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Pacific Fiesta & Mexican Riviera Rendezvous

Crystal Cruises

Round-trip Los Angeles
Departs February 25, 2007
14 days
Crystal Symphony

CRUISE THEMES
"Mind, Body and Spirit" and "Cabaret at Sea"

 

Surprise Visit to Crystal Symphony in San Diego & Preliminary REfit REview

Sunday, February 25 – Los Angeles, CA, USA – Embark Crystal Symphony – Depart 5:00 PM

Monday, February 26  - Cruising the Pacific Ocean

Tuesday, February 27 – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico – Arrive 12:00 Noon – Depart 6:00 PM

Wednesday, February 28 - Mazatlán, Mexico - Arrive 8:00 AM - Depart 5:00 PM

Thursday, March 1 - Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - Arrive 8:00 am - Depart 5:00 pm

Friday, March 2 – cruising the pacific ocean

Saturday, March 3 - Cruising the Pacific Ocean

Sunday, March 4 - Los Angeles, CA, USA - Arrive 7:00 am - Depart 5:00 PM

Monday, March 5 - Cruising the Pacific Ocean

Tuesday, March 6 -  Cabo san Lucas, Mexico – Arrive 12:00 noon – Depart 6:00 PM

Wednesday, March 7 Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – Arrive 10:00 AM – Depart 6:00 PM

Thursday, March 8 - Mazatlán, Mexico - Arrive 8:00 am - Depart 5:00 pm

Friday, March 9 - Cruising the PACIFIC OCEAN

Saturday, March 10 - Cruising the Pacific Ocean

Sunday, March 11 - Los Angeles, CA, USA - Arrive 7:00 am - Disembark Crystal Symphony

Summary

 

Surprise Visit to Crystal Symphony In San Diego & Preliminary REfit REview

As would anyone interested in the recent refit to Crystal Symphony's public spaces and staterooms, we jumped at the chance to visit the ship while she was in San Diego February 3, 2007.  Thanks to some shipboard staff who gave generously of their valuable time, we were able to spend an enjoyable afternoon visiting friends and viewing the new decor and reconfigured public spaces.  We did not have a chance to view the new staterooms, so a review of those changes will have to wait until our cruise begins in February.  You will find the link to the updated photos by clicking here.

We have not been aboard Crystal Symphony since the World Cruise of 2003, so some of the changes were made prior to the most recent refit, but they are new to us.  For example, the Library was displaced by an expanded Computer University @ Sea and moved to the lobby.  There, it in turn displaced the Photo Shop, which was moved to the corridor outside of the Starlite Club.  The Photo Shop itself has been redone twice since its first move and a new photo appears in our gallery.  Formerly, this area was a seating area and a closet for the night cleaning crew.

Our arrival at the port in San Diego was uneventful.  We easily parked across the street in the cruise parking lot.  We don't know what the daily rate for cruise parking is, but it cost $10.00 to park there for about 4-5 hours today.  The location is very convenient for cruise passengers and visitors.  There is enough to see and do in the immediate area to occupy anyone who arrives early or has to wait for a late flight after disembarking at this port.  The airport is just minutes away with flights coming and going clearly visible from the ship.

Today's weather is spectacular, as it usually is for San Diego and the ship was a welcome sight under blue skies.  Visiting Crystal Symphony is a homecoming for us as our first Crystal cruise was the inaugural of the ship in 1995 when we sailed from New York to Los Angeles for her Grand Maiden Voyage.

We passed through three levels of ID checks that were confused at best.  The Crystal representative couldn't find us on his guest list, but the security guard found us on hers.  We were on the Crew Visitor list, which probably wasn't where he was looking and we weren't aware of that until later.  The next guard inside the terminal just gave up looking us up and waved us through.  Apparently we looked like crew visitors since we were lugging two cases of Dr. Pepper and bags of various other supplies for our friends!

At the gangway, the ship's security took over and the procedures were more coherent.  We were given Crew Visitor passes and told to, "Enjoy your day on board," and off we went.  Inside we were asked if we knew where we were going, which of course we did!  Our first destination was to drop off the soft drinks we brought, meet our official escort and take a tour of the ship.  We're omitting names here because we don't want anyone else reading this to come to the conclusion that it is acceptable to expect a member of the crew to take up his or her valuable down time to escort passengers aboard.  Our visit was by invitation, not by request.  As it turned out, it was not required that they escort us the entire time we were on board, but everyone concerned believed that to be the case at the outset.

We entered the ship from the gangway on deck six adjacent to the library.  Our first impression of the lobby was, "Well, what happened here?"  Overall, the look is the same, but the new shops are very stark in contrast to the rest of the ship.  In our opinion, the lobby is too brightly lit and somewhat too airport-like in appearance.  We're not quite sure what they did to the lighting of the fountain, but the result is that this spectacular feature fades into the background.  We did notice that the fiber optic lighting effect behind the waterfall has been restored to its color-changing glory, a feature that has not worked properly since the first year.  We'll hold out some hope that the fountain looks better at night.

You probably are already aware that the new shops are not a highlight of the refit.  Obviously, we could not sample the merchandise while in port, but the shops appear more like museums than someplace to actually make a purchase.  The lighting is too bright, the merchandise sparse and, we can only assume, extremely expensive.  Replacing the popular Captain's Choice logo and sundry shop with a duty-free cosmetics boutique is baffling to us.  And, what the heck are those weird amoeba things in the planters outside of Apropos?  Not that fake ficus trees were any better, but c'mon!

The Bistro is mostly as it was with the exception of new glass tile insets in the walls and updated fabrics.  Personally, we preferred the original tile pattern and colors, but there is nothing wrong with the new palette either.

The entrance to the new Luxe Disco replaced part of the former Caesar's Palace Casino.  This is a very oddly decorated space reminiscent of the most avant garde W Hotel, but we have to say it looks MUCH better in person than it does in photos.  The hot pink chairs by the front entrance are a showstopper in themselves.  Whether that is good or bad is up to the observer to decide.  The rest of the room is done in white leather and silver with strange pink lighting emanating from the glass tables.  The ceiling cove lighting is done in blue.  You do the math on what that does to the complexion, but the space is cozy and we would imagine it is quite popular.  We found the configuration of the karaoke screens a bit uncomfortable, but otherwise this seems a great place for cocktails or meeting friends.

Apparently the big hit of the refit is the new Starlite Club and for good reason.  Removing the glass wall between the lounge and the corridor is major improvement to the space.  This area now looks like a trendy upscale hotel lounge.  The circular bar with a backlit alabaster top is spectacular.  The adjoining corridor, once done in hideous navy blue suede, is now a honey color wood that suggests elegant liners of the past.  New sconces also grace this area.  While we feel the configuration is wonderful, the color scheme is very mismatched.  The carpet and walls are light blue, which is consistent with the look of the majority of the public space on board.  However, the chairs are done in almost-gold and almost-orange, plus chocolate brown with light blue throw pillows.  The tables are dark wood with heavy glass tops, again a throw back to elegant ships of the past, which is nice.  We will say, no matter how incongruous the colors may be, anything is an improvement over the previous incarnation of this lounge which we always thought was ghastly.

We'll admit up front that this next comment is a knit pick only we could come up with, but nonetheless it speaks volumes to us.  When the lounge was reconfigured as a cocktail bar, new spot lights were installed in the ceiling.  We can only assume that these lights are supposed to be focused on the cocktail tables directly below.  However, that feature appears lost on the shipboard staff because the furniture is not arranged to take advantage of the lighting.  Some lights shine on someone's head, others on half a table, others nowhere in particular.  The designers need to follow through with the shipboard staff to be sure the design concept is understood, otherwise why bother doing it at all?

The new seating areas are geared toward meeting for drinks before dinner, quiet conversation and the like.  We're sure this is quite the hot spot in the evening and a very welcome change.  We're surprised that no one has mentioned previously, that the section of the lounge that was not changed, near the dance floor and stage, still sports the original dirty off-white chairs.  We're told new ones are forthcoming and none too soon for that!  The remaining banquettes were redone in chocolate brown with light blue throw pillows.  Obviously whoever chose the loose pillow look hasn't ever worked in a hotel, but it looks nice.

Caesar's Palace at Sea has given way to the Crystal-managed Crystal Casino, minimally redecorated by painting the pillars black and silver while adding some black lamps and other accents.  We don't frequent the casino, but it appears to us that the slightly smaller size and new arrangement of tables and machines will result in a more lively space.  We have noted in reviews elsewhere that some observers believe that way more of the decor is new than actually is.  The ceiling has always been covered in black mirror with tiny white lights, as it still is.

Outside of the Galaxy Lounge, huge reddish-orange paintings of gamblers replaced the fiberglass bas relief of Roman antiquities.  We have no idea who came up with the bright orange colors on light blue walls adjacent to blue carpets, but real art is better than faux art any day of the week.  It escapes logic that the remodel didn't include removing the strange glass-enclosed fake neon flanking the Galaxy Lounge doors.  These lights haven't worked in years and were a bizarre design mistake when they did.  Would it have been too difficult to at least frost the glass to obscure the non-functional lights?

The interior of the elevators has been redone in very dark woods.  The ugly fluorescent ceiling lighting was replaced by a slightly dropped ceiling with halogen spot lights, which is elegant.  However, this design would be more in place on the Serenity where dark woods prevail rather than on the lighter hued Symphony.  In and of themselves, the elevators are very attractive, just not appropriate for this ship.  A quibble we have is that the new backlit signage announcing the floors has print so small it is illegible and the floor numbers are microscopic.

We're not sure when the Spa and Salon were redone, but they are very attractive.  We took a tour of the new space and it is very impressive.  They have added complimentary self-service refrigerators full of water and juice for the taking.  The aft deck has been taken over by a relaxation area for spa goers.  We viewed the men's sauna area and it is quite attractive.  During the most recent refit, the two restrooms off the elevator lobby were replaced with additional treatment rooms in just two weeks.  The elevator lobby off the spa, while attractive in itself, is the same incongruous color scheme found in the Starlite Club...slightly off earthtones...in contrast to the light pastels found in most the of ship.  In our opinion, they should choose a palette and change everything, or nothing.  As it is it looks a bit like they plopped down parts of the Serenity on the Symphony, which is not necessarily a good thing.

The only other minor change we noted was new furniture in the Palm Court.  The white wicker chairs are essentially the same with new fabrics.  The cream-colored leather chairs in the forward section are now a dark blue.  It looks fine to us.

As mentioned, we did not view the new staterooms today, but we certainly heard comments about them from passengers and crew.  The removal of the loveseat for an uncomfortable, very upright single chair is not the hit of the party.  Neither are the glass sinks that, while very attractive, take up too much counter space and tend to propel the water out of the vessel if the faucet is turned on too high.  We could easily say, "We told you so," based solely on our first viewing of the renderings of the designs, but who listens to us?

Even with the weird color palette and a few ill-conceived design choices, Crystal Symphony far outshines her sister in layout and comfort.  This ship has a light, bright, open feeling the Serenity lacks.  The crew continues to amaze us with their incredible service and friendliness.  Deck stewards ran up to us today who we have not seen in over three years and knew our name and who is who.  Keeping in mind that we arrived totally out of context, not on any guest list, and they still remembered our names!  That's just amazing.

Now, for the upcoming cruise, here are the basics.  We attempted to book a Penthouse, but have only succeeded in getting an "A Deluxe Stateroom with Verandah" guarantee.  Our documents arrived on January 18, 2007, still with no stateroom assignment.  According to our ticket information, there will be two formal nights, 4 informal, and 8 casual.  We'll believe that when we see it since the dress codes provided ahead of time rarely correspond to reality on board.  It is a losing battle to enforce the formal dress code on these short cruises anyway, so maybe Crystal has thrown in the towel at last.  We shall see!

As of February 9, 2007, we still did not have a stateroom assignment.  Our travel agent informed us that when she checked with Crystal last week they told her the cruises are completely sold out.  If that's true, it is very unusual.  We take these same cruises almost every year and there have never been more than 700 guests aboard.

On Friday, February, 16, 2007, our stateroom assignment was finally obtained.  It is a Category A stateroom, as booked.  We are on the waiting list for a Penthouse, but the chance of those opening up at this point is unlikely.

Sunday, February 25 – Los Angeles, CA, USA – Embark Crystal Symphony – Depart 5:00 PM

Pacific Fiesta:  Theme Cruise - Mind, Body & Spirit

Our driver arrived promptly at 11:30 AM to take us to the port.  Even with a short stop along the way, we arrived at the ship at 1:30 PM, encountering no slow traffic along the way.  There were two huge ships in port today with Crystal Symphony sandwiched between them, Vision of the Seas and Island Princess.  The Princess ship had to use a large tent set up for a terminal.

Almost immediately upon entering the doors of the terminal, we were spotted by one of the greeters who always rushes out to see us.  She said it wouldn't be a cruise from Los Angeles if we didn't show up.

