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Celestyal Crystal

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Celestyal Crystal is all about the destination. The ship doesn't try to woo passengers with a trendy design, Broadway entertainment or thrilling water slides. Instead, it invests all its energy into the places it visits -- spending longer time in port than most mainstream cruise lines and offering top-notch shore excursions, which ultimately won the ship Best for Shore Excursions in Cruise Critic's 2018 Cruisers' Choice Awards.

With Celestyal Cruises being a Greek-based company, it's no surprise the ship primarily sails the Greek Islands. All cruises begin and end in Athens, and the majority of them include overnights or multiple days in Mykonos and Santorini (as opposed to other lines that spend only half the day); this gives passengers a chance to explore these iconic ports sans all the crowds from other cruise ships. Itineraries vary depending on the season, but generally include at least one stop in another country, such as Turkey or Egypt.

The cruise line's emphasis on the destination and its budget-friendly price tag make it an excellent value, even more so when you see its nearly all-inclusive. The fare includes select shore excursions, most alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, and gratuities.

But to enjoy a cruise on Celestyal Crystal you'll need to be OK with sailing on a bare-bones ship. It's small by modern standards (with a capacity for 1,200 passengers as opposed to the 4,000-plus passengers you see on mega-ships), but it has a big-ship feel. You'll find many of the standard features you would on a big ship -- including two main dining rooms, a buffet, a spa and fitness centre, a pool and hot tub, and a number of bars -- but it's all scaled down.

Despite the similarities to newer ships, a cruise on Celestyal Crystal still conjures up images of an earlier age of cruising. Features like wide corridors, polished mahogany decks and distinct decor in each cabin category are a nod to the ship's colourful past, which started off as a passenger ferry in 1980 -- it was converted into a cruise ship in 1986. Since then it's been destroyed by fire, partially sunk, renamed five times and owned by five different cruise lines. But it has also had some high-profile guests, including Sweden's royal couple, who stayed onboard during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and President George H. W. Bush, who stayed onboard in November 1995.

Overall, lovingly worn Celestyal Crystal might not be the prettiest or most innovative ship on the high seas, but it offers arguably the best bang for your buck when it comes to cruising in Greece.

Daytime: The dress code is casual, with shorts, flip flops and T-shirts de riguer during the day.

Evening: Mostly casual, except on elegant night (once per seven-night cruise) which is suggested rather than enforced (during the summer it's really too hot to wear a jacket).

Not permitted: Tank tops, flip-flops and swimwear are never permitted in restaurants; shorts are allowed only during breakfast and lunch hours.

Celestyal Cruises Inclusions 

Included in your cruise fare:

  • Two main dining rooms and the buffet
  • Three excursions
  • Gratuities
  • Most drinks (see below for exceptions)
  • Main theatre shows
  • Most daily activities, unless noted below
  • Use of the gym, but not most classes

Not included in your cruise fare:

  • Automatic spa tips
  • Spa treatments
  • Premium beverages
  • Shore excursions (other than the three included)
  • Wi-Fi
  • Photos and artwork

Theatre

A big show takes place every night in the main theatre, the Muses Lounge, on Deck 8. It's a large space that feels like a hybrid lounge/theatre, with seating for 400 downstairs and a more intimate seating area for 40 upstairs (which you access from inside the theatre itself). Seating arrangements vary from single chairs to lounge-like booths with cocktail tables. A few of the booths toward the back, on the first level, have obstructed views due to support beams -- but we only found this to be an issue with large groups that tried to squeeze together.

Shows generally include a cabaret or dance show interspersed with aerial acrobatics. There are two showings per night, every night. On some nights, one of the showings might be replaced by a different event. For example, on our Greek Islands cruise, local dancers came onboard to perform during our overnight stop in Mykonos.

