As a travel journalist writing about all the major cruise lines over the years, I must admit I have my favorites. After taking 300-plus cruises to all corners of the globe, I've come to admire all kinds of cruise lines, from mega-ships to little expedition ships. The ones I come back to time after time, though, are the cruise lines that operate luxury ships with lots of passenger perks and pampering.
Crystal Cruises is at or near the top of that list. My first mate Richard and I have been sailing with Crystal since the Los Angeles-based company introduced its first vessel, the Harmony, 25 years ago. (We were just kids ... if I can remember back that far.)
The Harmony (now long gone) redefined elegance and brought back that loving feeling of cruises of yore, and since then Crystal has just kept on enhancing the cruise experience with Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony, often touted as two of the top cruise ships in the world.
What do I love about a Crystal cruise? Here are 10 of some of my favorite things:
There are cookies, and then there are cookies. Crystal Serenity bakes the latter, and they are hard to beat anywhere, not just at sea. The lovelies pictured here are chocolate chuunk-macadamia nut and impossible to decline, but the white chocolate, peanut butter and oatmeal cookies are just as good. Don't worry, there's a fitness center on board!
Wines worthy of the name
For those who haven't heard yet, Crystal Cruises is now all-inclusive, which naturally includes a wide selection of free varietals and vintages throughout the ship. You're in for a treat with the fully loaded wine bucket during a Tastes lunch aboard Crystal Serenity. Expect fruity whites both dry and lush from France, Austria and California, along with rich, hearty reds that work marvelously with more savory dinner selections, such as the perfect osso buco at Prego restaurant.
Once you've had butler service, it's OK to lust for it again. Yes, it’s available only in Penthouse Deck staterooms and suites, but these crew members are top flight. Our last butler was Engin, an amiable, solicitous gentleman from Turkey who showed he's eager to go the extra yard for his guests. This includes setting up the stateroom and bringing in a savory meals — or, in fine weather, serving lunch or dinner on our veranda. Such feasts may come from Silk Road and Prego, the speciality restaurants, or from the dining room. How anyone can live without an Engin equivalent remains a mystery.
A perfect-size pool
To be truly useful, a ship's swimming pool must be large enough to accommodate both early-morning lap swimmers and late-afternoon dunkers. The one on both Serenity and Symphony fits the bill by being long enough for reasonable laps and having easy entry steps and an efficient heating system for when the ship glides into cooler climes. And there's plenty of room on the deck for sun worshippers and readers.
A genuine teak deck
Promenade to Crystal Serenity's Promenade Deck and look down. While too many cruise ships have the fake stuff, this is the real deal: genuine teak. The wood is unobstructed by clutter and it goes all the way around without narrowing or being truncated at some halfway point. It is perfect for runners and walkers, and for that after-dinner stroll.
A spa to die for
On both Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony, The Spa, in all its feng shui splendor, is one of the best afloat. You'll be treated to free steam baths and saunas and lots of towels along with shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer. For an added fee you can get pampered royally with massages, facials, body scrubs and wraps, salon services and more. Every treatment I ever had on Crystal was a 10, even the mani/pedi.
A fitness center to keep you in shape
The fitness center, which overlooks the sea and is kept spanking clean, boasts the latest equipment for keeping in shape and working off those extra calories you can't resist because the food is just too good.
Cuisine par excellence
And speaking of the food, it's simply sublime on both Serenity and Symphony whether in room service, the buffet, on deck, the dining room or Silk Road or Prego, the alternative dining venues.
Crew members out to please
I've been continually impressed by Crystal's crew members, who are taught to never say “no.” When put to the test, which this diva of the sea does often, they have passed with flying colors.
Enrichment Programs that live up to the name
And finally, I love the dazzling array of shipboard diversions that go beyond bingo (although it is offered) to some of the most intellectually stimulating lectures in the Enrichment Program, to a Computer University at Sea where I learned how to use Photoshop and more, a fully stocked library with the latest books, recent movies (we once caught up on all the Oscar-nominated flicks during one cruise), food and wine demos, beauty lectures and more.
Crystal Cruises was acquired by Genting Hong Kong in June 2015 and is undergoing an enormous expansion that includes the addition of an impossibly opulent riverboat/yacht called Esprit, a jet plane, a shipbuilding yard in Germany and an additional ship or two, all rolling out in the next two to three years.
May she carry on her best-in-class tradition!
In our series Luxury Cruises
- A taste of what you'll find on a luxury cruise
- Guide to all-inclusive pricing on cruise ships
- Guide to VIP enclaves on cruise ships
- 20 most luxurious staterooms on a cruise ship
- Experiencing Alaska on a luxury ship
- Butler service: A blissful perk on high-end cruises
- Top luxury spas at high-end cruise lines
- 10 world class hotels
- Is a world cruise right for you?