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Sail Date: July 2010
We were very excited to sail on Crystal since it has a reputation for being one of the best cruise ships in the industry. Three words: Worth every dime. But, I want to add a provision to this statement: Worth every dime to a very ... Read More
We were very excited to sail on Crystal since it has a reputation for being one of the best cruise ships in the industry. Three words: Worth every dime. But, I want to add a provision to this statement: Worth every dime to a very select crowd. I can honestly say about 75% of my friends would have hated this cruise. Even my partner and I were split during the cruise. There wasn't one thing that my partner didn't love about Crystal with an intensity. Crystal has a fan for life. I, on the other hand, loved Crystal's luxury, passenger attention, the excursions, and all the little details that go into a fabulous cruise. But, I missed silly things. I wanted a 24-hour buffet. I wanted one night of complete silliness by the staff where everyone on board was invited to a hula-hoop party or Limbo or something ridiculous. So, when reading this you have to understand that this cruise demanded manners and good behavior. It is expected. And, it was appreciated. But, if your idea of a fun cruise it to have at least one night where you overwhelm yourself with overeating and foolish behavior...maybe this isn't the cruise for you. That being said, let's start with the perks that came with our penthouse. When they said the suite was all-inclusive...they really meant all inclusive. Our butler brought us huge bottles of the best rum, the best scotch, the best champagne. We could have invited the entire Penthouse Deck to our room for a party and not emptied all the liquor they gave us. And, since we are not drinkers it sat on the bar for the entire trip. Such a pity. The room itself was stunning. Whereas most cruise ships like loud colors and dark woods, this room was in muted tones and mixed textures. Very bright. The walk-in closet was spacious enough for all of our clothes. The bathroom had dual sinks, a stand-up shower and a tub. Since there was no view for the tub...we didn't use it. One thing that we really appreciated was that the Crystal carried major cable news stations: BBC, CNN, MSNBC, and FOX. Although that probably isn't a huge selling point on most cruises, something tells me that this client base appreciated staying in touch. If you want a WOW factor for a buffet...try Crystal Cruise Line. I've never seen anything like it on another ship. This isn't your standard buffet food. It's gourmet fabulous. We had breakfast every morning so that my partner could have the stuffed french toast and I loved the made-to-order omelets. Nothing I ate was like anything else I've ever experienced on another cruise ship. Everything tasted fresh and made-to-order. And, let's talk about the excursions. There wasn't anything unique in Talin but we saw the real difference when we got to Russia. If you wanted to spend tens of thousands of dollars you could go to Moscow and be an astronaut for a day. We didn't have that much money so we stayed on the ship in St. Petersburg and did our excursions in that area. In St. Petersburg, the cruise arranged for an after-hours tour of the Hermitage with our private tour guide. After the tour Crystal arranged for a private concert by the Hermitage orchestra and a champagne reception with the conductor. We took a tour of St. Constantine's Palace (where the G8 Summit was held) which concluded with a wine tasting. And, yet another tour in Peterhof where we rode back on a hydroplane. AWESOME! What other cruise line does that? We docked in Sweden for the night so we had a couple of choices. We could go to an animal reserve (at dinnertime--theirs not ours) or a hot air balloon ride. How can you go wrong with either? By the way the best part about cruising into Sweden was sitting in Palm Court, listening to a string quartet playing Mozart, while staff (dressed in 17th century French costume) served tea. As you watched Stockholm move into view. I'm glad I took the cruise and I'll take another Crystal Cruise. I liked the crowd for this type of cruise. As I said, this cruise is worth every dime but to a very select crowd. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2010
Picked up Crystal 0214 from Dover late June 2010.Embarkation procedures smooth but from there everything just got even better and better.Waited on sun deck and had lunch while rooms were being readied. This was cruise that about which ... Read More
Picked up Crystal 0214 from Dover late June 2010.Embarkation procedures smooth but from there everything just got even better and better.Waited on sun deck and had lunch while rooms were being readied. This was cruise that about which there simply was NOT a single deficiency. a.food - flawless,simple,clean,eye catching and always prepared exactly to individual likings.Special requests not a problem.After the first night,the Senior waiter took the trouble to ask as what we wanted that night so it could be prepared eg special meats or poultry. Table settings ie early sitting no problem. Every meal be it breakfast,lunch,afternoon tea`s (wow!) always a pleasure.Top quality foods always available at sedveral other places on board,long after formal times had finished b.cabins and accomodation.Highest standard and the staff knew thier jobs down to every detail.Nothing ever too much to try and help with.Everything works,supplies more than adequate,fresh fruit and beverages always in topped up. Bed reasonably comfortable,frankly,I found the sheets a bit too shiny. Reviewers often speak of cramped cabins but really they are more than what one needs. c.everything else,from daily news,announcements,programs,special events,embarkation and disembarkation procedures,itineraries for tours performed with ease,applomb and absolute precision. Already made another booking for next cruise.No wonder they get the top marks!Is there anyone else? Read Less
Sail Date: February 2010
Background: I am one of the last people you would expect to find on a Crystal ship. Most of the qualities for which Crystal is renowned mean little to me. The stage shows are great but I could easily live without them. I'm not fond of ... Read More
Background: I am one of the last people you would expect to find on a Crystal ship. Most of the qualities for which Crystal is renowned mean little to me. The stage shows are great but I could easily live without them. I'm not fond of formality, and choose Best Western and Holiday Inn over the Ritz and Four Seasons, and my nature runs towards frugal. I booked my first Crystal Cruise in 1996 when a good opportunity presented itself, expecting a once in a lifetime experience. I was mistaken, at least in a literal sense. While anyone can consider themselves fortunate to sail a Crystal ship once in their lifetime, I quickly decided that the experience would be repeated many times. My second Crystal experience took another 6 years, but since that time I have never walked off a Crystal ship without a future booking in my hand. Why do I keep coming back when I am nominally such a poor fit for the line? Primarily, because Crystal does EVERYTHING extremely well, and a bit more specifically because every customer is treated as the most important person in the world. Ship info: The Crystal Symphony was built in 1995, and has been updated regularly since then, most recently in 2009. It is moderately large, and extremely spacious for the passenger capacity. My voyage was completely sold out, and the only brief hint of crowding came during a major storm when the activities were concentrated in the midship rooms. The open decks are especially spacious, and there is a wide, wrap-around Promenade Deck. Staterooms: With the exception of the penthouses on deck 10, the rooms are essentially the same. There are only 8 categories, 3 for penthouse, regular and deluxe verandas, depending on the deck, and 3 categories of penthouse cabins. The rooms are well equipped, especially the baths, with a full tub in even the lowest category rooms. There is ample storage space. Dining: Up to now, dinner in the main dining room has always been served in 2 seatings, usually 6 or 6:30 and 8:30, but Crystal has just announced plans for an option of a flexible dining time beginning in 2011. In addition to the Crystal Dining Room, there are 2 specialty restaurants, Silk Road with Japanese cuisine and Prego with Italian cuisine. These restaurants require reservations but have no surcharge other than a suggested gratuity. The Lido Cafe does not typically open for dinner but will once or twice per cruise. The Lido Cafe serves breakfast and lunch, starting with coffee and pastries around 5AM. There are special theme buffets in the lido, typically about every 3 days. While nominally a buffet, the lido is staffed by several incredible stewards who greeted me by name by day 3, learned my preferences, and generally provide very personal service. A grill midships on the lido serves a late breakfast plus burgers and sandwiches with a few extras. The selection of side dishes is limited, but it is just steps from the Lido Cafe, so these extras are readily available. The Crystal Dining serves a traditional breakfast and lunch with open seating, with one grand gala luncheon buffet sometime during the cruise. The Bistro a deck above the dining room serves pastries and other snacks. Dining as such pretty well closes after dinner, but each room has a refrigerator and is stocked with beverages and fruit, routinely restocked by the Stewardess on her regular visits. Light snacks are served in the lounges in the evening, and there is excellent 24-hour room service.. Activities and entertainment: Activities are geared to a mature demographic and a wide variety are offered. Many cruises have a theme, as did this one with a "Movie and Theater" theme with 3 presenters focusing on the topic. The Crystal Visions Enhancement is very strong, usually with at least 3 presenters, and always providing opportunities for ample feedback from the audience. The spa and fitness staff is very strong, including 2 innovative programs for walkers. The walkvest program uses vests with removable weights (up to about 16 pounds) to improve the strength benefits of walking. A new program uses trekking poles to get more muscles involved in the walking process. There is a log sheet on the Promenade deck where passengers can record their progress and receive shirts and certificates at the end of their cruise celebrating their progress. One slight disadvantage of the ship's design is that the Promenade doors are frequently subject to wind turbulence and often closed, but the aft doors are almost always available. Other regular enhancement activities include computer classes, music and Berlitz language classes, and excellent dance instructors. There are daily activities including bingo, team trivia, concerts, and movies in the Hollywood Theater. There are 4 significant routine venues for activities, the Palm Court (Deck 11), and the Galaxy Lounge, Hollywood Theater, and Starlite Club on deck 6). It is routine to see simultaneous activities in 3 of these venues, and not unusual to have them in all 4. In the evening there are several venues featuring several varieties of musical entertainment, and a daily presentation in the Galaxy Theater. The excellent Crystal Ensemble of Singers and Dancers presents about 5 or 6 shows per voyage, with other headline entertainers brought on board for the remaining nights of the cruise. Children: There is a children's program with 2 facilities set aside for programs, one for younger children and another for teenagers, but most of the cruises I have been on do not attract a large number of children. Disembarkation: Disembarkation was smooth and easy. At least on our cruise, we were allowed to continue using our rooms until we actually left the ship. Summary: Crystal provides a stunningly superior product in every respect. You will frequently pay a significant premium to be on Crystal, but that is not necessarily the case. If money is an object you really need to look at your own situation for each cruise individually, and you will find some excellent cruises that are surprisingly affordable. While the fares are not "all inclusive" more is included than on many other lines, such as soft drinks, and specialty restaurants. Most current Crystal fares include air fare, and there is an "As You Wish" credit, usually $500 or $1000 per person, which offsets many of the things that are extra. The single supplement is typically 25-30 percent, making it very friendly for solos both in price and services. Many of the things that are extra are also priced reasonably. For example, on my next cruise I will be using Crystal's hotel program in Athens, at about a 15 percent surcharge over booking the hotel which includes Airport-hotel-ship transfers, while I have seen other cruise lines charge at least double the hotel's price. In summary you may pay extra with Crystal, but you always get a lot extra. Read Less
Sail Date: February 2010
Embarkation - We booked our own flights to San Jose, Costa Rica and purchased cruise line transfers to Caldera, a two hour drive. We got off to a shaky start as our connection on US Air was delayed due to fog in the Charlotte Airport. We ... Read More
