Crystal Symphony and her sister Crystal Serenity might not be the youngest ships in the rarefied world of true luxury cruising, but every year they win prestigious awards and are constantly in demand.
Crystal Cruises spends millions of dollars on remodelling the classically elegant ships every few years and their crew-to-guest ratio is one of the highest in the business – which translates to exceptionally attentive service.
Symphony and Serenity are large by luxury-cruise standards, accommodating up to 848 and 980 guests respectively, and incredibly spacious – our Seabreeze Penthouse with veranda on Crystal Symphony’s deck nine is an ample 34 square metres, while the top-of-the-range Crystal Penthouse veranda suite sprawls majestically over 91 square metres on deck 10.
Shortly after my cruise companion and I embark in New York, our butler, Dario, shows us around the penthouse, our stately home for the next 10 days. He pours Champagne (French, of course) and assures us that the supply will be replenished as often as required.
The fridge is fully stocked, and Dario says he will deliver canapes each afternoon and that he can organise dinner reservations at the three specialty restaurants (complimentary for Penthouse guests).
The decor is a soothing melange of silver-greys, soft caramel and chocolate browns with pops of blush-pink in cushions and carpet. In the marble bathroom, brightly-coloured Etro products look good enough to eat and having twin basins is always a boon.
Our twin beds are supremely comfortable and among the Seabreeze Penthouse amenities making your cruise extra relaxing are a free ironing service, walk-in closet and unlimited wi-fi.
Crystal Cruises is renowned for its fine dining. For many years, both ships have featured Nobuyuki ‘Nobu’ Matsuhisa’s only restaurants at sea and the latest incarnation of his venues, Umi Uma and the separate Sushi Bar, continue to serve up exciting Japanese-Peruvian cuisine and delectable sushi and sashimi.
Head to the super-stylish al fresco Silk Kitchen & Bar for modern Chinese-inspired dishes – in the evenings Silk specialises in sharing plates – and don’t miss traditional afternoon tea, accompanied by 180-degree views and a string quartet, in the glamorous Palm Court.
Waterside is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers an impressive array of modern and classic dishes. There are lots of tables for two – great for couples and unsociable breakfasters like me – and all are immaculately dressed in white linen with Villeroy & Boch china and Riedel crystal.
Marketplace is a more casual indoor-outdoor space for breakfast and lunch; at night, it transforms into Churrascaria, a Brazilian steakhouse.
Prego, which specialises in Northern Italian fare, is my favourite restaurant. We didn’t try The Vintage Room but if you’re halfway serious about your wines, make sure you book in for a very special customised gourmet wine-pairing experience.
In-room dining is another option; Dario presented us with a fabulous three-course dinner after we’d had a particularly busy day ashore.
Activities onboard Symphony
Enrichment and wellness are the travel industry’s favourite buzzwords and Crystal provides plenty of classes, activities and facilities. I took an excellent digital technology class while my cruise buddy practised her golf swing with the resident pro.
Bridge players have a dedicated lounge and, on every cruise, well-known experts from all walks of life present lectures and seminars.
The jogging track gets a good workout every morning – the pool not so much – and as well as a well-equipped gym there are resistance machines on the aft deck for fresh-air workouts. The feng shui-inspired spa offers an extensive range of pampering treatments.
A couple of days into the cruise it’s quite surprising to discover guests throwing themselves into a lively karaoke session in the clubby Avenue Saloon, but Symphony’s atmospheric bars and lounges are perfect for convivial gatherings.
We catch a spellbinding contemporary show called Imagine in the blacked-out Galaxy Lounge, watch magician Bob Arno perform his famous pick-pocketing tricks in the Avenue Saloon and meet up with new friends most nights either there or in the Connoisseur Club.
Other well-patronised venues include the Starlite Lounge for dancing (and lectures during the day) and the lovely Crystal Cove piano bar, where talented musicians play classical tunes on the grand piano and string instruments.
Autumn is the most popular time for Canada and New England cruises, to see ‘fall foliage’ in all its blazing glory. Among the many highlights of Symphony’s 10-day itinerary are bike rides in Boston and Acadia National Park; hiking in Saguenay Fjord National Park; a scenic flight from the pretty port of Rockland; and a ship-organised tour of Prince Edward Island’s historic lighthouses that includes a visit to a fascinating fruit-wine estate.
Big-city ports New York (we have two full days there before the cruise departs), Quebec and Montreal are all wonderful destinations you could happily linger in for much longer, but Halifax, with its Titanic connections and history, is perhaps the most eye-opening.
Crystal Symphony is cruising in Alaska from May to August 2019, then repositions to Los Angeles for a season of Central and South America voyages. Sister ship Crystal Serenity will sail eight-day voyages from New York to Quebec (and reverse) in September and October 2020.