Itinerary - Click links to jump to specific dates.
South to the Sun - London to Rome
Saturday, 4/25 - London, England - Embark Crystal Symphony
Sunday, 4/26 - Cruising the English Channel
Monday, 4/27 - Cruising the Bay of Biscay
Tuesday, 4/28 - Lisbon, Portugal
Wednesday, 4/29 - Cruising the Strait of Gibraltar
Thursday, 4/30 - Malaga, Spain
Friday, 5/1 - Cruising the Mediterranean Sea
Saturday, 5/2 - Cannes, France
Sunday, 5/3 - Cannes, France
Monday, 5/4 - Portofino, Italy
Tuesday, 5/5 - Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy
Saturday, 4/25 - London, England - Embark Crystal Symphony - Depart 6:00 PM
A friendly port agent escorted us to the check-in area where Penny, the shop manager, signed us in. She didn’t even bother to look at Bill’s papers because, “I’ve known you guys for so long I don’t need them.” The Dover terminal was probably one of the nicest we have encountered. It was new, very classy and nicely set up to resemble those at the turn of century.
The man taking the embarkation photo recognized us immediately. We ran into Serge, the bartender who knows Jan, in the Lobby. We intrigued one of the “Cruise Staff” guys, Koh, at the gangway. In the hallway we found Anne Ramsey and Perry Dickison. Obviously Barry was incorrect when he told us that Anne was now a singer on the Harmony. She became the Crystal Society Hostess on the Symphony starting today.
Waiting in our cabin were two identical flower arrangements and two bottles of wine from the Crystal Society. Our Stewardess, Regula, seemed nice, but her English was relatively poor.
We decided to just have food from the Neptune Snack Bar rather than fight the chaos of embarkation day dinner in the dining room. The Filipino deck crew was thrilled to see us again. The ice cream guy, Arnold, spotted us from across the pool area and started waving frantically. Water from the dispenser was a disgusting brown color, so we didn’t risk drinking either the water or the adjacent iced tea.
While eating our hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches, we watched a large hovercraft race up and fling itself up a ramp and onto shore. Once positioned in front of the terminal, the rubber base of the craft deflated and gently set the vessel down for the passengers to disembark. It was quite a procedure!
Our departure was delayed slightly when some previously missing luggage turned up in the terminal. Although it was freezing out on deck, we stayed out to watch the sailing away from the White Cliffs of Dover and past the fortified seawall. There were a number of abandoned battlements on the wall as well as places to attach anti-submarine nets across the entrance to the harbor.
We had never sailed with this particular captain before. His English was much better than Capt. Brudviks’, but he rambled endlessly before eventually making his point. The captain announced that it would be very windy this evening and to stay off the outside decks as a precaution. The seas were somewhat rough already, but not anything disruptive.
Josef Widmar, the Crystal Dining Room Maitre ‘d, called to check whether we would prefer an inner table to the window location we currently had assigned. He was extremely glad to have us back and said all of the proper things one would expect.
Walking past the Bistro, Evaristo rushed over to greet us and welcome us back. Perry Dickison came up behind us at the railing. Ferenc and Tunde also recognized us immediately. We were surprised to see Tunde as she had said she didn’t intend to return after her vacation. The tall, blond “Cocktail Lady” also rushed up to say “hello”. Filipino’s we didn’t even know existed kept stopping to shake our hand.
After we had finished unpacking, we went down to the Crystal Cove and listened to Richard Berman play the Crystal Piano. He kept trying to persuade us to make requests, to no avail of course. After he finished his set, he sat with us and chatted briefly. By now we were tired and ready for bed.
Sunday, 4/26 - Cruising the English Channel
The obligatory lifeboat drill was held at 10:00am in spite of the windy and chilly weather. Our cabin location made for easy access to everything since we were just off the aft elevator lobby. It was literally five steps to the elevator from our door. We were surprised that the chime from the elevators wasn’t a nuisance. If fact, we rarely heard anything at all from the corridors.
After the boat drill we went down to the Bistro where Evaristo remembered that we like iced tea. Antonio, one of the wine stewards, was all smiles when he saw us. Perry was there, as well.
We made reservations for Prego on the first “Farewell Dinner”. Mario was thrilled to see us again. Didi was intimidated, as usual. Steve Bell, the security officer, greeted us in the hallway, as did Christopher Law, the art auctioneer.
Chris Collins served us at lunch in the dining room and automatically brought us iced tea. We filled him in on the Mark Smith news. The poor guy had just returned from vacation and was wearing a very poorly altered uniform with hanging sleeves and mismatched additions to the length of his pants. They are used to the short Europeans and Chris is taller than either of us.
Lunch was good, but not great. The consommé, usually one of their strong points, was poor. The vegetarian sweet and sour entrée was boring. A turkey cutlet with a light peppercorn sauce was very good and accompanied by interesting mashed sweet potatoes with the flavor of bananas. Headwaiters Tayfun and Mario were glad to see us again. Tayfun was enthusiastic about leaving for his vacation in Istanbul, his hometown.
After lunch we returned to the cabin and slept the entire afternoon. The ship was very rocky all day and evening which seemed to contribute to our sleepiness for some reason. The rough seas continued to worsen as the evening progressed. It was also very cold outside.
