pool, throw the person into the ocean or feed him or her to the sharks. For that part of the debarkation talk our cruise director would have been well advised to wear a bathing suit. Summary of the cruise: We were happy with the food. The room was good but not outstanding. There was a big choice of entertainment. The pool was good. The deck at the big pool offered too little shade. Due to the small number of port days and due to the weather we got too little out of the long trip. Read Less
Sail Date: February 2006
Although this was only my 3rd Crystal Cruise, I'm already starting to run into people I've met on previous cruises. I'm sure this is because of the high percentage of repeaters on Crystal Cruises and the fact that they only ... Read More
Although this was only my 3rd Crystal Cruise, I'm already starting to run into people I've met on previous cruises. I'm sure this is because of the high percentage of repeaters on Crystal Cruises and the fact that they only have two ships. Everything about the Symphony continues to be first class, which undoubtedly explains the high number of repeaters, many with tens of cruises and at least one with over 100 voyages. Embarkation: Crystal had booked my air from Boston to Miami via Cleveland, which seems a little strange, but I suspect this was a result of availability of blocks of tickets plus the fact that flights were heavily booked due to the start of the winter school break in much of the northeast. Despite a close connection in Cleveland, both my luggage and I made it and arrived in Miami on schedule, where we were met by Crystal representatives in the baggage claim area. We were quickly transferred to the port and after Crystals normal efficient check-in procedures, I was enjoying lunch in the Lido less than an hour after re-claiming my baggage at the airport. Dining Room: Probably because of our scheduled 8:00 p.m. sailing, the first night was open seating. For the rest of the cruise I was seated at a table for eight, as requested, hosted by Casino Manager Michael Ferrell. Table mates included a single English gentleman, a lady from New York, a Canadian lady toxicologist, an American couple from Wisconsin and an English couple from Kent. All in all, a dynamic and interesting group. Of the eight of us, only the American couple and I were leaving the ship in Manaus, Brazil  the rest were continuing on to Buenos Aires and beyond. Onboard Activities: As on my two previous cruises, I participated in the dance classes on sea days and also took several private lessons. The dance team/instructors for this cruise were Cheryl Smith and Paul Zaidman, from Australia. This was my first experience with them, having been with the other regular team of Tony and Margaret Long on the previous cruises. Cheryl and Paul are lots of fun and excellent teachers  I sort of challenged Cheryl to teach me a basic Tango during the cruise, which she did! Entertainment: Although I had seen the productions at least once before, I enjoyed them again. The cast is new since my last cruise, and excellent. It appears that some of the shows have been re-costumed, which gives them a fresh look. I particularly enjoyed performances of numbers from Evita, Fiddler on The Roof, Cabaret and Puccinis Madama Butterfly. The current lead female vocalist, Colleen Williamson, is outstanding. The only problem I have is that Crystal runs the productions for years. I know this is a result of high production costs but I would hope to see at least a few new productions introduced at some point. The most notable headline entertainer, in my opinion, was pianist Nake Ataman who gave two great concerts, with music ranging from the Beetles to Offenbach! Im pleased to see that He is also scheduled for my next Crystal cruise. Lectures: A good mix, from Smithsonian Theme Lecturer Dr. Mary Hagedorn to Coach Don Shula. As a died-in-the-wool football fan, (old enough to remember Coach Shulas coaching years very well) I particularly enjoyed his presentation and Q&A session. Itinerary: My principal reason for selecting this cruise was the trip up the Amazon. This is an amazing experience  I knew it was a big river, but couldnt even visualize how big it really is  miles wide at some points hundreds of miles up from the mouth. Before reaching the Amazon we had several days at sea and calls at Antigua (not my favorite island) Barbados, which is my favorite, and Devils Island where I got too lazy to go ashore  probably should have. We did have one unfortunate incident when a passenger had to be air evacuated for what the captain described as a life-threatening medical condition. We altered course for a while to rendezvous with a US Coast Guard helicopter from Puerto Rico. The transfer went like clockwork, and we later learned that the passenger was doing fine after emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix. About the only glitch on the river was at our first Amazon port, Alter do Chao. We arrived late due to strong currents, the previous days med-evac, and the 4 or 5 hours it took the Brazilians to clear the ship, a reminder that I was, indeed, back in the third world. Added to this was a problem with gangways between the ship and the river boats being used for the River & Village Discovery Cruise, which many of us had booked. As a result, the excursion was cut short and Crystal refunded all of our money. We didnt have to ask for it! The cruise included an overnight stay in Manaus, and quite a few of us attended a concert at the famous Opera House there. It was billed as a jazz concert, but actually was Latin theme. This was fine, except that the music was amplified to the point where it was almost painful  I commented that if you had a factory floor that noisy OSHA would shut you down! The musicians varied from first rate to acceptable, but I was in a very small minority who didnt find the whole performance wonderful. An interesting experience, nevertheless, to be attending a performance in an ornate theater in the middle of the Amazon jungle. Conclusion: Crystal Symphony continues to be second to none. This was a particularly interesting itinerary  one doesnt have many opportunities to cruise the Amazon in the comfort of a luxury ship. Im looking forward to my next Crystal cruise, the Big Band crossing from Miami to Lisbon the end of April, a repeat of my first Crystal cruise a year ago. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2006
