Our week long Greek Islands and Turkey cruise was not my first time on the Celestyal Crystal; in fact, it was my third trip sailing aboard her in these waters since 2012. So, to me, she is a ship that is quite familiar. And, being quite small, her size lends her an air of informal intimacy that is one of the things that I really do love about her.
She’s also quite endearingly quirky; originally built as a car ferry for the Baltic trade and then extensively rebuilt to work as a cruise ship, the Celestyal Crystal is a wonderfully angular piece of seagoing architecture; very much a one-off ship. In comparison to many of the huge, purpose built floating resorts of the moment, she’s quite an enigmatic little ship, and one well worth getting to know.
Size wise, she comes in at a svelte 25,611 tons. There are 476 cabins, of which something like fifty-three are balcony suites. Of the remainder, some 163 are inside rooms.
The rooms on Two Deck are pretty small but, as you move up the ship, cabins open out in terms of space. I was in a Four Deck cabin on this trip-4221, to be precise- and it came in at around 170 square feet overall.
With that came twin beds that could convert to a double, and a comfortable sofa and table combination in a separate sitting area. There’s a good sized television with about a dozen channels. Wardrobe space is decent, as is the open drawer space. Because the Celestyal Crystal is a pretty informal ship in terms of evening dress, you won’t have to overdo it on the formal wear front.
The bathroom is small, with a toilet and shower only and a selection of in room toiletries, but it’s surprising how easily you manage. And the shower, too, was really good. In general the room was much like the rest of the ship, solid, functional and comfortable, easy to navigate and pretty handy for everything. In fact, two of the four lifts and the main, after staircase were literally right outside my door.
On this cruise, the Celestyal Crystal was full to capacity, with around 1200 passengers booked for the week long round trip from Piraeus. It was a fascinating mix of passengers: Greeks, Spanish, French, Germans, Canadians, Americans- even a handful of Brits. Over the week, it would coalesce into a pretty easy going, well mannered crowd, one that was well looked after by the ship’s crew of 406.
Touring the ship was akin to rediscovering an old friend. I’d quite forgotten how charming the Thalassa Bar and Terrace at the back of Five Deck is, with it’s centrally located hot tub overlooking the stern, and scores of wicker chairs and tables scattered across the fantail. With the port side reserved for smokers, it became a popular hangout at all hours of the day and night. In fact, it was nothing unusual to see scores of people sitting out there in the small hours of the morning, enjoying the balmy Aegean breezes.
Centre stage, at the top of the ship is a small pool set on a teak deck, surrounded by cafe style tables and chairs. It has a sliding, perspex roof overhead, perfect for shelter from the sun when needed. With a forward bar- the Helios- and live music both at lunch and dinner, this was an intimate, raffish little place to just kick back as the ship meandered between the hedonistic sprawl of the Greek Islands.
You’ll find sun loungers aplenty on the deck overlooking the pool, and on the stepped series of terraced decks at the stern.
Aft of that pool complex is a pair of buffet restaurants set up for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner. The offerings are the same in both sections, but with some delightfully indulgent Greek twists. After all, when was the last time that you saw chicken wraps on an afternoon tea buffet? And delicious they were, too.
In terms of interior spaces, there was the main Muses Lounge on Eight Deck; a forward facing show lounge set on two levels, this was the main venue for the evening production shows held on board. It leads neatly into the Eros Lounge, with it’s row of floor to ceiling windows facing out to port. This was a popular, late night venue for some sultry, after dinner samba and soft rock.
There’s also a full service spa up here on Nine Deck, with all the treatments that you could want at an extra charge.
There is a small, adjacent Sports Bar and a neat little casino here, too, but the other main public room is the surprisingly large disco, wrapped around the ship’s funnel on Deck Ten. It has glass walls looking out on three sides, an aft facing bar, and a decent sized dance floor for such a small ship. On our cruise, the disco was invariably full most nights, right through until the early morning hours.
There are two main formal, sit down dining venues, one aft on Eight Deck, and the other on Five Deck. Both are open seating and, on our itinerary, they offered full dinner service right up until 2200 each night. And, while it was wonderful most nights to just kick back and enjoy dinner and live music under the stars, sometimes it did make for a nice change to just come inside and enjoy some succulent Greek and international fare, served with a lot of flair.
With Celestyal, all drinks come included in the fare, together with something like three complimentary shore excursions per passenger. In terms of the drinks, there’s the option to upgrade to a premium package that includes brands such as Havana Club, Grey Goose and house champagne for around fifteen euros a day. It’s a good deal but, to be honest, many people will find the included drinks package more than enough to be getting on with.
As with most European cruise ships, in cabin breakfasts and a basic, ‘any time’ menu that includes pizza, burgers and other fast food, comes in at an extra charge. There is no midnight buffet or late night snacks service as such but, to be honest, you don’t really miss it, either.
Five Deck houses the reception and shore excursions desks, as well as a small shopping area that has everything from sweets to fine couture, sun tan lotion to fine perfumes. It’s only allowed to open while the ship is actually at sea, with the opening hours usually being posted on the shop’s glass door.
So, this is the Celestyal Crystal. She’s intimate, warm, unpretentious, bright and pretty. Yes, sometimes she’ll feel crowded when you’re looking for a lunch table, but the crew works wonders at clearing tables. And, in terms of a crew that is hard working and eager to please, you’d be hard put to find better on any line anywhere.
So- this is our ship. Grab a chair on the Thalassa Terrace, and watch the twinkling lights of Piraeus disappear over the rim of your wine glass. There’s a lot of fun in store over the next few days…….