The quality of the shows is average, but we were impressed by how much the cruise line was able to do on such a small ship. The show "Hellenic Voyage," for example, incorporates dramatic visuals of Greek gods and goddesses (projected on a back screen) while dancers utilize trapezes and other unique props as they depict each deity onstage. Other headlining shows include "Abba's Dreams", which is an homage to the Swedish band and a riff on the Broadway stage show, set in these islands. "Cabaret" is a PG-rated Parisian-themed show, "Mythologia" is inspired by Greek mythology and "Fiesta" is a Latin America-themed musical; other musical performances involve aerial acrobatics.

Daily Fun

There is a packed program of daytime activities, including a morning walkathon and stretching session; Greek language lesson; Greek and Latin dance classes; arts and crafts, including postcards from Greece and paper hair flowers; fruit and vegetable carving demonstrations; a towel folding demo and themed trivia in different languages. New for 2019 is wine tasting with the enthusiastic head sommelier Andy, who for nine euros will take you on a Greek wine tour from prehistoric times to the present day -- including four tastings of local wines (two white, two red) plus nibbles.

At Night

It's all about music and dancing -- every night -- on Celestyal Crystal. Entertainment ranges from live music (both Greek and international tunes) to dance parties and late nights at the disco. There also are different themed parties/nights, which are actually just more music and dancing; on our cruise, they included a Jazz Night, a Latin Party, a Greek Party and a "Dance Around the World" party. All themed soirees are hosted by the ship's theatre performers in t Muses Lounge.

Every night, a live band also plays on the pool deck during dinner hours (a little incentive for a casual buffet dinner one night).

You'll find karaoke every night, starting at 9:30 p.m., in the Horizons Bar.

The casino is in a windowless room off the Eros Lounge and opposite the Sports Bar on Deck 8, packed with slot machines and a few gaming tables. Drinks can be ordered here.

Celestyal Crystal Bars and Lounges

There are four bars, two outside and two inside, one of which doubles as the disco (Horizons). The Greek climate means the outside bars are always full, particularly the Thalassa Bar at the back of the ship. There's a good buzz, day and night, in both the outdoor bars; Eros is best in the early evening when a band plays live music; Horizons Bar tends to be livelier after 10 p.m.

Thalassa Bar (Deck 5): This popular spot overlooking the back of the ship is full, for most of the day (since it's also where you'll find the ship's only hot tub) and until late at night, with plenty of seating. There is smoking on the port (left) side.

Eros Lounge (Deck 8): An oddly un-atmospheric bar, that doubles as a cafe during the day. There is a small stage at one end, where a band play nightly (they occasionally decamp to the Riviera Pool Bar for events like sail-aways), and tables and chairs spread throughout the rest of the space.

Helios Bar (Deck 9): The main pool deck bar is full throughout the day as it also serves as an overspill area for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It's busiest here during the day, and also sets the stage for dance lessons and spa demos.

Horizons Bar (Deck 10): Whether this is completely full or completely empty depends entirely on the type of fellow passengers you're travelling with. During our three previous times onboard, it has been empty but on our most recent sailing in the Greek Islands, it was packed every night. This is also where karaoke is held every evening.

Celestyal Crystal Outside Recreation

Pools

There is only one pool on the ship, located on Deck 9. It's a small saltwater pool that we saw used by only a few people during our cruise (perhaps because it fills up quickly). One odd feature of the space is that there are no lounge chairs surrounding the pool. (They're one deck above, overlooking the pool.) All that surrounds the pool are tables and chairs, which are used primarily by buffet diners. There is a retractable roof over the pool that closes during inclement weather.

With one small pool also comes only one hot tub. It's found on the back of Deck 5, by the Thalassa Bar, and again, is weirdly surrounded by nothing but tables and chairs.

Sun Decks

One thing the ship does not lack for are sun decks; you'll find them on almost every level, though not always with lounge chairs for sunbathing.

Deck 10, looking down on the pool, is the main sun deck with a decent amount of lounge chairs (our only complaint about this deck is the space can get tight when the chairs are all reclined, making it almost like an obstacle course to walk around). Servers from the pool bar make the rounds on this deck, taking drink orders. From Deck 10, there also is limited space above via a small staircase (unmarked on the deck plans), but it was closed off on our sailing. Additional sunbathing space (but no service) can be found on Decks 6, 7 and 8 aft, though note this also acts as an overspill from the buffet so there are tables and chairs, and from 2020 will be partly covered to allow for outside dining..

