Itinerary - Click links to jump to specific dates:
GRAND MAIDEN VOYAGE - SEGMENT 1
Thursday, May 4 - Embark Crystal Symphony
After the transfer from the hotel deposited us in the cruise terminal, we had to stand for about 1/2 hour in a long line because the ship wasn't ready yet. Eventually they brought champagne out to appease everyone. We could see the remnants of the party they had earlier decorated with real grass, flowers, a gazebo, etc. set up in the terminal. It must have been quite a party! We learned later that there was supposed to be a party held on board last night as a benefit for AmFAR, but it was cancelled due to the delayed arrival in New York and storm damage during the crossing.
The ship's staff is VERY cordial and friendly, not stuffy in the slightest. Everyone says hello and seems genuinely nice. Most are Europeans who speak perfect English. That's what you get for the extra money, as we expected.
The ship is beautifully elegant in a contemporary way. Lots of polished brass and marble walls, plush custom-designed carpets, and a beautiful two storey waterfall in the lobby. The lobby has a stained glass canopy and sweeping staircase. The reception desk top is dark granite with mahogany (or maybe cherry) wood detailing.
We were escorted to our stateroom, 8091, where our stewardess, Anette, met us and showed us how everything works (or doesn't, in the case of the message waiting light on the phone that never stops flashing). This is an obstructed view stateroom, but the only obstruction is the bottom of a lifeboat at the top of the window, which is basically a non-issue and not an obstruction at all in our opinion.
The room is about the same size as a standard stateroom on the Maasdam, but not as space-efficient. It's beautiful though. It sports whitewashed wood cabinetry and a marble/tile bathroom that has sort of a Scandinavian look to it. There is small (empty) refrigerator inside a cabinet, a personal safe, and a TV with a built-in VCR. There is also a small sofa (smaller than the Maasdam). Life jackets are inside the sofa. The two beds are set up as twins. This configuration causes them take up way too much floor space, so we asked to have them changed to a queen.
There's a closet similar to a bedroom closet ashore with sliding doors that faces the side of the bed. There aren't nearly enough drawers and the closet can't be reconfigured like the HAL ships, so you're stuck with using what's there which isn't very convenient. The coffee table has a hydraulic lift that raising it into a dining table.
Dinner tonight is open seating so we decided to go to the first seating at 6:30PM so we wouldn't miss the sailing at 9:OOPM. They let us choose any table we wanted.
Click to view the Dinner Menu (You will need the free Adobe Reader to view menus and some other documents on the site). The food was exceptional!! Great rolls, chilled strawberry soup, sliced tomatoes/onions/cheese salad with balsamic vinaigrette. Bill had a green salad with a vinaigrette dressing that was too spicy and too strong though, so it wasn't all perfection tonight. Dave's entree was a chicken breast stuffed with cheese and herbs. The skin was on it, but was so crispy it was almost like a potato chip. Fantastic. Bill had a steak that was covered with grilled onions. It was fabulous, also. Let's hope this keeps up!
Desserts were just OK. Dave ordered the white truffle cake, but received the sugar free chocolate éclairs by mistake. They were quite good though; you'd never know they were sugar free. They came with sliced strawberries on the side. The portions for each course are very small; which is fine if you want to sample everything, but inadequate for those who order only a salad and an entree.
The service in the Crystal Dining room was frenetic with waiters running everywhere. We'll see if this keeps up after a few days before passing judgment on the service.
We went to the introductory show in the Galaxy Lounge. We don't like the cruise director. He's just oh-so-British and oh-so-fake. There is nothing really wrong with him otherwise, just a bit artificial when everyone else seems fairly genuine. The show consisted of a professional ballroom dance couple who were embarrassing, then a number featuring the Crystal Ensemble. The staff entertainers were AWFUL...truly pitiful. There are ten of them, but doesn't help matters any. Great cruise entertainment is a figment of the marketing department because we've sure never seen anything like a Broadway revue on a ship. All of the guys in the troupe are very young and dreadful. The women are mostly European and look a little older and bedraggled. We'll have to see how the main show goes tomorrow.
We returned to our room to discover that our stewardess took our used washcloths and did not replace them. Also, we ran out of Kleenex already. The beds are dressed oddly with a duvet and bottom sheet and that's it. It isn't tucked in or attached in any way, so everything sort of floats around the bed all night. The bed itself is relatively comfortable though.
We were awakened by someone hammering and scraping metal at about 2:30AM. This continued off and on for a couple of hours.
