I have been lucky enough to sail on a good variety of cruise ships so far in my life, but this was my first time experiencing the 6-star luxury of Crystal Cruises… and boy was I impressed. You never forget your first cruise ship and for my sister Rachel, who was travelling with me, this was her first ever experience of cruising – talk about starting at the top! It’s safe to say that both of us, cruise veteran and cruise newbie were sold hook line and sinker on the Crystal way of life. In fact we loved it so much we spent our last day finding spots we could stowaway in and convincing the staff to help us hide!
Day 1 – Embarkation
We had an early flight out of London to join the ship in Warnemünde, Germany and in true British summer style in was pouring with rain as we arrived. But Crystal had this covered and we quickly made our way under the marque that they had set up for our check-in.
Once checked in we made our way onto this ship and were immediately greeted with a glass of champagne while someone whisked our baggage away, we were later reunited with it in our stateroom. After a long morning travelling we had worked up an appetite and were ready for some lunch, so we headed up to the lido deck to eat in the Trident Grill, a more relaxed dining venue. The Trident Grill serves a range of burgers, grilled sandwiches, pizza and our favourite – sweet potato fries. We had made a passing comment of our love for the fries that a few minutes later a waiter came by with a few extra portions that they had cooked up just for us, and it soon became a running joke that the British girls wouldn’t say no to more fries!
After eating our body weight in sweet potato it was time to find our stateroom, unpack and get ready for our first night on-board. Our bags, as promised, were laid on a mat (to protect the bed) ready for us to unpack and I thought this was a nice added touch. We explored the room finding the fully stocked mini fridge and enjoyed a beer out on our balcony before it was time to get changed and meet our group for a pre-dinner cocktail in Palm Court. I opted for a gin and tonic and was surprised to be asked what my preference of gin would be – I soon learnt that’s just the Crystal way! Rachel was brave and decided to try an Old Fashioned, this is a cocktail she had always wanted to try but could never justify, especially if she didn’t like it! So this was the perfect opportunity as there was no extra cost for the cocktails, and the bar staff reassured her that if she didn’t like it they would be more than happy to make her something else. Palm Court is the perfect venue to watch the sunset over the sea, with its bright modern décor and panoramic windows it was one of our favourite venues.
We ate dinner in the main Crystal Dining Room and this was my first taste of the acclaimed food on-board. It certainly lived up to its reputation as I am still raving about the steak I had that melted in my mouth like butter, and the crème brûlée for pudding was a perfect end to an amazing meal.
After dinner we made our way to Avenue Saloon for a post dinner drink and entertainment. The entertainment was by Charlie James who played piano and sang a huge variety of songs and managed to go from David Bowie to Meghan Trainor without missing a beat. The atmosphere in this lounge was very relaxed and the staff were amazing, we were never left long without a cocktail in front of us and they were more than accommodating when we ordered off menu. It had been a long day and so we headed for an early night and it was very easy to drift off while curled up under the 100% Egyptian cotton sheets.
Day 2 – Warnemünde
As we had joined the ship mid-way through a cruise we joined some of the officers in the Hollywood Theatre for a brief safety drill this morning where we learnt how to put on our lifejackets and where our muster stations were in the unlikely event that we needed to find them. The officers did a great job at keeping this really light-hearted but informative. We followed our safety briefing with breakfast in the Bistro which had a lovely selection of fruit, pastries and a more continental spread of hams and cheeses.
To work off our rather large breakfast we went for a wander around the ship to take in all the bits we hadn’t already seen. I think my favourite part of the ship has to be the aft, you get some stunning views when sailing and we really enjoyed the exercise equipment that can be found out on deck 9 and 10. Our ship tour ended back on the lido deck just in time for lunch in the Lido restaurant. On arrival our waiters noted the British accent and informed us it was the Queen’s birthday and so we should be celebrating… I think it was any excuse for a glass of champagne!
The Lido serves a buffet style lunch everyday from 11:30-14:00 and had a great selection of hot and cold options as well as plenty of desserts too. Today they had a pasta station where a chef was cooking a spaghetti dish to order which was a really nice touch. During our lunch we began to sail away from port and during conversation I pointed in the direction I thought we were going, the waiters took my point as though I needed some help and 3 of them came over to see if I needed anything… I was warned, in jest, that you can’t wave on the Symphony unless you need help!
Once we finished our lunch we made our way out the back of the ship to watch the beautiful beachy town of Warnemünde fade away in the distance. Champagne in hand and Louis Armstrong’s “Wonderful World” playing over the speakers we decided it doesn’t get much better than this.
As we sailed into the Baltic Sea we spent the afternoon relaxing poolside, dipping our toes in the pool and as we got braver we took a dip in the Jacuzzi. The staff around the pool were amazing, they were so friendly and quick to learn all our names. They made sure we were never without a drink, be that a bottle of water or a poolside cocktail, and were quick to bring us extra towels or blankets when the wind picked up.
That evening we decided to have a pre-dinner drink in a new venue and ventured to the Crystal Cove, the bar is beautiful with the water feature as a backdrop and the entertainment was just perfection. As we enjoyed our cocktails an incredible Violinist, Tanya played a combination of classics as well as some modern songs and we all swayed along to beautiful renditions of Coldplay and John Legend. Dinner this evening we were back in the main dining room and our waiters Shiv and Isabelle gave us a very warm welcome back. Following on from the amazing steak the night before I couldn’t help but give a little squeal when I saw there was another steak dish this evening and it was just as good the second time round.
