Year Started: 1988
Ships in Fleet: 2
Summary: One of the best cruise lines in the world. Luxury food and service, great onboard enrichment, exemplary service. Larger than average luxury ships
I have cruised on Crystal Symphony about 6 times. It is my favorite ship and I always have a wonderful time. The food is excellent, the service beyond excellent, and my fellow cruisers are almost all well mannered and friendly. It is; however, a real stretch for my budget.
It was announced that if you cruise on your birthday in 2010 you can take another cruise for 25% off, (50% for those in double cabins) as long as you take it before your next birthday. I signed up for the Panama Canal cruise that included my birthday. I was told that I could not reserve the discount cruise until I had actually taken the birthday cruise. I; therefore, signed up for the next cruise while on the ship for the birthday cruise. I signed up for the lowest price cabin as usual. Soon after the cruise I was notified that there were no cabins in that price category, or the next one up, for the cruise next November, 10 months away, The least expensive cabin available for my discount cruise was well over $5000. I feel that the line pulled a"bait and switch" type of maneuver. I am angry enough that I will probably not cruise on Crystal for quite a long time. Although it is my favorite, there are other ships that are very nice. I have taken about 50 cruises and never failed to have a good time, although some ships and some cruises are better than others. A few have even been quite bad.
The things that make Crystal stand out are subtle, but add up to make a very enjoyable experience. To name a few:
1. The service is always cheerful, and the crew seems to really want to be sure you have a good time. There is no eye-rolling or comment if you ask the ice cream attendant to fix your cone a certain way or want something a bit different than usual. Someone is immediately there to take your tray to the table as soon as you step away from the serving line in the casual restaurant.
2. The price is really close to all inclusive; very few extra charges. The mini-bar items in your cabin are there for you to enjoy, and it is restocked daily. Alcohol costs extra. The ship features Coke products. I do not like coke so my mini-bar is stocked with Pepsi at no extra charge. There is no extra charge for any classes except private lessons. The needlepoint kits and instruction are included. There is no extra charge for the ultra deluxe alternate restaurants except $7.00 recommended tip for service.
3. A person from the ship goes on every shore excursion, and is in touch with people on the ship if there is any problem.
4. The guest lecturers have almost always been knowledgeable and interesting. There are a variety of topics on each cruise. Piano lessons, bridge lessons, and a language are offered at no extra charge.
5. An extremely well stocked library with CDs and DVDs available at no extra charge and a well informed librarian to help you find something you will like.
6. If you let the head waiter know what you would like to try at dinner it will be prepared for you. I have always wondered what lobster thermador is when it is mentioned in a novel. On this cruise I had the kitchen prepare it for me (and several of my tablemates who also wanted to try it). It was delicious and there was no extra charge. Several other special dishes were served to the table because someone asked for them.
7. The prizes at trivia are often something you would really like to keep as a souvenir; very few of the keychain type. On this cruise I won a journal to use as a cruise diary and a baseball cap with the Crystal logo.
8. The casino allows double and triple odds at the craps table which gives the player a fighting chance to come out ahead. Many ships allow only single odds if they even have a craps table.
Unfortunately, this wonderful service does come at a higher than most cost. There are a few items that can drive your onboard costs high too. Computer time, alcohol, spa treatments, onboard shops, and shore excursions are very expensive. The medical center was also very expensive for a simple problem. I had a great time without spending much in these areas excep two shore excursions and a drink on the last day.
Background -- Panama Birthday Surprise Nearly 2 years ago at a family wedding in Israel my Mum suddenly said that she'd been thinking of a way to celebrate her 75th birthday which would be coming up soonish, and what did we think about it, "we" being myself and my two sisters and our respective spouses. Well, we obviously said "yeh, great, wow, brilliant" etc etc, and then my Mum said what did we think of New York? (She'd been on the QE2 a number of times with my late father and had very fond memories of transatlantics.) Well, we obviously said "yeh, great, wow, brilliant" etc etc.
That was the easy bit, agreeing to go!! As all you experienced cruisers well know, deciding exactly how, where, when, how much, where from, what size, which line, which ship, traditional, casual, formal, anytime dining, rock climbing wall, 15 alternative restaurants etc etc is the hardest part -- especially with a group of 7.
My Mum decided she'd always wanted to traverse the Panama Canal, so itinerary was settled upon, which "only" left the rest of the questions outlined above. Now, as I and Mrs nadgeonly eat kosher food I started to look into cruise lines that could provide this. Nearly all lines can provide airline-type sealed kosher meals which can be reheated, but who wants to eat airline meals on a cruise?? I came across an article about Crystal's kosher-style dining, and it took off from there. I made some enquiries with the On-board Guest Services at Crystal, and that was that!
(I'll touch on the food later on, but I won't go into huge detail about what is and isn't kosher. For those wishing to know more about kosher food, and exactly what Crystal can do, I'd be only too happy to either open another thread, or e-mail. Just ask.)
Travel to New York Since New York was on the wish list from the start, and it's sort of "on the way" to Costa Rica from Israel, we decided to take advantage of the fact by doing a 3 night pre pre-cruise in Manhattan. Now, so that Mum wouldn't have to travel all the way to NY by herself (she lives in Manchester, England whilst the 6 of us live in Israel) we decided that we'd fly to NY via London, and pick her up in Heathrow in the departure lounge. So, after a very pleasant 5 hour flight on BA to London we have to transfer to the next flight. In Heathrow this entails a further (rather pointless) security check "x-ray" all hand luggage, and coats, and shoes, and belts, and phones, and wallets, then through the metal detector. Bear in mind that we have walked straight off a plane, our checked in luggage will only be collected in NY if we're lucky enough to win the BA lottery and not have to report missing bags, and gone nowhere other than walk straight to the security point. Anyway, then the fun starts.
After passing our bags and belongings through the x-ray machine we were delayed in walking through the metal detector whilst the female security officer searched/checked an old lady's wheelchair which had set off an alarm when she went through in front of us. So what, I hear you ask. Well, in the absence of another female security officer we all had to wait. Eventually, we went through ourselves and collected our belongings. Well, I did, but Mrs nadge's small black leather handbag with ALL of her travel documents in it (passport, tickets etc) and money and cards, had gone. In its place was a similar bag, but not hers. We hoped that someone had made a genuine mistake. Considering the severity of the situation with our next flight due to take off in a couple of hours I was surprised at how calm Mrs nadge was. With a fair bit of persuasion we finally managed to convince the security people to look in the other black bag for some information as to its owner, and although there were no official documents in it there were some prescription tablets in a box with a lady's name on written in Hebrew! Someone had obviously just come off the same plane as us. Luckily, we can read Hebrew. The name was fed in to the system by the friendly BA staff and it turned out to be that very same lady in the wheelchair. What had obviously happened was that the attendant had been told to take a black leather bag, which he/she did, but didn't ask the lady if it was actually hers.
This wheelchair lady was nowhere to be seen and an APB was put out for her. After receiving conflicting information that her connecting flight didn't leave for another 4 hours, correct info was passed on that not only was she scheduled for a plane in the next hour she was already on it. Mrs nadge started to get a tad worried. By this time the police had appeared, very interested in the possible theft of a British passport, not to mention that there was an Israeli passport as well. The police literally ran off to the other plane, boarded the aircraft and retrieved the bag which had already been put in the overhead locker and when the old lady saw it she said "but that's not my bag".
Crisis over, we managed to fit in 20 minutes of retail therapy before our next flight. Joking apart, if you ever have a wheelchair or know someone who does, ALWAYS check that the bags the attendant retrieves for you are really yours.
We arrived in JFK on time, all our bags had amazingly arrived as well and in one piece, and immigration couldn't have been easier. I had been a bit concerned about this because I've heard many stories about extremely unfriendly (even antagonistic) US immigration officials. I'd arranged for my Mum to have a wheelchair to save her all the walking and hand-luggage schlepping, so we all just trooped behind her straight to the front of the immigration queue. Once through we went to a desk in the arrivals hall where the assistant phoned through to Supershuttle for us through whom I'd booked transfers.