We made it down for dinner early enough to listen to Perry in the Avenue Saloon, which was virtually empty. His piano was back in the corner rather than the better location in the center of the room. Regina, the Irish bartender, remembered us from two years ago.
Our table assignment in the dining room was the same as last cruise except one table closer to the waiter’s station. Mehmet, our assistant last time, rushed over immediately. Garfield, the wine steward, did the same.
Our waiters, Nemanja from Yugoslavia, and assistant, Krysztof, from Poland, were friendly and pleasant. The menu was an exact repeat of last cruise’s first evening. The fruit appetizer was OK, the oxtail soup was poor, the salad with balsamic dressing was very good (although Bill never received his), the dinner rolls were fresh and warm—a first. The angel hair pasta with tomato sauce was light and fresh tasting. The Champagne peach sorbet between courses was too sweet and heavy on the Champagne. It was also melted by being served in a hot from the dishwasher silver dish, as usual. The Chateaubriand was exceptional. Both desserts were mediocre.
It appeared that the strolling string trio only does the center area, which was fine with us. Josef was beyond thrilled to see us again. His son was on board, maybe about five or six years old, and was cute dressed in a tuxedo with a nametag that said, “Jr. Maitre ‘d”. His wife, Pavlova (really) was also there.
We succeeded in avoiding Jacques, the Food and Beverage Manager from the nightmare cruise. Nikki and Florent were resting in the stairway after a huge meal at Jade Garden. They insisted it was fabulous and that we had to try it.
Tonight’s production show, “Some Enchanted Evening”, was so boring it was difficult to stay awake. Several people left early and the applause throughout was weak and barely polite. All of the entertainers were new as of this cruise. Both the male and female leads were weak at best. Ray Avon, the Cruise Director, tried to hype the show during his post-performance spiel, but with little success. He said Perry’s last name wrong, as usual, something we know annoys the hell out of Perry.
They moved the Midnight Snack to the Bistro, a major improvement. Many guests were partaking in it. The offering was reduced from the previous buffet, but the guests seemed to enjoy what was offered more than the fancier things from previous cruises. The only addition to the regular Bistro food was a cart with pastas.
Both of us were exhausted, we assume from the motion of the ship. The water from the bathroom sink was brown, as were all of the towels.
Monday, 4/27 - Cruising the Bay of Biscay
We had an early breakfast in the Lido. In addition to the regular selections, they had added a fresh waffle station and all eggs were now cooked to order from a separate area. The waffles were a good idea except the cooking oil spray’s odor permeates the room and makes sitting anywhere near it unpleasant. There was mixed fruit, strawberries, whipped cream and other accompaniments available.
After breakfast we went down to the Crystal Cove to visit with Ferenc. He told about surprising his family at Christmas because they thought he wouldn’t be there for another week.
We stopped by the Concierge to ask about private arrangements for Rome and she informed us, very abruptly, that we needed to speak to Shore Excursions about that. They should make up their mind whether the Concierge or Shore Excursions are going to handle such arrangements since it seems to change every cruise.
Shore Excursions was too busy to bother with at the moment. As we were walking through the lobby, Anne Ramsey, the Crystal Society Hostess, stopped us to ask if we would be willing to be honored at the Crystal Society party for our 14th cruise. She said there were four people with 14 cruises, plus others with more, so we will all be called up in a group and then taken to dinner at Prego.
We sat at Anne’s desk and chatted with her for quite a while. She had taken about six months off to attempt to work on shore, but missed being at sea too much. We made a snide remark about getting jobs on the ship and she said not to joke about that because they were always desperate for people. We told her it wasn’t a joke, but she didn’t pursue it and neither did we.
Lunch in the dining room was very good. The spicy orange chicken actually was spicy and crisp. All of the food seemed fresher and more flavorful. The cookies tasted almost homemade. Our waiter, Sabastiano, remembered us although he has only served us perhaps once or twice in two years. He said we should hire a guide and car to tour Rome as it would be too difficult to manage independently in so short a time.
We asked at Shore Excursions about private arrangements for Rome, but they would have to let us know later. He said there probably wouldn’t be any organized excursions for in-transit guests because there were so few of us this time.
After a brief chat with Ferenc, we took the laptop to the Lido and played “You Don’t Know Jack” until it was time for a nap.
We attended Perry’s cabaret show in the Starlite Club before dinner. We ran into Jean and Max on the stairs. They were envious that we were staying on for three cruises.
Dinner was superb, again. Our spinach salads were just OK and the creamy mustard dressing was incongruous. Tayfun made simple pasta of linguini, olive oil, garlic and chili flakes. The roasted pork, the same dish we served for our cruise-themed Easter party, had a good flavor, but was not very tender in comparison. The grilled salmon was excellent. The accompaniments for both dishes were interesting and nicely spiced. Desserts were nothing to write home about.
In general, the food overall seemed to be of higher quality, fresher and with more spices. Most of the dessert selections were new, but the entrées have been identical to those of previous cruises.
We sat in the Crystal Cove and listened to Richard until 10:30pm. He joined us briefly.
Jacques finally saw us and fawned over us once he realized who we were. Herbert Jaegar, the Hotel Manager, did a hilarious double take, then literally ran over to greet us. He was practically gleeful to see us again and insisted we get together for drinks sometime. We chatted briefly with Ferenc then started back to the cabin.