To start, I may have the cabin number wrong, but, since there was so much to do onboard, and ashore, there was little to do in the cabin but sleep. Anyway, our voyage started with a great bus ride from San Jose, Costa Rica to the ... Read More
To start, I may have the cabin number wrong, but, since there was so much to do onboard, and ashore, there was little to do in the cabin but sleep. Anyway, our voyage started with a great bus ride from San Jose, Costa Rica to the embarkation port. A quick, easy pass through customs got us to the gangway where we were greeted warmly and quickly brought aboard and escorted to our room, where our luggage was waiting already. A hostess greeted us and offered a tour of the main areas of the ship, emphasizing the meeting areas, dining areas, and various entertainment venues. Around this time, my father was approached by staff to determine the extent of his special needs. (He is nearly blind, and has severe hearing loss.) The staff informed us that whatever his needs were, they would be met to his satisfaction. And they easily exceeded that promise throughout the cruise. Next, on to the food. OK, so no one from Weight Watchers was in our group. I say that because the temptations presented at tableside each meal were simply incredible. From the very start every menu listed options to meet every dietary consideration, and their presentation was superb! Others have mentioned the Lido Deck food area, and trust me (and them), it is well worth a few visits in itself. For one of the final meals, Ice Sculptures and food sculptures accompanied an extravagant spread which was set up in the main gallery to allow maximum access to all. The staff was well organized and extremely efficient when it was time for passengers to visit the various ports of call. (Antigua, St. Lucia, etc.) Many of the crew were willing to share their knowledge of local customs, history, or other sightseeing information, making shore time very enjoyable. Entertainment comes in many forms on Crystal Harmony. I enjoyed the broadway style musical revues, which were first rate. I also spent many hours in the piano lounge, hosted by Mr. Jeffrey Deutch. In addition, there was dancing each nite, first run movies, a "Casino at Sea", a library, computer lab and even a piano lab, complete with classes. There was, quite literally, "Something for Everyone". Finally, a word about the crew. There are representatives from many lands working hard each day to make every moment of a Crystal Cruise memorable. Whether from the Philippines, or Europe, Japan or the USA, they work together like a finely tuned orchestra,to create a masterpiece worth remembering. Would I go again? Well, I'll see you in Los Angeles on February 25, 2007. Mazatlan, here comes Mark! Read Less
Sail Date: September 2005
CRYSTAL SYMPHONY NEW ENGLAND/CANADA CRUISE Sept. 17 - 28, 2005 Richard Shipman BACKGROUND The time had come. After more than 10 cruises on "mainstream" lines such as Royal Caribbean, Princess and Holland America, it was time ... Read More
CRYSTAL SYMPHONY NEW ENGLAND/CANADA CRUISE Sept. 17 - 28, 2005 Richard Shipman BACKGROUND The time had come. After more than 10 cruises on "mainstream" lines such as Royal Caribbean, Princess and Holland America, it was time to move up a notch to Crystal. Not that there was anything wrong with our previous cruises; to the contrary. However, over the years the ships have gotten more crowded, "nickel and diming" has become routine, the service levels have decreased, cruise "traditions" have been going away and, in our opinion, the overall cruise experience has been trending downward . The obvious answer to this condition was to move up into the premium cruise category. My partner Barbara and I had wanted to sail on Crystal ever since we saw the Harmony docked next to our Song of Norway in St. Thomas on our first cruise. Financial realities had gotten in the way, however, and always the question arose: would the extra cost be worth it? Now it was time to find out. We booked Crystal Symphony's "Autumn Colors" (more about that later) cruise to New England and Canada. With this background in mind, this review will be oriented toward "the step upward." What do you get for the extra money of a premium cruise line? Is it worth it? Are the premium cruise lines without flaw? FIRST IMPRESSIONS The first indication of the Crystal advantage came as we approached the passenger terminal in New York to board the ship. Princess and Carnival had two ships docked next to the Symphony. Gridlock and turmoil surrounded the baggage drop-off area for these ships as teeming masses made their way toward these new-era megaships. Once we cleared this blockage, however, we made our way unimpeded to Symphony's pier, and our taxi was the only vehicle pulling in to drop off bags. The rest of the check-in process was as simple and quick, and we were on the ship sipping complimentary champagne by 12:30. On previous cruises, I can remember sitting in uncomfortable boarding "lounges" for hours if you arrived much before the official boarding time. Some lines let us board and hang out in one of the lounges until the rooms were ready. Crystal takes it one step further. A baggage check site had been set up off the central atrium where you could leave your carry-on