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For us this was somewhat of a repeat of 2014 Crystal Cruise vacation on the Symphony up the eastern U.S. coats with stops in Canada and then to Iceland. This year we added the Ireland and U.K. component making our trip 16 days. Last year we wrote that we found the all-inclusive Crystal Cruise lines was the clearly the cruise line for wealthy alcoholics. That opinion has not changed. There were changes from 2014 to 2015. Some were good and some were clearly the home office squeezing nickels. But let's start with the three funniest comments or actions during our trip. 1) A very nice waiter from Eastern Europe at a crowded Lido lunch buffet and a woman passenger: Waiter: Madam let me help you with that tray and find you a table. Passenger: I'm looking for my husband. Waiter: Don't worry. If we don't find him, we will find you another. 2) As part of a very good 4-hour taxi tour in Reykjavik I told the driver that we wanted to go where we would not see any tourists or tour buses. He took us to a prison. (There was a charming seaside village with a seawall and beach nearby and there were no tour buses.) 3) A 10-year-old girl with her parents was waiting for an elevator after a show on Deck 6. Before the elevator arrived, she ran to the entrance of the Casino and put one foot inside the door and said, "Look mommy. I'm 10 years old and I'm in the Casino. I'm a rebel!" THE CRUISE: Embarkation: Oh My God There Was a Line: It was just two people in front of me to get through the security check point at the port and I was there a 1 pm, not like 3:30 the year before. But still it was a line, something you don't see often on a Crystal ship. Once on the ship it was business as usual and NO LINES. I went right to the Starlite Room and my wife and I were checked in by two crew members including the trombone player in ship's stage band. We would have been in our room in minutes, but I then wanted to see Remi the maître of the main dining room. I didn't care about table location for our second seating or reservations for the two specialty restaurants. No, I wanted to see if Zoltan, our waiter from 2014 was on board and to try to get a table in his area. He was one of the funniest waiters we had ever experienced who would go out of his way to get you items that were not on the menu. Luckily Zoltan was on the ship. The bad news was he had been promoted to management and was now a head waiter. The good news was our table was in his area so we still got a great show of double takes and Zoltan "the secret agent" talking into his pretend wrist radio to place special orders. THE SHIP: Last fall the Symphony was in a port in Germany for two weeks of "updating." The only thing I noticed was some new carpeting and perhaps cleaning. We started doing cruise vacations 16 years ago and on most lines my wife and I would joke how we were lowering the average age of the passengers. That is no longer the case. We are out of our forties and fifties and we are now at or above the average passenger age. That said the furniture in the public rooms and staterooms all have seats lower to the floor than you would find in most homes or restaurants. I didn't notice this when I was 50. When I'm in my sixties, my knees and back notice every time I sit down or get up. I heard this complaint from several others on board. The low seats are made worse by cushions and springs that have failed over time and use. This is noticeable all over the ship, but especially in the chairs in the forward Palm Court on Deck 11. Here are some of the reasons we are back on the Symphony and why we are looking at 2016 and 2017 Crystal Cruises. The ship is very easy to get around. While it does have a Casino, it is a non-smoking casino and passengers are routed around the casino going to see a show in the Galaxy Showroom. Most cruise ships force you to walkthrough the smoked filled casino, hoping you will stop and try your luck. STATEROOM: I can't comment on the balcony rooms and suites. For the second year we had a stateroom with a window on Deck 7. The good news was the room was close to the door for the deck for walks and to the forward elevators. The low loveseat and desk chair were uncomfortable to sit in. The bed was okay, but it could have been higher too. Other than new carpeting there was nothing new in the room. The closet space was nice for a low-end stateroom. The bathroom was great with the tub and shower combination providing plenty of room. The hand held shower nozzle was also very good. There was no such thing as warm water, if you wanted hot water during a high demand period, you got hot water. There was a hair dryer attached to the wall in the bathroom and a second one in a drawer in stateroom. Toilet paper and tissue were high end brands. Outlets were a problem. There were none in the bathroom for an electric tooth brush or razor. There was only one in the entire statement at the desk. In the new age of cell phones, cameras, IPads and other devices charging is needed. Upon request a three outlet plug extension was install quickly. There is also an outlet in the wall behind the bed, but it needed an adapter if you plan to plug in a North American device. The big lie #1: In 2014 I brought along about 30 music CDs, because I was aware that the TVs in the staterooms would play CDs. When we were settling in I tried to put on a jazz CD and the TV refused to accept it. The room stewardess said the TVs are suppose to play CDs. The ship's librarian who checks out CDs to passengers also told me CDs will play in the TV. The stewardess call a repair person who showed up and said the TV only plays DVDs. The stewardess rolled her eyes and told the repair person to supply a CD player. He said he would not and left. We went up for lunch and when we returned there was a CD player sitting on the desk and attached to the TV. The CD player was probably 20 or 25 years old but it worked. I was able to listen to Ella Fitzgerald, The Singers Unlimited, The Beegie Adair Trio and others from my collection. I immediately found the room stewardess and tipped her on the first day of the cruise. COMPUTER ROOM: There were the usual complaints about trouble getting and keeping internet connections. However there was a staff there until 11 pm to help passengers with problems. The three person staff seemed to have the patience of not priests, but saints in dealing with some passengers. Also there were some upgrades made with the satellite connections at the first of the year and with just a few exceptions I received the fastest internet speeds I have ever experienced on a cruise ship. Free Time: Crystal is still providing one hour a day of free internet time. On a 16-day cruise, I knew some people who felt they needed to be connected all throughout the day who bought more time. I needed to check email and local news daily and found I still had four hours of free time left at the end of the cruise. Also my wife got 16 hours and she used about three hours. People who email me know that I will get back with them in a day and not in 10 minutes. It is important to use the same terminal every time as that will speed up your log in and search times. Also there was no charge for printing, which many cruise lines charge on a per page basis. While Crystal is cutting back some other services, I hope they stick with the one-hour of free internet per day. This really makes them an "all-inclusive" cruise line." THE GALAXY SHOWROOM: This a very nice venue with no obstructed views and a cozy feel. THE LIBRARY: It is small, but is has a good selection of recent bestsellers, a nice passenger book trade area, DVD and CDs to check out. There are two permanent librarians who are knowledgeable. However if they both have time off they are replaced by a dancer who is not a well versed with the content or other information. CUTBACK: In the middle of the cruise suddenly there were no more NY Times crosswords puzzles. A very honest employee explained that the subscription for the puzzles was discontinued by the corporate office as a cost savings move. They were replaced by free Washington Post crossword puzzles. This did not sit well with some morning visitors to the library. ANOTHER CUTBACK, Lie 2: The free small newspapers from a passenger's country that were hung on your door daily are no longer offered on Crystal. At the start of the cruise there was an announcement how the papers were no longer available, inferring that the company that provides them is out of business. Crystal then offers to deliver to your stateroom one of two or three US papers for about $7 a day. Another honest employee who just could not lie to a passenger admitted that company that sends out the small daily papers with recapped stories is still in business but the papers were discontinued by Crystal as another money saving move. Say hello to the new owners. However in fairness with an hour of free internet a day you can check your hometown paper or a free internet paper like USA Today. THE SHOPS: They are still there and they sell grossly overpriced clothes and jewelry and offer sale prices on older model cameras and other items. The difference between Crystal and other cruise lines is that the shops did not set up road blocks in the walkways for phony "sales" that would be considered "fire code violations" in buildings on land, like most other cruise ships do. Also Crystal does not have the fraudulent "Art Sales and Auctions" that many cruise lines still are co-conspirators with. Bad marketing: The thing that amazes me is how they hide the sundries in the back of the high priced clothing store. The young salesmen, who are as a thin as a rail and dressed in the latest metro-sexual wardrobe don't want you to know they sell this stuff. If I was running the place, I would keep them in the back but make sure everyone knew the sundries were there including a sign in the window. Make customers walk past the high-end items you really want to sell to get some tooth paste, cough drops or a razor and they might buy some clothing item the shop will make a huge profit on. I don't understand why they hide this stuff. I want to get as many people to come into the shop as possible. It is called GOOD MARKETING." I went in to buy a toothbrush and no one would wait on me. My electric brush was working, but I wanted a regular brush for after I packed the electric one. After about 10 minutes I left and tried again six hours later. It is just an odd way to run a business. FOOD AND BEVERAGES: The food is still very good in the main dining room on the Symphony. It was not quite as good as in 2014. One night an un-eatable chicken breast arrived. I could have sent it back or ordered something else, but frankly I was happy that I wasn't going to eat it…too much food already in the day. The service was excellent as usual. The coolest part about eating on a Crystal ship was being able to eat items not on the menu. One night they had some delicious sautéed green beans on the menu. I mentioned how great they were to our waiter and how it was too bad they are not on the menu more often. He said he would be happy to provide anytime I wanted them. I had sautéed green beans for the rest of the cruise. The same went for a shrimp cocktail every night. One night I just ordered sides listed with different entrées. Our waiter did not blink. Once again the deserts tasted as good as they looked. On many cruise ships they look much better than they taste. We also lucked out with interesting table mates, including folks from LA, an English couple now living in Canada and a couple from Australia. We lost our transplanted Canadians after the first leg of the cruise and were down to a table of six. We chatted every night well after dinner so much that we found out later our two waiters were making bets picking a time we would leave. On the