Itinerary - Click links to jump to specific dates.
Part 1 - Introduction & London Pre-Cruise
Tuesday, 4/21 - Depart Los Angeles via British Airways - 5:40 PM
Wednesday, 4/22 - Arrive London, England - 12:00 PM
Thursday, 4/23 - London, England
Friday, 4/24 - London, England
Saturday, 4/25 - London, England - Embark Crystal Symphony
Part 2 - South to the Sun - London to Rome
Part 3 - Aegean Romance - Rome to Athens
Part 3 - Mediterranean Magic - Athens to Barcelona
This blog was created before the days of easy posting directly to the internet. Even before the advent of computer connections on cruises, we would keep a log of our travel adventures. These Mediterranean 1998 blogs are taken directly from those written diaries. They are not as detailed as our current blogs, but they still give you an idea of what happened during those pre-internet days. Pictures for this adventure are posted in the Photo Gallery.
Tuesday, 4/21 - Depart Los Angeles via British Airways - 5:40 PM
Our drive to the airport was uneventful and timely. As usual for us no matter where we go, the terminal was under construction, but this didn’t affect us. The line for check-in at British Airways was about 50 feet long past the queue area, but we quickly found a special line for Club World passengers that had no line at all. The agent was appalled that we were cruising for over a month.
We were given “invitations” to British Airways Club World Lounge. Although pleasant, the room was much too small. If every passenger eligible for access to this lounge had taken advantage of it, there would not be nearly enough seating. The lounge had a reasonable selection of self-service snacks and drinks, plus a place to store luggage. Strangely, the restrooms were down the hall in a corridor common to all of the airline lounges.
The flight boarded on time with no problems. Our seats were in the 747's upstairs Club World cabin. The highly touted “Cradle Seats” were comfortable, but hardly revolutionary as they would have you believe. They adjusted in a variety of ways, but the manual manipulation of the positions was cumbersome. Each seat had its own LCD video screen with four movie channels plus several television options, documentaries, news and comedy. There was a gooseneck, dimmable reading light in addition to the more common overhead light. Bill’s reading light didn’t work, however. Large storage bins lined the area below the windows in addition to somewhat small overhead bins. A flight attendant stored our large carryon bags in a closet. Contrary to the information given to our travel agent, the aircraft was not equipped with the Empower system for laptop computers.
Seated in front of us was an older couple who began complaining and bickering between themselves almost as soon as they sat down. Actually the bitching began before they sat down when the man bumped his head on the open storage bin and yelled, “Shit!” at the top of his lungs. This prompted his wife to admonish him, which, of course, prompted additional bickering. They managed to spill their wine all over themselves twice during the flight, drop medications under the seat cushions, lose their reading material as it slid down the shelf during takeoff, etc.
Meal service was sparse for such a lengthy flight. Dinner was served almost immediately after takeoff. The flavor and variety of choices was acceptable, but the portions were inadequate. British Airways advertises a concept called “Raid the Larder” where passengers may pick up snacks from the galley at any time. This was a joke by anyone’s standards. The “savories and sweets” consisted of vending machine packages of chips, microscopic brownies, crackers, etc. Click to view the Dinner and Breakfast menus.
All in all, the flight was pleasant and the time went by reasonably fast. Arrival was on time and we proceeded to the Customs area to have our passports checked. We were surprised at the large variety of nationalities represented in the long line. An Islamic-looking family was scrutinized for quite a while before finally being admitted.
There was a slight delay claiming the baggage because of a breakdown in the baggage carousel. Rosanna Arquette was waiting for her luggage, as well. Once the breakdown was corrected, we picked up our luggage and dragged it out past the Customs inspectors. Immediately past this area a Crystal representative rushed over asking if there had been a problem. She was afraid she had missed us. We were given over to a driver who took our luggage and escorted us to a waiting car for the one-hour drive into London.
Wednesday, 4/22 - Arrive London, England - 12:00 PM = Transfer to Landmark Hotel
Don't miss landmarks like Big Ben, the Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral and the Globe Theatre. Spend a day at the Tate Modern or shopping along Portobello Road in Notting Hill. See the Cabinet War Rooms that housed Winston Churchill's WWII bunker and watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Need a break? Have a pint in a pub or visit a famous London tea room.
