Luxury cruise lines only account 2.5% of the overall cruise capacity, meaning they are a small sliver of the market. Moreover, the luxury cruise experience is different than the mainstream lines, with a higher ratio of staff to guests, larger staterooms and suites, elevated dining, more sophisticated programming and higher standards of amenities.
While cruising is not for everyone, over 95% of first timers say they plan on cruising again, meaning that once you try it, you generally end up wanting to cruise more. It’s not unusual for folks to book their next cruise while on their current one, and you can usually get special deals if you do. Earlier this year Ritz-Carlton announced it was launching its own luxury cruise line after research showed a large percentage of its guests were already cruisers.
Crystal sits uniquely in the luxury space in that its ocean vessels, even with reduced capacity after the refurbishments, are among the larger luxury ships, although still under 1,000 guests each. The benefits of size include more options and choices while still enjoying highly personalized service. In the travel industry, Crystal is often compared to Four Seasons in that it offers top standards of service, consistency and luxury, save the flash and glitz.
Leah Bergner of Coastline Travel who travels four to five months per year inspecting cruise ships and luxury hotels for her clients says Crystal is second to none when it comes to service. She says it goes beyond remembering how you like your drink to for example, taking a comment on how much you enjoyed a side dish from the night before and finding that the chef made it for you special order the next night. Bergner calls the ships “elegant, modern, sleek.”
I’ve cruised with Crystal and found the mix of guests (from the mid-30s to 80s) were all interesting, charming and came away with new friends. Of course, you can have a private experience if you don’t like to mix. Symphony and Serenity are each popular with multi-generational family groups (and there are more connecting rooms after the renovations) and even full ship charters for corporate product launches and incentives. Both ships make a great change of pace from traditional resort hotels and can offer attractive, all-inclusive pricing, plus a high level of security and privacy. I find cruising a comfortable way to visit some interesting places, particularly for the first time or to take in a geographic region without the hassles of hopping between hotels. More and more itineraries include overnights in key ports, so you can get the same experience as if you were staying in a hotel. For my business, I need to stay connected ongoing and today WiFi at sea is as good as you will find in most 5-star hotels. What’s more, there’s an itinerary for virtually every destination with Crystal, from Fall Foliage to New England to the Med, Baltic, Indian Ocean, Asia, South Pacific, South America and Africa. So what’s the big news on the renovations? Crystal Symphony’s redesign was completed last week while Crystal Serenity’s is set for October 14-November 10, 2018. The multi-million-dollar investment will see the two ships re-imagined to standards in line with its new river vessels, new ocean-going ships on order and a privately-owned Boeing 777-200LR that launched in August. You can watch a behind-the-scenes video of the transformation below.
Key is both ships will gain more of the spacious, butler-serviced Penthouses and Penthouse Suites. Details are below in the Accommodations section.
Ruth Turpin, a noted luxury travel advisor, told me she currently has clients on the Symphony. What’s the feedback? “They said, ‘It’s beyond beautiful,’” she says. She says her clients have commented on the oversize walk-in showers in Seabreeze Penthouses and the attentive butler service. “Some lines say they have butlers, but they aren’t 24/7 and they are stretched. Crystal really delivers,” she says. Several favorite shipboard spaces will feature new concepts while maintaining their inherent function as part of the onboard experience. The top-deck, forward Palm Court lounge aboard Crystal Serenity will be entirely redesigned to feature more intimate seating, while Crystal Symphony’s mid-ship Starlite Club, a hub for evening dancing and cocktails, will also be refitted, keeping its panoramic ocean views.
There are also changes to dining options. The Crystal Dining Room becomes Waterside (below) and moves to open seating. Turpin says, “Clients really like this because one night they can dine as a couple and with a group of friends the next.”