last night we all were in specialty restaurants, but agreed to return to the MDR for dessert together. We were the last to leave. PREGO: The Italian specialty restaurant was free once every seven days. We ate their twice. It was more like a combination of a high end Italian joint and a steakhouse. They had several entrees that included beef from the "Greg Norman Ranch" in Australia. This incensed our Aussie table mates. "This guy has not been in Australia in 20 years," exclaimed Paul, who in retirement owns a cattle ranch that he and his wife Jenny insisted on calling a "farm." The food was very good including the filet steak. The crab salad was excellent. Prego passed my Fettuccini Alfredo, test that many "Italian" restaurants fail. Was the Fettuccini Alfredo at Olive Garden better? Prego's was just as good or maybe a little better. The Gelato for dessert was outstanding. THE SILK ROAD: This specialty restaurant's name is a bit deceiving. The name Silk Road comes from Chinese Silk reaching Western Europe. However the Silk Road on the Symphony is a Japanese eatery. I tried to order off the menu some Lo Mein style noodles as a side. I just wanted a small plate with some noodles. What arrived was a bowl of wide noodles buried under scallops and shrimp. At the end of our meal I tried to convince our waiter how Marco Polo, an Italian, was an important influence on the Silk Road and in honor of Polo, I should be able to get Gelato for desert since the Silk Road and Prego share the same kitchen. I got the Gelato and probably didn't even need the Marco Polo reference. THE LIDO: Frankly, this has been on our two Crystal cruise the best buffet style operation we have experienced on a cruise ship. The menu changes every day and once or twice a week they have themes, such as Chinese or Mexican food. The food is always hot, the silver ware is always at the table and a waiter promptly takes your drink order. There is no standing in line at the ice machine and water dispenser. THE TRIDENT GRILL: This is the sandwich grill that also has fresh fruit. Nearby is the ice cream stand service the best from the Benjamin and Jerrold operation in the foothill of Stowe Vermont. Gabriel, the short order cook is amazing. If it is not on the menu and he has the ingredients he will make it for you. The cheeseburger is too much for me, but it is no problem. Gabriel cuts down the bun, makes it a 1/4 pound burger instead of a 1/2 pounder and it is delicious. The steak sandwich is a must as is the grilled hot dog. You do not hang around the grill and wait for the food. A waiter seats you, gets you drinks and delivers the food. I make it a point to tip Gabriel early on. My wife wants to make sure I avoid Coca Cola and the sugar calories. The ship has always had Coke Zero which I find is much easier to get down than Diet Coke, but if I had my choices it would be Diet Dr. Pepper. This year I again asked about Diet Dr. Pepper and Derek from the Trident Grill was on the case. He came back and reported there were 1000 cans of Diet Dr. Pepper on the ship and he secured 12 cans that he had in the refrigerator for me. Derek got an early tip. THE PALM COURT: This is where afternoon tea is served along with music in the afternoon and evening. The tea food is better than what Cunard gives you and they are British. They have special buffet about once a week for tea where you go through a line for the finger sandwiches, scorns and whipped cream plus much more. The one I feel bad attending is the Mozart Tea. The usual music trio is absent replaced by the pianist and leader of the theater band who does an hour of non-stop Mozart. The staff has to wear powdered wigs and costumes of the era. In 2014 my attention was drawn to a waitress from Chile as her dress copying those from 1785 was so large it appeared s if it would fall off her slight frame at any moment. Privately staffers admit they hate wearing the costumes saying even though they are cleaned regularly they still smell bad and are uncomfortable. One Palm court waiter got an early tip. He was instructed if I was with my wife and had a Coke Zero, he was to come back and ask if I'd like "another Coke Zero." I would say "sure." My wife would smile and go back to her sketching or needlepoint. The waiter would then return with a high-test real thing Coke on the rocks. THE AVENUE SALOON: Bartender Paula and waitress and backup bartender Loraina, both from Romania were often more entertaining than the entertainment. Paula joined the Trident Grill in having cold cans Diet Dr. Pepper on hand. God forbid I should try and order a Coke in the Avenue Saloon. Paula would shake her finger and say "NO, Miss Diana (the wife) said no Coke for you." If I persisted Paula might give me a Coke in a shot glass. My wife is an artist and did watercolor portraits of Paula and Loraina. Paula posted hers in the middle of the bar. This ensured that my wife got to try many different drinks while at the Bar. "Here, Miss Diana, try this," was heard on a regular basis. Chris, a waiter from India, was the third person in The Avenue Saloon. On Sea days Chris started at 11:45 am in the Starlight room just before trivia started. He took orders for our team on the first sea day and then we had the same drinks waiting for us on the next subsequent days. The inside smoking room was located next to the Avenue Saloon. I have to say Crystal did a good job keeping the smell of smoke from reaching the hallway. However, I felt bad for a perfectly healthy Loraina, who had to walk into this room throughout the evening taking drink orders and delivering them. It is one thing if passengers want to slowly harm their lungs and hearts, but I don't know why healthy employees have to be put at risk. These people can walk into the bar and get their own free drinks. THE STARLITE CLUB: On deck 6 in mid ships this is the area mid ships with the large dance floor and lots of tables. On sea days it is where the bingo and trivia games are played, plus it has proved to be an excellent venue for lecture series. THE BISTRO: It has a bar, but most people are there for a light breakfast or lunch with fresh fruit, salads plus ham, cheeses, bread and rolls. It also provides coffees and hot tea to go on Deck 6. THE CRYSTAL COVE: This is on Deck 5 across from the concierge desk, the future sales and shore excursion desks. It is where the grand piano in see-through plastic is located. It has an excellent wait staff, but like the rest of the ship the furniture other than the bar stools are too damn low. ENTERTAINMENT: The Fly-In headliners who appear in the theater on Crystal are really not much different than what you get on other cruise lines with older demographics. AVENUE SALOON PIANO BAR: Last year it was the very talented Jeff Deutch in the Avenue Saloon. Jeff had an amazing memory of songs and lyrics from the Great America Songbook. He is out of Chicago and has been a jingle singer on some national commercials. I wrote last year that I would be happy to pay an admission or a cover to hear Jeff play. On our 2015 trip it was New Yorker Marcie Castro at the piano also aided with CD tracks. On many nights Marcie and the audience had something in common. They had no idea what was next. Marcie did what most piano bar signers have to do. If a passenger asks to sing a song, they let them. If the passenger is awful, that is it…one song. In Marcie's case she would often have them do a medley. One night she had two passengers who I'll call the Screech Sisters do three songs, forcing me to say goodnight and making a fast exit. Another singer was a very gay gentleman from London who on one night wore a pink boa with the tux. He did a great impersonation of Ethel Mermen doing "There's No Business Like Show Business." However he could not do Betty Hutton's version from the movie. Marcie would often stop playing the piano and walk out in the room raising her arms and yelling to get more participation in a sing-a-long. Some people loved her energy and the fun even if it looked like a Prozac might be needed. For others it was too much. "I don't need a maniac after dinner," one passenger said. But if Marcie was too much, Paula the bartender provided her own entertainment that was worth a visit. THE TOMMY DORSEY ORCHESTRA: This was a big band and dancing cruise. The 18-piece Tommy Dorsey band plus a singer with almost no range were on board for the 16-day cruise from New York to Dover. I like big bands, but these guys were going through the motions. It was not the fault of the musicians, but the leader was pulling the reins keeping them from really swinging. The stuck to 70-year charts. A number of the musicians would go to the theater at two in the morning and jam. Others would sit in with Marcie in the Avenue Saloon after their last set and put down some jazz. The sad thing about this was the timing of the shows. The people enjoying the band would fill the Starlite room at 7:15 to 8:30. But the after dinner set from 9:30 to 11 the room would be empty. People 70 and older had gone to bed. The people 65 and younger found the charts from the 1940 's boring and went to the top deck and listened to the Filipino cover band and danced. One night I counted five people listening to the Dorsey Band's late set. The men brought on board to dance with single ladies were also upstairs. If the cruise director was smart he would have had the Dorsey band's first set start at 5 pm and the second set at 7:15. HOUSE TRIO: This year the trio that played during teas and in the evening in the Palm Court was the In-Transit Trio with a lead female singer, pianist who also played sax. They were from New Zealand with a guitar player from Australia. They were very good. I did make a suggestion that they should do one set with no ballads, just up tempo songs and call it In Transit, In Overdrive. TRIVIA: Crystal's trivia games were very civilized last year. There was just one game a day on sea days only with cheap prizes to reduce the level of competition. They made it even more civilized this year. It is multiply guess. They hand out remote clickers, put the question on the screen and you have 60 seconds to click on the right answer. The prizes are small amounts off for overpriced items in the shops or a few bucks to use in the casino. Having seen some aggressive behavior by some playing trivia on HAL and Celebrity ships, I like the Crystal way much better. TRAVEL AGENT PROVIDED FREE LAUNDRY For the second year our travel agent David Butterfield of All Cruise Travel in Sacramento provided $500 in our shipboard account. $200 went to our daily laundry. The rest went toward tips for crew members that were all augmented with cash. EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: I noticed this on our 2014 cruise when Paul McFarland was the cruise director and again this year with the more laid back Scott Peterson. On the short morning close circuit TV weather and activities report starring the cruise director that is recorded the night before and replayed all morning long there is a credit roll at the end. Normally with movies and TV shows the Executive Producer is either the guy putting up the money or controlling the business end of the operation. Oddly after a 12 or 15 minute long weather report plus what on the schedule the credit roll listed the cruise director as the EXECUTIVE PRODUCER. That leaves me to wonder if they are bankrolling the show or negotiating a syndication deal. DEBARKATION: No sitting in a theater waiting for a number or color to be called. We walked off to a waiting car and driver for the ride to Heathrow. With other cruise lines I have missed flights home or had to rush to get to an airport. That has never been the case with Crystal. PORTS: Just like embarkation and debarkation, getting on and off the ship at ports was easy with no waiting. When using tenders to get ashore, Crystal is