On the way, we ran into Perry who introduced us to Bernard, one of the dancers. Everyone seemed to be worn out from the constant motion of the ship on top of the usual jet lag. We couldn’t figure out if there was something going on between Perry and Bernard or just that Bernard is a fan.
Tuesday, 4/28 - Lisbon, Portugal - 8:00 AM - 11:00 PM
Cosmopolitan Lisbon was the center of the world's last great colonial empire. Today the city nostalgically reveres its imperial past while adapting to Portugal's role as a member of the European Economic Community. Although located on the Atlantic coast, Lisbon has the soul of a Mediterranean city with Moorish castles, pastel and white buildings, orange-tiled roofs and luminous blue skies. Set amid the hills and valleys of the northern shore of the River Tagus, it is one of the loveliest capitals in the world.
Stormy skies greeted the morning in Lisbon, with the temperature only in the 60’s. The San Francisco-esque suspension bridge directly adjacent to the pier was in the process of having a lower level added for a train track.
After a Lido breakfast we took the complimentary shuttle bus into town. Lisbon had the air of faded glory. Once glorious buildings now crumbled from neglect. There was more graffiti here than we saw in other parts of Europe. The people had a sort of dour, Soviet look about them. Their clothing was mostly in drab earthtones and uncomfortable looking fabrics. The women in general were quite unattractive and downright ugly, but many of the younger men appear to have lucked out in the appearance department. Unfortunately the good looks appear to be temporary though.
The downtown plaza, Rossio Square, where the shuttle dropped us was an unpleasant, traffic-snarled mess of construction, crowds, and beggars. Pollution billowed from every vehicle, making walking unappealing. Many of the guests aboard the shuttle got right back on and returned to the ship. From our experience with other guests on this shuttle we decided not to book any group tours during this cruise.
Evidently, the city was in the process of sprucing up for the ’98 Expo, but from the looks of things, they have a long way to go! There were two huge bronze fountains, actually working, in the plaza, but construction fencing surrounded the area between them.
We strolled down the pedestrian-only street from Rossio Square to the waterfront Praca do Comércio. The street scene was roughly picturesque, but the presence of beggars and a few unsavory characters detracted from the ambiance. The shops along the mall were a mixture of chic designer boutiques and local hole-in-the-wall places.There were a few sidewalk cafés along the way. In one of the cafés we ran across a female crewmember from the ship who called out to us. She remembered us from our last cruise when she was a trainee at the front desk. Although very friendly, she was probably better suited to her current position as a night stewardess. We chatted with her and her friend for a while. She told us that about 500 of the passengers were first-time cruisers and that almost no one had booked tours today. Hence the reason the shuttle busses were so full. We think it might be that many people were seasick until today and they simply didn’t have an opportunity to book the tours.
We continued our walk down to the wide plaza at the waterfront, through a triumphal arch, and out among a collection of sculptures of plump animals and people. Certainly a famous artist, the name of whom escapes us, produced them. A local man attempted to sell us watches from under his coat. On the way back to the shuttle stop, a young man tried to tempt us with a camera displayed in a shopping bag.
Back on the shuttle bus, we overheard a woman complaining to the guide that a pickpocket had stolen her wallet on the tram. She admitted that she should have been more aware, but she correctly pointed out that either the ship’s personnel or the guide should have proffered a warning if this was a known problem here. The guide was suitably appalled and said all of the correct things knowing full well there was nothing that could be done about it.
Once back on board it was apparent that very few guests had bothered to go ashore. The Crystal Dining Room was packed. Josef made them open a large table for us and told the headwaiter not to seat anyone else with us.
After lunch we went up to Palm Court to finish our Mother’s Day cards so they could be put in the mail before sailing tonight. Once a very pleasant room, the Palm Court now wreaked of cigar smoke that made sitting there very disagreeable. Cigar smoking is one fad that cruise ships should not have endorsed. This was particularly odd because Crystal had obviously taken non-smokers’ complaints to heart and finally made most of the ship non-smoking. Smoking was banned in the Galaxy Lounge, all corridors, and even half of the tables in both pool areas outside. We haven’t seen anyone enforce the rules, but so far it hasn’t been a problem, with the exception of Palm Court.
Perry entertained us before dinner. We didn't attend Steve Teague’s cabaret show in the Starlite Club. It did seem to be well attended, however.
This was the evening for a “Neptune Dinner”. In the past this meant that literally everything had some sort of seafood in it. Not so anymore, thank God. There were quite a few selections that didn’t include fish of any kind. This included a very nice salad entrée of grilled filet sliced on top of a very tasty salad, rotisserie chicken, etc. Our appetizer and soup were very good, but a strange sauce that didn’t properly compliment the fish accompanied the salmon. The chocolate mousse dessert was terrible, but an odd-sounding combination of orange cake and tangerine sorbet turned out to be a highlight.
Tayfun gave us a 6-CD computer game about Istanbul. This wasn’t really a type of game in which either of us is interested, but he was so excited to let us play it that we were sort of obligated to do so.
The Galaxy Lounge main entertainment was a classical pianist, so we skipped it and went straight to bed after dinner.
Wednesday, 4/29 - Cruising the Strait of Gibraltar
Like a crouching lion, the Rock of Gibraltar's imposing presence supports the legend that it is one of the two Pillars of Hercules. Dramatically soaring to almost 1,400 feet, it boasts one of the world's most recognizable silhouettes. Over 140 caves have been discovered within its limestone mass.