Friday, May 5 - At Sea
We had to get up early for the lifeboat drill at 10:OOAM. It is windy, rough and rainy today and in the low 60's outside. The boat drill was a boat drill, nothing special to report.
Breakfast in the Lido was very basic and nothing like the huge spreads HAL ships. They COULD have something nicer; the Lido is large enough, but it's just serve yourself stuff in steam tables. A crew member makes up the tray at the beginning of the line and hands it to you, but then you help yourself to a very limited selected of sliced melon (with skin still on), rolls, pastries, eggs, bacon, etc. There are also dry cereals and lots of stuff to put on them...strawberries, bananas, etc. Waffles and pancakes are sitting out under hot lights. It is not nearly as elegant as one would expect, but we've always heard that HAL'S Lido food is exceptional...and it certainly is in comparison to this. We can't believe they got away with this on the Harmony for years, so did they start over with the Symphony or what?
We attended the shore excursion talk on Bermuda and Tortola, then napped for an hour and went to one of their "enrichment" lectures on old cruise liners. It was quite interesting. A "famous" cruise buff showed slides and talked about the heyday of ocean travel up to the modern day and into the future.
We had lunch at the Trident Grill on deck (it's pouring rain, so the cover is closed over the Neptune Pool) Neither pool has water in it yet in spite of the captain's announcement to the contrary this morning. The burger was good, cooked to order with fantastic French fries. They also had trays of sliced melons, potato chips, tortilla chips, etc. It is weird that on a ship like this they use cheap plastic cups on the deck, but had silver forks and knives. We understand the need for unbreakable glasses by the pools, but there are better quality plastics readily available.
The Trident Ice Cream Bar has a wider selection of flavors than HAL, but the toppings aren't as interesting and there are no cookies or anything to go with it. Plus it's served in very cheap plastic cups with flimsy plastic spoons you can barely scoop with. It's an odd gap in the "elegance".
We decided on one of the short tours for Bermuda. We were told that the submarine excursion in St. Thomas is about the same as Aruba, so we aren't doing that again. We didn't book any tours in Tortola either. We turned in an immigration form for Tortola. This is the first cruise where we've had to fill out so many forms and we've been to this part of the world on cruises before.
We still aren't seeing very many passengers around. If we go by the count of the boarding pictures that are posted, only about 200 people boarded in New York. We don't think very many were on the shake-down cruise from the shipyard in Europe. Some people were talking about it and said it was extremely rough coming across the Atlantic (the ship was late getting New York and some of the inaugural party stuff was cancelled or delayed). Several windows ship broke from the 45' waves. They have fixed all but one big one in the Palm Court that's still shattered.
This ship doesn't ride as smoothly as the Maasdam. There is some vibration, but it is not intolerable or intrusive. However, it is MUCH smoother than the old ss Rotterdam even in the rough sees we have today.
Tonight is the Captain's Gala Welcome Dinner Party. We went to the Starlight Club for the cocktail reception. Rather than just meeting the captain, everyone also had a picture taken with him and the Social Hostess. The captain made an effort to make small talk with everyone. Then guests pass through a receiving line with a bunch of other officers.
Bill asked Josef Matt, the hotel director, if he remembers Rick from Royal Viking (Rick is Todd's partner) and he does. He seemed to perk up, so we'll just wait and see if he contacts us again. They served complimentary cocktails and hors d'oevres (which were never offered to us, by the way). It seems like some of the staff are brand new and don't have a clue and others "who "get it" and must have come from the Harmony. The cocktail waitress, Marte, we had earlier today knows what she's doing. She seems fun, too.
There were some gorgeous gowns on the women tonight and more tuxedos than we've ever seen on any ship. Probably 95% of the men were wearing a tux. The passengers are fairly old, but are a higher class by far than on HAL.
We were seated at at our regular table in the dining room for the first time. It's a table for 2 as we already knew. It's right next to the waiter's service counter, so that's a bit of a drag, but we probably won't complain. Our waiter is English and very proper so far. The dining room is only about 60% filled, but since many people are seasick we don't have a good idea of how full the ship really is. We doubt it is over 70% capacity, if that.
Click for the Captain's Gala Welcome menu. We both had the fruit appetizer made up of unusual tropical fruits, a couple we didn't recognize, and one we didn't eat because it looked disgusting. The pineapple was turning black and one of the raspberries was moldy. Dave had the corn bisque soup which was creamy with some corn kernels in it; very good. Bill had the clear oxtail soup, which was as expected. Bill's salad was the usual green salad, but he asked for French dressing and got what looked like a creamy Italian. We think the waiters don't know yet what the food is supposed to look like, so they guess what the dressing are. Bill had Mahi Mahi that was very good. Dave had Chateaubriand that was exceptional. The choices are much more limited than on the HAL ships. So far though, everything has been exceptionally delicious, some of the best food we have ever eaten.