Celestyal Crystal Services

The hub of the ship is on Deck 5, where you'll find guest services and the shore excursions desk. Note, there is no desk for future cruise sales, but if you speak to the Guest Relations Manager (Georgia), you will be able to make a booking. The relatively large boutique sells jewellery, clothes and other accessories (including some locally manufactured products), cookies and candy, duty-free goods and other cruise-related paraphernalia; and the photo gallery, which also sells cameras.

On Deck 8, hidden away in the corridor adjoining the Sports Bar with the casino, is the library, which has a small selection of books that you can borrow on an honour basis. It's also home to a kids' play room and a couple of conference rooms.

There are no self-service laundry facilities, but you can get a bag of clothes washed and folded for a reasonable 22.95 euros, or for 5 euros more, pressed too. Both are a one-day service.

Wi-Fi is available throughout the ship, including in cabins, but it's pricy: 7 euros for an hour, 16 euros for three hours and 25 euros for six hours. The connection speed was surprisingly fast, but did cut out sporadically. (Warning: Remember to log off after each session, otherwise you'll burn up all your time.) There are no computer stations.

An extra-fee medical centre is available on Deck 4. It's open every day for a couple of hours in the morning and night (on departure days, it's only open at night). The hours of operation vary, so make sure to check your daily program for the opening times on any given day.

Smoking is permitted on the port side of Deck 5 aft (by the Thalassa Bar) and both sides of the Promenade Deck 5.

Spa

Sana Spa (Deck 9) is a small space with seven treatment rooms, but it offers everything you'd expect on a big ship in terms of treatments for both men and women. Facials start at 72 euros for a 45-minute treatment. A variety of massages (Balinese, reflexology, aromatherapy, shiatsu) start at 66 euros for 30 minutes (or 97 euros for 45 minutes, 121 euros for 60 minutes).

There are also lots of offers, such as a Spa Sampler, which you'll see advertised in your daily program or on flyers. Various grooming and hairdressing services are also available for men and women. On the pool deck, you'll find the salon offering various services such as haircuts, and manicures and pedicures.

Next door are the even smaller saunas and steam rooms for men and women, which are a tight squeeze; they have enough space for only two people at once.

Fitness

Adjoining the spa is a small gym with weight machines and free weights, ellipticals, one treadmill, one spinning bike and an exercise bike. There is no trainer or classes; however, Zumba and other dance classes (listed in the daily program) are held in the lounges or on the pool deck.

A daily early morning "walkathon" takes place on the open decks (meeting point is at the Thalassa Bar); and there is also a daily wake up and stretch class in Muses Lounge.

Dining onboard Celestyal Crystal is kept simple, with only three venues to choose from: two main dining rooms, and a buffet and a new for 2019, for fee, speciality restaurant, Fish Tavern. The two main dining rooms -- Olympus and Amalthia -- are basically the same in terms of style and menus; the difference is Amalthia is the only one open during breakfast and lunch hours. They also operate on a flexible seating basis versus assigning passengers to specific times; dinner hours are 6:30 to 10 p.m. daily. Still, dining times are subject to fluctuate, so you should always check your daily program to be sure.

Both main dining rooms offer an optional, a la carte menu with items such as steak and lobster tail for an additional fee. We found the portion sizes in both to be perfect -- not too overwhelming -- allowing us to finish everything from our starters down to the last bite of dessert. The quality, too, for the most part was superb.

 

Free Dining

Olympus (Deck 5): Of the two main dining rooms, this one is smaller and has a more intimate feel, almost as if it could be a large speciality restaurant. It has three table sizes -- for four, six and eight -- and two table shapes -- circular and oblong, but with plenty of window seats. It also offers convenient access to the Thalassa Bar, an alfresco bar tucked away on the back of Deck 5, perfect for pre- and post-dinner drinks.

