Pictures from the launch of the remodelled vessel in the Seychelles in December were encouraging, but I continued to have concerns over the lack of space, whilst reports back ranged from 'amazing and extraordinary' to 'disappointing'.
In such circumstances, the only answer is to go and see for yourself, so we set forth at the crack of dawn on a day trip to Venice to take a look. During the summer months, Crystal Esprit sails between Venice and Dubrovnik - 7 days each way, and two different itineraries so they can easily be combined to create a 14 night journey. She docks at San Basilio for the Venice turnaround, rather than in the big cruise terminal further out. Access into Venice is easy, either walking or by Vaporetto or water taxi.
From the outside you can tell the vessel is elderly, although she has been stripped down and repainted beautifully, and sparkles in the sunshine. As you embark, you see the submersible ready to launch, and we were reminded what fun it would be to explore in this underneath the water (although it is barely used in the Med, in the Seychelles it is a wonderful marine life viewing trip. It accommodates two people, and there is an extra charge to use it).
On a blazing hot day, it was a relief to step into the cool of the air conditioned reception area - at the desk ahead, three beaming hostesses welcomed us, and we were pleased to see Crystal's usual attention to detail with the décor, admiring the Pantry and library to the left (with light food and drink offerings constantly available) and the Compass Room to the right.
Suites are located here on deck 2 (Seabreeze Deck) and on the deck above (Horizon Deck). The standard suite size is 280 square feet - significantly larger than the entry level accommodation on the larger ships. The layout is beautiful with huge king size beds and a spacious bathroom with shower, with colour themes of blue, grey and silver for a contemporary look. With no verandas we feared the accommodation might feel dark, but in fact it was fresh and airy, and on such a tiny ship a veranda is really not a necessity.
On Crystal Deck 4 we find the public rooms: at the front, the spacious Cove Lounge with varied seating, a bar, a piano and full screen pop-up TV. This is used for relaxing through the day, a perfect venue for pre-dinner cocktails and congenial gatherings after dinner. The Yacht Club is a step away, with numerous table configurations and an open galley enabling you to watch the chefs at work. From here you can walk to the back of the ship where the spacious and airy Patio Café features an enticing buffet to combine with excellent table service for breakfast and lunch - a few sheltered outdoor tables are also available.
And finally on the top deck, we find a small but well equipped gym, a sauna, a grill which offers light refreshments and light sharing dishes (similar to Tastes on Crystal Serenity), a number of shaded seating and lounging areas, a small pool with deck furniture around it and a full screen TV for movies under the stars.
Conclusions? As a long term lover of SeaDream, I had rather envisaged the SeaDream yacht style, but in fact this feels far more like a cruise ship in miniature, with particularly appealing indoor space (whilst SeaDream is primarily an al fresco product). The service was completely charming, even on a busy turnaround day, with lots of recognition and many familiar faces from the other ships. The guests we saw were a whole mixture of nationalities, with ages ranging from 30 to 80. Everyone was very positive, and one guest (a luxury cruise regular) made a point of stopping to tell us that the food exceeded anything he had experienced on any other luxury ship - interestingly including Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity. All in all an extremely positive experience.