Tonight's show was supposed to be a big production called "Cole", but it was postponed because of the rough seas. In our opinion, it is all that rough, but whatever. So, they had a not-funny comedian who did material that only an 80-year-old might like, and a ventriloquist who was absolutely ghastly.
It rained all day, sometimes very hard. Many of the windows in the public corridors are leaking and running rusty water onto the brand-new carpeting. Towels are stuffed in the cracks but they are still leaking, so it must be faulty installation.
Tonight in the room they left chocolate dipped strawberries as a good night snack. We also received the shore excursion tickets for Sunday in Bermuda. The ship is supposed to arrive in Bermuda at noon tomorrow.
Saturday, May 6 - Bermuda
It's a beautiful day...low 70's, not humid, and partly cloudy. The customs officials from Bermuda literally sealed up the shops with masking tape and plastic ties to insure they don't open while in port. Does that ever happen? We highly doubt it.
We overslept, so missed breakfast. Instead we went to lunch in the dining room for the first time. The Maitre d' was thrilled to see us and took us to a table for two by the window. Dave had a fruit cup, chicken broth with a won ton in it, and linguini with a pesto sauce that was incredible. Bill had a Caesar salad with chicken on top and a sliced steak sandwich that was very good, as everything in the dining room has been so far. Dessert was orange "sherbet" (really a sorbet, but great anyway). The service was very friendly and seems to be getting more so everyday, although we have more fun with the head waiter and the other waiters than with our own.
We went ashore to take the ferry across the bay to Hamilton. The ferry was absolutely like new. Everything we have seen so far in Bermuda is immaculate and very British...proper and polite. The shop keepers are very friendly, helpful, and sophisticated. The stores and streets are clean and look freshly scrubbed and painted. Obviously the standard of living is quite high. We walked around the town for a while, did some shopping, etc., then went back to the ship.
We were somewhat hungry, but the Bistro was out of pastries already even though it was still supposed to be open for another half hour. That's a pet peeve of ours. If you are open then everything should be fully stocked.
Walked around the virtually deserted ship until about an hour before dinner, changed clothes (casual night) and went to dinner.
Click to view the Dinner Menu. Our head waiter, Mario, joked with us about not having any food in front of us every time he walks by. This is his running joke now...great service, but you never get any actual food. Dave had a chills rellenos appetizer that was fantastic. It consisted of three small deep-fried chilies, each filled with a different cheese, light as air and crisp on the outside with fresh salsa on the side. Soup was gazpacho blanco...sour cream base with chilies, cucumber, and chives. It was a little too heavy on the sour cream and chilies, but good nonetheless. Both of us had the sweet and sour pork entree. Crispy-fried pork in a subtle sauce with the usual vegetables and rice...outstanding! Dessert was ice cream with chocolate sauce and a plate of cookies (which were OK, but not great).
Tonight is the big production show, "Cole" that was supposed to be performed last night. They handed out programs with the performers' credits, etc. We expected it to be terrible, but it turned out to be the best show we've ever seen on a ship. It actually lives up to the hype cruise ships always give for their entertainment...a Las Vegas-type revue. It is a lavish production featuring gorgeous and numerous costumes, including some flashy Vegas-showgirl outfits with feathers and such. Obviously no expense was spared. There are several large set pieces such as lighted C-O-L-E letters that move around, bicycles, etc. It received a standing ovation, but some of the performers really are pretty weak; especially the Russian guy that obviously doesn't sing and doesn't lip-synch the words correctly. He is very distracting.
Off to bed early because we have to get up at 7:OOAM for a tour tomorrow.
Sunday, May 7 - Bermuda
We went to the dining room for breakfast which was truly terrible. Soggy, cold waffles with fruit (mostly pineapple) and cold stale pastries. Apparently you just can't get good waffles on a ship.
We took a bus tour of Bermuda today. The bus was pristine and the driver was informative and nice. The first stop was at an aquarium and "zoo", with the term zoo being a major stretch of the imagination. The aquarium part was OK. The "zoo" had a few stunning birds; parrots, etc.; and some cute ferrets or something similar, and lots of flamingos, but that's it.
After that thrilling adventure we were driven around the island, stopping along the way at the Crystal Caves. The caves were beautiful with blue water at the bottom that looked bottomless. Guests walk across a pontoon bridge through the cave full of water.