Dinner consists of three courses, plus a chef's special, which is usually a well-known Greek dish. The remainder of the menu is a mix of Greek dishes and other delicacies -- from countries such as Cuba and Italy. Starters might include a cold fish selection, prawn cocktail or perhaps a terrine. Soups usually include some kind of vegetable, consomme or a lobster bisque (the chicken and lemongrass was our favourite) and a salad is usually a simple green salad.

Mains always include a vegetarian dish like a risotto; a fish dish (often a local one); and a meat dish, be that chicken, lamb or pork. On one night there will be a Greek Celebration Dinner, where the whole menu consists of Greek dishes. Special dietary needs, including gluten-free and halal options, can be accommodated with advanced notice. A separate kids menu, with items like burgers and fries, and pizza, also is available.

Speciality items available for an added fee can be found on a separate "Hungry for Something Different" menu, in both dining rooms. It includes dishes such as beef tenderloin, grilled lobster (whole or tail), surf and turf, and a Greek seafood dish. Prices range from $10.95 for the tenderloin to $24.95 for the surf and turf.

Desserts usually feature a variety of cakes, ice cream or gelato, and fruit with Greek yoghurt. There are no theme nights.

There is a surprisingly good selection of wines onboard, including some robust North American reds, fine French wines and a handful of Greek wines. Note that all beverages by the glass (bar the premium label spirits) are included in your cruise fare. If you are looking to get a bottle, you'll have to pay a supplement ranging from $11 to $35 per bottle, which is still a good value. Premium liqueurs such as Chivas Regal, Johnny Walker Black, Glenfiddich and Jack Daniel's, as well energy drinks and smoothies, cost an extra $10 per person. A sommelier also is onboard to assist with pairing recommendations at dinner.

Amalthia (Deck 8): Situated just below the two buffet restaurants, Amalthia is the "main" MDR and feels somewhat grander, with lots more seating and table sizes (for four, six, eight and 10 people), including tucked-away round-the-corner tables that you can request just for two people (though they are for four). This is where the captain sits for Gala nights.

The breakfast spread is similar to what you'd find in the buffet, with hot dishes like hash browns, bacon, sausage and eggs, as well as yoghurt, cereal and juice. You can also order omelettes and eggs to your liking from the menu, at no extra charge.

Lunch is a three-course affair consisting of a starter, main and dessert, and the food ranges from standout to subpar. Starters might include a salad, soup or shrimp cocktail. Mains could include a vegetarian, fish or meat dish and a chef's special (usually a Greek dish), which varies by day. Desserts might include ice cream and fruit, as well as a cheese board.

The dinner menu is exactly the same as in Olympus.

Leda & Aura (Deck 9): These two buffet restaurants are the same, but are located in spaces opposite each other. Note that lines build up quick at busy times and when people are either getting ready for or returning from shore excursions, so it's wise to try and visit slightly off hours if you can swing it.

Food is available throughout most of the day (there are brief lulls of an hour or so after breakfast and after lunch), starting with a decent breakfast with a large choice of food including cold meats and salads, cereals, oatmeal, freshly made pastries, bacon, sausages, eggs (scrambled or sunny side up), Greek yoghurt and fruit, and fresh-grilled tomatoes. There's also a self-serve juice, tea and coffee station (the coffee machine allows you to make cappuccino and espresso, but you also can order speciality coffees for a fee).

At lunch, there is always a good selection of build-your-own salads, cold meats, a carving station and a choice of hot meat, fish and vegetables. You'll also notice a few Greek options.

Dinner is almost always held in the Leda area of the buffet and features many of the same dishes as at lunchtime.

Seating can be found inside the buffet (both the Leda and Aura sides), though most people tend to head out to the adjacent pool deck, where there is a plethora of seating -- both in the sun and shade -- and also to the aft of the ship, where you'll find more seats -- but no shade.