Embarkation - We booked our own flights to San Jose, Costa Rica and purchased cruise line transfers to Caldera, a two hour drive. We got off to a shaky start as our connection on US Air was delayed due to fog in the Charlotte Airport. We arrived at the gate for our international flight 15 minutes before departure, too close for comfort! We would have missed the first 4 days of the cruise if we had not made this flight! Next time we go a day ahead like we normally do, or a least have a few backup flights. All was well when we were greeted in the San Jose Airport by a Crystal representative. After a 2 hour bus ride, embarkation was a breeze and we were in our Cabin in short order. Ship - The Crystal Symphony is compact and very passenger friendly compared to the newer mega-ships. It has a crew of 545 and a passenger capacity of 922. There are basically three decks where all of the activities are held: Deck 5 - Dining, Deck 6 - Nightlife and Deck 11 - Pool and Buffet. Of special note is the Bistro, a better than Starbucks coffee shop on Deck 6. Specialty coffees and teas are included, so a quick stop for a Cappuccino was a regular event. We also liked the Avenue Saloon for cocktails before dinner. One evening an enjoyable Dixieland jazz concert was held in the lobby on Deck 5. There is a true Promenade deck where walking exercisers meet daily and others just take a stroll. Deck 12 has a spa, salon and fitness center. We did not take advantage of these facilities on this cruise. Each floor with cabins has a complimentary guest laundry tat sees a lot of use. We were in a Category A verandah cabin on Deck 9. It included all of the standard amenities even though it was a little smaller than similar cabins on newer ships. The bathroom was well appointed and even included a small tub/shower and a double sink. Storage was plentiful as all of our suitcases fit under the bed. The bed was very comfortable and this was enhanced by a pillow menu! We spent a lot of time on our verandah which had a nice sized table and two chairs. Room service is available 24 hours a day and we ordered light meals on several occasions and ate watching the beautiful scenery. Sodas and water were complimentary. TV channels were varied and the quality was good. We particularly liked a daily comedy special hosted by Paul the Cruise Director. The crew made you feel very comfortable. Simple requests were met with a courteous "My pleasure". The buffet servers would remember you from previous visits and ask if you wanted your regular. Officers were visible and readily available. A special "Meet and Greet" was held for Cruise Critic members and attended by several key staff members. Hor deurves and cocktails were served. Food - This is where Crystal excels. Of our numerous cruises the food is far superior to anything else we have had on other lines. We requested a late seating table for two in the main dining room and our request was promptly granted by Remi, the Maitre'd. Special requests such as caviar and foie gras were no problem for our wait staff. Crystal has not deviated from fixed seating in the main Dining Room which is no problem with us. There are two specialty restaurants, Silk Road (Japanese) and Prego (Italian), that add a little more intimate atmosphere to the dining experience. We ate in Silk Road two nights and Prego one night. An additional charge is recommended for tipping the wait staff and it is well worth it. Silk Road serves Waygu beef which is a real treat along with all of the Nobu Matsuhisa inspired specialties. Prego's mushroom soup is legendary among seasoned cruise foodies. The menu is based on Piero Selvaggio's revered Valentino's. One thing that we like is the mid-day luncheon Gala Buffet. No more staying up until Midnight to take food pictures. For another special event, period costumes are worn by the staff and an ensemble plays chamber music for the elegant Mozart Tea. In the space of 11 days, we had 3 formal nights, 2 informal nights and 6 casual nights. Oh! Did I mention that the Trident Grill and Lido Buffet are also excellent? Entertainment - We do not normally attend a lot of shows but managed to go to more than normal as the entertainment was really good. What we did do was attend several enrichment lectures held on sea days. One presenter we particularly enjoyed was Dr Robert Freedman, who was an expert on the Middle East and Russia. Additional lectures were held on memory improvement, destinations and current trends. Ports - The highlight of the cruise was the Panama Canal passage. It was very well narrated and having a verandah cabin made it a pleasure. It was not our first time through the canal and I don't know when it will lose its fascination. We also ported in Aruba, St Lucia, Antiqua and Tortola. One plus is that we did not have to tender in any of the ports. Disembarkation - Everything went fine although exiting the ship was the usual madhouse. I suppose people aren't in the best of humor when they are faced with returning from "Certainly, it will be my pleasure!" to "Do you want fries with that?". Even though the ship was not cleared until 9:30 AM we managed to make an 11:05 AM flight from MIA by using a limo. In retrospect I don't know why we were in a rush to get home! Read Less
Sail Date: December 2009
On December 30th my thoughts usually turn to plans for New Year's Eve. This date in 2009, however, found me leaning over the rail of Crystal Symphony's promenade deck, waving goodbye to Paul Queior and his colleagues from the US ... Read More
On December 30th my thoughts usually turn to plans for New Year's Eve. This date in 2009, however, found me leaning over the rail of Crystal Symphony's promenade deck, waving goodbye to Paul Queior and his colleagues from the US Palmer Research Station as they sped back to their icy home in Antarctica in their zodiac. It had been fascinating to talk to them earlier about their work (and play) in their remote workplace. I had learned, for instance, that every year the South Pole moves around 30o - that's how fast the glacier it's on is moving - so every year the geographical South Pole is measured, and repositioned, in a ceremony held on New Year's Eve. Unusually for me, I had been up, dressed and out on deck by 7.30, witnessing the breathtaking scenery as we passed through the Neumayer Channel, with great views on either side, followed by Port Loch Roy and Anvers Island. I was ready for the welcoming complimentary glass of gluwein when I returned inside, several hours later. That day we sailed to 65o South Latitude and experienced 22 hours of daylight. The previous day Captain Ralf Zander had navigated the Symphony along "Iceberg Alley" to Deception Island and the day before that we'd sailed past Elephant Island, and the marker that indicated the point where Ernest Shackleton's men were rescued to South Shetland Islands. Throughout the voyage the sun had shone and the seas remained calm; even "rounding the horn" had proved an anticlimax as the legendary huge waves had failed to materialise. The voyage through Antarctica had been the real draw of this cruise for me, but I knew that, with Crystal, I would witness the grandeur while being cocooned in the lap of luxury and not have to endure the rigours of zodiac landings, which suited me perfectly; my days of roughing it have passed. The cruise had commenced in Buenos Aires, so I took advantage of a pre-cruise trip to Iguazu Falls, which everybody had told me is a "must". I was not disappointed, although I did become the main course for the mosquito population. Back in Buenos Aires, I was able to take advantage of an Argentine Tango lesson + milonga, and invested in two new pairs of tango shoes - at half the UK price. Our first port of call was Montevideo, where I attended a performance of a play specially commissioned for the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the River Plate. The next port was Puerto Madryn, where I took a bus out to the Eco Centre and looked around the pretty little town. After a day at sea we arrived at the Falkland Islands where I took a trip out to Volunteer Point to see the largest colony of King Penguins. They were a source of constant amusement and waddled right up to us; some hobbling along, encumbered with a large egg under their skirts. Our ex-Liverpudlian guide, Dave, had married a local girl and was living there during the war, so had many tales to tell. The mine-clearing programme is progressing slowly and there are still many no-go areas. It was very sad to see the war memorial in Stanley. The new year commenced with an overnight stay in Ushuaia, so were able to sample dinner in a typical local restaurant. The following day was spent in the National Park, followed by a chairlift to the Martial Glacier. I had nothing planned for Punta Arenas, so took the shuttle bus into the main square, Plaza des Armes. Suddenly I was surrounded by TV cameras and photographers. Had my fame swept so far south, I thought to myself? Eventually the crowd parted and I saw that it was not I who was the object of interest, but former President Eduardo Frei, who was seeking re-election as President after an absence of 10 years. He seemed to have quite a following, judging by the reaction of the crowd in the square, but, as I couldn't understand what the Christian Democrat Party were promising, I retreated to a local hotel. Much to my surprise, he turned up there shortly afterwards, followed by the media frenzy. I hastily returned to the ship and relaxed as we cruised the Chilean Fjords for the next two days. Puerto Montt was a delightful port. I took a full day tour, driving around Lake Llanquihue to the attractive Bavarian-style town of Frutillar, then on to Puerto Varas for a pit-stop. On to view some llamas, then a delicious lunch of locally caught wild salmon, washed down with several pisco sours (I had been acquiring a taste for this local brew over the last few days in Chile). After lunch I drove to some magnificent falls at Petrohue, on Lake Todos los Santos, and a sleepy drive back to the ship. One more lovely sea day and we arrived at our final destination, Valparaiso, where Santiago Airport beckoned. During this amazing cruise, I was lucky enough to attend lectures which enhanced the experience considerably. Crystal prides itself on engaging the very best speakers, and this is one of its strengths. The Destination Lecturer on this cruise was Professor David Drewry who had served as Director of the British Antarctic Survey and Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute and had led scientific expeditions in both the Arctic and Antarctic. He also proved to be a very amusing and entertaining tablemate; the first I've had who has a mountain and a glacier named after him. The Special Interest Lecturer was Rex Ziak - what he didn't know about James Cook wasn't worth knowing. Dr Bridget Buxton, deputy director of the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography told riveting tales of the numerous underwater sites she had excavated, unfazed by the fact that all her luggage had failed to turn up on the ship. As a contrast, we also heard stories from Tom DeFrank, an award-winning journalist who has covered the White House since the Nixon administration, and Herb Keyser, who related entertaining stories about the lives and music of geniuses of the American musical theatre. Add to this the extensive Crystal Creative Learning Institute, and there's no excuse to be bored on a Crystal cruise. I'm already looking forward to my next, with a Big Band theme....maybe I'll get a chance to practice my Argentine tango moves? Read Less
Sail Date: November 2009
Since there has not been a current review of the Symphony since her Fall of 2009 dry dock, I felt that an update was called for. My background includes over forty cruises in the past ten years, including a World Cruise on the Serenity in ... Read More
Since there has not been a current review of the Symphony since her Fall of 2009 dry dock, I felt that an update was called for. My background includes over forty cruises in the past ten years, including a World Cruise on the Serenity in 2008. I had last sailed on Symphony in 2006. Since that time, Crystal has upgraded this ship significantly during two major dry docks, investing nearly $50M in improvements and renovations. The result is a new and improved vessel that belies her fifteen year age. Every cabin has been reworked with the appearance and amenities of a boutique hotel, featuring stylish new furnishings and modern baths with granite counters and glass vessel sinks. Most every public area has been updated, with special attention to the Lido and pool areas. The Lido is now more a sit-down eatery than buffet, with separate work stations for a wide variety of cuisine. No lines and no trays result in a more upscale look, similar to that of many brand new ships. Outside at the pool, the look is more resort than ship-like in appearance and function. New plastic wicker furnishings have replaced outdated webbed chairs and colorful cushions in orange and teal lend a very contemporary look. This is not your Father's cruise ship; Symphony looks as modern and chic as any ship at sea. During my World Cruise in 2008, Crystal announced a new Grand Americas Voyage doing a complete circumnavigation of South America and Antarctica, sailing from Miami roundtrip. As I enjoy longer sailings and hate to fly, this was an ideal itinerary and I signed up immediately. My two previous Symphony cruises had taken me up both coasts of South America, but I had yet to visit Antarctica, the Amazon or round the Horn. This trip was a 62 day journey visiting 25 ports of call, including such favorites of mine as Rio, Buenos Aires, Valparaiso and Lima. One could book the entire journey, or a segment or two, much like a mini World Cruise. The Miami to Manaus segment was popular due to promotional pricing. From Manaus to BA was lightly booked, with only 300 guests. The BA to Valparaiso sailing, a Holiday Cruise, was popular with families, despite the premium pricing. The final leg from Valparaiso to Miami was oversold, again due to aggressive pricing and the presence of two groups; Roberta's Bridge Group and Jazzdagin. Neither group caused any disruption of the usual Crystal pleasures, and, in fact, the Jazz music was well liked by most all of the passengers. Throughout the voyage, service never varied due to passenger load. As always, everything onboard was top notch. Living in Fort Lauderdale gives me easy access to the two largest passenger ports on earth. As of this year, FTL has taken over as number one with the arrival of Oasis, but even prior to that, Crystal was squeezed out to Miami by the large number of megaships home porting here. On November 22nd, my Partner drove me to the Port of Miami for embarkation. This was a breeze, taking less than twenty minutes, after which he came on as my guest for lunch and then assisted me in unpacking and settling into my cabin. Sailing solo, I had booked an E Category cabin, #7035, on the Promenade Deck. At 200 square feet, there was plenty of room for me and all my belongings for this two month journey. My Stewardess, Marija, came by promptly to introduce herself and learn about my dining arrangements and special requests. By 2PM all was attended to in the cabin and we took a tour about the ship. While the layout was familiar, every aspect of Symphony looked fresh and new, other than the Main Dining Room and Theater. This is my favorite size of ship, being large enough to have all of the big-ship amenities, but small enough to be intimate and easy to get around. The dEcor is, at once, classic with lots of wood and polished brass, as well as modern and up to date due to loving care and the recent renovations. Dining on either Crystal ship is always something that I look forward to. I am an early riser and head up to the Lido for freshly squeezed juice and coffee around 6AM before heading to the Computer Lab to check E-mails and write my popular reports that I send back home. If you are interested in