The next stop was the old town of St. George's where we had a nice buffet lunch at a table with some really strange people. One woman has been cruising non-stop for almost 20 years. We can see why, she's VERY odd! Her family probably pays for her cruises just to get rid of her. After lunch we walked around the little square and out to a replica of an old ship. Most of the shops are closed because it is Sunday.
Our next stop was at a perfume "factory". It was cute, but quite small and the "tour" was a joke. It was obviously concocted to sell their perfumes and nothing more. But, the gardens were pretty and we had the opportunity to chat with the Linda, the shore excursion escort. She said she works on the ship for 4 months, then 2 months off, for a year contract. So, the staff doesn't freak out like they often do on other cruise lines. Linda said she can barely tolerate the four months, but she's been doing this for 3 years so it can't be too bad.
The island looks fairly prosperous. Some of the outlying areas aren't as fancy as around Hamilton, but they don't look deteriorated like other Caribbean islands and Mexico. Homeowners have to collect their own drinking water from the rain runoff from the roof, hence the reason all of the roofs are whitewashed slate. The lime in the whitewash serves to help purify the water, or so we're told. The walls are plaster in various light pastels, mostly pink, that look serene among the lush vegetation on the hillsides.
The ocean water is a gorgeous turquoise blue with the famous pink sand beaches. The sand is pink because the Parrot Fish nibble the coral into small bits. The driver stopped the bus along the road so we could watch the fish biting at the rocks.
Our stewardess keeps forgetting to leave clean towels when she takes the old ones in the morning. Our toilet isn't flushing reliably today either. This morning it flushed by itself when Dave was sitting on it! It is not working at all this afternoon.
We went outside and watched the ship sail out of Bermuda. It was fun because the locals were having a boat show right at the dock area and there were throngs of natives with their kids around looking at the ship. People started honking their horns as we pulled out until a woman on the dock told them to stop (which they did).
We made reservations for Prego tomorrow night and Jade Garden on Thursday. The reservation system is stupid. You have to go in person between 10:30 & 11:30AM or 5:00 & 6:OOPM to Prego and ask for Shaun the maitre d'. He then rummages through his books and makes reservations for you. Apparently you can make as many reservations as you want. He gives you an appointment card for each restaurant. It seems too complicated to us. There must be an easier way to handle it.
We napped until right before dinner. We learned that all of the toilets weren't working in our area earlier today, but supposedly they are fixed now. The stewardess was suitably upset that she had forgotten to leave clean towels when we asked for some.
The dining room was particularly empty tonight. Mario said it is always like that because the dining room seats 500, but because of the alternative dining rooms there are usually no more than 300 at each seating. Also, Mark (our waiter) told us that there are only 650 passengers on board right now. Linda had already told us about that and said it will stay about the same when the passengers change in Ft. Lauderdale.
Mark said the storms during the crossing were very scary. He wasn't sure the ship could take it because it is brand new and untested, but it didn't seem to bother the passengers at all. Most of them thought it was fun, but he was terrified. There were 600 people on board for the shakedown, all signed up on the Harmony.
Click for Bistro Dinner Menu. Dinner was good again...nothing special though. The French onion soup was too sweet with not enough cheese on it. The appetizer, chicken with pesto was boring. The entree of broiled chicken breast was the exceptional crispy-skinned version with a different sauce. Dessert was a Grand Marnier soufflé that was OK, but not sweet enough to suit us. Mark has finally loosened up, particularly after Bill mentioned the AmFAR benefit. Now he's quite friendly.
The show was a classical concert with a pianist and a quartet. They were very good, but it was too sedate and a lot of people left, at inappropriate times, of course. The stage looked nice with huge fresh flower bouquets in silver stands on each side. They really seem to go all out for the production values.
We visited with Mark at the late night snack buffet in the lobby. They serve a nice, but not over done, selection of sandwiches, snacks, and desserts. The problem is that you have to take your plate and go eat in the dining room because there are no napkins or utensils out on the tables. It would be a nice alternative to be able to grab something to take back to your stateroom, but the service isn't set up to handle that option. The serving tables are out in front of the waterfall and they expect you to take the food into the dining room and sit at a table. Josef walked by and stood around talking with some other people for awhile, but we don't think he recognized Bill from the other night. We'll have to go up to him some other time and break the ice again.
Smooth sailing so far tonight.
Monday, May 8 - At Sea
Nice day out today; not too hot or humid...yet.
