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Crystal Symphony

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Crystal Symphony is a wonderful choice for cruise travelers who are looking for a luxurious cruise vacation on a larger ship with plenty of options for dining and entertainment. The ship (and its sister, Crystal Serenity) has a following of passionate and loyal fans, who consider longtime staff to be family and love to come onboard to be pampered.

Yet the line does not ignore newer and younger cruisers. A 2017 refurbishment added modern touches to the ship -- open-seating dining in the main restaurant, new casual eateries, enhanced Wi-Fi, more up-to-date suites -- and a commitment to sprinkling shorter itineraries among the world cruises and longer voyages. Staffing kids clubs in the summer months makes sure working professionals and families are accommodated.

Crystal Symphony is an older ship, but it rivals the newer ships of competing lines for choice in dining. There are five main venues for dinner, plus room service. Three have more of the formal restaurant vibe: the main dining room Waterside, Italian Prego and Asian Umi Uma, created by celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa. Two new casual venues were added in the 2017 refurbishment -- Brazilian steakhouse Churrascaria and family-style Chinese restaurant Silk. Food was generally good in all venues, though Waterside was the most hit or miss, likely because it offers a wide array of entrees that change nightly. The line wisely made sure not to lose standout dishes in all the restaurant upheaval. Nobu's miso black cod and Prego's mushroom soup in a bread bowl continue to wow diners as they have for years.

The quality and variety of entertainment options is also notable. Crystal excels in daytime enrichment with multiple lectures on any one sea day, computer and movie-making classes, and expert instructors in art, bridge and golf onboard most sailings. Magician's from Los Angeles' famed Magic Castle make appearances (and disappearances!) on select sea days for intimate shows of close-up magic. Evenings often have two shows scheduled -- perhaps a production show with the in-house singers and dancers plus a guest singer or comedian -- plus live music in multiple venues, including a pianist-entertainment in the Avenue Saloon and an after-hours DJ. Did we mention there's also a movie theater screening recent releases? No one can complain of boredom.

The ship is casually elegant, and tends toward lighter colors (light woods and neutrals paired with Crystal's signature sea-foam hue) than ships that go for more nautical navy or imposing dark woods. The new Silk Kitchen and Bar with its solarium roofing and contrasting black-and-pink color scheme is both hip and a welcoming place to dine or hang out. Navigation is simple; most of the public spaces are on decks 5, 6 and 11, with cabins in the decks between.

The main longtime drawback of a Crystal Cruise has been, and still is, the size of its standard cabins. Outside and balcony cabins measure 202 square feet; to put that in perspective, Carnival's standard cabins start at 185 square feet, while other luxury lines start out with 250 to 300 square feet of space in entry-level cabins. Bathrooms especially feel cramped, with very narrow countertops, and there are no walk-in closets. To get that luxury accommodation feeling, you need to book a suite -- which isn't true of other luxury lines.

One surprise on our cruise was that we didn't experience the high levels of service that Crystal is generally known for. Waterside waiters got orders wrong on several occasions, and occasionally responded in a defensive rather than apologetic manner. Bar staff would ask if we wanted red or white wine with dinner, without bothering to explain the daily varietals or even show us the labels to see what type of wine was on offer. Our room stewardess was indifferent to our request to replace the Coke in our mini-fridge with club soda. While none of this had a major impact on our enjoyment of the cruise and might seem like nitpicking, it did seem out of line with service we've experienced on competitors and the flawless service Crystal has previously espoused. That said, many of the crew members we met were lovely; service in the Bistro was particularly notable.

Crystal Symphony is appealing to a wide swath of travelers, from well-to-do families looking for a ship that can entertain their kids to retired couples who can afford a suite and all its associated perks and are looking for a good mix of active, relaxing and enriching experiences. It's a good choice for travelers who want a small ship, but find the 500-passenger and smaller ships to be a bit dull or hyper-social. In many ways, Crystal Symphony hits the sweet spot between too large and too small, and many first-timers discover that, for them, it's just right.

During the day, Crystal passengers wear what the line calls "active resort wear," which ranges from shorts, casual slacks and T-shirts to sundresses. At night, Crystal has two dress codes that are in effect after 6 p.m. On Crystal Casual nights, women wear dressy slacks, skirts and dresses, while men opt for open-collared and collared shirts along with dress pants or European smart trousers. On Crystal's Black Tie Optional evenings, suggested attire includes formal cocktail dresses, evening gowns or elegant evening separates for women. For men, a dark suit (either with a tie or without) and tuxedo are recommended choices.

Crystal Symphony Inclusions

Crystal is not the most inclusive luxury cruise line, but its fares do cover a lot. Cocktails, beer and wine, soda and specialty coffees are included in the fare (though only Penthouse category and above cabins receive free spirits in their mini-bars). One dinner at each of Prego and Umi Uma is offered at no charge per person per one-week cruise (repeat visits cost $30 per person), while dining in all the other restaurants is included. Wi-Fi is free throughout the ship and is significantly faster than previously, thanks to a big service upgrade.