bags to be delivered to your stateroom later or picked up at your convenience. Unhindered by bags, you were then free to enjoy lunch in one of 3 venues or just sip champagne as you explored this classic ship. THE SHIP AND PASSENGERS Crystal Symphony was first built in 1995 and had a modernization and upgrade refit in 1999. Although old by today's cruise ship standards, she has been well maintained and has a classic elegance throughout. Exteriorly, she looks like a ship should look: no "spoilers" on the aft end, or bulbous bows as exhibited by our two dock mates, Golden Princess and Carnival Legend. While newer ships have gone for eye-popping glitz and glitter, Crystal Symphony exudes an aura of understated class and quality. If ships were women, Symphony would be Grace Kelly and Carnival would be Jennifer Lopez. Grace Kelly, were she still alive, would also have felt right at home with the average Crystal passenger on this cruise: older, well traveled and well heeled (we fit into at least one of these categories). Not surprisingly, this was a traditional cruise with much of the elegance and service that has been slashed by cost cutting on other lines. Assigned dinner seating (two seatings), traditional tipping practices (although you could charge tips to your onboard account if you so desired), large dance floors, inclusive onboard pricing, (except for alcoholic beverages), and an emphasis on service (with a few exceptions that will be mentioned later) brought back much of the joy of cruising from the "old days." The absence of "nickel and diming" was particularly pleasant. Over the years, ships we were on began charging for afternoon ice cream, specialty coffee, alternate dining venues, shuttle buses in ports and even bridge tours in port! No so on Crystal. All soft drinks and non-alcoholic beverages were free, including our favorite Perrier Water. Tired of paying $3.00 for lattes at Starbucks? Drink until you're wired at the Symphony's Bistro Coffee and Tea bar. Tired of the main dining room? Try either the Italian or Asian specialty restaurant at no charge other than the tip. You could build a case that you save money by paying as you go, but this is a much more pleasant way of doing things. Perhaps the single most noticeable difference between Crystal and the mainstream cruise lines is the space and lack of crowding. There was never a wait or line for anything. The Lido Buffet moved smoothly and there was almost always available seating. Seating was never a problem for any of the shows. On the two occasions when we tendered into port (Newport, RI and Bar Harbor, ME), there were no required tender tickets or boarding time restrictions. When you wanted to go, you went. In Bar Harbor, we shared a tender pier with Golden Princess. On return to the ship, the line for Golden Princess boats snaked into the boarding terminal while the Crystal Symphony passengers simply walked onto their waiting boats. THE CABINS The rooms on the Symphony were pleasant and roomy, but no better than what we had on RCI's Brilliance of the Seas or HAL's Zuiderdam. We booked a Category E obstructed view stateroom on deck 8 (8072). I spent some time researching the different obstructed view cabins on Deck 7 & 8, and there have been quite a few posts on message boards about this topic, so I made it my mission to do some first hand research while onboard. The deck plans are quite accurate for deck 8. Rooms 8100, 8101, 8088, 8089, 8076 and 8077 are virtually unobstructed, and the rooms on either side of them have only partial obstructions. These rooms go fast, however, and if you can't get them, there are still better choices among the "lifeboat" view cabins. Cabins 8060 and 8061 look out over the bow of a small boat and are less obstructed than other offerings. Our room 8072, overlooked a portion of the lifeboat where the pilot house is, so there a little more obstruction than elsewhere. The rooms overlooking the 4 aft lifeboats were also less desirable since these are the shore tenders and have two decks, further obstructing the views. Even with the obstructions, however, we could see the sky and horizon and after a day or two, didn't even notice the lifeboat. There was no problem with ship's vibration in this cabin, only the gentle throbbing of the engines to rock you to sleep. Deck 7 also has some virtually unobstructed view cabins, mostly next to the exits onto the Promenade Deck. The windows are tinted and slightly elevated, so seeing in during the day is not a problem. Other obstructed view cabins give you a view of the sea but not the sky, the opposite of Deck 8. Whichever room you chose, I feel the obstructed view rooms are a great value and don't detract significantly from the cruise experience. If you are fortunate enough to book a penthouse suite, avoid the rooms at the aft section of the ship, under the Lido Cafe. Our table mates had one of these cabins and complained about table scraping noises early in the mornings as the breakfast service was set up. THE CRUISE ITSELF The cruise itself was great. After settling into our room, we met our STEX sponsors, Bill and Jean, along with other CC contacts Gary and Mellissa, for tea in the Palm Court. Although I'm pretty much a black coffee guy, the tea (served in silk tea bags) was excellent and the whole experience very pleasant. The STEX program worked great, and we had a $200 credit posted to our onboard account by the time we returned from tea. Thanks, Bill and Jean! We sailed from New York Harbor at night with great views of the city and Statue of Liberty, illuminated as only New York City can be. Our first port, Newport, RI, is a beautiful place with magnificent mansions and quaint neighborhoods. We walked the Cliff Walk along the ocean, in front of the mansions, and explored the back streets of the city under brilliant sunshine and bright blue