My personal vacation choice has long been Crystal Cruises, and if you don’t know why, your corporate group is really missing the boat. FYI: Crystal consistently ranks among the top luxury resorts in the world — at sea or on land. For more than a decade, they’ve won an unprecedented number of top awards in the luxury category, including “World’s Best” by the readers of Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler — more than any other cruise line, hotel or resort in history.
The 922-guest Crystal Symphony was fresh out of a $20 million dry dock for my recent 8 night cruise from Hamburg to Lisbon. Here are my impressions and most memorable memories of the cruise, along with a few of my photos. For a deck-by-deck look inside Crystal Symphony, here’s a link to a beautiful photo gallery.
Never resting on their laurels, Crystal just introduced “Modern Cuisine” on their two ships this season, based on the food science of contemporary cooking that uses special techniques, a variety of new equipment, and the finest quality ingredients to ultimately reveal hidden properties in the food.
Crystal’s tried and true menus of the past (“Crystal Classics”) are also still offered, so one evening I ordered salmon – prepared both ways – as shown on my plate nearby. Both were delicious! Specialty dining onboard was also truly outstanding with Italian fare in Prego, and the renowned Asian cuisine of Nobu Matsuhisa in Silk Road and the Sushi Bar. Each a delightful choice for a small group “dine-around”.
I had to have a new photo with old friend, Hotel Manager Josef Matt. He oversees all areas related to guests onboard and has assisted us in the past with several corporate charters of Crystal’s ships (approx 460 staterooms)
I relished every meal on this trip, and was delighted that I gained no weight! Josef said that’s because of the fresh ingredients and proper portion-size, plus lots of walking in the ports of call: Amsterdam (the Netherlands), Guernsey in the Channel Islands, La Coruna (Spain) site of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela where Christian pilgrims complete their pilgrimage; then Oporto (Portugal) and finally Lisbon.
During dry dock, Crystal expanded outdoor seating in the covered Trident Grill (in addition to the lovely window- tables for late risers breakfast or lunch). They replaced the under-utilized mid-ship pool with contemporary lounge seating where guests can now enjoy using their digital devices.
This area is serviced by such well trained and experienced stewards, it’s as if they were reading my mind – we never could ask for anything because they anticipated every request! This staff is the secret to Crystal’s success – exceeding other luxury lines hands down.
Amsterdam had great appeal, and seeing the flower market made me want to take a river cruise from Amsterdam some future spring when those vast fields of tulips are in bloom!
Got a little taste of a river cruise by taking a canal tour which highlighted many of central Amsterdam’s major attractions. We passed one of ARosa river cruisers on the tour. They offer the most all-inclusive experience exclusively for North Americans – especially incentive groups (up to 150 people, well-suited for private charter).
Bicycles Galore! It was impressive to see the huge number of bicycles ridden by every type of person you could imagine, young and old, casually or professionally dressed. We were told one of the bike parking facilities could hold 3000 bikes – each of which has distinctive saddle-bags or seat covers or paint so owners can find their bikes!
There are many alluring places to relax and enjoy the ocean aboard Crystal ships. On the left is one of my favorite spots on Deck 10, aft. There’s rarely anyone else there: such a luxury!
The “Fitness Garden” (right) was added in dry dock. These new, ocean-view outdoor areas are located aft on decks 7, 8 and 12. The space is designed for circuit training with more than a dozen glass-blasted, stainless steel pieces of equipment from Danish company Norwell Outdoor Fitness. Very inviting, and the first of their kind on cruise ships!
Here’s Crystal Symphony at anchor, as we strolled through Guernsey, located between England and France in the channel islands. This was a delightful port, enhanced by my advance reading of a book from Crystal’s recommended reading list which included The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a novel set in Guernsey during World War II.
Crystal is one of the deluxe cruise lines which include all alcohol, such as wine/beer with lunch and dinner, cocktails anytime. This makes it exceedingly cost-effective for corporate or incentive groups who like to make socializing easier; e.g. people can order whatever they wish without having to give a room number or remember who ordered what and who paid for the last round. (And no worries about who has to drive home.)
I was surprised by Crystal’s excellent array of evening entertainment – an advantages of being the largest deluxe, top-rated cruise line in the world (in addition to cruising with more stability) and more daytime activities including their Creative Learning Institute. The most memorable entertainment – straight from America’s Got Talent – was iLuminate, with their unique brand of technology and dance. See how their costumes light up in the nearby photo.
Another charming stop – Oporto or Porto – is known for its port wine, but was memorable for me because of the remarkable Portuguese tile work in Rail Station Sao Bento. There are over 20,000 tiles dating from the early 1900’s.
Debarking in Lisbon was so easy! And like many European cities these days, they have the convenient “Hop on-Hop off” mini-buses or trolleys for touring the city at your own pace which allows for riding or walking the wide boulevards, or alternating as the whim occurs. This unusual itinerary was part of the ship’s repositioning, so it’s not frequently offered, but can be recreated on a private charter. Ask any of us at Landry & Kling about that!