Gratuities for housekeepers, butlers and wait staff are also covered, but spa treatments do incur an 18 percent auto-gratuity.

Shore Excursions

In every port, Crystal offers a menu of shore excursions that range from standard tours such as "panoramic " and "highlights" sightseeing tours aimed at first-time visitors, to more niche choices such as art and culinary tours. In most ports, there's a (gentle) recreational tour that includes snorkeling, hiking, cycling or kayaking. Keep an eye out for the occasional "boutique adventure"; on a Baltic cruise, passengers could opt to take a Formula One powerboat ride in Helsinki or visit a private Faberge egg museum in Saint Petersburg.

Reservations can be made via Crystal's website ahead of time -- and we recommend that you do as much advance planning as possible because tours do book up. The concierge can also recommend and arrange private tours for an additional cost.

Crystal has long operated its pioneering "You Care. We Care" series of voluntourism tours. They're available on select itineraries and can range from reading to children to painting a school. There's no charge to participate.

Daytime and Evening Entertainment

Whether you stay onboard while the ship is in port or are geared up for a busy day at sea, Crystal schedules plenty of diversions, most of which are traditional cruise activities, such as bingo, needlepoint, dance classes and wine tasting. The line excels in enrichment opportunities, detailed below. A well-stocked library offers comfortable nooks for reading, and the Hollywood Theater cinema on Deck 6 shows recent-release matinees and evening flicks (with fresh popped popcorn and drinks service).

The Resorts World At Sea casino, also on Deck 6, has blackjack, roulette, three card poker, Ultimate Texas Hold'em, and slot and video poker games. Various casino tournaments are scheduled throughout the sailing. Luxe is the VIP casino area that is used when select passengers are invited onboard for casino play or by request.

The Bridge Lounge, a space that also doubles as a presentation locale with a new podium and AV system, has convertible game tables.

Magicians affiliated with Magic Castle offer intimate magic shows to a mere 20 passengers per performance on select days, usually when the ship is sailing. There's no charge but you must obtain tickets beforehand at the library during open hours. The show focuses on close-up magic -- sleight of hand with cards, ropes, rings and coins -- and is all the more impressive because you can't see the trick even sitting just a few feet from the magician. The magicians rotate through, so each cruise the show will be different.

With the introduction of open-seating dining onboard, Crystal has had to rethink its evening entertainment, with people flowing in and out of dinner at all times. The end result is continuous entertainment options throughout the evening. Many evenings feature two shows, with two showings each; one show is held in the Galaxy Lounge, the main theater, with the other in the Starlite Club, a more versatile lounge for performances, dancing and gathering at the bar.

One show is typically a created-just-for-Crystal dance and song performance, featuring the ship's singers and dancers. A new production, "Crystal in Motion," is shown on the first night of a cruise as a taster of what's to come, which includes singing, dancing, big band, ballroom music, solo recitals and stand-up comedy. Other shows might be ballroom dance showcases or an homage to Broadway or rock 'n' roll.

The second show is typically a guest entertainer, such as a comedian, solo singer, musician or even an a capella group. We found the guest performers to be of high quality on our cruise.

Options for dancing, listening to music or both are also plentiful at night. In the Crystal Cove, a series of pianists, guitarists and violinists play background music for the folks enjoying pre- or post-dinner drinks at the bar. The ship's house band, the Crystal Quartet, will play dance music in the Starlite Club or Palm Court, with the line's Ambassador Hosts (well-mannered gentlemen of a certain age) inviting partnerless ladies up to dance. Otherwise, a duo will play pre-dinner in the Palm Court.

A DJ entertains the late-night crowd in the Starlite Club until late.

New for 2018 is the Crystal White Extravaganza, which takes place in the atrium and Crystal Cove. Passengers are encouraged to dress in white (the majority do), and the atrium is decorated with white streamers. The Crystal Showband, soloists, Latin dancers and other onboard performers play and entertain, while passengers enjoy special white cocktails and join in the dancing with the Ambassador Hosts.

The other happening entertainment venue is the Avenue Saloon, where a pianist-singer holds court until 1 a.m. The occasional karaoke night takes place here as well.

Enrichment

Crystal's reputation for outstanding enrichment is well deserved, and itineraries almost always involve multiple days at sea that are jam-packed with myriad educational activities. Sea days will feature up to three lectures from a destinations expert, world affairs speaker or -- on especially long or sea-day heavy sailings -- experts in any number of topics, from politics and sports to finance and history.

For those interested in painting, sculpture or crafts, art specialists come aboard most sailings as part of the Odyssey Art at Sea program. Passengers can simply drop in to do the day's art activity (be prepared to stay awhile) or work on one project throughout the sailing.

The Computer University @ Sea, which on Crystal originally aimed to help computer neophytes learn basic skills, has morphed into an even more sophisticated operation as passengers have also acquired superior skills. A partnership with the USC School of Cinematic Arts has resulted in classes on making videos via iPad; on our trip, these were so popular they were standing room only.