skies. The next two days we spent in Boston, an historic and cosmopolitan city. The ship docked a ways away from downtown, but Crystal ran a shuttle bus (at no charge, of course) right to the heart of the city. We did the Freedom Trail, walked the cobblestone streets of the Back Bay and visited the USS Constitution. The following day found us in Bar Harbor, Maine and Acadia National Park. We had done some research and discovered that the Park Service has a complimentary bus service into the National Park, so we packed a lunch and headed out for a day of hiking on the many trails in the park. Again, we caught a break with the weather, with bright sunshine and pleasant temperatures. Some were disappointed that the autumn colors suggested by the title of cruise were not yet there, but I'd say the warm weather and sun were a good tradeoff. The next day was a welcome rest at sea. What a great lineup of activities Crystal had! This was another area where Crystal really shined. They had great lecturers, computer classes, dance lessons, wine tastings, exercise classes and so much more that there was hardly time for a nap! I would have swapped our second day in Boston for another day at sea, so enjoyable were all the activities. Halifax, Nova Scotia was our next stop. This is an interesting, picturesque and historic area that really deserves more than one day. We decided to rent a car and visit Peggy's Cove and drive the scenic lighthouse route. I booked a car ahead of time and was really pleased with the rate of $32 (Canadian!). We picked the car up at the Westin Hotel, about a block away from where the ship docks. Unfortunately, the compact car we had reserved was "not available," but we were informed we could have a Dodge Durango at the same rate - as if this were a good deal. I'm no fan of SUVs, even when gas was $1.30 a gallon, but since this was the only vehicle available, we took it. We had a nice drive along the coast and visited Peggy's Cove, home of the famous (and touristy) lighthouse that also serves as a post office. We drove back into town for lunch on the ship, then set out for the fort overlooking the city and the beautiful botanical gardens. It was a full and enjoyable day. Bottom line on the car? It cost more for the gas than the car rental! Even so, it was a lot cheaper than the ship tour, and we saw more, on our own timetable. From Halifax we sailed for the St. Lawrence Seaway and Quebec, two days away. En route to Quebec we were supposed to sail into the Saguenay River, a scenic waterway likened by some to the fjords of Norway. Unfortunately, bad things can happen to good cruise ships. The Symphony suffered a failure of one of its engines, resulting in a reduced speed capability. Thus we had to bypass the Saguenay River and arrived late into Quebec. The Captain did offer complimentary cocktails for two hours, but this seemed like meager compensation for a major itinerary alteration that was, after all, due to the cruise line, not an act of God. As it turned out, arriving two hours late in Quebec was no big deal since it was here that we had our only really bad day of weather. When I say really bad, I mean really bad. The rain came down virtually unabated all day long in torrents, driven by tropical storm- type winds that blew the rain horizontally. Crystal lost a lot of room umbrellas that day as they inverted from the wind gusts. We took a cab up to the Chateau Frontenac where we joined every other tourist in Quebec who was searching for something to do indoors. We also went to a history museum next to the Chateau where we learned of the American military defeat at Quebec during the revolutionary war, something I don't remember reading too much about in my history books. Fortunately, the next day was as beautiful as the previous day was terrible. We took our only ship excursion to view waterfalls and countryside outside the city. The heavy rains from the previous day had turned the waterfalls in raging torrents of water, making for a truly spectacular sight. Unfortunately, the all day tour prevented us from exploring the many interesting sites of old Quebec, but now we have a reason to return to this quaint and unique city. The propulsion system was fixed during our stay in Quebec, and our overnight trip to Montreal was routine. Disembarkation was routine and efficient, as expected. We were cruise-only passengers, and our cab to the airport in Montreal cost about half of the transfer fee the ship was charging. SHORTCOMINGS So, the ship was perfect, and Crystal is without flaws, right? Wrong! Just as I have never been on a horrible cruise, so have I never been on a perfect cruise. This one was no exception, even after stepping up into the premium category of cruise line. The service, for example, was absolutely superb in the lounges, pool decks, Lido buffet and specialty restaurants, but was very average in the main dining room. Our waiter and assistant were competent and hard working, but they always seemed rushed and behind. Dinners stretched out over long periods, and the attentive, personal service we were expecting was simply not there. The service was, in fact, very similar to what we've experienced lately on mainline cruise ships, and a better dining room experience was one of the reasons we wanted to step up. Didn't happen. (The food was clearly a step above, however, and the service in Prego, the specialty restaurant where we ate, was excellent.) Even worse was the wine service. It was the worse I have ever experienced on any cruise, at any price! The first night, the wine steward left the wine list then never returned to take the order. When she did show up on subsequent nights, we were already into our first course. At one point, she removed a still full bottle of wine when I left the table temporarily, and it took me 10 minutes to get it retrieved. The final