more details of my trip, you can find them posted on the Boards under 9227C Grand Americas: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1087761 . There, I posted over ten pages covering food, dining, service, hospitality and ports of call during our journey. Suffice to say, the Crystal Experience onboard the Symphony was excellent, as always. Breakfast and lunch in the Lido have achieved new heights with more freshly cooked choices and unmatched service from the Lidoboys. Dinners in the MDR are always special with a wide variety of offerings and menus that seldom repeated, even over a sixty two day cruise. Prego, Silk Road and the Sushi Bar are as outstanding as always, giving a pleasant break from the traditional continental fare served elsewhere. What really sets Crystal apart from any other cruise line is consistency. Meal after meal, crewmember after crewmember, and the desire to fulfill your every wish with outstanding service make Crystal the World's Best. We were particularly fortunate to have Captain Ralf Zander in command as we navigated Antarctica. To summarize briefly, this was an amazing journey on a wonderful ship with the finest crew and officers one could possibly hope for. The ship absolutely sparkles and the service is beyond compare. The itinerary was ideal, other than our stop in Manaus, and we were blessed with perfect weather. Our trip up the Amazon was marred by low river levels; the rainy season had not yet started and the air was foul with acrid smoke from the ongoing slashing and burning of the rainforest. Manaus itself is worth a visit, but not for the three days and two nights we spent there. Our time in Rio was a teasingly short day visit. Buenos Aires remains one of the World's great cities, but has become more commercial and homogenous than my previous visit there. Antarctica was everything and more than I had hoped. If you have never been, put it high on your list! We were amazed by the scenery, the thousands of icebergs and, of course, the Penguins. Rounding the Horn and transiting the Drake Passage were surprisingly calm, more resembling a lake than the treacherous place it is known as. The Chilean Fjords were not as spectacular as I expected, but the rest of our ports were impressive and much improved since my last visits to South America. All said, this was another trip of a lifetime for me and a journey well worth taking. Antarctica was the definitive highlight, surpassing any experience of my World Cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2009
We are well seasoned cruisers and have sailed on several different cruise lines. We were introduced to Crystal the year after they began service. We have been on Crystal 19 times, on all three ships (although the Harmony does not sail ... Read More
We are well seasoned cruisers and have sailed on several different cruise lines. We were introduced to Crystal the year after they began service. We have been on Crystal 19 times, on all three ships (although the Harmony does not sail for the general populous anymore). The ships are beautiful, the wait staff incredible and the entertainment top notch. The food is not my favorite because I am not a foodie, and I like rather plain stuff. My husband, on the other hand, loves it. One person mentioned that the food was not very good. That is not the norm. Also, they were usually make anything you want at any time. There are a few things they ask you to order the day before. To those who have only been on once, try again. They are wonderful to return cruisers. They also have the most loyal staff you can ever imagine. The "bus boy" on our first cruise had worked his way up to Matre'D on our last. They have to treat their employees well to inspire that kind of loyalty. This means the staff treats the guests really well. Do not be scared of the age range. One person commented the average age was 70+. I cannot imagine. We travel with any one of a dozen couples and have for years, and none of us are close to 70 (ok, maybe 1 or 2 are) and we never have trouble finding people in our age group, or even younger. Oh, and we work for our money, not the other way around, as do most of our cruise buddies. It is true that the average net worth of Crystal Cruisers is higher, but to me that is a benefit. I am too old to appreciate the 20 somethings on Carnival.... Read Less
Sail Date: June 2009
Our cruise began in Dover with the traditional sail-off song by Louis Armstrong, "It's a Wonderful World." Prior to sail-off we had settled in our cabin, been introduced to our cabin stewardess, been greeted by a flank of ... Read More
Our cruise began in Dover with the traditional sail-off song by Louis Armstrong, "It's a Wonderful World." Prior to sail-off we had settled in our cabin, been introduced to our cabin stewardess, been greeted by a flank of tuxedoed attendants (reminded me of the Titanic), done the requisite life-jacket drill, and toured the ship. The public areas of the ship are lovely and our cabin, while small (no verandah) had adequate storage space, a comfortable bed, flat screen television, and a shower/tub combination. We are middle-age, professors, well-travelled, and enjoy food. I have broken this review into parts to better focus on the experience of the cruise. Ship Amenities The public areas are easy to locate and navigate after very little time on board. We did not use the gambling area so cannot comment on this aspect of the ship experience. The library is large and contained files on each port. The computer center has enough computers for those that check email and must do work even on vacation. Be warned that the speed of the Internet is slow, cost to use the computers high ($50 for 2 hours), and the log-off procedures require 2 separate actions. The latter was an issue as I failed to log-off and someone else got the benefit of my 2 hours of time. Crystal should devise a better method to login to the computer that is consistent with how most people use a public computer. The bar areas had excellent service and each a different ambience. The Avenues Bar had a great pianist but the smoking in the area (very small so smoke filters all over) made it a place to avoid. We enjoyed dancing and smaller shows in the Starlite but did not venture into the disco Luxe. The bar area on level 5 by the Bistro had a great pianist and killer sunset views but again, smoking is allowed in this bar in a designated area which is next to those that do not smoke. We did not use the pool or spa but noted that the spa was in almost constant use. The Galaxy lounge performances were wonderful and professional, not the usual cheesy song and dance reviews that we were expecting. All the entertainment onboard was of high caliber with exception of the comedian (Marty Brill). The lecturers were informative and thought-provoking. Ship photographers were available to take photos (for sale later) and did a good job of capturing you at your best. Movies in the theater are close to first run and include a waiter with fresh-popped popcorn. The ship stores have an interesting selection of jewelry and clothing for purchase while sailing (closed during docking). Summary: Great entertainment, attentive bar service, and the public areas never feel crowded. Only down-note is the smoking. Food We go on a cruise for the food as well as the itinerary so the food was a major component in our decision to book a Crystal cruise. In general, all the food was significantly better than any cruise ship we have sailed. Breakfasts on the Lido deck were fresh and wonderful. The breakfast is served buffet style with fresh options available (such as eggs, omelets, waffles). Our trays were always carried by staff and our coffee refilled and plates cleared with attentive service. We ate lunch a few times at the Trident grill and found the hamburgers freshly made and the pizza very good. We did not eat lunch in the dining room. Our dining room experience was the least satisfying of our food experiences. While all the food was good, it was not exceptional. We did not ask for special preparations but will try that on our next cruise. Food was delivered promptly and wait staff was always attentive. The wine selections are fairly priced. I understand that wine can be brought onboard and a small corkage fee charged to open it and we will try this option next time. The dining room has 2 seatings and while we booked the late seating (due to lots of late-ending tours) we often ate at the early seating. It is possible to walk up to the maitre' d and ask to be seated at a different time. Our cruise was about half-full so there were many tables available for this request. The noise level in the dining room is loud and many families brought everyone (including crying babies) to the table. We tried Prego twice and while some items were great (try the mushroom soup) most of the food could have been better prepared. An example was the mashed potatoes with Kalamata olives—eating a purplish mash-up was just not appetizing. I ordered lamb medium rare and it was delivered medium well. I asked our head waiter how he thought it looked and he confirmed it was medium well. While another effort was underway the maitre d' came over and explained that the light from the window can make meat look over-cooked. (That has to be one of the funniest excuses I have ever heard). The second lamb effort was correctly cooked but tasted gamey and certainly was not a fresh piece of lamb. Waiters were attentive and the sommelier was willing to prepare us a special wine flight for our courses. We also ate at Silk Road and felt that this is the best restaurant and a top dining experience. We attempted to get reservations for the Vintage Room but were not successful (missed by 1 couple). The lunch buffet was great with a large variety of food using fresh ingredients. The grand buffet was not as great with large amounts of food with no particular flavor but it was a great photo opportunity. We did not try room service. The Bistro is great for a late breakfast or tea. I loved the magazine selection that included the Wine Spectator and Food and Wine. We did not do a formal tea as we were out touring. Summary: Way above average food and the specialty restaurants are worth a try. Cabin: Our cabin was small but functional. Two people do have to time their dressing activities or risk getting entangled. Our tub faucets stopped working on one of the formal nights and it took several calls to fix the problem. The bedspread looks a bit tired but the bed and pillows are very comfortable. Loved the old movies on the television but they should show movies themed to the area we were visiting (i.e., Dr. Zhivago for Russia). CNN was difficult to catch with satellite loss but Fox news came in great—we wondered if there was a political message there. Our cabin stewardess did a great job although a couple times my side of the bed was short-sheeted. When we arrived there were half full water bottles left in the cabin and refrigerator but they were promptly taken away and replaced. It was a relief not to have towel animals every night. We did hear noise from adjoining cabins the last night as folks were opening and closing drawers to pack. Summary: small cabin unless you pay for an expensive upgrade but adequate for sleeping. Tours: We used the ship tours for almost all of our touring. We were off the boat for 10 hours every day. By the end we were tired of buses. The ship tours are a great way to see a country in a general way. One tour ended early as the driver got lost and one stop had an unexpected water problem. We did bring this to the excursion director's attention but no compensation was made. All tours were exactly as described (except for the lost tour). Be aware that even though you see everything described, you will have no time to linger. Conversely, one tour included an excessive 2 hours at a glass shop designed for shopping. Our tour buses had expert guides, water, a bathroom, and were only partially full. The food at each stop while described as unique local restaurants was very poor. Our best tour was arranged with the excursion desk for the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. It was incredible the difference between a ship tour and with a private guide and driver. While expensive ( a full-day is $800+) it was memorable. I had not been to any of the countries we visited and enjoyed every stop. Summary: arrange your own tours using the excursion desk or on your own if you want to see a lot in small amount of time. Over-all Yes, we'd take the cruise again with Crystal. The forums refer to this as being "crystallized" and we are as we have booked another cruise (6 weeks later) and for one in the fall. While the cruise line and experience were not perfect, it is so much better than other lines we have experienced (Cunard, Seabourn, Sitmar). The line offers a good compromise between the small experience of the yachts and the large experience of the big ships. Fellow cruisers will be middle-age and well-traveled. There were kids onboard our summer cruise and for the most part were well-behaved (some screaming babies at dinner). Staff are attentive and everyone works hard to make sure your experience is great and of course, they want to be remembered with a gratuity. This cruise line works hard to deliver an exceptional experience and if you are interested in an upscale experience, this cruise line is for you. Read Less
Sail Date: February 2009
This was our third cruise on the Symphony and each cruise gets better. We haven't sailed on the other luxury lines like SilverSeas and Regent but with the service and quality we receive from Crystal I don't know why I would ... Read More