Our driver was entertaining and informative, pointing out different buildings and explaining why some were modern while houses on the other side of the street were old. Basically, anything modern had replaced structures destroyed by bombing during the war. We passed row upon row of “Upstairs, Downstairs” houses, now sadly converted to seedy apartments and hotels.
Upon arrival at the hotel, our luggage was taken and we were ushered into a lovely marble foyer where Vivian, the Crystal representative, was waiting. Our room wasn’t ready yet so we were told to wait in a small area off to the side where tables had been set up with plates of cookies. A waiter offered free coffee, tea and soft drinks.
An older couple already seated there recognized us. At first we couldn’t place them, but eventually we realized they were Jean and Max, the couple we had chatted with at the Captain’s Quarters Cocktail Party on our previous cruise.
Barry, the Shore Excursion Manager during the World Cruise, and now the director of land programs, immediately recognized us and came over to chat briefly. He is on a completely different wavelength as far as sightseeing interests go, so he wasn’t particularly helpful in that regard. Vivian turned out to be quite funny and informative.
The Landmark Hotel was originally a railroad hotel and is still connected by a covered, wrought iron canopy to the Marylebone train and Underground station. Although built in the 1800’s, only the façade is original. The interior was rebuilt in 1995 after the structure had been used as the headquarters for British Rail. Apparently only the outer rooms are still original. All of the corridors, rooms and interior public areas appear to be new. The dining room and ballrooms that line the outer walls still sport their original chandeliers and ornate plaster ceilings, but also appear like new. We have never seen such spotless chandeliers anywhere!
Our room was large enough to be an apartment. Two king beds, full size sofa, desk with two chairs, foyer, doorbell, and enormous marble bathroom with separate toilet room, tub and marble shower stall. The only complaint about the bathroom was the low water pressure in the shower and the uneven hot water. The room had two large French door windows overlooking a beautiful glass-canopied courtyard containing the Winter Garden restaurant.
By now it was about 4:00pm, so we planned to take a nap and venture out for dinner later. However, neither of us was awake enough to get up when the alarm went off and we slept soundly until about 2:00am.
Thursday, 4/23 - London, England - Landmark Hotel
We lounged around in the plush surroundings of our room until breakfast time. After a lukewarm shower, we went down to the Dining Room for our complimentary English Breakfast. The Dining Room was extremely ornate and sophisticated. Most of the men were dressed in jacket and tie, although this was probably due more to the business conference in the hotel than to local custom. The room was comfortably furnished with plush chairs and sofas, generously spaced. Spotlessly clean, sparkling chandeliers hung overhead.
Our huge breakfast consisted of a pitcher of orange juice, tea or coffee, two eggs any style, two pastries each, toast, a large sausage, English bacon, black pudding (tasty, but we didn’t want to know what was in it), potato scone, sautéed mushrooms, and a grilled tomato. Everything was very tasty and the portions were enourmous. The price was ₤18.00 each, but we were only liable for the gratuity.
Vivian laid out plans for the day to the Tower of London. Contrary to everything we had read in Crystal literature, she suggested we take the Tube everywhere we wanted to go. After some initial confusion, we figured out how the system worked and got around the city with no problems whatsoever. The cost was ₤3.50 for the entire day in zones 1 and 2 which covered everything in the center of the city a tourist would likely visit. The trains were fast and clean, but with a rocky ride.
The weather was windy, cool and rainy most of the day. This didn’t really affect us much, so we didn’t mind.
The Tower of London was fairly crowded, but not unpleasantly so. We joined one of the free Yeoman of the Guard tours inside the entrance. The guard was amusing and surprisingly attractive considering the other options we saw. They live and work in the Tower forever once they are given the job. The tour took about an hour and covered the more grisly aspects of the activities at the tower, ending in the chapel where all of the headless bodies were buried (the heads were put on stakes and displayed on London Bridge until they rotted and fell in the river).
Next we visited the display of the Crown Jewels. Although not crowded and well displayed, we were disappointed in the small collection. We felt that the jewels we saw displayed in Denmark were far more impressive.