We slept too long and missed breakfast, so we went down to the Crystal Cove to kill time and talk to Ferenc. He related the continuing saga of his vacation home, learning to ski, etc.
Lunch in the dining room was acceptable, but Bill thought the waiter, Paco, was scary on previous trips. The lasagna was edible, but the pasta was so soft it was imperceptible and the sauce was ordinary.
Dave’s shoulder was bothering him, so we went back to the cabin to rest up for tonight’s Crystal Society party. After setting up Tayfun’s game on the computer, Dave napped while Bill took the computer out to play the game for a while.
The Crystal Society party was busy, so they didn’t take pictures at the door. Anne and the Captain were there shaking hands and greeting everyone as though they had known them forever. The best part of these parties is always people watching. Tunde and Ferenc both tried to get us to sit in their area. Ferenc won only because the table he was holding for us would be easier to get out of to get to the stage later. Tunde feigned disappointment.
Several staff members circulated among the guests making small talk, however, most of the officers just stood around the bar drinking and ignoring the passengers. In our opinion, they shouldn’t be there unless they are going to participate in some way.
The Captain made some irreverent remarks about the new Crystal Society benefits. He couldn’t recall the official name for them, so he kept making up names that sounded close enough. Anne read brief descriptions about a woman, also with fourteen cruises, and the two of us. She got Bill’s last name wrong, Boyd.
After the party we were taken to Prego for Dinner with the Woodburys, an older couple with about twenty cruises. They were interesting and light-hearted, so it was a fun evening. Nikki joined us, as well. Pedro, our waiter, was jovial and added to the fun. Steve Teague came in to greet us after someone told him we were on board. He said his mother was thrilled because we have sent her cards at Christmas. He was working on a move back to California from Atlanta.
We stayed so long in Prego that the waiters were sitting down to their own meal by the time we all had left. Mario talked to us at the door for quite a while. He was annoyed because they had set up e-mail computers for the crew directly behind his podium where restaurant reservations were taken during the day. He felt, and we agreed, that it was tacky to have a bunch of staff hanging around when guests were trying to make reservations. He and Augusto were also annoyed because they have appropriated Jade Garden during the day for Mah Jhong players. We changed our dinner reservation for the final formal night from Prego to Jade Garden.
We all rushed out on deck for the 11:30pm arrival at the Rock of Gibraltar. Tony and Margaret Long, the dance instructors/performers, were excited to see us. They hadn’t realized we were on board until we were presented at the Crystal Society party. Both of them seem like a lot of fun. Anne was out on deck already in the chilling wind. Eventually she cheated and went inside to change out of her formal wear while the rest of us stayed out waiting for the Captain’s “big surprise”.
Anne said this captain was relatively daring, so she didn’t know quite what to expect from this. She told us he was almost fired because he took the Harmony up a fjord in Norway that wasn’t on the itinerary when he wanted to show it off to some family members. When the ship disappeared from Lloyd’s of London’s radar screen, they alerted Crystal in Los Angeles, who promptly threw a fit.
Although about a half an hour late, we did finally arrive at the rock. The ship slowly pulled up close to it and then did a quick turn to reveal the lighted monolith in all its glory. It was one of those sights that we’ll remember forever and never be able to fully describe in words. There always seems to be at least one of these special moments on a cruise that wasn’t in the original plan, but turns out to be the highlight of the entire trip.
Bill went down to find Tunde to give her our boutonnières. He intended to give one of them to the “Cocktail Lady”, but he couldn’t find her.
Thursday, 4/30 - Malaga, Spain - 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Malaga, Pablo Picasso's birthplace and the gateway to the Costa del Sol, is a hectic, sometimes unruly city of 550,000. An impressive number of museums and monuments, including the 11th-century Alcazaba fort and Museu Picasso Malaga, provide plenty of diversions for those who opt not to spend all their time on the coast's famed beaches - and in their accompanying bars. The old city bustles with taverns and bistros. The generous Paseo del Parque offers a delightful stroll past banana trees and fountains.
Breakfast in the Lido again. The quality of the food in the Lido has improved considerably, but the selection never changes. The odor of sprayed non-stick oil from the waffle station was even more unpleasant and permeated our clothing just from walking by.
The view of Malaga’s port was unexpectedly pretty. A nice, wide stretch of beach was immediately adjacent to the port area. We took the complimentary shuttle to the cathedral. The building was on a side street that made viewing of the tall structure impossible. Besides, the towers were covered with scaffolding and the entrance surrounded by corrugated metal barriers. Obviously they weren’t interested in making it easy to view the interior, so we didn’t bother.
We overheard some guests from the ship complaining that the only reason Crystal choose such uninteresting ports was to force everyone to buy the $118 trip to Granada and the Alhambra. It probably never occurred to them that 90% of the passengers wanted to visit the Alhambra as a highlight of their trip.
About a block up the hill was the Alcazaba fortress. At the base of the hill was a recently unearthed Roman amphitheater, but it too was surrounded by fencing and barricades. Entry to the fortress was free. The informational brochure was in Spanish, so of limited use to us.