The security line was a bit backed up because the metal detector was flagging everyone for inspection.  Neither of us had anything on us and we both had to be hand inspected, as did everyone else coming through.  Even so, it was only a few minutes and nothing like the lines at the mega ship embarkations.  We were given colored tags and told to sit and wait a few minutes to be called.  We'd estimate the wait was ten minutes at the most, but all of the representatives were beyond apologetic for the wait. 

While we were in line, our friend Benji from the salon came waving over from the security line.  Apparently she had been waving at us for quite some time, but with our poor eyesight these days we didn't realize who it was until she came up to us.  Bill gave her the gossip magazines he bought for her on the way to the ship.  He also packed two large boxes of supplies for she and Marco.  We were also greeted by a couple of off-duty deck stewards who were returning to the ship.

Crystal has been taking digital photos at check-in for a few years, but now they are immediately printed on your keycard.  This eliminates the need to take an additional photo I.D. ashore with you.  The photos, however, are worse than the worst DMV picture!  After looking at the screen, the agent said, "Oh, 44 cruises, I guess you don't need a ship's directory."

The boarding photo station was positioned at the base of the escalators, but there was no line to speak of.  If we put all of our boarding photos end to end we could make a flip book of the aging process.

Once on board, we were escorted to our stateroom on deck 9 by a Jade Garden waiter we don't know.  We have already detailed the new public room decor in our account of the San Diego visit, so we won't reiterate that here unless subsequent experience warrants it.  The stateroom decor is completely new to us though.

In our opinion, the new arrangement of the bathroom with the glass vessel sinks makes it seem smaller, but otherwise it appears functional enough.  We'd prefer regular sinks for practical purposes, but these do look nice at least until they are used for the first time.  The shelf space on the sides and under the counter is roughly the same as it was before, but there is no longer a shelf along the bottom of the mirror.  The rest of the bathroom is unchanged with the same fake marble-printed gray and white tiles.  Generic "unscented" hand soap is now provided in addition to the very scented Red Flower concoctions.  Both the blood orange and gardenia products are stocked on the bathroom shelf.  In our opinion, the blood orange scent resembles the odor of Tang more than anything else.  We wouldn't think most men would be thrilled about showering with these flowery scented soaps and shampoos.

The stateroom itself is quite attractive redone in earthtones.  The bedside lamps have twisted amber glass stems with red shades.  Luckily these aren't necessary for reading because they have added LED reading lights to the new headboards.  The bedding looks more luxurious in burgundy and dusty purple with two floral print throw pillows.  The much-maligned chair that replaced the loveseat is more comfortable than it appears at first glance, but affords seating for only one person and no way to lounge at all.  The desk chair is relatively uncomfortable, but we didn't find it too heavy to move as has been reported elsewhere.

The old 13" TV has been replaced with a modern LCD widescreen with a built-in DVD player, but unfortunately the programming was not updated for the new screen format so everything appears squished or stretched to fit.  The rooms also sport new artwork and a large beveled glass mirror over the bed.  Glass tops have been added to the desk and side tables, but they are significantly smaller than the actual top, so some space is sacrificed.  We think they missed the boat by not changing out the whitewashed oak for something more up to date.  The carpets and drapes are also new and a big improvement color-wise.

Since this cruise is sold out, or close to it, we thought we had better rush down to make reservations for tonight.  On the Serenity, the first night is no longer the chaotic "unassigned seating"  scenario in the Crystal Dining Room, but apparently that isn't the case here.  We absolutely hate having open seating on boarding day, so we hoped to get into one of the alternative restaurants for tonight instead.

Reservations were being taken in Prego, directly adjacent to the Bridge Lounge where the dining room maitre d' was holding court.  This lead to a confusing convergence of lines with no clue which was which.  Eventually, a headwaiter did come out to try to make some sense out of it, but by that time we had barged up to Prego, secured a number, and waited to be called.  They were on number eight and we got sixteen, but the wait was reasonably short.

We figured something must be going on with reservations considering how long it took each party to come back out, but when we walked in it took literally 2 minutes from start to finish.  We asked, "Is there anything for tonight?"  "Which would you prefer, Prego or Jade Garden?"  No problem at all.  We could have made an additional reservation at this time, but we didn't know whether we would be dining with staff or whatever, so we declined the offer.  We chose the time we wanted and were given a computer-printed card for our confirmation.  The point is, it really isn't all that difficult to get a reservation or two if you are flexible and pleasant.  Please do your homework before you arrive in line!

Dave stepped into the nearby Computer University to inquire about using the laptop in the room.  He was informed that because the satellite isn't currently working that they cannot configure the computer at this time.  The attendant added his name to a call list to be informed whenever the service again becomes available.  The new rates are either $50 for 120 minutes or $200 for 600 minutes.

By this time, we were both starving, so we went up to the Trident Grill for hot dogs and a chicken wrap.  Allan, Carmelo, Joseph, Giovanni, and Dio fawned all over us.  The first four guys we haven't seen officially since the 2003 World Cruise, although we did see them during or San Diego visit to the ship.  They fell all over themselves to serve us, but we noticed they were doing pretty much the same to everyone else, as well, minus the hugging, of course.  Free champagne was served to all guests who wanted it, a nice touch.

After lunch it was about time for the boat drill, so we returned to the stateroom to wait for the 4:15 PM alarm.  Our stewardess, Rita, arrived to bring us various boarding gifts and see to our preferences.  She seemed very pleasant.  By the way, the much-touted "Pillow Menu" of last year was nowhere to be seen during this set of cruises.  We always thought it a deserate attempt to point out the obvious because Crystal has always had an array of pillow types to choose from.

We received the following boarding gifts today:

  • $550 Shipboard Credit from American Express Platinum Card
  • 2 Bottles of C-Chardonnay from our Travel Agent
  • 2 Bottles of Pinot Grigio Santa Margherita from Crystal Society Dept.

We wandered down to the promenade deck in our life jackets a few minutes prior to the alarm.  There were no other guests there until after the alarm sounded.  It appeared that there were many more no-shows for the drill than we have ever seen in the past.  A lengthy explanation of what to do if one sees anyone fall or jump overboard has been added to the safety spiel.  Basically you are supposed to keep yelling, "Man overboard", while pointing in the direction of the person in the water.  OK, fine, but how common has this issue become? 

After the safety announcements, the captain made an additional announcement advising guests "prone to motion sickness" that right now might be a good time to take their medication.  He explained that there would be "heavy swells" upon entering the open water and that guests should use caution tonight walking around the ship and venturing onto open decks.

Back in our room after the drill, we managed to unpack in less than 30 minutes.  These short cruises are just too easy to prepare for.  We actually had several empty drawers, so we're getting much better at cutting down on extraneous clothing.  During this time, the ship sailed out of the breakwater and it did indeed begin to rock and roll a bit, but certainly nothing we would consider unusual.

Click to view a PDF of today's  Daytime Activities & Nighttime Entertainment.  Notice that the casual dress code now specifically says "no caps".  One would think that would go without saying, but guess again.

Tonight's dress code is Casual. Our dinner tonight, as previously mentioned, is in Jade Garden.  You can find a PDF of the latest Jade Garden menu here.  We will be working to obtain the menus for the Crystal Dining Room as well, which will be posted in the "Menus" section of this site as well as at the appropriate place in the text if we did actually dine there that evening.  Since we are not in a Penthouse, getting the menus before they are distributed at the end of the cruise is somewhat of an issue, but we will try.  Here is the Crystal Dining Room Menu PDF.

We stayed in the room until just before dinnertime, then wandered down to the lobby to register a credit card for our account.  After that we went to check on the internet connection, but there was a sign posted saying it was not yet connected.  We chatted with deck steward Allan in the hallway outside of the Avenue Saloon for quite a while.  He had lots of questions about where we have been the past four years (mostly on the Crystal Harmony and Crystal Serenity).  Jade Garden is just across the elevator lobby from the Avenue Saloon, so that was our next destination.

The glass sculpture that used to sit in a niche outside of the restaurant entrance was moved to inside the dining area when the adjacent restroom was reconfigured.  That leaves the themed lighting fixture to hold down the atmosphere outside the restaurant, but it isn't enough without the sculpture.  The inside of Jade Garden was redecorated in richer colors several years ago, so we have nothing new to report about the decor.  We found the chairs very uncomfortable after sitting there for an hour, we assume because the padding has worn down.

Rico, the waiter who escorted us to our room earlier, was our waiter tonight.  He remembered us from Crystal Harmony's Kyoto Restaurant.  Once he brought that up it dawned on us that we did know him after all, so we ended up talking to him, or listening mostly, for the rest of the evening.  We're always ready and willing to listen to whatever a crew member has to say because we always learn something new.  We were fawned over by a gleeful Gene, the wine steward, who had started as a deck steward when he was 22 (or something like that).  He is now in his late fifties according to Rico, although he looks far younger than that.

Jade Garden's menu was not the same as the one posted on Crystal website, so we obtained a new copy and have posted it on the site.  We basically ordered one of everything, with just a few exceptions, so we can speak with authority about the menu items tonight.  There was a bit of confusion over whether we wanted the items served "family style" or individually, but we did end up getting everything we wanted and more.

In general, everything was very good to outstanding.  We'll start with the appetizers:  The Seared Ahi Tuna Sashimi was attractively presented and was very fresh, but it lacked a distinct flavor to raise it above average,  The selection of Assorted Sushi was outstanding.  We were very happy with everything.  The Chinois-Style Calamari and Rock Srhimp Salad was good when it first arrived piping hot, but it quickly faded once it was lukewarm.  It was too large a serving to call an appetizer, in our opinion.  The BBQ Baby Back Pork Ribs were very good and so tender the meat literally fell off the bones.  The Lobster Spring Rolls were slightly better than the Nobu version served on the Serenity, but not by much.  We'd rate them average.  We did not order any of the soups.

Now for the entrees, we'd judge all of them very good to outstanding, particularly the Eggplant with Jumbo Prawns and the Wok-Seared Beef Tenderloin Slices, both of which had distinctive flavors and were relatively imaginative.  The portions are way too small for an entree, so plan accordingly if you only order one item.  We also ordered the Seared Chinois Lobster and the Orange Chicken both of which were way above average, but weren't anything to get overly excited about.

We both ordered the Dim Sum Dessert, which is a good choice.  All three of the items in it were tasty enough to order as a full-sized version, if that was offered.   The macadamia nut tart was our favorite of the three samples, but all were very good.

As usual for Crystal's alternative restaurants, the service was very attentive and friendly.  We were surprised that the restaurant remained half-full or less throughout the meal.  Only two additional parties were seated after we arrived at 8:00 PM.  We guess there were at least ten empty tables that appeared to have been that way all evening.  We didn't see what the attendance was for Prego tonight, but we assume it was similar.

The Evening Entertainment was the usual Welcome Aboard show featuring a couple of numbers from the Crystal Ensemble, plus brief presentations by the dance instructors Alexander Bryan & Felicity Wright, and Full Sail, the acapella quartet who are a regular part of Crystal Cruises.  There were very few guests in attendance for the show.  Less than 100 would be our estimate.  The opening number is the "Applause" opening from the "Encore" show put together for Crystal Harmony's 15th Anniversary, complete with the video featuring that ship.  We found this number tedious in context and even worse out of it.  The dance team and the acapella group were both talented and entertaining, but the singers got the best response from the small audience.  The show closed with the usual "Grand Hotel" number from the Crystal ensemble, which was fine, but tired.

We wandered the length of Deck 6 after the show to check out the various venues.  There was a total of maybe ten guests in the new Starlite Club, several of whom were ship's staff.  The reconfiguration of that space makes an amazing difference to the ambience of the entire deck, which is a good thing in our opinion.  We were right about the lobby fountain looking better in the dim light of evening, but there is still something that isn't quite as impressive as it used to be.  The glass "ice" that spirals up from the water appears to be extremely dusty, but that seems very odd for Crystal if that actually is the case.

For a full ship it sure was dead everywhere we ventured after dinner.  Of course, it is the first night of a cruise, but for such a short one you'd think more guests would want to take advantage of it while they can.  Oh well!  We have come to the conclusion that the new decor of the staterooms has the opposite affect from what was intended.  To us the ceiling appears lower and the room smaller, which, of course, they are not.  Putting in taller bedside lamps and a very vertical chair, even if it is narrower than the old sofa, results in a room that feels slightly claustrophobic to us.  It could also be that adding art to all of the room's walls closes it in a bit more, also.  None of this is a big deal and it wouldn't keep us from cruising, it is just an observation.

Upon our return to the room, we found a voicemail message informing us that the internet connections were back up and running.  Since this was sent after the 11:00 PM closing of the computer room, it does us no good for tonight.  Hopefully we will be able to begin uploading on a daily basis tomorrow.

