Imagine getting a 10-day luxury cruise for your birthday gift! Gail Richard, Hideaways Vice President, thought a Mediterranean cruise vacation aboard Symphony was a perfect way to celebrate her mother?s birthday together . . . and a nice excuse to check out Crystal Cruises. Accustomed to smaller cruise ships, Gail was skeptical about the accommodations, service, and privacy on a larger cruise ship. In this case, bigger is better: spacious accommodations, private verandas, a cinema, a theater (with various phenomenal nightly shows), a spa, restaurants, and shopping . . . the list of activities and amenities goes on and on. Upscale travelers will find luxury on every deck, right down to the crystal piano in the two-story atrium lobby. Discover why there are so many repeat cruisers, enjoying their 2nd, 3rd, or 27th cruise with Crystal Cruises.
A new outfit wouldn't do. Neither would dinner at her favorite restaurant. Even fine jewelry wasn't good enough. You see, my mother is turning 80 this year, and I wanted to give her something truly special. So I contemplated what seemed like a thousand different choices. Then an obvious answer hit me—a
Of course, this couldn't be just any trip. My mother is very active, likes to be entertained—pampered, really—and she's not a beach person. She still likes to learn something new every day, and she also happens to be the world's best critic. After putting together all these criteria, suddenly the solution to this dilemma became clear. Crystal clear, actually. I decided to take my mom on a ten-day cruise from London to Amsterdam aboard Crystal Cruises'THC Symphony. I guess you could say it was the best kind of gift—one we could enjoy together and reminisce about for years to come.
A new partner in The Hideaways CollectionTM, Crystal Cruises operates three ships—Harmony, Symphony, and the brand-new
Serenity. Accommodating more than 900 passengers
each, these ships are big by Hideaways' standards.
But Crystal's "big-ship" feel is tempered by the
type of "small-ship" service Hideaways' members
have come to expect. They call it The Crystal Difference—clearly
defined luxury that includes spaciousness (Crystal
has it in spades), a high level of service, and
quality touches like Wedgwood bone china tea service,
Frette linens, and Brown Jordan teak deck furniture.
Plus, it offers truly refined accommodations and
outstanding amenities. At least, that's what I'd
been told by Crystal cruisers and had read in several
travel magazines, which consistently rank Crystal's
ships as among the best.
I couldn't wait to find out
for myself. But as someone who's enjoyed small-ship
cruising for years, I was also a bit skeptical. I
wanted to make sure enough activities were offered
to keep my mom interested and happy, but—with 940
passengers—I wondered whether there would be quiet
places to relax on board (especially around the pool
deck). And I wondered about the ability of the staff
to maintain a high level of personalized service.
I needn't have worried—in our own ways, both my mom
and I couldn't have been more delighted with what
Fabulous first impressions
We boarded Symphony in Southampton,
entering on Deck 5 through Crystal Plaza—her elegant,
two-story atrium lobby complete with a beaded waterfall
that grandly descends from the stained-glass dome above.
It's quite a breathtaking entrance and an exciting
precursor to what followed. Circling the perimeter are
the reception, concierge, and shore excursion desks,
as well as the Crystal Cove bar with its truly amazing
focal point—a crystal piano. White-marble floors, seafoam-green
carpeted alcoves, and pastel furnishings set the mood
for our calming ocean voyage to come.
Before heading to our room,
we walked up a magnificent circular staircase to the
top level of the atrium, also known as Tiffany Deck
6. Here we found the three shops of Symphony's Avenue
of the Stars: Facets (for jewelry), Captain's Choice
(logo wear, sundries), and Apropos (evening attire).
Did I mention my mom loves to shop? The ship was already
a hit! Deck 6 is also where Symphony's guests can
find The Bistro—a comfortable espresso, cheese, and
wine lounge—a cinema, a casino, the ship's computer
lab, restaurants, and the spacious, circular Starlight
Lounge. During our voyage, five-time international
champions Tony and Margaret Long taught cruisers how
to ballroom dance in the Starlight!
Eventually, our wanderings took
us to Lido Deck 11, which is all about recreation.
