Review: Cruising on the Crystal Symphony

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As our kids have gotten older, we’ve been trying out different cruise lines to see how they compare now that Disney’s fantabulous kids clubs no longer have such a huge impact on our experience.  Last week we took our first cruise since the start of the pandemic, and I’d love to share with you what we saw, heard, and ate (especially ate!) on the Crystal Symphony.

About The Ship

Picture of the Crystal Symphony in port
Our first view of the Symphony

The Symphony is one of Crystal’s two Ocean cruise ships, built in 1995 and extensively refurbished in 2017.  Viewed from the port, her smaller size compared to ships from lines such as Disney, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean is apparent, as is the lack of flash on the upper deck. Don’t let that fool you though; from the moment you step foot off the gangplank the Symphony oozes elegance, class, and comfort.

Eight of the Symphony’s twelve decks are routinely accessible to passengers; we embarked onto Deck 6 where most of the ship’s entertainment venues and shopping are located, as well as the specialty dining. Deck 5 immediately below contains the atrium and the main restaurant, while Deck 7 above is the Promenade, with a continuous outside walkway around the whole ship surrounding Oceanview cabins on the interior.

Picture of the Deck 6 shopping Plaza with view down into the Deck 5 Atrium
Shopping plaza on Deck 6, with a view of the atrium area on Deck 5 below

Continuing upward, Decks 8, 9, and 10 are passenger cabins and then we arrive on Deck 11, where the remainder of the dining is located along with the pool, sun deck, kids clubs, and a multi-purpose lounge area.  One thing that we really enjoyed about the Symphony’s sun deck was the variety of seating; the big round lounge chairs that you can just see in the bottom corner below were my favorites.

Picture of the sundeck and the pool on the Crystal Symphony.
Several areas of the deck were laid out into smaller groups of seating perfect for hanging out with new found friends

Deck 12 was home to the Spa and the well-equipped Fitness area, as well as a second walking track, the tennis court, and a putting green and driving net.

About the Food (the FOOD!)

Image of Wagyu Beef Tartare dish from Crystal Symphony Waterside Dining Room
Wagyu Beef Tartare; Coffee Oil, Beetroot, Raspberry

You may have already seen some hints that we found the food on the Symphony to be superior, by far the best of the four lines on which I’ve sailed. It wasn’t just the ambition of the fine dining menus, but little things that contributed to the overall quality. Meats were routinely served at the perfect temperature (even when ordered rare or medium rare), juices were fresh squeezed (not only orange, but grapefruit as well), and the petite treat desserts at the buffet which can so often be dry and tasteless were flavorful, interesting, and delicious.

Main Dining Room

Waterside is the ship’s main dining room, with open seating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Breakfast is a fixed menu featuring routine fare alongside offerings from global cuisines such as the all-in-one Japanese: Miso Soup with Tofu, accompanied by grilled salmon or black cod along with sticky rice, a steamed vegetable, a small omelet, and pickles.

Dinner at Waterside features a dual menu, with the “Modern” side showcasing nouveau cuisine with occasional touches of molecular gastronomy, and the “Classic” side featuring more traditional dishes.

Picture of Arugula, Corn, and Tomato Salad from the Waterside Dining Room on the Crystal Symphony
Arugula, Corn, and Tomato Salad; White Balsamic, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Shaved Manchego
Image of Cheese Plate from Waterside Dining Room, Crystal Symphony
Cheese Plate, available nightly on request. This is from the last night of our cruise; on all other nights I accidentally ate the cheese before photographing it.
Picture of Goat Cheese Cheese Hazelnut Tortellini from Waterside Dining Room on the Crystal Symphony
Goat Cheese Hazelnut Tortellini; Citrus, Brown Butter
Picture of Herb Crusted Lamb Rack from Waterside Dining Room on the Crystal Symphony
Herb Crusted Australian Lamb Rack; Ratatouille Vegetables, Sauteed Green Beans, Potato Gratin, Mint-flavored Lamb Jus
Picture of White Chocolate Passion Fruit Delice Dessert from the Waterside Dining Room, Crystal Symphony
White Chocolate Passion Fruit Delice; White Chocolate Mousse, Passion Fruit Brulee, Red Velvet Spray, Coconut Macaroon Crumbles, Passion Fruit Coulis
Picture of Lemon Curd and Blueberry Trifle from Crystal Symphony Waterside Dining Room
Lemon Curd and Blueberry Trifle: Lemon Curd, Blueberry Compote, Cream Cheese Filling