Monday, February 26  - Cruising the Pacific Ocean

Click for today's Daytime Activities & Evening Entertainment.  Notice that they have found it necessary to point out that robes and swimsuits are not acceptable attire to attend the Bingo game.

Today's weather is nearly perfect, sunny and pleasantly warm.  It is somewhat windy with lots of whitecaps, but there isn't any unusual motion to the ship today.  The rough seas warned about yesterday never materialized.

A couple of observations about the room we forgot to mention previously.  We recall the beds being relatively comfortable in the past, but they are rock hard now.  We slept just fine and the linens are top quality, but the mattress certainly isn't anything special and a surprising oversight considering the emphasis many hotels and cruise lines put on this feature nowadays.  After showering for the first time last night we noticed that the exhaust fan in the our bathroom isn't working, so everything fogs up terribly.  We have reported it, but we have a feeling that is just the way it is for this stateroom (9041 in case you want to avoid it yourself). 

The glass sinks in the bathroom are more annoying than we expected.  We constantly bump into the one closest to the door and trying to maneuver around the faucet configuration for a daily routine is tedious.  It isn't terrible, but we would much prefer a regular sink and counter for daily living.  Fancy sinks belong in seldom-used powder rooms, in our opinion.

Although we don't find it at all annoying, it is worth mentioning that Crystal Symphony's ride seems quite jiggly now.  It is sort of like a piston is missing every once in a while, although we're sure it is more complicated than that.  The ship doesn't have the creaks and rattles of the old Harmony, however.  On a positive note, the stateroom is very quiet.  We can hear nothing from our neighbors or the corridor.  Although we were aware of the captain's morning announcement, we couldn't make out the words.

We could have made it out of the room early enough for late-risers breakfast, but we instead decided to just wallow in bed until time for lunch.  There was a Nuevo Latino theme buffet by the Neptune pool for lunch, but we opted for the dining room.  The buffets are actually quite nice, but with a full ship we didn't feel like dealing with the buffet today.

We arrived at the dining room a few minutes early, but it opened promptly at noon and we were seated immediately at a table for two by a window.  Based on the table number, we believe our regular evening table is just one up from the one where we sat this afternoon.  Headwaiter Roland was at the podium and appeared glad to see us.  Most of these guys haven't seen us since the 2003 World Cruise on this ship.

Shortly after we sat down, another headwaiter came over and asked for our stateroom number because the maitre d' wanted to check our seating assignment, or some other lame excuse like that.  Moments later, maitre d' Remi rushed over to greet us.  We have known him forever, but as far as he was concerned we haven't been on a cruise since 2003.  We had a pleasant conversation with him and assured him everything was fine and as expected.

The Latino Nuevo theme, or whatever the deck buffet theme happens to be, carries over to the dining room as well, so one doesn't miss out on much by skipping buffets.  We both ordered the fruit cup as an appetizer, which was nicely presented with a good variety of different fruits.  Both the cream soup, Tortilla, and the chilled soup, Pineapple-Guava, were mediocre, but edible.  The pasta special was Spaghetti with Meatballs and was very good.  The Sandwich of the Day was a chicken breast with avocado and bacon.  It wasn't anything special, but was satisfactory.  They did make an effort to create something interesting, so we'll give them credit for that.  The Bailey's Cream Pie for dessert was beautifully presented and was about average in flavor.

We haven't been on board since the Crystal Dining Room was redone in 2004 or thereabouts.  In our opinion, it is a HUGE improvement both in style and design.  It is hard to judge the sound level at lunch, but it did seem more muted than usual.  Anything would be an improvement in that regard.  The glass partitions around the center section were replaced with open railings and wood, which should help absorb some of the noise.  Also, the previously glass-walled corridors to the kitchen have been enclosed with solid walls.  The new chairs and color palette are also much more attractive than the previous decor.  The new maitre d' podium is also a big improvement over the fake plants that used to serve as a partition.  So far, so good on the dining room design.

We were served lunch by Rado and Sasha, both of whom were very pleasant and friendly.  We didn't see any waiters with whom we are familiar, so there must have been a large turnover recently.  We do recognize most of the headwaiters, however.

After lunch we wandered up to check out the pool deck and the weather.  Most of the tables were filled, so we didn't stay outside in spite of the very pleasant weather.  Instead, we took the computer down to be configured.  The computer attendants were beside themselves because the internet comes and goes randomly.  Needless to say, this leads to a parade of disgruntled guests trying to access email and whatever to no avail.  They did manage to set us up with internet access.  In our opinion, the log on/off procedure is a bit too confusing for the average guest to figure out and we're sure someone will let the meter run out on their minutes without realizing it.  Since we have been unable to actually use the internet at this point, we have no idea whether or not they have improved the transmission speed enough to make the per minute charges reasonable.

We returned to the stateroom after the computer set up.  The rest of the day was spent watching DVD's from home and napping.  We didn't even venture out for ice cream or a late afternoon snack.

Tonight's dress code is Formal for the Captain's Welcome Party.  We dawdled getting dressed, so we didn't arrive at the party until thirty minutes after the official start time.  In doing so, we missed whatever lines there may have been and walked right up to the captain for the typical photo.  We also chatted briefly with Paul, the Cruise Director, and Herbert, the Hotel Director, both of whom hadn't seen us since the 2003 World Cruise. 

We weren't sure how the new open-plan Starlite Club would work for these parties, but it was actually quite pleasant.  We sat in the cocktail lounge section adjacent to the hallway, so we weren't exactly in the middle of the action, which is our preference.  Randall, the Cruise Consultant, came over to chat and ended up joining us, along with Bernard Walz, one of the headline entertainers.  Randall invited us to a dinner on March 3rd, which we accepted.  The usual top executives from Crystal's Los Angeles office are on board, but we didn't interact with any of them.

On formal nights like this, late seating dinner begins fifteen minutes later than usual, at 8:45 PM.  Everyone from the party was gone by 8:30 PM, so we followed to the lobby to wait for the dining room to open.  It opened a few minutes early and we were seated where we expected along the windows.

Our senior waiter is Lazslo and our waiter is Ivana.  Ivana in particular seems like she could be a lot of fun, but it was so hectic tonight we only saw her twice.  Every table we could see was full, but most of the large tables held no more than four or six rather than the typical eight, so there was more room between the tables than we are used to.  The noise level seemed a bit less noticeable, although it is still not quiet by any means.

Here is the Captain's Welcome Menu PDF.

At various times we were greeted by dining room staff we have known for years.  Our headwaiter, Celso, was thrilled to see us, although we don't think he has actually been our headwaiter in the past except perhaps in Prego.  Ben, the Head Sommelier, came over to chat, as he usually does.  We were also familiar with our wine steward and one of the assistant waiters from an adjacent station.  However, all of the other waiters and assistants appear new to us.

Tonight's service was very slow, but otherwise just fine.  It wasn't ridiculously slow, just unusual.  All of the items we ordered were at least satisfactory.  We started with the fruit appetizer, which was presented in a similar fashion to the one at lunch (in a tall wine glass).  The selection of fruits included was interesting and tasty.  The Captain's Salad was fresh, but nothing special.  We did not order a soup course.  The pasta was very nice, although a bit gummy in texture.  It had a nice flavor, however.  The sherbet course was extremely tasty, so much so that we ordered it again for dessert.  The Chateaubriand was exceptional and the portion size has returned to something reasonable.  The meat portion consisted of two thick slices, plenty for most people, and the vegetables and potatoes arranged attractively around it.  Everything on the plate was tasty, including the potatoes which in the past have been inedible.  The Almond-Lemon Tart for dessert was good, but not great.

Our judgment on the new look of the dining room is all positive.  We can find nothing to complain about.  Everything they did improved on the original decor.  The room has a sort of contemporary art deco look about it.

Although we didn't dawdle or do much chatting with the staff, we had only five minutes to spare to arrive at the Galaxy Lounge in time for the show.

The Evening Entertainment is the revived production show "Cole!".  This has been one of our favorites in the past.  Tonight's presentation was one of the best we have seen from a performance standpoint.  There was a glaring technical problem with the sound that went on for way too long, but the dancers made up for it in enthusiasm and near-perfect timing.  Although this is one of Crystal's "classic" shows, it holds up well against the newer productions.  We would go see it again if it is presented during the next cruise, as well.

After the show we wandered throughout deck 6 to see if there was any action.  We weren't interested in actually participating in any of it, but we wanted to see if there actually was any.  There were a few people dancing in the Starlite Club, which looked quite inviting in a nightclub sort of way with small lamps placed on the tables.  Several groups appeared headed toward the Avenue Saloon.  Otherwise, most people simply vanished into thin air as is typical for Crystal cruises.  With a full ship we expected more guests lingering around, but we rarely even have to share an elevator with another person and we have yet to encounter anyone in the corridor.

Now that the Starlite Club has been redone, the Palm Court has fallen into disuse.  The bar isn't even open during the evening anymore and it was confirmed by someone who would know that it is only used for group meetings and private parties.  That's too bad because it is a beautiful, comfortable room, but apparently Crystal has thrown in the towel on trying to lure anyone up there after dark.  On the other hand, it does make sense to have all of the after dinner entertainment centered on deck 6 since everyone is there anyway.  So few people attend anything after the show that this does make it appear more active at night, if you can even call it that.

We are still unable to get a reliable enough connection to the internet to publish the site.  The wireless network onboard connects just fine with an excellent signal from our stateroom, but we have yet to connect to the outside world even though we have been charged for our attempts to do so.  This new system is bound to continue to receive the barrage of complaints Crystal's internet service always has, especially considering the cost.

Tuesday, February 27 – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico – Arrive 12:00 Noon – Depart 6:00 PM

Cabo San Lucas is nestled on the southernmost tip of the Baja Peninsula, where the cool currents of the Pacific Ocean meet the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez. Commanding rock formations, timeless desert and a translucent sea provide a compelling introduction to this tranquil resort town.

Here, mile upon mile of golden sandy coves dot the shoreline while marlin and sailfish frolic in the waters offshore. Laze on a deserted beach, explore the undersea world or discover bustling shops and markets for tempting treasures such as silver, jewelry and wooden sculptures.

Shore Excursions in Cabo San Lucas

$38 Land’s End Boat Tour & Scenic Drive
$165 Swimming with Dolphins
$41 Sea Kayaking Eco-Adventure
$96 Baja ATV Adventure
$38 Coastal Highlights
$53 Snorkel & Sail to Santa Maria Cove
$174 Cabo San Lucas Sportfishing CANCELLED

Click for Daytime Activities & Evening Entertainment.  We received invitations to the Crystal Society party for tomorrow night.

Crystal Symphony arrived in the bay off Cabo San Lucas at around 11:30 AM.  The announcement that the ship was cleared was made around 11:45 AM.  Our first stop was the Lido for lunch, where we arrived just after noon.  The restaurant opened 30 minutes early to accommodate guests going ashore today, so there were no lines at all and both sides were open.

As usual, the deck stewards fought over who would serve us first.  Today, Darwin won.  He had our iced teas ready before we even finished going through the line.  We both had the Asian selection as our main entree.  Today it was Sweet and Sour Chicken, which was satisfactory.  We sampled a small steak sandwich from the buffet and the rotisserie chicken that is carved to order.  The chicken was outstanding, as it generally is.  The sandwich was edible, but we've never understood the logic of serving a fully assembled sandwich from a buffet steam table.  The Symphony's Lido has been outfitted with the smaller ceramic serving trays similar to the Serenity, so everything is fresher than it has been in the past.  We'd judge the Lido food to be much better than it has been in the past, although the selection is the same.  Almost everything is identical to what is offered in the main dining room, with the exception of the additional Asian selection and the made-to-order salad and pasta of the day.  We did not have dessert.

After lunch we wandered up to the Salon to inquire whether Benji was available.  We were told she was at lunch, so we took the side door from the salon out onto the Sun Deck for a stroll and a look at the view.  Benji ran out shortly after we stepped out and chatted for a few minutes.  We'll arrange to meet with her officially later.  By the way, the only way to take an elevator to the Sun Deck now is to use the aft set and then barge through the salon reception area and out a door they keep locked from the inside.  The new elevator lobby decor adjacent to the salon is rather, um, avocado in color.  Where did that palette come from for the Symphony?

Today's weather is absolute perfection.  The temperature at the ship is probably less than 75 degrees and there is no wind to speak of.  There are two huge ships in the bay with us, one from Royal Caribbean and the other a Carnival ship.  The Carnival ship is anchored outside of the bay.  Crystal Symphony has the location closest to the marina, which is nice for anyone tendering ashore.

