Not content with its award-winning status (both Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler have bestowed accolades on the brand), Crystal Symphony (who boasts Angela Lansbury as its godmother) has recently undergone a redesign and is now more luxe than ever.
The ship set sail in 1995, and after 22 years at sea, it was outfitted with spacious luxurious accommodations, two new dining options, complimentary Wi-Fi and other high-end amenities.
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The Symphony can accommodate 848 guests, down from over 900 before the redesign, which means both more room to hang out (if one wishes to hang out on a boat offering a seemingly infinite amount of distractions) and more staff per passenger.
Speaking of staff, it's a major point of pride at Symphony and the Crystal brand at large. Walter Littlejohn III, Crystal's VP and managing director, says the cruise line's staff is a big part of the brand's success. Crystal employees work for the company itself and don't jump from ship to ship as tends to be industry standard, according to Littlejohn.
As a result, you find yourself on a ship with impeccable service and perhaps some familiar faces. Cruise often enough and the Crystal staff start to feel like family. The record, in case you want to see how much sea you have to cover before you can be a contender, is 429 cruises.
That's 429 instances of hearing Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" -- since the song plays throughout the cabin each time the ship sets sail. It's a signature feature of the ship that many passengers have come to associate with Crystal.
The finest fine dining
Gone are the days of the all-you-can-eat buffet -- well, at least for Crystal Symphony's cruisers. This doesn't mean that there's a shortage of food, however, or that eating can't be a focal point of the voyage. It simply means that there are now more, better quality choices aboard.
And that formerly standard two-seatings per night option? That ship has sailed. Open seating dining -- meaning reservations or walk-ins -- has replaced the staid practice, allowing guests flexibility.
The churrascaria, a Brazilian steakhouse, is the latest dining addition, but not to worry if you don't eat meat: Waterside is another Symphony restaurant, and it serves fish and vegetarian options in a formal yet relaxed setting with waitstaff that don't miss a beat.
Prego is the Italian restaurant on board the ship, and although it was under reconstruction during our visit, we were assured that it's as authentic as any spot in Italy (this praise offered by an Italian member of Symphony's staff, no less).
High-rollers might choose to plan a dinner in the Vintage Dining Room, where a thousand bucks, give or take depending on the wine selected, gets each person a multi-course meal and wine pairings.
This is no three-squares-only boat though: Afternoon tea is a daily occurrence and night owls and insomniacs alike will be grateful for The Bistro's late-night offerings.
A room with a view
Penthouse accommodations, which range from 982 square feet to 367 square feet, include 24-hour butler service. Should you need an additional bottle of Champagne (one awaits you upon arrival), or help caring for the orchid brightening up your room, you know what to do. There are also, of course, the expected luxuries of a quality stay: in-suite massage, 24-hour room service, binoculars and a mohair blanket for those chilly nights at sea.
Other rooms are practically as pleasant. They are just a bit smaller and don't come with a personal butler. No matter though as the room is serviced twice daily, select beer, wine and spirits are complimentary and available upon request, and you get to drink your wine out of Schott Zwiesel glasses (never mind that the penthouse folks will be sipping theirs out of Riedel stemware).
But while none of Crystal Symphony's newly reconfigured and outfitted accommodations are cruise-cramped -- this is the height of luxury after all -- there's a mind-boggling amount of activity going on outside the bedrooms that it's a wonder anyone would opt to have their Umi dinner delivered to their door anyway.
Littlejohn, who has been on many a cruise himself (though perhaps not 429), is enthusiastic about the ship's nightly offerings. Where other ships are quiet after dinner, Symphony is the life of the party (if you want it to be). On Crystal, the problem is deciding what you want to do from the bevy of offerings. From comedy acts to live music to shows featuring Broadway stars, it's likely that you'll run out of steam before you get bored.
Starlite is Symphony's recently redesigned lounge area. With a bar in the center, comfortable chairs and panoramic sea views, it seems like the place to be to sip an Old-Fashioned or after-dinner sherry -- if checking out the casino or sitting through a movie in the Hollywood Theater aren't tempting options.
Catering to adults
Symphony isn't adults-only, but "family-friendly" isn't exactly the vibe either.
A small play area for the little ones and another snug area for tweens and teens are part of the ship, but these areas are not spacious and a seeming afterthought on a ship that has spared no details.
Plus, all rooms have king-size beds, and while Symphony can provide some cots for an extra person, you won't find any family-style suites or bunk beds made for young children.
Of course families are welcome, and babysitters on ship are for hire, but walking around the decked-out decks, well, you get the feeling that this ride's more for quiet honeymooners and older couples celebrating a milestone anniversary than it is for boisterous families of four.
It's glitzy and glamorous and probably best left to the professionals -- grownups, that is.
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