Having gorged ourselves at dinner once again we decided to take a late night stroll around the promenade deck to help digest our food. The stunning views and sunsets that we saw over the Baltic Sea will stay with me for a very long time! Still awestruck at the views we made our way to Avenue Saloon and sang our hearts out along with Charlie and his piano.
Day 3 – At Sea
Now settling in to the Crystal way of life, we started our day with a very indulgent breakfast on our veranda full of pancakes, freshly made omelette and lots of lovely fruit. As we were making our way to Saint-Petersburg we had a day at sea so we took our day at a leisurely pace. After breakfast we made our way up to the Trident pool and relaxed with a cocktail in hand and enjoyed the beautiful weather. We enjoyed a relaxed lunch in the Trident Grill before taking part in one of the enrichment courses. As we were on our way to Russia the Odyssey@Sea art class entailed painting our very own watercolour Russian dolls, we had joined the art class mid-way through the programme but the instructor was very patient with us and quickly got us up to speed.
That afternoon tired from concentrating on creating our watercolour masterpieces we headed to the Bistro for a coffee and light afternoon snack, I’m sure you can see a reoccurring theme here that much of our time on-board revolved around food! But when the food is as good as it is I wouldn’t have had it any other way! We also popped into the on-board library and found that they do a daily Sudoku sheet so we tested our brain power by completing one of those with our coffee.
For dinner I enjoyed a beautiful prosciutto and asparagus starter, followed by risotto and chocolate ice cream for pudding, as always we left the main dining room very happy and very full! After a brief walk around the promenade deck we slowly made our way to the Galaxy Lounge where tonight’s entertainment was brought to us by Toni Warne. Toni was a finalist in the first series of The Voice UK back in 2012 and her voice was so powerful and moving it gave me goosebumps! She sang a fantastic medley of Barbara Streisand songs that had us all singing along, and by the end we were all up on our feet, it was a great way to end our day at sea.
Day 4 – Saint-Petersburg
We arrived into Saint-Petersburg at around 7am, but as our excursion wasn’t leaving until 1pm we decided to have a lie-in and enjoy the comforts of the bed and extra pillows that our attendant brought us. We made it for the late-risers breakfast at the Trident Grill where a variety of pancakes, French toast and bagels were on the menu, it was the perfect way to set ourselves up for our busy afternoon ashore.
Having made it past Russian border control we joined our coach and tour guide Masha for our first excursion. The coach expertly navigated us through the sometimes challenging Russian traffic and first took us to join a small canal cruise on the Neva River. The sun was shining but it was a bit windy and as we bobbed along the river our tour guide pointed out historic sites such as the Hermitage Museum and the naval college building. Much of Saint-Petersburg looks very European and this is due to Peter the Great’s (a Russian Czar in the 17th century) love affair with many European cities including Paris, Venice and Copenhagen and its very clear to see their influences all over the local architecture.
Following our canal cruise we then made our way to the Church of the Spilled Blood which was a highlight of the trip! The exterior is stunning with lots of gilded onion domes embellished with topaz and other semi-precious gems. The interior is filled with over 7,500 square metres of mosaics that depict biblical scenes and were just amazing to see, for anyone in Saint-Petersburg this is a must-see on your trip. We then had some time in one of the best souvenir shops in town which was a great chance to buy some traditional nesting dolls, local amber and other gifts.
All shopped out we made our way back to the ship in time for a quick change before our first reservation in one of the speciality restaurants. Tonight was my first time experiencing the incredible food of Chef Nobu Matsuhisa in Silk Road… and WOW I was seriously impressed. As our group started to order the waiter soon gathered that we were keen to try and little bit of everything and suggested we try family style starters that he would order for us. Rachel has a moderate fish and seafood allergy which isn’t ideal in a sushi restaurant, however the staff were really attentive and always ensured she had something in front of her that she could eat. Myself I’m not a huge seafood fan but I figured if I was going to try it here would be the place to do it. The phrase I kept repeating seemed to go something like this…. “I don’t usually like (insert food here), but that’s amazing!” Full from our copious amounts of sushi we went for a walk around the promenade that soon lead to a lie down by the pool before we could even contemplate a post dinner drink!
Day 5 – Saint-Petersburg
Our second day in Russia, we had another afternoon excursion so enjoyed another relaxed morning before eating lunch in the Trident Grill. Today’s excursion was to Peterhof Palace and gardens which was a very opulent summer palace of the Czars. Our guide Maria was fantastic and took us through the varying chambers and ballrooms all decorated in a very gold, lavish baroque style. We also had a tour around the palace gardens which are full of very beautiful fountains and statues.
After the afternoon exploring we caught the Peterhof Hydrofoil from the lower park, which is a highspeed boat that travels through the Neva River and the Gulf of Finland and dropped us back into the centre of the city. We made it back onto the ship in time for a quick change and up to the Lido restaurant for casual dining, this is only available on select evenings and was the perfect way to round up a busy day sightseeing. The tables were candle lit and the ambience was much more relaxed than the main dining room. I enjoyed a really homely flavourful butternut squash soup for starter and a lovely spaghetti dish for my main before we all tucked into a number of desserts including the sorbet of the day, crème brûlée and a white chocolate mousse. We ended our evening in the Starlight Club, where on-board DJ Positive P took requests till the early hours.
Catch the second half of Megan’s blog next week!