Itinerary - Click links to jump to specific dates:
GRAND MAIDEN VOYAGE - INTRODUCTION & NEW YORK
Crystal Symphony's Grand Maiden Voyage was our very first Crystal cruise. We were strongly advised not to book it because of potential problems with a new ship, but that kind of thing rarely bothers us. The fare was outrageous, but we thought it would be a once in a lifetime kind of thing. Little did we know that this first cruise, which wasn't the best experience we've ever had on a ship, would lead to 48 more cruises, and counting.
This blog was created from a diary we kept during the cruise for our own information. So, you won't find the detailed information you will get in our current blogs. Taking a laptop computer on this cruise was an attention-getter for sure. Some of the older passengers didn't even know what it was or what we were doing with it. You'd think this was back in the Stone Age the way some of them reacted, but it was 1995! My how things have changed since then.
We'll apologize in advance to those of you who don't care for our blunt style of writing because these original diaries are more critical of certain individuals than we generally are today. Keep in mind that what you are reading is the toned-down, edited version of the original, so we do have some compassion left.
Back when the Symphony first started sailing, Crystal cruises were very inconsistent. One cruise would feature food so fabulous you'd swear it was the best meal of your life. The next cruise the food could be almost inedible. During the inaugural season the Lido buffets and all breakfasts were absolutely terrible, the worst food we have ever had. Thankfully those days are long gone and it is more common to find improvements rather than a decline. Although many things have changed over the years, the famous Crystal service has always been fantastic.
Even though this was the first time we had set foot on a Crystal ship, we had already begun to build the friendships that continue to this day with the staff and crew. It doesn't take 40 cruises to get the crew on your side. All it takes is showing them some respect and taking the time to interact with them in a sincere way. That doesn't mean, however, that we won't criticize something that warrants it. We are after all paying for these cruises!
Although this was our first Crystal cruise, it was not our first cruise in general. We had about ten cruises with Holland America under our belts by this time and we did go back to them from time to time when Crystal had a few bad years. The point is, we're weren't newcomers to cruising in 1995.
These two cruises combined made up the official "Grand Maiden Voyage". There was a shakedown cruise prior to this from the shipyard in Europe to New York that encountered extremely rough seas for the entire crossing. Some of the stories about this disaster are recounted as we found out about them during the cruise. Crystal had to cancel an AIDS benefit scheduled for the night before our embarkation in New York because the ship was delayed in arriving. Apparently it was quite an ordeal and many guests and crew who were on that voyage still talk about it today. It is nice to know that Crystal Symphony is a well-built ship, and was certainly well tested! A new Royal Caribbean ship crossing at the same time was not so lucky and sustained severe damage, including losing a prop.
So, let's go back in time to Crystal Symphony first official voyage!
Saturday, April 29 - Fly from Los Angeles, CA to New York, NY - Le Parker Meridien Hotel
Our flight from Los Angeles to New York was pleasant. First class was actually nice for a change, with huge plush seats with footrests, individual video players, etc. Food was pretty good, too. They even had a menu to choose from. There were several celebrities in First Class with us: Greg Kinnear sat in front of us, Chevy Chase and family, and Louis Gossett Jr.
The flight was 30 minutes early getting to NY. The time went by very fast. The driver we booked wasn't there when we arrived, but we eventually found him driving by outside terminal. We took off on a hair-raising ride into New York! He drove on shoulder, down side streets, honking and swerving the whole time, but he really knew the best way into town and avoided any tolls or parking charges, so he saved us some money, too. The van was extremely tacky and looked sort of like a Gypsy caravan on the inside, but the driver was nice and we arrived at the hotel in one piece. It took about 40 minutes to get to the hotel, Le Parker Meridien.
The doorman at the hotel wasn't quite sure he wanted guests who got out of a Gypsy's van, but he had little choice but to help with the luggage. He took us to the reception desk and made rude gestures behind our backs (which we saw) when he thought we weren't going to tip him. Too bad buddy, now we aren't!
We were upgraded to a mini suite because they were out of non-smoking rooms with a king-sized bed. The desk clerk was very pleasant and we think the fact that we didn't freak out when she said they didn't have the type of room we booked helped get us the upgrade. It was a VERY NICE room on the 22nd floor with a large living room with 2 sofas, an arm chair and desk/chair with a fax machine. Attractive decor that had sort of an Egyptian feel to it.
Since were very tired, we went downstairs to dinner in hotel restaurant. There were only three other parties in the restaurant besides us. The food and service was very good, but way too expensive, $100 for the two of us with one drink! The waiters were very friendly though.