We followed the winding, narrow, cobblestone street up into the fort. Bits and pieces of ancient marble columns and statuary lined the walkway. These seemed to be from the Roman amphitheater rather than part of the fort. There were secluded courtyards, intricate stone walls and arches, disused fountains, and a few ancient archeological items along the way. For the most part, the grounds were in good condition with restoration still underway.
Supposedly there was a museum in the buildings, but they were fenced off and under restoration. We couldn’t find any other way to get higher up the hill or into the upper part of the area without walking all the way back down and around the hill, so we gave up and walked back down to the park along the shoreline.
The promenade area was a lovely garden setting with wide marble walkways or gravel paths through the plantings. The plants weren’t anything we don't have at home, but the intricate tile benches and fountains were interesting. We continued up to the central plaza in front of the government buildings. There, a monumental fountain was spraying water all over the plaza due to the light winds.
From here we strolled back down the length of the Paseo del Parque to the beach area and back toward the ship. The wide beach was deserted except for a few people in the small caféRentals From $8.98 A Days along the sand. The sidewalks were very clean although there was some Nazi Skinhead graffiti in a few places. In general this looked like a pleasant beach resort. The business climate might not be very good considering the large number of vacant storefronts and restaurants. The residents, mostly older people, appeared well dressed and moderately prosperous. Traffic wasn’t out of the ordinary or unpleasant.
Upon our return to Crystal Symphony at noon, we lunched in the dining room. The food today was mediocre. This was the second time that we never received part of our order. Dining room service has declined substantially now that most of the waiters are Eastern European rather than the more polished Westerners.
After lunch, while working to catch up on this writing, we sat on our verandah and took in the view of rented jet skis and kayaks playing in the tranquil turquoise water. The weather was clear and beautiful, but a little chilly without a sweater or jacket. Apparently the water must have been cold because we never saw any of the beach goers go near it.
At departure time, the security officer was still pacing on the pier. Shortly, the Captain made an announcement that we were waiting for some missing tour busses. Seven busses arrived at that moment, but we still didn’t leave. Several minutes later a car screeched up and four people ran for the ship. They were happy to find that the ship had waited, but were relieved they weren’t the cause of the delay. About ten minutes later the last bus arrived and we cast off. The Captain announced that we would have to cruise at full speed to reach our next destination, Cannes, on schedule.
We watched the Norway haul its large tender back on board and start to sail away. Crystal Symphony followed closely for a while before turning closer to shore. We followed the scenic Spanish coastline for the rest of the day.
Tonight’s Mediterranean Dinner was very good. Both the Filet Mignon and the Salmon were exceptionally tasty and of very high quality. Both were served in an interesting way. Even the grilled polenta under the beef was palatable. The service, however, was slow and disorganized. While our waiter and assistant waiter were quite friendly, they often overlooked details and left empty plates sitting in front of us for inordinate amounts of time. We have never finished a meal earlier than 10:00pm and we have been ordering fewer courses than we have in the past.
Josef, the Maitre ‘d, stopped by during his rounds and whined about how tired he was. He is leaving in Athens, so we told him about what a nightmare it was the last time he left during one of our cruises. At first he didn’t believe that we had cancelled a year of cruises because of the terrible experience, but he did eventually see our point.
Neither of us was interested in seeing the variety show featuring Steve Teague and Tony and Margaret Long. We didn’t intend to go right to bed, but we both fell asleep almost immediately upon hitting the pillow.
Friday, 5/1 - Cruising the Mediterranean Sea
Both of us slept like a log until 11:00am. We didn’t feel particularly tired yesterday, but we must have been running low on energy for some reason. By the time we made it out of the cabin at noon, Regula was busy cleaning the walls in the corridor waiting for us to get out of the room. At least she wasn’t standing right outside our door as the stewardesses have done in the past and she properly pretended it wasn’t an annoyance.
This was Gala Luncheon Buffet day, so we avoided the Crystal Plaza and went directly up to the Lido for lunch. The Lido was pleasantly empty, so we had a leisurely lunch out on the aft deck. One of the Filipino’s, Benjamin, seemed to have claimed us as his own. He automatically fetched iced tea and took them out to a table for us. The variety of food was unappealing for the most part, but there was a nice array of fruit. They seemed to have cut down the salad selection even further, so there really wasn’t much of a choice other than the hot entrees and cold cuts. The pasta station offered a tomato sauce with salmon that was disgusting. They also had the fixings for Cobb Salad available. The desserts were left over from last night’s dinner.
Although the weather was clear and sunny, it was still too chilly to sit outside out of the direct sun. The sea was smooth. Usually there was no land in sight, but for a few hours we sailed past a rocky island with the occasional speedboat and small cruise ship near its coast.After lunch we wandered down to the lobby to overlook the Gala Buffet. There were still quite a lot of people grazing at the shrimp and lobster stations. As usual, the rest of the offering was entirely ignored. You would think people had never seen seafood before the way they descended on it in droves.
We turned in our Prepaid Gratuity form and stopped at Shore Excursions to tell Renato we weren’t interested in the 10-hour In-Transit tour of Rome. Renato said he was still waiting to get information on a private guide and car for the day. He indicated that this wouldn’t be as much of a problem in future ports where they weren’t disembarking passengers. Renato said they changed the Athens stop to an overnight because at this time of year Mykonos would still be too cold and passengers wouldn’t have anything to do if we stayed into the evening as originally planned.