Bridge instructors give lessons and host games in the Bridge Lounge. PGA-certified golf pros are onboard to lead workshops and offer one-on-one instruction. (Taylor golf clubs are also available to rent for onshore play.) The ship's ballroom dancers teach classes on sea days, with the Ambassador Hosts on hand to partner solos. Some passengers are avid dancers, which can be intimidating, but all are welcome to learn the steps.

Crystal Symphony Bars and Lounges

Crystal Symphony has a range of bars and lounges that each have their own ambiance and style, and many passengers have a favorite. If you're drinking late at night, generally around 11 p.m. to midnight, waiters will come by the Avenue Saloon, Crystal Cove and Starlite Club with snacks like pizza and mini tuna melts.

Crystal Cove (Deck 5): Tucked beneath a dazzling waterfall, this horseshoe-shaped bar, with a scattering of couch and armchair settings, lies in the atrium. It's often crowded for pre-dinner drinks since Waterside is nearby, but other times it can be serene, punctuated only by the soothing sounds of the water falling. Various soloists and musical duos trade off throughout the night to provide pleasant background music.

Starlite Club (Deck 5): Large and sprawling, this secondary theater is ringed by comfortable seating, with a bar along the open hallway that runs alongside the club. The venue has been newly done out in a dark blue, silver and teal color scheme. It's a lively spot for watching dancing and performances, and listening to lecturers. A DJ spins tunes until late.

Avenue Saloon (Deck 6): The only bar onboard that's behind walls rather than open to the walkways, the Avenue Saloon is elegantly dark-paneled with a long L-shaped mahogany bar and brown-stained plantation shutters. It feels like something out of a 1930s movie. The resident pianist plays and entertains during select hours each evening; it's usually a quiet place to chat and sip. Watch out though for karaoke night! If you get a good crowd, it's a hoot -- and often packed.

The Connoisseur Club (Deck 6): Tucked next to the Avenue Saloon, this small but elegant room is the only spot onboard for cigar smoking. It's staffed from 5 p.m., but if you want to order cigars or drinks (including premium ports and Armagnacs), call down to the Crystal Cove for service.

The Silk Bar (Deck 11): A hybrid space, replacing the ice cream bar in the 2018 refurb, the Silk Bar is located just outside its namesake restaurant, between the pool and the Marketplace. It's a bright and airy daytime spot for reading, napping on the cushioned rattan deck furniture and playing cards at the dining tables that run alongside the floor-to-ceiling windows. At night, it's perfect for a pre-dinner cocktail before a meal at Silk. Perch at the bar or one of the wonderfully comfortable pink-and-black swinging chairs.

The Palm Court (Deck 11): The Palm Court is Crystal Symphony's best observation spot, located top of the ship and forward. The light woods and fabrics on the furnishings, combined with sea foam and muted teal accents, gives the space an elegant tropical feel. It hosts popular events, like afternoon tea and meet and greets, and between activities is a casual spot to relax onboard. It also serves as one of the ship's elegant dancing spots, with gentleman hosts to dance with ladies.

Crystal Symphony Outside Recreation

The "big event," sports-wise, on Crystal Symphony revolves around the ship's paddle-tennis court on Deck 12. It is always busy (or so it seemed). For those not in the know, paddle-tennis is more like miniature tennis than Ping-Pong; imagine a compact tennis court and more stubby rackets (or paddles).

Golf driving nets and putting greens are also found on Deck 12. A Ping-Pong table is hidden away on Deck 8 aft and netted to keep balls from flying everywhere.

Another popular spot is the full, wraparound promenade deck for walking and jogging on Deck 6; 3.7 laps equals a mile. Shuffleboard courts are also found along the promenade.

Crystal offers two fitness programs for walkers. The first is called Walking on Water, and it basically consists of cotton vests with pockets for weights that add resistance. The vests are loaned out on a complimentary basis, and the workout definitely requires a comfortable bit of extra exertion. (Try the vests while walking stairs if you are really feeling energetic.) In addition, the ship offers Nordic walking poles, again to increase the calorie-burning from your daily walk. The fitness center trainers host walking classes both morning and afternoon to instruct passengers in the proper use of these accessories.

The pool deck is stunning, with the feel of an upscale resort. Gorgeous deck furniture creates a plush, contemporary look. Featured are white loungers and circular double sun beds in white rattan with splashes of burnt orange and turquoise in the cushions that add a bright, summery touch. There's a giant Jacuzzi, seating up to 20, by the main Seahorse pool, great for socializing on cool-weather cruises.

Crystal Symphony Services

The ship's service desks -- customer service, shore excursions and concierge -- are located in the Crystal Plaza, Symphony's atrium, on Deck 5. As well, there's a medical facility on this deck with rather more generous operating times than on many ships; here it's open from 8 a.m. to noon and again from 2 to 6 p.m. Emergency service is available around the clock.

Ringing the upper level of the Crystal Plaza on Deck 6 is a series of three shops that sell perfume, expensive jewelry and watches, handbags and clothing, and both logo-wear and more formal attire. Keep an eye out for trunk shows and a rotating lineup of featured bags and purses. A small sundries shop is tucked away by the logo-wear.