the best we have ever experienced. There is actually legroom on the tenders and the crew does not keep stuffing people on tenders until they are overflowing. I cannot say enough nice things about Crystal's tender operations. BAR HARBOR: Just like the last three years, Enterprise was at the dock and the ride to airport to get our car was very pleasant. We did our usual exploring down roads not on the map and had a fine time. We stopped in Southwest Harbor at Charlotte's Legendary Lobster Pound for lunch. It was a walk up drive-in with picnic tables. We found it a little overpriced and not very good. The first clue should have been that we were the first customers of the day. After returning our car at the Airport, Ashley at the Enterprise office was nice enough to go out of her way to drop off my wife downtown and me at the dock. The rental car was far cheaper than any tour offered on the ship. HALIFAX: For years we have avoided going to Peggy's Cove the top tourist spot south of Halifax. My wife decided she wanted to see why the cruise ship sells seats on a tour bus there. We would advise you to skip this in the height of the summer season. On June 15 with many schools still in session the parking lots were 80% full. I have a feeling this would be a nightmare in July. Once again we rented an Enterprise car. The rental office was across the street from the cruise ship terminal in the railroad station. The best part was they had a return lot that was even closer to the ship. After Peggy's Cove that feature a collision between two tour buses on a narrow road on the day of our visit, we headed south along the coast road to Lunenburg one of the prettiest coastal towns anywhere. We stopped at a local seasonal market and bought some local preserves and jellies as gifts. ST. JOHN'S STATE OF MIND: We were really looking forward to visiting St. John's Newfoundland. We were there in 2010 and had a great time with a rental car meeting people and enjoying coastal towns. In 2014 Symphony was supposed to stop in St. John's but cancelled due to icebergs and fog. This year they cancelled again. The ship could safely get into the harbor, but forecasted high winds meant the ship would have to stay in harbor overnight and delay its arrival to Reykjavik. So we ended up with five sea days. REYKJAVIK, ICELAND: Rather than renting a car, we did a four hour taxi tour. Keep in mind that since the 2009 banking collapse, everything still costs a lot more in Iceland. Last year a 45-minute taxi ride from the dock to the airport cost $175. So $325 for four hours seemed reasonable. Our driver/guide was Gundmundur Birgir Stefansson, who does four hour and four day tours of Iceland. He was excellent. I told him we had seen most tourist locations on past trips and asked to see subdivisions, seaside areas away from tourist and places where the locals like to go. This resulted in the good natured trip to the prison, which was actually in front a pretty village with a different Smurf cutout in yards throughout the village. Of course this is not too unusual in a country where a large percentage of the population believe in elves. We had a fun time with Birgir and would recommend him. His email address is birgirstefans@gmail.com HEIMAEY: The City of Heimaey was our next stop the following day. This town was almost swallowed by lava in 1973 with the lava flow stopping just several hundred feet from the edge of the city of 4,300 people. On the other side of the island there are green fields with goats, horses and even a golf course with the sea and volcanic cliffs as backdrops. Heimaey is on an island that is less than 10 square miles. We rented a car from Europcar. Despite making reservations for the car weeks in advance, no one was at the dock. A young lady hired to assist ship passengers called the company and the woman at the airport said no one had reminded her about the dock drop off. She was dock side in five minutes. The airport is just 2 miles from the dock. She works five days a week in the control tower and on her days off she works for the rent-a-car company. Only small commuter planes serve the island along with a car ferry. This was one of the sightseeing highlights of the trip. There were so many wonderful sights in such a condensed area. Even a drive to the industrial side of the docks revealed several amazing views. Plus we drove down a number of dirt roads that could never hold a tour bus. Often we were all by ourselves with our mouths wide open at what we were seeing. We had asked the car rental lady if we should bring the car back to her airport office. The car had just above a half tank of gas and she told us not to bother buying gas, that in four hours we wouldn't being using that much. She then told us to just leave the car at the dock and she would pick it up later. I asked her what I should do with the keys. She said, "Just leave them in the car. Nobody is going to steal it." I have to say that I appreciated that Crystal included a stop at Heimaey on our cruise. GREENOCK/GLASGOW: We have driven Scotland before and decided to skip taking a 45-minute train ride to Glasgow. My wife walked the downtown area of Greenock and had a fine time. DUBLIN: Here is an example why you should always get along with your tablemates on cruises. On a 2011 Celebrity Cruise on the old Century from Vancouver to Alaska and then to San Diego we were at a table of six, with a couple from England and a couple from Dublin. In 2014 the couple from outside of London decided to fly to Chicago, rent a car for 30 days and follow the lyrics of the Bobby Troupe song "Route Sixty-Six." They stayed three nights with us outside of St. Louis as they did the 2,000 miles along the way. 2015 it was the turn of Ronan and Katherine in Dublin. They met us at the ship at 10 am. A four or five hour tour would have been great. Instead we apparently held them hostage all day. We got an insider's view of the Dublin region, including lunch at a country club and dinner at their home. 12 1/2 hours later we were dropped off back at the ship. While we would have liked to have paid for something, we couldn't. An all day tour plus meals…total cost ZERO. Lesson learned…make friends at the cruise ship dinner table. PORTLAND HARBOR/WEYMOUTH: No longer wishing to drive on the left side of the road in what is left of my life, we arranged for a taxi tour with the Weyline Taxi Company after reading a recommendation on Cruise Critic. We were quoted a price of 38 pounds an hour. I must of misread the email. We were only charged 30-pounds an hour. It was a bargain for a great afternoon in the English countryside. We were met dockside by Mandy Fry, the manager of Weyline Taxi and our driver. Our driver/guide in a new Mercedes was John McGill a recently retired member of England's Armed Defense Police Force. We saw the countryside of England and many small villages that could have easily been featured in an episode of Midsomer Murders. We enjoyed this afternoon more than we expected. It was a treat. We recommend that you contact Mandy at Weyline Taxi at info@weyline.com and if you arrange a tour ask for John McGill to be your driver and guide. GETTING THERE AND GETTING HOME: It used to be living in the Midwest a trip from St. Louis to New York or the West Coast was considered a major flight. Not any more, unless you are flying Southwest. The 1100 miles from St. Louis to New York is now handled by commuter planes under contract to the major carriers. The disadvantage is you are in a crowded smaller airplane. The advantage is that flying first class on Delta-Light is a lot cheaper than flying first class on Big Delta. We flew to New York the day before the cruise. On the way there we decided to go first class and booked a suite at the Waldorf Astoria towers. Okay it was $612 for the one night. We were unaware that the Waldorf had been sold to a group of Chinese investors and the entire hotel was to close in 2017 for four years. The tower suites are supposed to be made into condos with only a portion of the original hotel returning as a hotel in 2021. Getting to the Waldorf was a bit of a challenge. We normally use Arecibo Car Service (855-428-0222). Once outside of the baggage claim at LaGuardia I called for a car and one was there in 15 minutes, which actually is a little long for Arecibo. The driver was pleasant for not speaking any English and he had an excellent ability to drive on traffic choked highways and Manhattan streets. The problem was that he had no idea where the Waldorf Astoria Hotel was. It may as well have been in Atlanta. An hour later we arrived and the fare was only $45. A NIGHT AT THE WALDORF: Check in was confusing. The staff at the garage drop off sent us to the wrong desk for check in. The hotel looked great including our small suite. However a closer look showed the chairs in the room and the lobby well worn and frayed and other furniture scratched, chipped and nicked. The view from the room was great. That night we ate at a restaurant five blocks away. We got back to the hotel a little before 9 o'clock sat in the lobby having decided to "people watch." 45 minutes later as we were about to leave Emilee Floor showed up and started to play the piano in the lobby café. This meant another hour plus a bill for drinks. Emilee was a treat, but the volume on her mic and amp made it impossible to hear her unless you were at a nearby table. She also plays at the Plaza. The free breakfast on the 16th floor was very nice with one exception. Our room key was suppose to allow us entry. It didn't, forcing us to knock loudly to get in. We had a late checkout of 1 o'clock which allowed my wife to do some shopping and for us to return to sandwiches and sweets. TO THE SHIP: We called Arecibo Car Service and they had no one who could pick up up. The doorman found a black car owned by Alex Lara. He knew exactly where he was going and got us there quickly for a price that was twice as high at what Arecibo would charge. I was happy to pay. Alex assured us he would be happy to pick us up in 17 days at JFK and drop us at our hotel near LaGuardia. He took our Icelandair flight information. He was a no show. HOMEWARD BOUND: Once we docked a Parker Car Service driver from London was waiting for us at the Dover docks. Crystal claimed the trip would take 2 1/2 to 3-hours to Heathrow. Parker had told me when I made the reservation a month earlier it would be about two hours. We were dropped off 1-hour 45-minutes later. The ride was so smooth I slept half the way to the airport. Icelandair is the only Trans Atlantic carrier that we can afford to fly first class on. Two hours in the first class lounge was followed by entering a time machine. We were taken back to Nordic pilots with blond hair and blue eyes and flight attendants in pillbox hats that closely resembled Ursula Andrews or Anita Ekberg. The only drawback is that you have to fly back to Reykjavik and change planes. However, for the price and the experience it is worth it. NEW YORK NEW YORK: Of course our new black car buddy Alex was nowhere to be found once we were at JFK. We called and he called someone who was home eating dinner north of the Airport. 30 minutes later Lakeram picked us up. We were quickly at the hotel and charged a steep price of $70. The Marriott Suites at La Guardia at $212 would have been fine with one exception…the soft lumpy mattress. Despite being jet lagged the mattress reduced our sleep time to about six hours. On the plus side the staff was very nice and the blueberry muffins at the free breakfast where outstanding. MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS: The Delta Lite jet pushed back from the gate in NY 35- minutes late, but we arrived at Lambert Field in St. Louis (which is actually closer to Ferguson than St. Louis) five minutes ahead of schedule. Do you think they anticipate delays at LaGuardia?

