All photos by Jason Leppert
At a Glance
By the Numbers
Take a Bow (What to Like)
Pain in the Aft (What to Dislike)
Crystal Cruises' Crystal Symphony remains one of the classiest looking ships afloat today with its swooping forward bow and concave terraced stern. I had the pleasure of first sailing on the ship when she was shiny and brand new during her inaugural 1995 season, and the only unfortunate thing now is that its upkeep has suffered since. After seeing the immaculately maintained Crystal Serenity, the Symphony is surprisingly rough around the edges with quite a bit of rust and blotchy white paint along her hull.
Inside, the ship is far more polished and still makes a fine first impression with its Crystal Plaza atrium (pictured above), crowned by a colorful skylight and dotted with a shimmering filament water fountain and striking ballerina sculpture. The Palm Court observation lounge (pictured below) continues the timeless elegance with a beautiful interior design consistent with Crystal's newest products. Also, the cool angular Lido Cafe buffet exhibits the luxury line's more modern design sensibilities, still in harmony with the rest.
In other venues, the ship is really starting to show its age, however. While the Galaxy Lounge theater's in-the-round configuration is a pleasant return to traditional cruising form, its color scheme, fixtures and surfaces need a refresh. In particular, the Starlite Club (pictured below), looking like something out of tacky 1960s Vegas, is screaming for a complete redux. Thankfully, the ship is scheduled for another major refurbishment in 2017, and hopefully then the harsh contrast between the strongest spaces and weakest can be reconciled.
One of the nicest things about Crystal Cruises is that its ships are not all-suite vessels. There are many comfortable entry-level staterooms that allow guests to buy into a luxury experience elsewhere onboard without having to afford a premium cabin. Of course, its suites are exquisite as well. A median-sized Penthouse with Verandah is the best of both worlds as a hybrid in between. A lovely large bedroom and dining area opens out onto an expansive balcony and also includes a welcome walk-in closet. The decor is mostly pleasant with Crystal's latest soft silvers extending to all but the burnt-orange aging cabinets that are in need of a replacement to match.
Penthouse bathrooms at least have definitely been refreshed recently and feature both a jetted Jacuzzi brand bathtub and a separate shower. It would be nice to have a slightly larger shower, but it is bigger inside than it first appears. Always great is plenty of space around the toilet as are the his and hers sinks for added convenience. New Etro bath products are yet another fine touch.
As one would expect, activities on Crystal Symphony center most around relaxation and do not run the longest list. The aforementioned observation lounge is always a winner in our book for being able to enjoy the passing scenery in comfort. The teak-clad pool deck is also one of the nicest at sea, even if the one under the magrodome was removed in favor of extra seating along its living wall of tranquil vertically-grown plants. Above is a decent-sized sports court and below is a series of outdoor exercise equipment and a full wraparound promenade deck for working out some as well.
The Crystal Spa and fitness center feature indoor equivalents for either exertion or pampering, and there is nothing more enjoyable that a massage treatment before or after some time spent in the steam room and sauna. The only thing missing perhaps is a thalassotherapy pool. Classic activities also extend to the newly branded Resorts World Casino, part of Crystal's Genting parent company, and the former Luxe nightclub is in the process of being converted into a private gaming room.
Fine dining is a hallmark of any luxury line, and Crystal Cruises serves up some of the best. The Crystal Dining Room cleverly offers two menus nightly, one classic and the other modern. This allows patrons to select more traditional favorites, experiment with something new or mix and match as desired. Either way, one can't go wrong with the delicious likes of Succulent Broiled Fresh Maine Lobster (pictured below) conveniently available even via room service, which could work a little to better its pizza pie.
The aforementioned buffet also features tasty breakfasts and lunches, many of which are ethnic-inspired, and the Trident Bar & Grill infills with average burgers, hot dogs, better pizza than room service and more. Adjacent is the Ice Cream Bar for great Ben & Jerry's scoops and an array of fresh toppings and waffle cones, complimentary along with most drinks on the all-inclusive ship no less. Of course, the best dining is reserved for Prego for Italian presented with the most flair like a carpaccio perfectly dressed with olive oil, vinegar and parmesan shavings tableside (pictured below). Just next door, Silk Road and The Sushi Bar from master chef Nobu Matsuhisa is hard to beat for Asian cuisine.
When it comes to cruise ship entertainment, bigger is usually better, but on Crystal, the line pushes the limits to feature the best luxury market shows despite its smaller single-decker venues. Relying less on props and scenery, the company of singers and dancers stands out more on their own core talent, and the eight dancers and two lead vocalists indeed wow the crowd. Of course, that doesn't stop the occasional pyro stage blast or video wall to impress, although the latter could use a resolution boost.
In fact, the best use of technology on stage is Crystal's invaluable partnership with iLuminate. Quite frankly, the cool "Tron"-like luminescent dance suits (pictured in full light below) activating the otherwise pitch black space in clever pantomime makes for one of the best shows at sea on any ship. And the revue style shows are also creative in their mashup of classic and modern numbers performed brilliantly by the cast. Even the dated Starlite Club is made better by its stellar performances.
Hands down, the number one standout of Crystal Cruises is its service staff, and the Crystal Symphony has some of the best crew in the industry for being genuinely friendly and attentive. The servers around the grill and pool deck are particularly kind and quick to learn your name as are private butlers and cabin attendants great at making you feel right at home. If the company can scale this level of service as it quickly expands, it will be a force to be reckoned with across the board.