An Internet Center on Deck 6 offers a dozen terminals and on-site staffers to assist with questions. A handful of the terminals are dedicated readers, with complimentary access to a selection of newspapers and magazines.

Wi-Fi is accessible in cabins and throughout the ship and is free of charge. It's also much faster than previously, thanks to an upgrade of Crystal's satellite service. A new portal, Crystal Connect, means guests can access all kinds of services on their own devices, from restaurant menus to the daily Reflection newsletter, lectures, movies and onboard bill.

Crystal Symphony has three complimentary self-serve laundry and ironing facilities. Soap and dryer sheets are provided. These are found on Decks 8, 9 and 10.

Asian themed in decor, the Crystal Spa and Salon may not have the bells and whistles of newer luxury ships, such as a thalassotherapy pool and fancy thermal suite, but it's got everything you need for a choice of relaxing and rejuvenating treatments.

The cost for a basic Swedish massage is, at $131 for 50 minutes, about average for the industry. The treatments we tried, including massages using bamboo and herbal poultice were first-rate. Other possibilities of spa treatments include facials, detox treatments and body scrubs, acupuncture and medi-spa options. Auto-gratuities are billed at 18 percent.

The ship's salon, adjacent to the spa, offers haircuts and blow-outs, color and dying, pedicures and manicures. There's a dedicated range for men, such as an express shave and beard trims, and waxing for women. Tooth whitening is also available.

Even though this is a luxury cruise ship, passengers still reported getting upsells during the treatment (including being offered an extra service, only to discover after the fact that it came with a hefty fee) and product or treatment pitches afterward. No one wants to hear about their dry skin or fine lines when they're trying to relax.

The steam room and sauna in the mens' and womens' locker rooms are available to use at no charge. The locker rooms, which feature multihead showers, are stocked with complimentary toiletries (including razors, shower caps and combs) and outfitted with mini-fridges full of complimentary carbonated and noncarbonated water.

The fitness facility has a full line of Technogym equipment. There are five treadmills, five elliptical trainers and five stationary bicycles (each equipped with a flat-screen television), along with free weights, resistance machines, kettlebells and weighted balls and yoga mats. You can grab waters and foam covers for the headphones attached to each cardio machine at the station near the door.

Classes in yoga, Pilates, Zumba, stretching, Kinesis and indoor cycling are free of charge and take place at the mirrored end of the gym. Fitness training is available for an additional cost, as are health assessments and nutritional consulting. You'll find extra outdoor fitness equipment (including basic elliptical trainers and resistance machines) tucked away on aft Decks 7, 8 and 12. While not meant for hearty workouts, they offer a fun way to exercise with a great view.

Crystal's dining scene has become less formal, with the late-2017 introduction of open-seating dining in the main dining room and two additional eateries with a more casual vibe. We loved having the choice of five restaurants at dinner, in addition to room service. All dinner venues are open from 6 or 6:30 until 9 or 9:30 p.m.

While the food in the specialty venues nearly always hit the mark, we found Waterside, the main restaurant, to be inconsistent both with food quality and service. Order the right dish and it's exquisite; order the wrong one, and you'll leave feeling unsatisfied. The service was also not up to snuff, despite a not-full ship. Waiters would get orders wrong and get defensive about it; at one meal, they kept delivering my dishes to other diners at my table. They'd pour still water into your glass of sparkling without asking, and seemed disinterested in describing wine choices or offering alternatives if you didn't care for the daily selection. It simply did not live up to expectations.

Specialty dining fans should note that passengers are limited to one complimentary visit to each of the ship's alternative restaurants, Umi Uma and Prego. Additional meals there cost $30 per person. Advance reservations are highly recommended to the alternative restaurants, including Silk (but not the Churrascaria). In addition, be warned that many of the specialty venues are loud, making dinner conversation tricky if you're in a large group.

Waterside (Deck 5): The ship's main restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily and is open seating for all meals. To accommodate this change in policy (the restaurant formerly offered two sittings for dinner), more tables for two and four have been added. Solo travelers, though, needn't feel compromised; a table is always set aside in Waterside for solo travelers to sit with other singles, should they wish. In addition, tables are set aside for solos in the specialty restaurants on select evenings. A note in Reflections will indicate the designated times and venues.

Dinner is a multicourse highlight in Waterside. Two dinner menus are offered each night and both change daily. There's a "modern" menu that offers more daring dishes, and a "classic" that features more traditional fare. You can choose one or the other or even pick from both. Vegetarian items are marked. One waiter mentioned in an offhand manner that there were some always-available selections, like Caesar salad, not on the menu; we never saw an actual list, and no one else referenced it.

On one night's menu, the "modern" choices included charred beef crudo as a starter, pan-seared duck magret as a main and macadamia nut crunch as a dessert. That same night's "classics" menu, which has six main dishes (compared to the modern menu's two), featured a forest mushroom tart appetizer, soup and salad, a pasta course (rigatoni puttanesca) and mains such as filet mignon, poached capon, tiger prawn and tomato curry and lentil "meatballs." There's also a substantial salad course for those who prefer a lighter entree or are looking for a change of pace.