Although we encountered the occasional dish that simply wasn’t to our taste — because we didn’t hesitate to try more than half the menu on each visit! — the quality was routinely superb and our waiter was quick to steer us away from the occasional plate that might not be up to snuff or was generally not a favorite of other diners.  For those who love to sample, as we did, many entrees on both the lunch and dinner menu can be served at a half size.

Marketplace

Outside Seating at the Marketplace on Deck 11, Crystal Symphony
Outside seating at the Marketplace during our embarkation day lunch

Marketplace is the Symphony’s buffet, serving breakfast and lunch daily.  Breakfast has all the usual offerings with a wider variety than you might find on other ships, including multiple muesli mixes and a fruit station that moves beyond the standard melon and grapefruit to include papaya and mango. For lunch the everyday stations such as salad, charcuterie, and dessert are joined by a daily specialty offering; sushi on one day, make your own panini on another, etc.

Image of the Marketplace Charcuterie Station on Crystal Symphony
Marketplace Charcuterie Station, available daily

Even Crystal’s chefs appear unable to overcome the laws of thermodynamics; heated entrees on the lunch buffet were a rare low note, although a sailing with more passengers might have seen these benefit from less time in the holding pans.  The carving station and made to order hot entrees were of the usual high quality.

The Marketplace Specialty Panini Station
Make Your Own Panini Station at the Marketplace, one of the daily themed offerings

Specialty Dining

The Symphony has two specialty restaurants, Umi Uma/Sushi Bar and Prego. Guests have a number of free reservations per sailing, with additional visits at $30 per person subject to availability. As you might guess from the names, Umi Uma offers Japanese cuisine with a focus on seafood, and Prego serves dishes from the Italian repertoire.  We tried both of these restaurants and while there are no pictures, I can assure you the food was absolutely delicious.  In a noticeable departure from our experience on some other lines, it was not more delicious than what was available in the main dining rooms; the difference was the focus on specific cuisines and the number of dishes containing specialty ingredients.

On Deck 11, Silk serves Chinese cuisine for lunch and dinner; reservations are required for dinner but there is no upcharge for multiple visits.  At dinner time the Marketplace converts to Churrascaria, a format that will be familiar to patrons of ‘Ohana or Fogo de Chao.

Anytime Eating

Where to get food if it isn’t a meal period? I’m sure you’ll be unsurprised to learn that just like every other cruise ship I’ve ever heard of, it’s well nigh impossible to starve on the Symphony. The aforementioned Silk serves lunch on the late schedule, from 1-3 p.m. after the buffet and main dining room have closed.  The Trident Grill serves burgers and fries from lunch through the early evening.

Picture of the hard-pack ice cream available from Scoops on the Crystal Symphony
There’s no unlimited soft-serve on the Symphony, but Scoops on Deck 11 serves ten flavors of unlimited hard-pack through the afternoon and early evening.

On Deck 6, The Bistro serves specialty coffee and tea from early morning until late evening, along with a selection of pastry and savories.  In the late evening, bar snacks are available in many of the bars and lounges, usually pizza and sliders or the like.  And of course, there’s always Room Service — it’s available 24 hours a day and during meal periods you can order from the main dining room. (Penthouse cabins can order from the specialty restaurants as well.)

Last but not least, one of my favorite meals was served every day in the Palm Court – Afternoon Tea!  If Tea at the Grand Floridian is on your must-do list for any Disney trip, then this just might be your boat.

Image of tea including pastries and finger sandwiches
Daily variety of finger sandwiches and pastries, accompanied by live music and a beautiful view out the bow of the ship – what’s not to love?

How Were the Cabins?

The Symphony does not have inside cabins. Over half the staterooms have verandahs, and about 20-25% of the cabins are Penthouse class staterooms and suites, which come with butlers. We were in a Deluxe Verandah Stateroom on Deck 9, decorated in light woods and earth tones.  We found ample storage, excellent use of space, and a full tub in the well-accessorized bathroom.

