Crystal Cruises tips, tricks and advice
The process of planning, preparing and making sure you make the best use of your time on a cruise can be a complex process. There are a multitude of sources of advice – many of which are conflicting. I have pulled together my years of cruising experience and combined that with what I discovered while travelling with Crystal to provide this simple guide to how to get the most our of cruising with this luxurious line:
STEP ONE: PLANNING YOUR CRUISE
Ensure Crystal is the right line for you
Make sure that Crystal is right for you, and it will have the sort of on-board facilities and experience that you are looking for. It is an ultra-luxury line competing with companies like Seabourn and Silversea, attracts a slightly older professional crowd and mostly American passengers travelling as couples or solo. Families do travel during the key holiday periods and the line provides suitable activities when they are on board. However, there are other lines that have more extensive family-friendly facilities, menus and entertainment.
The entertainment and facilities lean towards sophisticated enrichment options such as guest speakers, digital courses, music classes and bridge. They do provide a large fitness centre, golf tuition, paddle tennis and walking programs for the active. Food is innovative and contemporary and among the best in the industry.
To find out more about the Crystal experience read my article “My Crystal Serenity Review”
Do a fair fare comparison
When comparing fares for similar itineraries with other cruise lines, make sure you take into account what Crystal includes and excludes versus other cruise lines. They have all-inclusive fares and this covers food (including speciality restaurants), accommodation, gratuities and all soft and most alcoholic drinks. So although it may appear a premium, once you take into account these costs they may not be.
Understand what you are committing to
Whenever you book a cruise you should understand the cancellation and contract terms you are agreeing to. I recommend that you take out travel insurance to cover any risks you believe you may face based on these. This could include having to cancel, illness or an issue at home forcing you to cut your trip short. In my experience, very few cruisers take time to read the conditions they are agreeing to when they book and I recommend you read the Crystal terms which you can read in the brochure or by asking your agent for a copy.
For more on contract watch-outs read my article “Cruise Contract Watch-outs”.
STEP TWO: PREPARING FOR YOUR CRUISE ONCE BOOKED
Do your research
The best way to get the most our of your cruise is to be prepared. There are three things I recommend you do:
- There is a vast amount of information on the Crystal website (http://www.crystalcruises.com) and pre-cruise booklet. I recommend that you review it as there is detailed information on what to expect, latest innovations and advice on what to bring and pre-book.
- Use the CruiseCritic Crystal Cruises community board. They are very active with experienced travellers and recent cruisers who can answer any outstanding questions, and advise of any developments you should be aware of to make your forthcoming cruise better. The site also has reviews and you should keep up-to-date on latest ones to understand any additional issues and absorb additional tips.
- Sign up for the CruiseCritic roll call and Meet & Mingle event. Crystal partner with them to run an event on board for people signed up. It gives you an opportunity to meet fellow passengers to get insights on the destinations, tours and other tricks on making the most of your cruise
Check-in online and use it to set your preferences and pre-book
You should use the online personaliser tool on the Crystal site as soon as it is made available to book transfers, dining (speciality and dining by reservation if using that), excursions, spa and indicate interest in classes. By getting in first it will ensure you get the ones you want. I left it late and was wait-listed on some excursions and did not get spa reservations that I wanted on sea days.
You need to decide your dining arrangements. You can select early (around 6pm) or late dining (around 8:30pm) or choose to have “dining by reservation”. While the first two options will have you seated at the same table with the same serving staff, with the latter you can reserve a time each day or arrive and request to be seated at any spare tables or places.
By checking in online and providing your credit card details you can use the faster check-in option on the ship.
You can also book transfers from the airport to the ship via the site if you have not already arranged this via your agent or have not booked your flight via Crystal.
For more on the online tool read my article “Crystal Cruises Online Personaliser Tool”
Bring your Tablet device and get it ready
There is the ability to stream some entertainment, book excursions, get electronic versions of international newspapers and the Daily Program on Tablet devices. However, you need the PressReader app to do this which cannot be downloaded on the ship due to internet bandwidth restrictions. So add it in advance.
If you are planning on doing the USC School of Cinematic Arts Digital Filming course you need to download the latest iMovie App before the trip too.
You should also download the Crystal Storytelling App which allows you to upload and comment on your photographs. They can be posted to your Facebook account, Crystal Cruises Facebook page or sent as electronic or real postcards.
Pack and bring the right things
You should check the dress code mix for your cruise to find out how many formal, smart and informal nights there will be and pack accordingly. Crystal guests are expected to dress smarter than many other mainstream lines, especially after 6pm when items like shorts and baseball caps are forbidden. You should also make sure that you are bringing clothes suitable for the region and weather conditions you will be cruising for. For example, it may be chilly at night, rainy or you need to be well covered if visiting religious sites in some countries.
The cabins have USA and European plug sockets and voltage and so bring any adaptors you may need. You should also pack all your valuables, documents, prescription medicines and any items you may need before your suitcases are delivered to your cabin on embarkation day in your hand luggage. You should also decide how much local currency you may need based on your plans in individual ports and for gratuities for local guides.