We missed breakfast, so we waited until noon for the Mediterranean Buffet by the Neptune Pool. It was a relatively nice buffet, but it fell short of similar functions on the mainstream ships. This took the place of the Lido lunch. The food was mediocre to terrible and it was unsettling eating foods that were sitting in the sun for an hour.
After lunch we sat around by the pool people-watching. No comment. The Seahorse Pool is filled with salt water, there is dried salt spray all over the furniture that gets on your clothes. Maybe they will figure out eventually that the furniture needs to be rinsed off every day, but so far that isn't happening. The furniture is nice, regular patio furniture with plastic straps plus a teal-colored pad on the chaises and chairs. The tables have a solid top that resembles Corian.
We attended a hilarious lecture by an Francis Weaver who writes newspaper columns. It was titled, "There are parts of me I haven't used yet". Her thrust is to help widows get on with their lives just like she did after her husband passed away. It was hilarious when she explained how to get rid of all those photos that everyone has lying around that aren't good enough to put in an album, but can't bring yourself to throw away. She said to put one in everything you mail out. Then she said she figured she'd see lots of people on the cruise, so she handed out pictures to everyone in the audience. It was VERY funny. Afterwards, we bought four of her books to give as gifts.
We booked the basic city tours for Tortola, St. Thomas and Nassau. Linda tried to coax us into some of the more adventurous stuff, but we declined. She confirmed our suspicion that Crystal is offering the complimentary excursion and lunch in Ft. Lauderdale to get everyone off the ship that day. There is some sort of elaborate press luncheon that day in the dining room and there will be travel agents touring the ship, as well. Linda said she'd like to meet us for drinks sometime. Apparently our sympathetic attitude endeared us to her.
There is a creepy reporter guy who seems go everywhere we do. There are so many reporters, photographers and lecturers we can't keep track of who's who. We believe some of the staff thinks we are part of the contingent of reporters because we are younger than the usual demographic.
Our dinner tonight was in Prego, but click to view the dining room Dinner Menu. Prego is OK, but nothing to write home about. The service was a bit pretentious, but fairly friendly. The maitre d' kept asking if everything was OK, which became an annoyance after the second time. There was basically nothing wrong with it, but the dining room is more appealing to us for now because most of the food is outstanding. The food in Prego is basic Italian stuff, the usual appetizers, salad, minestrone soup (we've had better), pasta course (nothing special), and entree. Dave had some sort of chicken breast that was served on a bed or sautéed spinach. It was good, but had the bones in it which is annoying when the chicken is in a sauce. Bill had the beef and it was very good also, but nothing spectacular. Dessert was Tiramisu, again OK, but nothing special. The room is pretty, but seems a little cold and dark.
Tonight's entertainment was the professional dance couple; they're were more entertaining than the first night, but basically, who cares about watching a couple ballroom dance? Next was a magician who was very good technically, but he wasn't very entertaining or amusing, although not for lack of trying. His illusions were all things we have all seen a million times. They were done very well, but without any special flair.
Then, the supposed finale wasthe perky Social Hostess, who had "made a career in the Broadway theatre". Yeah right, maybe a dinner show version. She was nearly unbearable. People got up and left several times during her show. She drove out at least half of the audience. Her act wouldn't have been half bad if she wasn't so sickly sweet. She stumbled over a self-righteous speech about VE-day and dedicated her song to "our fighting men", then sang, "Impossible Dream" (badly). It was pathetic.
We stopped to wave down at Mark from the balcony around the lobby and he made us come down and tell him about Prego. He said that some of his other guests hadn't liked it either. The Late Night Snack buffet is always the same. It's adequate, but just like everything else, there's little variety. It's set up just like at a hotel where you may stay for a few days and move on, but for 3-4 weeks it's going to get really boring. No wonder so few guests partake in it.
The Crystal Plaza is nicely decorated with flags for VE-day. They must have quite a collection of decor for all of these situations. There was an Italian mural put up for the deck buffet today, too, for example.
Some guests in the elevator asked us how we liked the show. We said it was OK to be polite, but they immediately knew we didn't like it. They said it started out OK, but then Miss Perky-Face came on, so at least we know we aren't the only ones who weren't sucked in! Some people had actually given her a standing ovation... no accounting for taste (No kidding, she really was TERRIBLE!!!).
Tuesday, May 9 - At Sea
We didn't do anything much today. Slept late and went to lunch in the dining room. The meal was exceptional, as usual. The Maitre d', Josef, was particularly nice to us today.
After lunch we sat by the Neptune Pool and just watched people. Eventually we had a hot dog and some ice cream, then walked around for a while just checking things out.