Picture of a Crystal Symphony verandah stateroom from the doorway
The desk area on the left contains a refrigerator, a safe, and 8 drawers. Four more drawers are found in the closet, and 3 in each nightstand.
Picture of the closet in a Crystal Symphony Verandah Statement
The closet was spacious and had plenty of hangers.
Pictures of the bathroom in a Verandah stateroom on the Crystal Symphony
The bathroom was well laid out, with ETRO toiletries and a full tub

We were able to tour other cabin classes on one of the sea days.  The Oceanview rooms were very similar to the cabin we were in, with a sizeable picture window instead of the verandah. The next class above us made good use of an additional 100 sq. feet and felt noticeably more spacious in both the living area and the bathroom, well equivalent to the amount of space in an average hotel room. Higher classes had even swankier features such as jetted tubs and walk-in closets.

Penthouse Stateroom with verandah on the Crystal Symphony
Penthouse Stateroom with Verandah, 388 sq. feet. Maybe someday …

What’s to Do?

A variety of programming was offered on sea days, with usually two to three options in each spot from about 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and a lighter schedule through until dinner time.  Offerings ranged from lecture series to computer and media classes; my husband really enjoyed the continuing series of golf lessons offered twice a day by a golf professional. Standards such as bingo and trivia were mixed in here and there, but not offered continuously as they are on some lines. Fitness events included yoga and table tennis sessions. I found the pacing to be really nice, giving a rhythm to the day that made it easy to find unstructured time for relaxation.  If your usual cruise experience is to move from activity to activity to fill up your time, you might feel that the schedule is a little thin.

Image of the Starlite Lounge on the Crystal Symphony
At the heart of the ship on Deck 6, the Starlite Lounge is a multi-purpose area that smoothly switches between general seating and lecture offerings during the day and nightclub-style entertainment with open bar at night.

Live music is heavily featured in the evening entertainment, with acts ranging from piano bar to cabaret to musical revue in 3-4 different locations every night.  We enjoyed excellent performances from the ship’s show band, dance ensemble, and featured vocalists.  We somehow managed to miss the Crystal Magicians, but they were highly recommended by other passengers.

In addition to daily programming, the ship has a spa, a fitness center, a library, a casino, and several bar and lounge areas that are open throughout the day.

What’s for Kids?

Our sailing had no children under 18 aboard; this was a result of both the time of year and the vaccination requirement for passengers.  However, Crystal is routinely cited as one of the best luxury lines for cruising with kids.

Interior of the kids areas on the Crystal Symphony
Fantasia on the left, for younger kids, and Waves for older kids on the right

Both the Symphony and Serenity (the Symphony’s not-quite-a-sister ship) have dedicated kids club areas, and during holiday and summer sailings maintain a Junior Activity staff to keep kids entertained. In-stateroom babysitting is available on all sailings. You should be aware that the max occupancy of the Symphony’s cabins is 3, so if you’re bringing more than one little one you’ll need to arrange either connecting or adjoining staterooms.

Junior Activity Programming and in-room babysitting are currently suspended due to COVID, but when they return I would expect that they are the same high quality offering we experienced overall on this line.

How About COVID?

Contract tracing wristband to be worn in public areas
Contact tracing wristband

Per Crystal’s policy, all eligible passengers must be fully vaccinated. In addition, a rapid antigen test was administered prior to boarding.  (Depending on destination, additional test requirements may apply.)  Contact tracing wristbands were given to each passenger to be worn whenever we were outside of our staterooms; these were also worn by the crew.

Hand sanitizer and temperature checks were standard when entering any dining venue, and buffet-style offerings in the Marketplace and Bistro were not self-service, with crew members serving instead. In public locations masks were required for crew but optional for passengers. Most passengers did not wear masks except in more crowded settings and the number of masks we saw dropped off as the days of the cruise passed by.