Desserts included a nice range of sweets, like trifle, tarts and creme brulee, with a couple of sugar-free options. You can always order ice cream, frozen yogurt, soft-serve, fresh fruit, cookies or a cheese plate.

At each meal, you're presented with a red and white choice, but if you prefer a different varietal -- or beer, soda or a cocktail -- the wait staff will find it for you. In our experience, the wine steward just asked whether we'd like red or white, without describing or introducing the wines, so every time I had to inquire which exact red and white were on offer.

An official kids menu does not exist, but the dining team will work with families to accommodate young diners. Among the standard dishes the chefs will make for kids are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chicken tenders, macaroni and cheese, fish and chips, pizza and hamburgers (or veggie burgers).

At Waterside, breakfast is sumptuous, ranging from Basics (granola and fresh fruit, cereal and baked goods) to Classics (egg dishes, pancakes and brioche French toast) to Specials (steak and eggs, crab omelet). We loved the All-in-One concept, in which breakfast combos included easy-to-order and quick-to-eat options like The Continental (pastries and fruit), The Excursion (eggs, potatoes, meat and toast) and The Healthy (gluten- and fat-free muesli or egg white omelet). In keeping with the line's growing appeal in Asia, there's also The Chinese (congee) and The Japanese (miso soup, grilled salmon, steamed rice) breakfast.

At lunch, the menu offers a good range of choices -- appetizers, salads, soup, a pasta dish, sandwiches and hot entrees. Entree selections are varied, including a main dish salad, dishes like lamb kofte and pan-fried plaice, a vegetarian entree, sandwich of the day and always-available burger (with or without cheese). You can add sides like French fries, mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. There seem to be almost as many dessert options as mains, with two featured desserts (like vanilla macaroons or apple rice souffle), ice cream sundae and scoops (including fro-yo, sherbet and soft-serve), sugar-free option, fruit and cheese.

Waterside is open for breakfast from 7:30 to 9 a.m., lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m. and dinner from 6 to 9:30 p.m.

Umi Uma & Sushi Bar (Deck 6): Umi Uma, formerly called Silk Road (Umi Uma means "sea horse," as featured in Crystal's corporate logo) is supervised by Nobu Matsuhisa, one of the world's most highly regarded celebrity chefs. The venue is open for dinner only.

First of note is the restaurant's stand-alone sushi bar, offering both traditional and nouvelle varieties that are created as you watch. Passengers are pretty much limited to sushi choices here (a great stop for appetizers one night on our way to the Waterside Restaurant), but there are a handful of regular menu options offered, too, should you want to make a night of it. Sushi choices range from salmon tartar with caviar to white fish "new style" and also includes traditional favorites like California rolls. Anyone can dine at the sushi bar on a first come, first served basis. There's no cover charge.

In the restaurant, decorated in sleek sea colors and highlighted by dark woods, passengers are offered two menus (one for sushi and the other for Nobu-style appetizers, entrees and desserts), and they can mix and match from both. Starters included creamy king crab, seafood ceviche and lobster spring rolls. There are also soups and salads. Entrees include Nobu-style lobster with truffle sauce and signature black cod with miso. The grilled wagyu beef ribeye steak is also marvelous.

Desserts there, as they were everywhere onboard, were outstanding; the chocolate souffle cake with sesame ice cream and the sweet ginger creme brulee were deceptively light.

Umi Uma is the most popular restaurant onboard, so make reservations early; you can pre-reserve online before leaving home.

All passengers receive one complimentary meal at Umi Uma (excluding the sushi bar, which is a no-extra charge option at any time). Any additional visits incur a $30 per person surcharge. Tips for specialty dining are included in the cruise fare.

Prego (Deck 6): Prego, the ship's Italian restaurant, has been a Crystal stalwart since Symphony's launch; Piero Selvaggio, proprietor of Valentino's in Santa Monica, created it. The restaurant has since transformed its rather gaudy, pseudo-Venetian look into something stylish and luxurious. The reception area is deep wine-red, and the actual dining area, in stone and beige with chocolate suede walls, has a relaxing look. It's open for dinner only.

Signature starters include beef carpaccio, mushroom soup served in a bread cup and lasagna alla Casalinga. These are all precursors to the main courses. Mains include osso buco, lamb rack, lavender-infused duck and branzino. Ask if there's a daily special; the tuna special we had was delicious. Desserts are exotically Italian (no ordinary tiramisu here) with choices that include affogato (espresso-flavored lady fingers, a twist on tiramisu), chocolate-bergamot cake, semifreddo, gelato, sorbet and cheese. Our dining table agreed that the deconstructed cannoli was disappointing; we would have preferred put-together cannoli done right.

As with Umi Uma, the first meal is included, while additional visits cost $30 per person. Reservations are required.

