This "Escape to the Sun" cruise was an extraordinarily discounted sailing due to the unforeseen repositioning of Crystal Harmony from Asia to the United States due to the SARS outbreak. The fear of traveling to Asia resulted in so many cancellations that the final sailing from Beijing to Yokohama had only 77 guests on board. The next cruise, which was the first one cancelled, had dwindled to just over 50 guests.
Crystal ultimately cancelled the remaining Asian season and brought the ship immediately back to Los Angeles, disinfecting and cleaning it during the fifteen days at sea as a precaution. The dilemma was, how to attract enough passengers on short notice? The solution: Ridiculously cheap fares! Prices started at $110 per day, per person, which is about 80% off the normal fare.
Apparently, Crystal failed to realize that this would result in a flood of reservations and the three new itineraries sold out in three days. That left those of us still on board the World Cruise on a waiting list. However, saner minds in the office prevailed and passengers who booked on board were given priority and we were confirmed!
A serious issue with staffing resulted, also. Obviously, a full staff had not been on board to begin with because the guest counts were running 300 - 500 per cruise due to the war in Iraq. Then, when the season was abruptly cancelled, many crewmembers opted to go home rather than stay aboard with nothing to do for a month. Crystal Symphony's Panama Canal cruise following the World Cruise is also nearly fully booked, so there are few crewmembers to spare. This has caused mass hysteria as they try to call back crew from vacations, etc.
With the fares being so low, we decided to take our friends, Beverly and Dick, along with us to repay them for staying with our pets during the World Cruise. Even so, the total we paid for all four of us, one Penthouse and one Category B Verandah Stateroom, was less than it would normally cost for just one person in a stateroom with verandah. In other words, too cheap to pass up.
The drawback could be that the ship will be jam packed with people who are not used to Crystal's way of doing things. This could result in ridiculous special orders in the Dining Room, constant requests for caviar and lobster, etc. We will see if this prediction comes true.
We have the advantage of being World Cruisers, so we were able to ask the maitre d' aboard Crystal Symphony to make arrangements for us in advance for dining on the Harmony. We are hoping that with the four of us sitting together that we may be able to avoid interacting much with the other guests. However, we were told that about 50% of the booked passengers are Crystal Society members, which will help improve the mix of true Crystal guests against bargain hunters.
This is the shortest cruise we have ever taken with any cruise line, so we expect to feel like we have finished even before we begin. We do have the advantage of being able to sort our clothes for this trip while still aboard Crystal Symphony.
We have learned that the entertainment offered on this cruise is being adjusted to skew to the younger demographic that is expected to make up the majority of guests. In our opinion, this isn't the best idea. Let's say Crystal manages to win over some of the newcomers who then return for a "real" Crystal cruise. Won't they expect the same type of product they experienced this time and be disappointed?
We determined that parking our van at the port
would cost $70.00, significantly less than having a shuttle take us to the port
and back. Beverly and Dick had stayed at our house over night, so we were ready to go at
around 12:45 PM. The drive was traffic free and we were at the terminal by 1:45
PM, too early to board. There were short forms to fill out regarding exposure to
SARS. Bill parked the car and came in to fill out his form.
We determined that parking our van at the port would cost $70.00, significantly less than having a shuttle take us to the port and back. Beverly and Dick had stayed at our house over night, so we were ready to go at around 12:45 PM. The drive was traffic free and we were at the terminal by 1:45 PM, too early to board. There were short forms to fill out regarding exposure to SARS. Bill parked the car and came in to fill out his form.
As we were walking into the terminal past the information desk, one of the Crystal ground crew ran over from behind the desk and exclaimed, "You guys just can't stay away!" Inside the terminal, we were given color-coded cards and asked to wait to be called to enter the check-in line. There were hundreds of people already sitting and waiting. We figured out that they had already checked in and were waiting for embarkation to commence at 2:00 PM (the ticket says embarkation begins at 3:00 PM). Crystal never embarks guests early, so there is no advantage at all to arriving early.
We were called very shortly to check in. We were served by Mary from the shops, whom we have known for years. We didn't realize it has been several years since we last saw her. She was happy to see us and collected our SARS forms without looking at them. We assume she knew we had come from the Symphony. She told us we could board the ship then, but it was apparent that wasn't the proper thing to do. It might have been that she was trying to do us a favor, but we didn't want to cause a stampede and decided to wait our turn.
At about 2:15 PM, embarkation began. Our group was called about fifteen minutes later. We have never seen so many people boarding a Crystal ship. We're not sure if it just seemed crowded because most people drove to the port or what. There was a problem on board printing the key cards, so only guests on decks 5, 7, and 10 received their keys. Deck 8 and 9 (Beverly and Dick are on Deck 8, we are on Deck 10) had to wait to pick their keys up at Reception after 4:00 PM. There was much bitching and moaning about this, but it seemed like a minor inconvenience to us.
There was too much of a rush to go up the escalator, causing a log jam at the top. We waited at the bottom until the coast was clear and went up to wait in another long line for the boarding photo and required hand sanitizing before going aboard. We forced Beverly to participate in the embarkation photo because we never get a picture of all four of us together.
The gangway lead into the forward elevator lobby outside of the Galaxy Lounge. Our first impression of the ship was, "Oh my God!" and not in a good way. The lobby was dark, the decor dated and the ceilings low. Not a good start. As usual, extremely friendly crewmen carried our hand luggage and lead us to our rooms. Our guy was from the casino and acted like we had known him forever, although we had just met.
Once we reached the mid section of the ship, the decor improved a bit. The Bistro is more attractive and conveniently arranged than it is on the Symphony. However, the Crystal Plaza is microscopic in comparison and very dark. The centerpiece crystal fountain is in dire need of a good cleaning with the mirrors completely fogged up by minerals from the water. If it were clean it would be fairly attractive.
The hallways surrounding the Avenue of the Stars shops are far superior with their new decor and fresh look. Let's hope the Symphony's dry dock will bring a similar improvement to this area on that ship.
At the midship elevators, we waited for quite some time because of the small size and slow speed, plus a slight crowd. The elevator doors don't close right away unless the "Close" button is pressed, wasting a lot of time while guests figure this out. The interior of the elevator was actually in somewhat better condition than on the Symphony. However, the overall condition of the decks, paint, etc. is rather poor. It isn't so much that they don't maintain them, but they seem to have been of lesser quality to begin with and thus more difficult to keep in top condition.
The guest room corridors are much wider and more attractive than on the Symphony. Part of it has to do with more up to date carpeting and better lighting. The lighting almost everywhere is incandescent rather than the cold fluorescent found on the Symphony, a vast improvement.
The decor in our Penthouse was quite a shock with avocado green woodwork with an 80's-era bamboo style edge. Yuck! The fabrics and carpeting were like new, but in the same color combination. Who thought that baby blue walls go with avocado green woodwork? We can't imagine taking a long cruise on this ship because of a lack of storage space in the penthouses and staterooms. The bathroom is smaller than the Symphony with valuable space taken up by a bidet. There is only one sink, which isn't a big deal to us, but there are no shelves or nooks to hold sundries. Closet space is poorly designed and there are no drawers for extra clothing in the cabin. They did add a stack of small drawers to the closet, basically the same as on the Symphony, but there are no drawers in the dresser or desk for storage. The sleeping area is essentially the same as on the Symphony.
