What is it? Crystal Symphony (like its sister ship, Crystal Serenity) is a floating edifice offering every conceivable indulgence and diversion. Smaller than mass-market mega-ships but spacious by luxury cruise-ship standards, the boat boasts a 360-degree promenade deck - an unusual feature, apparently. Having undergone a US$65 million redesign over the past five years, the 51,044-tonne Symphony - think Beethoven or Wagner if you want an orchestral analogy - is extravagantly fitted out, with a nod to the art-deco opulence of the pre-second world war heyday of cruise-liner travel.
Won't I get bored stuck at sea? Not likely. In fact, you might not want to get off the boat when it docks. On-deck instruction from PGA golf pros; filmmaking courses; sous-vide cookery classes; lectures and talks from authors, ambassadors, historians, celebrities and experts from The Smithsonian; stress-relieving spa therapies; yoga, tai chi and the gamut of gym-based exertions in the ship's state-of-the-art fitness centre; magic shows, concerts, comedy shows and ballroom dancing: these are just a few of the recreational options on-board, all of which are included in the package price. There's also a cinema, a library, fashion boutiques and a bridge room (adaptable for mahjong); or you can relax on the open deck, sit around drinking tea in the aft-located Palm Court or avail yourself of any number of dining options at any hour of the day or night.
What are those, then? The main Crystal Dining Room - which serves international cuisine and regionally inspired dishes based on the itinerary - never repeats a menu, even on 100-plus day cruises; although we never got to test that claim. The menus at Silk Road and The Sushi Bar were devised by Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa, and Italian restaurant Prego offers fine dining under the patronage of the equally decorated Piero Selvaggio. The Lido Café, Trident Bar and Grill and The Bistro are more casual scoffing venues. All meals are included in the package price, as are all wines, champagnes and premium spirits, so you might want to hit dry land after all - if only to sober up.
What else is going down landward? What isn't? The phrase "the world's your oyster" was never more apt. Between them, the Symphony and Serenity will next year call at 194 ports in 68 countries, with itineraries in Europe and the Mediterranean; North America; the Panama Canal; the Mexican Riviera; the Caribbean; South America; Asia; Africa; the Baltic; and the Pacific. And the ever-expanding roster of adventures on terra firma includes: hot-air ballooning in Italy; safaris in South Africa; art tours in St Petersburg; the flying of Russian fighter jets; VIP treatment at the Monaco Grand Prix; visits to Unesco World Heritage sites; wine tastings; bicycle trips; and much more. You can also go deep-sea treasure hunting and cage-diving with sharks. All of the above come at extra cost: flying a MiG, for example, will set you back US$40,000.
Back on board; what are the cabins like? Even the entry-level ones are spacious enough to have their own separate sitting areas, and more than half of all the cabins have verandahs. "Room" service is available round the clock, and a pillow menu comes with options ranging from soft and fluffy to hypoallergenic. Penthouse staterooms and suites come with full sofas, walk-in wardrobes, jacuzzis, state-of-the-art sound systems and personal butler service. And if all that's not lavish enough, there are two Crystal Penthouses (pictured top), each replete with separate living and dining rooms, a guest bathroom and a master bath affording ocean views from a sizeable jacuzzi.
What's the bottom line? Cruises range from five days (about US$1,500 per person, double occupancy) to much longer voyages, which can cost anywhere up to US$40,000, double occupancy. Top accommodation on the longest trips could set you back about US$500,000 for two. There will be five itineraries from Hong Kong next year and bookings are already being taken for 2015, when the Crystal Symphony will spend an entire season in Southeast Asia.
Visit www.crystalcruises.com for more information. Miramar Express (tel: 3960 0388) offers packages including air fares to embarkation ports.