This was our third cruise on the Symphony and each cruise gets better. We haven't sailed on the other luxury lines like SilverSeas and Regent but with the service and quality we receive from Crystal I don't know why I would venture out of the cocoon for a luxury cruise. I'll leave the ports of call out although I can say that the excursions by Crystal are always good and with the clients it attracts, Crystal has the upscale non eventful excursions. We did have one subpar excursion in Acapulco where the guides English was poor. From our last cruise with Crystal 2 years ago the waiter staff has become better. They were much friendlier and interacted with the passengers much more. Service has always been good but a little more intimate on this voyage. In talking to the Maitre D' I was told that Crystal was concentrating on hiring wait staff that wanted to be waiters rather than moving on to be doctors, lawyers etc. Maybe that is the difference. The ship has been refurbished and the rooms now have LCD/DVD TV's. Bathrooms have been redone with dual glass sinks. Beds and pillows still great and were made to our specs. The entertainment was extraordinary. The in house Crystal dancers and singers were every bit as good as some I've seen in Las Vegas. In fact better. They were high energy, innovative, and the lead singers were super. Considering they did a new show every other night you have to marvel at how they can remember 20 different sets a show. Enrichment lectures were excellent as always with Hugh Downs a guest speaker and Sam Choi the celebrity chef. Besides food Sam is a great stand up comedian. The Starlight Club has been refurbished and the Band that entertains there really had their act together. Kudos to the new female singer from the Philippines who not only had a great voice but individually visited with the guests during band breaks. Food is always good and you can expect to gain weight. 10 pounds if you can control yourself. Otherwise bring some elastic pants for the end of the cruise. Our table of 8 made several non menu requests. Kind of stump the kitchen by the group. They always delivered. Some required delivery the next night but often we were accommodated that meal. Alternative restaurants( Prego and Silk Road) are not to be missed. The main dining room never disappointed however. The Lido cafe and Trident Grill are always available as alternatives and are equally excellent. You'll find that the staff quickly knows you and knows exactly what you want so you can save some words and just say thank you. Of course if you haven't had enough to eat go to the Palm Court for High Tea. The staff even dresses up in period for the Mozart Tea. Of course the string quartet plays Mozart as you have a panoramic view of the Canal as you sail on. A six star cruise with no scrimping because of the economy as some other lines have done from what I gather from talking to friends that have sailed on other lines. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2008
Let me open with a brief comment on why we took this trip. We completed a Regent cruise in April '08 with considerably less than positive results: http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=41174 After ... Read More
Let me open with a brief comment on why we took this trip. We completed a Regent cruise in April '08 with considerably less than positive results: http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=41174 After addressing this with Regent Corporate and receiving what we believed was a concerted effort to deny the existence of our issues, we began to believe it may really be our perception of what cruising should be. On a lark we went back to a Crystal Cruise to see if we were so hardened on this cruse thing our expectations were totally out of line. We discovered they were not. Crystal is truly luxury, and Regent might as well be a very expensive Princess Cruise. As an example, on the very first day of our Crystal cruise, my i-pod/ MP3 player froze and would not operate. Believing it to be a battery issue I went to the front desk to ask if they had a charger. The desk person, Anna Marie pulled one out, player still didn't work. She then went to her own cabin to use hers, it still didn't work, she called the ship's IT to help, it still didn't work. She then went on the Internet for a resolution, and fixed it. A small thing, but a huge indication of the efforts of the crew to make things right. We were home again at Crystal. Crew: Typical Crystal attention to the customer with greetings in the passageway by officers all the way to hull painters. You are treated as a guest, not a number. I believe this is what may set Crystal apart from all other lines. The sense is we are a welcome addition, not an intrusion like we felt on Regent. What a delight. Food: All in all, very good. Only one marginal night, and all of our dishes were not up to par, must have been the chef's night off. The rest was terrific and I can't figure out how all the fish dishes always came out perfectly, wow. Service was superb, all special orders handled quickly and were delicious. Silk Road (Specialty Nobu restaurant) is great. Service, while good, is not up to par with the main dining room, but food was over the top delicious. Mornings on the Lido deck was consistently good and the deck grill put our some wonderful burgers and steak sandwiches. As always, the crew did anything they could to please. You asked, they provided. Room: Think we did like Regent's better, a bit more room and the bath more conventional. We believed Crystal made a mistake with the new glass vessel bath sinks, intrusive and difficult to keep clean. Turn the water on full, and you'll only do that once as it blew over the edges. All else nice. Two robes, one light cotton and one plush for each room guest was grand. Room service was typically Crystal extraordinary. Entertainment: Mixed feelings about this one. Previous Crystal cruises the entertainers were spot on and well rehearsed. Not this time. "The Envelop Please" was very poor with one of the front line entertainers unable to get his lines straight the entire performance. Not sure what happened here, so we just passed to the rest of the shows and entertained ourselves, so can't comment if this was poor through all the shows. Ports: Cabo OK, Mazablan, probably wouldn't get off the ship to see it again, Puerto Viarta, very nice. Clean, old Mexico. The City has obviously put a great deal of effort in to make things right. That stop was worth the trip. All in all, a wonderfully positive experience back on Crystal. It's by far our favorite line . . . this is what cruising is all about. No more experiments, we're back. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2008
Although I'd heard the phrase "crystallized" many times before our cruise, I did not truly capture its meaning until we were back at home in Vancouver and shocked into reality. By way of background, we are in our forties, ... Read More
Although I'd heard the phrase "crystallized" many times before our cruise, I did not truly capture its meaning until we were back at home in Vancouver and shocked into reality. By way of background, we are in our forties, fairly well traveled and this was our 5th cruise in less than 3 years. Our previous cruises were with HAL, Disney (with our young daughter), Carnival and Cunard. Our expectations were high but they were all fully met or exceeded. To exemplify this, our special story about members of the staff and crew who will go out of their way to satisfy a request: Halfway through the cruise my husband decided to purchase a set of shocks for his car through a specialty store in LA (don't ask me why). The idea was to have the box delivered to the terminal so that we could fly it back with us to Vancouver. We spoke to Gabor, the Concierge, who not only suggested the best way to accomplish this, but took it upon himself to make all the necessary communications with Crystal's agent in LA and arranged every aspect of it, including following up to update us on the progress. The end result, the box containing four shining high performance shocks was delivered to us on board the morning of disembarkation. Many thanks to Gabor and his team who passed the test with flying colors! Embarkation and Disembarkation We arrived at the terminal shortly after 12:00 noon. We were shown to a waiting area set up with chairs and given a color card. Wait was approximately 40 minutes. Once on board we were greeted by Susan who walked us to the dining room. All in all painless and the beautiful Salmon entrEe with the glass of C Champagne were a great introduction to what was to come. Disembarkation morning - everything was going smoothly until the paging started for a couple of ladies who apparently did not know they had to go through the customs inspection before they would let anyone off the ship. Apparently one of them had to be fetched from her cabin where she was still asleep! It took a while to get that done and by the time we were allowed to leave the ship there were more than a few nervous people who were afraid of missing their early flights. This created a long line and substantial congestion. The Ship The Symphony is a beautiful ship which is constantly being cleaned and maintained to the highest standards. The maintenance crew is efficient and unobtrusive -case in point: the entire midship staircase carpet was replaced in a few days in a way that was not disruptive to the passengers. The affected areas smelled of the carpet glue for short periods of time but the installers worked quickly and without interfering with the comings and goings of the passengers. The public areas are beautiful and decorated in understated good taste to please the majority. One area that could be improved upon is the Starlite Club. There are a few too many club chairs there and trying to move them or reorient them is a bit of a challenge, mostly when there is a full house. Also, the fact that the open side of the lounge is a thru way results in the performance or lecture taking place being disrupted by peoples' chatter and laughter as they go by. The Avenue Saloon is one of my favorite venues, particularly due to Colin Salter's piano. The downside is that smoking is allowed and when there are more than a couple of people lighting up the air becomes a real problem for non-smokers. We are not fussy and can tolerate some smoke but had to leave on a couple of occasions because of it. On a side note: thanks to Colin for playing "my" song every time he saw us come in. There are no crowds or lineups anywhere although some of the venues are very well attended depending on what's going on and you might have to look around for an empty seat. Our cabin on Deck 8 was adequate in size and we had the small sofa as a bit of a bonus - I understand how the sofas are missed by many. The closet and drawer space was also adequate and by moving the life vests off to the back all our clothes fit well. Here is the one and only gripe: the HUGE obstruction. There simply is no view at all from that cabin and we will not choose this type of accommodation ever again. Having an unobstructed view (if a balcony is not possible) is a must for us. In addition, the humongous tender hanging outside the window was routinely being maintained/worked on so we had to continuously close our curtains to avoid having a maintenance person looking in on us! This severely impacted our enjoyment of time spent in the cabin. Caveat emptor, the cabin was described as "limited or extremely limited view", the reality is that there was NO view whatsoever and the cabin was very dark. I do take some responsibility for having chosen this type of cabin knowing that there was an "obstruction" but we ended up with what must have been the worst of them all. We made our feelings known to the concierge in that not all E cabins are equal and that there is a certain amount of misrepresentation by Crystal in that regard. The Food We live in Vancouver, a city of Foodies with a strong, international cuisine atmosphere. There is one comment I make to everyone I tell about our cruise. Food on each and every Crystal venue is of the highest quality, be it the Lido, the buffets, the main Dining Room, Prego, Silk Road, tea, etc. It is all about choices and you can do no wrong. We had not one bad meal, anywhere on board. By the way, I have tried to replicate the burgers from the Trident Grill - so far unsuccessfully I might add. We did dine at Prego twice - the Beef Carpaccio is to die for, so is the famous Mushroom Soup. Tiramisu, the best I've had on land or water. Tea in the Palm Court or at the Bistro was very enjoyable, particularly the Amadeus Hot Chocolate. The Service There is nothing I can say that has not already been said on this board about the level of service. From our friendly, efficient room stewardess Kristel who brought ice for us each night after one such request, and badly needed band-aids from her own supply thus saving me the trip to the shop one evening, to spotless service from our waiter Gabriella, assistant Henri and wine steward Johannes. Worth a special mention, Ivo our Head Waiter, who went out of his way to create a memorable Chinese birthday dinner for my husband and who makes the best Spaghetti Bolognese I've ever had (tableside or not). Needless to say, the Crystal experience would not be the same without the Lido guys - Sonny, I really didn't need the 4 Margaritas you brought me during sailaway from Cabo but I sure enjoyed them! Entertainment Varied and rich, thoroughly enjoyed the production shows but loved the entertainers. What a great new talent Philipa Healey is, Jimmy Travis is a hoot. Full Sail is great and I'm still trying to figure out how mind reader Marc Paul knew what he knew…just to name a few. The special interest lecturers were knowledgeable and personable, always at hand for a chat. Andrew Steigman kept us informed about the history of the places we were seeing and his recount of the history of the canal was very interesting. Nigel West had spot-on, timely talks. Sorry we did not catch any Fred Plotkin's lectures but we did attend the Wine Tasting events - Sommelier Pasquale outdid himself when the anticipated 30 participants turned into almost 150. Fellow Passengers We met many lovely people including our sponsors Jackie and tablemates. As has been said in this board, the Matre D' does a fantastic job matching people up for dining. We also had the pleasure of sharing our table with Steven and Stacey (dance instructors) one evening and with Nigel West another one. We were almost too late for the CC cocktail party as I was not feeling well for a short while but had the pleasure of meeting a few fellow CC'rs. It came as a surprise that the vast majority of the passengers were repeat Crystal cruisers but I'm not surprised anymore as I hope to become one myself soon. It's worth noting that given the size of the ship you are bound to see people you've met all the time. Ports of Call Old Cartegena is a lovely, well preserved town with many, many street vendors; we took a tour of the cathedrals and the guide was knowledgeable and spoke good English. It was a holiday in Colombia that day so many commercial establishments were closed and there were not too many people around. The Canal was obviously the highlight of the cruise; a tremendous feat of engineering and ingenuity - we wished Crystal made stops in Panama City, a sentiment shared by others we met but there may be good reasons not to. Acapulco and Cabo. We decided not to take any tours as we usually like to get the lay of the land by walking around whenever we are new to a place. In this case we feel it may have been better to take the excursions as there is very little to do/see in the port areas. We also had an unpleasant encounter with a man who acted very aggressively toward my husband when told that we were not interested in what he was selling. He threatened my husband with calling the police so that he would "know what Mexican jails are like" and with calling his buddies to teach him a lesson. We walked away from the situation and made our way back to the ship. Memorable Moments Too many to list but to name a few: walking around the Promenade deck in the afternoon hand in hand; breakfast on the Lido Terrace aft deck; dancing and sipping Champagne Bellinis in the Starlite Club; contentedly napping on a lounge chair on one of the aft decks; all in all wonderful memories and experiences. We'll sure be back for more. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2008