NO FREE LITTLE NEWSPAPERS, NO NY TIMES CROSSWORDS AND NO ST. JOHN'S NEWFOUNDLAND

Crystal Symphony Cruise Review by Strode Wallace

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Trip Details
  • Sail Date: June 2015
  • Destination: Transatlantic
  • Cabin Type: Deluxe Stateroom with Large Picture Window
For us this was somewhat of a repeat of 2014 Crystal Cruise vacation on the Symphony up the eastern U.S. coats with stops in Canada and then to Iceland. This year we added the Ireland and U.K. component making our trip 16 days.

Last year we wrote that we found the all-inclusive Crystal Cruise lines was the clearly the cruise line for wealthy alcoholics. That opinion has not changed. There were changes from 2014 to 2015. Some were good and some were clearly the home office squeezing nickels. But let's start with the three funniest comments or actions during our trip.

1) A very nice waiter from Eastern Europe at a crowded Lido lunch buffet and a woman passenger:

Waiter: Madam let me help you with that tray and find you a table.

Passenger: I'm looking for my husband.

Waiter: Don't worry. If we don't find him, we will find you another.

2) As part of a very good 4-hour taxi tour in Reykjavik I told the driver that we wanted to go where we would not see any tourists or tour buses.

He took us to a prison. (There was a charming seaside village with a seawall and beach nearby and there were no tour buses.)

3) A 10-year-old girl with her parents was waiting for an elevator after a show on Deck 6. Before the elevator arrived, she ran to the entrance of the Casino and put one foot inside the door and said, "Look mommy. I'm 10 years old and I'm in the Casino. I'm a rebel!"



THE CRUISE:

Embarkation: Oh My God There Was a Line: It was just two people in front of me to get through the security check point at the port and I was there a 1 pm, not like 3:30 the year before. But still it was a line, something you don't see often on a Crystal ship.

Once on the ship it was business as usual and NO LINES. I went right to the Starlite Room and my wife and I were checked in by two crew members including the trombone player in ship's stage band.

We would have been in our room in minutes, but I then wanted to see Remi the maître of the main dining room. I didn't care about table location for our second seating or reservations for the two specialty restaurants. No, I wanted to see if Zoltan, our waiter from 2014 was on board and to try to get a table in his area. He was one of the funniest waiters we had ever experienced who would go out of his way to get you items that were not on the menu.

Luckily Zoltan was on the ship. The bad news was he had been promoted to management and was now a head waiter. The good news was our table was in his area so we still got a great show of double takes and Zoltan "the secret agent" talking into his pretend wrist radio to place special orders.

THE SHIP: Last fall the Symphony was in a port in Germany for two weeks of "updating." The only thing I noticed was some new carpeting and perhaps cleaning.

We started doing cruise vacations 16 years ago and on most lines my wife and I would joke how we were lowering the average age of the passengers. That is no longer the case. We are out of our forties and fifties and we are now at or above the average passenger age.

That said the furniture in the public rooms and staterooms all have seats lower to the floor than you would find in most homes or restaurants. I didn't notice this when I was 50. When I'm in my sixties, my knees and back notice every time I sit down or get up. I heard this complaint from several others on board. The low seats are made worse by cushions and springs that have failed over time and use. This is noticeable all over the ship, but especially in the chairs in the forward Palm Court on Deck 11.

Here are some of the reasons we are back on the Symphony and why we are looking at 2016 and 2017 Crystal Cruises. The ship is very easy to get around. While it does have a Casino, it is a non-smoking casino and passengers are routed around the casino going to see a show in the Galaxy Showroom. Most cruise ships force you to walkthrough the smoked filled casino, hoping you will stop and try your luck.