Click to view tonight's Dinner Menu. Dinner was good, of course. Beef...crispy on the outside, medium on the inside, perfect, couldn't be better. Josef, the Maitre d', chatted for quite a while about L.A. He's being extremely nice to us, so is Mario. We cashed in our certificate for a free bottle of wine and polished it off. Needless to say, we were pretty happy by the end of the meal.
The show tonight was "The Best of Broadway" which was outstanding. Crystal obviously spares no expense on costumes and sets . The cast overall is relatively talented, but a few are somewhat lacking to the point of being a distraction. The strange Russian dancer wasn't in this show...a plus. It's interesting that they include video clips on screens at the sides of the stage to enhance the performance. A nice touch.
Bill took some info Mark wanted down to him at the buffet. Mark said Marco (our waiter from this afternoon) was asking him all about us. We're finally breaking the ice around here.
Wednesday, May 10 - Tortola
We arose early to go on tour today. Breakfast in the Lido was barely edible, par for the course.
The tour was in an open-air truck, a pickup to be exact, fitted with seats for 8 people. Four of the people on tour with us never shut up, a couple from Hawaii was quite nice. They were thrilled that we thought the other people were obnoxious, so we got along great. One guy is travelling with his mother complete with the plaid shorts, brown shoes and black socks. Oh so stylish!
The island looks pretty much like Mexico. Nothing exceptional. If they hadn't forced us to spend an hour in a little commercial area that looked like Catalina on a bad day, the tour would have lasted 2 hours instead of a very long 3. We were dusty and tired by the end of it.
After seeing the "town" we decided to go directly back to the ship. Went to the bridge "tour" to kill some time. Basically they just opened up the door to the bridge and anyone who wanted to walk in and look around could do so.
We had lunch at the Trident Grill and then sat by the pool watching people be ridiculous again. Later we walked around the Sun Deck where a the tall blond guy from the L.A. office looked eager to start a conversation, but he was playing paddle tennis at the time so just briefly chatted with us.
Eventually we figured out that we had to nap until dinner because we were falling asleep sitting up.
Before dinner we stopped by the Crystal Cove for drinks. The piano player winked at us and kept looking around. The tall blond guy from this afternoon and the creepy reporter guy came and sat near us. It turned out the blond is the entertainment director for Crystal. After everyone else in his party left he came up and introduced himself and chatted for a while. He wanted to know what brought us to a Crystal cruise, etc. He asked in a round about way, so Dave said, "In other words, what the hell are you guys doing here?", which was exactly what he meant! He wants to meet later for drinks and talk more. He claims the reporter guy is a "great guy", but he still gives us the creeps.
Click to view tonight's Dinner Menu. Dinner was excellent again. The red snapper was good with a crispy outside. It was very fresh and didn't taste at all fishy. Mario prepared crepes suzette for dessert. We're not enamored of the flambé desserts, but we accepted it to be polite.
Tonight's entertainment was a couple from the Bolshoi Ballet and the classical pianist we saw before. We expected it to be awful, but it turned out to be very pleasant evening, although it didn't warrant the standing ovation it received.
We stood around the atrium balcony for a while, then back to the cabin. We have another early call tomorrow for a tour in St. Thomas.
As we were getting ready for bed the cabin lights went out. We complained at the front desk earlier today about it being too hot in the room, but so far nothing has improved in that regard.
Thursday, May 11 - St. Thomas
Another God-awful breakfast in the Lido to fortify us before setting out on the basic tour of St. Thomas this morning.
The tour first stopped at Coral World, a small marine park with an nice reef aquarium, exotic birds, and a reef observatory that is built out in the bay. It was nice and worth the stop. People on the bus started complaining right away that it is an hour stop. Of course, this was before they even knew what it is. An hour was plenty, but not too long.
The drive continued around the island. The transportation is better here than on Tortola; still open-air, but cleaner and nicer. Overall the island is junky and not very interesting. Once you've seen one of these Caribbean islands and you've seen 'em all.
Our next stop was at a "Caribbean Great House". Basically it is a really nice house that was destroyed and re-built after hurricane Hugo. It looked like model home, there was nothing historic about it. It sported a nice "botanic" garden, but no plants we don't have in California.
Back on board we lunched on the ship at the grill, then back ashore to visit the shopping area by the ship to check out the "incredible bargains". Yeah, right. It was nothing more than the usual tourist traps, t-shirts and jewelry being sold in the same shop, Indian shop keepers, angry/rude/pregnant salesclerks. We can't believe anyone would find this to be spectacular shopping and the prices were far from a bargain. The downtown area didn't look much better when we drove through it, so we didn't even bother to go there.