This cruise was a special anniversary celebration. We boarded at Dover - did not use the airport to ship transfer as we had been in Paris for a pre-cruise celebration. Our A cabin was close to midship and was fantastic! We did not spend ... Read More
This cruise was a special anniversary celebration. We boarded at Dover - did not use the airport to ship transfer as we had been in Paris for a pre-cruise celebration. Our A cabin was close to midship and was fantastic! We did not spend a lot of time in the cabin but tended to "cruise the ship" while on board. This is definitely not a relaxing cruise it is very busy and most of our shore excursions left the ship between 8 and 9 AM. We took a lot of longer excursions which included at least one meal in a local restaurant. Highlight was definitely St. Petersburg and one day trip to Moscow. Most other cruise lines give you 2 days in St. Petersburg, others only 1, we had 3 (including excursion to Moscow). Tours were well run and in both Moscow and St. Petersburg the tour leaders provided us with audio receivers and we had no problem hearing our tour guides. It was interesting to watch other cruise tours who did not provide this service. We had great weather, sunny or partly sunny every day. Food on board was very good, my wife especially liked Prego. We paid in advance and were able to make reservations before boarding - highly recommended. Shows are getting a little tired but are still enjoyable. Spa service was very good, massage was wonderful. My wife summed it up best - thanks for the best holiday ever!! Read Less
Sail Date: January 2008
Cruise 8203 Crystal Symphony, "Golden Passage", Caldera - Miami, 31/1/08 - 11/2/08. (First ever cruise.) Background Nearly 2 years ago at a family wedding in Israel my Mum suddenly said that she'd been thinking of a way ... Read More
Cruise 8203 Crystal Symphony, "Golden Passage", Caldera - Miami, 31/1/08 - 11/2/08. (First ever cruise.) Background Nearly 2 years ago at a family wedding in Israel my Mum suddenly said that she'd been thinking of a way to celebrate her 75th birthday which would be coming up soonish, and what did we think about it, "we" being myself and my two sisters and our respective spouses. Well, we obviously said "yeh, great, wow, brilliant" etc etc, and then my Mum said what did we think of New York? (She'd been on the QE2 a number of times with my late father and had very fond memories of transatlantics.) Well, we obviously said "yeh, great, wow, brilliant" etc etc. That was the easy bit, agreeing to go!! As all you experienced cruisers well know, deciding exactly how, where, when, how much, where from, what size, which line, which ship, traditional, casual, formal, anytime dining, rock climbing wall, 15 alternative restaurants etc etc is the hardest part - especially with a group of 7. My Mum decided she'd always wanted to traverse the Panama Canal, so itinerary was settled upon, which "only" left the rest of the questions outlined above. Now, as I and Mrs nadge only eat kosher food I started to look into cruise lines that could provide this. Nearly all lines can provide airline-type sealed kosher meals which can be reheated, but who wants to eat airline meals on a cruise?? I came across an article about Crystal's kosher-style dining, and it took off from there. I made some enquiries with the On-board Guest Services at Crystal, and that was that! (I'll touch on the food later on, but I won't go into huge detail about what is and isn't kosher. For those wishing to know more about kosher food, and exactly what Crystal can do, I'd be only too happy to either open another thread, or e-mail. Just ask.) Travel to New York Since New York was on the wish list from the start, and it's sort of "on the way" to Costa Rica from Israel, we decided to take advantage of the fact by doing a 3 night pre pre-cruise in Manhattan. Now, so that Mum wouldn't have to travel all the way to NY by herself (she lives in Manchester, England whilst the 6 of us live in Israel) we decided that we'd fly to NY via London, and pick her up in Heathrow in the departure lounge. So, after a very pleasant 5 hour flight on BA to London we have to transfer to the next flight. In Heathrow this entails a further (rather pointless) security check - x-ray all hand luggage, and coats, and shoes, and belts, and phones, and wallets, then through the metal detector. Bear in mind that we have walked straight off a plane, our checked in luggage will only be collected in NY if we're lucky enough to win the BA lottery and not have to report missing bags, and gone nowhere other than walk straight to the security point. Anyway, then the fun starts. After passing our bags and belongings through the x-ray machine we were delayed in walking through the metal detector whilst the female security officer searched/checked an old lady's wheelchair which had set off an alarm when she went through in front of us. So what, I hear you ask. Well, in the absence of another female security officer we all had to wait. Eventually, we went through ourselves and collected our belongings. Well, I did, but Mrs nadge's small black leather handbag with ALL of her travel documents in it (passport, tickets etc) and money and cards, had gone. In its place was a similar bag, but not hers. We hoped that someone had made a genuine mistake. Considering the severity of the situation with our next flight due to take off in a couple of hours I was surprised at how calm Mrs nadge was. With a fair bit of persuasion we finally managed to convince the security people to look in the other black bag for some information as to its owner, and although there were no official documents in it there were some prescription tablets in a box with a lady's name on written in Hebrew! Someone had obviously just come off the same plane as us. Luckily, we can read Hebrew. The name was fed in to the system by the friendly BA staff and it turned out to be that very same lady in the wheelchair. What had obviously happened was that the attendant had been told to take a black leather bag, which he/she did, but didn't ask the lady if it was actually hers. This wheelchair lady was nowhere to be seen and an APB was put out for her. After receiving conflicting information that her connecting flight didn't leave for another 4 hours, correct info was passed on that not only was she scheduled for a plane in the next hour she was already on it. Mrs nadge started to get a tad worried. By this time the police had appeared, very interested in the possible theft of a British passport, not to mention that there was an Israeli passport as well. The police literally ran off to the other plane, boarded the aircraft and retrieved the bag which had already been put in the overhead locker and when the old lady saw it she said "but that's not my bag". Crisis over, we managed to fit in 20 minutes of retail therapy before our next flight. Joking apart, if you ever have a wheelchair or know someone who does, ALWAYS check that the bags the attendant retrieves for you are really yours. We arrived in JFK on time, all our bags had amazingly arrived as well and in one piece, and immigration couldn't have been easier. I had been a bit concerned about this because I've heard many stories about extremely unfriendly (even antagonistic) US immigration officials. I'd arranged for my Mum to have a wheelchair to save her all the walking and hand-luggage schlepping, so we all just trooped behind her straight to the front of the immigration queue. Once through we went to a desk in the arrivals hall where the assistant phoned through to Supershuttle for us through whom I'd booked transfers. Thanks again to those who answered my thread about transfer advice in New York. As there were 7 of us with tons of luggage (14 very large bags, 7 large hand-luggage wheelie thingies and another 7 small bags) normal taxis would have been very expensive, and Supershuttle was recommended. It cost $133 including the tip. The woman at the desk said that the van would arrive in 20 mins. A minute and a half later as we were settling down to wait a guy came in and called our name to say our van was here. Excellent service. He loaded everything in to the van with no fuss, and was very courteous. New York Hotel We were finally off to Manhattan. Neither I nor Mrs nadge had been to America before so we were very excited about the whole thing. There wasn't very much traffic so it only took about 25 mins to get to our hotel, Radio City Apartments on W 42nd St. I'd done quite a bit of research on Tripadvisor about NY hotels and I'd been very surprised at the price of a room. I mean, I know NY is expensive, but so is London, but I never realized how expensive hotels are in NY. Anyway this hotel is in a great location a block and a half from Times Square, right next to the theatre district. I'd booked well in advance and got a very good rate for one 1 bedroom apartment (1 bedroom with 2 double beds, and a sitting room with sofa bed, plus kitchenette with stove, fridge microwave - all spotless) and one 2 bedroom apartment (1 bedroom with 2 double beds, 1 bedroom with twin beds, and a larger sitting room with sofa bed, plus larger kitchenette.) As before, if anyone wants any more information then please ask. New York was definitely an experience. Up till then my New York had been the movies plus anything else I might have heard. There is definitely a hustle and bustle about the city; everyone seems to be walking around with great purpose. The buildings are really really tall, and the taxis really are yellow. I also saw a real life yellow old-fashioned looking school bus, just like in the movies. We only had two full days and my Mum can't walk either fast or far, but we managed a number of really touristy things. We went on a hop-on hop-off guided tour bus and we visited Ground Zero. We caught the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, but unfortunately it was quite late so we had to choose only one island to get off at. We chose Ellis Island but because of the late hour didn't really spend enough time there. We'd definitely go again. We walked around Times Square and 5th Avenue, and wandered around Macy's. Due to lack of time we had to pick between the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock. The Rock won and we weren't disappointed. The whole Rockefeller Centre is amazing, and the Rock exhibition is very good. The views from the top go without saying although it was a bit misty. We saw the famous skating rink that's always used as the closing scene in the movies. The Empire State will have to wait till next time. We discovered a breakfast place where the locals go, in the back of this jewelry shop in the diamond district. We also found time for a bit of shopping - my new camera came in very useful on the cruise. Oh yes, we managed to figure out the subway system and what a metrocard is, and apart from traffic police directing the traffic at an intersection I don't think I saw a single cop anywhere. Overall, it was quite strange being on a mini holiday in the middle of a big holiday. I'd love to go again. Contrary to popular belief, everyone we spoke to was really friendly and made our stay very pleasant. My main impression of New York is standing in the street wondering whether there are more tall buildings in Manhattan or more Starbucks. I mean, about every 100 yards there's a Starbucks. What is it with Americans and coffee? Can't anyone go for more than 2 minutes without access to a cup of coffee? A great place. Travel to Costa Rica We'd originally planned to go on this same cruise in November 2007 disembarking in Costa Rica. That would have meant an even longer journey home as it's another 5 ½ hour flight. Taking the advice of many CC members I'd arranged to arrive in Costa Rica the night before embarkation, just in case. We again Supershuttled from Manhattan to the airport, Newark this time, definitely even more of a bargain this time as the price was the same $133 including tip. No problems with the journey on Continental, arriving about 9:40pm. Costa Rica airport is very quiet and organized, immigration very quick with about 8 lines open at once to process everyone. Once outside however it's pandemonium. Lots of people scurrying around and shouting. I hadn't been worried about being met because I'd ordered two taxis through the hotel ($20 each) we were staying at (making sure that there'd be enough room) but with all the commotion outside I was glad when we saw a little fellow jumping up and down and waving a sheet of paper with my name on. In the end one van sufficed, with lots of luggage on the roof rack. We drove off into the night and after about 5 minutes turned off the main highway onto dark, twisting, narrow, bumpy roads. We hadn't a clue where we were but the driver seemed to know what he was doing, and after about 25 minutes we arrived at the Hotel Casa Alegre in Santa Ana which is a small suburb about 10 minutes from San Jose. It's a hacienda type hotel with about 7 rooms ranged around a central swimming pool, and a very cosy lounge with a super-comfy couch. It's very reasonable at about $300 for 4 very nice double rooms including breakfast. Now, I don't know about you, but I wouldn't expect ex-pat Brits living in Israel to know anybody in Costa Rica! Well, at about 12 midnight there's non-stop ringing at the gate of the hotel, and it's our cousin come to visit us. He'd just moved to Costa Rica for work about a month and a half previously from England, and his wife and kids had just come out 2 weeks ago. If we'd have known when we made the arrangements we'd have arranged for a longer stay in Costa Rica. It was surreal meeting him there like that. We chatted till about 2 in the morning. They all joined us for breakfast the next day before we left for the ship so that was a really nice way to start off embarkation day. For them it was quite sad because they don't know when they'll see anyone from the family next. Like a child who has been waiting all year round for his birthday to come round again, I've been involved in this trip - planning, organizing, logistics, but mostly waiting impatiently for over a year and a half. Cruise Critic has kept me going during that time, with everyone's advice and experience, and cruising vicariously with you all. My turn had finally arrived. Has anyone ever been Crystallized before sailing on Crystal? I expect I'm the first! Our taxi came back for us bang on the dot at 9:30 and by 10:00 we were all packed up and ready to go, our van bursting at the seams with the never-ending mound of luggage that we apparently need for 2 and a half weeks of travel. The trip is very scenic and uses the Pan American Highway which officially stretches all the way from Monterey all the way down to Buenos Aries. The road is very busy, full of cars and buses and an even larger quantity of huge trucks that haul Costa Rica's goods all over a country with no railroad. This means that we never make it over 80 kph the whole way with an average of about 60kph. (This is torture for someone who fancies himself as the new Nigel Mansell.) After what seems like an age we eventually see a sign pointing the way to Caldera. We're nearly there! Check In Suddenly we get our first glimpse of the ocean, and then the Symphony comes into view sitting proudly in port. Seeing the ship for the first time as we rounded a bend in the road was amazing. My camera is now working overtime of course. It was like when we were kids driving to Blackpool and the first to see the Tower would get sixpence (you Brits out there will understand). So much excitement after so much anticipation. 