'New' is quite a powerful word in these times, and particularly this year with the arrival of so many ships into this space: Silver Nova, Explora I, Seven Seas Grandeur - even, arguably, Oceania's Vista - are all competing for the high-end traveller's holiday pound.
So, why would you choose to travel on an older ship? Just as some of London's greatest hotels are older (think of Claridges, the Savoy or the Stafford), so in the cruise space we have some classics. Is it fair to reject a ship just because of its age? In this era we see the success of the pre-loved: vintage means high quality and high value. Does this apply to the refreshed Crystal Symphony?
The welcome we had when boarding was just that: very welcoming - rather like coming home, as we embarked on deck 5 with the beautiful fountain just by Crystal Cove, music playing and drinks being served.
I took a moment to look around and remember the last time I was on this lovely traditional ship. I felt the same excitement and somehow I just knew this was going to be a good trip.
Rooms weren't yet available so we had time to go and grab a bite to eat on deck 11. I'm very pleased to say we were the first to christen the grill - what a pleasure! While waiting for my lunch to be cooked I was chatting to one of the crew, who had previously worked for Crystal for over 20 years. As you can imagine he was delighted to be back 'home' on board Crystal Symphony and looking forward to meeting previous Crystal clients that do become friends over the years.
He is just one of the 80% of the old crew that the new Crystal management worked hard to get back, and you completely understand why this was so important to them when you experience outstanding and discreet service, with little 'surprise and delights' along the way. All new staff will certainly learn from the best.
You will remember that originally Crystal Symphony was designed to carry over 900 guests. The new capacity of this ship is 606, creating larger accommodation and more space, with an even better crew-to-guest ratio. The ship has a contemporary but still traditional feel about it.
My suite was a Sapphire Veranda Suite with a size of 430 square feet and the balcony an additional 107 square feet, with a great location midship/aft, plenty of space throughout, access to the balcony from the bedroom and living room, large walk-in shower with separate toilet, walk-in wardrobe with dressing table area and plenty of hanging space and storage; there were also two televisions and an interactive tablet that was very straightforward to use and carry around with you if you wish.
With complimentary standard unlimited Wi-Fi, butler service and a fully stocked bar of course, this suite was perfect. I also viewed the new Junior Crystal Penthouse Suite - I can certainly recommend this if you are looking for slightly more space: suite size a generous 645 square feet with a balcony size of 161 square feet, a large bathroom with full jacuzzi bathtub, walk-in shower and toilet (not to mention another guest WC accessed from the living area); it is beautiful and a winner.
I experienced some of the best dining onboard Symphony. At Umi Uma the menu is designed by Nobu Matsuhisa; the Nobu-style black cod is as good as it was before, so do make sure you book your complimentary reservation.
For sailings over 11 days you get another visit free of charge. The same applies to the Italian restaurant Osteria D'Ovidio, the contemporary Italian menu an attractive update, and you can get an idea of the menus before you book your cruise.
I really enjoyed the atmosphere and food in the pretty Tastes Kitchen and Bar. The lush living walls and herb gardens make this a very welcoming place to experience tapas style dining - lunchtime and evening - in a relaxed atmosphere. I met someone here that worked on the river ships previously, again delighted to be back on Crystal; the service was excellent.
It is hard to keep away from the main restaurant, Waterside - the food, service and atmosphere is just great, whether it be breakfast, lunch or dinner, you find yourself back here with an extensive and inviting menu.
Entertainment has always been great on Crystal, with a full cinema, dancing for guests in Palm Court every evening, two show lounges and a piano bar, an excellent house band and some great live music every evening in the Crystal Cove. I particularly like the Starlite Club with its own bar right at the heart of the ship which draws in passing guests and energises the evening atmosphere.
The other thing I have to mention is the amazing wraparound promenade deck on deck 7 - a rare experience nowadays to be able to walk or run so close to the ocean, enjoying the sea air and expansive views.
It will be lovely for past Crystal guests to get back on board and meet old faces, and for new guests to try Crystal, coming to find out what all the fuss is about and swiftly becoming part of the Crystal family. If you are booking a world cruise or world cruise sectors, you will also get to meet Crystal's World Cruise Ambassador Fernando Barroso de Oliveira who I'm sure many of our clients have met previously over the years. A personal friend of Manfredi Lefebvre, he is an interesting character whose love for ships started as a small child; with decades at sea he will have good advice to give and some interesting stories to tell.
I for one am delighted Crystal is back sailing as I know a lot of people are. It's incredible they have achieved this refurbishment in a relatively short space of time and are delivering the service they promised. The future is exciting for the new Crystal, especially with their link with A&K to upgrade the land experience, not to mention the plans for new ships. We will be sure to keep our clients up to date.