Stern's Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World, Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation, Stern's Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges, and The Indispensable Guide to Foreign Words and Phrases--by Steven B. Stern (Sponsored by Stern's Travel Guides, Ltd.)
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 Crystalâ€™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 â€ścomputer at seaâ€ť
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
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 â€śdo not
disturb/make up my roomâ€ť 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
A much appreciated convenience was the existence of large laundromat
rooms on every passenger deck, each with six washers and dryers and an ironing
The accommodations on the Penthouse deck included the service of
outstanding butlers who would take care of passenger needs, pressing, and bring
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 â€śall-inclusiveâ€ť 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 â€śCrystal casualâ€ť wherein men do not have to wear
jackets, and women donâ€™t have to wear dresses. Formal nights are black tie
optional and dark suits are considered acceptable. On our cruise, few men wore
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 dâ€™oeuvres were passed around at
all the lounges at cocktail hour.
Dinner is served in the main dining room in two seatings at either or . 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 was too
early and prevented
us from participating in the early evening activities. (Although the production
and cabaret shows were generally offered at for the early diners and at 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
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 offamiliar 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 womenâ€™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 â€śComputer at Seaâ€ť 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 that is
intended to accommodate all guests. Starting at 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 to 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 Sternâ€™s Guide to the
Cruise Vacation and Sternâ€™s Guide to
European Riverboats and Hotel Barges)