Thanks again to those who answered my thread about transfer advice in New York. As there were 7 of us with tons of luggage (14 very large bags, 7 large hand-luggage wheelie thingies and another 7 small bags) normal taxis would have been very expensive, and Supershuttle was recommended. It cost $133 including the tip. The woman at the desk said that the van would arrive in 20 mins. A minute and a half later as we were settling down to wait a guy came in and called our name to say our van was here. Excellent service. He loaded everything in to the van with no fuss, and was very courteous.
New York Hotel We were finally off to Manhattan. Neither I nor Mrs nadge had been to America before so we were very excited about the whole thing. There wasn't very much traffic so it only took about 25 mins to get to our hotel, Radio City Apartments on W 42nd St. I'd done quite a bit of research on Tripadvisor about NY hotels and I'd been very surprised at the price of a room. I mean, I know NY is expensive, but so is London, but I never realized how expensive hotels are in NY. Anyway this hotel is in a great location a block and a half from Times Square, right next to the theatre district. I'd booked well in advance and got a very good rate for one 1 bedroom apartment (1 bedroom with 2 double beds, and a sitting room with sofa bed, plus kitchenette with stove, fridge microwave " all spotless) and one 2 bedroom apartment (1 bedroom with 2 double beds, 1 bedroom with twin beds, and a larger sitting room with sofa bed, plus larger kitchenette.) As before, if anyone wants any more information then please ask.
New York was definitely an experience. Up till then my New York had been the movies plus anything else I might have heard. There is definitely a hustle and bustle about the city; everyone seems to be walking around with great purpose. The buildings are really really tall, and the taxis really are yellow. I also saw a real life yellow old-fashioned looking school bus, just like in the movies. We only had two full days and my Mum can't walk either fast or far, but we managed a number of really touristy things. We went on a hop-on hop-off guided tour bus and we visited Ground Zero. We caught the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, but unfortunately it was quite late so we had to choose only one island to get off at. We chose Ellis Island but because of the late hour didn't really spend enough time there. We'd definitely go again. We walked around Times Square and 5th Avenue, and wandered around Macy's. Due to lack of time we had to pick between the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock. The Rock won and we weren't disappointed. The whole Rockefeller Centre is amazing, and the Rock exhibition is very good. The views from the top go without saying although it was a bit misty. We saw the famous skating rink that's always used as the closing scene in the movies. The Empire State will have to wait till next time. We discovered a breakfast place where the locals go, in the back of this jewelry shop in the diamond district. We also found time for a bit of shopping " my new camera came in very useful on the cruise. Oh yes, we managed to figure out the subway system and what a metrocard is, and apart from traffic police directing the traffic at an intersection I don't think I saw a single cop anywhere.
Overall, it was quite strange being on a mini holiday in the middle of a big holiday. I'd love to go again. Contrary to popular belief, everyone we spoke to was really friendly and made our stay very pleasant. My main impression of New York is standing in the street wondering whether there are more tall buildings in Manhattan or more Starbucks. I mean, about every 100 yards there's a Starbucks. What is it with Americans and coffee? Can't anyone go for more than 2 minutes without access to a cup of coffee?
A great place.
Travel to Costa Rica We'd originally planned to go on this same cruise in November 2007 disembarking in Costa Rica. That would have meant an even longer journey home as it's another 5-1/2 hour flight. Taking the advice of many CC members I'd arranged to arrive in Costa Rica the night before embarkation, just in case. We again Supershuttled from Manhattan to the airport, Newark this time, definitely even more of a bargain this time as the price was the same $133 including tip. No problems with the journey on Continental, arriving about 9:40pm. Costa Rica airport is very quiet and organised, immigration very quick with about 8 lines open at once to process everyone. Once outside however it's pandemonium. Lots of people scurrying around and shouting. I hadn't been worried about being met because I'd ordered two taxis through the hotel ($20 each) we were staying at (making sure that there'd be enough room) but with all the commotion outside I was glad when we saw a little fellow jumping up and down and waving a sheet of paper with my name on.
In the end one van sufficed, with lots of luggage on the roof rack. We drove off into the night and after about 5 minutes turned off the main highway onto dark, twisting, narrow, bumpy roads. We hadn't a clue where we were but the driver seemed to know what he was doing, and after about 25 minutes we arrived at the Hotel Casa Alegre in Santa Ana which is a small suburb about 10 minutes from San Jose. It's a hacienda type hotel with about 7 rooms ranged around a central swimming pool, and a very cosy lounge with a super-comfy couch. It's very reasonable at about $300 for 4 very nice double rooms including breakfast.
Now, I don't know about you, but I wouldn't expect ex-pat Brits living in Israel to know anybody in Costa Rica! Well, at about 12 midnight there's non-stop ringing at the gate of the hotel, and it's our cousin come to visit us. He'd just moved to Costa Rica for work about a month and a half previously from England, and his wife and kids had just come out 2 weeks ago. If we'd have known when we made the arrangements we'd have arranged for a longer stay in Costa Rica. It was surreal meeting him there like that. We chatted till about 2 in the morning. They all joined us for breakfast the next day before we left for the ship so that was a really nice way to start off embarkation day. For them it was quite sad because they don't know when they'll see anyone from the family next.
Like a child who has been waiting all year round for his birthday to come round again, I've been involved in this trip "planning, organising, logistics," but mostly waiting impatiently for over a year and a half. Cruise sites have kept me going during that time, with everyone's advice and experience, and cruising vicariously with you all. My turn had finally arrived. Has anyone ever been Crystallised before sailing on Crystal? I expect I'm the first!
Our taxi came back for us bang on the dot at 9:30 and by 10:00 we were all packed up and ready to go, our van bursting at the seams with the never-ending mound of luggage that we apparently need for 2 and a half weeks of travel. The trip is very scenic and uses the Pan American Highway which officially stretches all the way from Monterrey all the way down to Buenos Aries. The road is very busy, full of cars and buses and an even larger quantity of huge trucks that haul Costa Rica's goods all over a country with no railroad. This means that we never make it over 80 kph the whole way with an average of about 60kph. (This is torture for someone who fancies himself as the new Nigel Mansell.) After what seems like an age we eventually see a sign pointing the way to Caldera. We're nearly there!
Check-In Suddenly we get our first glimpse of the ocean, and then the Symphony comes into view sitting proudly in port. Seeing the ship for the first time as we rounded a bend in the road was amazing. My camera is now working overtime of course. It was like when we were kids driving to Blackpool and the first to see the Tower would get sixpence (you Brits out there will understand). So much excitement after so much anticipation.
10 minutes later we're out of the van being handed yet more immigration forms to fill in by grumpy Costa Rican officials, who are flanked by helpful, smiling Crystal employees. Check in consisted of presenting your passport to another grumpy immigration man for stamping, on one side of a low hangar type building, whilst set up on the other side were stands with computers all emblazoned with the Crystal logo, staffed by smiling crew in sparkling white uniforms. Formalities took just 5 minutes, credit card details were passed over, passports were given in (quite a strange feeling but I had read that this is what happens), pictures taken for the room key, signatures signed and room key-card received, and the seven of us are having our picture taken for posterity in front of the Crystal Symphony posters.
From reading these boards for so long I was expecting the warm and genuine welcome we received, help with our bags, would we like to check in hand luggage whilst luncheon is served? But to be truthful, I was also wary of expecting too much. Perhaps everyone was exaggerating as to the completeness of the Crystal experience? Thankfully no. More than once over the cruise one of our little group would suddenly murmur "how did he remember that?" when a crew member would suddenly appear with a favourite treat.
We headed off to the dining room for lunch, with champagne of course. Just after we'd been seated a young lady comes up and asks which one of us is Nigel, so yours truly duly owns up. It turns out to be EitherOar who very graciously introduced herself and welcomed us on board. We got together later on in the cruise but I really appreciated that welcome. Thank you. Everyone else in our party was looking on in curious admiration -- only 5 minutes on board and already being greeted!!