insult was an $80 overcharge on my ship account that took me two days to resolve. Either the wine steward was overtasked, undertrained, incompetent or all of the above, but it was certainly not an experience I expected from Crystal. On every other ship I have been on, a wine steward was available at a dedicated station to pre-order wine for the evening, but I never found such a location aboard Symphony. CONCLUSION So what's the bottom line? "moving' on up" to Crystal meant more space, less crowding, better service (except as noted), better food, less "nickel and diming," superb at sea programs, great entertainment, spacious dance floors and a more traditional cruise experience. Is that worth the extra money? Unfortunately, this is a completely subjective decision that I would not dream of attempting to make for anyone else. But you can expect to see me on another Crystal Cruise, hopefully sooner rather than later! Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2005
Embarkation/disembarkation: I prepurchased transfers from airport to ship and ship to airport. They completely forgot us and we had to take a cab. Tried to get reimbursed and instead they charged us a second time and would not budge. After ... Read More
Embarkation/disembarkation: I prepurchased transfers from airport to ship and ship to airport. They completely forgot us and we had to take a cab. Tried to get reimbursed and instead they charged us a second time and would not budge. After many tries both on ship and after we got home, I had to give up because my blood pressure could not take it anymore. In summary, you cannot trust Crystal on transfers. Food: barely adequate. Slow, wrong, screwed up at the table, dropped, etc. etc. pick an adjective. Maitre d' clueless. Booked for a table for two but put at table for 8 and told to like it. This is not a 6 star, or 5 star, nor 4 star, nor 3 star, nor 2 star ship.... Ship furnishings: eh, normal hotel. Nothing to make it stand out or be unusual. Kids: Nothing for kids to do. No children's coordinator. They get a zero for not even trying a little. Cabin: smaller than other lines. Only shining light on ship was female room steward who was wonderful. Unobtrusive and quick. Room service: You have to call your room steward and then they take your order to kitchen so everything takes a long time. Terrible room service food- McDonald's is better. Tour desk: good Spa: Disorganized and rude. Taken over by the World Cruisers. TS attitude. Ship: Engine broke down and we had to miss a scheduled stop due to slower speed. Maintenance is not a priority with this line. Crystal puts on party for American Express cardholders: but because I don't have a platinum card was not invited. Captain: pissy demeanor. Would not shake hands because it was not hygienic. But had no trouble shaking hands with World Cruiser. Artwork: Bought over $12,000 of artwork onboard and never received it. Crystal would not speak with me -insisted that I complain through my travel agent. As of this posting, this is in litigation and I have received neither artwork nor refund. In summary: Do not book on Crystal. These people are real trouble. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2005
Here is Tim's review of the Crystal Symphony. 3-17-05 to 3-24-05 Since this my first cruise with Crystal (11th overall)I relied on alot of tips from Judith02 since the Crystal Symphony is her favorite ship. By the way, this was the ... Read More
Here is Tim's review of the Crystal Symphony. 3-17-05 to 3-24-05 Since this my first cruise with Crystal (11th overall)I relied on alot of tips from Judith02 since the Crystal Symphony is her favorite ship. By the way, this was the best cruise ever. We arrived at 1pm to board the ship and there were 3 people in the 5 lines to board the ship. The time it took to board the ship was 5 minutes. Since I have cruised on Celebrity, Princess and Carnival this indicated to me that Crystal would be different. On top of the easy check in they did not demand a draft of my credit card, in fact they stated to go to the Reception area at my convenience within the next four days. (This was weird because every other cruise company immediately takes a draft of your credit card) Upon boarding they took our picture and advised us that lunch was being served on the Lido Deck, they further offered to take our carry-on luggage and place it in our room so we could immediately explore the ship. (A very nice touch) Furthermore, one of the cruise staff gave us a guided tour of the ship. Judith stated to verify our table seating with Remi and of course we did get our table for two. (Yes) When I inquired if there is availability to move to a different table for two, he advised me that 60 people are on the waiting list for a table for two. So I was very pleased that my TA requested the table in advance. So far the service was amazing and the food was fantastic and this was only the first day. My companion Doug commented that even the Lido food was better than the main Dining rooms on Princess, to which I totally agreed with him. Food thought the ship was excellent. We did five of our breakfasts in the Dining Room. I always ordered the same thing, waffles with Strawberrys and whipped cream. The Strawberrys were always big and juicy and the whipped cream was freshly made. Even their Decaf coffee was good and strong, a usual complaint on cruises. Lunches were also mostly in the dining room, though we did have two occasions to eat at the Lido Deck Buffet. Nice Waffles (but not as good as the dining room) and an egg station. We never ate in the alternative restaurants because Doug is a real meat and potatoes kind of guy and did not find either Menu that interesting. I was happy with the dining room for dinner and when I ordered Filet Mignon that was not on the menu they made if for me cooked exactly the way I like