Winner of accolades and too many hospitality industry awards to count, Crystal Cruises offers a taste of the grandeur of the past along with all the modern touches discerning passengers demand today. Founded in 1990 and owned by Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) in Japan, Crystal ships, unlike other luxury vessels, are large, carrying upward of 900 passengers. What makes them distinctive are superior service, a variety of dining options, spacious accommodations, and some of the highest ratios of space per passenger of any cruise ship.
Beginning with ship designs based on the principles of feng shui, the Eastern art of arranging your surroundings to attract positive energy, no detail is overlooked to provide passengers with the best imaginable experience. Just mention a preference for a certain food or beverage and your waiter will have it available whenever you request it.
The complete roster of entertainment and activities includes Broadway-style production shows and bingo, but where Crystal really shines is in the variety of enrichment and educational programs. Passengers can participate in the hands-on Computer University@Sea, interactive Creative Learning Institute classes, or attend lectures featuring top experts in their fields: keyboard lessons with Yamaha, language classes by Berlitz, wellness lectures with the Cleveland Clinic, and an introduction to tai chi with the Tai Chi Cultural Center. Professional ACBL Bridge instructors are on every cruise, and dance instructors offer lessons in contemporary and social dance styles.
An added highlight for women traveling solo is the Ambassador Host Program, which brings cultured gentlemen on each cruise to dine, socialize, and dance with unaccompanied ladies.
Somewhat unique among cruise lines, Crystal Cruises’ casinos observe Nevada gaming rules and offer complimentary cocktails to players at the tables and slot machines.
A delightful daily ritual is afternoon tea in the Palm Court. You’re greeted by staff members in 18th-century Viennese brocade and velvet costumes for Mozart Tea, traditional scones and clotted cream are served during English Colonial Tea, and American Tea is a summertime classic created by Crystal culinary artists.
The food alone is reason enough to book a Crystal cruise. Dining in the main restaurants is an event starring a continental-inspired menu of dishes served by European-trained waiters. Off-menu item requests are honored when possible, and special dietary considerations are handled with ease. Full-course vegetarian menus are among the best at sea. Casual poolside dining beneath the stars is offered on some evenings in a relaxed, no-reservations option. A variety of hot-and-cold hors d’oeuvres are served in bars and lounges every evening before dinner and again during the wee hours.
But the specialty restaurants really shine. Contemporary Asian cuisine is served in Silk Road and the Sushi Bar, featuring the signature dishes of Nobu Matsuhisa. Both ships also have Prego, which serves regional Italian cuisine by Piero Selvaggio, owner of Valentino in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Exclusive Wine & Champagne Makers dinners are hosted in the Vintage Room. On select evenings, casual poolside theme dinners are served under the stars.
Crystal has an extensive wine list, including its own proprietary label called C Wines, which are produced in California. Unfortunately, there are no complimentary wines with dinner, as is common on other luxury cruise lines. You won’t pay extra for bottled water, soft drinks, and specialty coffees; all are included in your basic fare.
Fitness and Recreation
Large spas offer innovative pampering therapies, body wraps, and exotic Asian-inspired treatments by Steiner Leisure. Feng shui principles were scrupulously adhered to in their creation to assure the spas and salons remain havens of tranquillity.
Fitness centers have a range of exercise and weight-training equipment and workout areas for aerobics classes, plus complimentary yoga and Pilates instruction. In addition, golfers enjoy extensive shipboard facilities, including a driving range practice cage and putting green. Passengers can leave their bags at home and rent top-quality Taylormade clubs for use ashore. The line’s resident golf pros offer complimentary lessons and group clinics.
Affluent, well-traveled couples, from their late-thirties and up, are attracted to Crystal’s destination-rich itineraries, shipboard enrichment programs, and elegant ambience. The average age of passengers is noticeably higher on longer itineraries.
Formal attire is required on at least two designated evenings, depending on the length of the cruise. Men are encouraged to wear tuxedos, and many do, although dark suits are also acceptable. Other evenings are informal or resort casual; the number of each is based on the number of sea days. The line requests that dress codes be observed in public areas after 6 pm, and few, if any, passengers disregard the suggestion. Most, in fact, dress up just a notch from guidelines.
Although these ships are decidedly adult-oriented, Crystal welcomes children but limits the number of children under age three on any given cruise. Children under six months are not allowed without a signed waiver by parents.
Dedicated facilities for children and teens from ages 3 to 17 are staffed by counselors during holiday periods, select summer sailings, and when warranted by the number of children booked. The program is three-tiered for 3- to 7-year-olds, 8- to 12-year-olds, and 13- to 17-year-olds. Activities—including games, computer time, scavenger hunts, and arts and crafts—usually have an eye toward the educational. Teenagers can play complimentary video games to their heart’s content in Waves, the arcade dedicated for their use. Babysitting can be arranged with staff members for a fee. Baby food, high chairs, and booster seats are available upon request.
Tips may be distributed personally by passengers on the last night of the cruise or charged to shipboard accounts. Suggested gratuity guidelines per person per day are: senior waiter $5; waiter $3; cabin stewardess $5 (single travelers, $6); and (for suite occupants only) butler $5. Tips for the maître d’, headwaiter, assistant stewardess, and room service personnel are discretionary. Passengers may adjust the amount based on the level of service experienced. All beverage tabs include an automatic 15% gratuity. A minimum of $7 per person per dinner is suggested for the servers in specialty restaurants; a 15% gratuity is suggested for spa and salon services.
You’re automatically enrolled in the Crystal Society on completion of your first Crystal cruise and are entitled to special savings and member-only events. Membership benefits increase with each completed Crystal cruise and include such perks as stateroom upgrades, shipboard spending credits, special events, gifts, air upgrades, and even free cruises. Society members also receive Crystal Cruises’ complimentary quarterly magazine, which shares up-to-date information on itineraries, destinations, special offers, and society news.
Choose This Line If
You crave peace and quiet. Announcements are kept to a bare minimum, and the ambience is sedate.
You prefer to plan ahead. You can make spa, restaurant, shore excursion, and class reservations when you book your cruise.
You love sushi and other Asian delights—Crystal ships serve some of the best at sea.
Don’t Choose This Line If
You don’t want to follow the dress code. Everyone does, and you’ll stand out—and not in a good way—if you rebel.
You want total freedom. Unlike other luxury cruise lines, Crystal assigns you a seating and a table for dinner.
You want a less structured cruise. With set dining times, Crystal is a bit more regimented than other luxury lines.
Before sailing, each passenger receives a personal e-mail address.
Ambassador Hosts on Crystal cruises are cultured, well-traveled gentlemen, who are accomplished dancers and interact with female passengers.
Complimentary self-service laundry rooms as well as complete laundry, dry-cleaning, and valet services are available.
Crystal Serenity wraparound promenade
Top: Crystal Serenity fitness center
Bottom: Crystal casino entrance
Good to Know
Although two assigned dining room seatings are advertised as an advantage that offers flexibility, the reality is that open seating is the true mark of choice and the most preferred option at this level of luxury cruising, and Crystal now offers the choice of Open Dining by Reservation. If you haven’t done so in advance, on embarkation day you can reserve a table to dine one night in each specialty restaurant, but don’t dawdle until the last minute; if you wait, you may find a line has developed—one of the few lines you’ll encounter on board—and all the choice dining times are already booked. You may also be able to reserve additional nights after the cruise is under way, depending on how busy the restaurants are.
Top: Spa treatment
Middle: Keyboard lessons
Bottom: Crystal Symphony Crystal Penthouse