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Crystal Symphony Still a Top Contender
BY STEVEN STERN WEDNESDAY MARCH 18, 2015 11:26:53 AM  
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CRYSTAL SYMPHONY STILL A TOP CONTENDER

 

 

Crystal Cruises launched its first ship, Crystal Harmony, in 1990, followed by the Crystal Symphony in 1995 and the Crystal Serenity in 2003. In 2005, the parent company, NYK of Japan, transferred the Harmony to its Japanese subsidiary. Since its inception, Crystal Cruises has been a major contender in the luxury cruise market, and is considered one of the best by its loyal followers, as well as cruise critics.

In March of 2015, NYK sold the cruise line to Genting Hong Kong (GHK) for $550 million in cash. GHK also owns Star Cruises and is a major shareholder in Norwegian Cruise Line. At the time of the acquisition, GHK announced its intention to build a new ship for Crystal. This would seem to be fortuitous, if not necessary, considering that Crystal’s competitors, Seabourn Cruise Line and Radisson Seven Seas have new ships entering service next year. In addition, all of the other luxury cruise lines are already operating some ships of a more recent vintage than those of Crystal. Thus the addition of this new ship will be appreciated by Crystal enthusiasts and enable the cruise line to keep up with the new ship competition.

My most recent Crystal cruise in February/March 2015 was on the Crystal Symphony emanating in Singapore visiting Kuala Lumpor, Langkawi, Penang and Malacca in Malaysia, Phuket in Thailand and Yangon in Myanmar. A variety of shore excursions were available, ranging from city tours, visits to Buddhist Temples and Pagodas, and spending the day at a beach resort to a 21- mile-an-hour zip line adventure, an elephant ride and a sea canoe expedition. Most were reasonably priced.

Although I had cruised on Crystal Serenity several times over the past ten years, I had not sailed on Crystal Symphony since 2002, and I was interested in seeing how she was holding up.

I noted that new venues had been added to the public areas including a new nightclub, a vintage room for special high-end wine pairing dinners, a large Jacuzzi by the swimming pool, an enlarged library and “computer at sea” internet/learning facility, and an additional alfresco seating area located between the Lido Restaurant and Grill, previously the location of the mid-ship pool.  All of the public areas had been refurbished and redecorated giving the ship a fresher and more glamorous appearance.

The extensive redecorating and renovations to the various categories of accommodations was impressive.  Every stateroom and suite received new carpeting draperies, bedding, decorator lamps, flat screen TVs, sofas, headboards with reading lamps, electronic “do not disturb/make up my room” door bells, veranda furniture (in the 60% of staterooms with verandas), and double sink vanities, additional mirrors and storage in the bathrooms. The penthouse suites and two Crystal Penthouse apartments were completely redone.

We occupied one of the 367 square-foot Penthouse Veranda staterooms (not a suite) and found it extremely comfortable with very generous storage in the room, in the walk-in closet and in the bathroom. On our veranda were two large chairs with foot rests and a table large enough for in-room dining. The bathroom had a Jacuzzi tub, a separate glass-enclosed shower stall and two sinks. There were hair dryers in both the bathroom and makeup area in the bedroom. Additional furnishings in our stateroom included a fully stocked refrigerator/minibar, an electronic safe, a sofa and lounge chair, a coffee table, two bedside lamp tables, a makeup/writing desk, a flat-screen TV and DVD player and a five-drawer dresser. Amenities included both Frette and linen robes, slippers, and numerous toiletries.

A much appreciated convenience was the existence of large laundromat rooms on every passenger deck, each with six washers and dryers and an ironing board.

The accommodations on the Penthouse deck included the service of outstanding butlers who would take care of passenger needs, pressing, and bring afternoon snacks.

There was Wi-Fi access throughout the ship and all accommodations had DVD players and TVs with 30-channels which included CNN, CNBC, BBC, ESPN, Fox News and TNT.

In 2012, Crystal Cruises adopted an “all-inclusive” policy, whereby fine wines, champagne, premium spirits and soft drinks were available gratis both in the staterooms and throughout the ship. Cruise fare included all gratuities for housekeeping, bar and dining staff. The dress code has also been relaxed, and six out of seven evenings are designated “Crystal casual” wherein men do not have to wear jackets, and women don’t have to wear dresses. Formal nights are black tie optional and dark suits are considered acceptable. On our cruise, few men wore Tuxes. 

The passengers on our cruise were mostly over 60, well-traveled and had cruised with Crystal on prior occasions.  In addition to North Americans, there were many Brits, Aussies and South Africans, as well as Japanese and Chinese. The incredibly efficient crew was from all over the world.

