The great thing about cruising as a holiday is that it offers up so many diverse kinds of ships to tempt a lot of equally diverse people. From the sizzling, sometimes raucous fun palaces of Carnival to the erudite pearls of learning such as Voyages to Antiquity, there truly is something for everyone in cruising’s vast global smorgasbord.
And it is also thrilling to see the new generation of ships as they develop, and incorporate new, novel features that push the boundaries of the cruise experience to infinity (pools) and beyond. The ships continue to evolve, pushing the envelope in terms of new passenger offerings and experiences, at a rate of knots that would have caused nosebleeds in the fondly remembered heyday of the great Atlantic gin palaces.
And yet… sometimes the best experiences lie in the simple pleasures of returning to a well run ship; one that puts the emphasis not on eye popping new fun stuff, but on simple, old word things like exquisite food and service. These are the ships that do not just merely carry you as a passenger; they cocoon you in an absolute, all enveloping sense of calm, familiar ease and comfort. The ships that are as welcoming on the fifth cruise as they were on the first.
Symphony is shimmering, beautiful and human in scale. A sublime oasis of calm and unruffled ease. Nothing is too much trouble. In fact, nothing ever seems to be any trouble.
And she’s beautiful on the outside, too. A graceful, flaring bow and a snow white expanse of soaring, flowing hull is topped by a single, elegant funnel. At the stern, a series of perfectly sculpted terraces tumble lethargically downwards. They offer an absolutely sublime view back over of her wake.
Yes, there are newer ships in the luxury market with bigger suites grade for grade, but Symphony has a rare, real magic that money cannot buy. The ship is suffused with a star quality and a sheer charisma that was once only the preserve of those vanished Atlantic leviathans. Just the sheer anticipation of boarding her is the most delicious appetiser I can bring to mind.
The world in all it’s glamour and majesty can come and go like a series of stunning drum rolls, but Crystal Symphony remains reassuringly constant; whether in the glorious Greek Islands, or on a languid transatlantic crossing to Barbados. The true voyage lies in rediscovering this beautifully understated gem, and in encountering the staff that make her run as perfectly as a Swiss watch. This is balm for the senses, and true food for the soul.
Although the ship has been sympathetically updated (and at great expense) so much remains reassuringly familiar. The beautiful entrance at Crystal Cove, with its graceful waterfall and gorgeous, sinuously curved spiral staircase. The Cove bar has the best lemon drop martinis afloat, too.
The Bistro up above still has peerless Cappuccino, and the best Creme Brulee anywhere. From the Avenue Saloon, the soft, subtle tinkling of the piano is both instantly familiar and warmly welcoming. The clubby little enclave is, quite possibly, the most fun piano bar of any ship afloat.
I still get goosebumps walking into the plush, sun washed Palm Court at the top of the ship, with its curving wall of floor to ceiling windows that frame some of the most dramatic views that Mother Nature can lay on, from a stunning, blood red Santorini sunset, to the marvellous approach towards the fabled Manhattan skyline. Like everything else about the Crystal Symphony, this beautiful room is a harmonious marriage of space to grace. And, just like everywhere else on board, the furnishings are expansive, inviting, and a definite hazard to any kind of active intent. You have been warned.
And yet, more than anything, the Crystal Symphony is a state of mind. It’s the anticipation of being looked after by a crack, attentive crew that personifies hospitality, twenty four hours a day. Coming back feels like being wrapped from head to toe in cashmere; the amount of open space, the lack of constant loudspeaker announcements- I could go on, but….
Alas, it is time for my lunchtime margarita. Then there’s a Jacuzzi session planned and- if I can drag myself out of the hot tub- a quick sortie to grab some of the delicious, free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream from the pool bar. Do I add jelly beans? Sprinkles? Both? This level of indolence is damned hard work.
Another warning; Crystal Symphony is seriously- and I mean seriously- addictive. She will put a smile on your face as wide as the Prairies, but she may leave your bank manager contemplating hara kiri. But you live once.
And that is the point; being on a luxury ship- any luxury ship- really defines the difference between truly living and merely existing. The difference is that the Crystal Symphony does it so easily, completely and flawlessly that you never realise until you leave.