10 minutes later we're out of the van being handed yet more immigration forms to fill in by grumpy Costa Rican officials, who are flanked by helpful, smiling Crystal employees. Check in consisted of presenting your passport to another grumpy immigration man for stamping, on one side of a low hangar type building, whilst set up on the other side were stands with computers all emblazoned with the Crystal logo, staffed by smiling crew in sparkling white uniforms. Formalities took just 5 minutes, credit card details were passed over, passports were given in (quite a strange feeling but I had read that this is what happens), pictures taken for the room key, signatures signed and room key-card received, and the seven of us are having our picture taken for posterity in front of the Crystal Symphony posters. From reading these boards for so long I was expecting the warm and genuine welcome we received, help with our bags, would we like to check in hand luggage whilst luncheon is served? But to be truthful, I was also wary of expecting too much. Perhaps everyone was exaggerating as to the completeness of the Crystal experience? Thankfully no. More than once over the cruise one of our little group would suddenly murmur "how did he remember that?" when a crew member would suddenly appear with a favorite treat. We headed off to the dining room for lunch, with champagne of course. Just after we'd been seated a young lady comes up and asks which one of us is Nigel, so yours truly duly owns up. It turns out to be EitherOar who very graciously introduced herself and welcomed us on board. We got together later on in the cruise but I really appreciated that welcome. Thank you. Everyone else in our party was looking on in curious admiration - only 5 minutes on board and already being greeted!! Anyway, this conveniently brings me on to a subject very dear to my heart - food. Kosher Food and Crystal N.B. I won't go into the ins and outs and definitions of kosher food here, but if anyone is interested feel free to reply or e-mail me and I'll go into it with pleasure. A long while back, when researching this whole trip, I sent off a whole load of questions about cruises with kosher food. This is how I found out about Crystal's kosher-style dining. After a series of clarification e-mails with On Board Guest Services I was satisfied that this met with our requirements. I assumed that this definition of kosher-style was standard. When we arrived however, the ship had not been informed of the things we were expecting, but I am happy to report that after outlining our requirements they did their utmost to fulfill them. I would suggest to anyone wanting this option to be in touch with your TA to make sure that your requirements have been transmitted to the ship. We had been expecting some sort of kosher menu - obviously much more limited than the normal one, but we just basically chose something suitable off the regular menu and had it done kosher. To make things easier we were shown the next day's menus during dinner and we made our choices then. That way the chef knew what was expected and what needed to be taken out of the freezer. Once things had been clarified our head waiter Miguel and senior waiter Alan took great care of us. We could only have kosher food in the main dining room, which is a shame because the other venues looked wonderful too, especially the breakfast buffet up on the Lido deck. My sisters said that Jade Garden was very good, but Prego was probably about the best meal they'd ever had. The food itself was amazing. The presentation was wonderful with special care taken over even the most insignificant dish like a simple salad or some fruit. You don't just get some smoked salmon on a plate, you get a work of art that you don't like to spoil by eating it. I didn't realize that breakfast could also be a command performance. The choice was huge and the eggs benedict with smoked salmon wonderful. My mum spoiled herself with hot porridge and brown sugar and cream whilst Mrs nadge made large inroads into the fresh croissants every day. Lunch and dinner weren't too bad either. The meat was to die for and done to perfection - huge rib-eye steaks, beefburgers, lamb chops, enormous racks of lamb and a wonderfully thick juicy tender veal chop. I'm starting to salivate again!! They even made us chopped liver on Friday night. We were a bit limited in deserts because we cannot eat dairy dishes after meat, but the non-dairy sherbets were delicious and the hot cherries and bananas that our head waiter made for us were superb. The Ship The ship is absolutely spotless. There is always someone cleaning or painting or polishing or varnishing. One can tell that the ship isn't new. There are many signs of age, but it doesn't detract an iota from how beautiful the ship looks. I was most impressed with the public toilets. I was also very impressed with all the arrangements - a welcome envelope, TA credits in a gift envelope and an appointment with the bar manager to discuss a cocktail party I wanted to organize. Very professional. Stewardess - We did have some problems with our stewardess. She was brand new. Embarkation day was our first day on a Crystal ship, and our stewardess had been on board exactly 3 days longer. She did not have much of a clue. She was very willing and pleasant, but it is not a good idea to put a new stewardess with new cruisers. We don't know what to ask for and she doesn't know what to suggest or the right questions to ask us. It's all so new that she kept forgetting things even though we would leave notes for her. Crystal definitely needs to make sure that new staff in this department receives proper training and proper real-time instruction. We were in cabin 7046 and I can recommend it. There is a slightly limited view from the beam of a lifeboat crane but it is negligible. Plenty of room to put everything, and even our hugest suitcase managed to fit under the bed as well. The bathroom is big enough with instant hot water and good water pressure, and the twin bowls look very nice and didn't really splash. Never having experienced the loveseat we didn't miss it, and we just left the chair by the dressing table as it was. Mrs nadge just sat on the bed to watch telly. The linen laid out on the floor at turn-down service is a nice touch. Activities Plenty to do on board. In fact, there's so much to do it sometimes seems like you're going to need another holiday when you get home just to get some rest. Up for breakfast in the dining room, a leisurely stroll to collect my book, get to Spanish class for 10:15, go to a lecture, make sure to get to the dining room for 12:00 for lunch so as to finish in time for the trivia quiz at 1.00pm. Need to relax after the quiz with a book and a coffee. Afternoon tea at 3.30pm for an hour, then a stroll along the deck to the ice cream bar to sample the delights. The coffee ice-cream is out of this world (and the butter pecan isn't bad either) especially with the assorted nuts. 2nd helping of coffee ice-cream and assorted nuts. Work off the 3rd helping of coffee ice-cream with assorted nuts and butterscotch sauce with a game of paddle tennis. Mrs nadge is by the pool most days relaxing and reading, or taking time to do some needlepoint. Early evening is time for some ice-cream, and then a well-earned rest before getting ready for one of the cocktail parties that we were invited to, or cocktails in our cabin, or cheese and wine in the art room. Down to late seating dinner - the food is wonderful, the service top notch. On to the show, or one of the headline entertainers, finishing up either at karaoke or in the Avenue Saloon listening to Jeff Deutsch. Entertainment During the cruise we played the "what job would I like to have on this ship?" game. Something not too demanding that enables you to cruise for a salary!! Well, if I could sing I'd like to be part of the acapella group The Castaways. They were brilliant, but over an 11 night cruise they performed for a maximum of 2 hours (1 hour for each sitting) - hardly a strenuous position. Admittedly, they did take charge of the trivia quiz, and they ran the karaoke (3 times). It's just a shame that we couldn't enjoy them more. The shows were very very good, but repetitive. It's basically more of the same. Very professional, amazing costumes, excellent singing and dancing, but we all found ourselves nodding off at various stages of the performances. (Maybe the effect of too much booze, I hear you asking!!) My favorite was The Envelope Please which I thought was very well done, whilst the Cole Porter effort was boring - probably because I didn't know the numbers. Cole! however was my mum's favorite. The headline entertainers were good. There was a Russian lady pianist who now lives in America, and a violinist who were both okay but they're not my cup of tea. The singer Brenda Cochrane was excellent but she was only on for about 30 minutes, and I was very pleasantly surprised by the comedian Jimmy Travis. He's apparently very famous in America though I'd never heard of him. I thought he might be too American for me but I enjoyed his humor very much. The last night illusionist wasn't too bad, but the lady who was "volunteered" to help him in his first trick stole the show with her total apathy. Service Apart from our stewardess, about whom Crystal should take the blame, exemplary. Ports and Shore Excursions Apart from traversing the Panama Canal we had four port days consisting of Aruba, Antigua, St. Maarten and St. Thomas, none of which we had visited before. We didn't particularly fancy any of the excursions which were bus sightseeing tours, if only for the reason that I hate travelling in buses and tend to get travel sick. I also feel that some of the tours are very expensive and can very often be found privately much cheaper. This again brings up the eternal question of ship tours verses private tours. For example, we'd thought about getting the Crystal transfer on embarkation day which included sightseeing, from San Jose to Caldera, which cost $88 a person. Our private taxi (transfer only) for seven of us with ALL of our luggage (bearing in mind that we'd had 2 ½ shopping days in New York before the cruise!) cost $110. Even adding on maybe another $100 if we'd done some sightseeing there's still no comparison. On the other hand, you know that the ship's tours are reputable and they do what it says on the packet, and perhaps most importantly the ship will wait for you should anything untoward occur. So we looked at the tours, dismissed any plain sightseeing ones, and chose to take part in two activities that we wouldn't normally do. In Aruba we went kayaking and snorkeling (quite expensive at $75 each), and in St. Maarten we chose the beginners scuba diving lesson/dive (fairly reasonable at $66 each). The kayaking was actually very good, with a personable guide/instructor which can make all the difference to any tour. We kayaked along the coast for about half an hour to a little beach where we had a little rest and a drink, then donned some snorkel equipment and life-jackets and swam out to see the coral. The last time I snorkeled was over 25 years ago in Sharm el-Sheikh and Nuweiba and I was looking forward to trying it again. The sea was a bit choppy which made progress difficult and made me feel a bit seasick. I'd been expecting it on the ship and happily I'd been fine, but I wasn't expecting to feel sick whilst snorkeling. I managed to survive, and what was even more surprising was that we didn't capsize our double kayak, especially on the way back when the sea got rough again. We were very proud of ourselves. Scuba diving in St. Maarten was very nerve-racking. As first timers it's hard to get your head around the fact that you can breathe underwater. You have to make yourself relax. The instructors were excellent and I can heartily recommend this tour for the way it was run and led. After passing our "3 Skills Test" we actually dived to down to around 30 feet which was about three times deeper than I had originally envisaged. I don't think I'll particularly go diving again but it certainly is a great way to get an introduction to it. After our kayaking in Aruba we became quick-change artists back on board, skipped lunch, and out again exploring within 15 minutes. Our kayak guide (originally from Brazil) had told us that the Portuguese parts of the local Papiamento language was brought to Aruba from Brazil when the Jewish community there was expelled (1694) after Portugal had re-conquered Brazil from Holland. He said that the Jewish community in Aruba is now assimilated but that there is still a Jewish cemetery on the island, so we of course were determined to find it. The town was pretty empty as it was the day after carnival week so everyone was "sleeping it off", but we finally managed to make ourselves understood and we were given directions. The cemeteries are all one after the other, a great big Catholic one, a small Protestant one, and a little Jewish one. It was very interesting