On our cruise onboard PCR tests were part of Bermuda entry requirements and were carried out with little fuss on the second day.  It was made clear when we booked the cruise that should any passengers test positive or be deemed close contacts they would be required to quarantine until the next port and potentially to fly home from there without continuing on the cruise.  Travel insurance that covers COVID-related outcomes was a requirement of booking.

So What Wasn’t Good?

Only one thing leaps instantly to mind, but that thing is: the internet.  Unlimited WiFi internet was included, and the service was a little slow but otherwise fine in port.  Sea days were a different story, with very noticeable lag and web pages taking minutes to fully load.  Messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and Slack were quite usable, and I was able to upload pictures here and there without a problem.  My NYT daily crossword streak also survived the trip.  But if you’re accustomed to scrolling through social media and quickly clicking through to read articles, or keeping up with daily activities in online games, you may be frustrated.

Runner up: it’s true that I missed a lot of movies in 2020, but I’m not sure I would have heard of the movies in the Hollywood Theater lineup even in a normal year.  If you’re used to the headliners shown on Disney’s ships, you may be disappointed.

The Overall Experience

Crystal is a luxury line and normally maintains a high crew to passenger ratio. Our sailing had about 155 passengers on a boat with a max capacity of 848; at only 20% occupancy, we definitely felt pampered.  One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that Crystal’s fares are all-inclusive, with gratuities, internet, and drinks including alcohol and soda covered by the cruise fare. They’re serious about this: on the last night of the cruise there was no envelope at our stateroom door in case we wanted to leave a little something extra, and we had to make an unprompted journey to the reception desk to leave a tip for our amazing head waiter.

The inclusions really made the cruise feel special in a number of ways that you might have to experience to appreciate.  It was lovely not to be signing a slip every time you ordered a drink on deck or with a meal.  In fact, we had onboard credit through our travel agent and somewhere around the third day it occurred to us that we were going to have to make an effort to use it because it wasn’t just going to magically disappear in a flurry of little drink slips.  (Never fear, we put it to good use at the Spa.)  The ship felt comfortable, and one thing we loved was the way the space was utilized, with plentiful small lounge areas if you wanted to be out of your cabin but not lost in a sea of lounge chairs.

Small lounge areas on the Crystal Symphony
Left: a few loungers were tucked into the aft end of passenger decks
Middle: right next to the Starlite Lounge, a perfect place to bring a book
Right: A small seating area at the aft end of the Promenade Deck

Between the food, the service, and the entertainment, there were moments when we felt – and I know this sounds corny – like we had stepped into a James Bond film.  Not the parts with the car chases of course, but the parts where he goes to swanky places, drops into happening nighttime hotspots, and orders martinis: shaken, not stirred?  That was us, and it was really fun.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Want to Try It?

The Symphony continues to sail 7-day voyages to Bermuda out of New York City through mid-November, when she moves to Miami to offer 7 and 21-day Caribbean itineraries through March before heading off to segments in Europe and the Mediterranean.  Crystal’s other ocean cruise ship is the Serenity; she’s slightly larger but configured with the same venues, and is cruising out of Miami through the end of January.  Both ships currently have fares that are surprisingly comparable to Disney and Royal Caribbean sailings, and if you’d like to give this luxury experience a try, a TouringPlans Travel Agent can hook you up.

Have you ever sailed on Crystal?  What was your experience like?  Let us know in the comments!

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Jennifer Heymont

Jennifer Heymont has a background in math and biology, but since she couldn't pick between the two she ended up in Data Science where she gets to do both. She lives just north of Boston with her husband, kids, and assorted animal members of the family. Although it took three visits for the Disney bug to "take", she now really wishes she lived a lot closer to the Parks.

2 thoughts on “Review: Cruising on the Crystal Symphony

  • October 15, 2021 at 12:20 pm
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    Hi, Was the Brazilian restaurant closed? You didn’t mention it.

    Reply
    • October 15, 2021 at 12:59 pm
      Permalink

      Hi Catherine – no, the Churrascaria was open. It was alternating with Silk for dinner service at night. I was told that this was due to the low number of passengers; if there would have been more people on board they would have both been open every night. We didn’t eat there though, which is why I didn’t cover it more than to say the format was similar to ‘Ohana or Fogo de Chao.

      Reply

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