The Caribbean and a luxury cruise ship are an unbeatable combination. A cruise whisks you from one idyll to another with staff taking care of your every need as you unwind in paradise with impeccably served gourmet fare, enrichment programs and top-notch entertainment. My husband, Humberto, and I have enjoyed many voyages aboard such luxury lines as Silversea, Seabourn, Cunard. Most recently we embarked on Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Symphony that underwent a multi-million-dollar reimagining last autumn. Our 10-day voyage, from Port Canaveral to Fort Lauderdale, visited four Caribbean/Bahamas islands and included several days at sea for us to get the most out of the redesigned ship.
Spacious and Sophisticated
In addition to the ship’s refreshed look—with contemporary décor in soft blues, creams, whites, and other soft tones—the redesign of Crystal Cruises’ 51,044-ton Crystal Symphony reduced the passenger capacity from 922 to 848. This update resulted in more space per passenger: a 64.7 space ratio (the enclosed space per passenger measured in cubic feet) which is one of the highest in the industry. Now the ship has an even more spacious feel than it did before the redesign. This spaciousness and the attentiveness made possible by a 1: 0.67 crew-to-guest ratio makes you feel genuinely cared for from the moment you board until you disembark at the last port.
The fall 2017 redesign added new features including open seating dining and new culinary offerings. Arguably the most popular upgrade is the alternative restaurant Umi Uma (the name means seahorse in Japanese, and it is a nod to Crystal’s logo). This Asian restaurant and sushi bar by Chef Nobu Matsuhisa serves up such delights as Nobu lobster, miso-glazed cod and wagyu beef. Also, each guest can dine at least once in Umi Uma and Prego.
The line’s much-beloved Prego, Crystal’s staple intimate and romantic restaurant, still offers Italian specialties such as antipasti with Parma ham, mushroom soup in a bread bowl, veal scaloppini and Piedmontese flan (with chocolate and almond flavors). The refreshed Waterside, the main restaurant, was refreshed and serves international specialties (two menus that change daily are presented to diners each evening, one with classics such as steaks and chops, and the other with modern dishes such as venison medallions with wild mushroom spring rolls) The restaurant now has open-seating dining between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. each evening. The refurbishment also added casual dining venues: Churrascaria (a Brazilian steakhouse available in the evenings in The Marketplace buffet restaurant –yum!) and Silk Kitchen & Bar, a Chinese eatery that serves family-style dishes. The latter new venue is next to the beloved Trident Bar & Grill that offers burgers, wraps, pizza and more every afternoon.
When it comes to entertainment and enrichment, the ship has a wide variety of offerings. These include Broadway-style productions (two shows performed each evening—a rarity on ships offering open seating dinner), presentations from magicians from Los Angeles’ Magic Castle (a favorite of ours!), comedians, ventriloquists and music in various lounges. Each day there are organized activities including dance and art classes and talks about the ports. There is a casino, an observation lounge, and lots of open decks for lounging, games and even some exercise equipment for those who like to work out in the outdoors. Themed teas, like the Mozart Tea with staff in period dress, are unrivaled at sea.
After days filled with activities and onboard entertainment, as well as shore adventures, the ship’s accommodations are comfortable and attractive. Staterooms include unlimited free Wi-Fi (faster than before the refit), television with complimentary movies, free bottled water and sodas. Refresh with included ETRO bath amenities, ETRO bathrobe and a lightweight kimono. Penthouse and above categories offer additional features including complimentary bar set-up on embarkation, complimentary wine and beer, welcome champagne, afternoon canapes, unlimited complimentary dining at the alternative restaurants and butler service.
Passengers can keep up with their exercise routine with the ship’s expansive Seahorse pool, fitness center with exercise classes and wellness programs. You can blissfully unwind in the onboard Jacuzzis, spa, and salon. In other words, the ship has everything you need for a superb vacation.
The Cruise Itinerary
The ship whisked us from one idyllic spot to another making stops in Jamaica, Aruba, Puerto Rico and Bimini. Here are some port highlights.
Ocho Ríos, Jamaica—At this Jamaican port, arguably one of the top 10 sights in the Caribbean awaits Dunn’s River Falls, a quintessential tropical cascade. It’s received worldwide fame since scenes from the movie “Cocktail” with Tom Cruise were filmed at the waterfall. It is a breathtaking cascadeas it descends over a 600-foot-tall natural rock terrace and staircase surrounded by tropical vegetation. The water pours into a lovely sandy beach – a great spot to relax before or after climbing the falls. Visitors link hands (to rescue each other in case of a slip during the climb). The waters tend to be on the cool side, so the experience is refreshing in the heat of the tropics. Moreover, the panorama is like a living painting—reminiscent of Henri Matisse creations of figures linked by their hands and frolicking in various locales.
Oranjestad, Aruba—On this Dutch island near Venezuela we enjoyed the view of Dutch architecture on various buildings and structures. These included De Olde Molen, a windmill built in The Netherlands in the 19th century and transported to Aruba—now a nightclub—and the pretty little Alto Vista Chapel built in the 18th century. I also spent time on Aruba’s beaches including Palm Beach and Eagle Beach, with their crystal-clear waters and white talcum-powder-like sands adorned with divi-divi trees that always point to the west as they are under the influence of the trade winds that blow from the northeast. An optional excursion was offered to the Butterfly Farm near Palm Beach to observe and learn about this most colorful and lovely insect.
Bimini, The Bahamas—This Bahamian island, just 50 miles off Florida’s coast, was one of novelist Ernest Hemingway’s favorite escapes due to its plentiful fishing opportunities. The island has also been compared to the legendary Lost City of Atlantis. The theory is that Bimini is the remnants of the mythical city when in reality it consists of two islands: North Island and South Island. We opted to spend the day at the Resorts World Bimini Hilton. It provided access to miles of sandy beaches via a complimentary shuttle, infinity pools, lazy river, spa and restaurants. All of the resort’s accommodations feature a balcony or terrace to enjoy the breathtaking views of aquamarine waters better. The Crystal Symphony offered several optional excursions including a stingray encounter at a secluded beach so guests could feed and pet the wings of these beautiful creatures as they peacefully swim in the water.
San Juan, Puerto Rico—We headed for Old San Juan, a short walk from the cruise terminal, and spent the day exploring this colonial city’s cobblestone streets. 500+ year-old-forts drew our attention as well, including El Morro, which has protected San Juan since the 16th century. Old San Juan has many shady plazas where visitors can enjoy a piragua—a shaved ice treat with tropical flavors—as well as many monuments, churches, restaurants, shops and parks including Pigeon Park, next to the 18th century Cristo Chapel, where we always feed the hundreds of birds that live there.
Overall, our Caribbean cruise aboard the ultra-deluxe, reimagined Crystal Symphony was memorable both for the beautiful places we visited and for the lovely ship that took us there.
Ready for a Caribbean adventure of your own? Take a look at the upcoming available Crystal Cruises itineraries to begin planning your next exotic getaway.