Sunday, April 30 - New York, NY - Le Parker Meridien Hotel
We were exhausted and slept until noon, then went to the hotel restaurant for their brunch buffet. The cost was $64 before tip!! People were complaining among themselves about the price A women who lives in New York told some friends that even she was surprised by the prices here.
It rained off and on today. We have tickets for several Broadway shows during our stay in New York. Today we have a matinee of "Showboat" at Gershwin Theatre on Broadway. We walked there from the hotel (which is on W. 57th Street between 6th & 7th). On the way we passed the Ed Sullivan Theater where David Letterman's show is taped, plus other landmarks we've seen on TV.
"Showboat's" production was outstanding. They had boats sailing down the river in the backdrop, etc. The sets were very complex with the showboat sailing up to the dock from off stage. Many of the actors we've seen around for years. The lead slave was spectacular, a true show stopper. His rendition of Ol' Man River was a true "Broadway Moment". Our seats were great, far back, but dead center. This theatre is very terraced, so it is a direct view to the stage with no heads in the way no matter where one is seated. Seeing a musical on Broadway is like a whole new experience, almost as though we have never really seen a musical before.
We walked back to hotel after show, in the rain. We are expecting our friend Todd to come by at 7:00pm, then we're going to take him out to dinner. We met Todd and his partner Rick on a Maasdam cruise when they were part of the ensemble. Rick is off on a job, so Todd jumped at the chance to show us around New York.
We cleaned up and rested until Todd arrived at 7pm. We chatted with him for awhile, poor guy hasn't had a job (except as a waiter) since the Maasdam. He looks good though.
The three of us walked down 57th Street to the nearby Russian Tea Room for dinner. It was very crowded, but we were seated right away. The decor is about as kitschy as you can get, gold tinsel and red Christmas ornaments in May! Other than that it looked OK with walls lined with samovars, etc. The food was VERY GOOD, not touristy at all. We were all very pleasantly surprised. The desserts were exceptional.
It was still raining as we walked back to the hotel. Luckily it is only about a block from the restaurant to the hotel. There seems to be fewer homeless people on the streets than in Los Angeles, but there are always a few of them begging at the hotel entrance and other busy places. So far we have had no problems with them though. There are lots of people on the street even in the rain.
Todd will meet us at the hotel tomorrow afternoon to take us to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and whatever else he thinks we should see.
Monday, May 1 - New York, NY - Le Parker Meridien Hotel
The hotel restaurant was closed at 10:30am when we made it out of the room, so we walked down 7th Ave. and found a deli that serves breakfast all day. What a lucky find! It cost only about $4.00 for a huge breakfast instead of the $19-25 the hotel charges and it was good, too. Bill's Spanish omelet didn't look very authentic, but it was tasty and filling.
Today's weather is nice, a cool, partly cloudy day perfect for walking because it isn't hot, but not too chilly either.
Todd met us at the hotel as promised and we took the subway to Battery Park to catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. The subway wasn't awful, but we wouldn't want to ride it without Todd because it was at bit too confusing for us to figure out what was what without looking totally stupid. The trains are stainless steel, so no painted graffiti, but lots etched into the metal. It wasn't really that much of an eyesore. The stations are gross though, not with graffiti, but just sort of creepy, dingy and old.
We visited the statue, the attached museum and the top of the pedestal, but didn't climb to the crown. We looked up Dave's mother's name in the computerized listing of donors to the restoration.
Next we took the boat over to Ellis Island and toured all thru the building looking at the exhibits. Too bad the only thing they have restored is the main building. There is still a lot to do and many beautiful buildings left in total shambles. We checked out the immigrant wall but couldn't find any names of relatives we knew were immigrants, just a couple that looked somewhat familiar.
From Ellis Island we traveled back to Battery Park and onto the subway. Todd got off near his apartment and we continued by ourselves to Columbus Circle. There we got off and walked down Central Park South to 6th Ave and to the hotel.
We found a representative from Crystal in the lobby to ask about booking a transfer to the ship, but she claimed she didn't know anything about it and to come back tomorrow and ask someone else. She said they never allow that, but to ask anyway. It makes no sense, but no problem, we'll just take cab if they can't work it out. By the way, we are not booked on Crystal's hotel plan, although this is the hotel they are using for their program. The point is, if they are willing to transfer us it will be a bonus, not something we expect.
We rested and then cleaned up to go to dinner at the Four Seasons Restaurant with Todd. We met him in the hotel lobby and walked across town, down 5th Ave to the restaurant. We saw Trump Tower, the Waldorf-Astoria, and some very chic shops along the way.