Our butler, Jose, came by to introduce himself and ask if there was anything he could do for us. We asked him to return a couple of bottles of wine we received from Crystal Society because we also received a bottle of wine from Adair and champagne from the ship. He said that wasn't allowed, but we know otherwise since we have been doing it for the last eight years. His attitude was a bit condescending, which is very unusual for a Crystal ship.
Beverly and Dick arrived to meet for a late lunch and we decided to have Jose make reservations at Kyoto for us. He suggested he do it now because of the huge rush and the disaster of the last cruise where it filled up in just a few hours.
Click for Daytime Activities and Itinerary.
We went to the only location serving food, the Trident Grill by the Neptune Pool. There was a huge line, but it moved fairly quickly. The design of the pool deck is significantly different than on the Symphony, but the grill and ice cream bar are larger. We did notice that the ice cream selection is limited and very different than the Symphony. There are stools at the grill counter that are a hindrance to the serving line.
The very harried grill cooks did their best to serve the hungry guests as quickly as possible, but the line stayed quite long during our entire meal. We lamented the fact that the Seahorse Pool deck is so small that it will probably be jammed for the entire week. The Seahorse pool itself looks about the same size as the Symphony's with the addition of a small waterfall at one end. It is fairly obvious that Crystal copied the design of the Royal Viking Sun, a popular ship at the time from which they stole most of their original customers. The large elevator tower at the other end sports a raised wave pattern on an otherwise big blank wall.
We went back to the cabin to collect our lifejackets for the boat drill at 4:45 PM. We received two bouquets of flowers from Crystal Society, as well. Later, a larger bouquet was delivered from Josef Matt, the Hotel Director on Crystal Symphony, which was a nice surprise.
As usual, we made our way to the lifeboat station before the alarm to avoid the rush. While waiting out on deck, we noticed the poor construction and underlying condition of the ship. We had heard that the Harmony hadn't been built as well as the Symphony, but we didn't realize it was quite this bad. It seems a bit like throwing good money after bad to invest in interior upgrades for this ship.
A photographer was aggressively insisting that everyone pose for lifejacket photos, something we haven't seen done on the Symphony in years. He would not take "no" for an answer, also unusual and inappropriate. The boat drill itself was short and sweet and we went back to the room to await the sail away, which started moments afterwards. Although it smelled like sewage outside, we went up to the enormous Sun Deck to watch the sailing. The Star Princess followed closely behind as we passed Ports of Call Village where a restaurant announced Bon Voyage over a loudspeaker.
We figured this would be a good time to get some photos of the Harmony, so we started doing just that. From above, the small size of the Seahorse Pool area in comparison to the Symphony is obvious. Most of the deck is occupied by the pool, so lounging space is quite limited. However, the Sun Deck above probably has four times more space that the same area on the Symphony, so it's a trade off. A huge bandstand dominates the front wall of the Seahorse Pool.
We walked back to the aft section, which is now blocked off to provide a lounging area for the new spa facilities. They have attempted to create a day spa atmosphere that seems to be successful. Unfortunately, this makes it impossible to make a complete circuit around the upper deck without a detour.
The deck for dining outside of the Lido is much larger and more attractive than on the Symphony with a golden bronze statue of a mermaid looking out to sea. The Lido itself is half the size of the Symphony's because the other part of the space is occupied by the very plain looking Prego and Kyoto alternative restaurants. They have attempted to alleviate the long lines by adding a second serving line where tables used to be, but this is a very cramped space. It is attractive though and has basically the same decor as the Symphony.
There was a huge line in the lobby waiting to make reservations for the alternative restaurants. We went up to say hello to Benji, a hairstylist who had come from the Symphony when the World Cruise was over. She is married to Marco who was promoted to Shore Excursion Manager and transferred to Crystal Harmony during the World Cruise.
Benji was beyond thrilled to see us and used us as an excuse to get out of the spa by telling her co-workers that she was going to take us on a tour of the new spa. She did that, but only after chatting for quite some time in the elevator lobby about the differences between the two ships. She was a bit distressed because the staff here seems to think that those who come from the Symphony have a superior attitude. We had heard the same thing from others who came here. She figures she'll get used to it, but it is a big change to come to this much older ship from the still new-looking Symphony.
We did take a thorough tour of the spa, which is gorgeous. They have used light wood and natural colors to create a very soothing environment that is a huge improvement over the old one. We made haircut appointments for the last day and then we went off with Benji leading the way, saying she was going to show us where the Palm Court is. We ran into Jose in the lobby who told us he could return the wine for credit after all, which, of course, we already knew.
We all agreed that the Palm Court on this ship is far inferior to the same space on the Symphony. It baffles us how guests can view this room as a more pleasant space. What is better is the Vista Lounge that is the forward observation lounge. On the Symphony the Palm Court and Vista Lounge were combined. Here they are separate spaces. The Vista Lounge has a soaring ceiling with tall viewing windows lending an airy, yet intimate atmosphere. This is a beautiful room unlike anything on the Symphony.
After leaving Benji and promising to stop by and visit Marco, we stopped by the Computer University at Sea, but it was too busy to bother asking about Internet access now. The room is very nice with a more open arrangement for the computer stations.
We find the layout of this ship to be confusing and a bit convoluted. However, it has a more intimate feel to it and some of the newly remodeled rooms are truly beautiful. The Club 2100 is the cabaret lounge and is far superior to the Starlite Club on the Symphony both in design and decor. There is an additional small room called Stars Disco just off the lobby that is also a nice, though sparsely attended, spot. The Hollywood Theater is double the size of the Symphony's version and more attractive. We toured the shops and found the locations strange, but the decor was a vast improvement.
Back in the room, we had a phone message from Victoria, the Crystal Society Hostess, introducing herself, and from Marco saying hello and asking us to come by so he can greet us in person.
We decided to meet in the Vista Lounge at 7:30 PM. We stopped on the way to check on Internet access and found the staff very helpful, but unaware that there is no longer a $25.00 charge for setting up this feature. They were very nice about it and said to bring the brochure to show them and they would take it off the bill. We don't really care, but the new brochure does say there is no charge to configure a guest's laptop for this service.
As we passed through the Palm Court we were stopped by Per Nielsen, the Hotel Director, who hadn't seen us in several years. He introduced us to the new Food and Beverage Manager, whom we had never met. He began to fawn on us almost immediately and told us to let him know if we aren't happy with our table or whatever.
Beverly and Dick were waiting in the Vista Lounge where a misunderstanding between the cocktail servers caused one of them, a very nice young man from Hungary, to worry that he was in trouble. He didn't do anything wrong as far as any of us could tell. We were served some very nice hot snacks and were offered a refill, something that never happens on the Symphony with the snacks.
We thought it odd that they still put out tables with the snacks on them, a practice long since discontinued on the Symphony. Also, the uniforms of the servers appear to be new and much classier. Let's hope these uniforms make it to the Symphony soon.
At 8:15 PM, we decided to start toward the Dining Room because of the chaotic open seating policy for the first night. We haven't seen this type of opening night on the Symphony in years and we have never understood the point of it. Table assignments are in the staterooms upon embarkation, so why not just seat everyone properly? On the way, we wandered by the Shore Excursion Desk, prompting Marco to rush out after us and offer an enthusiastic greeting. He carried on about how nice it was to see us. He said he couldn't believe it when Benji told him we were coming, so he kept looking for us to show up in the computer and was thrilled when we appeared on this cruise. As we were chatting, Abigail, the Cruise Consultant, ran over after seeing us from across the room. She didn't know we were coming because she had left the Symphony before this cruise was announced. She insisted that we come by because she wants to catch up on the gossip and, "I have lots of questions for you!"