Several hours were spent exploring around the various towers and ancient buildings. It started to rain toward the end of our visit so we paused for a Coke and a muffin before venturing out toward the Tower Bridge nearby.
The Tower Bridge housed a new display called the “Tower Bridge Experience” that consisted of an audio-visual presentation featuring a few animatronic performers who explained the construction of the bridge and its history. A friendly elevator operator ushered us in quickly ahead of a large group of French school children. Basically, we had the place to ourselves, which was very nice.
The tour continued with a walk across the glass-enclosed upper walkway for panoramic views of the city. From there we took the stairs down the opposite tower to the engine rooms formerly used to raise and lower the bridge with steam and hydraulic power. After finishing our tour of the bridge we walked back across with the intention of visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral. Unfortunately, we weren’t very successful at finding it in a timely manner. It was closed by the time we got there shortly after 4:00pm.
We took the Tube back to the hotel. Having the station connected to the hotel turned out to be a very nice convenience. We purchased tickets for the musical "Les Miserables" via that internet before we left home. Barry informed us that the theater crowd wasn’t dressy here either. We chatted with Vivian for a while about arranging a private transfer to Dover rather than the complimentary tour/transfer. She said we should ask the Concierge for information about booking a private car to Dover because she knows the Crystal price is much higher. We spoke to the Concierge about it and he promised to let us know the price and details later.
Vivian said we would probably have to take the Tube back toward Piccadilly if we wanted to find a casual place for dinner. Rather than make the effort, we just went down to the Winter Garden in the hotel. Everyone in the hotel was quite dressy, but we didn’t feel out of place in our upscale casual wear. The food was good, but not memorable. The setting couldn’t have been any lovelier though.
We went directly to bed after dinner. A message from the Concierge was waiting. A private car would cost ₤225 including a guide, so we decided to take advantage of Crystal’s free shuttle bus from the Brewery in the afternoon that is offered to guests who fly in the day of the cruise. We will still send our luggage with the others.
Friday, 4/24 - London, England - Landmark Hotel
We were awake by 5:00am. The same complimentary English Breakfast with the same waiter. We informed Vivian that we would take the transfer from the Brewery rather than the 7½-hour tour from the hotel. We weren’t feeling particularly energetic today, probably due to jet lag.
A short stroll from the hotel brought us to the scenic Regents Park. This very elegant park is filled with a variety of gardens, statuary, fountains and stunning displays of tulips in full bloom. The extensive rose gardens must be breathtaking when in bloom. It was a pastoral scene of sweeping lawns, old ladies feeding pigeons, multi-color ducks, and some very aggressive squirrels.
After a lengthy walk around and through the park, we were both tired and ready to call it a day. Madame Toussaud’s Wax Museum was only about a block away, so we thought we would stop by on the way back to the hotel. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we rounded the corner and were confronted with a queue over two blocks long, filling the entire width of the sidewalk! Forget that idea.
Instead, we strolled down Baker Street to window shop. Unfortunately, the street was lined with mundane shops and small, uninteresting restaurants and pubs. So, we detoured down some side streets that were fronted by interesting old townhouses, mansions and luxurious old apartment buildings. We viewed our hotel from the front for the first time and were convinced that the interior must have been completely gutted during the remodeling. From the exterior one would expect a much different experience than the modern elegance presented inside.
We stopped to chat with Barry and stayed for 1½-hours. He said Crystal has eliminated the Social Hostess and instead has a Crystal Society Hostess who helps the Cruise Consultant. We all agreed that Teri Ralston probably killed the Social Hostess job. She is a wonderful person, but that job just didn't suit her. Barry also said that most of the crew would be changing here since it is the end of the World Cruise. David deHavilland came out of retirement to be the Cruise Director for the World Cruise.
Barry ranted about misinformed travel agents who told their clients things that weren’t true and then Crystal had to pick up the pieces or shoulder the blame later. He simply couldn’t stand working on board anymore, so that’s why he chose to do the shore program. He is trying to scout a port in India to replace Bombay because everyone hates it, including the crew.