Anyway, this conveniently brings me on to a subject very dear to my heart -- food.
Kosher Food and Crystal N.B. I won't go into the ins and outs and definitions of kosher food here, but if anyone is interested feel free to reply or e-mail me and I'll go into it with pleasure.
A long while back, when researching this whole trip, I sent off a whole load of questions about cruises with kosher food. This is how I found out about Crystal's kosher-style dining. After a series of clarification e-mails with On Board Guest Services I was satisfied that this met with our requirements. I assumed that this definition of kosher-style was standard. When we arrived however, the ship had not been informed of the things we were expecting, but I am happy to report that after outlining our requirements they did their utmost to fulfill them. I would suggest to anyone wanting this option to be in touch with your TA to make sure that your requirements have been transmitted to the ship.
We had been expecting some sort of kosher menu -- obviously much more limited than the normal one, but we just basically chose something suitable off the regular menu and had it done kosher. To make things easier we were shown the next day's menus during dinner and we made our choices then. That way the chef knew what was expected and what needed to be taken out of the freezer. Once things had been clarified with our head waiter Miguel and senior waiter Alan took great care of us. We could only have kosher food in the main dining room, which is a shame because the other venues looked wonderful too, especially the breakfast buffet up on the Lido deck. My sisters said that Jade Garden was very good, but Prego was probably about the best meal they'd ever had.
The food itself was amazing. The presentation was wonderful with special care taken over even the most insignificant dish like a simple salad or some fruit. You don't just get some smoked salmon on a plate, you get a work of art that you don't like to spoil by eating it. I didn't realize that breakfast could also be a command performance. The choice was huge and the eggs benedict with smoked salmon wonderful. My mum spoiled herself with hot porridge and brown sugar and cream whilst Mrs nadge made large inroads into the fresh croissants every day. Lunch and dinner weren't too bad either. The meat was to die for and done to perfection -- huge rib-eye steaks, beefburgers, lamb chops, enormous racks of lamb and a wonderfully thick juicy tender veal chop. I'm starting to salivate again!! They even made us chopped liver on Friday night. We were a bit limited in deserts because we cannot eat dairy dishes after meat, but the non-dairy sherbets were delicious and the hot cherries and bananas that our head waiter made for us were superb.
The Ship The ship is absolutely spotless. There is always someone cleaning or painting or polishing or varnishing. One can tell that the ship isn't new. There are many signs of age, but it doesn't detract an iota from how beautiful the ship looks. I was most impressed with the public toilets. I was also very impressed with all the arrangements -- a welcome envelope, TA credits in a gift envelope and an appointment with the bar manager to discuss a cocktail party I wanted to organise. Very professional.
Stewardess: We did have some problems with our stewardess. She was brand new. Embarkation day was our first day on a Crystal ship, and our stewardess had been on board exactly 3 days longer. She did not have much of a clue. She was very willing and pleasant, but it is not a good idea to put a new stewardess with new cruisers. We don't know what to ask for and she doesn't know what to suggest or the right questions to ask us. It's all so new that she kept forgetting things even though we would leave notes for her. Crystal definitely needs to make sure that new staff in this department receive proper training and proper real-time instruction.
We were in cabin 7046 and I can recommend it. There is a slightly limited view from the beam of a lifeboat crane but it is negligible. Plenty of room to put everything, and even our hugest suitcase managed to fit under the bed as well. The bathroom is big enough with instant hot water and good water pressure, and the twin bowls look very nice and didn't really splash. Never having experienced the loveseat we didn't miss it, and we just left the chair by the dressing table as it was. Mrs nadge just sat on the bed to watch telly. The linen laid out on the floor at turn-down service is a nice touch.
Activities Plenty to do on board. In fact, there's so much to do it sometimes seems like you're going to need another holiday when you get home just to get some rest. Up for breakfast in the dining room, a leisurely stroll to collect my book, get to Spanish class for 10:15, go to a lecture, make sure to get to the dining room for 12:00 for lunch so as to finish in time for the trivia quiz at 1.00pm. Need to relax after the quiz with a book and a coffee. Afternoon tea at 3.30pm for an hour, then a stroll along the deck to the ice cream bar to sample the delights. The coffee ice-cream is out of this world (and the butter pecan isn't bad either) especially with the assorted nuts. 2nd helping of coffee ice-cream and assorted nuts. Work off the 3rd helping of coffee ice-cream with assorted nuts and butterscotch sauce with a game of paddle tennis. Mrs nadge is by the pool most days relaxing and reading, or taking time to do some needlepoint. Early evening is time for some ice-cream, and then a well-earned rest before getting ready for one of the cocktail parties that we were invited to, or cocktails in our cabin, or cheese and wine in the art room. Down to late seating dinner -- the food is wonderful, the service top notch. On to the show, or one of the headline entertainers, finishing up either at karaoke or in the Avenue Saloon listening to Jeff Deutsch.
Entertainment During the cruise we played the "what job would I like to have on this ship?" game. Something not too demanding that enables you to cruise for a salary!! Well, if I could sing I'd like to be part of the acapella group The Castaways. They were brilliant, but over an 11 night cruise they performed for a maximum of 2 hours (1 hour for each sitting) -- hardly a strenuous position. Admittedly, they did take charge of the trivia quiz, and they ran the karaoke (3 times). It's just a shame that we couldn't enjoy them more.
The shows were very, very good, but repetitive. It's basically more of the same. Very professional, amazing costumes, excellent singing and dancing, but we all found ourselves nodding off at various stages of the performances. (Maybe the effect of too much booze, I hear you asking!!) My favourite was The Envelope Please which I thought was very well done, whilst the Cole Porter effort was boring -- probably because I didn't know the numbers. Cole, however, was my mum's favourite.
The headline entertainers were good. There was a Russian lady pianist who now lives in America, and a violinist who were both okay but they're not my cup of tea. The singer Brenda Cochrane was excellent but she was only on for about 30 minutes, and I was very pleasantly surprised by the comedian Jimmy Travis. He's apparently very famous in America though I'd never heard of him. I thought he might be too American for me but I enjoyed his humour very much. The last night illusionist wasn't too bad, but the lady who was "volunteered" to help him in his first trick stole the show with her total apathy.
Service Apart from our stewardess, about whom Crystal should take the blame, exemplary.
Ports and Shore Excursions Apart from traversing the Panama Canal we had four port days consisting of Aruba, Antigua, St. Maarten and St. Thomas, none of which we had visited before. We didn't particularly fancy any of the excursions which were bus sightseeing tours, if only for the reason that I hate travelling in buses and tend to get travel sick. I also feel that some of the tours are very expensive and can very often be found privately much cheaper.
This again brings up the eternal question of ship tours verses private tours. For example, we'd thought about getting the Crystal transfer on embarkation day which included sightseeing, from San Jose to Caldera, which cost $88 a person. Our private taxi (transfer only) for seven of us with ALL of our luggage (bearing in mind that we'd had 2-1/2 shopping days in New York before the cruise!) cost $110. Even adding on maybe another $100 if we'd done some sightseeing, there's still no comparison. On the other hand, you know that the ship's tours are reputable and they do what it says on the packet, and perhaps most importantly the ship will wait for you should anything untoward occur.
So we looked at the tours, dismissed any plain sightseeing ones, and chose to take part in two activities that we wouldn't normally do. In Aruba we went kayaking and snorkeling (quite expensive at $75 each), and in St. Maarten we chose the beginners scuba diving lesson/dive (fairly reasonable at $66 each). The kayaking was actually very good, with a personable guide/instructor which can make all the difference to any tour. We kayaked along the coast for about half an hour to a little beach where we had a little rest and a drink, then donned some snorkel equipment and life-jackets and swam out to see the coral. The last time I snorkeled was over 25 years ago in Sharm el-Sheikh and Nuweiba and I was looking forward to trying it again. The sea was a bit choppy which made progress difficult and made me feel a bit seasick. I'd been expecting it on the ship and happily I'd been fine, but I wasn't expecting to feel sick whilst snorkeling. I managed to survive, and what was even more surprising was that we didn't capsize our double kayak, especially on the way back when the sea got rough again. We were very proud of ourselves.