After a stroll around the deck we wandered down to the computer room to see if the internet was working, which, of course, it was not.  If it doesn't start working soon we will request a refund and forget about trying to update the site while on this cruise.  If it isn't fixed by now, we doubt it ever will be.  We know there are transmission problems in this part of the world, but we have always been connected in Cabo San Lucas in the past.  We were able to upload this afternoon by connecting to a wireless network from shore, not via the ship's connection.  The good thing about that is that it is free, slow, but free.

Back at the room, we took a couple of pictures of the view from our verandah.  So, here they are:  Cabo1, Cabo2.  Nothing else of consequence took place this afternoon.  We added photos of the new stateroom decor and bathrooms to the Crystal Symphony Photo Gallery.  There is a link to the gallery at the bottom of this page.  All new ship photos we take will be added as they become available.

We managed to drag ourselves up to the Lido Deck for a snack at around 4:30 PM.  We split a Napa Slow Chicken Wrap (shouldn't that be "slaw"?), which was very tasty.  It is a wonder that with a full ship we rarely see more than maybe twenty guests in one place at any given time.  Even with the perfect weather, there was only a handful of guests out on deck and we were completely alone by the time we moved at 5:30 PM.  At that time we moved to our verandah for the sail away, after briefly chatting with Rita in the hallway.

Skip ahead to dinner time since nothing happened worth reporting between snacking and dining.  Tonight's dress code is Casual.  We had a few minutes to kill before dinner time, so we stopped by the Photo Gallery and purchased our boarding and Captain's Party photos.  Our document scanner doesn't seem up to the task of scanning photos, so you'll have to use your imagination.

The acapella group was singing in front of the fountain in the lobby and they drew quite an audience.  This is a nice idea and was well received.  However, it would be nice if someone would remember to turn the waterfall back on when they are finished with their set.  It is awfully quiet in the lobby when the water isn't running after dinner.

We wandered by and up to Palm Court just to see if it really was deserted.  It was, except for a private meeting in the front section.  There were no other guests in the room besides the group up front.

The Dining Room was decidedly less crowded tonight.  Here is the menu for tonight:  Menu PDF.  We ordered the fruit appetizer, which was good as usual.  The Chilled Watermelon Gazpacho tasted more like cinnamon spiced apple juice than anything, but it was acceptable.  The pasta special was very good except a few pieces of the pasta were undercooked.  We both ordered the Prime Rib for a main course.  We also had a side order of the snapper and the crab cakes.  Literally everything on the plate was outstanding, including the beef, which is unusual for a Crystal ship.  We've never had prime rib onboard that was anything above average in the past.  All of the main course items themselves were outstanding plus the other items on the plates were wonderful.  The Chocolate-Banana Tart for dessert was also exceptional.  All in all, this was the best overall meal we have had on any Crystal ship in quite a while.

After dinner we had a pleasant conversation with our waiter, Laszlo.  He was quite forthcoming with his negative opinion of a competing cruise line where he worked previously in regard to the manner in which the crew is treated.  He said Crystal is by far the best as far as the crew is concerned.  We believe that a happy crew means a happy guest, so it stands to reason Crystal treats their crew well.  He wasn't just towing the company line when he said that.  Frankly, we have never heard a crew member badmouth Crystal's treatment of the crew, which is amazing in itself. 

The conversation with our waiter did allow us to make a standing request for the menus each night, so we might be able to provide scans of them more reliably from now on.  Keep your fingers crossed if that is of interest to you.  We ended up being the last guests out of the dining room again due to the conversation and the somewhat slow service again tonight.  We don't mind if there are a few lulls in the service since we aren't going anywhere, so it doesn't bother us particularly.

The Evening Entertainment is "A Lady, A Man & A Baby Grand" featuring Dale Kristien and Bernard Walz.  We did not attend tonight's entertainment and instead sat for a few minutes listening to the band in the Starlite Club.  Dale and Bernard are both wonderful talents, but they have been featured on every Crystal cruise we have taken in the past four years, if not more, so we've pretty much seen their entire repertoire at this point.

Wednesday, February 28, MazatláN,  Mexico – Arrive 8:00 am – Depart 5:00 PM

 The massive lighthouse of El Faro welcomes you to the thriving seaport of Mazatlán. Located on a peninsula just south of the Tropic of Cancer, this fast-developing resort is a fishing and sportsperson's paradise. Supposedly there are as many fishing boats as tennis courts here! Offshore, scores of sailfish and marlin frolic in the temperate waters while para-sailors drift lazily overhead.

Mazatlán offers a rich diversity of activities. Feel free to shop at the colorful market and folk art shops, explore the charming town plaza, relax at a fine resort hotel or try your luck sportfishing.

Shore Excursions in Mazatlán

$38 An Introduction to Mazatlán
$66 Mazatlán Wildlife Expedition
$56 A Drive to the Sierra Madre Range
$145 Sportfishing Tournament

Click for Daytime Activities & Evening Entertainment.

Ah, the smell of raw sewage in the morning.  It must be Mazatlán!  Actually, just off shore from the port where the sewage pipes end.  Be on deck for the aroma and the line of flotsam as we arrive or sail away.  Anyway, other than that, there isn't much to say about this port.  The weather is quite pleasant with a temperature in the low 70's and not a cloud in the sky.  We continue to have the Vision of the Seas in port with us.

Our day started with another very tasty lunch in the Lido.  Both sides were open even on a port day, so there was no line at all.  We found plenty of choices to make up a nice lunch.  We chatted briefly with Herbert, the Hotel Director, and the Lido maitre d', Paolo.  We had never met the maitre d' before we arrived on this cruise.  He told us that he had been working on the Harmony for many years, but we hadn't seen him before.  He was surprised at how many long-time cruisers he hadn't met before coming to the Symphony.

We have found the new internet system aboard to be completely useless.  It either doesn't work at all or it is so painfully slow that the expensive time ticks away before anything can be accomplished.  The problem isn't with the wireless network, but with the satellite transmission.  We'll have to discuss the issue with the staff and see if there is a solution or whether we should just forget about it and ask for our money back.

After a stroll around the upper deck, we returned to the stateroom.  This port area is very noisy, so it isn't as pleasant outside as it could be even with the nice weather.  We only ventured onto our verandah during the sail away.  Otherwise we stayed in the room until the cocktail hour.

There is a Crystal Society party before dinner tonight.  The dress code for this evening is Informal.  We walked right into the party in the Starlite Club with no formal receiving line to speak of.  Well, the captain and the Crystal Society Hostess were standing there, but nobody was directing traffic or anything like that.  We sat toward the back in the new section of the lounge where we could see the stage.  Randall joined us and confirmed his dinner invitation for the night of the 3rd.  He and Bernard and celebrating their birthdays together that night with just a few friends, so it should be a pleasant evening.

The party was about as usual, although we thought the speeches in general were handled awkwardly.  We thought it odd that we weren't in the top three for the number of cruises and as it turned out we were.  We were tied with another couple who supposedly already have 16 more cruises booked for this year, so they were called to the stage.  Our names were mentioned as also having 44 cruises racked up. 

Almost everyone arrived about fifteen minutes late for dinner due to the party, but that was no excuse for the slow service tonight.  For us it was about the same as it has been the entire cruise, slow, but not too tedious.  The large table next to us eventually complained to the maitre d' because they sat for thirty minutes with no sign of their first course.  In our opinion, the complaint was justified, but they never did let it drop and it was their topic of conversation all night.  They were offered a complimentary bottle of wine for their trouble, which was nice.  As an indication of how slow the service was, we barely made it to the show on time and we only stopped briefly to chat with Remi on the way out.  It wasn't just our waiter who was slow.  We saw many parties waiting for their food for way too long, so there must be an issue in the galley.

The theme was "California Dinner", but there was nothing on the menu that had the slightest connection to California except perhaps the avocado in one of the appetizers.  Here is the Menu PDF.

However, even with the odd theme, the food was outstanding from start to finish.  The Rock Shrimp "Tostados" were incredibly tasty.  The fruit appetizer was beautifully presented with a large and interesting variety of fruits and berries.  The roasted vegetable soup was very good.  It is a puree of roasted vegetables and tastes mostly of tomatoes, but it is still quite tasty.  The pasta course was described as being "Braised Short Ribs and Pasta", but was more like small beef cubes over wide egg noodles.  It was good, but not what one expects for a pasta course.  Both the fish and the prawn entrees were exceptional.  Everything on the plate with the entree was also incredible.  This meal harkened back to the the heyday of Crystal Symphony when every meal was looked forward to with great anticipation.  Even the portions were adequately sized.

Tonight's entertainment was the newest production show, "The Envelope Please...".  We were very surprised to see the show so poorly attended considering that it is new, but one of the waiters told us that the first show was nearly full.  Apparently the late seating guests are more interested in the casino action than production shows because the room was less than half full.  The show was a bit awkward in parts, but overall it was fine.  It isn't the best show Crystal has ever put on, but it is far from the worst either.  It could probably be improved just by tightening up some of the introductions.  The selection of songs was enjoyable and diverse.  We didn't find anything to be glaringly distasteful.  Even the costumes were understated and classy considering Crystal's recent history in that regard.

It was announced earlier that due to construction at the port in Puerto Vallarta, it will be necessary for us to tender ashore.  That makes no difference to us obviously, but we have always docked in the past.  This is the first time they have offered the free shuttle to town in this port.  The taxi union usually prevents it in Mexico, but they got around it by labeling the shuttle busses "City Highlights & Shopping" so they could pass as tours.  it remains to be seen how long that deception lasts, but it is worth a shot.

By the way, the sea has been smooth as glass the past two nights of sailing with almost no "jiggling" or other movement of any consequence.  We move forward on the clock one hour tonight.

Thursday, March 1 - Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - Arrive 8:00 AM - Depart 5:00 PM

 Embraced by rugged tropical mountains on one side and the beautiful Banderas Bay on the other, Puerto Vallarta is second only to Acapulco when it comes to the Mexican Riviera's leading resort cities.

White stucco houses are capped with red-tile roofs and surrounded by bougainvillea-lined cobblestone streets. Native women who beat their laundry along riverbanks as busy fishing boats return to port illustrate a lifestyle that has been maintained for decades.

Nearby, sophisticated restaurants, luxury hotels, smart boutiques and lively nightclubs bear testament to the changes wrought on this quiet seaside city since the 1960s. Life here has never been quite the same since the filming of the movie "Night of the Iguana" and the worldwide publicity accorded the romance of its stars, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

Puerto Vallarta brims with life. Shop for leather goods, shell and silver jewelry, hand-embroidered blouses or painted figures from Oaxaca. Explore cobblestone streets and picturesque alleyways filled with the scents and bustling energy
of Mexico.

Shore Excursions in Puerto Vallarta

$40 Puerto Vallarta Highlights
$77 Dolphin Encounter
$147 Swim with the Dolphins
$78 Canopy Adventure
$125 Puerto Vallarta Sightseeing & Private Villa Lunch
$147 San Sebastian Aerial Exploration
$87 Sailing Adventure
$275 Dolphin Trainer for the Day

Click for Daytime Activities & Evening Entertainment.

Once again, the weather is perfection.  It is probably around 80 with not a cloud in the sky.  Since we are anchored off shore (the Vision of the Seas is at the only available dock), there is also a nice sea breeze to keep things comfortable.  Here are a few photos taken from the ship of the port area, new construction along the beach, the main part of town, and the condo zone across from the small port.

The internet connection from the ship is actually working today, so we were finally able to update this site.  Although it worked, it took four tries to get a long enough connection to finish the upload and it was SLOOOOOWWW.  The old dial-up system on the Harmony was faster than this.  No wonder they charge by the hour.  Talk about a cash cow for the cruise line.

As usual, our first stop was the Lido for lunch.  The food today was so outstanding that we actually went back for more.  Now that's a first for the Lido.  In the past, the food in Symphony's Lido in particular has been barely edible, let alone being worth a second helping.  Service is always very attentive.  We saw the maitre d' call over waiters several times to assist older passengers with their selections and they always carry guests' trays to their table for them.  Darwin had our iced teas set at our usual place before we even got to the end of the buffet line.

We keep forgetting to mention that several top executives from Crystal's office in Los Angeles are aboard.  We were told they all come on board together once a year, but we know we have seen them more often than that.  Perhaps it is true they aren't all here at the same time though.  They are quite accessible to anyone who wants to chat with them, although we haven't done so.  They do know who we are, but we don't like to be like those guests who attach themselves and barrage them with complaints.  If they ask us, we'll tell them what we think, but we don't volunteer it.

After lunch we wandered around the upper outside decks, took the pictures posted above, and turned in our gratuity form.  The preliminary statement was delivered to the stateroom this morning.  These 7-day cruises are just too short!  You get the ending statement before you even know how much you want to tip.  By the way, we expect that the American Express credits will cover all of our expenses for this first cruise and probably the second.  If we can postpone cashing in our 45th Milestone credit we will do that because we don't need the shipboard credits.  If we have to use it we'll give it away in extra tips to the deck stewards or something like that because the shops have nothing we want to buy.