He talked about the poor condition of the Cunard ships, including the Royal Viking Sun. Everyone had talked of Crystal buying it, but he said it is in such a run-down condition that it is less expensive to build a new ship than to attempt to fix up the Sun. In his opinion the Vistafjord should be scrapped. He thinks the Sea Goddess ships would make a good fit with Seabourn. He felt that the QEII should be refurbished and transferred to Holland America, but doubted that would happen.
Barry wasn’t optimistic about Crystal actually building a third ship, although he claimed the company had a very good year. The entire European season is completely sold out this year. IBM chartered the Crystal Harmony for the Summer Olympics again.
Crystal had some sort of meeting of Society members to see what they wanted. Many people complained about the poor selection of itineraries being offered and particularly that the World Cruises don’t end in the United States anymore. He said that we should mention that we feel the same way. He agreed with us that the Value Collection prices aren’t having a positive affect. They attract younger crowds who end up bored and unhappy with the Crystal experience.
We have tickets for "Les Miserables" tonight and rather than a large meal before the theater, we decided to have afternoon tea in the Winter Garden at the hotel. The array was so huge that we had to take some of it up to our room for after the theater! It consisted of eight finger sandwiches, six small cakes, six mini scones, and four French pastries for ₤15.00 each. It was the perfect meal for pre-theater.
A taxi to the theater was a mistake. Although the car was clean and pleasant, London traffic almost caused us to be late. The Tube would have taken half the time and cost ¼ as much. The area around the theater was crowded with restaurants, pubs and hoards of people, much like New York.
The Palace Theater was old and a firetrap if ever there was one. Our seats were dead center on the aisle in the Stalls (Orchestra). This rendition of "Les Miserables" wasn’t the best we have ever seen, but it was still wonderful and worth the experience. The theatergoers were even more casual than Barry had indicated. Jeans and T-shirts were the order of the day.
After the show it was impossible to engage a taxi among the throngs of people, so we just went with the flow until eventually running into an Underground station at Piccadilly Square. The ride to the hotel on the Tube cost ₤2.60 for two rather than the ₤7.20 taxi ride.
We polished off the pastries we saved from afternoon tea, called home and finished our packing.
Saturday, 4/25 - London, England - Embark Crystal Symphony - Depart 6:00 PM
We started off the morning with the same breakfast, but this time the service was very poor, the supply of orange juice skimpy and part of our toast never showed up.
We confirmed with Vivian that we needed to be at the Brewery by 2:15pm to catch the last bus to Dover at 2:30pm. Although we were running later than we planned, we took the Tube to Harrod’s just to say we had been there.
Both the Tube station and the area surrounding Harrod’s were jammed with tourists. Once past the ground floor touristy areas, the store had absolutely anything anyone could possibly want. The service staff was plentiful and helpful. We bought a glass paperweight and rushed back to the Underground station and the hotel.
At the hotel we caught a taxi to the Brewery. Although we arrived in what we thought was plenty of time, by 2:00pm, the receptionist informed us that all of the Crystal people had left. The place looked entirely deserted. As we were looking around, we ran across a Crystal representative who was leaving and she told us to run for the last bus, which we did to no avail.
Another agent at the bus area took us back inside to “sort things out”, whereupon we found Barry none too surprised to see us. He told the agent to call for a private car to take us to Dover, which was what we wanted in the first place. Unfortunately, it took another ½ hour to arrive, which prompted Barry to carry on about how we would get to the next port to board the ship if we missed it here. He also told us a story of a nightmare limousine ride he had one time in Spain.
Finally, everyone, including Barry, left to return to the hotel to check in the disembarking guests. One woman, who was off for the day, sat with us until the car arrived, which was nice.
The driver looked exactly like the Mr. Bean character from the British comedy. At one point, the ship called the car trying to locate us. Evidently they missed us when the busses checked in.
The drive to Dover was scenic and relatively pleasant until the driver started to fall asleep going 90 MPH! Visions of Princess Diana wrapped about a bridge support came to mind. Luckily engaging him in conversation woke him up enough to finish the drive to Dover in record time. A busload of passengers arrived at the same time as we did, so we’re not sure why they were so hysterical about our “late” arrival.
This adventure continues with "South to the Sun". Click the button below.
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