Scuba diving in St. Maarten was very nerve-racking. As first timers it's hard to get your head around the fact that you can breathe underwater. You have to make yourself relax. The instructors were excellent and I can heartily recommend this tour for the way it was run and led. After passing our "3 Skills Test" we actually dived to down to around 30 feet which was about three times deeper than I had originally envisaged. I don't think I'll particularly go diving again but it certainly is a great way to get an introduction to it.
After our kayaking in Aruba we became quick-change artists back on board, skipped lunch, and out again exploring within 15 minutes. Our kayak guide (originally from Brazil) had told us that the Portuguese parts of the local Papiamento language were brought to Aruba from Brazil when the Jewish community there was expelled (1694) after Portugal had re-conquered Brazil from Holland. He said that the Jewish community in Aruba is now assimilated but that there is still a Jewish cemetery on the island, so we of course were determined to find it. The town was pretty empty as it was the day after carnival week so everyone was "sleeping it off", but we finally managed to make ourselves understood and we were given directions. The cemeteries are all one after the other, a great big Catholic one, a small Protestant one, and a little Jewish one. It was very interesting to see that the cemetery is still being utilized and kept in very good condition.
Disembarking in Antigua we could hardly fail to notice the 3 other huge cruise ships in port with us. Only about 10,000 people unloading on to the island that morning. We hadn't booked a ship tour that day, so just took an official taxi tour from the end of the pier. My mum was with us that day whilst my sisters + spouses did their own thing. She can't walk very far so a taxi seemed like a good idea at the time. In fact it was a brilliant idea and for only $25 each we went on a 3-1/2 hour tour of the island in a nice new air-conditioned van, stopping off at the local spots, with time at various look-out points and also the famous Nelson Dockyard. Well worth it. This is in comparison with the official tour which did exactly the same thing (we saw the Crystal bus at points along the way) which cost $53 a person (see earlier discussion). We left the taxi in downtown St. Johns on main street, about 15-20 minutes walk from the ship. We ambled back doing bits of shopping on the way, so in the end we spent about two hours walking around. In case you're wondering, when it comes to shopping my mum has great stamina!
In St. Maarten we had our scuba diving in the afternoon so we went exploring in the morning by ourselves. We walked into town about 15 minutes away to Philipsburg, then caught a local bus to the French side to see what Marigot had to offer. Driving along the bumpy road all the signs were in English, but as soon we reached the French side the road was a lot better kept and the signs were in French. Shops don't really open till 10:00 am so we walked around, went to the sea front and then made our way to the open air market. Lots of stalls. Yes, of course we bought some bits and pieces. We're first time tourists in the Caribbean.
Finally we arrived at St. Thomas. To tell you the truth, this was the third port day in a row and it's exhausting. We would have preferred to have these days staggered. I don't know how people manage the port-intensive itineraries with hardly any sea days. As you all know St. Thomas is part of the United States so we had to go through the US immigration process. This was made very easy for us by Crystal as the immigration officials came on board to process us there, with separate rooms for US and non-US citizens. Two huge advantages were that firstly the whole process took about 45 seconds instead of the "hours" at a port or an airport, and it secondly it meant that we didn't have to do it in Miami which was the next stop for disembarkation.
Again we explored on foot, walking about 15-20 minutes into town and seeing what was on offer. We had no specific plan other than to wander around and go and find the synagogue which is the second oldest continuously functioning synagogue in the western hemisphere, dating back to 1796. We duly found the synagogue which lives on Synagogue Hill, and spent some time in the little museum reading through the history of the place. We found Britannia House where the old British Consuls lived, with a very friendly curator who gave us background information. Afterwards we went shop crawling in what cruise director Scott Peterson called Shopper's Disneyland, but we were disappointed. They were all basically the same, over-priced jewellery and over-priced souvenirs. Back at the port there are seven "shop buildings". Each "building" is really a street of shops but the same outlets are in each street so really there's hardly any choice at all. Even the single malt whisky that I looked at wasn't particularly cheap and there was a very poor selection. A much better drinks (liquor) shop is to be found on the pier in Antigua. All in all a pretty place but not one that I'd rush back to.
Disembarkation This was handled with Crystal's usual efficiency. Everyone received their colour-coded luggage labels and exact departure time from the ship. Unfortunately there was a problem with US customs so everything was held up by about an hour and a quarter. Once the go-ahead was given everything proceeded according to plan. The only problem was that for some unexplained reason (though we did ask) the Bistro did not open at 9:00 like it was meant to. That meant that there was nowhere to get a decent cup of coffee and a piece of cake whilst we were waiting. Maybe they were afraid of being swamped by passengers because everyone was in the Starlight Club waiting to disembark. As soon as disembarkation started the Bistro opened. Mrs nadge likes her coffee and croissant in the morning and we'd elected not to get room service in favour of the Bistro, so we were a tad disgruntled. Our flight out of Miami was only at 17:30 so we knew we had hours to kill beforehand. Taking Judith's advice we asked the concierge about transfers, who organised us on the Crystal transfer ($33 per person) which included transfer to the Hilton airport hotel for a light lunch, keeping all the luggage under lock and key whilst we waited and relaxed by the hotel pool, then transfer to the airport and escort during check-in. It was well worth it as we would have only had to wait out those hours at the airport with all our luggage.
Reasonable flight from Miami to Heathrow (about 8 hours) then another 5 hours to Tel Aviv. It was a bit foggy in London that morning so we were stuck on the plane for an extra hour and a half till we could take off. Arrived home safely about 36 hours after leaving the ship, and were met at the airport by four of our kids which was really nice.
Summary As many other people have said, the two main impressions that one takes away from the cruise is the quality of the service and the friendliness of both the passengers and the crew. The crew's friendliness is truly genuine and we appreciated it.
Highlights My Mum's birthday "the whole reason for the holiday" was really nice. We woke up early and gathered in her cabin for present giving. Her various grandchildren had also made her cards and presents, and there were balloons and decorations in the cabin courtesy of our stewardess. We gathered again for cocktails and more present giving before dinner, during which she was serenaded by all the personnel and we had a birthday cake of course. She was also serenaded by the Castaways at karaoke that evening. All in all a great day.
Mrs nadge looking beautiful all dressed up with plenty of places to go.
Mozart tea and the Amadeus hot chocolate. I was going for Patty's record (Paws10) as I managed three in 35 minutes. I started feeling a bit sick so I stopped after that! I'll have to pace myself better next time.
The service. Mum had a maintenance issue with the bath. It took 3 visits to sort it out. The next day she received a box of chocolates as an apology from Crystal because the service hadn't been up to scratch. She'd never even said a word to anyone about it. That's service.
One day I came in to lunch late just to pick up the others before trivia, as I'd been playing in the paddle tennis competition and I didn't feel like eating. The head waiter was genuinely disappointed that I wasn't staying to eat.
The best recommendation I can give is that I've been smiling as I've been writing this, remembering all the good times on board.
After much anticipation, the newest ship in the Crystal Cruise Lines fleet, the Crystal Serenity, made her debut, under some interesting circumstances. While preparing the ship for her maiden voyage, the new propulsion system experienced some problems, causing a return to the French shipyard and a week of drydock. This caused delays in crew training, interior finishes and general deliveries of ship's stores. Consequently, Crystal contacted every passenger booked on the maiden voyage and offered them a choice: canceling their cruise and receiving a full refund, or remain on the cruise and still receiving a refund. Most, if not all passengers, chose to continue on with their plans to cruise.
The Serenity looks much like her older sisters with two important variations. There is one additional deck of Penthouses, and the lifeboats are recessed into the ship's hull on Deck 6, which removes the problem of obstructed view cabins. All cabins are outside, and all having verandahs, with the exceptions of the Category C cabins, which have a large picture window.
