As a long time fan of Crystal Cruises, and of small ship cruising (for example on SeaDream), I couldn't wait to see how successfully my two passions would combine on board Crystal Esprit.
One reason I love the Crystal ocean ships is because of the choice and quality of food, and I wasn't sure the yacht could match up. But quite frankly this was the best food I have ever had on any ship anywhere, in nigh on 40 years of cruising. Beautifully presented breakfast and lunch buffets, an enticing grill on deck, and multi-course dinners featuring the freshest of flavours, light options and plenty of wow moments, all contributed to an overwhelming feeling of wellbeing.
We particularly loved the Yacht Club restaurant, with views into the galley to see the loving attention to detail in the preparation of each dish, but also enjoyed the flexibility to have a table set up out on the aft deck, weather permitting.
We travelled with friends and wondered if our group of eight would have a negative impact on the dynamics of the cruise. In fact there were three groups of eight, plenty of fours, and a mix of couples and singles, and yet within 24 hours everyone knew each other and all the groups mingled and interacted throughout the week. My party, mainly first time cruisers, had some preconceptions about what their fellow guests would be like, but were charmed and delighted by the unpretentious and eclectic mix of travellers, something I had heard back from a number of other Crystal Esprit past guests.
We were cruising the Adriatic coast, by no means for the first time, but had a fascinating and stimulating experience with lots of options to explore on the included shore excursions, including some excellent hikes and bike rides, and an amazing private concert in Diocletian's Palace in Split.
The eye-catching submarine carried at the aft of the ship was not used on our itinerary (and unfortunately because of windy wet weather in Slovenia, we weren't able to use the water toys at all during the whole week), but we can picture these things coming into their own in the Caribbean this winter, and even more so when Esprit returns to the Seychelles at the beginning of 2020.
The elderly Esprit was totally refurbished when she was added to Crystal's luxury fleet in 2016, but there is no hiding that she is an old ship. Plenty of noise and not the prettiest silhouette - but despite that she commands the highest ratings of all the ships in the fleet. So what makes her so special?
The décor is very appealing with fresh colours and lots of art and glass. The dining is outstanding, as I have said. And of course the service, with 90 attentive crew members looking after 62 guests, is absolutely outstanding: nobody was too busy to stop and chat, nothing was too much trouble, and crew members proactively engaged with recommendations and advice.