STATEROOM: I can't comment on the balcony rooms and suites. For the second year we had a stateroom with a window on Deck 7. The good news was the room was close to the door for the deck for walks and to the forward elevators.

The low loveseat and desk chair were uncomfortable to sit in. The bed was okay, but it could have been higher too. Other than new carpeting there was nothing new in the room.

The closet space was nice for a low-end stateroom. The bathroom was great with the tub and shower combination providing plenty of room. The hand held shower nozzle was also very good. There was no such thing as warm water, if you wanted hot water during a high demand period, you got hot water. There was a hair dryer attached to the wall in the bathroom and a second one in a drawer in stateroom.

Toilet paper and tissue were high end brands.

Outlets were a problem. There were none in the bathroom for an electric tooth brush or razor. There was only one in the entire statement at the desk. In the new age of cell phones, cameras, IPads and other devices charging is needed. Upon request a three outlet plug extension was install quickly. There is also an outlet in the wall behind the bed, but it needed an adapter if you plan to plug in a North American device.

The big lie #1: In 2014 I brought along about 30 music CDs, because I was aware that the TVs in the staterooms would play CDs. When we were settling in I tried to put on a jazz CD and the TV refused to accept it. The room stewardess said the TVs are suppose to play CDs. The ship's librarian who checks out CDs to passengers also told me CDs will play in the TV.

The stewardess call a repair person who showed up and said the TV only plays DVDs. The stewardess rolled her eyes and told the repair person to supply a CD player. He said he would not and left.

We went up for lunch and when we returned there was a CD player sitting on the desk and attached to the TV. The CD player was probably 20 or 25 years old but it worked. I was able to listen to Ella Fitzgerald, The Singers Unlimited, The Beegie Adair Trio and others from my collection. I immediately found the room stewardess and tipped her on the first day of the cruise.

COMPUTER ROOM: There were the usual complaints about trouble getting and keeping internet connections. However there was a staff there until 11 pm to help passengers with problems. The three person staff seemed to have the patience of not priests, but saints in dealing with some passengers. Also there were some upgrades made with the satellite connections at the first of the year and with just a few exceptions I received the fastest internet speeds I have ever experienced on a cruise ship.

Free Time: Crystal is still providing one hour a day of free internet time. On a 16-day cruise, I knew some people who felt they needed to be connected all throughout the day who bought more time. I needed to check email and local news daily and found I still had four hours of free time left at the end of the cruise. Also my wife got 16 hours and she used about three hours. People who email me know that I will get back with them in a day and not in 10 minutes.

It is important to use the same terminal every time as that will speed up your log in and search times. Also there was no charge for printing, which many cruise lines charge on a per page basis.

While Crystal is cutting back some other services, I hope they stick with the one-hour of free internet per day. This really makes them an "all-inclusive" cruise line."



THE GALAXY SHOWROOM: This a very nice venue with no obstructed views and a cozy feel.

THE LIBRARY: It is small, but is has a good selection of recent bestsellers, a nice passenger book trade area, DVD and CDs to check out. There are two permanent librarians who are knowledgeable. However if they both have time off they are replaced by a dancer who is not a well versed with the content or other information.

CUTBACK: In the middle of the cruise suddenly there were no more NY Times crosswords puzzles. A very honest employee explained that the subscription for the puzzles was discontinued by the corporate office as a cost savings move. They were replaced by free Washington Post crossword puzzles. This did not sit well with some morning visitors to the library.

ANOTHER CUTBACK, Lie 2: The free small newspapers from a passenger's country that were hung on your door daily are no longer offered on Crystal. At the start of the cruise there was an announcement how the papers were no longer available, inferring that the company that provides them is out of business. Crystal then offers to deliver to your stateroom one of two or three US papers for about $7 a day.

Another honest employee who just could not lie to a passenger admitted that company that sends out the small daily papers with recapped stories is still in business but the papers were discontinued by Crystal as another money saving move. Say hello to the new owners. However in fairness with an hour of free internet a day you can check your hometown paper or a free internet paper like USA Today.

THE SHOPS: They are still there and they sell grossly overpriced clothes and jewelry and offer sale prices on older model cameras and other items. The difference between Crystal and other cruise lines is that the shops did not set up road blocks in the walkways for phony "sales" that would be considered "fire code violations" in buildings on land, like most other cruise ships do. Also Crystal does not have the fraudulent "Art Sales and Auctions" that many cruise lines still are co-conspirators with.

Bad marketing: The thing that amazes me is how they hide the sundries in the back of the high priced clothing store. The young salesmen, who are as a thin as a rail and dressed in the latest metro-sexual wardrobe don't want you to know they sell this stuff.

If I was running the place, I would keep them in the back but make sure everyone knew the sundries were there including a sign in the window. Make customers walk past the high-end items you really want to sell to get some tooth paste, cough drops or a razor and they might buy some clothing item the shop will make a huge profit on. I don't understand why they hide this stuff. I want to get as many people to come into the shop as possible. It is called GOOD MARKETING."

I went in to buy a toothbrush and no one would wait on me. My electric brush was working, but I wanted a regular brush for after I packed the electric one. After about 10 minutes I left and tried again six hours later. It is just an odd way to run a business.

FOOD AND BEVERAGES: The food is still very good in the main dining room on the Symphony. It was not quite as good as in 2014. One night an un-eatable chicken breast arrived. I could have sent it back or ordered something else, but frankly I was happy that I wasn't going to eat it…too much food already in the day.

The service was excellent as usual. The coolest part about eating on a Crystal ship was being able to eat items not on the menu. One night they had some delicious sautéed green beans on the menu. I mentioned how great they were to our waiter and how it was too bad they are not on the menu more often. He said he would be happy to provide anytime I wanted them. I had sautéed green beans for the rest of the cruise. The same went for a shrimp cocktail every night.

One night I just ordered sides listed with different entrées. Our waiter did not blink.

Once again the deserts tasted as good as they looked. On many cruise ships they look much better than they taste.

We also lucked out with interesting table mates, including folks from LA, an English couple now living in Canada and a couple from Australia.

We lost our transplanted Canadians after the first leg of the cruise and were down to a table of six. We chatted every night well after dinner so much that we found out later our two waiters were making bets picking a time we would leave.

On the last night we all were in specialty restaurants, but agreed to return to the MDR for dessert together. We were the last to leave.

PREGO: The Italian specialty restaurant was free once every seven days. We ate their twice. It was more like a combination of a high end Italian joint and a steakhouse.

They had several entrees that included beef from the "Greg Norman Ranch" in Australia. This incensed our Aussie table mates.

"This guy has not been in Australia in 20 years," exclaimed Paul, who in retirement owns a cattle ranch that he and his wife Jenny insisted on calling a "farm."

The food was very good including the filet steak. The crab salad was excellent. Prego passed my Fettuccini Alfredo, test that many "Italian" restaurants fail. Was the Fettuccini Alfredo at Olive Garden better? Prego's was just as good or maybe a little better.

The Gelato for dessert was outstanding.

THE SILK ROAD: This specialty restaurant's name is a bit deceiving. The name Silk Road comes from Chinese Silk reaching Western Europe. However the Silk Road on the Symphony is a Japanese eatery. I tried to order off the menu some Lo Mein style noodles as a side. I just wanted a small plate with some noodles. What arrived was a bowl of wide noodles buried under scallops and shrimp.

At the end of our meal I tried to convince our waiter how Marco Polo, an Italian, was an important influence on the Silk Road and in honor of Polo, I should be able to get Gelato for desert since the Silk Road and Prego share the same kitchen. I got the Gelato and probably didn't even need the Marco Polo reference.

THE LIDO: Frankly, this has been on our two Crystal cruise the best buffet style operation we have experienced on a cruise ship. The menu changes every day and once or twice a week they have themes, such as Chinese or Mexican food. The food is always hot, the silver ware is always at the table and a waiter promptly takes your drink order. There is no standing in line at the ice machine and water dispenser.

THE TRIDENT GRILL: This is the sandwich grill that also has fresh fruit. Nearby is the ice cream stand service the best from the Benjamin and Jerrold operation in the foothill of Stowe Vermont.