to see that the cemetery is still being utilized and kept in very good condition. Disembarking in Antigua we could hardly fail to notice the 3 other huge cruise ships in port with us. Only about 10,000 people unloading on to the island that morning. We hadn't booked a ship tour that day, so just took an official taxi tour from the end of the pier. My mum was with us that day whilst my sisters + spouses did their own thing. She can't walk very far so a taxi seemed like a good idea at the time. In fact it was a brilliant idea and for only $25 each we went on a 3 ½ hour tour of the island in a nice new air-conditioned van, stopping off at the local spots, with time at various look-out points and also the famous Nelson Dockyard. Well worth it. This is in comparison with the official tour which did exactly the same thing (we saw the Crystal bus at points along the way) which cost $53 a person (see earlier discussion). We left the taxi in downtown St. Johns on main street, about 15-20 minutes walk from the ship. We ambled back doing bits of shopping on the way, so in the end we spent about two hours walking around. In case you're wondering, when it comes to shopping my mum has great stamina! In St. Maarten we had our scuba diving in the afternoon so we went exploring in the morning by ourselves. We walked into town about 15 minutes away to Philipsburg, then caught a local bus to the French side to see what Marigot had to offer. Driving along the bumpy road all the signs were in English, but as soon we reached the French side the road was a lot better kept and the signs were in French. Shops don't really open till 10:00 am so we walked around, went to the sea front and then made our way to the open air market. Lots of stalls. Yes, of course we bought some bits and pieces. We're first time tourists in the Caribbean. Finally St. Thomas. To tell you the truth, this was the third port day in a row and it's exhausting. We would have preferred to have these days staggered. I don't know how people manage the port-intensive itineraries with hardly any sea days. As you all know St. Thomas is part of the United States so we had to go through the US immigration process. This was made very easy for us by Crystal as the immigration officials came on board to process us there, with separate rooms for US and non-US citizens. Two huge advantages were that firstly the whole process took about 45 seconds instead of the "hours" at a port or an airport, and it secondly it meant that we didn't have to do it in Miami which was the next stop for disembarkation. Again we explored on foot, walking about 15-20 minutes into town and seeing what was on offer. We had no specific plan other than to wander around and go and find the synagogue which is the second oldest continuously functioning synagogue in the western hemisphere, dating back to 1796. We duly found the synagogue which lives on Synagogue Hill, and spent some time in the little museum reading through the history of the place. We found Britannia House where the old British Consuls lived, with a very friendly curator who gave us background information. Afterwards we went shop crawling in what cruise director Scott Peterson called Shopper's Disneyland, but we were disappointed. They were all basically the same, over-priced jewelry and over-priced souvenirs. Back at the port there are seven "shop buildings". Each "building" is really a street of shops but the same outlets are in each street so really there's hardly any choice at all. Even the single malt whisky that I looked at wasn't particularly cheap and there was a very poor selection. A much better drinks (liquor) shop is to be found on the pier in Antigua. All in all a pretty place but not one that I'd rush back to. Disembarkation This was handled with Crystal's usual efficiency. Everyone received their color-coded luggage labels and exact departure time from the ship. Unfortunately there was a problem with US customs so everything was held up by about an hour and a quarter. Once the go-ahead was given everything proceeded according to plan. The only problem was that for some unexplained reason (though we did ask) the Bistro did not open at 9:00 like it was meant to. That meant that there was nowhere to get a decent cup of coffee and a piece of cake whilst we were waiting. Maybe they were afraid of being swamped by passengers because everyone was in the Starlight Club waiting to disembark. As soon as disembarkation started the Bistro opened. Mrs nadge likes her coffee and croissant in the morning and we'd elected not to get room service in favor of the Bistro, so we were a tad disgruntled. Our flight out of Miami was only at 17:30 so we knew we had hours to kill beforehand. Taking Judith's advice we asked the concierge about transfers, who organized us on the Crystal transfer ($33 per person) which included transfer to the Hilton airport hotel for a light lunch, keeping all the luggage under lock and key whilst we waited and relaxed by the hotel pool, then transfer to the airport and escort during check-in. It was well worth it as we would have only had to wait out those hours at the airport with all our luggage. Reasonable flight from Miami to Heathrow (about 8 hours) then another 5 hours to Tel Aviv. It was a bit foggy in London that morning so we were stuck on the plane for an extra hour and a half till we could take off. Arrived home safely about 36 hours after leaving the ship, and were met at the airport by four of our kids which was really nice. Summary As many other people have said the two main impressions that one takes away from the cruise is the quality of the service and the friendliness of both the passengers and the crew. The crew's friendliness is truly genuine and we appreciated it. Highlights My Mum's birthday - the whole reason for the holiday - was really nice. We woke up early and gathered in her cabin for present giving. Her various grandchildren had also made her cards and presents, and there were balloons and decorations in the cabin courtesy of our stewardess. We gathered again for cocktails and more present giving before dinner, during which she was serenaded by all the personnel and we had a birthday cake of course. She was also serenaded by the Castaways at karaoke that evening. All in all a great day. Mrs nadge looking beautiful all dressed up with plenty of places to go. Mozart tea and the Amadeus hot chocolate. I was going for Patty's record (Paws10) as I managed three in 35 minutes. I started feeling a bit sick so I stopped after that! I'll have to pace myself better next time. The service. Mum had a maintenance issue with the bath. It took 3 visits to sort it out. The next day she received a box of chocolates as an apology from Crystal because the service hadn't been up to scratch. She'd never even said a word to anyone about it. That's service. One day I came in to lunch late just to pick up the others before trivia, as I'd been playing in the paddle tennis competition and I didn't feel like eating. The head waiter was genuinely disappointed that I wasn't staying to eat. The best recommendation I can give is that I've been smiling as I've been writing this, remembering all the good times on board. nadge Read Less
Sail Date: December 2007
Background This was my third cruise and my first on Crystal. Bottom line, it was a great experience. It was a 7-day cruise (which is unusual for this ship, most cruises are longer) for the Western Caribbean from Miami (stops at Progresso ... Read More
Background This was my third cruise and my first on Crystal. Bottom line, it was a great experience. It was a 7-day cruise (which is unusual for this ship, most cruises are longer) for the Western Caribbean from Miami (stops at Progresso and Cozumel in Mexico, Belize, and Key West, with 2 sea days). I traveled as a solo, which was not uncommon as Crystal has a particularly low single supplement rate. Passengers The passengers were mostly 60s and 70s, with a significant number in their 40s and 50s and even more over 70. No children and only a few 30 somethings. Although this is considered a luxury line, the passengers seemed to be from a range of income levels, with most apparently middle class (although it's hard to say because money was not discussed much except to talk about where to find bargains). I thought there were few people with mobility problems, particularly given the age level of many passengers. Everyone one was very friendly and welcoming. A lot of passengers were repeat travelers with a large number apparently limiting their cruising to Crystal-the cruise line apparently has one of the highest percentage of repeat customers in the industry and many were staying on for back-to-back cruises. Ship The ship holds about 1,000 passengers and is not new-it first sailed in 1995, but it has been kept up immaculately, showing absolutely no signs of wear; it looks like it was recently launched. I had to look up its date of launch when I got back because I found it hard to believe its been around for more than a few years. The crew kept all the brass sparkling and carpets clean; never any sign of poor maintenance, including the out-of-the-way places like restrooms and less-frequented outside deck areas. The ship is very well laid out, with most public rooms on the 6th and 11th decks. Art auctions are limited to a small lounge. There is promenade deck that fully circles the ship and plenty of padded lounge chairs around the ships two (relatively small) pools. Plenty of shaded areas as well as places to get some sun. No intrusive piped in music by the pool or in the public areas, although there was plenty of live music around the ship (and poolside at certain times of day). There was a nice movie theatre, a show lounge that was comfortable with good lines of sight, and two public rooms with nice dance floors. Cabins The cabins were beautiful with plenty of lighting including 2 private adjustable reading lamps above the bed (something I really appreciated since I like to read in my room and often hotel room/cruise ship cabin lighting is too dim). There was also a built in night light (a small light under a mirror near the hall) that could be turned on and from a nightstand switch-a nice touch. The bed was large and comfortable (with a mattress with rounded corners). There was plenty of storage room in the closets and desk and the cabin (verandah, non-penthouse) came with a flat-screen tv with built-in DVD player-very nice. For a single there was plenty of room; I thought comparable to the QM2, but someone else who was sharing a cabin and had recently sailed on that ship said the QM2 had larger cabins and the Symphony's was a little tight. A great bathroom with a tub/shower combination with removable shower head and twin sinks. The verandah had two padded chairs and a small table. The cabin also had a small table with adjustable height for in-cabin dining (although I did not test it out). Activities and Shore Excursions There was plenty to do on board, particularly during sea days, with lectures (port and special topics), movies (every afternoon and evening), trivia contests (which I played), bingo (which I did not), classes (art, music, computer (which I tried), languages (which I also tried), and a couple galley tours. The classes I took were very user-friendly and helpful; the lectures were interesting and repeated on the tv. I found the shore excursions very well run. There was a presentation on every shore excursion run all day long on one of the tv channels and it provided very complete information about the ports and highlights for those not taking excursions, as well as about the various ship excursions. The descriptions of shore excursions were soft-sells-explaining the bad parts of the tours as well as the highlights, for example that you could not be guaranteed to see wildlife, that some boats did not have restrooms, the full length of bus trips and those locations that had primitive restrooms, and the modest nature of some provided lunches. The buses were all very comfortable and tour guides interesting and knowledgeable. Excursions could be canceled with no questions asked. The excursion desk was very helpful to me in making a decision about going on an all-day tour. I had a great time at every port in which I took a tour and would highly recommend the ship tours. Entertainment Because this ship was smaller than the two others I have been on I was concerned that the entertainment would suffer. I had no need to worry; the shows were great with fantastic singers and dancers that were in sync more than most on shows I have seen. I was totally satisfied with the entertainment, which is always a high-point for me. I was on a special theme cruise-a jazz cruise, but my comments on the entertainment were on the regular ship's shows and musicians. The jazz (which was great) was just an add-on to the regular entertainment. The television was also good, with a number of channels showing good movies, one channel that showed classic shows (Mary Tyler Moore, Sgt. Bilko, etc.), and a number of channels with information on port excursions and shopping (which was both informative and entertaining). DVDs could be checked out of the ship's library, which had a good selection and a wide variety of genres. The ship's movie theater had movies every afternoon and 2 showing at night (movies were about 6 months after their theater debuts). Dining The food was excellent in all the dining venues I tried. I am not an expert on food, but I thought the selections and taste were good in all the restaurants. The main dining room had two set seating (unusual for the luxury lines), but I much preferred this arrangement from open seating. If you want to eat at other times, the ship has two specialty restaurants-one Italian, one Asian (Japanese/Chinese/Thai) (a modest $7 each). Also good food in the Lido buffet, where staff will carry your tray-a nice touch. There were two specialty poolside buffets during my cruise-one with a Latino theme, the other Asian. The former was particularly good-some of the best food I have every had. There was also afternoon tea served every day in one of the large lounges (Palm Court), with nice sandwiches, cookies, and other treats. On the two sea days there were particularly lavish theme teas-one English, one Austrian (the Mozart tea), that were particularly good. There was a relatively extensive menu for in-room dining, with the option of ordering anything off the regular dining room menu during dinner hours. I limited myself to one late-night snack and there were plenty of choices-sandwiches, pizza, salads, and some similar-type entrees (if I remember), as well as a number of appetizers and desserts, all available 24 hours a day. Service was incredible at all the dining places, fast, non-intrusive, polite. Service Speaking of which, the best part of this cruise was probably the high level of service. My stewardess not only met my expressed needs-asking my preferred fruit and drink and then making sure my cabin was stocked with them every day (all non-alcoholic beverages are free and fruit and flowers are provided in all cabins), but anticipated needs I didn't express. Without asking, she found a stopper from a bottle of champagne I had left unfinished in my cabin and when I finished a small box of tissues I had brought with me from my pre-cruise trip and had left on my desk, she replaced it with a new box, even though there was a tissue dispenser in the bathroom. I found that it I ordered the same drink in a lounge two days in a row, the third day they would know what to bring me (although they asked first to be sure). Fantastic service in every lounge, every dining room, throughout the ship, and in the cabin. Summary Although I wrote that the best part about the cruise was the service, actually the best part were the fellow passengers. Everyone was friendly, polite, and a pleasure to spend time with, a particularly important factor for solo travelers like me. I would recommend this ship and, in fact, made an open booking on board for a future cruise (to be determined). Read Less
