Seniors ‘can count on Crystal’

By Mike Marsh
This item appears on page 24 of the April 2019 issue.

There are two ships, Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony, in the tiny ocean fleet of Crystal Cruises (Los Angeles, CA; 888/722-0021, Pretty much a matched set, with rotating crew, routes and entertainment, they carry roughly 900 passengers each.

My wife and I have taken about three cruises a year with Crystal since 2011. Our most recent cruise on the Serenity was from Lisbon to Florida in November 2018. Our most recent on the Symphony was from Los Angeles to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, by way of Hawaii, May-June 2018. On both cruises, our cabin was an ordinary stateroom with a veranda.

For my wife and me, the real attraction of these two cruises was all the unhurried days at sea. While we prefer endless sea days, other seniors collect new port stops. Their wishes will be granted with Crystal, since the two ships have no regular routes but keep racking up new ports of call.

As for the touted "ultraluxury," the line has had its ups and downs. It's best to think of each ship as a comfortable old hotel where seniors rule.

ONBOARD MOBILITY — Crystal's customer core continues to be retired "American mainstream" couples. Some, now in their 80s and beyond, have been retired for decades, thus everyday life on a Crystal cruise involves wheelchairs, walkers, scooters, canes and oxygen tanks.

Attentive and respectful assistance from Crystal's crew has always been the routine for guests with such limitations. I've watched the careful dance of four deckhands as they've lifted nonwalking passengers into a tender, assuring that they, too, could enjoy a port stop. The pampering is so pervasive that it becomes indistinguishable as to who's getting extra help for a physical challenge.

In addition, fellow passengers implicitly follow an aviation-like norm in which the least maneuverable gets the right of way, whether it be in an aisle, hall, elevator or buffet line. In short, Crystal would be my recommendation if you live with (or if your loved one lives with) a mobility limitation.

Some seniors may be getting in an extra decade of cruising because they know they can count on Crystal. And getting that extra decade of a quality life is perhaps the ultimate in real luxury.

DINING — The dining room pays meticulous attention to any dietary restrictions, such as allergies worthy of an EpiPen. Be sure to clarify whether you merely need to avoid a particular ingredient or you really have some rarer sensitivity to any microscopic trace that lingers on a food-prep surface. They'll actually assume the latter unless you tell them otherwise.

In fact, this would be one of the better places to be if you were to have a serious allergic reaction (none so far, for us). The onboard medical team responds quicker than most hospital emergency rooms and for a fraction of the cost.

SENIOR-FOCUSED ACTIVITIES — Travel agents should use caution in steering children under age 50 to a Crystal cruise. There is one swimming pool, and it's tiny. There are only three onboard shops (no megaship mall), and there are no climbing walls, water slides, outdoor movie theaters or midnight buffets.

The music and comedy shows are understandably focused on the tastes and memories of today's "extra generation" of seniors. There's the selective memory of "Happy Days" tributes (1960s and '70s), jazz in the nostalgic "supper club" (1940s and '50s) and a good dose of classical (before that). The ship also has dance hosts for some remarkable widows who have graced the ballroom for over half a century.

One of the Serenity's cruise directors is a veteran ventriloquist. This guy, with the gracious style of the late Johnny Carson, is my favorite comedian of all time.

Of course, Crystal has the traditional senior-center activities: bingo, bridge, puzzles, needlepoint, name that tune, liar's club, slots, shuffleboard…. There's an afternoon tea daily and even the silent retreat of a lavish smoking-club room.

And, yes, Crystal still offers some of those formal tuxedo dining nights that seem to be vanishing from the seas.

SAFETY ON BOARD — I have sometimes been concerned about the lifeboat drill held at the start of each cruise. Crystal leaves it to passengers to self-identify if they need help getting down to the muster station, but stairwells can get clogged as the able-bodied pile up behind challenged seniors who are inching their way down steps. Sometimes both the disabled guest and the assisting spouse are clutching opposite handrails in this struggle. A real emergency could trigger a trampling.

During lifeboat drills, crew members are stationed at each floor's landing in the stairwell, trying to spot bottlenecks and rescue the "inching" from the flood of trailing masses. But travel agents should take the lead here and alert Crystal if a customer would have problems descending stairs in an emergency.

SAFETY ON SHORE — If there is a "travel vaccine" to protect against crime during port-stop visits, it would have to be the book "Travel Advisory! How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams While Traveling" by Bambi Vincent and Bob Arno. You can download their ebook at Amazon for $9.99. Their website is "Thiefhunters in Paradise"(

This couple's writing has no doubt saved me from some bad days. I've also found that Crystal's crew members are quite willing to share candid cautions about a location, if asked.

PRIVACY — Nature seems to impose its own onboard curfew, given the lack of observable life on Crystal after midnight. Crystal's "valet service" parks the wheelchairs and scooters, and the decks are largely empty and silent until sunrise signals the next available meal.

Crystal has always offered plenty of privacy for those who want it. No activity announcements invade your stateroom, and there's no constant "gaming" to charge something to your key card. (Crystal's fares are all-inclusive.) There is no pressure to buy or do anything.

Quiet nooks and crannies can be found throughout each ship for reading, chatting and reflecting on a life of travel.

Mesa, AZ