it. The highlight of my cruise was having the Assistant waiter asking me what I wanted for my Birthday Meal. So I asked for Steak Diane, Mashed Potatoes and veggies. For dessert I asked for a Strawberry Shortcake (Cake). I figured they would have giving me a nice mini cake instead it was a full 9 inch cake. Made with a light yellow cake with vanilla cream another layer of cake, more vanilla cream and strawberry puree toped with more cake and a strawberry Glaze. The outside parts of the cake there was toasted and shredded coconut. It was absolutely Amazing. I shared it with our Waiter, assistant waiter, Remi and some new friends I made on the cruise. Itinerary: To me this really was not that important, im not a fan of Jamaica nor Grand Cayman but did enjoy Cozumel and Key West. For me a cruise is about the spa and total relaxation. And the spa treatments were great as was my haircut and facial. Typical Steiner prices but coming from the San Francisco Bay Area not to bad price wise. This ship was beautifully maintained and I had coffee with Rolf the Captain and Cato the Vice Captain twice in the Bistro. (Excellent Mochas and free too) They were so friendly and personable. We were joking and having a great time. This is also a new experience as every other cruise I have taken I saw the Captain only during the welcome and goodbye Galas. All of the employees were professional and nice. It was like seeing family on the ship. Always friendly. The Captain said they take very good care of their employees and it shows. The employees have a party every night and all of the wait staff I spoke too loves Crystal as they only have them work 10 hour days, unlike the 12 & 14 hour days the other cruise companies have them work. I enjoyed our stateroom, with two sinks in the bathroom and a tub. (That was a first for me) Our Stewardess made sure our mini fridge always had, Coke, Sprite and Bottled water per our request. She was sweet and unobtrusive. I also enjoyed the fact that any bar you went to you could always order complementary Sodas or water. The Ice Cream Bar serves Edys which is Dryers here in California and its free. They have really good Coffee Ice Cream shakes and Cookies. The bad stuff: The only down side to the cruise is that we couldn't continue with the 10 day cruise following this one. I really did not want to leave. Now I have been Crystallized, it would be extremely difficult to go back to Celebrity. (Since all drinks including water and sodas cost extra and the food really blew Celebrity away) Wow was this experience awesome and I cannot wait to take my next Crystal Cruise. I hope this review helped anyone out there considering a Crystal Cruise. Take Care, Tim Read Less
I joined the ship in Sydney for last 20 days. Air travel involved 3 planes to Sydney, usual scenario, long lines at security, searches and of course no meals on the 2 planes from FL to LA. Hotel room in Sydney was good, hotel food rather ... Read More
I joined the ship in Sydney for last 20 days. Air travel involved 3 planes to Sydney, usual scenario, long lines at security, searches and of course no meals on the 2 planes from FL to LA. Hotel room in Sydney was good, hotel food rather poor and very expensive. Boarding was as per usual, lines and confusion. Once on the ship, a crewmember took my carry-on to escort me to my cabin. He got the deck correct but then did not know if he had to go right, left, forward or aft once he got there. I found out that he had joined Symphony only a couple of hours prior to my arrival and had never been on a Crystal ship before! Luckily I knew the ship better than he did. Once in the cabin I found my luggage waiting for me which was excellent. When I read the ship activities sheet I realized things were going to be very different on this cruise. There were 100 Full World cruisers on board and just over 200 segment cruisers. Dining was not two sittings or assigned table, but "open seating, doors open from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m." This was a bad error. With Crystal still using personal gratuity plan, the staff would be financially short at end of trip. The kitchen proved to be in chaos, since it meant that some passengers were requiring desert whilst others were just starting their appetizers. This resulted in incorrect food or badly cooked food being served up. Examples: When I cut my breakfast pancake it oozed a gooey mess of uncooked batter over my plate. An order of "link sausages and broiled tomatoes," came up as one thin sausage and one half tomato. I asked the waiter to return it to the kitchen for a bigger portion. He returned very upset, still only one sausage but they had added an extra half a tomato. I was told the kitchen "had no more sausages, that it would take half an hour to get further supplies from the storeroom and to cook them". I made do. I ordered "Fresh raspberries with ice cream" and received "Blueberries and whipped cream," and an order of "fried Oysters" came up as "Oysters Rockefeller", a side order of "Fried Onion Rings" came up as "two spoonfuls of chopped braised onions "as is usually found on a hamburger. On the French night I ordered the soufflE at 7:50 p.m. and was then informed that "the soufflE will not be served so early, you will have to wait until 8.30 p.m. for it." As I was going to the film at 8.15, I settled for vanilla ice cream. Never have I experienced such poor service from Crystal. There were other equally upsetting events. It became very obvious that the Full World cruisers regarded the ship as their own private domain, and I regret to say Crystal actually encouraged this attitude. The President of Crystal came on board for last 5 days. He held a public forum. A demand was made by a group of full world cruisers that "in future Crystal will not sell segments of this cruise, or if they do they will charge the