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Crystal Espirit

Crystal Cruises

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Grant Holmes Avatar for Grant Holmes

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  • Detailed Review
  • Facts & Amenities
  • Deck Plans
Grant Holmes Avatar for Grant Holmes

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These days, any good luxury cruise operator also offers ‘luxury yacht experiences’. Many would claim this is really just a ‘small ship’, only with fewer fellow passengers and high levels of personal service. That basic formula is true  however there are huge differences in the way a ‘luxury yacht experience’ is delivered.

Crystal Cruises is well known for its excellent ocean and, more recently, river cruises. Although it is frequently rated the world’s leading luxury cruise line, I didn’t know quite what to expect of the company’s Crystal Esprit ‘yacht’, which caters for only 62 guests. Having experienced a Crystal cruise, one thing I did know was that it would be good. As it turned out, it was nothing short of exceptional.

All the time and money in the world cannot guarantee building a great luxury hotel or, for that matter, a cruise ship. Rarely do all the planets align to produce an almost perfect experience. Crystal’s owners have very deep pockets so you would expect a vessel that is chic and contemporary, and one that delivers an understated ‘wow’ the minute you step aboard. What you might not expect is the time, effort and level of detail put into the entire guest experience. Textbook stuff, yes, but not only do the staff obviously come straight from central casting (case in point being the South African team that runs the marina and the watersports), the crew’s service delivery and style is incredibly professional and yet at the same time utterly relaxed and personal.

I have often heard regular guests on small ships or ‘yachts’ rattle on at length about how ‘the staff are family’, ‘it’s like returning home’. I always used to roll my eyes since it’s a new ‘family’ every seven days! But I had reason to keep my sceptical attitude in check when our group of 36 guests said our goodbyes after a week in the Caribbean together. I was caught up in a frenzy of hugging and fond farewells from both passengers and crew alike.

A ‘yachting’ experience of this kind may not be for everyone, but for this somewhat jaded (and sceptical) reviewer, my seven days on board the Crystal Esprit was without a doubt the most exceptional luxury cruise I have ever undertaken. Dare to be different, do the whole yacht thing you will be overjoyed that you did.

Baring All
  • Small is beyond beautiful – this is casual yachting luxury at its best

  • Designer shorts, a Tom Ford polo shirt and Gucci loafers at dinner? Absolutely

  • Service and food that’s so perfect you will never want to stay on land again

  • The pool… maybe not so stick with the sparkling ocean

Check-in experience and boarding

The Port of Marigot (on the French side of Saint Martin in the Leeward Islands) is never going to win any awards for good looks or facilities, rather like a lot of Caribbean ports. After driving the length of the road to the pier (through a forest of old and rusting shipping containers) we emerged into an open area right next to the Crystal Esprit. Awaiting us was a rather elegant arrival area complete with red carpet leading to tents that housed the check-in area all very chic I must say. My documents were checked, my luggage taken for screening and I was then escorted directly onto the yacht. By taking complete control of the arrival experience, Crystal sets the tone right from the get-go. I was impressed.

Staterooms and suites

Rooms on board are referred to as suites, which is perhaps stretching things a little. More accurately, they are stunningly appointed, very spacious staterooms which you will fall in love with the minute you enter. These are the sort of rooms you would expect to find in a very chic and contemporary boutique hotel certainly not something afloat, but this is after all a luxury yachting experience.

On entering a small hallway area, off which was the bathroom, I found a space that was light and perfectly decorated. There was plenty of wardrobe space and enough drawers to store everything you might have. Suitcases, once unpacked, could be easily stored under the bed. All the suites, with the exception of the Owner’s Suite, are fundamentally identical. My Yacht Suite was decorated in tones of beige, cream, greys and dark blues, which made for a very chic and contemporary ambiance. It had a king-size bed that could convert to twin beds if required, granite-top side-tables (with even more drawer space) and featured a large couch (certainly long enough to stretch out and watch TV), a small round coffee table, side-tables and a well-lit desk space with a very comfortable chair. Mirrors in the hallway area, either side of the bed and behind the desk, reflected the ever-changing views through the two large picture windows that are in every room. The result was a light-filled, extremely stylish and very comfortable place to spend time.

Technology is at the forefront on board Crystal Esprit, with an abundance of multi-plug power outlets and USB charging points. In each suite there was a tablet uploaded with all your voyage details, daily programme, expedition excursions and port information. You could also view the day’s menu options in the ship’s various restaurants and outlets as well as order room service 24 hours a day. It was impressive. The lighting controls, at the entrance to the suite, as well as either side of the bed, were equally good. There were five pre-set levels (sensibly named), which created different mood lighting depending on, you guessed it, your mood. And there were no small televisions fixed stubbornly to the wall in the wrong place all suites had a 43-inch HD flat-screen TV mounted on a pivot arm. You could watch the selection of movies or TV channels from anywhere in your suite.

Wi-Fi and internet speeds are the nightmare of every cruise since so much is dependent on the position of the ship at any given time. Wi-Fi coverage throughout the yacht (including on the open deck) and in my suite was excellent and I always had a strong signal. Speed however was a different story sometimes good and sometimes not so good. However, this is no different from any other vessel I have sailed on.

My advice is that depending on what’s covered in your mobile and data plan, it’s often better (especially when in port or close to shore) to Bluetooth your laptop to your mobile phone and connect to the internet that way it will generally be faster and more efficient and, if you are lucky, included in your plan costs.