The lobby isn't quite as bad on the lower level as we had thought. It looks like the lobby of a boutique hotel with comfortable chairs all around the room. The Symphony's airy lobby is an improvement, but this one isn't unattractive, just different.
We were seated at a table for six, but the extra seats remained empty, thank God. Our waiter was very efficient and friendly. The Crystal Dining Room looks as though it has had a decor makeover and is significantly more pleasant than on the Symphony. The design is essentially the same, but the atmosphere is more sophisticated and it didn't seem as chaotic in spite of the capacity crowd. The waiter stations are grouped around the center of the room, which keeps them out of the way.
We don't have a menu for the diary tonight, but it was the identical menu from the first night of every segment of the World Cruise. Beverly had no problem getting exactly what she wanted for her dietary requirements and the waiter actually seemed interested in getting it right. Too bad he probably won't be our regular waiter.
Our choices were pretty much the same as usual, but the chilled strawberry soup was far better than we had last week. Our pasta entree was satisfactory, but nothing special. The veal was outstanding and a huge portion. The filet steak was also very good. The white chocolate truffle cake was completely different than the Symphony's version and not very good at all. The waiter brought some plain strawberries for Beverly along with the cheese trolley, while Dick had the French apple tart, judged only average.
During the meal, the Food and Beverage Manager walked by and asked if our table was acceptable. Since this isn't our regular table, we said we didn't know yet. He ran off and sent Walter, the Maitre d', over to be sure we get the table we want. Walter said he wasn't sure the table we requested was really what we want because it isn't by a window. We assured him that was really our choice and that we don't want to sit by the window. He had held a table for us just in case, but we told him to give it to someone who is complaining so he can shut them up. That notion amused him.
We weren't thrilled with the idea of the Welcome Show, "Pirates to Pinafore," but we thought we should go to see who was in the cast and to check out the Galaxy Lounge. The cast is the same one that was on the Symphony at the beginning of the World Cruise. The show was the same pretentious bore as usual, and the dance team was not nearly as proficient or exciting as Curtis and Natalie.
The Galaxy Lounge itself is larger than on the Symphony and the new furniture and color scheme is extremely attractive. Larger chairs make it more comfortable and the sofa seating doesn't eject guests onto the floor as does the backwards velvet knap on the Symphony. We thought the production values and the overall look of the show were far superior to the Symphony even though the stage does not have any lighting directly overhead. The design of the house lighting includes low level walk lights that are lacking on the Symphony and are a very helpful feature.
After the show, we went up to take a look at the Verandah Stateroom Beverly and Dick are in. The layout is essentially the same as the Symphony with the exception of a bizarre closet arrangement and the same lack of drawer and storage space as in our penthouse. The verandah railings on the Harmony are glass, which is a nice touch, but they are deteriorating due to the low quality workmanship.
Back in the room, we got back into the routine of scanning the Evening Activities. We finally used the bathroom facilities for showering and such. The shower is very small with a strange arrangement for the plumbing. It isn't terrible, just not as good. We are glad we didn't book a really long cruise because the lack of storage would grow to be an annoyance. We could have lived with it and other aspects of the Harmony that we aren't in love with, but it is better that we reserve this ship for shorter cruises.
We have the first of two hours forward on the clock tonight. Everyone received a letter from the Hotel Director apologizing for the embarkation problems. Honestly, we didn't think it was that bad, but there must have been enough complaints to prompt the letter.
A distinct difference in workmanship of the Harmony was obvious during the night. Everything in the room creaked, popped, or cracked constantly. There is virtually no movement from the sea, so this is a built-in problem. We'd hate to hear it when the water is rough. But, it didn't bother us, we're just commenting on it because it is so unusual.
We met Beverly and Dick by the Seahorse Pool at noon where they had claimed a table in the shade. There was a Nuevo Latino theme buffet around the Neptune Pool at noon, so this was pretty much the only choice for lunch. Never have we seen the deck so crowded as it was on the Harmony today. There was not a single unclaimed chaise or chair anywhere. If a table hadn't been staked out earlier, we would have had nowhere to sit during the buffet.
The buffet itself was about the same as aboard the Symphony except the food was prepared in a slightly more authentic manner. The fajitas were exceptional here, but barely acceptable on the Symphony. Other than the tastier preparation, it was the same. It was very crowded, but there wasn't much of a line and the service was reasonably prompt. The Deck Stewards are not doing as good a job bringing refills on drinks or clearing dirty dishes, but they are swamped with guests.
Today's weather was still slightly on the chilly side in the shade, but hot in the sun. The sea is calm and the sky is clear.
Click for Daytime Activities.
The Manila Sextet played during lunch and were very good. Their selection of music was exactly the same as we have heard for the last three months, including "YMCA", but without audience participation. Actually, we were surprised there wasn't any participation because the deck was packed with people, mostly under 50, which is extremely unusual for Crystal.
We all stayed outside until around 2:30 PM. Dick went to a lecture he said later was very good. We went down to introduce ourselves to Victoria, the Crystal Society Hostess, and to ask about a tape at the Front Desk. We waited for quite a while for Victoria to be free. While waiting we chatted with Abigail, the Cruise Sales Consultant we know from the Symphony. A woman barged ahead of us to speak to Victoria, so we had to wait an extra fifteen minutes for her to move on. She looked like such a shrew that we thought it was better to just stay out of the way.
Victoria was very nice and seemed to have been waiting to meet us. She said that Lara, Nikki and Thomas had told her to say hello to us. She said Nikki misses us already because there is no one to talk to. We chatted about a variety of things, none of which is important enough to pass on. She was interested in a comparison of the two ships because she has never been on the Symphony.
Our opinion so far is that many of the public areas and lounges on Crystal Harmony are far superior to Crystal Symphony. She told us that the Bistro was recently redone, which probably explains why it is so nice. The big drawback on this ship is that the staterooms are poorly designed and are definitely not suitable for lengthy cruises. That's too bad because the rest of the ship is very pleasant. The outside decks would probably be large enough if the ship wasn't sold out. The layout of the public areas and elevators isn't as convenient, but that's something easy enough to cope with.
We returned to the room to upload the diary pages from yesterday and to rest before dinner.
Tonight's dress code is Formal for the Captain's Welcome Gala. Beverly and Dick met us in our room at 7:00 PM. Jose arrived just after they did with a plate of chilled shrimp, so we had some snacks before we left for the cocktail party. We were interested to see how this event worked in the Palm Court since we have always heard how wonderful it is.
There was a line doubling back in the elevator lobby outside of the Palm Court, so we sent Beverly and Dick through the side door to claim an out of the way table. We waited through the line because we wanted to see who the officers are. We chatted with a couple in front of us who saw our Crystal Society pins. They were impressed by our cruise tally since most guests on board now don't usually cruise with Crystal frequently or at all.
Victoria was at the door introducing people to the Captain who no longer shakes hands with guests. This is to prevent the spread of viruses and such. As we entered the room, our photo was taken with the Captain and we passed Per, the Hotel Director. We confirmed that he lives in Fallbrook, so we told him we had just bought a house in Bonsall. That initiated a conversation about the location of his property and showed our ignorance of the area when we had no clue of any of the major street names. He was very nice and seems like a pleasant person. Another officer who was introduced to us as the Food and Beverage Manager, came over to fawn on us. We thought the man we met yesterday was the Food and Beverage Manager, so now we are confused. But, there are now two officers fawning all over us to be sure we have the right table in the dining room.
