Crystal Symphony - Virtual Cruise Summary

| May 18, 2011

During the course of the cruise a great many people I spoke to, when told it was my first Crystal cruise, and that I was writing live from the ship, asked what I thought of the ship, and what I thought about Crystal.

As I explained then, I attempt to only take in each day's experience on the ship during the cruise, and make no call on the cruise until the cruise is over, or almost over. On every cruise there are incidental occurrences (they can be good or bad) which do not prove consistent throughout the cruise. While I did write about them daily, and they contribute to the final opinion, I think it's a mistake to dwell on them during the cruise, rather than let the entire experience play out.

I thought I should summarize the cruise now, perhaps offering more subjective views than a "review" would call for.

On luxury cruises, aside from the expected quality of the cuisine and hospitality department services, it's often the little thing that can separate a cruise line from it's competitors.

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For example; during the last 24 hrs. on our Crystal Symphony cruise Crystal notified all passengers, with a note in the Reflections daily, that they'd be offering everyone onboard 20 minutes of free Internet time in order to allow them to check in for their flights and print out their boarding passes. A very night touch in my view.

Another nice touch is all the laundry and pressing is returned to your cabin in really nice bright white garment bags and shoe-sized bags, emblazoned with the Crystal Logo, and made of entirely recyclable materials.

In the public washrooms onboard there's no sight of paper towels or hot air hand dryers. They only use cloth hand towels.

I've never encountered better "lido deck boys" (the pool attendants, and lido caf� attendants) than on the Symphony. They were always smiling, greeting you by name (I was Sir Kuki), and asking if there was anything they could do for you. Amazingly they have the knack for doing so while appearing to be truly sincere. They aren't a part of any tipping pool, but with their great attitudes I'd be very surprised if by the end of the cruise they do pretty well. Their service was so outstanding, I'd have felt guilty leaving the ship without giving everyone I met a token of my appreciation.

Crystal excels with their activities and special interest lecturers program. Each sea day there were at least two special interest presentations, as well as the various Crystal University at Sea programs, along with the regular cruise activities such as bridge, team trivia, etc. And, as this was a golf themed cruise, each sea day there were complimentary golf clinics for all passengers.

Realistically there is no way one could participate in everything onboard, even those much more energetic than I am (not very).

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Though the cabins and suites on the Symphony are smaller than equivalent categories on other luxury lines, they are well designed and well appointed. If size matters, this might be of concern to some luxury cruisers. The other concern, which I discussed in one of the daily reports is the poor quality of the balcony furniture. In my opinion, it's an area which should be addressed immediately. At the per diem rates Crystal charges I would like to see better quality balcony furniture - but it isn't a big concern, obviously.

As you enter the PH Suite I was in, there is a narrow hallway you enter, with the bathroom to the right, and the walk in closet to the left. I'd like to see a curtain that you could open and close, which would separate the living area of the suite from the washroom and closet.

Cuisine and entertainment are very personal judgments. I freely admit to having no ear for music. Thus, in that area I tend to judge musical presentations, and production shows by the energy of the act, and the audience reaction. The attendance at the shows for late seating guests was quite sparse throughout the cruise, which had to make it quite difficult for the entertainers. I understand they are supposed to be professionals, and go out and perform, but I believe most of the top entertainers feed off the energy of their audiences.

Food is one of the things that most affects a cruiser's choice of ship and cruise line. Certainly that's not true for repeat cruisers on a cruise line. However, if you sail on a ship where you find the food unsatisfactory, it isn't likely you'll book it, or the same cruise line again.

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I found the food in the Crystal Dining Room to be excellent, with a varied and interesting menu, which isn't that easy to do on a 14 night sailing. Many items I tried were exceptional. I'm normally a "steak and potato" kind of guy. Yet, I think I only ate steak two nights of the fourteen.

The soups were so outstanding I made sure to have a soup course every night. They were consistently as good or better than any I've tasted on a ship. There were a number of times during the cruise that the appetizers I chose were so tasty I could have cancelled my other courses, and continued to have them roll out repeated orders of the appetizer.

Desserts were another matter. There were several I very much enjoyed, but generally I found they looked much better than they tasted.

The presentation of every item served in the Crystal Dining Room was beautiful, and done with real artistic flair. Nothing served just looked like a plate of food rushed to get out.