We stayed in the stateroom or on the verandah for the afternoon.

There was a sail away party by the Seahorse Pool at 4:30 PM today, but we did not attend.  By the way, there is no mention at all of the Casual Dining option previously offered on some evenings.  We didn't know if it had been discontinued completely or if it just wasn't offered on shorter cruises.  We assumed it was the latter, which we did confirm is the case.  The Gala Buffet also isn't offered on 7-day cruises.

Tonight's dress code is Casual.  We sat in the Starlite Club for a while before dinner and had drinks.  The hot snacks that were offered tonight were very good.  One was BBQ chicken wings and the other was coconut fried shrimp, although the shrimp was described as something else entirely.  We declined the plate of cold appetizers.

Click for tonight's Menu PDF.  The dining room was relatively empty tonight, so there was no chaos at all.  Our waiter only had us and one table of staff, so he wasn't at all frantic.  The food continued to be way above average, although nothing stood out as fantastic except the dessert.  The Lobster Enchilada was the best item by far.  It was beautifully presented as well as tasty.  We almost ordered a second round, but decided against it since we ordered so many other things.  The fruit appetizer was again a nice selection and attractively served in a tall wine glass.  The Mixed Greens Salad looked as though it would be boring, but it had a nice combination of flavors with the chunks of salty feta cheese, sweet grapes and toasted sunflower seeds.  We ordered the Chilled Avocado Soup just because we have always wondered what it was like.  We didn't expect to like it and we didn't.  It was edible, but that's all we can say for it.  It would have made a nice, light sauce for a fish dish perhaps.  The fish entree was outstanding, as were the Braised and Herb-Crusted Short Ribs.  The ribs were boneless and if they hadn't referred to them as ribs we would have assumed it was a big chunk of pot roast.  It was a little bit odd served with linguine, not to mention messy, but it was a nice try at being different.  The meat itself was extremely tasty.  For dessert we were offered the headwaiter's Bananas Foster, which we declined.  We ordered the Wild Blueberry Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream.  It was perhaps the best dessert we have had so far, but it was not blueberry, but raspberries mixed with just one or two blueberries.

Since we were our waiter's only real party tonight, we had a chance to talk to him a bit more.  He is pleasant to talk to when he isn't frantically trying to keep up with the special orders.  He said he really doesn't mind the special requests, but it is what causes the delays and most guests don't seem to understand that.  He remembered on his own to give us the menus tonight, so we'll give him a lot of credit for that.  He said they would try to get yesterday's for us, as well.  We didn't want to ask last night after all the commotion, although he did say he remembered it as we were leaving, but then we were talking to the maitre d' and he didn't want to interrupt.

We were surprised to find all of the shops and the Photo Shop still open at 10:30 PM.  The shops were fairly empty, as usual, but the library was quite popular, as was the photo gallery and the Starlite Club.  That doesn't bode well for attendance at the show, however.

The Evening Entertainment is a Variety Showtime featuring Humorist & Singer Jimmy Travis, plus a Special Opening by International Dance Professionals Alexander Bryan & Felicity Wright.  We did not attend the show.  As with Bernard and Dale, Jimmy has been on every cruise we've been on in the past five years, no kidding.  We'd swear Crystal only has a total of five headliners to choose from at the rate we see these people.  There is nothing objectionable about any of them, but we've pretty much seen whatever they each have to offer, and more than once at that.

When we sailed from Puerto Vallarta tonight the captain announced that it might be rough on the way back to Los Angeles due to a headwind and large swells.  It did indeed become very slightly rocky after dinner, but certainly nothing unusual.  We move one hour back on the clock tonight.

Friday, March 2 – cruising the pacific ocean

Click for Daytime Activities & Evening Entertainment.

The sea remained somewhat rough all night and throughout the day.  It wasn't anything unusual, just a bit rocky from time to time, and very windy on deck.  Of course, there was an American Classic Buffet held around the Neptune Pool for lunch, but we went to the dining room as usual.

Lunch was good, but nothing incredible.  Our regular waiter hijacked us from the waiter trying to seat us, so we sat at his station, but not at our usual table.  Everything was fine, with nothing unusual to report.  One entree was the Cuban Salad, which consisted of a grilled chicken breast, a fish fillet, diced ham and some other things we have forgotten.  It was very tasty.  We split a sample of the Sloppy Joe Sandwich of the Day just to see what it was.  Other than the fact that it was served in a hollowed out cheese roll, it was about what one would expect.  The potato skins served with it were boring.  The Boiled Beef Brisket entree was good for what it was, but rather boring.  However, the sautéed potatoes with onions served with it were outstanding.  We did not order dessert.

On the way out of the dining room we stopped to introduce ourselves to Megan, the Crystal Society Hostess.  Since she is leaving in two cruises, we didn't really have a reason except that we wanted to cancel redeeming our 45th Milestone on the next cruise because we aren't spending enough money to need the $500 shipboard credit now.  She said it was no problem to do that and we can bank it for the next cruise, no problem.  With that out of the way, we bonded with Megan for a few hours sharing shipboard gossip and world cruise news she knew nothing about.  She also had some information we weren't aware of, so it was a mutual information sharing session. 

The new Crystal Society Director, and we do mean new since she only started nine days ago, arrived yesterday and joined us.  She seems very nice and we have high hopes that she will inject some responsibility into the customer service at the Los Angeles office.  We all agreed that the office is no match for the onboard service and that something has to be done to change the perception of the guests that the office is useless.  All we can say in that regard is that they have a long road ahead of them to change that.  However, M.C. (Mary Catherine) seems truly sincere in her desire to improve customer service from the office.  Megan set up an appointment for us to meet again tomorrow with M.C. to give her a bit of a low down.  Apparently we classify and reasonably coherent.  Our main issue with the office is that they have never answered a complaint letter from us even though we have only written twice in all these years.  M.C. was appalled to say the least, as she should be.

After keeping poor Megan at her desk way longer than she was supposed to be there, we picked up our passports from Reception along with U.S. Customs Declaration Forms that were left out of our immigration packages.  We received our immigration information this morning.  Our meeting time is at 8:40 AM in the Galaxy Lounge for the mandatory parade past the immigration officers that lasts maybe two seconds and serves no purpose we can discern.  It appears that we won't have to disembark and come back later like we did last year, but that remains to be seen.  We also picked up a Future Cruise Booking form to turn in for next year.

Back at the room, we thought we might nap, but decided we were hungry again, so we went up for ice cream and cookies by the pool.  Allan came over and chatted about the last time we were there.  Apparently our visit to the ship in San Diego was a highlight for the deck stewards since they can't stop talking about it.

After snacking, we thought maybe we would nap for an hour before the Captain's Farewell Cocktail Party, but all we did was watch DVD's brought from home and it was suddenly time to get dressed for the party.

Tonight's dress code is Informal.  The party was held, as always, in the new Starlite Club.  The only weird thing about this venue now is that there really isn't any way to control the reception line, so guests sort of just arrive and walk past the captain and other officers.  We did that as well, although we did acknowledge them.  Herbert, the Hotel Director, chased after us because he wanted to ask how we like the changes to the ship.  We think the changes and additions to the public rooms are, for the most part, a huge success.  The Starlite Club reconfiguration in particular borders on brilliance.

Herbert wasn't happy that we don't like the new stateroom furniture or bathrooms.  As usual for Crystal, he insisted that the feedback about them is overwhelmingly positive, which we find a bit hard to believe based on the conversations we overhear on a daily basis.  Yes, the rooms LOOK beautiful, but they are nowhere near as comfortable or convenient to live in as the old ones.  The old decor was dated even when the ship was new, so the color palette definitely needed an upgrade.  That part of the decor makeover was successful, in our opinion.  However, the staterooms appear much smaller to us and the new chairs always seem to be in the way.  We spend all of our stateroom time lying on the bed because the chairs are too upright and uncomfortable for lounging.  In any case, we did assure him that it wasn't so terrible for us that we wouldn't book again, and we wanted to make it clear that we weren't complaining just because we don't like change.  Far from it, we welcome the new colors and fabrics, but we wish they were on more practical furniture.  The budget allocated for the new bathroom sinks would have been better spent elsewhere, such as new decor the the Galaxy Lounge and perhaps an update to the very dated elevator lobbies.

By the way, we are now well aware of the fact that the ship's hotel officers and entertainment staff are quite familiar with this site.  While we don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, we feel it is only fair to report exactly what happens to us just as it did happen.  We hope anyone who reads this who is affiliated with Crystal knows that we appreciate the effort put forth to please us, but that sometimes there are improvements that should be considered or better ways to handle certain situations.  Obviously we aren't disgruntled or we wouldn't keep coming back, but we aren't Pollyannas either.  We should also point out that we do not report information shared with us privately unless we are told it is acceptable to do so.

The Captain's Party was as usual, nothing really to report except that the speeches were very short.  Deck stewards also serve the parties, so we get the usual over the top service at parties as we do on deck.  If we accepted all of the drink refills they offer we would float away.

Here is tonight's Menu PDF.  Although it is titled "Farewell Dinner" this is actually the French Dinner served on longer cruises.  Crystal no longer has a real farewell menu with the God-awful Baked Alaska parade...and thank God for that!  This isn't one of our favorite meals, much to the consternation of the staff who seem to think it is best thing since sliced bread.  Well, if you like caviar and escargots, then yes, this is the menu for you.

The food was outstanding once again, which is quite a thrill for us and very unexpected.  The fruit appetizer was nicely presented in a round of coconut.  Although we ordered the Lobster Bisque, we never received it because of a commotion at the complainer's table next door.  Ordinarily bisque does not have chunks in it, however, the menu did say that it was "with Lobster chunks".  The woman who never stops complaining, loudly, insisted that they bring her the lobster chunks, which they did, of course.  That resulted in more constant complaining among themselves about how incompetent our waiter is, etc.  He now has help from two additional assistants plus another waiter and they still whined.  We will say the service is a tad slow, but it isn't worth complaining about.

Besides the bisque we didn't receive, everything else went smoothly.  The Captain's Salad was attractive and tasty, but messy to cut up and eat.  The pasta course was absolutely wonderful.  We wished we had ordered it as a main course.  That is, until we received the main course, the Beef Filet, which was also incredible.  The sauce served with the meat was a perfect accompaniment along with the mashed potatoes and carrots.  We ordered sides of the Crab Cakes (average) and the Lamb (very good).  Dessert was the Grand Marnier Soufflé, which was, as always, delicious.  Your headwaiter brings a bottle of Grand Marnier to add to it if you wish, but we declined.

We finally remembered to ask Michel, our sommelier, if the sommelier at the end of the room was Gianluca from the Serenity.  We know him quite well, but with our limited vision these days we weren't 100% sure it was him from a distance.  It turned out it was Gianluca, who rushed over to talk to us the moment Michel told him we had asked about him.  He said that if we are at the same table for the next cruise that he will rotate to our station.

Dinner dragged on until almost the last second before we could make it to the show on time.  However, we did make it with a few minutes to spare.  Tonight's production show is "Curtain Call" which is a popular favorite with everyone in the universe besides us.  We don't hate it, but the most recent musical represented in the show is "Mamma Mia" if that tells you anything.  The audience was quite sparse for a production show, but there were more guests in attendance for this show than the previous offerings.

We move one hour back on the clock tonight.  A couple of other random items to report for today are that we received an invitation to make shore excursions reservations in advance of the new guests embarking for the next cruise, plus an offer of whatever alternative restaurant dates we want for the next cruise.  We plan to make reservations for Jade Garden again if we can remember to do so tomorrow evening.

The sea remained slightly rough tonight.  Again, it is nothing unusual for this part of the world and certainly nothing we consider bothersome.  Although we have had some success at getting an internet connection the past couple of days, it is painfully slow and unreliable.  It takes no less than four tries to finally publish each day's page, which is ridiculous for the prices charged.

Saturday, March 3 - Cruising the Pacific Ocean

Click for Daytime Activities & Evening Entertainment.

Today's weather was the usual marine layer found around Los Angeles this time of year, so any outside activities weren't the best choice.  We went to the dining room for lunch, which was nearly full by the time we were finished eating.  Our meal was satisfactory with nothing special or unusual to report.

We had to go the the front desk to straighten out a mistake with the gratuities to be charged to our account.  When we turned in the form we specifically asked if it was filled out correctly for two people and we were assured that it was.  However, we received gratuity cards for only one of us.  When the front desk woman came back from checking on it, she vaguely blamed us for the error, which wasn't the best approach.  She did say she would fix it right away, which she did, but she shouldn't have pinned it on us even if we had been wrong.