As we suspected, the Palm Court is way too small to handle a capacity crowd even though they brought in extra chairs. We ended up in the Vista Lounge after deciding that we didn't care what the Captain had to say. We did hear his speech over the speakers, but it was so boring and pointless we wished we hadn't. However, the Vista Lounge was a very pleasant place to sit and chat while enjoying our free drinks. The crew is much more proficient at offering hot and cold hors d'oeuvres during the party and cocktail hour in general than those on the Symphony. Plus, most of the items offered were actually edible.
At the end of the party, we made our way to the lobby where there were huge lines at both of the formal portrait locations. Of course, we bypassed this and went directly into the Crystal Dining Room. Since most guests don't realize there are two open doors, we easily entered the room after waiting only a minute or so.
We were seated at table 63, essentially the same as the table we had on the Symphony except closer to the door. Our waiter's name is Tamas and he was friendly and proficient. His service was impeccable even with a capacity crowd. Our table is the one to the left of the walkway to the center section shown in this photo.
Walter informed us later that the dining room had recently had a makeover during which the center section of the ceiling was taken out and replaced with a sound absorbing material and a less obtrusive chandelier. The ceiling design looks similar to the renderings we have seen of the upcoming Serenity. Although the layout of the room is similar to the Symphony's, the new color scheme is a vast improvement and the sound level is significantly lower. We would rate the Crystal Dining Room's appearance as excellent and truly beautiful.
CAPTAIN'S GALA DINNER
Soup and Salad
Food review: The fruit was presented beautifully and was a nice selection of items. The soup and salad were outstanding, as was the sherbet course. The pasta was also outstanding and far superior to the pastas on the Symphony. All of the entrees were very good, but each fell slightly short of perfection. The dessert was incredible and a stunning presentation like nothing we have ever seen in the Dining Room aboard the Symphony. Our waiter quickly brought Beverly some strawberries with whipped cream without batting an eye, as it should be.
Both our waiter, Tamas, and assistant waiter, Denes, were efficient and friendly. The Headwaiter, Victor, was very pleasant, but we only saw him briefly when he introduced himself. Walter, the Maitre d', came by to be sure this was the table we want. They always find it hard to believe we don't want a window table, but we are very happy at these tables because they aren't in the middle of things and we can avoid interacting with neighboring tables. An inevitable consequence of sitting at a window is that all the guests in the vicinity stare at you during the meal while looking at the view.
We saw an incredible difference in quality and presentation of the meal as compared to the Symphony. The dining experience here is like it was years ago when we raved about the food. If it continues this way, we will be truly impressed, especially considering how unusually busy it is.
Dinner was over in time to easily make it to the Galaxy Lounge for the Evening Entertainment, a revived production show called "Berlin". We arrived about twenty minutes before show time and had no trouble finding seats, but the room was full to capacity once the show started. We couldn't see a single empty seat anywhere. Too bad the show was plagued by technical problems even worse than we witnessed daily on the Symphony. In this case, not only did the microphones not work on several occasions, but the control computer crashed in the middle of the show causing a complete blackout that lasted about ten minutes. When they finally got it working again, it had skipped ahead in the program, so we missed several numbers.
Missing numbers were not necessarily a bad thing, however. The four of us agreed that this was one very boring show. Dick and Bill both fell asleep briefly during one particularly tedious number. Sometimes old shows are retired for a reason and this was no exception, that's for sure. The audience barely applauded and couldn't get out of there fast enough. The cast was perfectly fine, but the show itself was about as dull as it gets.
We learned earlier today that Crystal has learned its lesson about pricing cruises too low. It attracts a crowd not suited to Crystal's product and causes a slew of complaints and ill will. We haven't seen any inappropriate behavior at all, except a couple of men who weren't wearing ties tonight, but what else is new? Everyone seems to be enjoying the opportunity to sail on Crystal, but we highly doubt many of them will return at the regular price.
The Reflections program mistakenly announced that there is an hour forward on the clock, so the Cruise Director had to correct it after the show.
We wandered through the public areas on Deck 6 to see how the ship looks at night. Beautiful is the most apt description, a word we would rarely use on the Symphony. All of the refurbished lounges and restaurants are attractive and inviting. The lighting is more interesting and less harsh than the Symphony's cold fluorescent lights. Club 2100 is particularly stunning and very inviting with a dark, supper club atmosphere. All of the lounges we looked into were well attended. One sight that is almost unheard of is the jam-packed Caesar's Palace Casino! Every time we have walked by it is full to the rafters, noisy, and full of life.
The ship continues to chug along tonight, creaking, popping and rattling as she goes!
We slept like a log and barely woke up early enough to meet Beverly and Dick at noon in the Lido. The ship had arrived and had been cleared by 11:30 AM, so many guests had already gone ashore, making for lighter crowds. It was pleasant enough on the outside deck, but we sat inside to eat.
Click for Daytime Activities.
The layout of the serving lines and cramped space makes for a chaotic experience trying to negotiate the crowd with a tray full of food. There is one point where two buffets dump everyone into a walkway that is part of the line for the made-to-order salads and such. This layout may work for the usual 300-500 guests, but with a full house it was a nightmare. The food offered was essentially the same as on the Symphony, in other words, nothing special. An Asian selection was not offered, so we had to make do with the regular items, which were average or below. We didn't have dessert. The selection was rather limited.
None of us went ashore today, but the weather was a good as it gets. It was about 80 degrees with clear skies. There were people out parasailing, sailing around the famous Los Arcos rocks in small boats, strolling through the small market near the tender landing, and laying on the wide stretch of beach. Swimming is discouraged here due to dangerous currents. Beyond the bay is a group of resorts that stretches out of sight around the point.
We moved outside to a shady table by the Seahorse Pool to listen to the band and chat until around 3:00 PM when it got too hot for all of us. The population on deck was more as we are accustomed, with many available chairs and tables. Benji came over to chat during her break. She said they have almost no business in the salon, but the spa and massage area are busier than usual. We wouldn't expect the younger clientele to be major users of the hair salon, so the lack of business didn't surprise us.
The service by the Deck Stewards is not as attentive or prompt as we have come to expect, but they are fairly friendly when spoken to and we're sure we could get whatever we want if we asked.
After we all decided it was too hot, we collected the camera and wandered up for our port photos and to tour the public rooms while most of the guests were ashore. Here are a few new photos taken today. Crystal Fountain, Crystal Piano & Cove, Reception Desk, Dining Room Entrance, Dining Room Interior, Our Table, Public Corridor Displays, Facets, Avenue Saloon Entrance, Corridor to Shops, Photo Shop, Caesar's Palace, Stars Disco, Neptune Pool, Trident Bar, Aft Lido Deck, Kyoto Windows, Kyoto Dining Room, Vista Lounge, Vista Windows.
We ran into Mario in the Bistro. We knew him from several years ago on the Symphony, but we thought he had quit. He told us he had transferred here instead. Daniel, who was the head Sommelier when we saw him in January, has since resigned. Seems like that is happening all over the company at the moment. Although the buffet is larger in the remodeled Bistro, the selection is identical to the Symphony.
Back in the room, we could see parasailing boats zig zagging in full view of our verandah. We stayed in the room for the rest of the afternoon watching TV, sort of. That was only between naps, of course.
