An 11-day cruise from Miami to Caldera, Costa Rica demonstrated how the Los Angeles-based cruise line maintains loyal repeat passengers (many of whom hail from LA), and why they continually rank tops in the industry. What also sets it apart is the noticeable absence of “nickel and diming” –so many things on Crystal are free:
1. The major standout is service with a crew that never says, “no” and goes out of their way to please. Exceptional dining room wait staff and deck crew.
2. Food that ranks leagues above most ships especially in Prego and Silk Road where a minimal fee of $7 per person is requested as a gratuity. Many lines charge three times and more that amount in their alternative dining venues. Fresh squeezed orange juice. No joke. This is a major asset considering many lines dole out canned or bottled juice and some even charge for it. We also found the best cheeses served on a ship as well as the tastiest pastries, desserts and breads—all freshly-baked or prepared.
3. Seamless check-in and disembarkation.
4. Transportation provided in many ports of call free of charge.
5. Free bottled water and sodas (we’ve been charged as much as $8 for a bottle of water on cruise ships). 6. Ship shape conditions. The Symphony excelled in cleanliness in staterooms, public areas, restrooms and on deck.
7. Lots of big, fluffly towels on deck always neatly placed on chaises and lounges. Lots of outdoor spaces in which to commune with the sea, read a book, go off by yourself.
8. Free espresso and cappuccino served in staterooms or at the Bistro. Many ships charge for specialty joes.
9. Free ice cream and frozen yogurt proffered in the Trident Ice Cream Bar—also charged for on some cruises.
10. Complimentary exercise classes (Pilates, Yoga and Spinning and an innovative “Nordic Poles” workout are often charged for on other cruise lines). Our exercise instruction, Danny was so proud of this that when he led his first Pilate class of the cruise, he boasted, “And it’s free, Crystal doesn’t charge for classes”. However, the fitness center isn’t big enough to accommodate the passengers who show up for these classes.
11. Free use of the steam and sauna. 12. A well stocked library with late titles. I found new releases by my favorite authors: Robert B. Parker, Elmore Leonard, James Patterson et al.
13. Staterooms stocked with ample amounts of Aveda products that are replenished regularly, Frette robes, slippers and hand held hair dryers.
14. The Creative Learning Institute—another free offering that covers everything from computer technology to wellness, wine seminar, sushi-making, art workshops, languages and more. 15. The Computer University @Sea—still more free stuff this one just what it sounds like, from sending emails to advanced digital photo finishing.
16. Children’s program, “Kids Ahoy”, designed for all ages that include play stations, scavenger hunts, sports, dancing, pizza parties, movies and more. What’s more kids 17 and under sail free on select cruises such as a June 14 roundtrip London voyage and an August 7 Copenhagen to Stockholm.
17. Outstanding wine selection featuring more than 230 labels including a “Reserve Wine List” with a 1959 Chateau Lafite Rothschild or a 1971 Chateau Petrus. Not exactly bargain priced, most good brands begin at $50 a bottle and up. You can bring your own for a $15 corkage.
18. Unheard of savings on promotions during 2010 and 2011 like a special 50% “Birthday Bonus; Two-for-one cruise fares that start as low s $4,210; “All Inclusive As You Wish” spending credits up to $2000 per couple; “Free Air”, and more, check out http://www.crystalcruises.com for more details.
19. Global itineraries that cover the 7 Seas, with a selection of sailing from Los Angeles in 2010 that include: 17-days from LA to Sydney on Feb. 28; 19-day Panama Canal on Nov. 2; 7-day voyages roundtrip to the Mexican Riviera from Nov. 21-Dec. 5 and a 14-day Hawaii voyage on Dec. 22. For 2011: April 10, 7 day roundtrip to Los Cabos, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta; April 24 LA to Hawaii 4, 7 days from LA to Los Cabos, La Paz, Topolobampo, San Diego and back; Dec. 11, 10 day Mexico and Dec. 21 a 14 day Mexico cruise that stops at San Diego, Los Cabo. I s, Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, La Paz, San Diego and back.
20. And the best part of all–the Crystal experience–after more than 200 cruises (and that’s the truth, as a cruise writer it’s my job to review ships. I have sailed on large and small, luxurious and funky, frieghters and yachts and can unabashedly admit that Crystal ranks among the top 3 in the ultra-deluxe category, tied with, in my personal preference, Silversea and Seabourn).