This deck has two rectangular swimming pools—each
with its own Jacuzzi®—the Seahorse lap pool, and
the Neptune Pool, an indoor/outdoor facility under
a retractable glass dome. Instantly, I knew my fear
about not being able to find a quiet place around
the pool was unfounded. Deck 11 also has a youth activities
center, complete with Fantasia children's playroom
and Waves fun center/video arcade for teens. One deck
up, Symphony's ocean-view spa offers exercise equipment,
aerobic instruction, and specialized programs under
the direction of a personal fitness trainer. The salon
draws on Feng Shui designs and offers what my mother
and I found to be hard-to-resist specials and mini-programs.
This deck is also for sports enthusiasts, offering
a Wimbledon paddle-tennis court, table tennis, golf
driving nets, a putting green, shuffleboard, quoits
(after they explained this was a game of ring toss,
they gave lessons), and a jogging lap.
Instead of waving good-bye to
England, my mother and I went to our stateroom to
unpack. We loved its location—tucked away at the end
of the hall, just one floor above the Galaxy Theater.
Forget cramped sleeping quarters—Symphony's cabins
are all substantially larger than industry norms and
exquisitely appointed; more than half offer private
verandas. The decor of each cabin reflects the cool
pastels we found throughout the entire ship, with
lots of soothing colors and light woods that make
the rooms seem even airier. Amenities range from plush
terry robes and a TV/VCR (with videotapes available
through the ship's library) to a fresh-daily custom
fruit basket. The bathrooms were an especially nice
surprise for two women traveling together, with twin
sinks, plenty of room to spread out, and a total of
15 drawers to fill.
So far, so good. My mother was
happy with the shopping and entertainment options,
and I was pleased with the ship's overall roominess.
Our next test for Symphony came later that night—dinner.
With its assigned seating, I was pretty apprehensive.
Symphony is undeniably among the upper echelons of
cruise ships, but would that translate into stuffy?
What would our dinner partners be like? And would
we enjoy sitting with the same people ten nights in
Our table was at the far end
of Crystal Dining Room—an elegant space with intricate
woodwork, mirrored ceilings, and magnificent ocean
views through large picture windows. Sitting down,
we met Mona and Jim from Santa Rosa, California, two
of the nicest people I've ever met. Next were Helen
and Bob; a bouquet of balloons floated near Bob in
celebration of his 81st birthday. This couple was
a ball-of-fire hailing from Long Island, New York;
they soon filled us in on all the reasons they love
Crystal Cruises—after all, this was their 27th time
aboard! (We missed them at dinner another night, when
they attended a special celebration for repeat guests;
they reported that many passengers attended this dinner,
including two ladies celebrating their 66th sailing).
The extent of Crystal's repeat business is a true
testament to its quality and another hint at the special
experience my mother and I were about to have. Helen
explained the ship feels like home—staff members call
you by name, greet you enthusiastically, and provide
a level of service that's warm and welcoming and not
the least bit intimidating. By the time dinner was
over, all of us were excited about what was in store
for us over the next nine days!
Through the years, Crystal has
carefully created alliances with some of the world's
top chefs and wine experts, and it certainly shows
in the quality of its menus and vintage wines. In
addition to the main restaurant, we also found two
exquisite dining alternatives: Prego, offering delicious
Italian fare with Venetian ambiance; and Jade Garden,
a Wolfgang Puck-influenced dining venue featuring
Asian cuisine. Between these two choices, and a few
other nights when we ate poolside with the ship's
band providing entertainment, I think the six of us
ate as a group only four or five times.
Beyond delightful tablemates
and great dining choices, the food itself was wonderful—and
not just the main meals. Afternoon tea in the gorgeous
Palm Court was themed and was always a treat; for
the Mozart Tea, staff were dressed in velvets and
brocades and served us delicious Viennese pastries
and cakes. For English Colonial Tea, it was scones
and clotted cream. The Ice Cream bar, poolside, was
one of my favorites! And the light, airy Lido Cafe and
Gardens served lavish breakfast and lunch buffets
that changed daily. The only dining option we weren't
thrilled with was room service. While other cruise
ships provide your meal on a white tablecloth and
serve course by course, a staff member brought our
tray . . . and left. Later, we discovered Symphony
does provide this service when asked; but we think
it's a special touch that should always be offered.