The ship sailed at 6:00 PM. Sailing from an anchorage isn't all that exciting because the ship just pulls up the anchor and goes, but it was worthwhile sitting on the verandah to watch the scenery pass by. The angle of the sunlight on the pinnacles at the entrance to the bay highlighted them nicely. We saw a whale frolicking in the distance as we sailed along the coast.
Tonight's dress code is Informal. We met Beverly and Dick in the Vista Lounge at 7:30 PM, then moved on to the Dining Room at 8:30 PM.
Soup and Salad
Food review: Both soups were outstanding. The entrees were a mixed bag ranging from poor to excellent. The pork was too dry to eat and was quickly replaced with the very good chicken in spite of insistence that a replacement wasn't necessary. For the first time in history, our waiter immediately reported the problem to the headwaiter who retrieved the replacement himself. The soufflé was outstanding, but the sugar-free cheesecake was just barely acceptable.
Victor, our headwaiter, was more personable tonight and was very accommodating with the bad pork. Walter fawned on us and was happy to hear that we think the food is far better here than on the Symphony. He protested that it should be equally good, but that certainly isn't the case.
There was a near disaster when an assistant waiter was bumped by a waiter and flung a bowl of vanilla sauce onto the floor directly behind Beverly. If he had been one step closer it would have splashed all over the table. Denes immediately cleaned up the spill while Victor rushed over to wipe a drop from Beverly's shoe while trying to determine if it had soiled anything else. Even while we were leaving he was still trying to be sure that everything was fine. When she said, "It's OK," he responded, "It definitely is NOT OK for that to happen." His reaction had nothing to do with our status because we're fairly certain he isn't aware of it. Had Walter observed what happened it would probably be a different story.
The Evening Entertainment is pianist Bernard Walz who we just saw on the World Cruise. So, we aren't interested in attending his show again. We debated about whether to go to the Club 2100 or the quiet Palm Court to sit for a while. Ultimately we decided that Palm Court was a better choice tonight. It was deserted, but we were still offered drinks. The lighting, while too dark, was adjusted properly to highlight the statue and palm trees, something that eludes them on the Symphony where this room becomes a dark cavern after dinner.
We stayed in Palm Court until around 11:30 PM when we all decided it was time for bed. We move another hour on the clock tonight.
Click for Daytime Activities.
The ship was docked and cleared by 11:30 AM, so most guests were already leaving the ship before we arrived in the Lido to meet Beverly and Dick. Even with a relatively small number of guests to serve, the Lido was chaotic. The narrow walkway between the serving lines makes no sense and the line goes every which way. There has to be a better way to do this. We'd rather wait in a single coherent line than this jumbled mess.
We had some tasty beef stroganoff, among other things. Dick went off to explore the town while the three of us who stayed behind moved to the Vista Lounge. It was warmer today than yesterday, so sitting outside wasn't in the cards. It was quiet and pleasant in the lounge, so we stayed there until around 3:30 PM when we decided it was time for a nap.
After dropping off our gratuity form at the Front Desk, we went back up to the room where we sat on the verandah and looked at the view. We are docked adjacent to some small hotels and a neatly maintained pier. There is a flea market next door with the lowest prices in all of Mexico, according to the sign. The same bored parrots are in their cage just a few feet from the ship, but there is now a small park surrounding them, so it isn't quite as pitiful as it was on prior visits.
From our verandah, we observed Dick's return to the ship at around 4:00 PM, after which we napped involuntarily until it was time to shower and get ready for dinner.
Tonight's dress code is Casual/50's. We met Beverly and Dick in the Vista Lounge at 7:30 PM and waited for the sailing at 8:00 PM. On Crystal Harmony there is an open deck outside of the Vista Lounge that is great for watching the sailing and convenient to return inside for drinks. It's a little embarrassing to be standing directly above the Captain's head as we sail, but it provides a great view. The Captain mistakenly said that we were in Cabo San Lucas today, but he quickly corrected himself.
After we sailed, we had some of the cute mini hot dog and hamburger snacks provided during 50's cocktail hour. The ship wide 50's costumes for the staff are the same as on the Symphony. They have a functional jukebox in the lobby here, however, which is a nice touch.
We don't have a menu for you tonight, but it was the same as every other 50's dinner: Meatloaf, Prime Rib, Venison, and Grilled Chicken. They still offer a Banana Split for dessert, which is no longer done on the Symphony.
Food review: The prime rib was outstanding, as good as it could be and perfectly cooked. The meatloaf was a close runner up and served in the original manner with mashed potatoes, carrots and peas. The Symphony's kitchen has gussied the plate up with sautéed vegetables. The salad entree of pork medallions was satisfactory, but some of the items on the plate weren't edible. Unfortunately, the usually to-die-for Corn Bisque was entirely different than the version on the Symphony and was barely edible. However, the chilled peach soup was outstanding and made up for it. The New York Cheesecake with strawberry topping was average, but beautifully presented with a sheet of pink sugar glass on top. The banana split was twice as big as when it was served on the Symphony. Victor made Cherries Jubilee that was judged excellent, as well.
Victor joked with Beverly about what they would drop on her tonight. Another collision quickly ensued and one waiter's pile of rolls ended up in the arms of another. Victor thoughtfully inquired about the low carb diet and wanted to be sure Beverly was getting what she wants. She assured him that all was well and that Tamas was very accommodating. Walter also stopped to chat with us about nothing in particular.
We barely got out of the Dining Room in time to make it to the show. There was a lengthy delay while we waited for the main course, but we didn't mind. They are obviously having some trouble keeping up with the crowd. It doesn't really matter and we all think they are doing an incredible job of keeping up the standards under the circumstances. We honestly think that the presentation of the food is far superior to what we just experienced during the World Cruise with only 400 passengers. We calculated from the Guest List that there are 913 total guests with about 315 of those repeat guests. We have never been on a Crystal cruise with more than 800 guests since we started eight years ago.
In the rush to the Galaxy Lounge, we lost Beverly and Dick, so we decided we should grab some seats in case the room filled up like it did for the first show. They arrived just after the show began, having made a wrong turn. The room never did fill up, but it was still fairly popular.
The Evening Entertainment is the production show "Rock Around the Clock" that carried out the theme of the evening. We are tired of this show, but it was one of the best performances we have seen of it in years. There were no major technical glitches, although there was some static from the lead singer's microphone. They seem to have adjusted the sound system so that the sound track doesn't seem quite as pre-recorded as it does on the Symphony, where that fact is quite apparent.
After the show, we walked through the jam-packed Bistro where the 50's Midnight Buffet was set up. Actually, the food was set up around the railing above the Crystal Plaza, making for a tight squeeze with all the people in attendance. We have never seen an event attended so enthusiastically. Although it was crowded, it gave the ship a party energy that radiated throughout. There were people enjoying the jukebox, wandering into the Stars Disco, and generally enjoying the ambience. The Crystal Plaza at night is much more welcoming than the same area on the Symphony where the dull lighting makes it look like a hospital corridor.
Once again, as it has been every night, the casino was packed to the gills with standing room only. This must be a first. At least something is making money and probably for the first time. We all decided it was time for bed and, after finishing our popcorn, we went returned to the room.
