Classy, contemporary and supremely comfortable Crystal Symphony looks and behaves more like a ship rather than the vast boxy-shape floating apartment blocks that are the norm these days. What's more, she is easily the 'best-dressed-at-sea'. I am talking ship as well as clientele. Even more so these days because Crystal Symphony has recently been madeover and having already reviewed the ship for The Luxury Travel Bible last year
I was keen get back on board to see her new look for myself.
My conclusion - makeover is far too common a word. Let's call it a very tasteful cosmetic enhancement, because this is one of the most successful I have seen on many a ship.
It is most conspicuous on deck in the Seahorse and Neptune Pool areas - an ambient space with water features, and furniture appropriate to al fresco dining, conversation, or snoozing. Here, the colour theme echoes sunshine and tropical fruit: mango, tangerine, lime and intense leaf-green. Deck furniture is antique white wicker, sun umbrellas are pale green and circular day beds a juicy tangerine. It is like an outdoor living room. Yes, you are still at sea, but the colours make for a refreshing change from traditional marine aqua and navy-blue.
Meanwhile interior public spaces are big-city-chic, but not intimidating. There are no in-your-face colours or too tricksy features - perhaps a token example here or there but not de trop. Crystal Symphony offers effortless comfort with style and substance which reflects the company it keeps (i.e. the guests).
The Cruise: this time was Autumn in the Maritimes - from Montreal Canada, to New York City. The object of the cruise was to see the famous Fall Foliage for which eastern Canada and the New England states are renowned and to visit the fascinating historic towns of the eastern seabord: Quebec City; Saint John (New Brunswick); Halifax; Bar Harbor; Boston and Newport.
We boarded Crystal Symphony in Montreal. Ushered to our penthouse, no sooner had we entered than a perfectly-turned-out butler appeared. He bowed in courtly fashion and introduced himself. "I am Theo. I am your butler, I am here to look after you". Theo was from Croatia, spoke beautiful English and was always ready with a smile and a "What can I do for you today?" The list included an early morning cuppa, collection of laundry or pressing, specialty restaurant bookings (on board), delivering pre-dinner canapés with lashings of caviar to our suite each evening. Complimentary spirits, champagne and soft drinks were already at hand.
Crystal Cruises comprise only two ships, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity. Both are classified as mid-size ships, each carrying around 1000 passengers.
The space is so expertly configured there is no sense whatever of crowding.
Even those who espouse small ship cruising would be perfectly at home on Crystal.
Just who is át home' on Crystal? Distinctly upper-middle class types - business success stories, professionals, a scattering of movers and shakers and some seriously well-heeled. Around 50+ , they are far from 'fuddy duddý'. They are at ease anywhere in the world but choose to cruise with Crystal because they are assured of first-rate, but not fawning service, consistent quality food, stimulating pursuits and intriguing ports of call.
Just who is át home' on Crystal? Distinctly upper-middle class types - business success stories, professionals, a scattering of movers and shakers and some seriously well-heeled.
They love their Computer University at Sea program, Creative Learning Centre, an impressive guest lecturer line-up - such as diplomats, military generals, authors, scientists, and so on. And of course they love spa indulgences, wine-tasting and culinary workshops, PGA golf instructions and especially 'convivialising" in a variety of bars and lounges. My favourite is the Saloon Bar - a great piano bar, with a very New York Carlyle-style atmosphere.
The demeanour is elite sans snobbery. Guests are very comme il faut and love to wine, dine and party. They love to dress and parade their finery. Many host pre-dinner cocktails in their penthouse suites, gather at a favourite bar, meet for coffee (espresso) and pastries at the ship's Bistro. They treat the ship as a second home. Hardly a surprise when you find out that 42% are repeat passengers. I met a delightful Texan woman who was on her 19th Crystal cruise. I couldn't imagine how that figure could be exceeded until I saw an honor roll where some passengers had completed 200 voyages!
For the most part we dined in The Crystal Dining Room - a traditional ship's dining room with crisp white napery, gleaming crystal, silver-service and so on.
Other dining options on board are Prego - an upscale Italian restaurant, and The Silk Road - with dishes designed by Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa. Both restaurants require reservations but no surcharge applies.
Mostly we breakfasted and lunched at the Lido Café preferring the outdoors when possible, but we could have opted for a la carte in the dining room, or for that matter room service.
On this 10 day cruise, where were only two sea days. Ports followed in quick succession with almost everyone setting forth on an outstanding array of shore excursions. Highlights were: gorgeous Quebec City with its fine archictecture and French flair; Halifax - particularly memorable for its links with the Titanic - memorabilia in the Maritime Museum, and the cemetery where victims were buried; St Andrews-by-the-Sea (New Brunswick); Bar Harbor, Maine where we gorged on mussels and Maine Lobster; Buzzy Boston - site of the real Tea Party; Newport and the palatial 'cottages' of the Vanderbilts, Astors and others of their ilk, and finally the icing on the cake - sailing into New York City at dawn.
As for the Fall Foliage? It proved a little shy this year. Some say too much rain, some say not cold enough. Who cared? Everything else was a crystal symphony and vividly colourful memories.
Maggy Oehlbeck, 29/11/11
Photos: Maggy Oehlbeck and Crystal Cruises