After dinner, we were faced
with the dilemma of seemingly endless choices. Watch
a recently released movie in the plush theater? Do
a bit of gambling in the ship's huge Caesar's Palace
at Sea casino? Enjoy a little low-key entertainment
in the Avenue Saloon or Crystal Cove piano bar? Or
venture into the posh Connoisseur Club—Symphony's
cigar lounge—for after-dinner drinks and specialty
As it turned out, my mom and
I never missed a night at the Galaxy Theater. This
463-seat showroom—with a revolving stage—gave us a
glimpse of award-winning entertainment every night.
And without any lip-syncing from the main stars! The
ship's ensemble performed extravagant musicals most
nights, with spectacular costumes and singing and
dancing to rival that of a Broadway show. But we were
in for a real treat on some of the alternating nights.
Crystal invites world-class guest entertainers and
variety acts aboard each of their cruises. We enjoyed
the comedy of Mike Goddard, who's performed with every
name in British show biz; an Evening of Fantasy by
internationally renowned concert pianist Avner Arad;
the fabulous voice of Jacqui Scott, an acclaimed singer,
writer, and performer; and "Simply Simon," scenes
from Neil Simon's comedies performed by the Repertory
Theatre at Sea.
During the day, we were highly
impressed by the guest lecturers of "Crystal Visions," an
enrichment series customized for each itinerary and
designed to enhance the land portion of the cruise
experience. Art historian Dr. Fred Levine discussed
Vincent Van Gogh's life through his paintings, adding
significantly to our visit to the Van Gogh Museum
in Amsterdam. And Sotheby's Jane Gardiner discussed "The
Glory of Irish Cut Glass" prior to our shore excursion
to the Waterford Crystal factory.
Just one day's activity list
included more than I could schedule in a month: a
morning walkathon, bridge lessons, Callaway golf clinic,
yoga, needlepoint, fitness seminars, a fashion show,
Mahjongg, a cookbook signing by Crystal's executive
chefs, and so much more. There were so many interesting
options, my mom and I sometimes had a hard time agreeing
on what to do. Those days we'd go our separate ways
for a few hours, meeting up later for ice cream or
a poolside chat. She'd have her hair done . . . I'd
go and play bingo (I won $51!). She'd have a Japanese
Silk Booster Facial at the spa . . . I'd listen to
a guest lecturer or read my e-mails (which cost a
fortune!). We both played in the slots tournament
together—and lost. And one day we got caught up in
the excitement of an on-board art auction, where I
bid on an original cartoon cell from the movie Anchors
Away, signed by Gene Kelley and animators Hanna and
We had high expectations for
the service and, for the most part, they were met.
Many staff members knew our names within the first
few days of our trip—no easy feat with so many passengers
on board. To be fair, our room stewardess was quite
new, so we took that into consideration when we had
to ask for occasional necessities. However, if we
had a request slightly out of the ordinary—like when
we asked the concierge to arrange a taxi when none
could be found—service was somewhat halfhearted. The
friendliest staff were the lunch waiters, who committed
our special orders to memory, and the casino manager,
who pointed out slot machines that might be ready
to pay off—and sometimes she was right!
Crystal's passengers seemed
a lot like Hideaways' members—sophisticated,
well-traveled, and looking for all the comforts and
service of an upscale resort. The average age was
around 60, though I saw a number of younger couples
and even a few families with toddlers. Speaking of
families, children over the age of six months are
welcome; Crystal's youth counselors and organized
kids' activities help reinforce that feeling of family
Each day, we met new people
on our shore excursions. Often we'd run into them
again at a show or the breakfast buffet. But the space
aboard ship was generous enough for plenty of privacy,
with lots of intimate little places to meet friends.