Sail Date: December 2007
As others have also written reviews, I will try to cover some different areas. This was our 2nd Crystal cruise (20 overall). We booked an oceanview gty and our cabin was just steps away from the pursers deck. I was concerned about noise ... Read More
As others have also written reviews, I will try to cover some different areas. This was our 2nd Crystal cruise (20 overall). We booked an oceanview gty and our cabin was just steps away from the pursers deck. I was concerned about noise and foot traffic due to the location but it turned out perfect. It was wonderful to open our cabin door in the evening and hear the pianist playing in the bistro bar with rarely anyone walking down the hall. We booked for the Jazz and we were quite pleased by the music options. They had 3 events of 2hrs each daily. In addition, there were vintage jazz videos on tv with jazz legends. We even bought some of the musicians CD'S and booked this Jazz cruise again for next yr on the west coast. We loved the music so much we saw little of the standard onboard entertainment. Areas where Crystal amazes...excellent service and staff that give warm smiles making you feel that you are a valued passenger...being led to the dining room for lunch upon embarkation and being given champagne to let you know this is a luxury experience...sailaways with complementary drinks...captain's parties with real appetizers and not something on dried toast...a real ice cream bar with 20+ flavors (no charge all day)where you can get milk shakes and virgin pina coladas...best DVD selection on any ship to rival your favorite blockbuster store. Cabins on Crystal look more like hotel rooms than other cruiselines. All rooms have flat screen tvs and the baths have 2 sinks. Also a more extensive anytime room service menu than the mass market cruiselines. Love not having to pay for sodas or bottled waters especially when you go out on excursions. Not only did they make sure we had 2-3 bottles each they also made sure we had bug spray (did rainforest & jungle tours)and had 2-3 Crystal staff with us on the tour...Also had a CC party for our group which Crystal supplied us with complimentary appetizers and our choice of cocktails...We also took the complimentary Spanish lessons and Juan our teacher was a blast - so enthusiastic and helpful making us really want to learn the language. The same can be said for our music teacher for the Yamaha keyboards. Both simplified the learning process and made it fun. Something else that really pleased us...Crystal is not ashamed to celebrate Christmas & Hannakuh. Lovely decorations throughout the ship and not just at the lobby which we found was the case on Celebrity last year. Regards the luncheon buffets on deck, they are more of what you would find at a 4 star hotel rather than the normal hometown buffet qualify of other cruiselines. We especially liked the Mexican one. We usually avoid that outside of the southwest but Crystal nailed it. The specialty restaurants should not be missed! So many great choices you would want to do them 2x each on longer cruises. Main dining room was wonderful as well. We had a table for 8 but only 7 guests so we were joined my the ship's doctor a couple of evenings (which meant complimentary wine with dinner). Had some of the best lamb entrees anywhere and loved the escargot & oysters rockefeller. They also had caviar as an appetizer one evening which I am learning to enjoy. I love the afternoon teas that are truly elegant and served by staff in period dress. The nibblings are served on fine china. They have the best teas also - not Lipton or Bigelow. The tea is served in cloth bags and include great herbal teas as well as a wonderful roasted Japanese tea that is my favorite and can usually only be found in specialty stores. In short if you want something a step up from the mass market, you won't be disappointed with Crystal. It is not that they do one or two things a lot better. It's that they do a lot of things a little better that makes your experience stellar. Their motto is " it would be our pleasure" and it truly will be memorable. You'll wonder why you haven't been on this little known cruiseline before and you will be sure to cruise there again. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2007
This was our first cruise with Crystal, but certainly it will not be our last. We have cruised previously with other lines, most recently Holland America, Princess and Celebrity. We can honestly say that we have enjoyed every one of our ... Read More
This was our first cruise with Crystal, but certainly it will not be our last. We have cruised previously with other lines, most recently Holland America, Princess and Celebrity. We can honestly say that we have enjoyed every one of our cruises, but this Crystal cruise was in a category of its own. It was, in a word, wonderful. We are in our early 50's. The age range on this cruise was broad. There were many passengers over 70 on this cruise, but there were many activities to appeal to all ages. We do not know what the childrens' programs are like. We arrived in Miami on Thursday evening. The cruise sailed on Saturday evening. We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott in South Beach. It was well located for our desire to roam around South Beach, and we had a good time. There are alot of great restaurants, shops, and people watching in South Beach. Lincoln Mall is a pedestrian only area of 5 or 6 blocks - great in the evenings. Lots of outdoor dining. We took a cab to the cruise terminal on Saturday. Embarkation was very easy. We arrived at the cruise terminal not long after noon. Porters were right there near the cab for luggage drop off. There were almost no lines inside. Our particular embarkation agent was very pleasant but hesitant in communication and perhaps hesitant in her english skills. We were really taken by surprise that our passports were not returned to us. She seemed equally surprised that we asked about that, and told us "don't worry". Crystal is the the first cruise line we have sailed with that holds the passengers' passports. Neither of us had surrendered our passports in decades (and the last time had been to a country that restricted visitors greatly), and we felt uneasy. We had cruised recently to the same ports on another line and knew that, at least earlier this year, the countries visited did not require this. The adjacent agent immediately sensed our hesitancy and explained Crystal policy and when the passports would be returned. His information and professional delivery addressed my concern that an error had been made in not returning them to us. This was the first of many very good customer service experiences. We had the usual embarkation photograph and headed on board. The cabins would not be ready for a several hours. We were welcomed on board and advised that lunch was available in the Dining Room. There was a table at which you could check your carry on luggage. We only had backpacks, so that was not necessary for us. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch accompanied by complementary champagne. The "Crystallization" process had begun! After lunch we followed signs to the area near the specialty restaurants where we confirmed that we had been assigned our preference of a table for two. The advantage of fewer passengers was immediately evident. There was only a short "line" for this, but in fact, it was not a line at all. There were chairs available and a member of the dining room staff keeping track of whose "turn" it was to go in next. It was really a most pleasant way to do this. We also took a look at the specialty restaurant menus. We had made reservations for one evening at Prego and one evening at Jade several months before. On this ship, the safety drill was held outdoors, on the Promenade deck. It was held at 8 pm, between the early and late dinner seatings. The ship sailed at 9 pm. The ship is lovely. It is exceptionally well kept up. Our cabin was wonderful. The bed was very comfortable and the linens were very nice as well. I have to thank the person on the Crystal Message Board who suggested rearranging the furniture. We followed that advice and moved the table to the corner and moved the desk chair under the window, creating a very nice sitting area and more clear floor space. The shower water pressure was excellent. Extra pillows were provided the first evening at our request. Our excellent stewardess looked after our needs well and kept the refrigerator stocked with our preference of waters (I had asked her to remove the sodas). We had plenty of storage space for our short cruise. I imagine that people are pretty creative in their packing and storing when they take a world cruise. The true promenade deck was a joy for walking, relaxing and watching the beautiful views. A few times sections of the promenade deck were closed for painting or varnishing, but not often. Every part of the ship was easy to access. Some of the elevators were compact (really more deep than wide), but there was rarely any wait. In comparison to every other ship on which we have cruised, there was a remarkable lack of sound transmitted into the cabin from adjacent cabins or hallways. This cruise was a themed "Jazz Cruise". A group of a couple hundred or so jazz aficionados were on board, along with probably two dozen or so jazz musicians. Often, large groups have a negative impact on the experience of cruisers that are not part of the group, but in this case, the group and their performances (which were open to all) really enhanced the cruise experience for us. We are not big jazz fans, but we really enjoyed and appreciated a lot of the performances. We were wonderfully surprised by the excellent quality of the production shows. We attended all of them. The singers, dancers and musicians were excellent. We especially enjoyed the classical pianist's performances. The bar and dance musicians were also excellent. We did not take any of the shore excursions. We did take several classes at the Computer University @ Sea and they were very well done and well worth the time. The facility is excellent. The galley tour was excellent. The movie theater was well designed and we enjoyed both movies and live telecast football games. One of our few suggestions on our comment cards was to have more, late night movies. My husband used the spa every day. While the sauna and steam rooms were not very large, they were very nice. The library had a nice selection of books and videos. The dining experience was far and away the best we have ever had on board a ship. The food was well prepared and well presented. Dining service was outstanding. The wine list had good choices in a variety of price ranges. Prego, the Italian specialty restaurant, had a separate wine list showcasing Italian wines. Dining was the highlight of this excellent cruise. We could go on and on about the meals and the service. Outstanding. The Bistro was a wonderful place for coffee and snacks. We enjoyed the buffet for several breakfasts and lunches. On this cruise there were two outdoor, themed, lunch buffets: Latin American and Asian. Both very good. Many people enjoyed eating out near the pools. We were pleased that tables were also available indoors. A fellow Cruise Critic highly recommended the french fries at the Trident Grill. She was so right! Disembarkation was a breeze. The easiest and most pleasant we have ever experienced. We were off the ship and in a cab headed to the airport in under 15 minutes. The porters were readily available and helpful. There were nine ships in port that day. We were glad to get to the airport early. Miami's airport is, to put it nicely, an experience. Close to two hours to get through check in and security. Airport personnel were pleasant and hardworking, but not numerous enough for the crush of passengers. There is some greatly needed airport expansion underway. The ticket agent told me that it was not a particularly busy day (Saturday) and that Sunday was always worse. Once we were on the other side of security, no problem. We were flying on American Airlines, perhaps other airlines have lower passenger volume and would be less overwhelmed. A large number of the passengers on board the ship were repeat cruisers with Crystal. Many had taken long, multiple segment voyages. All of the fellow cruisers we met were friendly and interesting. You can easily have as much or as little interaction with fellow passengers as you wish and have a good time either way. We had been looking forward to our first Crystal cruise for many months. The information that was on the Cruise Critic Message Board was invaluable. The cruise was fantastic. The Crystal staff made us feel very comfortable and well looked after. The service, the food, the facilities...all outstanding. It was a wonderful vacation. Read Less
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: 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
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
Crystal Symphony Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 0.0
Dining 4.5 0.0
Entertainment 4.5 0.0
Public Rooms 5.0 0.0
Fitness Recreation 4.5 0.0
Family 4.0 0.0
Shore Excursion 4.0 0.0
Enrichment 5.0 0.0
Service 4.0 0.0
Value For Money 4.0 0.0
Rates 4.0 0.0

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