As on most cruise ships, one of the most important considerations for passengers is the dining experience. Breakfast and lunch were offered in the main dining room with open seating; as well as buffet style in the Lido Restaurant with both indoor and outside tables. Adjacent to the Lido Restaurant is the outdoor Grill, open all afternoon, serving hamburgers, pizza, grilled sandwiches and wraps. The outdoor seating area overlooking the sea between the Grill and Lido Restaurant is especially pleasant and is protected when it is raining or too hot by an overhead glass dome.  Numerous servers circulate these venues providing beverages and assisting guests with their trays.

The intimate Bistro on Deck 6 is open around the clock serving specialty coffees, teas, wines and soft drinks along with tempting snacks that change with the time of day. Tea, pastries and finger sandwiches are served each afternoon in the elegant Palm Court along with musical entertainment. Hors d’oeuvres were passed around at all the lounges at cocktail hour.

Dinner is served in the main dining room in two seatings at either 6:00 or 8:30. Passengers can elect to dine each evening at the same time at the same table, or they can choose to dine at either time at different tables, but must make advanced reservations for their entire party and must be seated within 15 minutes of the beginning of the first or second seating. We found this a bit inconvenient since 6:00 was too early and 8:30 prevented us from participating in the early evening activities. (Although the production and cabaret shows were generally offered at 8:30 for the early diners and at 10:30 for late seating). We preferred the arrangement on many other ships that allows you to dine when you want and with whom you want without making an advanced commitment.

 

In any event, the quality, presentation and variety of the appetizers, main courses and desserts was consistently outstanding. The likes of caviar, escargot, oysters Rockefeller, lobster, Dover sole,

prime beef and an array of other treats tempted our palates on a nightly basis.  Service was consistently impeccable. The free wines served with the dinner were not always to our taste; however, we could select a bottle from an extensive wine list if we were willing to pay. Healthy offerings and a vegetarian dish were on the menu each evening and special dietary requirements could be accommodated.

As on its sister ship, there are two alternative, reservation only,  dinner venues; Silk Road, an Asian restaurant and Sushi bar with menus by world-famous chef, Nobu Matsuhisa,  and Prego featuring a wide range of  familiar Italian dishes. Guests are invited to eat once during the cruise at each restaurant gratis. Additional visits incur a charge.

The fitness center was stocked with the latest cardio machines and state-of-the-art kinesis strength-training equipment. A variety of exercise classes were offered daily. The Crystal Spa and Salon featured massages, face, eye, hair, skin and scalp treatments, acupuncture, waxing, teeth whitening, manicures and hair styling. Saunas and steam rooms were located in both the men and women’s dressing rooms.

Historically, Crystal offers a greater variety of educational daytime activities than most other cruise lines. The ship carries several expert lecturers to give timely talks on politics, history and the ports of call. The “Computer at Sea” program offers instruction on use of computers, cameras, digital filming for IPad and other apps. Classes in bridge, dancing, foreign languages, gourmet cooking, make-up artistry, wine appreciation casino gaming, painting, knitting, napkin folding, golf swing, keyboard and many other endeavors are available, mostly on sea days. (However I believe that the keyboards are only on Crystal Serenity).  In the newly designed movie theater, recent movies are shown both in the afternoon and evening along with popcorn. 

An excellent piano player provides popular tunes in the lobby by the cocktail area throughout the dinner hour. A trio plays each evening in the Palm Court/observation lounge. Another piano player entertains later in the Saloon. An orchestra plays music for dancing in the main lounge at various times throughout the evening and each evening either a production show or featured entertainer performs at 8:30 and 10:30. Occasionally there is only one performance at 7:30 that is intended to accommodate all guests. Starting at 10:00 a disc jockey spins popular tunes at the Lux nightclub. The casino offers blackjack, roulette, craps, poker and slots; however, on our cruise it seemed that only a few passengers used the facility.

Our cruise was port intensive with only two sea days out of 14. The ship spent two and a half days In Yangon, permitting passengers to fly to other cities in Myanmar and stay overnight. Most excursions started from 7:15 to 8:30 in the morning with the intent of ending in time to allow passengers to return back to the ship for lunch. Personally, I hated to have to get up early in the morning, and would have preferred excursions being offered either later in the morning or in the afternoon. I find it difficult to enjoy the late evening entertainment when I have to get up early the next morning.

 

Having spent 13 enjoyable days and nights on Crystal Symphony, we felt that she still delivers impeccable service, fine dining, spacious and comfortable accommodations, and an abundance of sophisticated activities and entertainments, and continues to be a strong contender in the luxury cruise market.

 

Steven B. Stern

(Author of Stern’s Guide to the Cruise Vacation and Stern’s Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges)

 

 

 

 

 

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