Gabriel, the short order cook is amazing. If it is not on the menu and he has the ingredients he will make it for you. The cheeseburger is too much for me, but it is no problem. Gabriel cuts down the bun, makes it a 1/4 pound burger instead of a 1/2 pounder and it is delicious. The steak sandwich is a must as is the grilled hot dog.

You do not hang around the grill and wait for the food. A waiter seats you, gets you drinks and delivers the food. I make it a point to tip Gabriel early on.

My wife wants to make sure I avoid Coca Cola and the sugar calories. The ship has always had Coke Zero which I find is much easier to get down than Diet Coke, but if I had my choices it would be Diet Dr. Pepper.

This year I again asked about Diet Dr. Pepper and Derek from the Trident Grill was on the case. He came back and reported there were 1000 cans of Diet Dr. Pepper on the ship and he secured 12 cans that he had in the refrigerator for me. Derek got an early tip.

THE PALM COURT: This is where afternoon tea is served along with music in the afternoon and evening. The tea food is better than what Cunard gives you and they are British. They have special buffet about once a week for tea where you go through a line for the finger sandwiches, scorns and whipped cream plus much more. The one I feel bad attending is the Mozart Tea. The usual music trio is absent replaced by the pianist and leader of the theater band who does an hour of non-stop Mozart.

The staff has to wear powdered wigs and costumes of the era. In 2014 my attention was drawn to a waitress from Chile as her dress copying those from 1785 was so large it appeared s if it would fall off her slight frame at any moment.

Privately staffers admit they hate wearing the costumes saying even though they are cleaned regularly they still smell bad and are uncomfortable.

One Palm court waiter got an early tip. He was instructed if I was with my wife and had a Coke Zero, he was to come back and ask if I'd like "another Coke Zero." I would say "sure." My wife would smile and go back to her sketching or needlepoint. The waiter would then return with a high-test real thing Coke on the rocks.



THE AVENUE SALOON: Bartender Paula and waitress and backup bartender Loraina, both from Romania were often more entertaining than the entertainment. Paula joined the Trident Grill in having cold cans Diet Dr. Pepper on hand. God forbid I should try and order a Coke in the Avenue Saloon. Paula would shake her finger and say "NO, Miss Diana (the wife) said no Coke for you." If I persisted Paula might give me a Coke in a shot glass.

My wife is an artist and did watercolor portraits of Paula and Loraina. Paula posted hers in the middle of the bar. This ensured that my wife got to try many different drinks while at the Bar. "Here, Miss Diana, try this," was heard on a regular basis.

Chris, a waiter from India, was the third person in The Avenue Saloon. On Sea days Chris started at 11:45 am in the Starlight room just before trivia started. He took orders for our team on the first sea day and then we had the same drinks waiting for us on the next subsequent days.

The inside smoking room was located next to the Avenue Saloon. I have to say Crystal did a good job keeping the smell of smoke from reaching the hallway. However, I felt bad for a perfectly healthy Loraina, who had to walk into this room throughout the evening taking drink orders and delivering them. It is one thing if passengers want to slowly harm their lungs and hearts, but I don't know why healthy employees have to be put at risk. These people can walk into the bar and get their own free drinks.

THE STARLITE CLUB: On deck 6 in mid ships this is the area mid ships with the large dance floor and lots of tables. On sea days it is where the bingo and trivia games are played, plus it has proved to be an excellent venue for lecture series.

THE BISTRO: It has a bar, but most people are there for a light breakfast or lunch with fresh fruit, salads plus ham, cheeses, bread and rolls. It also provides coffees and hot tea to go on Deck 6.

THE CRYSTAL COVE: This is on Deck 5 across from the concierge desk, the future sales and shore excursion desks. It is where the grand piano in see-through plastic is located. It has an excellent wait staff, but like the rest of the ship the furniture other than the bar stools are too damn low.

ENTERTAINMENT: The Fly-In headliners who appear in the theater on Crystal are really not much different than what you get on other cruise lines with older demographics.

AVENUE SALOON PIANO BAR: Last year it was the very talented Jeff Deutch in the Avenue Saloon. Jeff had an amazing memory of songs and lyrics from the Great America Songbook. He is out of Chicago and has been a jingle singer on some national commercials. I wrote last year that I would be happy to pay an admission or a cover to hear Jeff play.

On our 2015 trip it was New Yorker Marcie Castro at the piano also aided with CD tracks. On many nights Marcie and the audience had something in common. They had no idea what was next. Marcie did what most piano bar signers have to do. If a passenger asks to sing a song, they let them. If the passenger is awful, that is it…one song. In Marcie's case she would often have them do a medley. One night she had two passengers who I'll call the Screech Sisters do three songs, forcing me to say goodnight and making a fast exit.

Another singer was a very gay gentleman from London who on one night wore a pink boa with the tux. He did a great impersonation of Ethel Mermen doing "There's No Business Like Show Business." However he could not do Betty Hutton's version from the movie.

Marcie would often stop playing the piano and walk out in the room raising her arms and yelling to get more participation in a sing-a-long. Some people loved her energy and the fun even if it looked like a Prozac might be needed. For others it was too much. "I don't need a maniac after dinner," one passenger said.

But if Marcie was too much, Paula the bartender provided her own entertainment that was worth a visit.

THE TOMMY DORSEY ORCHESTRA: This was a big band and dancing cruise. The 18-piece Tommy Dorsey band plus a singer with almost no range were on board for the 16-day cruise from New York to Dover. I like big bands, but these guys were going through the motions. It was not the fault of the musicians, but the leader was pulling the reins keeping them from really swinging. The stuck to 70-year charts.

A number of the musicians would go to the theater at two in the morning and jam. Others would sit in with Marcie in the Avenue Saloon after their last set and put down some jazz.

The sad thing about this was the timing of the shows. The people enjoying the band would fill the Starlite room at 7:15 to 8:30. But the after dinner set from 9:30 to 11 the room would be empty. People 70 and older had gone to bed. The people 65 and younger found the charts from the 1940 's boring and went to the top deck and listened to the Filipino cover band and danced. One night I counted five people listening to the Dorsey Band's late set. The men brought on board to dance with single ladies were also upstairs.

If the cruise director was smart he would have had the Dorsey band's first set start at 5 pm and the second set at 7:15.

HOUSE TRIO: This year the trio that played during teas and in the evening in the Palm Court was the In-Transit Trio with a lead female singer, pianist who also played sax. They were from New Zealand with a guitar player from Australia. They were very good. I did make a suggestion that they should do one set with no ballads, just up tempo songs and call it In Transit, In Overdrive.

TRIVIA: Crystal's trivia games were very civilized last year. There was just one game a day on sea days only with cheap prizes to reduce the level of competition. They made it even more civilized this year. It is multiply guess. They hand out remote clickers, put the question on the screen and you have 60 seconds to click on the right answer.

The prizes are small amounts off for overpriced items in the shops or a few bucks to use in the casino. Having seen some aggressive behavior by some playing trivia on HAL and Celebrity ships, I like the Crystal way much better.

TRAVEL AGENT PROVIDED FREE LAUNDRY For the second year our travel agent David Butterfield of All Cruise Travel in Sacramento provided $500 in our shipboard account. $200 went to our daily laundry. The rest went toward tips for crew members that were all augmented with cash.

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: I noticed this on our 2014 cruise when Paul McFarland was the cruise director and again this year with the more laid back Scott Peterson. On the short morning close circuit TV weather and activities report starring the cruise director that is recorded the night before and replayed all morning long there is a credit roll at the end.

Normally with movies and TV shows the Executive Producer is either the guy putting up the money or controlling the business end of the operation. Oddly after a 12 or 15 minute long weather report plus what on the schedule the credit roll listed the cruise director as the EXECUTIVE PRODUCER. That leaves me to wonder if they are bankrolling the show or negotiating a syndication deal.

DEBARKATION: No sitting in a theater waiting for a number or color to be called. We walked off to a waiting car and driver for the ride to Heathrow. With other cruise lines I have missed flights home or had to rush to get to an airport. That has never been the case with Crystal.

PORTS: Just like embarkation and debarkation, getting on and off the ship at ports was easy with no waiting. When using tenders to get ashore, Crystal is the best we have ever experienced. There is actually legroom on the tenders and the crew does not keep stuffing people on tenders until they are overflowing.

I cannot say enough nice things about Crystal's tender operations.