We lounged around in the cabin for a while before returning to the lobby for soft drinks and a chat with Ferenc. Angelo, the man who had chatted with us on the pier in Lisbon stopped to talk. This was his first cruise, but his travelling companions had been on ten cruises. He said someone from the staff told him that over 200 people were seasick the first two days when it was rough. It didn’t seem to us that anyone was missing from the dining room though.
The shops on board were still attempting to unload Chinese teapots from the first World Cruise. At the outrageous prices they were charging, they’ll have them for years to come. The merchandise in Facets hasn’t changed since our first cruise.
This was the 50’s theme night, so all of the staff members were dressed in the oh-so-cute soda jerk costumes. We sat in the Crystal Cove for about half an hour before dinner watching people around the lobby and listening to Richard. Very few guests chose to participate in the 50’s dress. This might have something to do with an error in the program that on the first line said to dress as in the 50’s, and on the next line said, “No jeans or T-shirts, please”, which is a line left over from the regular casual dress code.
Dinner was quite good tonight. The corn bisque was exceptional, as was the Commander’s salad. We both took a risk that the improved quality would translate to the prime rib. Luckily it did and it was very good, as well. Josef stopped to chat for a few minutes about Cannes. He seemed to think that the film festival was starting when we would be there, but we hadn’t heard anything about it. If so, it should be quite a different scene from our previous visit. We kind of find it hard to believe that they would allow a cruise ship to visit during such a crowded event, but we’ll find out tomorrow.
Bill decided to go to the “Rock Around the Clock” production show while Dave caught up on the diary entries. The show was a bit better than the last one, but the performance was still very weak.
We still had not received any information about our private arrangements for Rome even though the published deadline for such things is tomorrow afternoon.
Saturday, 5/2 - Cannes, France - Arrive 8:00 AM
Galas, regattas, the Film Festival and an outrageously attractive and affluent set characterize Cannes. Vast yachts obscure the view and the town lives up to its motto, "Life is a festival." People-watching is the activity that brings most visitors to Cannes, and hotel-lined La Croisette provides a fine promenade. First popularized by Coco Chanel, Cannes beaches are a huge draw. Get expensive seaside food and drinks service on hotel sand or opt for the free public beaches, Plages du Midi and de la Boca.
We slept soundly until about 10:00am when the tender outside our cabin was lowered amid much squeaking and clanking. Since we missed breakfast, we took our time getting ready until it was close to time for the dining room to open for lunch.
The ship was virtually empty. Everyone must have gone into town early or out on tour. The weather was lovely, cool and clear. A perfect day for walking around town.
Lunch was particularly tasty today. A very nice crispy, fried chicken breast with a macadamia nut crust on a marmalade sauce, was a highlight. There were only about twenty guests in the dining room.
We received a voice mail message from Shore Excursions regarding a private car and guide for Rome. An outlandish price of $1,200.00 was quoted! Even Renato thought it was ridiculous. Since there is no reliable way to get into Rome on our own, we will probably just stay on board that day. A two-hour trip each way on the train is just too risky when we don’t speak the language and the city so large and unpredictable. We really should have paid more attention to the information regarding transfers available on the Internet because those prices were more in line with what we paid in St. Petersburg.
The Seabourn Legend was anchored in the bay. We tendered into town adjacent to the Palais de Congress where the Cannes Film Festival is held. It was to start the following week, so there was a lot of preparation going on. The city was much more pleasant than we found it to be during our previous visit. Things were cleaner and recently planted, probably in preparation for the festival.
We walked the length of the fashionable beachfront resort. Thousands of people thronged the walk and beach, but not so many as to make it unpleasant. In fact, the people watching made it even more interesting. There certainly were a lot of gorgeous men and women out today! These were the most generally attractive people we had seen so far. Of course, the women who opted to go topless on the beach definitely were not the ones anyone would vote to see.
After we reached the end of the promenade and rested for a few minutes, we turned back toward the harbor area. When we came to the shopping zone, we turned up a couple of blocks and followed the throngs along the crowded, narrow street. At the top of the slight hill, we found the area we had been told to climb for a fantastic view.
A winding cobblestone street took us to the top of a low hill crowned by an old church and ruins of a small fort. The view over Cannes was magnificent and well worth the effort. From there we followed some stairs down to the base of the hill where we ended up on a narrow lane lined with small restaurants. Prices here were outrageous and so we were not tempted to stop to eat or shop.
There was a sort of swap meet thing going on in the central square. Among the goods you would expect, there were also people selling bouquets of flowers, plants, fruits and vegetables, etc.
We walked back up to the main promenade area to find a telephone to call home. The phone booths were very comfortable and easy to figure out. The middle of the street was an odd location for some of them, but they were plentiful and well maintained. Again, the AT&T Universal Card was blocked from use, just as it was in London. Even trying to charge the call to the MasterCard part of it was rejected. It worked fine using another card and the charge was shown on a small screen on the phone as the conversation progressed. The cost was quite reasonable considering how expensive everything else was around here.
Back on Crystal Symphony, we had a snack at the poolside grill and by then it was time to make ourselves presentable for dinner. Bill went to do some laundry before the rush on the last few days. We can’t quite figure out why so many people waste their last two days aboard the ship doing laundry?
We had drinks in the Crystal Cove before dinner. We watched the “Sweater Men”, two older men we assumed are a couple, trying to figure out which floor they were on and how to operate the elevator. These two are really scary!