I sailed on the Grand Inaugural Voyage on July 7, 2003, in an AA Stateroom on Deck 10, and all I cansay is that it was a fantastic experience, even with the very few glitches that happened due to the delay. While there were some problems with crew training and the absence of things like tableware and certain beverages, this did in no way diminish what has become known as the "Crystal Experience".
It's obvious that Crystal spared no expense in making their public rooms the finest at sea. From the rich, darker woods to the luxurious fabrics and liberal use of color, the Serenity has a completely different visual feel from her sister ships. Instead of using light blond wood in the public areas, Crystal has chosen a deep butterscotch tone which provides a very soft and appealing feel to the rooms. While the Crystal Cove's waterfall, located on Deck 5, isn't as dramatic as on the Symphony, the use of stained glass in colors of deep purple, gold, green and white, provides a lovely backdrop for the waterfall and the bronze statue of a harpist. The Cove is large and well lit via natural light and provides a very welcoming ambiance embarking passengers. The Crystal Cove Lounge is virtually the same as on the other two ships and includes the signature "Crystal Piano". Also on Deck 5 is the Crystal Dining Room. While the dining room is somewhat larger than on the other ships, there seems to be more of an intimate feel to the room and it appears Crystal has solved the problem of too much noise in the room in the form of overhearing other tables' conversations. There is a magnificent mural on the ceiling in the center of the room in shades of pale blue and pink, to complement the carpet which is dark chocolate brown with tiny rosettes, also in pale pink and blue. White tablecloths and the signature Crystal dinnerware along with Christophle flatware makes a beautiful table setting.
The deck plans for Deck 6, the hub of most of Crystal's activities are quite a bit different from the other ships. While the location of the Galaxy Lounge and Caesar's Palace at Sea casino are the same, the location of the Hollywood Theater, and the Stardust Club took some getting used to. The theater is located midship behind the atrium and the Stardust is located at the very back of the deck. Both show lounges are beautifully decorated and rich jewel tones. The Galaxy is finished in tones of sapphire blue and dove gray, with love seats in blue velvet replacing the long banquettes found on the other two ships. There are also the rounded swivel chairs covered in dove gray and blue patterned fabric. And, in this Galaxy, there are no pillars obstructing the views of the stage. The Stardust is very warm and inviting in shades of red, blue and gold, but it just doesn't seem to have the small and intimate feeling previous Stardust Lounges. Also on Deck 6 are the Avenue Saloon, which was busy every night, the Connoisseur Club, which didn't seem very well utilized, and Pulse Disco, which was quite empty every evening. The Saloon's design, in my opinion, isn't the best due to the fact that the huge bar is located right inside the doorway, which, during busy times, makes it very difficult to get to the tables, which are located farther inside the room. But the acoustics in that room are fantastic for the nightly piano entertainment.
Deck 7 contains what I believe to be the most interesting and most dramatically different rooms on board. The computer room, which serves as not only classroom space for the wonderful computer instruction classes Crystal provides, but it's also the link to the outside world for many of the passengers. There are two rooms with numerous Dell computers equipped with flat screen monitors where passengers can send and receive e-mail and access the internet. The room is bright and cheery, decorated in tones of blue, red and yellow and the large windows provide lots of natural light. Next door to the computer room is the Bridge Room which is at least twice as large as similar rooms on the other ships. There are approximately 20 tables to accommodate bridge lessons, tournaments or informal play. The port side of Deck 7 contains Crystal's newest innovations, the Vintage Room where special Wine Tasters Dinners are held, and the Studio, where classes in piano, language, cooking and wine appreciation are held. The Vintage Room is elegant and beautiful decorated in red and gold. There is a long rectangular table that will seat a maximum of 14 lucky passengers who chose to participate in the fabulous dinner and wine tasting experience. One-half of The Studio is equipped with Yamaha electronic pianos, while the other half contains tables and chairs for instructional purposes. In the center of the room is a teaching area equipped with a cooking demonstration station and cameras recessed into the ceiling, which gives all participants a clear view of what the chef is preparing on two large TV monitors located on either side of the area. The classes in The Studio were exceptionally popular on the Inaugural voyage. The Library, containing DVD's, CD's and a wonderful selection of books is directly next door to the Studio. Also located on this deck are the two alternate restaurants, Prego and Silk Road. Prego is nothing like the other two Prego restaurants, giving up the pizza parlor feel for a more romantic and elegant setting. The bright blue, red and yellows are replaced by understated and elegant pastel shades. The room has the feeling of a more formal restaurant and not that of a bistro. Silk Road, the Asian alternate destination, is absolutely beautiful decorated in shades of pale blue, black and white and as the name inplies, the furniture has a modern Asian influence. Tables in both alternate restaurants are well spaced affording some dining privacy. Deck 7 is also the place to do your morning walks with the large wraparound Promenade, which was also a very popular place for those who wished to work off the inevitable weight gain.
Deck 12 is the daytime hub on the Serenity. On that deck you'll find the swimming pools, spas, the Lido Buffet, the ice cream parlor Scoops, the Trident Grill and Crystal's newest alternate food station, Tastes. All are casual dining alternatives to the formal dining room with Tastes also being open in the evening for those who wish to forgo the Crystal Dining Room for dinner on several evenings on each cruise. Deck 12 is also home to the Palm Court, one of the most beautiful lounges at sea. This room has a very tropical feel with wicker furniture, palm trees and fantastic sea views from every seat. This is a favorite after-dinner spot for dancing and relaxing.
On Deck 13 you find the Paddle Tennis Courts, the Crystal Salon and Spa and the Fitness Center. I have to say that these facilities are the best I've experienced at sea. The Salon is large and provides every amenity you can ask for while the spa is dramatically larger than her counterparts on the Symphony and Harmony. The salon/spa are wonderful places to unwind and relax with facials, massages and other treatments. The Fitness Center is one of best equipped facilities I've seen at sea. There are running machines, each equipped with individual television screens, free-weights, stair-step machines and an area for yoga, aerobics, Pilates and Tai Chi classes. There are also saunas and steam rooms.
All staterooms are beautifully decorated in richer, darker woodwork, well-designed and functional furniture and upscale Frette linens such as down comforters and pillows. The bathrooms feature double sinks, with Aveda bath products and are decorated in shades of beige and white, with a surprising amount of natural granite on the countertops and floor. The PH, PS and CP penthouse rooms feature separate whirlpool tubs and showers. Closets are adequate for hanging clothes, with very good drawer space and personal safes. There are refrigerators in all rooms that are now stocked with complimentary soft drinks and water, while the Penthouse rooms are fully stocked with requested bar items. The televisions are equipped with DVD players and have 24 hour CNN, CNBC, ESPN, and movies. The televisions in the CP, PS, and PH suites have large flat screen televisions.
Dining and Service
This is where Crystal outshines everyone. The food and service are consistently wonderful and continue to receive yearly awards. The word "no" is not in the Crystal dictionary and a passenger only need ask for something and it will be done. On my cruise, tablemates asked for specially prepared entrees or desserts, and they were prepared with absolutely no problem. Even with little training time, dining room service was flawless, food was prepared as ordered and no one missed a beat. The food in Prego and Silk Road was fantastic. The black cod and sushi platters of Silk Road were the best I've ever tasted. And don't forget to try the toasted sesame seed ice cream with chocolate mousse cake for dessert.
Tastes, the newest alternate dining destination, was quite popular not only for lunch but for those who wanted to avoid the formal dining room after a long day of touring. The menu for lunch consists of salads, soups, sandwiches and pizza. For dinner the atmosphere is a little less casual with the tables being set with linen tablecloths and napkins. Service for dinner at Tastes was quick and attentive, with a changing menu.
The Lido and Trident Grill are the same as on the other two ships. Very good food that includes burgers (veggie, salmon, chicken and beef), wraps, salads, and a pasta bar. The food is varied and plentiful in the Lido and the service is excellent.