Pool Grill (Deck 9): Though not an official venue, this pop-up grill next to the pool -is where passengers can get made-to-order eggs (including omelettes) and other breakfast items like French toast and waffles. At lunchtime you'll also find an occasional (not every lunch) pop up grill serving burgers and hot dogs. Once a cruise towards the end there is also a BBQ in the evening here, which is great fun -- mountains of food, music and a lovely atmosphere.

Afternoon Tea (Deck 9): Afternoon tea is served 4 to 5 p.m., in the buffet, but don't expect white-gloved waiter service. This is more of a help-yourself affair, with a buffet selection of calorific cakes and biscuits, as well as container-dispensed tea and coffee.

Fee Dining

Fish Tavern (Deck 8); 363.95 euros: This intimate venue (just 12 covers) offers market-fresh seafood in a tiny room just outside the Amalthia restaurant. The menu is kept simple -- four appetizers, a salad and/or a soup and four mains, which are all caught either the day of sailing or the following day (fresh fish are loaded on to the ship every other day of the seven-night sailing). The apps include: braised octopus, baked mussels, cheesecake puff or carpaccio of beef fillet. The salad is a Greek salad and the soup is mushroom. The mains consist of market-fresh local fish including sea bream, sea bass and red snapper. You can also order lobster or surf & turf (same as the upcharge menu). Of course, if you are not a seafood lover or a vegetarian, there are always alternative options, and you can order from the main dining room menu. Desserts are a bit of an event -- if you opt for either the crepes or the flambe, they will be cooked up in front of you -- complete with very large flames! You'd be hard-pressed to find fresher seafood, and the service is superb as you'd expect in a venue this small. All in all, worth it as a one-off change from the MDRs. You can also hire the whole room if you are a group.

Room Service: 15.95 euros or a la carte: There is a charge of 15.95 euros per person for an English breakfast; or you can order individual items a la carte, starting from 2.95 euros for a croissant. Pizza, paninis and hamburgers start at 5.95 euros. Pizza comes with a beer or a soft drink. The same "Kwik & Easy" menu operates in all the bars onboard, if you fancy a snack.

As it's an old ship, Celestyal Crystal cabins are full of character. There are no carbon-copy staterooms on this ship, but a wide range of styles and sizes -- from those with portholes and picture windows to front-facing suites with balcony hot tubs to recessed side balconies. 

There are 480 cabins in total and 12 different cabin types, starting at a very small inside cabin on Deck 2. The largest of the accommodations, two forward-facing suites, lie directly below the bridge on Deck 6: the Imperial Suite and Presidential Suite, named after their previous occupants (Sweden's royal couple and the elder George Bush). 

Each cabin comes with a bed, a wardrobe (how many depends on the size of the cabin), a safe, a desk and a flat-screen TV. Outside cabins and above also have bedside tables, a coffee table and a chair. Bathrooms all have generic shampoo and shower gel from dispensers. All non-suite showers also have shower curtains, which tend to cling when you're using them.

There are three types of suite on the ship, but only two of those have balconies. All suites come with a selection of products like shower gel, shampoo and moisturizing cream.

Inside: There are two types of Inside cabins, which are dotted over the various decks and are smaller than the modern industry standard. The 23 "Deluxe" Insides vary in size from an unacceptably small 75 square feet to 125 square feet. The former are dark and so small that the beds are at right angles to each other, and you'd have to breathe in to walk past anyone in the room with you. There's a tiny bathroom with a shower.

The 62 Premium Insides have twin beds and old-style TVs. They're the same layout as Deluxe Outsides, minus the suite area. The Inside Standard is the same as the Deluxe but has two pull-down beds in addition to the twin beds, which means theoretically you could fit four people in it. Our advice: Don't try it, or at least don't all be in the room at the same time.

Oceanview: There are 21 Standard Outside cabins (129 square feet each) on Decks 2 and 5, but although the four on Deck 5 have restricted views, those are the ones to request: Deck 2 is shared by crew and machinery. It is just above the waterline and has a strong diesel smell permeating it. It also vibrates and is the tender gangway. The cabins are the same, though, with a porthole window, two beds, a small desk and bathroom with a shower.

