My husband and I had the great pleasure of sailing aboard Crystal Symphony to Mexico for 7
days departing November 28, 2010 from Los Angeles. It had been 13 years since my last Crystal cruise aboard the Harmony, so I was anxious to see if it would be as wonderful as I remembered…I am happy to report that my expectations were exceeded and then some!
Pre-cruise: We chose to drive to Los Angeles and arrive one day prior to the cruise departure. If you are looking for a hotel close to the pier, I highly recommend the Crowne Plaza in San Pedro. They offer a package with 1 night hotel, welcome drink vouchers, complimentary full buffet breakfast, covered and secure parking for up to 14 days plus roundtrip shuttle transfers to/from the ship – all at a great cost.
Embarkation: Boarding the Symphony was a breeze. If you utilize Crystal’s online Priority Check-in prior to the cruise, you will be on the ship within minutes of checking in. They checked our passports, took our photo, handed us our stateroom key card and we had a glass of champagne in our hands within 5 minutes. Embarkation was set to begin at 1pm, we were allowed to board the ship at noon, but staterooms were not available until approx 2:30. This was not a problem as Crystal provided a scrumptious buffet lunch in the Lido and it gave us time to become familiar with the ship’s layout.
Penthouse: We just so happened to be in a Penthouse (PH #1058)! As we opened the door to our home-away-from-home, we both let out a gasp – WOW! The Penthouse features a walk in closet; large veranda with two chairs, a foot rest and table; complimentary chilled champagne, complimentary bottle of red and white wine, a refrigerator stocked with soft drinks and bottled water, fresh flowers, pillow menu, choice of plush terry bath robe or kimono-style robe, slippers, full size couch with coffee table, two comfortable chairs; a very large bathroom with two sinks, a full shower and separate Jacuzzi bath tub. We ran around the room like two little kids in a
playhouse…touching and opening everything. It was about this time when there was a knock on our door – it was our private butler, Igor dressed in full tails, white gloves and a smile from ear to ear. He showed us around the room and how features worked and asked which bottle of complimentary liquor we preferred from a long list he held in his hands. Our preference was not on the list, Igor said “I’ll be right back” and sure enough he returned in a flash with our favorite! As the cruise went on, we got to know Igor on a more personal level, needless-to-say, Igor was a highlight of our cruise – always ready to please, always happy and upbeat, very personable and yet professional. Crystal is lucky to have him on their team. Our cabin steward was Jessica from Chile; she was very sweet and friendly.
Crystal Dining Room– We had late seating for dining (8:30pm) -we found this to be a little late yet the early sitting was too early for us. I think Crystal will benefit greatly with their new “Perfect Choice Dining”. Beginning in January 2011, you will be able to choose what time you want to dine every night. And for those who still prefer assigned dining, early and late sittings will be available as well. The cuisine here was very good to excellent. Hats off to the soup chef – this was by far my favorite part of the meal. The roasted butternut squash soup was to die for, as well as the Chilean King Crab soup with brie cheese! The salted crescent rolls were also a stand out. My entrées almost always were fish or shell fish and they were delicious – always fresh, delicate and cooked to perfection and the sauces were heavenly. My husband’s preferred entrées were mostly beef, according to him the steaks and filets melted in his mouth. And no matter how full we were at the end of the meal, we could never seem to turn down dessert – Vanilla Crème Brule; Cherries Jubilee; Chocolate Ooze Cake; Grand Marnier soufflé; Baked Alaska – all sinfully delicious! On the last day of the cruise our waiters gave us copies of each dinner menu as a memento of our trip – a very nice touch.
Prego- Before leaving home I had made online reservations for Prego at 7pm on day 4 of our cruise. Reservations fill up quickly, so I recommend doing this prior to your cruise (use Crystal’s online Priority Check-In). There was a reservation reminder card placed in our Penthouse as well as a nice phone call reminder. I absolutely loved this venue!! The ambiance
was perfect, small & intimate, cozy, excellent wait staff and of course the food. If you go, you must have the bread bowl mushroom soup which is incredible and the melt-in-your-mouth lasagna. Tip – you can ask for a ½ order of the lasagna as a side dish and then still order a full entrée of something else. Everything that came out of the kitchen, carried by the waiters looked incredible and smelled even better. If I am so lucky to sail with Crystal again, I will be sure to book Prego multiple times, it’s well worth the suggested $7 per person gratuity.
The Sushi Bar– This was obviously a very popular spot and the atmosphere was a little loud. We did not make advanced reservations for Silk Road, so we decided to try The Sushi Bar. There are about eight seats at the bar and you just walk up if there is space. We are novices with Sushi so this was a learning experience; we choose tempura items and a California roll – all quite tasty.