With the Crystal Society credits of $200 apiece and a gift bottle of wine we returned, our Preliminary Statement received today showed a -$16.42 balance.
Tonight’s menu wasn’t particularly interesting to either of us. We both had the potsticker and wonton appetizer that was somewhat boring. The cold strawberry/banana soup was too thin, but it had a nice flavor. We had the pasta course as our entrée, chicken bolognese tomato sauce over spaghetti. Bill’s attempt to obtain the bruschetta from Prego caused a scene. Nemanja and Krysztof had no idea what he was talking about and called Tayfun over to help. He knew what we wanted and told Krysztof to go up and get it for us. Unfortunately, he returned with an entire loaf of the olive bread instead.
Service in the dining room continued to be slow and haphazard. Although the oversights were generally insignificant, such as an empty water glass or dirty dishes sitting in front of us too long, this wasn’t the kind of service we had come to expect from Crystal. We still haven’t finished a meal before 10:00pm this entire cruise. In the past we have been ready to leave by 9:30pm on most nights and that was when we were ordering all five courses! It doesn’t really matter since we’re not in a hurry to get anywhere, but it’s quite a departure from the past.
After dinner we tendered back to shore to call home at a reasonable hour. The streets were just as busy as they were during the afternoon, but the crowd was younger and less fashionable. Most of Crystal Symphony’s crew must have been ashore since they were everywhere we looked. After finishing the call, we decided we were too old for the “scene” and went straight back to the tender landing area.
In the terminal, we stopped to chat with Anna, our stewardess from the last cruise. She said she had been aware we were on board, but hadn’t seen us until now. She is leaving in Athens and doesn’t plan to return. Of course, that’s what they all say at the end of a contract.
A full load of crew in a wide variety of “sashay wear” piled out of the tender when it arrived. The Reflections Editor gawked at us as he usually does, but didn’t say anything. We were shocked to see our waiter with a hoop earring. He absolutely didn’t seem the type!
Sunday, 5/3 - Cannes, France - Depart 4:00 PM
Overcast skies and cooler temperatures were prevalent today, so it was lucky that we did our walking through Cannes yesterday. There was no need to go ashore today, so we just lounged around the ship all day, did more laundry, and killed time. We chatted with Steve Teague in the Bistro for a few minutes. He invited us to go into Rome with him in the afternoon, but we didn’t really want to do the Vatican again, so we declined. His mother is up for Mother of the Year.
Lunch in the dining room was with Paco again. The food was acceptable, but their version of Beef Stroganoff was somewhat strange. The chocolate brownie a la mode for dessert was stale.
After lunch we went up to Palm Court to read and edit this diary. The room was empty until they started setting up for tea at around 3:00pm. At that time we moved down to our own verandah to wait for the sail away. The setting was quite picturesque with a variety of large and small boats sightseeing around the ship.
The Captain announced that we would be doing some scenic cruises off Monaco this evening because the distance to Portofino was so short there was no rush to make our scheduled arrival tomorrow morning. Several large yachts chased us out to sea and along the coast as we cruised toward Monaco.
Mario called to ask if we wanted to make advance reservations for the next cruise at Jade Garden or Prego. We stopped by after our afternoon ice cream snack, to the delight of Arnold the ice cream man, and made reservations for the first evening of the next cruise at Prego, and the Captain’s Farewell evening in Jade Garden.
At a little after 6:00pm, the ship slowly began its approach to Monaco. It was quite a sight arriving the way the city was meant to be seen, from the sea. The Captain took the ship as close as possible to the shore and slowly cruised the length of the densely packed kingdom. To be fair to those on the opposite side of the ship, he stopped and turned the ship around and repeated the trip.
We listened to Perry in the Avenue Saloon before moving to dinner at Jade Garden. The view from the windows of the sparkling twilight cities along the coast was striking. It became even more so as the darkness became deeper. The waiters practically fell over themselves to serve us. Didi was acting strangely, even for him. There was only one other party in the entire restaurant for most of the evening. Eventually, one other table of four people arrived, but they were gone before we got to dessert.
The food was better than it had been in the past, but the selection was extremely limited and the portions much too skimpy. We ordered additional servings of the tangerine chicken just to get enough food. We didn’t think any of the food was exceptional, but it was a vast improvement over previous experiences. Mario had the chef make two special dishes for us, neither of which we would have ordered on a bet. One was tofu with black bean sauce and the other was a shitake mushroom and a piece of bok choy in a brown sauce. Really, one mushroom! The slimy texture of the mushroom made that dish especially revolting.
Mario chatted at length about his plan to tour Europe by car this summer. Didi hovered around and was generally hyper and very odd. The waiters made every attempt to please us by offering additional dishes, more portions, and fresh pots of tea. With every additional portion, they would insist on clearing away our used dishes and silverware to start over with a whole new place setting. This was fawning practiced as an art!
After dinner we made the mistake of attending the performance of “Symphony of Nations”. We never were overly fond of this show, but this was by far the worst rendition we have witnessed so far. The whole thing gave the impression of little kids playing dress up in their mother’s clothes. The lead male singer just doesn’t have the range or strength to carry off his part. At least they weren’t trying to trick the audience into believing everyone was actually singing by attaching wireless microphones as they always have in the past.