segments buyers much higher rates than those of us buying the whole cruise, this will limit the numbers." I was horrified at this blatant and arrogant demand. I expected the President to point out that Crystal could not sail with just 100 passengers, and that segment buyers had paid their fares and had as many rights as any other passengers. He did not do so, he agreed with the demand! As a matter of interest a check of the rates will show that if there were full world cruise passengers and segment passengers from my town, the full world passengers would have received greater service and luxury than segment passengers. Full world cost for cabin E was $399 pp pd. For this they received Limo service from their home to airport, limo service from destination airport to ship, and same service on their return. They would receive "free First class" air travel. Hotel at port with Welcome dinner and party pre cruise, all gratuities paid, $1000 shipboard credit. Special parties, dinners and shore events. Just to mention a few of the "goodies." For last segment, the cost was $389 pp pd, but passenger had to make own way to gateway airport, (an extra $180 return fare by car for myself) pay own air costs ($895 economy to $4600 for business class Fl to Sydney). Bus to hotel, room was provided but no food, my dinner cost me $45. Bus to ship next day, gratuities were paid. $150 shipboard credit. From this it is clear that the full world cruise passenger a got great deal for the extra $10 pp pd to Crystal. Due to the events which happened on this cruise and in view of the attitude of the Full world contingent, together with the remarks made by the President of Crystal concerning future charges to segment passengers, I have to state that I would not recommend anyone to take this cruise unless they were going as full world passengers. rafex1@earthlink.net August 2003 Read Less
While I realize there is not a large market for world cruises, I would like to offer suggestions and comments based on our recently completed voyage on the Symphony between 1/12 and 4/27. In regards to the ship itself, all of the ... Read More
While I realize there is not a large market for world cruises, I would like to offer suggestions and comments based on our recently completed voyage on the Symphony between 1/12 and 4/27. In regards to the ship itself, all of the category A-E cabins are the same size and configuration, excluding the verandahs in cat. A-B. These all feature twin/queen size beds, 2-person sofa, desk and chair, TV with tape player, minibar, safe, adequate storage even for a world cruise, and a bath with tub/shower and twin sinks. The cat. E cabins are on the 7th and 8th decks and have obstructed view of varying degrees, with those on the 8th having in general a greater degree of obstruction, i.e. lifeboats. We were in 7088 and had about 20 % blockage by the bottom of the lifeboat, which was no problem. Our only objection was that this lifeboat was always used for tender operations, which usually meant a fair amount of noise around 06:30. Fortunately there were only a few ports that needed tenders. The 4 aft lifeboats are larger than the others and therefore always are used. The cabins between 7064-7085 are probably the best. One nice thing about the promenade deck is that it is lower than the floor level of the cabins, so that people are not on eye-level with the windows. Cat. D cabins are all on the 5th deck, which is the same level as the dining room and the usual gangplank level, so they are handy for those with walking difficulties, although there were several wheelchairs on other levels as well. Cat. C is the unobstructed cabins on deck 7. Cat. A & B are identical with B's on deck 8 and A's on deck 9. Those more forward and aft have wider verandahs. We visited people in Penthouse cabins and they are luxurious with lots of room, free mini-bar and a butler, but very expensive. The food was quite good, with 4 main entrees each night in the main dining room, plus 2 other plain fish, chicken or steak choices, plus a vegetarian dish, a pasta and an entrEe-type salad. In addition the headwaiters would perform tableside dishes and special orders, such as rack of lamb or kosher chicken, as well as desserts. There were 2 additional restaurants, Prego (Italian) and the Jade Garden (Asian). Both were excellent, especially the mushroom soup in Prego. It was suggested that a $6 tip/ person should be given. We usually had breakfast and lunch in the Lido, since it was generally faster than the dining room. However I did notice they had fresh-squeezed orange juice in the dining room, but not in the Lido. There were numerous buffets, usually on the Lido deck outside, as well as the Trident Grill, where you could get sandwiches and pizza, and a separate ice-cream bar. There was also the Bistro on the 6th deck, where you could get a late breakfast, light lunch or afternoon snack. Afternoon tea was served in the Palm Court. We started out with the late seating, but at 8:30 it was just too late, so we eventually switched to a table for 4 at the 6:15 seating, but since the ship was not full, we could come as late as 7:00 and still be out in plenty of time. Occasionally they would have a casual dinner at the Trident Grill with open seating, but the menu was limited and never changed, so we only did that 3 times. The entertainment was outstanding as a rule, with names such as Jim Nabors, Debbie Reynolds, Regis Philbin, Tommy Tune, etc, The ship's productions were good, but were repeated every segment, so one could go elsewhere. The movies were not first runs, but we did see Cider House Rules, Gladiator and Fantasia 2000 as well as others. There is a very extensive video library as well as the regular library. There were 3 fulltime pianists, 2 groups and an outstanding six-piece orchestra, so that dancing was always an option. During