Just got back from 11 sun-drenched days and balmy nights on the spiffed up Crystal Symphony (www.crystalcruises.com). It was quite a voyage that began in Miami and ended in Caldera, Costa Rica.
Loved everything about the ship from the refurbished deck and long, lap-friendly pool, where we sawm every morning and afternoon…to the food–below the galley staff struts their stuff at a gala 20th Anniversary Buffet put on in the lavish lobby. The Los Angeles-based cruise line is celebrating two decades of seafaring which began with the introduction of the Crystal Harmony in 1990. She’s gone now, but well replaced by her sister the Symphony that made her bow in 1995 and the Serenity which debuted in 2003.
Our Polish butler Greg was about the best in show…personable, sophisticated and unflappable to any request. He’s been with the cruie line since 1993 and says he plans “to stay.” Greg started as a senior waiter and two years later moved on up to the Penthouse deck as a butler.
Transiting the Panama Canal is always a thrill.
The newly redesigned Palm Court open for lunch, ice cream, yogurt, drinks, light lunches or for plotzing.
Highlights of the cruise: snorkeling in Tortola and Antiqua–where we booked the ship’s shore excursions for about $100 for two. Swiming in Aruba where we took a bus for $5 roundtrip (for both of us) to a white, sandy beach and played around in transparent azur seas.
Dining in our Penthouse Verandah stateroom with Greg serving us in courses, pouring the wine and treating us like royalty. While butlers are in attendance on the two Penthouse decks 9 and 10, every passenger can order room service at no extra charge. But with the PH cateogry comes other privileges such as free pressing, a one time mini-bar fillup that includes wines, two bottles of booze and limitless supplies of bottled water, soda and beer–all soft drinks are complimentary on board to every pax.
We also enjoyed dining in the restaurant at our table for 2 attended to by tall, handsome Erik with his bedroom eyes and coy smile (don’t tell Richard, my husband, I said this okay).
Generally the food was very good, with an occasional miss. Most of the fish dishes were superb. Caesar salads didn’t pass muster,not even in the alternative dining room, Prego. The desserts were phenomenal.
There are two optional dining venues, Prego (Italian and based on LA’s famous Valentinos), and Silkroad (Asian fare from Nobu also of LA), both are exceptinal and cost $14 per couple which is billed as a “tip”.
Crystal still adheres to dining hours for dinner with two seatings at 6:30 and 8:30. Many pax prefer the free form style offered on most ships now where you can dine when and with whom you want. However if you want to eat sooner or later you can always order in or try to get a table at Prego or Silkroad. We ate at both and made our reservations for 7:30, which is when our tummy’s react best. However we did opt for late seating as 6:30 is way too early for us.
We sampled the shows which for most audiences were entertaining and certainly well-costumed and choreographed. The Savvy Seafarer just isn’t a major fan of shipboard entertainment and is a tough critic. There were Broadway productions, a soloist performer who apparently plays the Crystal often and well the usual songs and dances.
Crystal also had a variety of daytime activities from cultural and topical talks and lectures to computer classes, exercise classes (all free including Pilates, Yoga and Spinning that many ships charge for), Bridge, gambling in the casino, Bingo and beyond. There’s something for everybody all day long.
There’s a spa and fitness center. Didn’t partake of the treatments this cruise a I found them too pricy and dicey–as a long time spa and beauty writer I tend to be exceptionally fussy about facials, massages and beauty treatments and didn’t want to take the chance with Steiner’s stiffly priced offerings (Steiner fyi has a monopoly on shipboard spas. While I’ve had a few good rubs and facials on ships, the majority have been so-so).
Fares for Crystal’s global itinerary cruises tend toward the high end. But in today’s economy deals are out there, best bet is to check on line at www.crystalcruises.com or any discounter. Our cruise had two for one fares along with shipboard credits and more. Top cabin normally $17,000 a pax was half that. But tips and drinks and wines are not included and that adds up big time, especially Crystal’s wine pricing — nothing good under $50.
But when you care to sail the best, Crystal’s right up there among them and is well worth the extra bucks because you get a really good bang for them. The crew, staff, accommodations and publi rooms are among the top of the line.
Questions? Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.