The Lido Café turns into a Brazilian themed dining experience in the evening. New to the Crystal menu of onboard restaurants on both ships will be Silk, with modern Chinese-inspired menus. Master Chef Nobu Matsuhisa will also unveil new looks. See the Dining section below for details. Bergner says, “For food, Crystal is the best, and this takes it to the next level.”
Crystal’s investment in technological amenities for guests includes hardware and software enhancements to enable expanded internet connectivity. WiFi is free. Additionally, a new guest portal – Crystal Connect – enables guests to access an array of shipboard information including daily menus from each restaurant to onboard activities. International newspapers are also available for digital viewing, as well as a library of box office hit movies, Crystal lectures on demand and more. Crystal Connect will also be available in a mobile application you can use on your tablet or smartphone.
The conversion of staterooms into the new penthouse accommodations reduces the ships’ guest capacities – Crystal Symphony to 848 and Crystal Serenity to 980. Crystal Symphony now has two new categories of accommodations altogether: Seabreeze Penthouse Suite with Verandah (12 new suites added) and Seabreeze Penthouse with Verandah (28 new suites added), both occupying Deck 9. Come late 2018, Serenity will receive two additional Penthouse Suites with Verandah and 36 additional Penthouses with Verandah. More on Serenity in a future issue. Penthouse accommodations offer guests enhanced all-inclusive amenities, including butler service and in-room specialty dining. We are particular fans of Crystal’s butler service. It’s more akin to traveling with your PA as the butlers will chase down virtually any request or get the appropriate person to get back in touch with you. Penthouse guests will also now receive unlimited complimentary dining at the onboard specialty restaurants.
In each stateroom new and larger interactive flat-panel TVs will enable guests to access their onboard folios, make any onboard activities as well as view restaurant menus. These new interactive TVs will also showcase the latest Hollywood movies and hit TV series
Crystal Penthouse With Verandah
The Crystal Penthouse with Veranda comes in at 982 sq. ft. with separate living room, custom wool carpets, walnut floors, cabinetry and Swarovski chandelier. The dining area has panoramic ocean views making it perfect for a private dinner. There is a custom, state-of-the-art entertainment center, separate study, built-in bar, large private verandah with teak furniture.
Option is queen-size or twin beds with Etro linens, plus his and hers walk-in closets, Master ocean view bath with Jacuzzi, crystal sconces, Calcutta marble floor (below), Aquavision TV, separate shower and bidet. There is also a guest bathroom making the suite perfect as a gathering point for families or to host parties with shipboard friends.
Penthouse Suite With Verandah
At 491 sq. ft., the Penthouse Suite with Veranda offers a living and small dining area, private verandah, queen size or twin bed, full Jacuzzi bathtub with separate walk-in shower and large walk-in closet. Bedroom and living area are separated by a partial wall and thick light blocking curtain you can pull shut. You can access the bathroom from the living area or bedroom, and the bathroom includes a double vanity.
Seabreeze Penthouse Suite With Verandah (New)
Also 491 sq. feet with verandah, separate bedroom and living area and Queen or twin beds, the oversize bathroom area of the Seabreeze Penthouse Suite with Verandah has a Jacuzzi bathtub with separate walk-in shower, walk-in closet separating the bathroom and bedroom as well as double vanities. There is separate bathroom access from the living room and bedroom area making the suite good for hosting guests or family members.
Seabreeze Penthouse With Verandah
The 367 sq. ft. Seabreeze Penthouse with Veranda includes a combined living and bedroom area. There is a walk-in closet. A large walk-in shower with body jets replaces bathtubs. A shared entryway enables you to connect two cabins together.
There are a number of changes to dining options. The Crystal Dining Room, the centrally located main dining venue, is now Waterside, reflecting the chic décor and sophisticated ambiance of the main dining room aboard Crystal River Cruises’ Crystal Mozart. Additional tables for two and four guests offer expanded options for couples and friends. A new open seating concept means you can dine anytime between 6 and 9:30 p.m., eliminating Crystal’s previous format of assigned seating and reservations. Waterside (below) will also continue to serve breakfast and lunch during current timeframes.
