Ah cruising...those were the days. Our only experiences have been European cruises on Seabourn, Crystal and Hapag Lloyd (the ultimate...if you are happy being the odd ones out!). We were going to try out Viking this year (and another Europa 2 cruise with Hapag Lloyd) but, hopefully like all of you, are just happy to be here and make ourselves content by toasting our cruise credit vouchers with a G&T. We hope to dust the cobwebs off them next year to make bookings as far into the future as possible.
OK, so Seabourn -v- Crystal. Our experience with Crystal (on the Serenity) was that it ticked very many positive boxes in principle, but the full experience didn’t compare to Seabourn (Odyssey and Ovation), which for us had more of a personalised ‘family’ feeling and better hospitality in the true sense of the word.
Crystal’s theatre productions were glitzier, it’s lecturers on a par, its port lectures better. We never went on a Crystal excursion as we normally like independence on shore so can’t comment on those. As an aside, Hapag Lloyd excursions are great and usually members of the hospitality team accompany you to make sure they are running smoothly!
You’re able to get a butler in upscale cabins on Crystal (only the second time we have had one) and it does make a difference compared to Seabourn, but not a huge one. Though I think without the amazing personalised service of our Serenity butler, Crystal would have seemed a very different experience indeed. The captain and crew on the ship were invisible and the hospitality staff were patchy, but with some standout efforts. Seabourn seems to have got the training right - there is a high level of service and passenger engagement throughout and a very visible and friendly crew.
It was nice having a promenade deck but the Serenity didn’t flow in the way the Seabourn ships do. The decor for most public areas on Serenity was tired and how we imagine Las Vegas hotels looked in the early 1990s. The Ovation is modern yet classic and luxurious in a far more civilised way. Last time we were on Odyssey it looked a bit tired by comparison with Ovation, but it had at least aged gracefully. The pool area seems much better thought out and utilised on Seabourn.
We didn’t check out the standard Crystal cabin as we had a penthouse suite with them, but the standard Seabourn suite was great for us.
Food standards on Seabourn are slightly better, though Crystal has more choice and the Nobu food is standout. But the decor!!! Frankly we love eating outside and always enjoy Thomas Keller nights at the Colonnade on Seabourn. Sometimes lack of choice is relaxing and you can always get a seat outside on balmy evenings: no-one else seems to appreciate them. Earth Wind and Fire (as we like to call it) by the pool is a nice change too.
Crystal’s cigar bar is absolutely amazing if you like to partake like me, but probably alienating if you don’t (as, not being a gambler, I found the Serenity Casino). Caviar is a big treat on Seabourn and lifts the spirits after a hard day out, but then the Crystal canapés and cucumber sandwiches are first class.
Passengers we found to be more of a mix of nationalities on Crystal, with lots of Chinese on our cruise, I guess reflecting Genting ownership. Seabourn mainly US, Aus/NZ and UK and seemed to have more repeat cruisers.
In the end, it’s horses for courses. We’d go back on Crystal if the itinerary and price were right, but our preference in a straight head-to-head on the same trip would be Seabourn. Let’s face it, though, to be on either at the moment would be a blessing and our thoughts go out to the poor souls who were stranded on those ships for many months at sea.