The Vintage Room (Deck 6): An elegant private dining room with rare wines displayed in glass cabinets, The Vintage Room can be booked for private parties or by individuals, provided a minimum of eight diners is reached (the maximum is 12). Book at reception. A variety of menus are available, and while the food is exceptional, it's really the wines you pay for, which include sought-after vintages from legendary growers, paired with every course and presented by the head sommelier.

Lunch and dinner options are now available. Lunch, typically four courses, is $75 per person or $700 to reserve the room for a private lunch. Themed lunches are more expensive, such as the Californian wines lunch or Champagne lunch, both $125 per person. Dinner, typically six or seven courses, costs $250 per person or $2,500 for a private dinner. On occasion, an Ultimate Vintage Room Dinner is held that features incredibly rare wines and (usually) food prepared by a visiting celebrity chef and priced accordingly.

The Bistro (Deck 6): In the morning, The Bistro is a great coffee bar for low-key breakfasts of fruit, yogurt, pastries and bagels, open as early as 6:30 a.m. At lunchtime, it transitions to cold cuts and cheeses and desserts, and is a popular spot for a glass of wine. Scones appear at teatime, and the options remain the same until 8 p.m. when it transitions to desserts and cheeses only until late.

Marketplace (Deck 11): For casual dining, Crystal Symphony's Marketplace is the vessel's buffet venue for breakfast and lunch. Its design makes it feel both summery and elegant, with individual travertine islands that allow the food to be displayed elegantly and reduce queuing. Tables are available both indoors and out on the aft deck.

The Marketplace is typically open from 5 a.m. for early risers' coffee, adding continental fare at 6 a.m., with the full buffet available from 7 to 10 a.m. Staples include fresh fruit, yogurt, oatmeal, cold cuts and cheeses, pastries, French toast and pancakes, and an omelet station. There's also a breakfast bar with dishes that are aimed at Asian passengers (fried rice, congee), and healthy alternatives such as quinoa, salad lettuce and toppings like flax seeds.

Order beverages from the roving bar staff (or pick up the juice blend of the day at the buffet), including unlimited, fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Lunches in the Marketplace (from noon to 1:30 p.m.) generally feature the same dishes offered in Waterside but also include additions. The salad bar has lots of fresh lettuces, veggies and other toppings (including seeds, tuna and hard-boiled eggs), in addition to premade salads. There's a carving station, hot dishes (with gluten-free but not vegetarian options marked), a pasta station, deli meats and cheeses, a hot dessert and a selection of small cakes and pastries.

Churrascaria (Deck 11): A new addition in the 2017 refit, it's the ship's nod to South American cuisine, located in a section of the Marketplace. It's open daily for dinner only and is open seating, with no cover charge.

Dinner is a mix of waiter service and buffet. Start with a buffet of salads, ceviche, soup and tapas -- but don't go overboard. The meaty main event is quite heavy, with waiters coming around with seven types of meat on large metal skewers; you tell them how much of each type you want and use a flip card to indicate when you're ready for more and when you've had enough. Options include Parmesan chicken, garlic shrimp, herby lamb chops, sirloin steak, sausage, pork and short ribs. (There's some thought that the best cuts -- like the lamb and steak -- come out last, so pace yourself accordingly.) A caipirinha welcome cocktail is offered and wines poured as per the ship's other restaurants.

Churrascaria might not be the most exciting venue for vegetarians, but non-meat-eaters won't go hungry. There are plenty of salad options and sides, both on the buffet and served family-style at the table, as well as the delicious Brazilian cheese bread served with the meal.
Don't miss the grilled pineapple with cinnamon dessert, also shaved off skewers tableside. If you're interested in churros or other South American sweets, you can hit the dessert buffet -- if you can possibly squeeze more into your already bulging stomach.

Silk Kitchen & Bar (Deck 11): Silk is a lunch and dinner venue for Chinese comfort food -- it is not a Nobu restaurant. (It's easy to confuse Silk Kitchen with Silk Road, the venue that has since become Umi Uma.)

Silk occupies the area formerly taken by the Trident Grill and the ice cream bar, both of which are now housed in a slightly smaller space next door. The decor is dramatic, all shocking pink and black, with an eye-catching installation of china plates along one wall, some bearing faces. Living walls add splashes of lush green and a bar next door is perfect for pre-dinner cocktails, with rattan deck furniture and wonderfully comfortable pink-and-black swinging chairs. The whole area is covered by a retractable glass roof, so is filled with light whatever the weather. Despite a new air-conditioning system in that area, the center of the room can get quite hot on sunny days.

At lunch (open a bit later, at 1 p.m.), Silk has a casual vibe, and passengers will sit here who ordered from the Trident Grill or picked up food at the Marketplace. Start with dim sum such as (steamed pork buns or shrimp dumplings), won ton soup or a chicken salad. Four mains include vegetable or beef noodles, Hainan chicken, shrimp or vegetable fried rice and a daily special. While a few options can be made vegetarian, choices are limited.