We move an hour backward on the clock tonight as we head back north to Mazatlan.
wednesday, May 14th - Mazatlan, Mexico - 8:30 AM - 5:00 PM
The ship docked slightly earlier than scheduled, but we didn't notice until the crew fire drill began at 10:00 AM. Unlike Crystal Symphony, they didn't make endless announcements in the rooms telling everyone not to be alarmed by the alarms. However, the alarms do sound in the rooms, so anyone unaware might be startled. There is probably a happy medium in there somewhere as how to best handle it.
Click for Daytime Activities.
We had time to take our usual port photos before meeting Beverly at noon, so we went up to the Sun Deck to do so. Directly across from the pier is a shanty town typical of Mexico. If this was in the U.S. there would probably multi-million dollar condos there. To the left is a bay surrounded by palm trees as far as the eye can see. To the right is the entrance to the harbor with a towering rock jutting toward the ocean. The area between the shore and the rock has been filled in and is occupied by more shacks and a small restaurant.
On the pier side of the ship is a big parking lot for newly arrived automobiles and some hills with large homes at the top. Slightly to the right is the town with its elaborate cathedral. The enormous Vision of the Seas is docked behind us. The port provided a tram to take visitors the short distance to the port gates, but had it been allowed, it would have been only a short walk.
Dick went on an all-day wildlife tour by boat this morning, so we met Beverly in the Lido where she was the only guest at 11:45 AM. The staff had blocked off the food lines with chairs, but that didn't stop people from walking up to the chairs and giving them dirty looks because they were too early to be served. We waited until the small rush was over before getting our food, which was adequate, but nothing special. Even with the very light traffic through the lines, the central walkway was too congested to walk through without holding the tray above your head. They really have to change this configuration. We could think of several ways to accomplish the same goal without causing all of this chaos. All of us were baffled by the tiny juice glasses they use to serve water and iced tea. One sip is enough to empty the glass, so the staff has to constantly walk around offering refills. Or, they should offer constant refills.
After lunch, we moved into the Palm Court where it was cooler and we could talk while gazing out at the view. We stayed there until around 2:30 PM when they started setting up for afternoon tea. We forgot to mention yesterday that tea time was standing room only. It does appear that this crowd is taking advantage of every activity, which is refreshing to see.
Back in the room, we napped until sailing time at 5:00 PM. There was a Margarita Sailaway on deck, but we didn't attend. A voicemail message arrived from Jürgen in the Computer University asking us to bring the brochure that says there is no set up fee for laptop use in the room. He said, "That is obviously a mistake, but I'd like to see it so it can be corrected." Mistake or not, it does say it. We have always thought $25.00 for doing nothing is excessive considering the exorbitant per minute charges and the snails pace speed of their Internet service. If we were Crystal, we would forgo the fee just to avoid the complaints.
As we sailed, we had a nice view of the long, deserted beach behind the hills at the port. Looking back, it is very scenic. There must be a billion palm trees along the miles of empty beach. Too bad there are power plants belching fumes to mar the vista. As we sailed outside of the breakwater, there was abundant wildlife everywhere. Huge fish were jumping out of the water as far as we could see while pelicans dove for their dinner.
Tonight's dress code is Informal. This is the second informal night although the ticket and the information given out on the first day said there was only one informal night. This happens on nearly every cruise and we are prepared for it, but it is extremely annoying. On a short cruise like this one, most people would bring only what they expect to wear based on the information provided before sailing. We highly doubt anyone would complain if there was an extra casual night.
There is a Crystal Society Party tonight at 7:45 in Palm Court. It is for all repeat guests at once because there are only 317 repeaters on this cruise, a very low percentage for a Crystal cruise. Before going into the party, we dropped off the brochure that says there is no charge for configuring a laptop for use in your room. The attendant was thrilled we had it and thanked us for bringing it to them.
We skipped the reception line and took the side entrance to the Palm Court, found two seats by the window, and ordered our free drinks. The party was short and to the point with no time wasted. The highest number of cruises was the man from the World Cruise who is on his 92nd cruise. The lowest of the three top cruisers was 52. Even that elicited gasps from the audience. It has been years since we have been on a cruise that anything less than 90 got a rise out of the audience.
Our dinner is in Kyoto tonight, but here is the menu from the Crystal Dining Room:
Soup and Salad
We ran into the "false" Keiko on the way out of the party. She recognized us from the World Cruise and asked how it was. She was replaced by the "real" Keiko halfway through. She was very pleasant, as always.
Kyoto is located next to the Lido on the same deck where the party was held, so all we had to do was walk by the pool to get there. Of course, it would have been more convenient if they had waited to start washing down the decks until the party cleared out, but that would be expecting too much forethought, wouldn't it?
We met Beverly and Dick and got in the long line to check in. Most of the guests were going to Prego, but everyone had arrived at the same time. On the Symphony each restaurant has its own entrance, but everyone enters through Kyoto here, causing a traffic jam.
The room is attractive, but very noisy due to the capacity crowd and the wood floors. We were seated against the inside wall, so it was doubly noisy, but we were able to converse between outbursts from our neighbors.
Kyoto food review: The food is typical Japanese fare with something for everyone. Beverly was shocked that she got her food exactly as she had ordered it, none of which was taken exactly from the menu. All of the food was exceptional and we all agreed we would gladly pay to eat it if the restaurant was on land. The shrimp tempura and lobster won tons were crisp and hot. The sea lobster and grilled salmon were outstanding. The most incredible dish was the beef teriyaki that was one of the best renditions we have ever tasted. Two out of three of us weren't thrilled with the very heavy chocolate cheesecake, but the green tea ice cream was very good. All of the food was beautifully presented on an elaborate array of attractive small dishes. We would rate the food in this restaurant an A+++ and far superior to anything on the Symphony.
There were some glitches with the service, but that was due to the entire room being seated at the same time. We're not sure what happened, but the maitre d' came over to apologize to the table next to us. There were a couple of lulls between courses, but we weren't going anywhere, so we didn't care. The maitre d' and the headwaiters for the alternative restaurants are a bit on the snippy side, in our opinion.
The Evening Entertainment is a Variety Showtime featuring ventriloquist Mark Merchant and the dance team. We were not interested in either and did not attend. Instead, we wandered back across the deck to the Palm Court where the Manila Sextet was playing dance music for about twenty guests and the Ambassador Hosts. We stayed there chatting and listening to the music until around midnight, then we retired to our rooms for the night.
Dick reported that the wildlife excursion he took today was outstanding with no wasted time. There were only twelve people on the tour, which made it much more pleasant.
Disembarkation papers were delivered tonight. We were pleasantly surprised that they are still using the much appreciated disembarkation procedures where guests are not required to vacate their room until fifteen minutes before departure. We thought that with a capacity crowd they might have to compromise this routine. Our scheduled departure time is currently 10:15 AM, but we will have to see if all four of us have the same color tags and make adjustments as necessary.
We have returned to cooler weather with temperatures in the low 70's, but it is still clear skies and relatively smooth sailing. There is some wind whipping up white caps, but otherwise it is smooth.
Click for Daytime Activities.
Our first stop was to meet Beverly and Dick on deck for the Asia Café buffet. Crystal really shouldn't have attempted another theme buffet with this capacity crowd because there isn't enough room for everyone. The lines were long and chaotic, even for dessert. Because they had staked out a table for us earlier, we had somewhere to sit, but all of the other tables were occupied.
The food was the same selection as offered for this buffet on the Symphony, except many items were prepared differently. Some were better, some were worse, so it evened out. Except for the ridiculous crowd, the buffet was fine.