The productions shows, with the exception of the new show, Curtain Call, weren't ready in time for our sailing, so Crystal brought in celebrity entertainers for the evening shows. Alan King, Marvin Hamlisch, and Dionne Warwick entertained in the evening along with various musical performers brought on for this cruise. The new production show, Curtain Call, was finally ready for our last evening. by far, it's the best show Crystal has produced to date. The cast performs scenes from a number of popular Broadway shows, including, but not limited to, Chicago, The Man of LaMancha and Evita. The costumes and staging are fabulous.
Despite the delays, this was a typical Crystal experience. Fantastic food and service, wonderful accommodations, and more entertainment and activities than there is time to experience. People often ask if Crystal is worth the money and all I can say is "Yes". While other lines might have larger rooms, go to the same destinations and have more flashy entertainment, they cannot possibly provide all the little touches that make Crystal special. A stewardess who remembers you prefer three pillows on your bed, a butler who knows you prefer Jack Daniels or diet Coke, waiters who have your favorite drink waiting at your table when you walk into a lounge, and the head waiter who remembers you love bananas foster for dessert and surprises you with that for dessert one evening. Those are the things that most other cruise lines cannot do for you. Couple that with a crew who are always smiling, officers who are accessible to the passengers, and a general ambiance that cannot be copied all make Crystal worth the cost. I guess the Crystal experience can be explained by this simple gesture: when we were disembarking in Southampton, the process of walking down the gangway was quite slow. The reason? Captain Maalen was standing at the end of the ramp, shaking hands with each passenger and thanking them for cruising Crystal. For me, it's summed up in the music that the Captain plays as we leave each port. The song, by Louis Armstrong, says "sailing along on the Serenity,....... With my Crystal family, and I think to myself, what a wonderful world".
Deutsch Fliegen Boot Gruppe Eine Teilung von Deutsche Lufthansbot Groupe
GRADING RUBRIC: (actual points achieved/possible number of points) Cuisine- 2,798/3,000 Service- 2,823/3,000 Accommodations- 1,634/2,000 Entertainment- 712/1,000 Ship- 892/1,000
TOTAL: (actual points achieved/possible number of points) M/S Crystal Serenity- 8,859/10,000
RATING: M/S Crystal Serenity- * * * * *
HOW THE GRADING WORKS: * * * * * * 9,000+ * * * * * 8,500-8,999 * * * * + 8,000-8,499 * * * * 7,500-7,999 * * * + 7,000-7,499 * * * 6,500-6,999 * * + 6,000-6,499 * * 5,500-5,999 * < 5,499
Cuisine: Crystal Dining Room- The cuisine that is served in the Crystal Dining Room is consistently far above the standards of that found on almost every cruise line. The menu is clearly laid out and the cuisine is presented in the light classical-French tradition. The ingredients used are of an extremely high-quality and the dishes are attractively presented, although not at all gourmet. One must be aware of the extremely high noise-levels in this restaurant. This complimented with the wait-staff constantly dropping plates and silverware creates little or no ambiance at all. The service from the European staff is verygood, although not always personal. Often, dishes do not come out the way one orders them. The wine list is, however, simply superb.
Prego and Silk Road- The two specialty restaurants onboard offer attractively-presented gourmet cuisine. Prego offers gourmet Italian dishes, although to some people, the food may be "deep"; most people are used to the "light" Italian side. Silk Road, the Japanese alternative dining selection on Serenity, is managed by famous Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, creator of the Nobu restaurants in London and New York. Silk Road features a wide variety of sushi, which are constantly being flown in to the ship to ensure freshness and quality. Overall, Silk Road offers extremely good value, as it is very easy to eat yourself into hundreds of dollars at the actual restaurants.
Weak points: Dining in the Crystal Dining Room is unfortunately, not a "six-star" event, as is touted in the company's brochures. Because of the rather small size of the dining room, and the extremely low ceilings, this creates, literally "surround-sound" loudness that is really quite deafening to the ears. Also, having to send in a filet mignon 3-4 times in order to receive "medium-rare" is really unacceptable on a ship of this class and price. At times, you get a sense that further organization with regards to the service is needed. Service at Prego can be over-the-top (such as the same waiter asking for water 3 times within a minute). At Silk Road, attentiveness is somewhat lacking at times. --------------------------------------------------- Service: Service on Serenity resembles that of a Four-Seasons, or Ritz-Carlton; attentive, yet at the same time, discrete if deemed necessary. The Filipino staff members truly make the cruise memorable; a genuine smile and feeling of constant happiness can always be seen from them. Without a doubt, the Filipino's are a great asset to this cruise line; they are not at all an "expense". Housekeeping is good at their job; although they sometimes do not clearly understand the connection between "keep" and "throw-away". Front desk is extremely helpful. Butler service is superb. One will not encounter any rude staff members onboard a ship of this prestige. The word "no" should not be in any of the crew, staff, and officers vocabulary. No matter what the request is, the staff onboard does it, in style. The service onboard Serenity is definitely one of the high-points of the ship.
Weak points: Not available --------------------------------------------------- Accommodations: The accommodations offered onboard Serenity range from the outdoor cabins (Crystal does not offer inside cabins on Serenity) to the opulent Crystal Penthouse. As an added treat, Penthouse-accommodation guests receive many complimentary liquors, as well as 24-hour butler service. Penthouse-category suites also include a Bang & Oluffsen stereo, and a 30-inch LCD Panasonic TV display. Fresh fruit is brought into the rooms daily, and "afternoon snacks" can be brought in upon request to the butler. The "Penthouse Stateroom" does not deserve this title. They are really just overpriced staterooms with some small added amenities that one finds in the other Penthouse grades of accommodation.
Weak points: Unfortunately, when a guest enters his or her room, they will likely find that their rooms are indeed smaller than anticipated. Thus, making it difficult to order room service as the line boasts. The bathrooms on the standard cabins are poorly-designed, which creates a rather uncomfortable, cramped experience. Older guests should note that the bathtub and shower are combined, making it difficult for anyone with a leg injury to step into the shower. This is unacceptable for a line of this standard. Another poorly-designed feature in all rooms is the fact that light can seep through the two-layers of blinds. With this in mind, how can this ship sail to Alaska (let alone another northern port-of-call) where light is seen 21 out of the 24 hours of the day? As a result, this leads a "bad night's sleep", especially after a long day of touring. --------------------------------------------------- Entertainment: The entertainment offered onboard Serenity really illustrates to us the type of crowd that Crystal Cruises markets towards. This can be clearly seen on certain nights, where you are often treated to traditional musical classics. To many, this brings back old, fond memories of their life. The production shows are quite simply poor. There are no "sets", and the shows are certainly not entertaining. Many passengers agree. The Galaxy Theatre is very small, but has excellent sight lines. In the evening, you are treated to live music throughout the vessel and in most public rooms. The Crystal Piano located in the Crystal Cove is truly a sight to see. There are also a variety of sophisticated guest entertainers from pianists to comedians. On sea days, there are a variety of guest lecturers that many find informative. Depending on your age and background, you may enjoy the entertainment to a different degree. This is reflected in the entertainment rating.
Weak points: The Galaxy Theatre has little ambiance, and is only one deck. Often, the same music plays again, and again in the buffet. For most, this is bothersome. Depending on your age and background, you may enjoy the entertainment to a different degree. This is reflected in the entertainment rating. On sea days and when the ship is in port, there are announcements in the morning around 9 A.M. Many people are trying to sleep at this hour, and it is very disturbing to them. --------------------------------------------------- Ship: Crystal Serenity is a handsome vessel with a nicely raked-bow. Many guests will be disappointed with the "apartment-block" look that she boasts from the exterior. The vessel as a whole is designed very well, with good passenger flow. The breakup of the decks is as follows:
Deck 4: Tender Embarkation Area.
Deck 5: Crystal Plaza, Crystal Cove and Crystal Dining Room. This area is magnificent with a solid glass grand piano in the center of it.