The Lido Café becomes Marketplace by day and in the evenings Churrascaria. Both venues feature an open kitchen concept with dishes made to order. Churrascaria will serve a selection of Brazilian-inspired tapas, ceviche, salads and grilled seafood and meats presented by “gauchos” on sword-like skewers.
New is Silk, Kitchen and Bar (above), presenting modern Chinese-inspired fare with family-style dinner plates, ideal for sharing, and self-service options for breakfast and lunch that include dumplings, Asian salads, a soup and noodle bar and other regional favorites. The Trident Bar & Grill will remain in the adjacent space, serving casual grilled options including burgers and sandwiches.
Silk Road and The Sushi Bar, the specialty dining venues by Master Chef Nobu Matsuhisa will be rebranded as Umi Uma & Sushi Bar. Both venues will still serve Nobu menus and will remain the only Nobu restaurants at sea. All specialty dining reservations for Umi Uma and Prego are now complimentary for Penthouse guests. Reservations are required for specialty dining venues.
The Crystal Life Spa & Salon is Feng Shui-inspired and Readers’ Choice Award winner by Spa Finder and Condé Nast Traveler. It consistently ranks among the world’s top land-based spas.Treatments include Aroma Stone Therapy, Japanese Silk Booster Facial and Well-Being Massage. A private, canopied relaxation area on the Spa’s aft deck enables you to relax before or after a treatment. Separate facilities for men and women include sauna and changing areas with multi-head, body jet showers offering special rain and mist functions. The spa also offers haircuts, styling, coloring, facials and skin analysis, manicures and pedicures, and barber services for men. Medi-Spa Cosmetic Treatments offer noninvasive procedures for those seeking to reduce signs of aging and improve the condition of their skin. Rejuvenation services include wrinkle treatments, dermal filler treatments, and skin tightening.
Fitness and Sports
The Crystal Life Fitness center features cardio machines such as Technogym treadmills complete with individual flat-screen televisions, cross trainers, recumbent and upright life cycles and steppers, all with heart rate sensors, and a range of free weights and mats. Crystal Life Wellness at Sea programming includes Chi-Energizing, spin, aerobic and step classes, mat-based Pilates, yoga, core conditioning, lower body workout, circuit training, stretching, aqua aerobics, plus seminars on slimming and nutrition, back and joint care and detox for weight loss. There are also personal trainers available, a daily walk-a-thon, paddle tennis – individual play and tournaments, golf driving range (including instruction by PGA golf pros on most sailings), lap pool, table tennis, and yes, shuffleboard
Entertainment and Enrichment
Like many cruise lines, you will find large-scale productions uniting West End and Broadway, various lounges, cabarets and karaoke, and dance clubs for disco and even hip-hop.
“Crystal on Broadway” is an exclusive new partnership with multi-Tony Award-winning Broadway producer Kevin McCollum (below) bringing singers, dancers, choreographers, directors, costume designers and other artists of some of the most famous productions directly to the stages of Crystal’s grand theatres and intimate lounges.
Crystal is also recognized for its numerous enrichment programs and educational programs. There is everything from computer competency classes so you can outshine your PA and kids to stars of the stage and screen, comedy, Olympians, noted diplomats and ambassadors, celebrated authors, and renowned scientists with interactive programming on every voyage. Hugh Downs, Marlin Fitzwater, Ruth Westheimer, General Perry Smith, Ambassador Marc Ginsberg, Senator Phil Gramm, Johnny Bench, Dinesh D’Souza, James Carville and Mary Matalin, and Jack Hana represent some past participants.
Bars and Lounges
First of all, wines and premium spirits are included in your cruise fare. While maybe not a big deal, it creates a more convivial feel at bars and lounges as there is no need to keep track of various checks and creates a social atmosphere.