the day there were enrichment lectures, with such speakers as Buzz Aldrin, Irvine R. Levine, Peter Arnett and others, so that there were usually 2 and sometimes three lectures a day, plus 2 dance lesson, 3 bridge lectures, bridge games, art classes, bingo, so on and on. On the physical side, there were two heated pools, two Jacuzzis, a large gym with 7-9 treadmills, six bicycles, 6 Cybex machines and lots of free weights. The promenade deck was a quarter mile, and on 12 there were a paddle tennis court, a putting green and two golf nets plus a golf pro, offering group and individual lessons. We had 36 ports of call: three were changed, 2 because of civil unrest (Zanzibar and Ivory Coast) and one because the captain felt the harbor could not be entered safely and the tender operation would be too far out. Substitutes were obtained for all three. In addition we had an extra day in Capetown because a supply ship was slowed by an Atlantic storm. In spite of all this we managed to stay on schedule with minor juggling of the ports. The highlights we felt were Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar and the Taj Mahal, although we also enjoyed the safaris in Kenya and South Africa. We frequently either rented a car or hired a taxi with another couple to go sightseeing, although we also did many of the ship's excursions. One of the main points I would like to make is that is a better deal to go on the entire cruise rather than the segments. The total fare for the entire trip was only $1,010 more for the world cruise than the total for each segment, but for that we each got $1,000 shipboard credits, prepaid gratuities (worth more than a $1,000}, limos from home to airport, airport to hotel, hotel to ship, ship to airport and airport to home, a night's stay at the Beverly Hills Hotels with meals and a dinner-dance the night before sailing, and first-class or business class airfare, depending on your cabin grade, plus there were at least 4 special dinners aboard, invitations to the Captain's cabin, and special tours around the ship. The Captain was super and his wife, Terry, was the World Cruise Hostess and did a marvelous job. It was an eye-opener to see how many people had been on previous world cruises, with several that had been on all 5 of the prior one's with Crystal, as well as many who have been with Royal Viking and Seabourn in prior years. Most of the ship's officers and sailors were Norwegian with one Japanese, the waiters and stewardesses were European, the hotel director, maitre'd and chef all being Austrian, and the busboys and cleaning people Philippine. As mentioned above the laundrymen were Chinese. The crew was very pleasant, and were very gracious in their interactions with the guests and each other. Crystal goes to great lengths to keep them happy. All in all it was a memorable experience. Mp17706@aol.comMay, 2001 Read Less
With the current crisis around the world I was booked originally to be on the Crystal Symphony doing the East Coast of Africa to Cape Town. As the itinerary was quite dangerous Crystal changed to the West Coast of Africa concluding ... Read More
With the current crisis around the world I was booked originally to be on the Crystal Symphony doing the East Coast of Africa to Cape Town. As the itinerary was quite dangerous Crystal changed to the West Coast of Africa concluding in Cape Town. As I have been to most of the ports before this was not going to deter my making this cruise as I will not let any terrorist change my plans or frighten me from traveling. Upon arriving in Rome we were taken to Civitavecchia and boarded the ship immediately. Crystal has always had the highest security before but now they have more check points and besides the X-ray machine have portable instruments that they check all carry ons. No one is allowed on the ship without the proper identification and there are NO visitors allowed. All the ports had guards posted in front of the ship and the police were very visible. As many canceled the ship was not filled and with the Superior Crystal Service and Fabulous restaurants one felt that this was their own private yacht. The dining room had an open seating for dinner and as this is a first I loved it but because of the loss to the waiters and the cruise line I hope it never happens again. We visited great ports: Portofino, Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Lisbon, Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Bom Bom Island , Walvis Bay, Namibia and then Cape Town. We had 12 sea days and all the usual Crystal entertainment's as great lecturers, production shows, and the most fabulous spot Computers At Sea with the most considerate staff and the highest advance computer set up on any cruise ship. One can create their own web page and have your friends see you via the Internet while you are cruising. Having cruised on many other so called Superior Cruise Ships I can state that Crystal Cruise Line Is The Best cruise line afloat. They Are The SUPERIOR Cruise Line and all the rest are far behind. They are concerned about taking care of their passengers with the finest cuisine, entertainment, amenities, and security. No one need fear to go anywhere on a Crystal Ship. I wanted to assure anyone who is concerned about cruising in these times that having experienced this fabulous cruise they can be assured that they will be in good hands and have a fantastic time on either Crystal Harmony or Crystal Symphony. Bubbiemame@aol.com October 2001 Read Less
Crystal Symphony Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.0
Dining 4.5 4.5
Entertainment 4.5 4.3
Public Rooms 5.0 4.5
Fitness Recreation 4.5 4.0
Family 4.0 4.0
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.8
Enrichment 5.0 4.2
Service 4.0 4.6
Value For Money 4.0 3.9
Rates 4.0 4.1

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