The midnight snack was back in its original location in the Crystal Plaza. The only people even looking at it were staff members, as usual. On the other hand, when it has been in the Bistro it has always been well attended.
Monday, 5/4 - Portofino, Italy - 8:00 AM - 3:00 PM
One of the most popular resort towns on the Italian Riviera, little Portofino has just over 500 permanent residents. But that all changes on summer days when the sun is shining and the yachting set drops anchor in the harbor to wander about. Boutiques, art galleries, cafes and restaurants line the tiny streets. Diving, hiking and beach-going are popular local pastimes, and there are even some historic sights like the Church of St. Martin (Divo Martino) and the Castello Brown hilltop fortress.
Crystal Symphony anchored just outside the beautiful harbor of Portofino this morning. The steep coastal hills were dotted with magnificent Mediterranean villas of all sizes and shapes. Ancient terraced gardens spill down the hillsides toward the blue green water. This is what a trip to Europe is meant to be!
The stop here was short, but we had enough time to wander the small waterfront village. The harbor area was quite crowded with visitors from our ship as well as the first onslaught of spring tourists. Even so, the town didn’t have a touristy feel as one might expect. There seemed to be another romantic little boutique, café or coffeehouse tucked into every nook and cranny.
Two enormous yachts were tied up along the stone shoreline, while smaller, but no less grand, boats of all kinds dotted the bay. This has to be one of the most picturesque spots on Earth.
At first glance, the buildings appear to be ornately carved and decorated with stone, but they are in reality completely flat. The ornamentation is a very convincing tromp l’oeil treatment.
We took a leisurely stroll up the one small shopping street, and to both ends of the small harbor. This would be a good place for a lunch on our next stop, as there were many fine dining choices.
After the anchor was raised at 3:00pm, the Captain announced, starting his comments with, “It’s me again…”, that he would take the ship close to shore for some scenic cruises up the coast to Rappalo. Scenic was an understatement! Villas hidden in lush foliage dotted the hillsides, along with Roman fortifications, ancient archways, and magnificent churches crowning the promontories. Once the ship reached the end of it’s tour, the Captain turned the ship around and went back down the coast so that guests with cabins on the opposite side could see the view. This was the second time this was done and was a very thoughtful gesture.
Before dinner, we listened to Perry for about an hour in the Avenue Saloon. His “groupies” on this cruise were a very strange bunch, to say the least. Unfortunately, it sounded from the conversations that some of them were staying for another cruise.
Dinner was chaotic and slow to be delivered. Tayfun was disappointed because we hadn’t had a chance to play the game he gave us. We’ll try to do that tomorrow since we don’t plan to leave the ship. He isn’t leaving until Istanbul, so there’s no rush to give it back to him…yet.
The food tonight wasn’t very good. The chilled apple and cranberry soup really should have been strained because the bits of berry skin and seeds made eating it unappetizing. The Black Angus steak was a bit on the chewy side and the sweet and sour pork was sorely lacking in flavor. The redeeming factor was a wonderful chocolate chip soufflé with Kahlua sauce.
Tayfun and Nemanja will be staying at our station next cruise, but Krysztof will be leaving. Nemanja was very strange this evening, in an amusing way.
After dinner we made the mistake of attending the Farewell Variety Show. They were still using the painfully awful, pre-taped announcements by Michael York, Angela Landsbury and Joe Watters. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but they showed what was obviously a promotional video in the middle of it. It was at that point that about half of the audience left. The only vaguely interesting part of the entire show was when they showed photos from this cruise in a “family album”. However, the terribly forced rendition of “That’s What Friends Are For” was simply embarrassing.
Prior to what was intended as an uplifting finale, we saw a very entertaining performance by Tony and Margaret Long, the dance team. Steve Teague was next. He’s a very nice guy, but we'll leave it at that. He really should be in some lounge in Las Vegas. Mike Goddard, the omnipresent comedian, did virtually the same jokes he has been doing since we have been sailing with Crystal. Fortunately, his delivery was funny enough to carry it even when we knew the punch lines by heart.
We skipped out just as the cast was making its way to the doors to form a receiving line. This is another feature of the new show that we found offensive. Steve Teague asked us again if we wanted to join him and go into Rome tomorrow, but we declined. He wanted to show a friend of his the usual sights, which he should, but we had seen them all before.The final hour of the evening was spent listening to Perry sing. There was an exceptionally odd and overly dramatic woman in front of us who just had to be the center of attention. She actually attempted to force her companions to rearrange their seating to be next to their spouse when a romantic song was presented. Even people across the room were watching her with amusement. Perry didn’t seem to mind, but he was probably ridiculing her in his mind.
Tuesday, 5/5 - Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy - Arrive 7:00 AM
Civitavecchia was founded by Emperor Trajan in the 2nd century. Today this port is noted for its fine seafood and attractive monuments. Located 90 minutes away is the Eternal City of Rome. Steeped in 2,500 years of history, Rome was for many centuries the center of Western civilization. It was both the focal point of the Roman Empire and of Christendom. Landmarks such as the Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon, Vatican, Sistine Chapel and Spanish Steps are reminders of the legacy of its rich past.
Announcements for disembarkation procedures began at around 7:30am, so we were awake off and on from that time forward. Once things quieted down, we fell back to sleep until around 11:30am. By that time, everyone was gone and the ship was quiet.
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