Courtesy of Crystal Cruises
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Courtesy of Crystal Cruises
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Courtesy of Crystal Cruises
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Courtesy of Crystal Cruises
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Courtesy of Crystal Cruises
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Crystal Symphony

Our Ship Review
Deal Expert / Travel Blogger

When Crystal Symphony launched in 1995, she was the sister ship to Crystal Harmony, the line’s debut vessel in 1990. Both ships established the luxury brand as one of the finest in the global travel market. Fast forward to today, and only Symphony, as well as younger Crystal Serenity, remain — resurrected, along with the line itself, under their new A&K Travel Group ownership.

Loyalists will recognize Crystal Symphony’s public spaces as mostly unchanged but with refreshed finishes, fixtures, and furniture. The most obvious improvements are the reconfigured accommodations: After consolidating several smaller, traditional staterooms into double-sized suites, the ship has lowered its overall guest capacity from 960 to 606. The mathematical result is an outstanding passenger-to-space ratio, meaning loads of vessel volume to go around per individual guest on an uncrowded ship, which is sure to appeal to newcomers as well.

You’d never know Crystal Symphony is nearly three decades old as the refurbished ship shines brightly. Some of the décor is a carryover from the ship’s earliest years — think polished brass, teak decking, and the concentric circle popcorn ceiling of the Starlite Club — all of which are delightful retro callbacks. Combine that with modern touches like the living walls and geometric patterns of the skylit Tastes Kitchen & Bar and you have a comfortably classic but contemporary environment.

It’s not all about the hardware, either. The software is equally magnificent, coming from a crew of mostly returning — over 80% of them, in fact — staff members that deliver fine dining (some reprised and some fresh) and timeless, albeit recycled, entertainment.

What We Love

The Service: Attentive, friendly service has been a through-line since the very beginning of Crystal, and it remains so to this day. Best of all, it is presented with ease and without pretenses, fostering an onboard atmosphere of casual familial comfort among crew members and guests alike.

The Delicious Cuisine: Remarkably, the culinary arts are one area where Crystal only seems to improve, and Crystal Symphony’s already exceptional dining is better than ever. Even the open-seating Waterside Restaurant, which is the closest thing the ship has to a typical main dining room, is on par with, if not better than, the cuisine found at specialty restaurants on many other cruise ships. Consider a mouthwatering Charred Wagyu Beef Crudo or Goat Cheese Hazelnut Tortelli, for instance. The Marketplace Restaurant buffet is also superb, as is the poolside Trident Grill for gourmet hamburgers, and Scoops Ice Cream Bar, now for premium gelato. Requiring reservations are the returning favorite of Umi Uma & Sushi Bar By Nobu Matusuhisa and the updated Osteria D’Ovidio. The same tasty menu from Nobu that includes the master chef’s famous Lobster Tacos and Black Cod is still going strong, while both the décor and menu at Osteria D’Ovidio (previously Prego) are more refined. The aesthetic is less kitschy, and the food is more traditional, with dishes ranging from perfectly prepared Costoletta alla Milanese to scrumptious Tortello di Stracotto di Manzo.

The Welcome Return to the Basics: In a time when mainstream cruise ships are growing ever bigger and touting increasingly elaborate attractions, the medium-sized Crystal Symphony offers a welcome return to the basics. There are no over-the-top water slides and ice rinks onboard nor grand fountain shows and death-defying acrobatics — only traditional cruise ship favorites like the Galaxy Lounge stage show venue, Hollywood Theatre cinema, and aforementioned Starlite Club cabaret. Crystal production shows have always been excellent — employing talented live musicians, vocalists, and dancers of the caliber you might see on larger cruise ships — but stagecraft is minimal besides a large LED backdrop and a few physical sets. Guest entertainers fill in here and there, as does a DJ for dancing late into the evenings at the Luxe Night Club.

Although most passengers now bring on their own laptops, tablets, and smartphones to use, Computer University@Sea is still on hand as a traditional internet cafe with many desktop terminals, and the adjacent Studio hosts lectures and other enrichment seminars. And not to be forgotten are the Library, where passengers can check out a large selection of print books, and the Palm Court, a traditional observation lounge for taking in the passing scenery or partaking in afternoon tea.

Best Known For

Spectacular Staterooms and Suites: Even though some 215-square-foot Double Guest Rooms have been replaced with 430-square-foot Sapphire Suites, a number of the entry-level cabins remain (some now dedicated to solo travelers) at a fantastic value. The redesigned rooms efficiently utilize all space and introduce the same plush bedding and premium toiletries that expand to larger categories. Other common amenities that we love extend to a welcome Champagne, 24-hour room service, pillow menu, butler service, shoe shining, and packing and unpacking assistance.

Sitting above the equally-sized Single Guest Room with Ocean View, Double Guest Room with Ocean View, and Double Guest Room with Veranda — all redesigned in 2023 — are the 323-square-foot Aquamarine Veranda Suites, either classically configured with a bathtub and shower or redesigned (in 2017) with a larger standalone shower.

Said Sapphire Suites, either with or without an attached veranda, increase in size with a separate bedroom and living room, as available in three different layout styles: Classic, Redesigned 2017, and Redesigned 2023. Added perks in these encompass free pressing of five items of clothing per day and five pieces of dry-cleaning, as well as a free bag of laundry every 10 cruise days. 

Fully redesigned in 2023 are also every 645-square-foot Junior Crystal Penthouse Suite, complete with an expanded balcony and delineated living and dining areas separate from a main bedroom and one and a half bathrooms. Meanwhile, the largest onboard is the 909-square-foot Crystal Penthouse Suite, either redesigned in 2020 or 2023. The two largest categories additionally get unlimited dining in and room service from Osteria D'Ovidio and Umi Uma, in-suite flowers, a butler, and a concierge embarkation escort, while the penthouse variety tacks on unlimited laundry and dry-cleaning, as well as a private transfer to and from the ship (up to 50 miles).

Lots of Inclusions: One of the biggest modifications that the once-a-la-carte Crystal Symphony has witnessed since first coming onto the scene is the luxury line’s all-inclusive embrace. Not only is every onboard dining experience complimentary (save for the wine-pairing dinners at The Vintage Room) but so too are most alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, regardless of chosen stateroom or suite category. All guests also receive unlimited Wi-Fi and bundled gratuities.

Speaking of drinks, the bars on Crystal Symphony are some of the most handsome at sea. Crystal Cove off of the double-decker Crystal Plaza atrium pours libations within sight of the ship’s classic bronze statue of a dancing couple beside a serene cascading waterfall, and Avenue Saloon is wrapped in warm woods and entertained by the tickling of ivories, off from the Connoisseur Club cigar lounge.

Who It's Best For

Well-Traveled Couples (and Singles), as well as Families: The Crystal demographic is predominantly North American couples with a sprinkling of international guests in their 50s and older. But ages can skew younger, including millennial families with children. In fact, Crystal Symphony is one of only a few luxury cruise ships to offer a dedicated Fantasia kids facility and Waves teens club.

Don't Say We Didn't Warn You

Missing Casino: Although we’re told it’s only temporary, Crystal Symphony returned without a casino. In its place, for now, is simply The Lounge, a currently nondescript room of tables and chairs for card and board games.

Repeated Entertainment: “Icons in Concert” and “Crystal on Broadway” continue to headline Crystal Symphony with the latter still showcasing “Something Rotten," “West Side Story” and “Rent.” While these shows remain great, they are mostly repeated from the previous ship operator. Similarly, cabaret shows highlight musical standards. Moving forward, it would be nice to see some fresh entries added to the lineup.