Again back on board, we lounged around by the pool for a while and then watched the ship sail out from the Sun Deck. We passed the Dolphin Sea Breeze, a very old steamship you couldn't pay us enough to travel on.
We napped until dinner at Jade Garden.
Click for the dining room 50's Menu. When we arrived at Jade Garden, the maitre d' couldn't find a reservation for us, but he didn't say anything and seated anyway without a fuss. The appetizers and soup were terrible, barely edible. The atmosphere is dreadful, too much noise and it wasn't even half full. The entrees were OK, but just the basic Chinese fare, nothing special or particularly interesting. The maitre d' asked how it was and we told him. He claimed they are getting carpeting in L.A. to help with the noise. He also acknowledged that they are having trouble bringing the food up to par. The chef is from Hong Kong and his assistant from Shanghai, but he can't seem to get it up to Crystal's standard. We'd be happy if the food was up to fast food take-out Chinese food standards, let alone Crystal's.
Tonight is 50's night, so all the waiters and cocktail servers are in 50's costumes. We're sure they must hate it, but the get-ups are very cute and cleverly designed.
The show was another extravaganza, "Rock Around the Clock", with lavish sets, costumes and big hair.
It seems like Crystal brought on a new batch of reporters and corporate people today. They are very annoying. Loud, talking all the time, hogging the front row and smoking in the corridors. We'll have to complain about this when the time comes. We understand the need to kiss up somewhat, but they are not being very subtle about it. The Crystal office people are the biggest slobs of anyone on the ship, which is completely unacceptable in our opinion. These people should be setting an example of proper etiquette, not making a mockery of it.
We talked to Mark at the buffet for a few minutes. He loves working here and claims almost everyone feels the same way. That's the reason everyone is so nice all the time, they genuinely like being here. It does seem to show because everyone is very gracious.
We received a note from the front desk apologizing for the air conditioning problem and hoping we didn't find it too inconvenient.
Friday, May 12 - At Sea
This afternoon the Gala Buffet was held in the Crystal Plaza. It's a nice idea to have the lavish buffet in the afternoon for lunch instead of the late night so more people will actually eat it instead of just look at it. There was a lot of food, but nothing really outstanding. It looked pretty though. Beautifully displayed. The dessert selection was plentiful and everything we tried was tasty.
Mark talked more about himself at lunch and the goings on among the crew. It sure seems to us as though all the staff does in there off time is smoke and drink. He said we have to ask Josef when we come on in August assign us to one of his tables again.
After lunch we sat out by the Neptune Pool again, then had hot dogs and ice cream for a late lunch. It's VERY hot and starting to get fairly humid as well. It still isn't terribly unpleasant, but it's getting there.
A disgusting reporter/photographer was standing staring intently at Dave while he was reading Conde Naste Traveler magazine. The guy kept staring until Dave finally said hello to him. Then he asked if he could see the cover of the magazine because they usually had something interesting on it. It was a strange interaction to say the least. There are a lot of gross, white- & euro-trash photographers and reporters on now. In spite of Mark saying no one boarded in St. Thomas, we just don't believe it. There are a lot of gross people on here who we've never seen before today.
Click to view the Captain's Gala Farewell Menu. Tonight's dinner is the Captain's Gala Farewell for the guests leaving in Fort Lauderdale, so they did the Baked Alaska parade after dinner. It's not very exciting and neither was the Baked Alaska. It was poor by anyone's standard. The menu choices tonight were very limited. The soup we ordered was a weird chicken consommé with puff pastry sealing the top that smelled like a Swanson chicken pot pie. It was good though. We had the beef Wellington for our main course. The meat was good, but Dave didn't like the stuffing because it tasted sort of like it had liver in it which didn't occur to him when he ordered it. Liver is one of the few things he won't eat on a bet and he can detect the tiniest spec of it if it exists in a dish.
Bill off-handedly mentioned to Josef that we would like Mark for our waiter, along with a table for two, for the Alaska cruise. Josef wrote it all down and said he'd be happy to see to it and that he'd take care of it. If he does I'd say that's good service!
Tonight's show was the same three variety entertainers we didn't like before: The dance couple (boring), the magician (good, but trite), and the ventriloquist (too long, boring and an attempt at sentimentality that was waaaaayyyy too long).