BAR HARBOR: Just like the last three years, Enterprise was at the dock and the ride to airport to get our car was very pleasant.

We did our usual exploring down roads not on the map and had a fine time. We stopped in Southwest Harbor at Charlotte's Legendary Lobster Pound for lunch. It was a walk up drive-in with picnic tables. We found it a little overpriced and not very good. The first clue should have been that we were the first customers of the day.

After returning our car at the Airport, Ashley at the Enterprise office was nice enough to go out of her way to drop off my wife downtown and me at the dock.

The rental car was far cheaper than any tour offered on the ship.

HALIFAX: For years we have avoided going to Peggy's Cove the top tourist spot south of Halifax. My wife decided she wanted to see why the cruise ship sells seats on a tour bus there. We would advise you to skip this in the height of the summer season. On June 15 with many schools still in session the parking lots were 80% full. I have a feeling this would be a nightmare in July.

Once again we rented an Enterprise car. The rental office was across the street from the cruise ship terminal in the railroad station. The best part was they had a return lot that was even closer to the ship.

After Peggy's Cove that feature a collision between two tour buses on a narrow road on the day of our visit, we headed south along the coast road to Lunenburg one of the prettiest coastal towns anywhere. We stopped at a local seasonal market and bought some local preserves and jellies as gifts.

ST. JOHN'S STATE OF MIND: We were really looking forward to visiting St. John's Newfoundland. We were there in 2010 and had a great time with a rental car meeting people and enjoying coastal towns. In 2014 Symphony was supposed to stop in St. John's but cancelled due to icebergs and fog. This year they cancelled again. The ship could safely get into the harbor, but forecasted high winds meant the ship would have to stay in harbor overnight and delay its arrival to Reykjavik. So we ended up with five sea days.



REYKJAVIK, ICELAND: Rather than renting a car, we did a four hour taxi tour. Keep in mind that since the 2009 banking collapse, everything still costs a lot more in Iceland. Last year a 45-minute taxi ride from the dock to the airport cost $175. So $325 for four hours seemed reasonable.



Our driver/guide was Gundmundur Birgir Stefansson, who does four hour and four day tours of Iceland. He was excellent. I told him we had seen most tourist locations on past trips and asked to see subdivisions, seaside areas away from tourist and places where the locals like to go. This resulted in the good natured trip to the prison, which was actually in front a pretty village with a different Smurf cutout in yards throughout the village. Of course this is not too unusual in a country where a large percentage of the population believe in elves.

We had a fun time with Birgir and would recommend him. His email address is birgirstefans@gmail.com

HEIMAEY: The City of Heimaey was our next stop the following day. This town was almost swallowed by lava in 1973 with the lava flow stopping just several hundred feet from the edge of the city of 4,300 people. On the other side of the island there are green fields with goats, horses and even a golf course with the sea and volcanic cliffs as backdrops.

Heimaey is on an island that is less than 10 square miles. We rented a car from Europcar. Despite making reservations for the car weeks in advance, no one was at the dock. A young lady hired to assist ship passengers called the company and the woman at the airport said no one had reminded her about the dock drop off. She was dock side in five minutes. The airport is just 2 miles from the dock. She works five days a week in the control tower and on her days off she works for the rent-a-car company. Only small commuter planes serve the island along with a car ferry.

This was one of the sightseeing highlights of the trip. There were so many wonderful sights in such a condensed area. Even a drive to the industrial side of the docks revealed several amazing views. Plus we drove down a number of dirt roads that could never hold a tour bus. Often we were all by ourselves with our mouths wide open at what we were seeing.

We had asked the car rental lady if we should bring the car back to her airport office. The car had just above a half tank of gas and she told us not to bother buying gas, that in four hours we wouldn't being using that much. She then told us to just leave the car at the dock and she would pick it up later. I asked her what I should do with the keys. She said, "Just leave them in the car. Nobody is going to steal it."

I have to say that I appreciated that Crystal included a stop at Heimaey on our cruise.

GREENOCK/GLASGOW: We have driven Scotland before and decided to skip taking a 45-minute train ride to Glasgow. My wife walked the downtown area of Greenock and had a fine time.

DUBLIN: Here is an example why you should always get along with your tablemates on cruises. On a 2011 Celebrity Cruise on the old Century from Vancouver to Alaska and then to San Diego we were at a table of six, with a couple from England and a couple from Dublin.

In 2014 the couple from outside of London decided to fly to Chicago, rent a car for 30 days and follow the lyrics of the Bobby Troupe song "Route Sixty-Six." They stayed three nights with us outside of St. Louis as they did the 2,000 miles along the way.

2015 it was the turn of Ronan and Katherine in Dublin. They met us at the ship at 10 am. A four or five hour tour would have been great. Instead we apparently held them hostage all day. We got an insider's view of the Dublin region, including lunch at a country club and dinner at their home. 12 1/2 hours later we were dropped off back at the ship. While we would have liked to have paid for something, we couldn't. An all day tour plus meals…total cost ZERO. Lesson learned…make friends at the cruise ship dinner table.

PORTLAND HARBOR/WEYMOUTH: No longer wishing to drive on the left side of the road in what is left of my life, we arranged for a taxi tour with the Weyline Taxi Company after reading a recommendation on Cruise Critic. We were quoted a price of 38 pounds an hour. I must of misread the email. We were only charged 30-pounds an hour. It was a bargain for a great afternoon in the English countryside.

We were met dockside by Mandy Fry, the manager of Weyline Taxi and our driver. Our driver/guide in a new Mercedes was John McGill a recently retired member of England's Armed Defense Police Force.

We saw the countryside of England and many small villages that could have easily been featured in an episode of Midsomer Murders.

We enjoyed this afternoon more than we expected. It was a treat. We recommend that you contact Mandy at Weyline Taxi at info@weyline.com and if you arrange a tour ask for John McGill to be your driver and guide.

GETTING THERE AND GETTING HOME: It used to be living in the Midwest a trip from St. Louis to New York or the West Coast was considered a major flight. Not any more, unless you are flying Southwest. The 1100 miles from St. Louis to New York is now handled by commuter planes under contract to the major carriers. The disadvantage is you are in a crowded smaller airplane. The advantage is that flying first class on Delta-Light is a lot cheaper than flying first class on Big Delta.

We flew to New York the day before the cruise. On the way there we decided to go first class and booked a suite at the Waldorf Astoria towers. Okay it was $612 for the one night. We were unaware that the Waldorf had been sold to a group of Chinese investors and the entire hotel was to close in 2017 for four years. The tower suites are supposed to be made into condos with only a portion of the original hotel returning as a hotel in 2021.

Getting to the Waldorf was a bit of a challenge. We normally use Arecibo Car Service (855-428-0222). Once outside of the baggage claim at LaGuardia I called for a car and one was there in 15 minutes, which actually is a little long for Arecibo. The driver was pleasant for not speaking any English and he had an excellent ability to drive on traffic choked highways and Manhattan streets. The problem was that he had no idea where the Waldorf Astoria Hotel was. It may as well have been in Atlanta.

An hour later we arrived and the fare was only $45.

A NIGHT AT THE WALDORF: Check in was confusing. The staff at the garage drop off sent us to the wrong desk for check in. The hotel looked great including our small suite. However a closer look showed the chairs in the room and the lobby well worn and frayed and other furniture scratched, chipped and nicked. The view from the room was great.

That night we ate at a restaurant five blocks away. We got back to the hotel a little before 9 o'clock sat in the lobby having decided to "people watch." 45 minutes later as we were about to leave Emilee Floor showed up and started to play the piano in the lobby café. This meant another hour plus a bill for drinks. Emilee was a treat, but the volume on her mic and amp made it impossible to hear her unless you were at a nearby table. She also plays at the Plaza.

The free breakfast on the 16th floor was very nice with one exception. Our room key was suppose to allow us entry. It didn't, forcing us to knock loudly to get in. We had a late checkout of 1 o'clock which allowed my wife to do some shopping and for us to return to sandwiches and sweets.

TO THE SHIP: We called Arecibo Car Service and they had no one who could pick up up. The doorman found a black car owned by Alex Lara. He knew exactly where he was going and got us there quickly for a price that was twice as high at what Arecibo would charge. I was happy to pay. Alex assured us he would be happy to pick us up in 17 days at JFK and drop us at our hotel near LaGuardia. He took our Icelandair flight information. He was a no show.

