> Cruises > Crystal Harmony

Crystal Harmony, Mexican Riviera, May 10, 2003 - May 17, 2003

Skip the reading, take me to the photos right now!

Crystal Cruises' ship Crystal Harmony was originally scheduled for a series of cruises in Asia during the month of May 2003. But SARS was scaring everyone away so in mid-April Crystal announced that Crystal Harmony would be cruising from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera during May instead of Asia. And they announced unbelievably low prices for the new itineraries.

We normally cruise on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (seven cruises with them so far). Obviously we like Royal Caribbean very much. But Crystal is a so-called "luxury" cruise line and wins tons of awards for "Best Large-Ship Cruise Line" and we wondered what that must be like. Crystal normally charges 3-4 times the price that Royal Caribbean charges. But this cruise was a bargain price, less than what we paid for our last 7-night cruise on Royal Caribbean. This was an offer we could not pass up.

Our 7-night itinerary consisted of one day at sea, then the ports of Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and two more days at sea. We really enjoy days at sea so we thought this was a great itinerary. In addition we didn't arrive in Cabo San Lucas or Puerto Vallarta until lunch time, essentially giving us two additional mornings at sea.

The executive summary: We had a nice, relaxing cruise at the price we paid, but based on our experiences, Crystal is not worth what they normally charge. We were surprised in how many ways Crystal is very similar to Royal Caribbean.

Ways in which Crystal set itself apart:

  • much better food, two incredible poolside buffets
  • less crowded ships
  • slightly better service

We waited in a lot of lines the first day on board, from embarkation (there was a computer problem) to restaurant reservations. We were not impressed. We "assumed" that Crystal would have figured out a way for their clientele to avoid lines.

We found the other guests on the ship to be predominantly older and less active. The pool deck was quiet. There weren't many activities. It was a "make your own fun" cruise, where "fun" might be "read a book". It really wasn't as bad as I'm making it sound. It was very relaxing.

The ship was quite a bit smaller than the Royal Caribbean ships we have sailed on lately. Teri likes smaller ships and Allyn found that there were enough places to go that he wasn't bored. We found the small ship leads to more friendly encounters with other guests that you see much more frequently than on a larger ship. In fact, we joked that we only saw the same 50 people over and over again and everyone else must have been hiding in their cabins for the whole cruise.

Conclusion: Our opinion is that Crystal is worth maybe a 25-50% premium over Royal Caribbean prices, but certainly not a 200-300% premium. But the folks that can afford to travel on Crystal aren't concerned about value.

While we will cruise Royal Caribbean again, we may try to broaden our horizons and try a few new cruise lines. We were told by other guests that Princess is comparable to Crystal at more reasonable prices and we also want to try Celebrity (a division of Royal Caribbean) that claims to have upgraded food.

Online menus: Crystal has two online menus on their web site, and we typed in a third to share with you:

  • Kyoto (Japanese Specialty Restaurant)
  • Prego (Italian Specialty Restaurant)
  • Nuevo Latino (themed lunch buffet served poolside)

Warning: there are a lot of photos. You can view them two ways, either as pages of thumbnails or as a (manually-advanced) slide show of the larger images. Click a thumbnail to get to the slide show level. Then click the arrows at the left side of the screen to go forward, backward, or back up.

Helpful hint: If you're using Internet Explorer at 800x600 resolution you will have an easier time with less scrolling if you switch to full screen mode (press F11 key).

Let's see the images!

Copyright © 2003 Teri & Allyn Fratkin, All Rights Reserved.