We had an appointment with M.C., the new Crystal Society Director, at 3:00 PM by the Neptune Pool for ice cream.  She was already there when we arrived with Rachel, also from the Crystal Society Department.  Both of them, M.C. in particular, were very interested in what we had to say.  We won't recount the details publicly, but the gist of it was the poor reputation the L.A. office has with most of the guests, our perception of Crystal's general attitude, and a recap of customer service gaffs caused by the office in the past.  As we have said already, we have high hopes for M.C. breathing some new life into Crystal's office.  We have to say that she was the most open and honest executive type from Crystal we have ever had the pleasure to deal with.  Let's hope she doesn't run into a brick wall when she reports back with the information she has been gathering the past few days.  She had meetings every hour or so with high-count cruise guests, so we're sure she got an earful.

After our chat and some ice cream, we returned to the room, then ventured out again to make reservations for Jade Garden for the next cruise.  We want to avoid the cattle call open seating on embarkation night as well as the Farewell (French) menu.  We made a couple of other brief stops before returning to the room.

Tonight's entertainment, the usual Farewell Variety Show, was presented before dinner, so we did not attend.  We filled out our QAP forms and took them down to the lobby to wait for Randal, Bernard, Dale, her sister, Megan, and another guest couple who are also world cruisers.  Well, they were world cruisers, but have recently come back to the Symphony for the same reasons we have.

The birthday dinner party for Randal and Bernard was very pleasant and the time passed so quickly we thought it was actually very early when it was over.  However, we were the very last guests out of the dining room.  Since we were distracted with conversations most of the time, we don't recall exactly what we ate, but we do remember the filet mignon from the "always available" section being outstanding, as was the cream of chicken soup and the seafood cocktail appetizer.  So, we can safely say that every evening in the dining room was a wonderful experience food-wise.

Laszlo and Ivana remembered to save menus for us, so we were able to go back and add them to every night's diary entry.  They are also posted in the menus section of the site now.  We did not get a menu for tonight, however.

As mentioned previously, our time to report for U.S. Immigration Inspection tomorrow morning is 8:40 AM.  We have decided to wake up at 8:00 AM and go directly to the inspection rather than get up even earlier to fit breakfast into the time frame.  We'll probably go right back to bed anyway and get up for lunch, as usual, but we'll see.

Even though the weather wasn't as nice as it has been, the sea was calmer so there was hardly any movement at all.  The ship it traveling at a higher speed though, so the jiggly vibration is back, but that doesn't bother us at all.  In fact, it puts us to sleep every time we lay down.

Sunday, march 4 - Los Angeles, CA, USA - Arrive 7:00 AM - Depart 5:00 PM

Spectacular natural surroundings combined with the vitality of a creative and artistic community make Los Angeles one-of-a-kind. Sunshine, majestic palm trees and the sandy beaches of the Pacific share the spotlight with L.A.'s glamorous movie industry and its world-famous celebrities.

Formally founded in 1781, it is now one of the world's largest metropolitan centers. Although there will not be any shore excursions offered in Los Angeles due to our limited time in port, you may contact our onboard Shore Excursion staff for helpful hints or suggestions on things to do while you are ashore.

Mexican Riviera Rendezvous:  Theme Cruise - Cabaret at Sea

Since this is a turn-around day, there are no Daytime Activities listed for today yet.  All of the usual food services are available to in-transit guests except lunch is not served in the Lido, only the Dining Room.  Otherwise it is just like any other day on board for those of us continuing on to the next voyage.

We woke up earlier than the alarm was set, so we managed to fit in breakfast in the Lido before being called for immigration.  The food was very good, even the French toast from the buffet.  Since Crystal does not force guests out of their stateroom until fifteen minutes before they disembark, there are no crowds anywhere, even in the Lido.

We're not quite sure what time we were called for immigration, but it seems like it was a bit earlier than the assigned time of 8:50 AM.  However, when we arrived the line was all the way to the lobby from the Galaxy Lounge.  We inadvertently ignored Dale and her sister, but once they woke us up we all joined the immigration line.  Jimmy Travis and his wife were just ahead of us.  The line moved quickly and we all paraded in front of the officials, answering the usual pointless questions, and we were done.  Nobody collected our customs forms.  Although we hadn't been instructed to do so, we assumed the our passports needed to be collected at the front desk, so we went down to ask.  Yes, they needed them back, no they don't want the customs forms.  OK fine, in the trash they go.  Your tax dollars at work.

We wandered around the empty ship a bit.  The pool was looking quite green, but there was a robotic cleaning thing running around in it.  Lots of maintenance was going on to the outside of the ship by guys hanging from scaffolds.  There was also a guy sanding the steps leading up to the Seahorse Pool Jacuzzi. 

By 9:30 AM, we were done with the formalities and getting too hot up on deck, so it was obviously time to return to the room to nap until the next feeding time around noon.  By then a new batch of passengers will be arriving.  Oh goodie!!

This cruise has a "Cabaret at Sea" theme, so we're hoping there will be a few new acts on board for entertainment.

Embarkation commenced at noon.  Guests are led directly to the Crystal Dining Room for lunch and to wait until the staterooms are ready at 2:00 PM.  We didn't arrive at the dining room until around 1:00 PM, so it was relatively full.  No problem, Celso seated us at a large table in the center and said he wouldn't seat anyone with us (we didn't ask, he made that assumption on his own, correctly).  Embarkation luncheon has an abbreviated one-page menu, but there were sufficient choices.  Free champagne is served to anyone who wants it. 

We both had the fruit appetizer, Cream of Zucchini soup that tasted like chicken broth and cream, and a regular salad.  The Grilled Salmon entree was good, but nothing special, as was the California Cobb Salad.  The New York Cheesecake dessert was below average because of the grainy chocolate sauce poured over it, but it was edible.

Just as we finished lunch, Marco came over.  He returned today as Shore Excursions Manager.  He confirmed a dinner with us for tomorrow night, but we don't know the details yet.  We do know it will be with Marco and Benji, plus maybe Bernard and a couple of other people.

Judging by the new clientele, one could certainly guess this is a showbiz type of theme.  We'll leave it at that.  Since we didn't have to wait for our room to be ready, we retreated from the hubbub of embarkation.  Well, we tried to, but one of our new keys wasn't working, so we had to go to the concierge desk to get a new one.  That was no problem, but we did have to wait behind the somewhat belligerent guest who wanted a free upgrade.  There was a sign on the desk clearly stating that the ship is sold out and no changes are possible under any circumstances.  The concierge was being as polite as he could possibly be in explaining that since the ship is sold out, even if someone doesn't show up they have to hold their room because it was paid for.  The missing guests could show up at any upcoming port.  He went so far as to tell the man that the only upgrade that was even remotely possible was to move from "C" to "B", which is exactly the same as a "C" but in a different location.

While wandering around after lunch, we ran across a fellow world cruiser from the past who has returned to Crystal Symphony.  He verified on his own that the new staterooms were not a wise design choice.  As we keep saying, they look very nice, but just try living in them for any length of time.

By the way, it has been confirmed to us twice, by Crystal staff who would know such things, that the much-maligned Red Flower soap products will go away soon.  They are waiting for the 1-year contract to run out, then they are gone.  We've determined that the product is actually quite good, but the scents are way too strong and flowery for men, the lotion is too thick to get out of the bottle, and the ball of soap is simply ridiculous, especially on a moving vessel.   In case you were wondering, the brochure that comes with the initial supply of soap states that the round soap provides "reflexology" by stimulating pressure points while you bathe.  Now that's a stretch if we ever heard one.

There was a commotion in the hallway a few doors down from us with a group of guests exclaiming that they were assigned to the wrong room.  We find that a bit hard to believe, but that's what they said.  People need to understand before booking that the "Deluxe" staterooms on Crystal ships are nowhere near the size of competing luxury lines' rooms.  These staterooms are about the same size as any cabin on a mainstream cruise line, but with a few nicer amenities.

A Daily Activities & Evening Entertainment schedule arrived for the noon embarkation.  We also received a confirmation of our booking, along with a room assignment, for our on board booking for next year on the Symphony.  Now the trick is to arrange the return trip on another ship so we don't have to fly home from Florida.

Rita delivered the following embarkation gifts for this cruise:

  • Two Deluxe Rose Bouquets from Crystal Society

  • $550 Shipboard Spending Credit from American Express Platinum

The lifeboat muster is scheduled for 4:15 PM, but we did not attend.  Usually the information says it is for newly embarked guests only, but today it does say all guests must attend.  We don't care, we're not doing it again.  When the announcement was made for the drill, he did say it was for "newly embarked guests", so we took that as our cue not to feel at all guilty that we didn't participate.  There was an emergency call during the drill for lifeboat station #3, but since we weren't there, we have nothing else to report about it.

The ship sailed promptly at 5:00 PM, but since we had to turn around in the channel, the Vision of the Seas beat us out of the port.  Here are some photos from the sunset sail away since we haven't been doing much picture taking this cruise.  Photos:  Sunset, Port, Vision of the Seas

Tonight's dress code is Casual with the caveat that "no caps" are allowed in the dining room.  We are dining tonight in Jade Garden to avoid the mad rush of open seating on embarkation night.  Click for the Jade Garden Menu PDF.  If you would like to see the Crystal Dining Room menu for tonight, click here.

As we did last cruise, we ordered pretty much everything on the menu, minus the sashimi and a couple of other things that weren't anything special.  We added the Vietnamese Lobster Spring Roll, which was outstanding.  Everything else was outstanding or very good, except for the macadamia nut tart in the Dim Sum dessert which we both declared inedible.  It was like night and day from the previous cruise when it was wonderful.  It was so awful that we mentioned it to the waiter so someone in kitchen could taste them and figure out what was different.

We chatted with Gene and Larry several times during dinner since it was quite slow in the restaurant tonight.  Only the regulars were showing up.  We have seen several familiar faces among today's arrivals and we know there are many previous world cruisers arriving this cruise and next.  We asked about Paulo who started with Gene for the inaugural of the Symphony in 1995.  After the Harmony was retired, Paulo decided to start a pedicab business in the Philippines and has done quite well for himself.  We were really glad to hear that.  Gene said he would e-mail Paulo and tell him we asked about him.

The current Paolo, the alternative restaurant maitre d', came over to chat and to tell us that we are indeed having dinner with Marco and Benji tomorrow night in Prego.  We didn't know this Paolo before we arrived for these cruises, but he seems to have warmed up to us very quickly.  He's always quite pleasant to us.

Talk about a quick change!  The Red Flower soaps are gone already, replaced at turn-down with the Aveda products previously offered.  The supply of Red Flower products we already had was not removed, but an entire set of Aveda items was laid out on the counter when we came back from dinner.  We're not 100% certain everyone was switched back to Aveda, but we did see it on the shelves of some staterooms that had just been cleaned this morning.  We'll confirm the change with our stewardess when we can just for the sake of reporting the facts correctly. 

The Evening Entertainment is the same Welcome Aboard show as usual.  We did not attend.

The captain announced again that it would be rough tonight and to take "necessary precautions", but it isn't rough at all in our opinion.  The jiggly vibrations are back, but that is only because the ship is running all four engines at full speed.  As far as we can tell, the sea itself is calm.  We move an hour forward on the clock tonight.

Monday, March 5 - Cruising the Pacific Ocean

Click for Daytime Activities & Evening Entertainment.

The weather today is near perfect, sunny and in the low 70's.  There was a Nuevo Latino buffet by the Neptune Pool this afternoon, but we opted for the dining room instead.  We arrived just after noon and snagged the very last table for two, so we weren't the only ones to skip the theme buffet.  There was quite a "Magic Fingers" thing going on with the vibration at the table this afternoon.  It was the very last one at the back of the room.  That's probably something to consider if vibrations bother you.  The ship only vibrates when it is going at full speed, so it isn't this way all of the time.  In the stateroom the vibrations aren't as intense, so we don't consider it an issue at all.

As for lunch, the food was quite tasty.  The Tortilla Soup, which is a cream soup on Crystal, was much better than it was last week and it was pretty good then.  The Spaghetti and Meatballs pasta course was good also.  The Beef Taco entree was a huge portion for lunch and they actually resembled tacos for the first time we can recall here.  They were so drizzled with sour cream that there was no way to eat them except with a fork, but they had a nice flavor.  The Bailey's Cream Cake for dessert was the same as last week, very attractively presented and of average flavor.  Our waiter seemed quite friendly, as well.

After lunch we took the scenic route back to the room, meaning we went up to the Lido Deck, across the pool area and down the forward staircase.  In our opinion, it was too chilly to sit out in the breezy pool area, but that wasn't stopping the crowd from sunning themselves.  There are more children on board for this cruise than we have seen in quite a while, but they aren't causing any problems that we are aware of.  Crystal does not offer anything for children except at certain times of the year and in our opinion this is not a suitable cruise line for them in the slightest.

We arrived at our elevator lobby to find a cart piled to the ceiling with clean towels just sitting there.  It didn't ruin our cruise or anything, but it sure wasn't 6-star to have laundry sitting out unattended in a public area.