Trident Bar & Grill– This was one of our favorite spots on the ship. The area has been completely redone with large, comfy chairs, couches and lounges. It’s a great place to soak up some rays and if the weather turns cold, the roof is retractable. This venue offered Late Risers breakfast from 10am to 11:30am. It’s a full service breakfast with tableside service from a limited, but not skimpy menu. The breakfast menu offered everything from yogurts, fruits, pastries and cereals to fresh, cooked-to-order omelets, steak and eggs, and more! Lunch was served from 11:30am– 6pm and included burgers, hot dogs, freshly made pizza of the day, grilled salmon, sandwiches, French fries and my favorite…Chinese chicken salad!
Ice Cream Bar- Located in the Trident Bar & Grill area, this popular walk-up counter had many flavors of homemade ice creams, including sugar free – some of the flavors changed out daily. My husband’s favorite was strawberry and mine was rum raisin. Just out of the oven cookies were also a hit – yum!
Lido Café for breakfast & lunch- Crystal has raised the bar with their innovative approach to a buffet. Individual stations have been created throughout the Lido area which greatly cuts down on long lines and creates an easy flow of traffic. There is one station for hot entrées and carving of roasted meats; one for cheeses, crackers, smoked salmon, pickled herring and such; one for
salads; one for breads; one for fruits; one for desserts and more. The food was delicious and tasty. One day we had a Mexican themed luncheon and another day was Asian influenced.
The Bistro: This was a nice little place in the center of the ship to hang out and people watch or read a magazine. Specialty coffees and snacks were also served or you could order a nice glass of wine.
Public Rooms: The Symphony has lots of public space to stretch out. You could choose between intimate spaces such as the Crystal Cove or Avenue Salon or larger lounges such as the Starlite Club (a great place for evening drinks and dancing) or the Palm Court for uninterrupted ocean views with floor to ceiling windows. The ship also has plenty of outdoor space; there is the 360° promenade deck and the gorgeous pool area, plus the Trident with a retractable roof and even quiet, secluded sunning decks on the aft section of decks 10-7 with teak lounges and umbrella tables.
Entertainment/Activities: This is the one and only area that I thought needed some improvement, at least on our particular cruise. Although there were many scheduled activities throughout the day, most were subdued sit down activities such as needlepoint classes, trivia, etc. I understand the Creative Learning Institute program is very popular if you want to brush up on a foreign language or learn to play a keyboard – but again these were all sit down activities. I would like to have seen more active options, such as games around the pool area, a golf putting competition, shuffle board contest, activities that would be more entertaining for the younger crowd (40-50 age group) onboard.
The Casino- plenty of slots, card tables, roulette and craps. Crystal offered a slot tournament and blackjack tournament for prizes. The casino staff seemed a little stuffy and not welcoming as compared to the rest of the shipboard staff who were so friendly you just wanted to take them all home with you! Nonetheless, I made my “deposit” several times throughout the cruise.
Luxe – this was a small bar/nightclub with a DJ. Most times you couldn’t find one person in this area, but one night they had Karaoke night – look out! This was the place to be, standing room only – not only did brave souls take over the microphone, but the entire place was singing along. People danced and had a fabulous time.
I’ve saved the best for last. The theme of this voyage was “Science & Technology” and we had the privilege of listening and meeting two former NASA Astronauts – Captain Robert “Hoot” Gibson and his wife Dr. Reah Seddon. Hoot’s career as a Top Gun pilot and 4x Space Shuttle commander was fascinating. I was in awe of everything he has accomplished, including the first mission to rendezvous and dock with the Russian Station Mir in 1995. Remember the famous photo of the two astronauts (US & Russia) shaking hands through the open hatch? That was him! They provided personal photos and a glimpse of what it is like to blast off into space at 17,000 miles per hour. They answered questions that ranged from “how do you sleep on the shuttle” to a more serious “where do you see the future of the space program heading”. I could have listened to them for hours. Bravo to Crystal for choosing these two!
In summary, it is easy to see how Crystal Cruises has been voted The World’s Best for 15 years. The onboard staff is top notch and the cuisine is fabulous. The Symphony is the perfect size with 922 passengers and it is also in pristine condition. I never saw anything worn out, dirty, scratched, nicked, etc. Every inch of the ship looked and smelled new and clean! I could go on and on, but will stop here and hope and pray that someday I can return. If you haven’t experienced Crystal Cruises, I strongly encourage you to do so – you won’t be disappointed.