After the show we were standing on the balcony waving to Mark and Pete came up. He introduced us to the reporter guy. Turns out he's the person who assigns the ratings for cruise ships and who gives us major creeps. He's VERY strange. Unfortunately, Pete asked us to have dinner with them tomorrow night. He said the other day that reporter guy is a great person, but we're not sure how observant he can be when he's are so busy brown-nosing him! The ass-kissing that's been going on the past few days has really been out of control. There are press people everywhere with someone from Crystal kowtowing close behind. They are usually smoking in the corridors, dressing like slobs, laughing and talking loudly all through dinner, and generally making sure the press gets special treatment at the expense of all the paying passengers. Again, we understand the need for garnering publicity, but it shouldn't be at the expense of the passengers who paid to be here.
Saturday, May 13 - At Sea
Same stuff during the day, nothing to report.
Pete cancelled our dinner date for tonight...thank God! They are premiering a new show tonight, "A Symphony of Nations", that is his first production, so he had to attend the rehearsal through dinner.
Click for the Dinner Menu. We have nothing to report regarding dinner except to say that it was very good, as usual.
Well, the only way to describe the new show is "lavish". Other than that it was really an odd mixture. There would be a few serious ethnic songs in the native language, then suddenly a funny Egyptian theme, then back to the serious stuff. Very strange overall. The costumes were beautiful, lots of nice scenery and lighting effects, an abundance of fog, of course. But, it just proves that lavish production values don't make for a good show. Of course, the vast majority of the audience loved it.
Pete had invited us to the cast party after the show, but we didn't want to have to lie about how wonderful the show was so we hustled out of there ASAP after the show was over.
Sunday, May 14 - Bahamas
Another early tour today. The basic Nassau city tour in the usual too-hot, run down bus through a depressed city that looks like it was quite nice before independence. It essentially looked like Mexico on a bad day. Locals were constantly asking for tips. All of the shops are closed on Sundays, so there's nothing to do in town. We just went to the dock and called everyone at home we could think of.
It appears that most of the press people have finally left the ship, but we won't know for sure until tomorrow.
Click for the Dinner Menu. Tonight's dinner was one open seating from 7-9PM. About 180 people disembarked in Nassau, so the ship is very empty now.
There was a sort of make-shift show tonight, so we went to listen to Michael play the piano in the Crystal Cove. He's been staring us down since we got on the ship. He chatted with us vaguely for a while before he was finished and had to leave.
Monday, May 15 - Fort Lauderdale, FL
This is the day Crystal practically insisted that all intransit guests take the complimentary tour to get rid of us for the day. The tour was late leaving because they couldn't find two passengers who were supposed to disembark here. Eventually, the ship was cleared and they quickly hustled us onto busses. There were hordes of travel agents and reporters jammed into the terminal waiting to board the ship.
We drove around for about an hour killing time while being shown various areas around Miami. We passed the cruise ship docks in Miami where the brand new Legend of the Seas was docked. It had crossed during the same terrible storms as Crystal Symphony and was badly damaged. It lost one of its props and could only make 8 knots, so it was 6 days late getting here. We were also told that it wasn't finished when it left the shipyard so they are frantically trying to finish it before the maiden voyage tomorrow. There was a barge next to it and some welding going on. It looked like there was construction going on all around the Promenade deck.
We finally arrived at Villa Vizcaya after the endless drive-by tour of Miami. It is sort of like a mini Hearst Castle. It's an Italian-style villa that was reassembled here in the early 1900's by the owner of International Harvester as his winter home. There were gorgeous gardens full of fountains and sculptures. The house was nice too, not as heavy handed as Hearst Castle, but still a bit dark. Guests from the ship received a guided tour, which was nice. Normally visitors walk around on their own.
Next stop, after a ride through Coconut Grove and environs, was the Biltmore Hotel for an "elegant lunch" that was anything but. It was held in a huge, although stunning, banquet hall. The food was edible, but nothing special. Some people at our table were on the crossing with the bad weather. They said the rough seas lasted for two whole weeks! They learned when to pick up the glasses on the table during dinner to prevent them from tipping over. The captain had to turn the ship into the waves so the stabilizers would work and would make announcements warning everyone to hold on. Then he'd turn ship and all the drawers in the dining room would slide out, dishes would crash to the floor, etc. They said people either thought it was kind of fun or they were terrified.
The windows broke in the Palm Court when an enormous wave crashed over the top of the ship and flexed it too much. Several were broken, but fixed by the time we boarded. Only one is still broken now as far as we know. After lunch we explored the hotel and grounds then back on the bus for the 40 minute ride back to the ship.
This adventure continues with Grand Maiden Voyage - Part 2.
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