The bathroom

The Crystal Esprit bucks the trend in the cruise world of rather bland and generally small bathrooms. My bathroom was a good size with a full walk-in shower (large enough for three people and lined with large cream tiles) featuring both hand-held and rain-head fittings. The vanity was large with double basins and a ton of storage space both on the vanity itself and in four large drawers below. There was contemporary white and black-veined marble along with wood and lacquered surfaces everywhere and cream, light silver and teal floor tiles. Best of all, however, was a television inset into the large bathroom mirror, which meant you could scrub and watch a movie at the same time.

Main dining room

The Yacht Club is the ship’s feature restaurant, serving dinner every evening. And what a gorgeous room this is contemporary design that is oh so chic. The colours of the rest of the yacht (cream, beige, teal and blue) are carried through into this room but are somewhat richer when combined with navy blue, granite-top tables, brushed brass features and delightful modern art. The subtle lighting ensures that this room positively glows in the evening. And to add a little theatre, the restaurant features an open kitchen, so all the culinary action is on display.

The food is as impressive as the decor and service. Every evening a new menu is presented featuring the chef’s daily degustation menu, along with a selection of à la carte including excellent seafood and fish, poultry and an array of meat for the carnivores among us. And guests can combine choices from both menus, making for the ultimate in dining flexibility. The kitchen did not miss a trick and, even with last-minute changes, every meal was perfect. But it was the daily, freshly made pasta choices that had all the guests swooning simply irresistible. In an otherwise very lively restaurant, all was quiet during the pasta course! Suffice to say, this perfectly presented food was the best I have ever tasted at sea. Exceptional.

Of course, great food and delightful surroundings are wasted if the service is not on point every time. In the Yacht Club, service is a carefully choreographed performance. From the waiters to the sommeliers, the service is quite simply faultless. On one evening, when I didn’t care for the soup I had ordered, an exercise with military precision was launched to ensure I chose another dish that I might like it was impressive.

Speciality restaurant 1

Breakfast and lunch are served buffet- style (with a range of daily options) in the bright Patio Café. Akin to a sophisticated and contemporary Parisian café, guests can choose to dine inside or out. Perfectly presented buffet items sit atop refrigerated white marble serving stations nothing is piled high but rather elegantly presented with a ‘less is more’ approach.

Speciality restaurant 2

For those guests who cannot drag themselves away from the pool or sunset bar, the very cute Pool Grill is open from 11.30am to sunset and serves a range of dishes that are ideal poolside fare.

Nightlife

A 62-guest yacht is certainly not where you should be coming if it’s extensive nightlife you are seeking you’ll be disappointed. On our cruise there were only 36 guests, but they were a very lively bunch. The beautiful Cove Bar and Lounge was always a hive of activity pre-dinner with guests catching up with each other and sharing the day’s activities over a not inconsiderable amount of champagne. I felt sorry for the wonderful pianist who at times was simply drowned out by this extremely social group of guests.

The Cove stays open until 11.30pm but after dinner (and a day of excursions    jet skiing, swimming, sailing, sea kayaking and about every other watersport you can think of) you too will be heading to bed much sooner than you imagined.

The pool deck

Crystal Esprit is a luxury yacht, and therefore think of a pool experience similar to that of a chic, urban boutique hotel small and perfectly formed. Although I would say the very shallow and small pool is somewhat pointless, especially when you have a retractable marina on board and can swim in the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean or the Mediterranean. It would be much better if there were a hot tub on board instead.

Spa and wellness

Rather than spa, think exemplary massage room. Yes, there is only one room but that doesn’t seem to matter. The faultless service means that everyone’s spa requests are accommodated with ease as are last-minute changes it’s a lesson in brilliant organisation. I chose to have a 75-minute deep tissue massage from the range of facials and massages on offer, and I have to say it was probably the best I have ever experienced. What this spa lacks in size, it makes up for in skill and professionalism. You won’t be able to stay away.

Staff and service

It is clear that Crystal Cruises has spent a small fortune on the design and fit-out of this yacht. And it has catered for everything when it comes to the guest experience. However, what marks it apart is the exceptional service, and on the Esprit that’s exactly what you get: quite simply the best service I have ever experienced at sea. It’s grown-up, intuitive and delivered by a young, incredibly professional, ultra-friendly and engaging crew who do not miss a single beat. My fellow guests and I commented on this constantly, especially on the interaction between guests and crew both groups had the utmost respect for the other and this created an incredible onboard atmosphere.

Guest profile

Well-heeled and very energetic Americans and Brazilians, with the odd Spanish and British couple. However, the thread that all guests had in common was their adventurous spirit and their desire to experience as much as possible wherever we went    and, importantly, celebrate life on the ocean to the full, in the most personalised and chic style.

Departure experience

As most regular cruise-goers will know, no matter how ‘luxury’ your ship, on disembarkation day the staff simply want to be rid of you as soon as possible. Not so on the Crystal Esprit and, like everything else, the departure experience is ultra-slick. If your flight does not depart until the afternoon, you’re welcome to stay onboard until it’s time to head for the airport. Obviously, you need to vacate your suite by 9.30am but the rest of the yacht’s facilities are available to enjoy. Guests are essentially individually disembarked as and when their transport is ready. My suitcase was collected at 7am on the day of departure (what a joy) and the next time I saw it was when a crew member escorted me to my taxi and there, in the trunk, was my suitcase now that really is impressive.

General information

  • Year Built 1991
  • Last Refurbished 2015
  • Tonnage 3,264 tons
  • Registry Bahamas
  • Length 269 feet
  • Beam 45 feet
  • Passenger Capacity 62
  • Crew Size 91
  • Total Outside Suites 31
  • Dining Hours Open Dining
  • Onboard Currency USD

Amenities

  • Spa

    Spa

  • Swimming pool

    Swimming pool

  • Wi-Fi

    Wi-Fi

  • Watersports

    Watersports

  • Restaurants

    Restaurants

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