The Crystal Esprit is not a Cruise Ship, it’s a Cruise Yacht. The smallest and most luxurious of all in the Crystal Cruises fleet. For our first ever cruise, we decided to do it in style.
Travelling from Venice to Dubrovnik down the Dalmatian coast, we were to stop at a number of smaller towns and islands not easily served by the larger cruise ships.
As a first time ‘cruiser’ (is that a word?) we weren’t sure what to expect. Would there be a hot shower, would we have space to stretch out? Would we enjoy it? The answer was yes to all three and much much more.
We fell in love with Croatia and I’ll share more of our adventures on separate posts. As a key part of the holiday the Crystal Esprit had a big role to play.
The Crystal Esprit has only 31 cabins across two decks, a small gym, pool, a lounge bar and three places to eat.
Our rendezvous was in Venice at the start of a 7 day cruise down the Croatian coast to Dubrovnik. After two exquisite nights at the Kempinski San Clemente Palace, we boarded a taxi to take us to the port. As we came into the Port we could see vast Cruise Liners dominating the skyline and then this dainty little white yacht waiting for us.
After a through check in at the Port we were welcomed on board with a glass of champagne and shown to our cabins. We had two connecting rooms on the Horizon Deck, just a short flight of stairs up to the restaurant and sunset deck. Our butler (we have a butler?) and sweet housekeeping girls came in and made their introductions before leaving us with instructions to call them if we needed anything.
Now, for a small yacht, these rooms were huge. Seriously, I’ve stayed in a lot smaller places in London, for a lot more money. There was room enough to stow away our Samsonite cases and unpack fully. No shortage of hanging space and hangers made Katherine a happy girl. The bathroom was equally big with a powerful shower and two full sized sinks.
Technology in the shape of a large TV with views of the ships cameras and a bedside iPad were no doubt designed to keep me happy. On board wifi was also available but limited to a few hours a day.
Up top there was a vast and comfortable lounge, a piano bar and big screen TV if we needed it (apart from the tail end of the Open golf, it was never on.)
Cruising down the coast of Croatia, we were to stop off at a new location every day – starting in Venice and then onto Rovinj, Šibenik, Split, Vis, Hvar, Korčula and finishing in Dubrovnik. As the sun set over the Venetian docks, we drank the first of many glasses of wine and watched as a Gondolier race sped past into the lagoon.
It was a hot July as we cruised towards Dubrovnik which gave us plenty of opportunity for sunbathing. On the Sunset deck there was a tiny plunge pool and ample sunbeds/sofas to stretch out. Along the both sides there were also smaller individual loungers offering privacy and shade. Fresh tools and water were in plentiful supply and a crew member was never far away if you wanted a proper drink.
The cruise package was all inclusive but I think we hadn’t realised what it meant. With the odd exception for the Petrus, it really was all inclusive. Every day there was a full spread for breakfast, lunch AND dinner. For breakfast you would eat in the Patio Cafe at the back of the ship. This gleaming white restaurant offered relaxed buffet style eating. You could choose from sitting outside on the ‘terrace’ or inside behind full glass doors.
Dining options on board the Crystal Esprit were the formal dining room or up at the Sunset Grill on the top deck. Formal dining in the Yacht Club restaurant was a gastronomic feast, whilst the grill offered delicious ‘burgers and chips’ or lighter bites.
Led by Chef Adam (from that culinary hotspot of Birmingham) and a team of 18, the food being served was just exquisite. Every night there were wonderful starters, the tiniest tasty morsels and some wonderful food. All exquisitely prepared and matched with a different flight of wines each time. We could choose from the daily a la carte menu, with fresh local produce or ask for plainer variations. Nothing was ever too much problem. We pigged out and had the full range every night. As we dined watching the sunset, the Crystal Esprit would gently weigh anchor and slip off to the next destination. With barely a shudder, we would know things were underway if it wasn’t for the gently changing scenery.
The other guests on board ranged from cruise veterans to private couples and a large family from South America. The veterans were ace networkers and had us joining them for dinner on the first night. We had a great time getting to know them and learning about other cruises and other destinations. We engaged with the other guests but they are also happy with their own interests so there was no demand to integrate. My fears of having to sit at the Captain’s table were vanquished immediately.
Equally, we were happy with our band of three and quickly found our favourite table – near the window to watch the sunset every night.
Each night there would be some ‘live’ entertainment, organised by the Crystal Esprit Entertainment’s Director Daniel Hodge. A wonderful entertainer, pianist and singer he ran a quiz one night, a ‘call my bluff’ competition another night and treated us to some wonderful music and anecdotes. On the ‘British Invasion’ night, Dan played us songs and explained their backgrounds and history. Songs like, “Don’t let the sun catch you crying” were new to me and I sat there with my ‘phone busily adding these to my list. I really hit it off with Dan and could have spent every night just chatting to him about music, but he had other guests to look after!
Up on the Sunset deck, behind the tiny pool was a movie screen. Any night, we could watch a movie from the on board [small] selection. Yet again, this was right up my street. Cruising in the moonlight, with temperatures hot enough to sit out in – whilst watching a movie and being continually offered another glass of wine – I mean what’s not to love! We enjoyed Focus (Will Smith, Margot Robbie) which I’d seen before and I’d watch again. Just three of us, under the stars watching a movie. What a night!
As it is a small ship, all of the cabins had outside views. None of them had balconies but you made up for it with easy access to the outside decks or upstairs to the sunset. The bed was very comfy, quite low to the ground but still big enough for us to stretch out. The TV and iPad were helpful but never got any use.
During the whole trip we only called the butler once. That wasn’t a bad thing, it was just that the ship was so small and we wanted to see so much, that we would spend our time on deck. We very quickly got into a routine of waking up and heading straight up to the sunset deck. We’d sit there in our robes whilst the yacht team prepared breakfast looking out into the tranquil blue sea. We’d be given tea and juice (they got to know what we liked, very quickly) and watched as we came through Croatian archipelago and onto the next island. On our first morning at sea we marvelled at Dolphins leaping just metres from the boat. A scene we will never forget.
Shore excursions and activities were available every day, taking you to places of historic interest, beautiful caves or wine tasting opportunities. With one exception, we opted to stay with the boat. Depending on the location, we would be tied up alongside within moments walk of the town or we’d have a regular tender available all day to let us explore. Every day we’d get off the ship and explore the old towns and found some amazing croatian places to return to.
Jet Skis, and a submersible were also available for our pleasure. Some local Croatian law meant the Jet Skis were only allowed to be used on one day, in a particular area away from the boat.
Over the tannoy every morning, the Crystal Esprit captain Lars Thomas Larsen gave us the update, “another beautiful day in Paradise” before updating us on locations and times. Most days were were ready to disembark by 8 am and to return by 18:00 for dinner and cast off.
The team that looked after us were fantastic. In a short space of time we got to know South African Karl and his “perfect” win choices, Kate Mary in the restaurant, the two housekeeping girls and our butler. Of course these were only the people that looked after us directly. There were no shortage of other team members above and below deck that worked together to make us fully at home.
The hardest part of the whole trip was deciding on tips. Maintaining the Crystal Esprit is a team effort, from the engine room to the captain and the front of house team. They all worked hard to ensure our cruise was the best it could be.
Before booking this holiday, we weren’t sure if we’d enjoy a cruise. I am pleased to say, we LOVED it! Next year we’re heading to Alaska with Crystal Cruises.