TRAVEL AGENT WAS ONBOARD Crystal Cruises' (www.crystalcruises.com) Crystal Symphony last year days before its aggressive $23 million dry dock, which promised to renovate most areas of Deck 6, while also retouching the ship's 470 staterooms. Did we mention that Crystal planned to do all of this in a 14-day span?
Well, the luxury line succeeded in adding all the necessary tweaks, improving upon what was already a popular ship among travel agents and customers alike. Some of the changes are understated—others more apparent—as we found out while touring the new Symphony late last month.
Crystal Symphony shouts affluence, so if you want to be noticed on board, purchase a Hermès scarf at one of the ship's multiple shops, which have been redesigned and emboldened with a sleeker look to invigorate the shopping experience. Crystal has also handed over its shopping operations to concessionaire Harding Brothers, a U.K.-based company that provides retail operation services for cruise ships.
Modernization of the shops may be harder to pick up on first glance, but one conspicuous addition is the Luxe nightclub that, for a crowd of many sexagenarians, seems a bit out of place, but we found it to be one of the coolest spaces on the ship. The club, which now occupies a former section of the ship's casino, is set aglow in warm pink lighting and its white leather banquettes would not seem out of place on the set of a hip-hop music video.
For the risk takers, Crystal Symphony has a refurbished casino that turned its back on its original white and aqua coloring and was recast in black and plum hues. Before, the casino had a heavy Caesars Palace influence, and rightfully so—it was operated by Caesars' parent company Harrah's, which opted not to renew its contract with Crystal.
Walking along Deck 6, you might also notice the new light blue carpeting that was laid down; it gives off a resplendent effect when the sun beams through the ship's windows. The new carpeting leads to the new Starlight Club, which has been built up by removing existing walls, and allows for panoramic sea views. A circular bar installed in the middle of the room completes the effect.
Two specialty restaurants—Jade Garden and Prego—remain unchanged; however, Crystal says an announcement is forthcoming regarding remodeling the Jade Garden and associating the restaurant with a name chef, like sister ship Crystal Serenity's partnership with master Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa, whose Sushi Bar can be found on Serenity's Deck 7.
Yet it's the Vintage Room dinners that really impressed our luxury DNA. The room is exquisitely put together and is perfect for groups. While the food is top-notch, the vintage dinners are really about wine and the menu revolves around the wine selections, which guests can choose or have picked for them by the ship's sommelier, Fred Dame. The Vintage Room has space for roughly 14 guests and can be priced at $180 a head or $1,800 for a group of 12.
On the room front, all of Serenity's staterooms were retouched, while two additional handicap-accessible rooms were installed on Deck 5; this necessitated taking out an entire stateroom to make way for the wider rooms. For those wanting to spend their cruise in the ship's top accommodation, book room 1022, otherwise known as the Crystal Penthouse Suite.
Crystal's New Ship
Crystal has spent $35 million since 2004 in Symphony renovations, and the upgrades seem to have pleased both travel agents and loyal guests. However, with Crystal's fleet only at two ships, many have been interested to know why there aren't more.
Bill Smith, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Crystal Cruises, was on board Symphony leading travel agent tours. He says that Crystal's president, Gregg Michel, has a design team in place "working on concepts" for a new ship, though there is no official time frame.
Smith did hint at some probable new features for the ship. Staterooms would most likely be larger than the rooms currently on board Serenity and Symphony, and the new ship would more than likely have an alfresco dining option, as well as a steakhouse or French bistro.
Lines' Renovation Management
Short of building new ships, which is an expensive undertaking, many cruise lines have made sure to keep their existing ships contemporary and interesting, either through frequent touchups or dry-dock periods.
Mimi Weisband, Crystal's vice president of public relations, says that more work is being done within a renovation period. "What is happening is that the cosmetic redesigns are becoming more extensive and it's important, particularly in the luxury sector, that we continually maintain the highest standards. We are also looking to exceed expectations and offer contemporary style, and styles do change."
As for other lines, MSC Cruises keeps ships "meticulously maintain(ed) and immaculately clean—eliminating the need for major renovations." While the majority of its fleet is young, other cruise lines such as Carnival have older inventory. Carnival threw $250 million behind its "Evolutions of Fun" initiative— renovations to its eight Fantasy-class ships, the oldest of which, Carnival Fantasy, was built in 1990.
Holland America Line says its dry-dock periods are still about 18 months apart, but this can fluctuate depending on variables such as nearness to a dry-dock facility. Minor fixes having to do with appearance can be done frequently, while major renovations, wiring or engine work must be done at a dry-dock location.
For more information on Crystal Cruises, ship renovations and the cruise industry in general, visit www.travelagentcentral.com/cruise