The same could be said about the little appetizer plates served before dinner in the ship's lounges. The ones I sampled were all delicious.

I was less impressed by the offerings in the Lido Café. The layout, with various action stations, was very well done, and the café design relaxed and inviting. The lunch menus were more interesting, with several theme lunches proving popular. The breakfast menu was simply repetitive, and frankly seemingly no better quality than many premium brand cruise lines. The made to order eggs and omelets were of course fresh and made to order. The buffet items like the pancakes and French Toast fell flat. They were bland, and sometimes obviously left too long on their warming trays.

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I took the majority of my lunches from the Trident Grill. For a grill area, it has an extensive menu. Surprising because the service area is quite small for the size of the menu. The grilled sandwiches, like Rueben sandwiches and grilled ham and cheese, are pre-prepared and kept refrigerated, then warmed in the microwave oven, then unwrapped and placed on the grill to toast the bread. Not all that impressive a system, but they did end up tasting pretty good. The fries, and the sweet potato fries offered at the Trident Grill are outstanding, and they were seemingly always taking a fresh batch out of the fryers, so they were always hot.

With the exception of embarkation day, when the staff were overwhelmed by arriving guests (solely because the Lido Caf� is not open that day, and the dining room quits serving lunch at 1:30 P.M.), the service at the Trident Grill was speedy and efficient.

Not only is the Lido Café closed on embarkation day, it closes daily at 1:30 P.M. I truly don't understand the reasoning for this policy. It's not necessary to have an elaborate buffet all afternoon, but a limited selection, of items not offered at the Trident Grill would seem more reasonable, perhaps until 3 P.M. If it was after 1:30, and you just felt like a tossed salad, you were out of luck.

With regard to service I experienced onboard... As I said the "lido guys" were the best! The reception desk (guest relations) staff were friendly, and always helpful, and quick to try and please. David, my butler was eager to please and always offering to do more. Priscilla, my cabin stewardess was also as good as it gets. In fact, the staff throughout the ship, with the exception of those I dealt with in the Crystal Dining Room, were extremely impressive in all they did. As I said in an earlier daily report, I think the staff and crew are the key to Crystal being Crystal.

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I spoke earlier in the Virtual Cruise about our dining room waiter being "home already" since this was his last week with Crystal. I do believe because of this his inattentiveness was likely the exception rather than the rule.

Though offering "Perfect Choice" (anytime) dining, on Crystal the traditional assigned dining times are still the most popular. One of the main reasons people cite for preferring the assigned dining times is because they believe the wait staff get to know them, and get to know their preferences.

After 14 nights, our waiter was still offering me pepper with every course he served, though I never said yes the entire cruise, and though I had mentioned the second day, that I don't care for black pepper. It didn't detract from my enjoyment of my meals at all, in fact it became a bit of a joke with my tablemates. But it was indicative of where his mind was.

The Head Waiter for our section visited the table every night during dinner. He was sociable and fun, and every single night he told us if there was anything we need or would like having to do with the food in the dining room, to simply let him know. On about the seventh night of the cruise, when he said this, I told him I was crazy for the pasta I had eaten on the second night of the cruise, and would love to have it again. He acknowledged my request, but never mentioned it again, and the pasta never appeared, nor was it offered to me.

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Once again, I wasn't suffering with my dining choices each night. I had plenty to eat. But I don't think they should go through the nightly "schpiel", if they aren't going to deliver! That's the part I resent, regardless if I am enjoying all other aspects of my meal. It belies the tag of "luxury experience".

I also note that only once during the 14 nights did the Maitre D' of the dining room make even a tertiary pass by our table during dinner. No need for a nightly visit, but I think a couple of times during a 14 night cruise would show some interest in the goings on in his dining room.

One other activity in the dining room that surprised me greatly was allowed to take place; photographers going table to table to take pictures during dinner. It's a pet peeve of mine, but I view it as crassly commercial. I don't object to photo opportunities being available in other public areas on the ship, but in my view it's an intrusion in the dining room, and there's no place for it on a luxury cruise line. Crystal should take note of it's competitors policies in this regard.

To close this out... I really loved the Symphony. With the exception of the lovely lobby area with beautiful crystal, lights, and waterfall, which jumps with WOW factor, the ship is stunningly understated simplicity, quality, and elegance.

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