Deck 6: Caesars Palace at Sea Casino is located here. This classic casino is operated by Park-Place Entertainment. On this deck there is also the Avenue of the Stars "shopping gallery". This area is very small, and does not belong here. The selection in the shops is extremely disappointing. Across from the shops is "The Bistro", a very elegant area to get snacks throughout the day. The front of Deck 6 is the home to the Galaxy Theatre, the ships main show lounge. This theatre cannot compare to the theatres on newer, larger vessels in terms of technology and overall ambiance. Towards the aft of deck 6 is the Hollywood Theatre; a cinema. It is well designed, with raised seats so every seat is the best seat in the house. The photo-gallery runs along-side with the Hollywood Theatre. Behind this area is the Connoisseur Club and the Avenue Saloon. These are two of the finest public rooms at sea today in terms of décor and comfort. The aft of deck 6 boasts the "Stardust Lounge" and "Pulse". Both are evening lounges for dancing, and music. Stardust Lounge also serves as a secondary theatre. Pulse caters to a younger crowd of people.
Deck 7: Deck 7 contains the Library, Bridge Room, "Computer University at Sea", Prego, and Silk Road. Also on deck seven are some standard staterooms with no balconies. The Library is elegantly furnished with a wide selection of various reading materials. The Bridge Room serves it purpose well. Prego and Silk Road are both excellent.
Decks 8, 9: Standard staterooms with balconies.
Decks 10, 11: Penthouse staterooms and suites.
Deck 12: This deck is home to the Lido Café, Tastes, Trident Grill, two pools (one indoor and one outdoor), and Palm Court. The Lido Café, Tastes, and the Trident Grill can really be classified as one eatery. This area serves well-prepared food for all three meals. The selection is outstanding. The service is even better. Often, there are themed buffets for lunch which are quite creative. One pool is inside, and one is outside. Both are larger than the industry standard; and both are heated to perfection (about 86 degrees Fahrenheit). The outside one is salt-water, and the inside one is not. Palm Court is an elegant lounge where the Captains Welcome Party is held. It is also used for afternoon tea, art auctions, and a casually-elegant evening lounge. Fantasia, the children's play-room is also on this deck. It is small, and really pointless.
Deck 13: On deck 13 one finds the paddle tennis courts, and the Crystal Spa and Gymnasium. The Spa/Gymnasium is larger than the standard of what would be found on most vessels of this class and size. The paddle tennis courts are underused, but certainly do belong there as nothing else is there.
Overall, the Crystal Serenity is a beautiful vessel with some of the finest interiors found at sea today.
Weak points: The "Computer University at Sea" is PATHETIC!!! This center deserves to be boycotted for its OUTSTANTDINGLY HIGH prices. This is one of the main reasons that this ship is only 5-stars, not 6. The ship itself would have received a nearly perfect rating if not for this. If you search the internet on normal pages for 15 minutes, you will $60.00. This center needs to go. It needs to shape up or ship out! --------------------------------------------------- Overall Ending Impressions: We at the Deutsch Fliegen Boot Gruppe believe that Crystal Serenity is the finest large cruise ship in service today. We wish her many pleasant cruises ahead...
We had a fabulous cruise, our second on Crystal line. Crystal is quite simply a top notch line. We love good food and entertainment and wanted a larger stateroom than provided by many lines.
The Food The ingredients used for food on the Serenity are very high quality. Even the pasta was of high quality and very tasty. Beef is flown in from the U.S., and we enjoyed lobster several times during the cruise -- in the main dining room, at a buffet, and at the Silk Road speciality restaurant. Our headwaiter gave us opportunities to make special requests. Want crepe suzette? You have it. I heard that one couple ordered caviar from room service for breakfast every morning. Some of our friends ordered chocolate souffles for their last evening in the dining room.
Both Prego and Silk Road restaurants are lovely and provide a bit of variety on the cruise. The Silk Road was especially fine. Both restaurants are free but a $6 tip per person is suggested.
The Entertainment The entertainment is also top-notch. The musical production numbers are a visual and auditory delight. Highly skilled dancers and fine voicesare backed up by a live orchestra. I heard that each show costs $1 million to put into production, and each cruise has about five shows. For variety, a comedian, a dance team and a fantastic classical pianist also entertained. Music is available all over the ship in bars, at teatime, at cocktail parties, etc.
We had excellent and erudite lecturers onboard, and we took advantage of language, computer and piano classes. There is something to entertain every interest.
The Cabins The staterooms are large and lovely and have more than ample storage. We requested juices in our fridge in addition to the free soda and water. Bathrooms have two sinks in the granite vanity and a shower in the tub. Aveda soaps and lotions are provided.
It is hard to find fault with the Crystal experience. It is a happy ship with a crew that falls over itself to please each guest. It is organized, clean, and not crowded. One reviewer talked about noise in the dining room. We did not experience that, and we never had trouble hearing conversation there. We found our stateroom very quiet also.
It costs a bit more to sail with Crystal, but the experience is first-rate.
My wife and I have just completed the cruise with Serenity. This was our first cruise with Crystal, having been on 15 cruises with most of the other lines. My advise to first cruisers is not to take a Crystal cruise first. You will never be happy with any other cruise line. It is like driving a BMW and then having to drive a Ford.
The Serenity is not a glittsey ship-no 7 floor centrums, no fancy waterfalls-just mostly like the older ships. However, the comparison ends here.
We were met at the bottom of the gangway, take-own baggage taken from us, and we were escorted toour room We were then escorted to our room. The maid offered to unpack for us (refused). One of the outstanding features of the ship is the service. How often have you been met at the end of a food line by someone who takes your tray and then finds a table for you? I never did find an emplyoee who did not smile. Requests for directions were followed by showing you and not telling you. This was a happy ship. It is hard tobe disgruntled when everyone is smiling.
The cabin was somewhat smaller than I expected. We stayed on the 9th floor. There was more drawer space than even my wife could fill up. The bathroom had a tub with shower and two sinks. Our maid was new and a little slow. However, she saved my life by having my tux shoes fixed when the sole came off. As one reviewer mentioned, the curtains let in too much light. When was the last time you could order a hot breakfast in your room? We could with Crystal.
To say that the food was outstanding is making an understatement. It was truly goumet equal to any of the gourmet restaurants where we regulary eat. We did not notice the noise in the dining room. The special restaurants, Silk Road and Prado were also outstanding. The cost is only a suggested tip of $6/person. (Remember the $20/person on RCL?) Reservations can to hard to get if you insist on eating late. We eat at 6:30 and had no problems. In fact we "pigged" out on the suhii.
The Grand Buffet held in the centrum will always be the best we have been to. Imagine a large table of lobster and other tables of shrimp, meats, deserts! The ice cream, soft drinks, bottled water, and set ups where always free. Crystal also lets you bring your own alchol aboard.
We are not entertainment people. However, the ones that we attened were quite good. I prefer blackjack and my wife likes the "slots".
The side trips were very well organized. The buses and guides were good and spoke english that we could understand. We stopped at Bari, Italy. This was a worthless stop and should be eliminated. Bottled water,free, was always available on the buses.
Disembarcation was very well controlled. Cruise employees were availabe at both ends to help us.
I can't see us taking any other cruise line in the future
The April 14 cruise was last segment of World cruise.
The ship was clean and inviting as in the past, but it soon became obvious that all was not well.caused I think by administration wishing to cut costs.
Embarkation as usual , but the staff member who escorted me to the cabin was on his first day of working for Crystal, He got lost.fortunately I knew the ship better than he did.
There were only 325 passengers, 100 of whom were Full World cruisers and this created a division of "sheep" and goats"
Dining even for dinner was "open seating", doors opened at 7pm and closed at 9pm. This was a very bad idea With the gratuities still on the individual system, the staff knew they were going to be misssing money on the last night. The kitchen could not cope with some passengers eating desert while others were just starting with the appetizer.
This seemed to produce chaos in the kitchen. What arrived was quite different to that ordered.
"Fresh raspberries with Vanilla ice cream" came up as "Bluberries with whipped cream","Fried oysters" came up as "oysters Rockafeller","Fried onion rings" came as twospoonfuls of "braised chopped onions" (like those on top of a hamburger" At breakfast I cut into my pancake and a mess of uncooked batter oozed over my plate. An order of "link sausages with broiled tomato" arrived on a large plate, it consisted of one thin sausage and half a tomato.! I was told the kitchen had not got enough sausages! I have never has this happen on my previous 9 cruises with Crystal. There were other happenings also which made for difficulties.