With a large selection of cigars, Connoisseur Club is ideal for after-dinner drinks and conversation. Starlite is located in the middle of Symphony’s main activity deck where a dramatic round bar takes center stage in a stylishly open environment offering panoramic sea views. With a crystal chandelier that sparkles above the bar, the new Starlite Club (pictured above) is the place to see and be seen, featuring lectures by day and dancing by night.
There is also the Crystal Cove piano bar and The Palm Court (pictured above) offering panoramic sea views through floor-to-ceiling window walls. It’s the venue for Afternoon Tea daily, evening dancing and entertainment, classical music concerts and special parties.
The Galaxy Lounge (pictured above) hosts Crystal’s Broadway-style production shows and headline entertainers with comfortable seating and a hydraulic-rotating stage for optimum viewing from anywhere in the room. The Hollywood Theatre (pictured below) runs popular recent-release and classic movies. Both can be used for corporate meetings.
Resorts World at Sea
Resorts World At Sea casino offers Blackjack, Craps, Roulette, 3 Card Poker, Ultimate Texas Hold’em and Mini-Baccarat (on request), as well as slot and video poker machines.
The library contains over 8,000 books on subjects ranging from classics to popular biographies, history to contemporary mysteries. There is also an entertaining selection of magazines, audio books and a generous selection of board games which may be borrowed without charge for your enjoyment during the cruise.
Symphony and Serenity feature a fully supervised Junior Activities program for kids between the ages of 3 and 17 on Holiday voyages and many summer sailings, each with dedicated play areas for both young kids and teens. Children are supervised during their activities with the Junior Activities Directors, and children with parents’ permission are free to come and go as they please. Fantasia welcomes children ages 3-12, with games, crafts, popular Sony PlayStation and Xbox 360 kiosks and large-screen televisions, board games and personal computers with entertainment and education. A video arcade at Waves keeps teens ages 13-17 entertained as well. The Library offers a selection of children’s books and videos for in-room viewing; children can also see recently released films in The Hollywood Theatre. There are also scavenger hunts, story times, pajama parties, bridge and galley tours, cooking and pizza making classes, trivial pursuit, karaoke, fashion shows, and even a mini-Olympics. On all sailings and depending on demand, in-stateroom babysitting services for children one year and older are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Full Ship Charters
You can charter the entire ship. Crystal’s 62-person yacht Esprit and its three river cruise vessels are popular for smaller groups as its 82-seat Boeing 777-200LR. Symphony and Serenity are favorites as alternatives to land based resorts for company incentives, product launches, as well as dealer and distributor meetings. It is believed Oprah has chartered with Crystal in the past and the company is on record that Symphony and Serenity have also been chartered for private birthday parties and other milestone celebrations. The line even outfitted its crew on one private charter with shirts that featured the family crest of the VIP and a special happy birthday greeting. You can contact Bruce Setloff at email@example.com for details.
Symphony and Serenity spend their days cruising the world with itineraries that offer everything from Caribbean sailings from Ft. Lauderdale, Tahiti to Chile, Dubai to India, or even around-the-world. In fact, with the ability to do business from anywhere as long as you have WiFi means longer, exotic cruises are now attracting young families who want to discover the world. At the same time, there are voyages that start at six days. In other words, you’ll be hard pressed to find a place you want to go where there isn’t a Crystal itinerary.
Crystal Cruises has earned “World’s Best Cruise Ship” in Condé Nast Traveler’s Reader Choice Awards for 24 years; been voted “World’s Best Large Ship Cruise Line” by Travel + Leisure readers for 20 years; and the “Best Luxury Cruise Line” by travel professional organization Virtuoso for three consecutive years (2014, 2015 & 2016). The readers of Travel + Leisure also voted Crystal River Cruises the “World’s Best River Cruise Line” and Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises the “World’s Best Small-Ship Cruise Line” in 2017.
Selected Photo Credits: Paragon Pixels