When evening comes, the low lighting and eye-catching décor give the venue a trendier feel. The menu has a similar style to the lunch offering, but is dressed up a bit and all served family-style. As with lunch, you can start with dim sum, soup and/or salad; we thought the salad was far superior to the dumplings. Mains include Chilean sea bass, Kung Pao chicken, Mongolian lamb chops and stir-fried beef. The only truly vegetarian dishes are steamed rice and seasonal vegetables; it's unclear why a tofu dish could not be added to the menu. Desserts are a bit out of the ordinary; the tapioca "soup" with matcha ice cream and Chinese five spice dark chocolate slice (essentially a mousse tart) were yummy.

Silk Kitchen & Bar is open for lunch and dinner (reservations required at dinner), at no charge.

Trident Grill (Deck 11): A huge hit, the Trident Bar and Grill, located midship, serves up made-to-order fast food like Reubens, burgers (chicken, beef, salmon and veg), tuna melt, hot dog, chili con carne, soup and pizza. We loved the sweet potato fries, but you can indulge with regular fries or onion rings. It also offers a late risers' breakfast, with hot dishes made to order, from 10 to 11 a.m. There are only a handful of tables in the small area the grill shares with the ice cream bar. Most diners take their meals out to the pool deck or to the dining tables in Silk and the adjacent Silk Bar. (You'll find the breakfast menus on the tables in Silk, even though it's the Trident Grill kitchen in use in the morning.) The Trident Grill is open from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Scoops Ice Cream Bar (Deck 11): A favorite of both kids and adults, Crystal Symphony's ice cream bar serves up varying flavors of Ben and Jerry's ice cream in cups or cones. We also loved the toppings menu that's got sauces like chocolate and caramel and toppings like cookies, nuts, sprinkles and M&Ms plus liqueurs to splash on top. The Ice Cream Bar is open from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Palm Court Tea (Deck 11): Afternoon tea is a pleasant ritual on Crystal, and a formal interpretation takes place in the ship's Palm Court, with waiters dressed in tuxedoes with tails. The regular events feature tea sandwiches, scones with jam and whipped cream (clotted cream only comes in a packet), petits fours and tea served in delicate China teacups. Don't miss the themed tea events, which include the Chocolate Tea, Valentine's Day Tea and -- our favorite -- the Mozart Tea. The latter spread includes croissants and crustless white bread sandwiches and, more importantly, decadent desserts like Black Forest cake, Vienna Sacher cake and linzer torte. The hot chocolate "Amadeus" (rum, whipped cream and shaved chocolate), a specialty drink at the Mozart Tea, is absurdly delicious.

Room Service: Room service is available around the clock and includes a variety of soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts, along with hot items that range from pizza and spaghetti to beef tournedos and burgers. Breakfast can be ordered the night before, via a card you hang on your doorknob, and includes hot and cold dishes. All passengers can order room service off the Waterside menu of the day, while passengers in Penthouse-category suites can also order from the menus of Prego and Umi Uma if they wish, and butlers will serve meals course by course.

Crystal Symphony's cabins eschew the nautical look and trendy grays or dark woods for soothing neutrals and blond woods. Because the ship is relatively old, standard cabins -- especially the bathrooms -- are not as spacious as on newer luxury ships. There's no real division between sitting and sleeping areas, no walk-in closet and no spacious bathrooms where two can easily brush their teeth side by side. Adjust your expectations accordingly -- or upgrade to a suite.

That said, standard cabins are adequately sized for most cruises. They feature a love seat, coffee table with adjustable height, desk/vanity with chair and superb beds that can be converted from a queen to twins. A large flat-screen television opposite the bed offers movies and reruns of onboard lectures on demand and interactive programming for viewing menus, your onboard account and other ship information. A mini-fridge is stocked with complimentary soft drinks and bottled water. (Penthouse suites and above also have a complimentary liquor selection.) There's a safe, hair dryer and plenty of storage space; the closet features short and long hanging space and three small drawers; larger drawers are located by the desk and even the bedside tables offer storage. Several wall hooks are useful for tossing jackets or bags. Kimono-style and plush Etro bathrobes to borrow hang in the closets; you'll also find a shoe horn and brush, shoeshine glove, mohair throw blankets and an umbrella.

Bathrooms try to make the most of the tight space and include bathtub/shower combos (tubs are not full size), marble floors and Etro toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion in full-sized containers). Additional amenities include Etro bar soap, shower caps, and cotton swabs and pads in a jar. While the double sinks are appreciated, the two bowls that serve as sinks don't leave much counter space, and the low height of the actual counter makes activities like putting in contacts tricky. There are small shelves on either side of the sinks and under-counter storage for your toiletries. The shower is spacious and offers good pressure, but the tubs are three-quarter size, and more of a nuisance to step over than good for bathing. (The new Seabreeze suites are shower only.)

Crystal Symphony has three accessible staterooms (one Penthouse and two outside staterooms). These have 32-inch-wide doorways in to both stateroom and bathroom, roll-in showers and accessible closet rods and shelves.

There are also 11 pairs of connecting cabins. Every suite (except the accessible one) and an additional 32 standard staterooms offer a pull-out sofa as a third berth, predominantly used by families. Unless you've got a small child, be aware that standard outside and balcony cabins will feel cramped with three people -- and possibly tight on storage space.