For more on packing tips read my article “Cruise Packing List”
STEP THREE: GETTING MOST ONCE ON BOARD
Explore ship on embarkation in detail
This is also a tip that the Senior Crew highly recommend. There are many facilities and spots around the ship and many guests fall into the trap of sticking to those they first encounter. I met many people on board that were only discovering places right at the end of the cruise I was on. Get around the entire ship, using the layout map provided in your cruise card holder provided in your cabin, and seek out places that you will love. As many people do not do this there are areas like the decks at the rear of the ship on each level that are glorious to lay out on that no-one ever comes to and bars that are quitter in the evenings.
Read and use “Reflections” Daily program so you know everything going on
This is very important as announcements not made promoting events and activities. The program is one of the most detailed that I have come across throughout all of my cruising. It provides details of promotions, entertainment, crew members as well as information on things like excursions, ports and transfers.
There is a risk that you will miss out on activities by not keeping a close eye on what is in “Reflections”. There were a number of things I went to that my fellow table-mates and other guests I met missed by not carefully reviewing the publication. This included things like kitchen and backstage tours, magic show and Mozart-themed afternoon tea.
Go to the specialty restaurants
The specialty restaurants on Crystal are outstanding. They partnered with Nobu Matsuhisa to create Silk Road (Asian dining and sushi), Valentino Restaurant to create Prego (Italian) and Tastes, which serves “Global Street Food” and was developed in conjunction with Sapphire Restaurant in Laguna Beach California.
You can go to Prego and Silk Road a total of two times during your cruise at no extra charge, and Tastes as often as you want.
Go to the added features activities
As discussed, Crystal focuses on enrichment and learning activities and entertainment. They are usually free to attend though you may need to to sign up in advance as numbers are limited. There is everything from golf tuition, learning how to make the most of your Tablet, music lessons and making digital movies.
There are lectures are by leading politicians, historians and journalists and those are always popular. If you do not want to miss time doing other activities you can watch these played back via the in-room television. This is how I caught up with them by having them running while getting ready for meals or when relaxing in the cabin.
Select the right excursion type
The cancellation policy for most excursions is very liberal, and better than most cruise lines I have travelled on. You will receive 100% refund if you cancel with just over 24 hours notice, so if in doubt book tours to avoid missing out on any you may want to do. However, check the terms for each one carefully as some have full forfeit of fee unless cancelled a month before the excursion. For example, in Bordeaux France this included tours like an exclusive dinner and wine tasting at Chateau du Taillan ($599), Chef’s Table at Michelin St-James ($399) and Medoc with Wine Author Dewey Markham Jr. ($219).
Ensure you are going on the right excursion type based on your interests, fitness and mobility. The tours are rated as “little walking” (short distances only and suitable for the physically challenged), “moderate walking” (middle distance with some steps and uneven surfaces) and “strenuous activity (long distances with rough terrain and many steps). In practice, even the most active is not especially challenging for people of reasonable fitness – but will involve being able to walk quite briskly and keep up with the group and guide for two or more hours. I was amazed how many people with mobility issues went on the wrong type and slowed the tours down.
If you do have mobility issues, but are able to get on and off the coach by yourself, you can hire a tour companion to assist getting you around on tours by wheelchair for circa $30/ hour.
Read more about planning excursions, including self-touring and saving money, in my article “How to save money on shore excursions”
Don’t over schedule
You should plan time (or even days) to enjoy the ship and facilities when ship is quiet. If you are on a cruise that has port stops everyday it can be tiring getting up early and heading out, especially if you want to enjoy the evening entertainment.
Crystal have introduced late-riser breakfast and excursions for people who want to start the day later. So this is another alternative to consider if you do want to get out and see the ports but still stay up late.
Ask if there is something you want but it is not offered
I was repeatedly told by the senior crew I met on Crystal Serenity that one of the moist frustrating things for them is when people raised issues after the cruise about things they wanted but did not get. They encourage people to tell them directly, or via the online instant feedback option, during the cruise. They will then try and satisfy that request. Most of these tend to be around setting up activities or events but do not have to be. The key is to ask. This is the advantage of cruising with a premium line as they have the scope and ability to address many additional requests.
STEP FOUR: PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
After your first cruise you become a member of the Crystal Society, their frequent cruiser club. The benefits notch up almost every cruise eventually leading to a free cruise. When comparing future cruises on other lines consider the savings in discounts and benefits when looking at the fares between each.
Book next cruise on board
You receive extra discounts or benefits if you reserve a future cruise while on the ship. You do not cut your usual agent out of the picture as the booking gets credited to the agent that made your current booking, or an alternative if you prefer. This means you make savings without disrupting the relationship with your agent.
Have you travelled with Crystal and have any other tips and advice to add?
I hope you enjoyed these insights and tips. For more of my articles, videos and photographs visit : tipsfortravellers.com/crystal
Declaration: I travelled as a guest of Crystal Cruises on a 12-night Mediterranean cruise on board the Crystal Serenity