Sure, there were occasional glitches in service here
and there, but I've come to realize there always are;
you learn to overlook those things in favor of the
overall experience. In the end, my mother—remember,
the world's best critic—gave Symphony two thumbs
up. And the refined yet relaxed atmosphere certainly
won me over. In fact, even though neither of us is
celebrating a special birthday next year, we may just
do a mother-daughter encore. And I hope we meet Helen
and Bob—probably on their 30th Crystal cruise by then—if
With dozens of intriguing alternatives, it wasn't easy to choose, but the itinerary
we finally selected was themed Castles & Kings, a ten-day journey from London
to Amsterdam aboard the Crystal Symphony. We maximized our time in each destination
by taking advantage of the shore excursions offered by Crystal Cruises. Staff
members were helpful in matching day trips to the interests of each passenger:
history, cathedrals, wine tours, shopping. Each excursion was rated for the level
of physical exertion required. Note: Symphony has great passenger flow, with
no notable bottlenecks, even when passengers are disembarking for a day trip.
Very impressive! Here's an overview of the shore excursions my mother and I enjoyed.
Waterford, Ireland: Our all-day excursion included a tour of Waterford Crystal,
where we witnessed master artisans at work, followed by lunch at Waterford Castle;
this 5-star island hotel is reached via ferry across King's Channel. We stopped
in the town center on our return for a little shopping.
Bordeaux, France: We had two days to explore this fabulous waterfront city and
the surrounding countryside, a treasure trove of majestic estates and wine chateaux
including Margaux, Mouton-Rothschild, and Haut-Brion. We visited the vineyard
area and medieval city of St. Emilion (complete with moat), an underground church
built between the 9th and 12th centuries, and winding streets filled with boutiques,
antiques, and wine shops. The ship pier is city center, which allowed easy, independent
exploration; a lively street market right on the waterfront was a highlight of
our visit. The French people were very hospitable and lined up for miles to wave
us off as we journeyed down the river Garonne.
Honfleur, France: At the mouth of the Seine, this charming Norman fishing village
was the base for departures to World War II landing beaches. Our visits to the
beaches and the museum were profoundly moving; however, our stay in this artist's
township was not long enough to soak up its unique character. Other options included
Rouen and the Norman abbeys, or a day trip to Paris.
St. Peter Port, Guernsey: This sleeper port-once home to Victor Hugo-turned out
to be my favorite stop! We had just a half-day to explore this island, a mere
25 square miles in size. Our bus tour left the cobblestone streets and granite
houses of the harbor to take us to the western side of the island, where we viewed
the wind-swept dunes and bays of Pembroke and Grandes Rocques. We made brief
stops for cream tea and scones and to visit the Little Chapel at Les Vauxbelets.
Built in the 1920s from scraps of Wedgwood china and seashells, this chapel is
reputed to be the smallest consecrated church in the world.
Ghent/Bruges, Belgium: Our guided walking tour featured highlights of this capital
city, including a visit to St. Bavo's Cathedral, which houses "The Mystic Lamb" by
Jan van Eck. An enjoyable afternoon in Bruges included lunch at the renowned
Huidevettershuis, a canal ride, and time for browsing a few of its many chocolate
and lace shops.
Of course, we also visited London and Amsterdam during our trip; they weren't
really included as part of our Crystal cruise, other than as our departure and
arrival cities. But we did have fun exploring these very different European cities,
and you can read about our experiences, as well as the hideaways we enjoyed,
in an upcoming issue of Hideaways newsletter.
With so many interesting options, I'm sure I could have picked any Crystal cruise
and my mother and I would have had a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Crystal Harmony: Ft. Lauderdale to Costa Rica; the Mexican Riviera; Yokohama,
Japan to Vancouver, British Columbia; Hong Kong to Beijing; Alaska; Holiday Cruise:
Caribbean (round-trip New Orleans).
Crystal Symphony: Ft. Lauderdale to Buenos Aires; Chile to Auckland and Sydney;
the Caribbean; the Baltic Sea and Russia; Canada & New England; Holiday Cruise:
Caribbean (round-trip Ft. Lauderdale).
Crystal Serenity: Panama Canal; Mediterranean & Western Europe; Caribbean; Holiday
Cruise: Pacific Riviera (round-trip Los Angeles).
Gail Richard, Hideaways'
Vice President, and her mother, Anne, enjoyed their
Crystal cruise this past May. Gail already wonders
how she'll top this gift for her mom's 81st birthday.