There was a big party aboard the Crystal Symphony when Sandra Matteucci celebrated her 100th Crystal cruise in 2018. That year, she also celebrated her 80th birthday.
About 50 people joined her on the personal milestone sailing from San Fransisco to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. And when the ship docked in San Diego, another 100 people – both friends and family – came on board just for the evening celebration. A self-described people-person, many of Matteucci’s lifelong friends are people she met while cruising.
Now at 85 years old, she embarked on her 107th Crystal cruise – and first since before the Covid-19 pandemic – with her daughter, Anna Maria Matteucci, aboard the Crystal Serenity from New York City to Quebec City.
“When we got back on, it was like going home again,” Sandra told TMR. “And there's changes, but there’s changes at home, too, throughout your life, so it’s OK.”
Crystal’s new ownership, Abercrombie & Kent, just relaunched the updated Crystal Serenity in North America, and this mother-daughter duo was sure not to miss it. Yet even at 107 cruises, Sandra wasn’t the most tenured guest on board. There was a couple on the ship who had sailed on 126 Crystal trips, but they declined to be interviewed.
We asked Sandra and her daughter, who has been on 68 Crystal sailings, what keeps them returning to Crystal. Sitting with them in the ship’s front lobby, the answer soon became clear, as several crew members who passed by all recognized them and stopped to say hello.
“We kept cruising Crystal because of the employees,” Anna Maria said. “They always know us when we come on.”
Falling in love with cruising
Sandra embarked on her very-first ocean cruise before Crystal even existed. It was 61 years ago, and Sandra was on her honeymoon with her husband, who has since passed, aboard the former Matson Lurline. The high-end ship sailed from San Fransisco to Honolulu.
“It was a famous, very fancy cruise line back then,” Sandra said. “It was quite an exciting honeymoon. Once we cruised, we loved it. And I guess you’d say we were always very people oriented. We liked to meet new people and always enjoyed that aspect.”
Fast-forward to 1991, and Sandra and Anna Maria, along with their family, took their first Crystal cruise on the now-defunct Crystal Harmony on the last leg of its inaugural sailings. While they have since enjoyed other cruises, such as Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean, Crystal is the only line they repeatedly return to time and time again, and they report having some great family memories aboard all its ships.
Sandra once embarked on a Crystal world cruise with her husband. “We made good friends on that because we were on that long – over 100 days,” Sandra said. “So it’s been those kinds of friendships you make that lasted forever.”
Another of her favorites was a cruise to the Norwegian fjords. She even became so close with the captain and crew that she and her husband visited the Crystal Symphony while it was being built in Turku, Finland.
Getting the full Crystal experience
Though Sandra and Anna Maria do not leave the ship for excursions any longer and tend to stay close to the United States for Sandra’s health, the experiences they’ve had on board are enough to keep them cruising with Crystal.
Sandra recalls not only finding friendship but meeting several interesting people over the years, such as the late singer and actor Eddie Fischer, whom she had dinner with after becoming friendly with his wife at the time. She also became friends with a wealthy wool farm owner and heard a lecture from a South American plane crash survivor.
“It probably influenced my life a little bit, in that we better enjoy every day,” Sandra said of the lecture. “And that’s not always an easy lesson to learn.”
On the recent sailing to Quebec, Sandra and Anna Maria enjoyed reconnecting with the staff, including hotel director, Scott Peterson, and having dinner with the cruise director, Raphael Derkson, who they have known for many years sailing on the luxury liner.
“It’s amazing how many people I’ve still stayed in touch with,” Sandra said. “It’s getting to be – now that I’m 85 – how many have died, but that’s part of life. And I’m just blessed to get to be here.”