HOMEWARD BOUND: Once we docked a Parker Car Service driver from London was waiting for us at the Dover docks. Crystal claimed the trip would take 2 1/2 to 3-hours to Heathrow. Parker had told me when I made the reservation a month earlier it would be about two hours. We were dropped off 1-hour 45-minutes later. The ride was so smooth I slept half the way to the airport.

Icelandair is the only Trans Atlantic carrier that we can afford to fly first class on. Two hours in the first class lounge was followed by entering a time machine. We were taken back to Nordic pilots with blond hair and blue eyes and flight attendants in pillbox hats that closely resembled Ursula Andrews or Anita Ekberg. The only drawback is that you have to fly back to Reykjavik and change planes. However, for the price and the experience it is worth it.

NEW YORK NEW YORK: Of course our new black car buddy Alex was nowhere to be found once we were at JFK. We called and he called someone who was home eating dinner north of the Airport. 30 minutes later Lakeram picked us up. We were quickly at the hotel and charged a steep price of $70.

The Marriott Suites at La Guardia at $212 would have been fine with one exception…the soft lumpy mattress. Despite being jet lagged the mattress reduced our sleep time to about six hours. On the plus side the staff was very nice and the blueberry muffins at the free breakfast where outstanding.

MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS: The Delta Lite jet pushed back from the gate in NY 35- minutes late, but we arrived at Lambert Field in St. Louis (which is actually closer to Ferguson than St. Louis) five minutes ahead of schedule. Do you think they anticipate delays at LaGuardia?
Strode Wallace’s Full Rating Summary
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Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

  • Bar Harbor
    BAR HARBOR: Just like the last three years, Enterprise was at the dock and the ride to airport to get our car was very pleasant.

    We did our usual exploring down roads not on the map and had a fine time. We stopped in Southwest Harbor at Charlotte's Legendary Lobster Pound for lunch. It was a walk up drive-in with picnic tables. We found it a little overpriced and not very good. The first clue should have been that we were the first customers of the day.

    After returning our car at the Airport, Ashley at the Enterprise office was nice enough to go out of her way to drop off my wife downtown and me at the dock.

    The rental car was far cheaper than any tour offered on the ship.
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  • Dublin
    DUBLIN: Here is an example why you should always get along with your tablemates on cruises. On a 2011 Celebrity Cruise on the old Century from Vancouver to Alaska and then to San Diego we were at a table of six, with a couple from England and a couple from Dublin.

    In 2014 the couple from outside of London decided to fly to Chicago, rent a car for 30 days and follow the lyrics of the Bobby Troupe song "Route Sixty-Six." They stayed three nights with us outside of St. Louis as they did the 2,000 miles along the way.

    2015 it was the turn of Ronan and Katherine in Dublin. They met us at the ship at 10 am. A four or five hour tour would have been great. Instead we apparently held them hostage all day. We got an insider's view of the Dublin region, including lunch at a country club and dinner at their home. 12 1/2 hours later we were dropped off back at the ship. While we would have liked to have paid for something, we couldn't. An all day tour plus meals…total cost ZERO. Lesson learned…make friends at the cruise ship dinner table.
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  • Greenock (Glasgow)
    GREENOCK/GLASGOW: We have driven Scotland before and decided to skip taking a 45-minute train ride to Glasgow. My wife walked the downtown area of Greenock and had a fine time.
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  • Halifax
    HALIFAX: For years we have avoided going to Peggy's Cove the top tourist spot south of Halifax. My wife decided she wanted to see why the cruise ship sells seats on a tour bus there. We would advise you to skip this in the height of the summer season. On June 15 with many schools still in session the parking lots were 80% full. I have a feeling this would be a nightmare in July.

    Once again we rented an Enterprise car. The rental office was across the street from the cruise ship terminal in the railroad station. The best part was they had a return lot that was even closer to the ship.

    After Peggy's Cove that feature a collision between two tour buses on a narrow road on the day of our visit, we headed south along the coast road to Lunenburg one of the prettiest coastal towns anywhere. We stopped at a local seasonal market and bought some local preserves and jellies as gifts.
    View All 726 Halifax Cruise Port Reviews
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  • New York (Manhattan)
    GETTING THERE AND GETTING HOME: It used to be living in the Midwest a trip from St. Louis to New York or the West Coast was considered a major flight. Not any more, unless you are flying Southwest. The 1100 miles from St. Louis to New York is now handled by commuter planes under contract to the major carriers. The disadvantage is you are in a crowded smaller airplane. The advantage is that flying first class on Delta-Light is a lot cheaper than flying first class on Big Delta.

    We flew to New York the day before the cruise. On the way there we decided to go first class and booked a suite at the Waldorf Astoria towers. Okay it was $612 for the one night. We were unaware that the Waldorf had been sold to a group of Chinese investors and the entire hotel was to close in 2017 for four years. The tower suites are supposed to be made into condos with only a portion of the original hotel returning as a hotel in 2021.

    Getting to the Waldorf was a bit of a challenge. We normally use Arecibo Car Service (855-428-0222). Once outside of the baggage claim at LaGuardia I called for a car and one was there in 15 minutes, which actually is a little long for Arecibo. The driver was pleasant for not speaking any English and he had an excellent ability to drive on traffic choked highways and Manhattan streets. The problem was that he had no idea where the Waldorf Astoria Hotel was. It may as well have been in Atlanta.

    An hour later we arrived and the fare was only $45.

    A NIGHT AT THE WALDORF: Check in was confusing. The staff at the garage drop off sent us to the wrong desk for check in. The hotel looked great including our small suite. However a closer look showed the chairs in the room and the lobby well worn and frayed and other furniture scratched, chipped and nicked. The view from the room was great.

    That night we ate at a restaurant five blocks away. We got back to the hotel a little before 9 o'clock sat in the lobby having decided to "people watch." 45 minutes later as we were about to leave Emilee Floor showed up and started to play the piano in the lobby café. This meant another hour plus a bill for drinks. Emilee was a treat, but the volume on her mic and amp made it impossible to hear her unless you were at a nearby table. She also plays at the Plaza.

    The free breakfast on the 16th floor was very nice with one exception. Our room key was suppose to allow us entry. It didn't, forcing us to knock loudly to get in. We had a late checkout of 1 o'clock which allowed my wife to do some shopping and for us to return to sandwiches and sweets.

    TO THE SHIP: We called Arecibo Car Service and they had no one who could pick up up. The doorman found a black car owned by Alex Lara. He knew exactly where he was going and got us there quickly for a price that was twice as high at what Arecibo would charge. I was happy to pay. Alex assured us he would be happy to pick us up in 17 days at JFK and drop us at our hotel near LaGuardia. He took our Icelandair flight information. He was a no show.
    View All 1,001 New York (Manhattan) Cruise Port Reviews
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  • Reykjavik
    REYKJAVIK, ICELAND: Rather than renting a car, we did a four hour taxi tour. Keep in mind that since the 2009 banking collapse, everything still costs a lot more in Iceland. Last year a 45-minute taxi ride from the dock to the airport cost $175. So $325 for four hours seemed reasonable.

    Our driver/guide was Gundmundur Birgir Stefansson, who does four hour and four day tours of Iceland. He was excellent. I told him we had seen most tourist locations on past trips and asked to see subdivisions, seaside areas away from tourist and places where the locals like to go. This resulted in the good natured trip to the prison, which was actually in front a pretty village with a different Smurf cutout in yards throughout the village. Of course this is not too unusual in a country where a large percentage of the populations believe in elves.

    We had a fun time with Birgir and would recommend him. His email address is birgirstefans@gmail.com
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  • St. John's (Newfoundland)
    ST. JOHN'S STATE OF MIND: We were really looking forward to visiting St. John's Newfoundland. We were there in 2010 and had a great time with a rental car meeting people and enjoying coastal towns. In 2014 Symphony was supposed to stop in St. John's but cancelled due to icebergs and fog. This year they cancelled again. The ship could safely get into the harbor, but forecasted high winds meant the ship would have to stay in harbor overnight and delay its arrival to Reykjavik. So we ended up with five sea days.
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