Understated luxury sailing on cruise ship Crystal Symphony



Crystal Symphony has been sailing since 1995, but a 2017 refurbishment saw it undergo significant changes that reduced its capacity to 848 passengers, added a more contemporary style of suites, and created several new on-trend casual eateries. Yet the ship retains Crystal's signature understated luxury, relaxed atmosphere, quality dining and friendly, attentive staff. While it has the on-board entertainment and amenities you'd expect of larger ships, it also offers the personalised service, sense of exclusivity and high-end luxuries of smaller vessels. It's a satisfying combination that few ships manage with such style.


This isn't a cruise ship that wows you with gimmicks and unnecessary bling. Indeed, its décor is rather subdued, favouring shades of grey and only the occasional bursts of colour, such as in the hip Silk Bar, with its scattering of pink cushions and exotic bird motifs, or the Library, with its warm golden glow. That might disappoint the undiscerning, but you'll soon realise that Crystal Symphony is an exceedingly well-run, spacious vessel that saves the best for where it really counts, namely casual comfort, quality enrichment programs and outstanding service.


My cabin is a Seabreeze Penthouse with verandah, which features a sofa, armchair and very comfortable queen-sized bed, plus a balcony large enough for more seating. Although the cabin is described as a suite, there's no actual division between living and sleeping area, but there is a hallway and walk-in closet, plus a terrific bathroom with double sinks and one of the most spacious showers at sea – no bruised elbows here. As suites go, the space isn't enormous compared with those on more recently-launched ships, but once again Crystal delivers on service, with the cabin always immaculately kept, and my attentive butler Millind on hand with canapés, complimentary cocktails and general assistance.


Crystal Symphony has an impressive range of dining choices. Main venue Waterside offers  contemporary and classic dishes that seldom disappoint, while buffet venue Marketplace (open for breakfast and lunch) features quality salads, hot dishes, cheese and pastries. There are also four complimentary specialty restaurants. Dine as often as you want at Silk Kitchen (pan-Chinese cuisine) or Churrascaria (excellent Brazilian barbecue) and limited times at Umi Uma (Japanese-Peruvian fusion from Nobu Matsuhisa) or Prego (Italian), for me the best restaurant on the ship. There's also a casual bistro, grill and ice-cream bar.


There are ample ways to pass the time. Every cruise features two expert lecturers, classes in topics such as bridge, golf, fitness and computer use, and nightly performances by the Crystal ensemble and top-notch invited performers. There's also a cinema, casino, terrific pool deck and a half-dozen bars. Palm Court atop the front of the ship has great outlooks, pleasing live music and great afternoon teas, and is rather glamorous at cocktail hour.


If you like loud, showy ships then Crystal Symphony isn't for you. If, however, you like things to run properly without fuss or fanfare, then you'll love the service levels, efficiency, friendliness and quality entertainment of this sophisticated ship.


Crystal Symphony is currently undertaking a series of Alaskan cruises and then moves on to the Caribbean and Central America in late 2019. Next year, it crosses the Pacific and is back in Asia before a mid-2020 season in the Mediterranean and northern Europe. Phone 1300 059 260. See crystalcruises.com


The outstanding range and quality of the on-board enrichment and entertainment programs.


The artworks, rather unremarkable – indeed rather lacking – for a luxury ship of this calibre.



4.5 out of five

Brian Johnston was a guest of Crystal Cruises.