Because Crystal Cruises has a highly anticipated new ship under construction, it becomes all the more important to keep the line's two existing vessels up to the line's five-star standard. When Crystal Serenity joins the Crystal fleet in June 2003, sister ships Crystal Symphony and Crystal Harmony will be eight and 13 years older than the new arrival, respectively. But Crystal is regularly renovating, upgrading and tweaking those two 960-passenger ships to keep them looking as fresh and contemporary as many other companies' new vessels.
Last November, Crystal Symphony entered a 10-day dry-dock for a substantial overhaul, overseen by ship architects Tillberg Design of Ft. Lauderdale. They supervised renovations all over the ship--in its two Crystal Penthouse suites, the lobby and Jade Garden Asian restaurant, while other fabrics, decking, marble and floors were cleaned, polished or replaced. I got a chance to see the results on an early January cruise, and Crystal Symphony was shining just as brightly then as she was on my two previous sailings, in 1999 and 2000.
The facelift to the ship's two 982-square-foot Crystal Penthouses made them resemble the already-refurbished penthouses on sister ship Crystal Harmony. The penthouses' new look is lavish and residential, with hand-tufted carpets, upholstered walls, dark wood furniture, silk and satin sofas and fringed pillows. Some new decor touches give the impression of a decadent drawing room, including residential lighting, original artwork and framed prints. Also added was an entertainment center with stereo, DVD and 35-inch flat screen television.
The very layout of a Crystal Penthouse is in itself luxurious: Guests have a bath-and-a-half, sitting room, dining area, master suite, walk-in closet and 174-square-foot private verandah. Luxury has a price to match: The 2002 brochure rates for a 12-night European cruise are as high as $27,050 per person, based on double occupancy in a Crystal Penthouse. Nonetheless, these top suites sell out early on most Crystal sailings--so it's little wonder that the company is doubling the number of them on the next ship.
When Crystal upgraded the ship's lobby, called the Crystal Cove and Plaza, all the furnishings were changed but the atmosphere was maintained. Passengers entering the space will still be surrounded by soothing grey and blue fabrics, a curving marble and glass staircase and waterfall. But there's a contemporary touch now. Carpeting with colorful, geometric shapes runs through the room, and clusters of Italian-designed leather seats make for intimate conversation spots. Sheer and metallic drapes frame the picture windows.
This two-story public space serves as the ship's crossroads, and on my voyage it became a popular location for taking a formal portrait, and a comfortable lounge where passengers could linger before they entered the adjacent dining room. The Crystal Cove is also set up as the lobby bar, complete with a translucent grand piano, but on my sailing, more passengers spent time socializing over cocktails in the ship's more intimate, wood-paneled Avenue Saloon than in the Cove.
The work also included major changes to Jade Garden, one of the Symphony's two alternative restaurants. Fans of the arching footbridge that previously graced the restaurant's entrance will have to travel to a restaurant in California to see it now. Jade Garden's new appearance is spare and sleek, with blonde wood paneling, Asian artwork framed in bamboo, and brightly patterned upholstery, menus and dishware.
Jade Garden's kitchen serves up dishes based on many Asian nations' cuisine, and the staff will happily prepare a tasting menu with a small sampling of everything. If you want to dine at Jade, or the lovely Italian alternative restaurant Prego, make reservations in person with the maitre d' early on the first day of your cruise. The wait to make a reservation took more than an hour on the first day of my sailing, but it was worth it to obtain a table for the night and time my party was hoping for. Demand for these two alternative restaurants is pretty high, partly because Crystal's dining rooms have a two-seating policy with assigned tables--unlike many other luxury ships that offer open seating dining. So passengers who want more flexibility in their dining mates, times and venues have to turn to the two restaurants, in-cabin dining, or casual poolside dining that is now available several nights a cruise.
Less sweeping changes were made to other rooms on Crystal Symphony during November's renovation, including new upholstery and slate flooring in the indoor/outdoor Lido buffet, and new saunas and steam rooms in the spa. (During a renovation in 2000, the spa underwent a more extensive renovation that applied the principles of Feng Shui.)
Crystal's multi-million dollar renovation succeeded in making the Symphony seem younger than her seven years. And if many of the changes did little to alter the ship's character, that's probably a good thing too. After all, more than half of the 800-plus passengers on my cruise were Crystal repeaters, many of the single seniors knew the dance hosts by name from previous sailings, and some staff members and passengers seemed to be reuniting like childhood friends. With this level of client dedication, it's best to keep the tinkering to a minimum.