Dick went to a lecture at 1:30 PM and left the three of us to sit outside until 3:00 PM. It was slightly chilly, but not enough to bother fetching a jacket. Once the buffet ended and the band finished, there were enough seats available for anyone who wanted one. We have felt all along that the service from the Deck Stewards isn't attentive enough and that continued today. They don't seem as interested in doing their job as they are on the Symphony, even though they have only half the space to cover.
At 3:00 PM, we went down to whine to Victoria, the Crystal Society Hostess, about getting screwed out of $700 in credits for taking this cruise. We knew we wouldn't get them for this cruise, but as it turns out, we have forfeited the money. So, that means we paid $700 more for this cruise than someone who has never been here before because we lost this credit. It isn't as though we got a discount for booking or anything in exchange. She saw the point, which we have to give her some credit for. There's nothing to be done about it now except make our complaint known and hope it doesn't happen again. She said there is no chance they will ever do this again anyway, so, in other words, get over it.
We chatted with Victoria about a variety of things. She is relatively new, so we had information about other guests she was interested in. Abigail came over to show off her broken glasses that were hanging at a cartoonish angle from her face. The three of us told Victoria about some guests who are a freak show in themselves, which both amused and appalled her. Little does she know what she's in for! Both of them complained about their new uniforms, which we agree are relatively ugly.
On the way up to the shops, we ran into Per, the Hotel Director, and chatted for a few minutes. We kept running into him as we browsed the various locations. The shops are larger and more attractive than the Symphony's, but the merchandise is exactly the same. The items that were on sale really were at truly bargain prices for a change, but we didn't buy anything.
Back at the room around 4:30 PM, we took time to fill out our Quality Assurance forms. At first we thought they hadn't been marked for special attention, but we noticed that one of the pages had an inconspicuous mark in fluorescent pen similar to the way they mark World Cruiser's questionnaires for special scrutiny. We found out today that each individual staff member does see the ratings they receive from each guest, identified in such a way that they know who that guest is. We suspected this all along, but didn't know it was a standard policy. We strongly object to individuals knowing how we rated them.
Tonight's dress code is Formal. There is a Captain's Farewell Party in Palm Court at 7:45 PM. We skipped through the line and hid out in the Vista Lounge with Beverly and Dick, as planned, then went to the Crystal Dining Room at 8:30 PM. It was a nice touch that guests in the Vista Lounge also received free cocktails because it is attached to the Palm Court, but not really part of it.
Soup and Salad
Food review: All of the appetizers were very good, except for the artichoke that was too wet and messy to eat. The onion soup was acceptable, but not great. The cream soup was better, but had a gelatinous consistency. The salad was entirely different than the salad with the same name on the Symphony, but was very good. All of the entrees were outstanding and couldn't have been better. Three of us had side orders of the shrimp because they were so good. The Baked Alaska was marginally better than the Symphony's version, but that isn't saying much because that one is inedible. A request for strawberries resulted in a bowl of tasty blueberries and raspberries because the kitchen is out of strawberries as of today.
We commented again to Walter that the dining experience here is far superior to that on the Symphony. We discussed the friendlier relationship the waiters have with one another. Tamas confirmed that it is much more pleasant to work on this ship because the waiters cooperate more. We noticed that it is every man for himself on the Symphony, which is probably why the dining room is always so chaotic. It seems more relaxed here. But, the service is impeccable.
The Evening Entertainment is the lavish production show, "Million Dollar Musicals". Finally, there was a show that was worth looking at. As usual, this production was by far the best. There were some minor technical issues, but they weren't noticed by most guests. It was amusing when one of the girl's hoop skirt slipped off from under her dress during the "Mame" number.
We received more information about disembarkation. Of course, everyone is required to get up at the crack of dawn to pass in front of an Immigration Officer. If it weren't for that, we could sleep until 9:00 AM. Now we will have to be up by 7:30 AM to wait around until we can leave at 10:15 AM.
It started to get slightly rough after the show. The movement is minimal, but far more than we have seen so far going either way. We go another hour back on the clock tonight.
It is a blustery day outside with temperatures in the 60's. Overnight, it was slightly rough, just enough to wake us up at 8:00 AM. It continued this way all day as the wind kicked up. There was no rain, but it was cloudy all day.
Click for Daytime Activities.
We went up to the Lido early to find Beverly and Dick so we could exchange their luggage tags for the same color as ours. Dick was off taking a bridge lesson, but arrived shortly. We had no problem exchanging the tags with the concierge who did make a note of the change. We weren't sure if anyone would even notice, but apparently they do keep track somehow.
Lunch in the Lido was the worst yet, but some of us managed to find enough to eat. The tasty-looking baked vegetable pasta was so salty it was inedible. Luckily, there are always hot dogs and hamburgers by the pool, so we moved outside after eating what we could. Besides, the screaming children had become an annoyance by this time.
We stayed in the covered Neptune Pool area having fruit, hot dogs, burgers, and ice cream...more than once. Dick went to a lecture by Bill Toone, who was interesting a few days ago. He is one of the better lecturers and is on board almost every cruise we have been on. It is a pleasant change to hear someone who is enthusiastic about his expertise and who doesn't speak in a monotone.
We had haircut appointments with Benji at 2:00 PM, so we dispersed to take care of that chore. It was more of a chat session than business. The new salon is tiny and much too cramped, in our opinion. They took the space away to expand the popular, and more lucrative, spa facilities. The smocks hadn't returned from the Chinese laundry, so Benji had to improvise a covering out of towels.
With the haircuts out of the way, we chatted about a variety of things until it was time for her next appointment. We brought her our address card and she told us to go downstairs and say goodbye to Marco, which was the next stop.
Marco came out of the back office to chat for a few minutes. He and Benji are both very nice and interesting to talk to. We learned today that Craig LaForest, the Land Programs Manager who has worked in the office for years, has stepped down in favor of becoming Cruise Director on Crystal Symphony. We were shocked that news hadn't reached us yet. It seems as though many of the executives in the office are leaving or moving to the ships. There must be something going on that is shaking things up enough to give them a push to change jobs.
After finishing our goodbye ritual, we returned to the room. We didn't really intend to pack until after dinner, but the stewardess had laid our luggage out on the bed, a nice touch, so we decided to get it done now. Packing took all of 30 minutes. It sure is easier to pack for seven days than 104! We have it down to a science anyway, but this was ridiculous. We put our large bag out in the hallway before leaving for dinner.
Tonight's dress code is Casual. We met Beverly and Dick in the Vista Lounge before dinner rather than attending the show. The Evening Entertainment is scheduled before dinner tonight and is the "Farewell Show" featuring bits by Mark Merchant and the dance team.
Soup and Salad
Food review: Among the four of us, we had quite an array of dishes from tonight's menu. The only disappointment was the pasta dish because it was ridiculously spicy. Everything else was outstanding. The duck and game hen were exceptional. The upside down cake was incredible, the other desserts very good. It was amazing when Tamas offered to have the bones removed from the game hen without being asked to do so.
Victor said that these bargain cruises have been a nightmare for the staff even though it looks under control. We haven't seen it, but many guests are taking advantage of Crystal's reputation and ordering special and expensive items. He reiterated what we have heard many times, that the ships just can't handle it when there are over 800 guests on board. This cruise and the next one are records at 933 guests. The ships hold 940, but there are usually many single guests. The main problem is that the dining room has no flexibility in seat assignments or changes because every table is occupied at this capacity. We have to give them credit for doing such a wonderful job and not compromising service for this cruise.