Superior Outsides: These can be found on Decks 3 and 6. The ones on Deck 3 are slightly larger, at 136 square feet. Of the total 73, the 42 on Deck 6 all have views obstructed by lifeboats. Each cabin has three beds (two singles and a pull-down), a large picture window, a tiny desk and cabinet, flat-screen TV, limited storage space and a small bathroom. There are no mini-bars.

Premium Outside Cabins: There are 126 of these on Decks 3 and 4 and they range in size from 97 to 118 square feet. These are the same as the Deluxe Outsides but with old TVs. All Premium Outsides and above also come with empty mini-bars (except for the 53 on Deck 3).

Deluxe Outside: Deluxe Outside cabins can be found on Decks 6 and 7. There are 40 on the ship, and each is 170 square feet. Amenities include two beds; a small sitting area with a sofa, a chair and a table; a desk with a TV; and lots of closet space. There is a small bathroom, which has quite an old-fashioned feel with off-yellow paint and built-in sink and cupboard space.

Balcony: Celestyal Crystal's balcony cabins are located on Decks 6 and 7. The balconies themselves are a decent size -- and square-shaped, rather than the narrow rectangle you find on most modern ships; they're fitted with two dining-style chairs and a small cocktail table. Celestyal describes these as Junior Balcony Suites, but this is a bit misleading as they are not suites at all -- the cabins are the same size (170 square feet), and have exactly the same layout, design and amenities (including the small bathroom) as the Deluxe Outside. Balcony sizes range from roughly 40 to 80 square feet. Light sleepers, be aware: Cabins 7006 to 7011 are situated directly below the Muses Lounge and are not soundproofed.

All cabins designated suites enjoy the following perks: A dedicated check-in counter, priority embarkation and luggage sent directly to the suite via express service; priority tender service; a bottle of sparkling wine on arrival, as well as daily delivery of fruit; canapes before dinner and petit fours after dinner and complimentary room service. A Celestyal Cruises Suite Concierge will be on-hand to explain services, amenities, meal times and locations, as well as to answer any questions. All 43 junior balcony suites and 16 suites enjoyed a refresh ahead of the 2019 season which included new soft furnishings, fixtures and carpeting.

Suite: There are six suites ranging from 258 square feet to 463 square feet, all of which are all nestled at the front of the ship on Deck 6. Each consists of a single large room with a sitting area comprising a sofa bed, table and chairs; a sideboard with a flat-screen TV; and two single beds, which can be pushed together to form a double bed. Their main drawback is that they do not have balconies -- only a window. The bathroom is slightly larger and includes a shower cubicle (as opposed to a curtained shower).

Balcony Suites: All eight of the Balcony Suites are situated on Deck 7, on either side of the ship toward the front. Coming in at 388 square feet apiece (balconies range from 67 to 88 square feet), these suites also have separate rooms. A corridor leads into the living room, with a concealed sink and bar area behind a sliding wardrobe door. The living room, which includes a sofa and small table, opens onto a large balcony with three dining-style chairs and a coffee table. In each of these cabins, sliding frosted glass doors separate the bedroom, which has a double bed, side tables and plenty of wardrobe space. The bathroom is split into a toilet area (with a sink), a central area with another sink and shower cubicle. A door leads from the bathroom into the corridor. 

Grand Suites: There are just two, which share the front of Deck 6. Each comes in at a generous 469 square feet each, with large (approximately 430 square foot) forward-facing balconies that include a hot tub, a teak dining table for four and three padded lounge chairs. These are "proper" suites with two enclosed rooms -- a living room and a bedroom -- as well as the bathroom. Each living room includes a sofa, table and chairs, and a sideboard with a wide flat-screen TV. The bedrooms have plenty of storage space and writing desks. All bathrooms include a tub and a range of products.

Family: Although there are no cabins designated as "Family," there are a number of interconnecting cabins on Decks 2, 3 and 4. The suites are also ideal for families.

Accessible: There are six accessible cabins on Deck 5; they boast wide doors, a wheelchair-accessible bathroom with a ramp and wooden (rather than carpeted) floors.

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