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Think of Crystal Esprit — Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises' first expedition yacht — as a miniature version of all that makes Crystal Cruises so popular.
To give some perspective, Esprit holds just 62 passengers, while most European river cruise ships carry double or triple that number of guests. It's also far smaller than Crystal's two iconic ocean-going ships, the 922-passenger Crystal Symphony and the 1,070-passenger Crystal Serenity.
The vessel is an ideal charter ship, since most 280-square-foot suites are identical. The Owner's Suite is about twice as large, and two Category S-4 accommodations each measure 223 square feet. Instead of balconies, all rooms have large picture windows.
Despite the ship's small size, these staterooms have a generous amount of storage space, and the bathrooms feature large showers and double sinks. In-room amenities include fluffy bathrobes, slippers, umbrellas, bedside iPads and flat-screen televisions with a selection of channels and movies.
Esprit's public spaces are small and intimate. The sun deck has a small splash pool; there’s a one-room spa for massages, facials and hair services; and the Cove Bar functions as a cozy living room and gathering place. There’s also an impressive crew-to-passenger ratio (about 1½ to 1).
During my April cruise from Piraeus, Greece, to Dubrovnik, Croatia, the onboard atmosphere felt similar to a river cruise, with guests introducing themselves to one another and single guests being taken under the wing of their fellow passengers. I was also prepared for a “casual-by-day, resort-casual in the evening” dress code, but found that many passengers appeared to be casual throughout. Some appeared at dinner without changing from their daytime looks.
Also like a river cruise, at least one tour in every port is complimentary. Most of Esprit’s excursions were aimed at active passengers and included biking, hiking and climbing in addition to standard walking tours. Evenings were very relaxed, with a duo of entertainers playing before and after dinner.
But the variety of choices at mealtimes was reminiscent of Crystal's larger vessels, and it went far beyond what I expected.
By allowing guests to mix the casual menus from the indoor/outdoor Patio Cafe and The Grill venues, the crew was able to provide an assortment of cold and hot dishes. Dinner in the Yacht Club Restaurant is inventive, extremely varied and served with a creative presentation. Souffles were decanted from their containers and sauced tableside; soups were concocted with a flourish; and breads were so fresh that everyone ate more than they planned. Other delectable options, such as Silken Eggs — cooked delicately for an hour and a half — drew rave reviews from guests, and the scent of the chocolate dishes, created onboard, wafted throughout the entire ship. (Full room service is also available.)
Travel advisors should be aware that there are also some key differences between Crystal’s larger vessels and Esprit. The latter has no elevators, casinos or shows, and the ship is not suitable for young children (although I did see families with adult children ).
Most guests on our sailing hailed from North America, the U.K., South Africa and Australia; however, there was a sprinkling of Scandinavians and Germans onboard. There was quite a broad age range, but it is the psychographics that distinguish the Esprit passenger: a seasoned, upscale traveler who follows an active lifestyle and prefers a luxurious-yet-casual ambiance.
And that is exactly what they get.