The President of Crystal came on board for the last 5 days, he held a public forum in the Galaxy to brief us on the "future of Crystal" Full World cruisers demanded that in future the line would not sell segments , or would price the segments much higher per day than the full cruise "that will limit the numbers" To my astonishment he agreed to that suggestion, failing to point out that Crystal could not operate with just 100 passengers on board.
I am just your "Mrs Average", I dress well but do not buy expensives wines, a $1000 St John suit or $30,000 necklace in the shops on board. The full World cruisers did not want "segment" passengers or "Mr and Mrs Average "on what they had looked upon as their private yacht, and Crystal's President made it clear he supports that idea.
I think Crystal is making a big mistake It is "Mr and Mrs. Average " who make up the bulk of the cruising public.
I cruised the third leg of the Symphony's world cruise which started in Sydney and ended 24 days later in Hong Kong. Embarkation was quick and easy and in less than 10 minutes I was sipping champagne in my cabin on deck 9. The room was spotless and my stewardess introduced herself and asked if there was anything I needed. I spent the next hour unpacking my luggage and waiting to be on the balcony to experience the sail away from Sydney Harbor. (As an aside, I shipped by bags via FedEx and they arrived at the ship in plenty of time.) Our first stop was Cairns, for a two day overnight. I participated in a tour of the Rainforestation, and an amphibious duck ride along with a train trip from Kuranda to Cairns. This was the best trip to experience Australia's wildlife---I got to hold a koala and pet a wallaby. Our next stop was Darwin, which is an interesting city and much smaller than I expected. We went on a tour of the jumping crocodiles. An OK tour, but seeing the crocs up close was quite interesting. Crystal decidedto cancel our two stops in Indonesia due to the international situation, which meant we had additional time in Singapore. What a great place to shop. It's a very metropolitian city, and impecibly clean. Next we had two stops in Vietnam, one for Ho Chi Minh City and three days later in Ha Long Bay, for Hanoi. These are two places I've always wanted to see and to say it was an education is an understatement. Both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are culturally exciting, highly populated, polluted, dusty, dirty, friendly, noisy, in need of repair, and wonderful all in one big package. Believe it or not, there is still propaganda about the Vietnam war in many places, but Americans are very welcomed. Since they've only recently opened their doors to tourism, I can suspect that things will only improve for the tourists. Hong Kong was our final stop on this segment, and unfortunately, I had to return home.
As for the ship, Crystal, as always, was fantastic and they continue to amaze with their 6 star food and service. I opted for late seating, which is the smart thing to do if you're planning on doing a lot of port tours. My dining companions were fun and interesting and we never lacked for stimulating conversation. My waiter and assistant waiter were fabulous, and the wine steward was extremely knowledgable. Food selections were varied with a choice of four appetizers, four soups, two salads, four main courses, a pasta course, and four desserts. You could also opt for their vegetarian selections, or order off the menu. Some nights I just wanted a salad and grilled salmon, and this was taken care of with no problem. If you wanted caviar every night, you got it. One of my tablemates wanted mashed potatoes every night, and raspberries for dessert, and he had them without asking. I know people dislike Crystal because of their assigned seating at dinner, but as a single woman traveler, I much prefer assigned seating as it allows me to meet people early on in the cruise. For breakfast and lunch you could chose between the formal dining room, the Lido buffet or the Trident grill for burgers and things like that. (Boy, do they make a great chicken caesar wrap) Then of course, there's the alternate restaurants, Prego and Jade Garden, which I visited more than once each. The Jade Garden was taken over for 10 days by Chinois, Wolfgang Puck's restaurant in Santa Monica. It was the absolute highlight of the cruise. Their Asian delights were so popular that they were booked every night to capacity. It's nice to have choices when cruising.
Crystal has so many options for days at sea. There are dance lessons with the gentlemen hosts, computer classes, bridge lessons, wine tasting, cooking lessons, and lectures by some very well known individuals such as Garrick Utley, and Harm de Blij. Evening entertainment continues to be a Crystal stong point with everything from their Broadway-style shows to classical artists, comics and their new Repertory at Sea group who stage well-known one act plays.
Crystal continues to offer their loyal customers what can only be regarded as one of the finest experiences in cruising. When the new Serenity comes on line in 2003, it will only add to the great food and service that had become a trademark of Crystal Cruise Lines.
This was our third Crystal Cruise and second on the Crystal Harmony. They are rated at the top by several travel and cruise books and magazines, and it is a reputation they well deserve. Their fortes are service, food and entertainment. The dining room offers a wide variety, all served hot and to perfection with few exceptions. The menu requires a bit of interpretation because the vegetarian, lighter side and chef recommendations are separate from the regular list, thus requiring integration for a complete picture of the many delicious choices. Their specialty restaurants, one Japanese and one Italian, compare with any major city's top restaurants - both in food and service. A $6 per person gratuity is recommended for each time you eat in one of these. A final note on food pertains to the Lido buffet. It is very much above the typical ship Lido in quality and selection. I would never expect to find crème brulee as one of the buffet dessert bar offerings nor osso bucco as an entree, yet both appeared as part of the daily luncheon selections.
Entertainment is also spectacular. The song and dance production team andaccompanying orchestra demonstrate a level of proficiency equal to performers in Las Vegas or with a traveling Broadway company. Costumes are elaborate. Variety acts are also of a very high quality. The only criticism I could offer is there does not seem to be as rapid a turnover on production shows as on some other lines. We last cruised with the Harmony in 1998 and two of the production shows are the same in 2002. Two supplemental lecturers, along with golf, dance and bridge instruction keep one well occupied on days at sea. My wife, particularly, enjoyed the Crystal Computer University where there is time to learn and use e-mail, Internet and word processing. Being a golfer, I was pleasantly surprised to find two group lessons a day when at sea. The instructor gives every attendee the chance to hit several balls with personal suggestions on needed improvements. The usual Scrabble, shuffleboard, ping pong, paddle tennis, crafts, trivia games, Bingo, and other shipboard standards are available every day. The spa and exercise facility seemed to draw approval from a few passengers that mentioned using them although we had no direct experiences with them. There are few children on this ship and very limited facilities - a small playroom and a few Sony playstations. The typical passenger would be about 50-70 and reasonably affluent and educated. Both our Harmony sailings have been during winter months so the composition could shift in the summer.
Shore excursions are well-organized and certainly cover the highlights of the port area. We did have one glitch in a driver overloading his mini-van to get extra fares when the Crystal rep was elsewhere. The shore excursion office gave us a full refund stating customer satisfaction was paramount. We took an excursion in each port, and all ran on time and covered the advertised venues.
Cabins on the Harmony are not as generous in size as on many other luxury ships, nor even on HAL. We had a verandah deluxe with 246 square feet. Regular cabins are about 190. Bathrooms are particularly small though efficient. Beds are quite comfortable and there is good lighting. Our biggest complaint about the cabins is that they are full of "squeaks and creaks." There are lots of random rattles, etc, even in very smooth seas. You can also hear heavy occupants walking or children playing vigorously in the cabin directly above yours.
Public space is excellent. Very roomy lounges with comfortable seating. Main showroom does have a few obstruction supports toward the back; however, we never had a problem getting good seating even five minutes before show time. The casino is adequate for the size of the ship. Being a slot machine player, I was disappointed that the machines are relatively old style. Only two or three with secondary bonus screens, and those are nowhere close to what you find in the larger casinos on the mainland U.S.
The entire staff is courteous and friendly. There is definitely an attitude of the "passenger is our lifeblood" so we had better be sure there is customer satisfaction! This is an excellent example of getting what you pay for. Crystal costs a bit more, but the service and quality make you feel as if you are still getting good value for what you spent. We certainly give it the six star recommendation claimed.