By the way, we confirmed with our stewardess that the Red Flower soaps are indeed being replaced.  Last cruise they were removed from deck 10, this cruise was our turn on deck 9, and so on.  The point is, the trendy soap is gone and Aveda is back.  We also discussed the fact that the dye in the Red Flower soap was discoloring the plastic bathtubs, among other things.  Obviously it wasn't the most thought-out decision Crystal management has ever made.

Tonight's dress code is Formal for the Captain's Welcome Cocktail Party in the Starlite Club.  Our dinner is in Prego tonight.  You can find the menu by clicking here.  The regular dining room menu is the same as last week, click for the Menu PDF.  We stood in the corridor talking to Bernard for most of the cocktail party.  Marco arrived toward the middle of the party, then Benji joined us as it was wrapping up.  We stood talking for a while before moving on to our reservation in Prego.

Prego isn't our favorite of the alternative restaurants, but the food is always good for what it is and the service very attentive.  The restaurant was surprisingly empty considering that the ship is sold out for this cruise.  The moral here is that if you are flexible you can get a reservation with almost no trouble at all.  There is no reason to rush to make a reservation the moment you arrive on board unless you have very specific time and date requirements.

All of the food we ordered was very good.  Nothing stood out as exceptional, but everything was beautifully presented and the portions more than adequate.  As usual, we closed down the restaurant without realizing it.  We stood talking to Marco and Benji for quite a while in the corridor after dinner, then we all went to our rooms at around 11:30 PM.  All of the bars and lounges we checked out were virtually empty, but we assume most people were still in the main show.  The Evening Entertainment was the production show "Cole!", which we did not attend.

The sea was very calm all day and into the night.  Vibration is more evident today because the ship is running at full speed, but it isn't bothersome for us.  We didn't notice it at all in Prego and it is at the aft end of the ship.

Tuesday, march 6 - Cabo San Lucas, Mexico - Arrive 12:00 Noon – Depart 6:00 PM

 Cabo San Lucas is nestled on the southernmost tip of the Baja Peninsula, where the cool currents of the Pacific Ocean meet the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez. Commanding rock formations, timeless desert and a translucent sea provide a compelling introduction to this tranquil resort town.

Here, mile upon mile of golden sandy coves dot the shoreline while marlin and sailfish frolic in the waters offshore. Laze on a deserted beach, explore the undersea world or discover bustling shops and markets for tempting treasures such as silver, jewelry and wooden sculptures.

Shore Excursions in Cabo San Lucas

$38 Land’s End Boat Tour & Scenic Drive
$165 Swimming with Dolphins
$41 Sea Kayaking Eco-Adventure
$96 Baja ATV Adventure
$38 Coastal Highlights
$53 Snorkel & Sail to Santa Maria Cove
$174 Cabo San Lucas Sportfishing  CANCELLED

Click for Daytime Activities & Evening Entertainment.

Continuing the trend for this series of cruises, the weather is again perfect.  Mostly sunny with temperatures in the low 70's.  It is another picture postcard day in Cabo San Lucas.  Well, as close as we get staying on board that is.

Invitations for the Crystal Society party tomorrow night were delivered this morning.  Kellie Hachten will be the new Crystal Society Hostess when Megan leaves soon to get married.  Kellie was previously on board as a Cruise Sales Consultant.

We dawdled around and didn't get to lunch until around 12:30 today.  Our first stop was at the menu board for the dining room where we decided the Lido would be our best option for today.  We were right, too.  Everything we selected was outstanding, especially the carved chicken that had a wonderful flavor.  The Sweet & Sour Chicken from the Asian selection was also very good, as was the 6-Star Steak Sandwich.

We sat by the Neptune Pool during lunch, which was quite pleasant with the roof about halfway open.  Herbert, the Hotel Director, stopped to chat so we finally had an opportunity to compliment the food.  Ordinarily we have various complaints about it, so we thought we should make an effort to point out how wonderful it has been this time around.  He said that he agrees and was actually surprised at how good something he chose for lunch from the Lido was.  He attributed the improvement to the current chef, but it has to be more than that because it is truly a night and day difference from last time we were aboard.  The food has never been terrible, but it has been on a steady decline recently.  Not anymore.  We can't imagine how it could be any better than it is now overall.

Paint fumes eventually drove us away from the pool deck, so we retreated to our verandah for the afternoon.  We determined that the internet wasn't working from the ship today and we weren't able to pirate a connection from shore this time due to the ship's location in the bay.

Tonight's dress code is Casual.  There was a beautiful sunset as we sailed away from Cabo San Lucas at 6:00 PM.  The captain warned again that there may be more vibration than usual because of the ship's speed tonight.

There is a "Cabaret at Sea" performance before dinner in the Starlite Club tonight featuring Jason Graae and Klea Blackhurst presented by the Mabel Mercer Foundation.  Judging by the full house, they probably should have scheduled this as the main entertainment, but then it probably wouldn't qualify as "cabaret", would it?  In any case, it was a nice change from the usual entertainment lineup.  All of the music was by Jerry Herman, who was in the audience.

This was our first dining room experience with this group of passengers and it was jam-packed.  All of the large round tables expanded to tables for eight.  Last cruise there were a lot of fours and sixes.  Our senior waiter and waiter were glad to see us again, as was Gianluca who did indeed rotate to our station for this cruise.  Our new headwaiter didn't come by tonight, so we don't know who he is yet.  We had a nice conversation with maitre d' Remi who was concerned about the next cruise.  It is a crossing to Hong Kong and it is sold out.  He said he has 60 requests for tables for two, but he has at the most 40 of those.  The dilemma is that many arriving guests are in the 40-60 cruise range, so he can't just tell them "no".  We're sure he will figure it out.  They always do the best they can.  We're amazed any of the maitre d's have a shred of sanity left.

Here is the Menu PDF for tonight.  Everything was absolutely outstanding.  The Prime Rib was especially tasty and could be among the best we have ever tasted.  That is really saying something for Crystal because they have never had roast beef that was much better than average in the past.  The Watermelon Gazpacho recipe changed from the previous cruise.  It was very spicy and more like regular gazpacho with the tomato replaced with watermelon chunks.

The main show for tonight is a Variety Showtime starring Humorist and Singer Jimmy Travis with an opening by Dance Professionals Alex Bryan and Felicity Wright.  We did not attend this presentation.

We move an hour forward on the clock tonight.

Wednesday, March 7, - Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – Arrive 10:00 AM – Depart 6:00 PM

 Embraced by rugged tropical mountains on one side and the beautiful Banderas Bay on the other, Puerto Vallarta is second only to Acapulco when it comes to the Mexican Riviera's leading resort cities.

White stucco houses are capped with red-tile roofs and surrounded by bougainvillea-lined cobblestone streets. Native women who beat their laundry along riverbanks as busy fishing boats return to port illustrate a lifestyle that has been maintained for decades.

Nearby, sophisticated restaurants, luxury hotels, smart boutiques and lively nightclubs bear testament to the changes wrought on this quiet seaside city since the 1960s. Life here has never been quite the same since the filming of the movie "Night of the Iguana" and the worldwide publicity accorded the romance of its stars, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

Puerto Vallarta brims with life. Shop for leather goods, shell and silver jewelry, hand-embroidered blouses or painted figures from Oaxaca. Explore cobblestone streets and picturesque alleyways filled with the scents and bustling energy
of Mexico.

Shore Excursions in Puerto Vallarta

$40 Puerto Vallarta Highlights
$77 Dolphin Encounter
$147 Swim with the Dolphins
$78 Canopy Adventure
$125 Puerto Vallarta Sightseeing & Private Villa Lunch
$147 San Sebastian Aerial Exploration
$87 Sailing Adventure
$275 Dolphin Trainer for the Day

Click for Daytime Activities & Evening Entertainment.

It's another beautiful day in Puerto Vallarta where the ship is anchored way off shore.  The temperature is in the mid 80's and it is mostly sunny.

Our first stop was the Lido, as usual, where the food was so good that we ate way too much.  We sat out by the Neptune Pool in the shade, then stayed there for a few hours just lounging around and occasionally talking to the deck stewards.  Allan said he almost missed the tender that would get him back to the ship on time, but of course, he did make it.  Eventually it warmed up too much to suit us, so we moved to the comfort of our air conditioned stateroom at 2:30 PM.  Turned out it was quite pleasant outside on our verandah with a nice view of the hotel zone in the distance.  There is a huge Carnival ship at the only operating dock and a Holland America ship anchored closer to shore where we were located last segment.

There was a Revised Galaxy Showtime notice on our clip when we arrived announcing Bernard Walz as the evening's entertainment instead of the production show.  We assumed someone was sick or injured among the Crystal Ensemble to cause the change.  This was confirmed later when the cruise director announced that the lead female vocalist had lost her voice.  They are flying in a replacement who is supposed to arrive tomorrow just before the ship is scheduled to sail.

We sat on our verandah enjoying the pleasant weather for the rest of the afternoon.

Tonight's dress code is Informal.  There is a Crystal Society Party before dinner in the Starlite Club starting at 7:30 PM.  Paula Jean, the Cruise Consultant, returned from vacation today and came over to greet us quite warmly.  We had a lovely dinner a few cruises back with she and Nikki.

We'll overlook the fact that Megan forgot to mention our 45th Milestone tonight because it was her last party before leaving Crystal for her new life in Norway.  They gave her a nice send off after the ceremonies with a bouquet of flowers.  She swore she wouldn't cry, but of course she did.  Wouldn't anyone?

Click for tonight's Menu PDF.  It was the California Dinner again, as expected.  There weren't any obvious changes to the menu from last week.  We knew to order a double portion of the Rock Shrimp Tostada this time.  It wasn't quite as good because the shrimp were a bit tough, but the flavor was outstanding.  The Roasted Vegetable Soup was even better than it was last week, not quite as heavy on the tomato this time.  The pasta was a bit too salty, but not bad.  The fish entree and the prawns were outstanding, but the fish portion was way too skimpy, in our opinion.  Luckily we had ordered an extra side order of the prawns, however, we had to order even more to make up for the tiny portion of fish.  The Caramelized Pineapple Crème Brulee was very good again.

We finally met our new headwaiter, Vlada from Serbia.  He has been here for eleven years, but as far as we know we have never seen him before.  Considering that we just met, he was quite forthcoming with friendly chat tonight.  He confirmed what we already knew, that the late dining hours this past summer during the European season were an enormous flop and that fiasco will not be repeated again.  Our contention is that the executives who decide such things should cruise on the ships more than a few days so they really know the routine the guests prefer.  Moving dinner later and the shows to before dinner just doesn't work.  We need the after-dinner show after that big meal so things have time to settle a bit before we go to bed.  It was very naive to believe that the average Crystal guest would rather hang out in a bar after dinner than to attend a show.

The dining room temperature was too hot again.  We have never been compelled to complain about the temperature in the past, but we're really tired of the heat, so we finally mildly complained about it to Remi.  He agreed it has seemed too warm, but that the women in skimpy dresses always complain it is too cold.  We understand that, of course, but it has actually been warm most of the time during these cruises.

Originally, tonight's scheduled main entertainment was the newest production show "The Envelope Please...", but it was changed this afternoon as already mentioned above.  We did not attend the show because we didn't get out of the dining room until it had already begun.  Besides, we couldn't wait to get out of our jackets and into the cooler stateroom.

We move an hour back on the clock tonight.  The sea is calm again tonight, no movement to speak of.

Thursday, March 8 - Mazatlán, Mexico - Arrive 8:00 AM - Depart 5:00 PM

 The massive lighthouse of El Faro welcomes you to the thriving seaport of Mazatlán. Located on a peninsula just south of the Tropic of Cancer, this fast-developing resort is a fishing and sportsperson's paradise. Supposedly there are as many fishing boats as tennis courts here! Offshore, scores of sailfish and marlin frolic in the temperate waters while para-sailors drift lazily overhead.

Mazatlán offers a rich diversity of activities. Feel free to shop at the colorful market and folk art shops, explore the charming town plaza, relax at a fine resort hotel or try your luck sportfishing.

Shore Excursions in Mazatlán

$38 An Introduction to Mazatlán
$66 Mazatlán Wildlife Expedition
$56 A Drive to the Sierra Madre Range
$145 Sportfishing Tournament

Click for Daytime Activities & Evening Entertainment.

Today's weather is perfect, mid to high 70's with a pleasant breeze off the ocean.  There was no smell of sewage to greet us this morning, a welcome improvement.  There is a huge Carnival ship nose to nose with Crystal Symphony in the port today.  Nothing like the two ends of the cruise line spectrum together in one place.