Oceanview: The biggest challenge with Crystal Symphony's cabins is that standard outsides (which the line calls "deluxe") measure just 202 square feet, and are small for a luxury ship. The rooms, however, are bright, with large windows.

Balcony: Deluxe verandas are the same size and design as ocean-view cabins, with an additional 44-square-foot balcony. The veranda is outfitted with two cushioned chairs and a small table, big enough for dining. Note that the veranda cabins all the way forward and aft on Decks 8 and 9 have larger-than-standard balconies, due to the structural shape of the ship, but are not listed as a separate category.

Crystal uniquely offers a handful of PURE staterooms that feature hypoallergenic environments. Aimed at passengers who suffer allergies or asthma, these cabins undergo a special seven-step process to eliminate some 99.9 percent of impurities from the air. PURE staterooms are balcony cabins classified as categories A2 and A3.

Suite: Crystal Symphony's penthouse-level suites come in five categories, and all are comfortable and elegant. The regular suites feature a neutral color scheme, centered on taupe, ivory and sand colors and lots of stone on the countertops and bedside tables. The new Seabreeze suites are also neutral but with more gray hues and pops of orangey-pink colors.

All five categories of Penthouse suites have butlers who bring afternoon canapes, make restaurant and spa reservations, replace beverages and serve room-service meals. Occupants get preferential seating in Waterside, even though it's essentially open seating, and additional perks such as binoculars and complimentary pressing.

Another extra: Suite-holders are provided with welcome Champagne, complimentary bottles of wine and a choice of liquor (one full-sized bottle per person). Mini-fridges are continually stocked with beer and soda. If you're a room-service fan, definitely book one of these cabins, as butlers can serve course-by-course meals. You can order from the main dining room, Umi Uma and Prego during operating hours, for no extra charge. (You can even create a delicious Umi Uma-Prego combo, by ordering appetizers from one venue and mains from the other.)

Penthouse: The 367-square-foot Penthouses with Verandah feature a large living space with couch, chairs and coffee table along with a desk/vanity. Each Penthouse has a walk-in closet. The sleek and elegant bathrooms have a separate whirlpool tub and a spacious shower. Verandas are outfitted with adjustable mesh chairs (cushions provided) and dining tables for two.

Seabreeze Penthouse: There are 28 new Seabreeze Penthouses with Verandah on Deck 9, in pairs with a shared entryway that can be closed off, making the accommodation ideal for families who prefer interconnecting cabins. As noted earlier, the new suites have a slightly different decor that feels more modern, and gray leather headboards add a sumptuous feel. They are the same size -- 367 square feet -- as the regular penthouses but the layout, especially of the bathroom and closet area, is slightly different. The Seabreeze Penthouses have gorgeous marble bathrooms with big walk-in showers featuring body jets and rain showerheads (no tubs) and inset rather than bowl sinks. The vanity and walk-in closet are adjacent to the bathroom rather than on the other side of the entryway.

Penthouse Suite: The 491-square-foot Penthouse Suites with Verandah feature separate living and sleeping spaces; the bedroom is cordoned off from the living room by a curtain. The living room has a large desk, full sofa (with pull-out queen-sized bed), coffee table, TV, armchairs, dining table for two and a bar/mini-fridge setup. There's a walk-in closet off the entryway. The spacious bathroom, with separate soaking tub and shower, opens to both the living area and the bedroom. The bedroom is cozy with fantastic bedding, from sheets to mattresses. There's a second television and a pair of nightstands with good drawer storage.

Balconies are longer than standards, extending the length of the suite, which essentially is the width of two standard cabins. They're outfitted with a dining table and chairs.

Seabreeze Penthouse Suite: The 12 new two-room Seabreeze Penthouse Suites with Verandah were created by merging 24 smaller cabins on Deck 9 into the larger suites. They are also 491 square feet but decorated in the style of the Seabreeze Penthouses and with a slightly altered layout to the standard Penthouse Suites. Just by the entryway, a guest bath opens onto the main bath with spacious shower (no tub), his and hers sinks and a small washing machine, complete with detergent and dryer sheets. A large closet and vanity area separates the bath from the main bedroom, which is set apart from the living area by a half-wall (with large TVs on both sides) and curtains. Balconies are the same as regular Penthouse Suites.

Crystal Penthouse: The two top suites, the 982-square-foot Crystal Penthouses, each have a completely separate bedroom and living space and a dining table situated in a nook surrounded by a wall of windows. The living area also features attractive teak shelving, an L-shaped couch, desk, armchairs and a built-in bar. The large walk-in closet includes a vanity area and his and hers storage space.

The bathroom is so beautiful you'll just want to move in; the tub is by Philippe Starck and has uninterrupted ocean views (and, more prosaically, a flat-screen TV recessed into the wall), while the granite sink is backed by shimmery glass mosaic tiles. A second half-bath is available for guest use.

Balconies are furnished with a dining table and chairs plus loungers.

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