We received a notice regarding Immigration Inspection tomorrow morning telling us to disregard the previous information. They will now inspect guests as they disembark rather than on board. Gee, what a novel idea, huh? At least we don't have to be out of bed at 6:30 AM as was previously required.
Our second bag was out in the hallway almost immediately after we returned to our room, so there really wasn't much left to do except get ready for bed. There sure is something to be said for the advantage of arriving back in our home port.
We were up by 7:30 AM, although there was no rush with the change in Immigration procedures. Our first stop was the only breakfast we have had this cruise, in the Lido.
Although there were only a few guests in the serving lines, they were as chaotic and confusing as ever. There is no way to get everything one needs in a single line. Waffles are over there, eggs are over here, rolls are across the room, juice is on a separate island. This with very little floor space to begin with. The food was the same as on the Symphony, which isn't saying much, but it was edible. There was no service to speak of and several guests were searching in vain for iced tea that wasn't available anywhere.
There was a vague requirement to be out of the rooms by 9:00 AM, which we haven't seen in years. Our stewardess was nowhere to be seen at 8:45 AM, so we figured there was no hurry to get out. We had plenty of time to finish up in the bathroom, collect our stuff and wander up to the Seahorse Pool area to wait for our disembarkation time.
We were scheduled to depart at 10:10 AM, so we were supposed to appear in the Galaxy Lounge at 9:55 AM. We lounged around and Bill made a couple of cell phone calls while we waited for the appointed hour. The World of ResidenSea was at the terminal next to us, but we could see no activity there at all. Considering that she has been sailing with only ten passengers that wasn't a big surprise.
There were large groups of people disembarking, so we decided to go to the departure point early. We couldn't find Beverly and Dick, so we asked if our group had been called. Yes, half an hour ago! It didn't matter since our car is here and we a driving home, but they should have overlooked the "No Announcements" policy in this case to let people know things were going faster than expected.
We walked off the ship with no other guests around us, which was nice. Abigail was doing the goodbye ritual on deck where guests were leaving, so we chatted with her for a second. She said she would email pictures of her kitchen remodeling project so we can all whine together.
In the terminal, there was no wait at all at the Immigration booths. Bill was stopped for quite a while chatting with the agent who wanted to know what the heck he was doing on a ship full of old folks. Actually, the passenger list was skewed far younger than usual. There were many guests in their twenties on this sailing. We are almost always two of the youngest on board, but certainly not this time.
We collected our luggage with no problem at all in the very well organized baggage area. There were Crystal ground crew everywhere to assist people, but we didn't even need a porter this time. Beverly and Dick were waiting in the departure area of the terminal. They had tried to call to let us know that we had been called early, but we had left our room long before that.
It was an easy walk across the driveway to our van. There was little traffic on the way home and we arrived just before noon. There certainly was a happy dog waiting for us!
Honestly, we didn't expect much from this cruise, but we thought having Beverly and Dick along would be distracting enough that we would be able to stand it. However, we were pleasantly surprised at just how great the cruise was! Yes, it was nice having friends along, but that was a pleasant diversion and certainly not necessary to make this an outstanding cruise.
Our compliments to the crew of Crystal Harmony! The food and service far exceeded our expectations, especially for a full house. In many aspects, this was a better experience than the World Cruise. Crystal Harmony, or Crystal Symphony for that matter, rarely has such a high passenger count. Usually, when the guest count reaches about 800, things start to unravel. There were times when certain areas were too crowded and there were a few delays in the Dining Room, but nothing anywhere near the disasters we have experienced on the Symphony under similar circumstances.
Other than a few dress code violators, we saw no evidence of problems from passengers. In fact, most of them seemed to be thrilled with the chance to take a cruise on an ultra-luxury line they can't ordinarily afford. The most outstanding aspect was that we saw no cutback in quality to match the low fares. We would have expected them to eliminate something and maybe they did, but we sure didn't notice it. Our headwaiter wasn't quite as forgiving of the guests, but we saw nothing untoward at any time. We have witnessed far worse behavior from the "regulars".
The food and service in the Crystal Dining Room was far superior to what we have come to expect on Crystal Symphony. In fact, it was so much better that we might have been on a different cruise line. The waiters were more polished, it was less chaotic by far, less noisy, and significantly more enjoyable overall. The food had a "wow factor" we haven't experienced on the Symphony in years. There were many dishes served at each meal that were some of the best we have ever had. That has long since disappeared on the Symphony, although the menus consist of 99% the same items.
All of us were pleased with the attentive service by our waiter, his assistant, and the headwaiter. The waiter didn't bat an eye with changes or special dietary requirements, nor did the headwaiter force special orders. Our assistant was new, but he was as good as any we have had and very pleasant. We noticed right away that the waiters cooperate and help one another, something that is a rarity on the Symphony. The makeover of the decor and the new design on the central ceiling has reduced noise and greatly increased the elegant ambience.
Public rooms on Crystal Harmony are, in general, more beautiful and comfortable than their larger cousins on the Symphony. Something seems to have been lost in the translation and bigger is not always better. Here are our ratings for the various public areas on each ship:
Ratings are 1=Poor to 10=Excellent
The biggest drawbacks of the Harmony are the pool decks and the Lido Cafe. The traffic flow around the Neptune Pool is hampered by its location attached to the bar. It is nearly impossible to negotiate the lavish theme buffets held here. The Seahorse Pool is about the same size, but the deck area is half that of the Symphony and not as well thought out. The Lido should be ripped out to the bare walls and done over. They have added additional serving lines to cut down the wait, but there isn't enough space to walk between them. The whole thing is a disaster. The generally sub-par food doesn't help any. Food isn't any better on the Symphony, but at least you can walk and find a table.
Service by the Harmony's Deck Stewards was inattentive and distant, quite the contrast to the constant fawning found on the Symphony. At first we thought it was just too busy for them to handle, but their lack of interest continued even when there were no crowds. Elsewhere, the service was outstanding and equal in friendliness to the Symphony.
We didn't sample Prego, but Kyoto was heads above any of the alternative restaurants on the Symphony. We would pay extra to eat here. The food was incredible. Service was about the same as Jade Garden, but it was quite busy so they didn't have time for idle chit chat. The waiter got a convoluted special order down pat.
The entertainment was exactly the same as the Symphony, which isn't a compliment. The Galaxy Lounge is more comfortable here and the stage is a bit larger. However, one of the old shows they dredged up should have been given up for dead long ago. The technical problems on the Symphony were nothing in comparison to the disaster when the computer crashed and caused us to miss 10 minutes of the show.
The biggest disadvantage on Crystal Harmony are the poorly designed staterooms and penthouses. The decor is dated, although recently freshened up with new fabrics and carpet. A bidet wastes valuable space in the penthouse bathrooms. All rooms lack adequate storage space, drawers and shelves in the bathrooms. This is something that could be easily remedied if Crystal was interested in doing so. There are too many doors that bump together or refuse to stay open. The Symphony wins hands down in stateroom amenities, although we don't think they are necessarily the best staterooms afloat either.
We would definitely return to Crystal Harmony without hesitation for shorter cruises or segments. The lack of storage would make a lengthy combination of cruises too much of a hassle, but otherwise we were extremely satisfied. We can't say enough how great a job the staff did at handling the unusually high occupancy. This is a great ship for an introduction to Crystal Cruises because of its lower fares in general. We know we'll be back!
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