The poor doorman at the Four Seasons was standing outside wearing a hot pink outfit that matched the potted flowers at the door! Our meal was incredible and reasonable prices, too, only $36 each. This price included s choice of appetizer, entree and dessert. The shrimp wonton soup was outstanding. The curried capon breast with basmati rice...mild curry flavor with a side of cranberry relish...was one of the best meals we've ever had. Dessert was a chocolate/hazelnut torte. At first we thought it would be very heavy because it was so dense, but it absolutely melted in your mouth, FABULOUS. All in all it was an incredible experience. Very pleasant atmosphere, civilized without being stuffy. Bill thinks he saw Barbara Walters sitting behind us, but we couldn't get a good enough look to be sure.
The doorman got us a cab that dropped us off at the hotel and took Todd home.
Tuesday, May 2 - New York, NY - Le Parker Meridien Hotel
This morning we went to the diner again for "breakfast" (actually didn't make it until lunch time). When we returned to the hotel we checked with the Crystal rep in the lobby and she said we can probably be transferred to the ship, but we will have to check back that morning to be sure.
Our plan is to walk along 5th Ave. to the Empire State building today, but it is cloudy and supposed to rain, so we'll see how it goes. We started by walking down 5th Ave., then detoured into Trump Tower and looked around the shops. It's not nearly as tacky as everyone says it is. Mostly polished brass and red marble on the walls and floor plus a 4 storey marble waterfall that was actually quite attractive. It started to rain while we were in Trump Tower.
We ran across the street to the Steuben Glass store and bought a sculpture that's being shipped home. T hey have some spectacular stuff! And way expensive, too.
We checked out some other shops then got side-tracked toward Rockefeller Center. We looked around the fountain, etc. It is much smaller than we expected, as everything has been so far. The fountain was torn up being worked on, so we knew we were in the right place. No matter where we go in the world, the site we are there to see is usually covered with scaffolds or somehow under construction.
We went inside the NBC building and walked thru the shops. We saw a film crew we later learned was there to film the stand-by David Letterman audience being sent to see Conan 0'Brian. We poked around in a few shops and checked out the beautiful architecture in the area.
Then we decided to take a chance and see if we could get on a tour of Radio City Music Hall. The lobby was PACKED with people sitting on the floor waiting, but we got a ticket with no problem. Shortly thereafter a guy came and took all the people sitting on the floor and herded them away, leaving only five people besides us in the lobby. The tour was very nice with only seven people in our group including us. We toured the lobby, main auditorium, lower lounge and through the rehearsal halls and costume shop. The guide showed us brief film featuring Liza Minnelli, then he took us to a little room where there was a real "live" Rockette waiting to talk about her job and answer questions. At the end everyone had a photo-op with her.
Since it was raining we decided to put off the visit to the Empire State building until tomorrow. Instead we went to St. Patrick's cathedral, into FAO Schwartz (obscene!!) and across the street to a HUGE Crate and Barrel store with a whole floor of furniture. Then off to Tiffany's which is like stepping back in time. The elevator operator announces "going up", floors, what's on that floor, etc., just like you'd see in an old movie. The entire experience was outstanding with surprisingly friendly service. Several salespeople chatted with us even though it was somewhat busy. Nobody acted rushed or snooty. Too bad service like this doesn't exist anywhere else anymore. It was very pleasant. Dave bought some Tiffany perfume spray for his mother, but otherwise we were just looking. The last thing we need is jewelry!
We walked back down 59th street passing The Plaza Hotel. We decided to stop at a restaurant on 57th St. before going back to the hotel to get ready to go to the theater. Dave had an outstanding meal of penne pasta with sausage. Bill had a pasta salad with chicken that was very good, also. The cheesecake was outstanding, too.
We were so tired when got back to the hotel that we didn't bother to change out of our jeans before going to the theater. We did change our shoes and shirts though. The hotel doorman hailed a taxi to take us to the theatre which is right off Times Square.
We really enjoyed the show, "Sunset Boulevard", much to our astonishment. It was an outstanding production featuring enormous set moving around the stage and then rising up about 20' so that the action is divided top to bottom. Glenn Close was satisfactory, good for the part actually. Everyone else was exceptional. Glenn's gowns were absolutely stunning, beaded and gorgeous. The sets were amazing and the production values top notch, but the show really isn't all that great in general. It was wonderful to see it, but we probably wouldn't go see it again.
We walked back to the hotel after the show. The Times Square area was crowded with people and there were cops on every corner. It was a little iffy the farther we got toward 57th St., but it wasn't ever deserted or intimidating. There are lots of people begging on 57th that are a little scary, but we just walked fast and didn't stop for anything. One guy sort jumped out and tried to stand in our way, but we 3ust barged over him. He thought we were locals because we weren't dressed up. He asked for money and Dave replied, "You probably make more than I do, who are you kidding?", which made the guy laugh.
For some reason everyone assumes we are locals. So far every waiter, sales person, etc. has just jumped to the conclusion that we are New Yorkers. Maybe we're so rude we fit right in? Everyone has been VERY friendly to us. No attitude or rudeness in the slightest. It is really more pleasant that we are used to. People want to chat and seem to want to help us in the stores and restaurants. The cab drivers have been OK, too, no problems at all.
We might meet Todd tomorrow to go to the Empire State building and some shops in the Village that Bill wants to visit. Todd finally has some interviews set up for Thursday, so we hope he gets a job. He seemed quite down about it the other night at dinner. We think it's mainly that he feels guilty that Rick might have to pay the rent and that he's feeling a bit useless. He has been very friendly though and a big help to us getting around. He seems to enjoy going with us, too!
Wednesday, May 3 - New York, NY - Le Parker Meridien Hotel
It is a beautiful day today...high 60's, partly cloudy. We had breakfast at our usual place down the street.
Todd called right after we got back from breakfast around noon to say we should go to the Empire State building before it gets cloudy again. We took a cab to Todd's apartment. It's very small, but has a nice view and lots of sunlight. The building was built in the early 1900's. He said you can still see the faded original sign for a hotel painted on the front that says "Rooms 5 cents a night".
We walked over to the Empire State building, passing Macy's and other famous landmarks. There are so many people on the streets it's amazing! The Empire State Building looks just like movie set. All grey marble and stainless steel art deco lighting and elevator doors. We bought tickets for $4 apiece and went to the top for an absolutely stunning view! This is really the first place we have visited in the city that lives up what we expected. Everything else always seems so small or dingy, but this is very exciting. This is a cityscape you couldn't see anyplace else in the world. The building itself is impressive, too.
From the Empire State Building we walked to the surplus china store Bill wanted to see. It was pretty interesting and full of old patterns from defunct airlines, hotels, etc. It was fun to rummage around.
We walked across town to the village passing the rehearsal halls for Broadway shows. Originally this was the center of town where the huge department stores were located. All the big building are boarded up these days, but Todd said they are starting to come back now that the area has become trendy again. The village was interesting to walk around...like old New York with the vintage street lights and such.
We had lunch at an "artsy" little place that was pretty good. Then took the subway back to our hotel area to get ready for "Beauty and the Beast" tonight. Todd got off at his place and we continued alone.
From the hotel we walked down Broadway to the theatre. We barely made it in time. Todd was waiting out front. The audience was full of kids and fairly low class people. We quite obviously saw the "new improved" version of this production in Los Angeles because this one was pretty lame. The leads were weak, although the Beast had a better singing voice than the Los Angeles actor. The stage here is quite a bit smaller, so the sets weren't quite a impressive. It just didn't have the pizzazz of the Los Angeles production we saw. We still enjoyed it, but it should have been much better.
We took a cab to the Plaza Hotel for an after theatre dinner because it is one of the few places open this late. The Plaza is a tribute to conspicuous consumption if there ever was one. Marble and crystal chandeliers everywhere, just like stepping into a time warp. Piano and violin music wafts through the lobby. The service was very friendly, but the food was TERRIBLE and extremely overpriced (although not a ridiculous as our hotel). We are sure the food was kept in a warmer since early that day. Why they didn't have a simple late evening menu or something, we'll never understand. It was very disappointing, but the atmosphere was pleasant enough and we had fun chatting with Todd.
We all walked back to our hotel at midnight. Todd came up to the room with us and chatted for awhile. We finally walked him downstairs at 1AM. It was really nice to have him show us around. He is very pleasant to be around and he seemed to enjoy our company, as well.
Thursday, May 4 - New York, NY - Le Parker Meridien Hotel
We had breakfast at our usual place, packed and waited for the transfer to the ship. Other than the outrageous prices in the hotel's restaurant, we were satisfied with our stay at Le Parker Meridien and would willingly stay here again. The location is convenience and the service courteous and efficient. The free upgrade to a junior suite made the price very reasonable, as well.
The Crystal rep said they'd go ahead and transfer us because there were a few no-shows, so the whole procedure was very easy for us. The people on the bus and waiting at the terminal are obviously well off...dressed (over dressed) well, etc. Most are in their 60's and higher, but there are a few couples our age.
This adventure continues with Grand Maiden Voyage - Part 1.
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