We started with a very tasty lunch in the Lido again.  The chicken skewers were outstanding, as was the vegetable fried rice.  We had to force ourselves not to over indulge since it was all so good.  Well, one of us did anyway.  We sat out by the Neptune Pool for a while until the tours returned and it became too hectic.  We find it very odd that so many guests don't realize that there is a luncheon buffet in the Lido.  Many of them who we overhear seem to think the grill is the lunch buffet.

After tiring of the commotion, we wandered up to the Sun Deck for a stroll around, then down to Reception to pick up the forms to charge gratuities to our shipboard account.  We're not taking any chances this time, so we'll fill out a form for each of us instead of trying to combine them as we have always done in the past.  We received our preliminary statement this morning and we still have a little over $400 in credits left to spend, so tipping will be compliments of American Express Platinum this time around.

At 4:00 PM the captain announced that due to a delay in the arrival of the new lead singer, we would not sail until 6:00 PM.  She was expected to arrive at 5:45 PM, but didn't get here until 5:55 PM, to much applause from the guests gathered along the railings.  They pulled in the gangway and we sailed off at 6:00 PM.  We managed to get some ice cream before her arrival, but otherwise we did what we usually do all day, nothing.

Tonight's dress code is Casual.  In addition to the production show after dinner, there is a cabaret performance in the Starlite Club before dinner.  Tonight they are featuring Brent Barrett and Sally Mayes.  The room was packed.  We couldn't see any empty seats at all in the original part of the Starlite Club near the stage.  The show was very good and well worth attending.  As we said for the previous cabaret show, we're glad Crystal is offering something different, whatever it may be.

Click for the Menu PDF, which should be last week's menu repeated since there were no changes we noticed.  We knew to order a double serving of the Lobster Enchiladas, which were again very good, although not quite as wonderful as they were last week.  Close enough though.  The Mixed Greens salad was a bit skimpy on the extras compared to last week, but it was also very good.  The Short Ribs were the same, way above average.  We also had a sample of the turkey, which has never been any more than edible here.  It was absolutely delicious!  What a surprise that was.  The Wild Blueberry Cobbler was again made up of mixed berries, but it wasn't nearly as good as it was last week.  We'd judge it average at best and could have passed as the sugar-free dessert if we didn't know better.  Last week it was incredible.

Laszlo was amused because every time he tried to take our order tonight, someone else was talking to us at the table.  First it was headwaiter Vlada, then sommelier Gianluca, then our previous headwaiter Celso.  Laszlo said he was going to set up ropes to keep people away from us next time. 

The dining room was quite full, although not to capacity, tonight.  Apparently the late seating is more popular this cruise because all of the late shows have had higher attendance, as well.  Since the new people at the table next to us are not making special requests every night, the service is more smooth.  We still wouldn't call it speedy, but it is nothing to complain about.

By the way, if anyone is interested, Josef Widmar, currently the dining room maitre d' on the Serenity, is returning to Crystal Symphony this summer.  We're told this is a permanent assignment, or as permanent as it gets these days.  This should be good news to the diehards who are flocking back to the Symphony in droves.  We have also been told several times during this cruise that if Crystal ever does order a new ship, they are leaning toward the same size as the Serenity with only 800 guests.  Translation, larger staterooms.  It's about time, but we'll believe it when we see it.  We have heard a few other rumors regarding the new ship, but they are so outlandish we can only hope they change before the order is placed.  Don't even ask, our lips are sealed.

The evening entertainment is the production show that was cancelled last night, "The Envelope Please...".  Again, all the chit chat and our stop to talk to Remi on the way out of the dining room meant we arrived just a few minutes before the show began.  Technically, we were a few minutes late, but the show hadn't yet started.  We would estimate that there were twice as many guests in attendance tonight as there were for last week's late seating production. 

Even though the new female vocalist arrived just hours ago after being in transit for 24 hours from Toronto, you'd never know there was a substitution.  The show was just fine and she did a great job.  If it hadn't been announced that she had never performed with the male vocalist before we would never have guessed it.  We can't imagine any other cruise line that would fly in a replacement vocalist for the last two nights of a 7-night cruise.  Hats off to Crystal for keeping up the standards no matter what.

We have been having internet problems again the past few days, making it difficult to upload the site updates in one try.  The outages don't appear to have much to do with the position of the ship either.  We know that there are always a couple of days in this part of the world when satellite communications don't work well, but this is ridiculous.  Our advice is not to buy the largest available package of time because you'll be hard pressed to use it.  You just can't stay connected long enough to use it up.

Friday, March 9 - Cruising the Pacific Ocean

Click for Daytime Activities & Evening Entertainment.

Although it is sunny today, it is quite windy and only 67 degrees outside.  We received our immigration information for disembarkation is Los Angeles.  Our call for inspection is a bit earlier this week, 8:10 AM.  Luggage tags have not arrived yet, so we don't know our actual disembarkation time.  As independent travelers we assume we'll be in the later groups to leave the ship.  We really don't care one way or another about what time we disembark because we have to get up at the crack of dawn for immigration inspection anyway.

There was an American Classic theme buffet held around the Neptune Pool for lunch, so we went to the dining room.  Menus don't change much, if at all, from cruise to cruise, so we knew what to expect for lunch today.  Not being all that hungry, we tried the fried chicken, which wasn't a wise choice.  All we can say for it is that it was edible.  The pasta expanded into an entree portion was a better choice.  Service was quite friendly, as always.  We had the same waiter a few days ago for lunch and apparently we made a favorable impression on him.  The dining room wasn't full to capacity today, but nearly so.  Guests don't quite grasp that even if the weather is chilly, the Neptune Pool is covered and you can always take your food into the Lido to eat rather than sit outside by the Seahorse pool.

After lunch we went back to the room to fill our our Gratuities Charged to Shipboard Account forms.  This time we didn't take any chances with errors and filled out one for each of us.  We delivered them to the front desk and picked up our passports at the same time.  We also had them send up a bellman for the heavy boxes of supplies we brought for Marco and Benji.

Later in the afternoon we went up for some snacks, a cheeseburger and ice cream, to tide us over until dinner time.  Otherwise, we did absolutely nothing.  Our Disembarkation Information arrived while we were out.  As we have mentioned many times before, Crystal has disembarkation down to a science.  Unless U.S. Customs screws them up, the last guests are almost always off the ship before 10:30 AM.  Guests do not have to vacate their stateroom until fifteen minutes before their scheduled departure time from the Starlite Club.  Announcements regarding disembarkation are not made and because of the staggered schedule there are no crowds anywhere, including in the Lido for breakfast. 

Tonight's dress code is Informal.  There is a Captain's Farewell Cocktail Party before dinner in the Starlite Club.  We chatted with Paul, Megan and Herbert on the way in, clogging up the receiving line, such as it was.  Most of the guests are distracted by the captain anyway, but we did move on when more guests started to arrive.  We had to leave for our dinner reservation at Jade Garden before the speeches started.

Our dinner tonight is at Jade Garden again, Menu PDF.  The menu in the Crystal Dining Room is the modified French Dinner, as always.  The chef wandered through the dining room and recognized us from the Harmony.  He came out of the kitchen one night there when we ordered a table full of food to see if we were really going to eat all of it.  Yes, we did, by the way.  He offered us a couple of specials we couldn't remember by the time the waiter came, but he eventually figured out that it was Spicy Orange Jumbo Prawns.  They were outstanding, in case you were wondering.  We ordered pretty much everything on the menu and all of it was above average to wonderful.  We didn't risk the Dim Sum dessert this time and just had green tea ice cream for dessert.

On the way out we chatted with Gene, the Jade Garden sommelier.  He started with Crystal the same time we did, the Grand Maiden Voyage in 1995.  At that time he was a deck steward.  He said it is always so nice to see us because so many of them, meaning the Filipinos, feel like we are family.  That was nice of him to say and we believe he was sincere.

We had an hour to kill before showtime, so we went up to the room to cool off in the air conditioning that works properly most of the time.  The public rooms this cruise have been too warm for us, but not enough to complain about.  Eventually, we moved down to the Starlite Club to sit and wait until it was closer to showtime.

Tonight's entertainment was the production show "Curtain Call".  This particular performance wasn't the best or the worst we have ever seen and the average guest would probably like it just fine.  However, there was a mini-exodus at the "Man of La Mancha" scene and another at "Cats".  Overall, the attendance was much higher than we saw at any time during the previous cruise and we'd say the show was a success.

Saturday, March 10 - Cruising the Pacific Ocean

Click for Daytime Activities & Evening Entertainment.

The weather today is quite chilly and windy, only about 57 degrees outside and overcast.  It is slightly rough today, about the same as last week in this same location.  We expected to find the Lido deserted at lunchtime, but it was very much the opposite.  In fact, every table was occupied inside and out.  Even most of the tables by the Neptune Pool were filled.  Rather than wait in line, we found a table by the pool and waited until the crowds dispersed.  We haven't seen so many guests in one place since the cruise began, but as quickly as they appeared, they vanished.

There was a Mexican theme in the Lido today, although we didn't see it announced anywhere.  They had a taco bar set up in the back, but since we had already loaded up from the regular buffet we didn't partake in it.  They also had some Mexican items on the buffet such as spicy meatballs (spicy meaning salty apparently), a bean soup, vegetable empanadas, etc.  With the exception of the meatballs, everything was very good as usual.  We sat by the Neptune Pool to eat and stayed for a bit after finishing our meal.

After lunch we made a detour to the front desk to ask if they had any large envelopes.  The ones they had weren't quite big enough, but it occurred to us to ask in the dining room for the huge envelopes in which they distribute the menu packets on the last night.  The headwaiter at the podium was more than accommodating in getting some for us.

We returned to the room to fill out our QAP questionnaires and sort things for packing.  Luckily our stewardess didn't attempt to pry our luggage out from under the bed to encourage packing.  They do this on the last day when they clean the rooms, but it forces you to pack earlier than you might desire to do so.  Since we don't have the bed made up with the bedspread she didn't want to put the luggage on the bed, which is fine with us.

Later in the afternoon we packed our bags in record time.  We really do have it down to a science at this point.  That chore done, we went up to the deserted Neptune Pool, got some ice cream and sat there for a while staring into space.  Aren't we exciting?

Tonight's dress code is Casual.  The pre-dinner show is a finale performance by the Mabel Mercer Foundation cabaret singers.  This has to be an improvement over the usual end of cruise show.  There is no after dinner show on the final night of the cruise.  The cabaret show was very short, only 30 minutes, and featured the four singers we had seen during the previous two cabaret shows.  The theme was a tribute to Jerry Herman, so they sang a different variety of his songs for tonight's show.  The evening ended with Jerry Herman himself coming to the on-stage piano for the finale.  A nice benefit of Crystal's smaller ships is that when there is someone famous on board, they are readily available and visible.  Such has been the case with Jerry Herman throughout this cruise.

Since the show was so short, we had an hour to kill before dinner.  After a brief stop at the room, we went to do the goodbye thing with Gene in Jade Garden, then sat in the Starlite Club until dinner time.  There was a jazz band setting up for part of that time, then they started their performance, which was enjoyable if a bit unprofessional.  We left at 8:30 PM for dinner.

The dinner menu will be the same as always, but we usually don't get a copy of the final night's menu.  Luckily, Laszlo knew we would want it, so he added it to the package of menus.  Click for tonight's Menu PDF.

Some of the items on the menu were better than last week, such as the salmon which was overcooked and dry before.  Tonight it was perfect and the sauce wonderful.  The Cream of Chicken soup was outstanding last week, but tonight it was weak on chicken and heavy on the salt.  Plus it had way too many big chunks of sun-dried tomato in it.  As mentioned, the salmon entree was outstanding.  The other entree ordered was the "Traditional" Sirloin Steak, which was a bit tough, but had a very nice flavor.  The baked potato that should have been served with it was forgotten.  We knew we should have asked for a filet, so it is our fault we accepted the regular offering.  Dessert was the Iced Citrus Mousse with Marinated Strawberries.  The berries were the best part.  The rock-hard frozen mousse looked attractive, but didn't really taste like much by itself.

All of the dining room staff we know stopped to chat at one time or another.  Gianluca filled us in on a few past crew members who have retired, such as Peter, a former butler and Prego waiter.  It is that family feeling one gets after sailing with Crystal for more than a few cruises that keeps us coming back.  After all, we really do see these people more often than we see our actual family members.

Rough seas never materialized for this cruise, although there is some slight rocking tonight.  The ship's speed slowed noticeably during dinner.  We always arrive in Los Angeles way earlier than the published 7:00 AM docking time unless there is a lot of fog in the harbor.  That doesn't seem likely at this point, so we assume everything will be on schedule for disembarkation tomorrow morning.

Sunday, March 11 - Los Angeles, CA, USA - Arrive 7:00 AM - Disembark Crystal Symphony

Today started off earlier than we would like, but at least we were up early enough to sit and wait for our immigration call.  That was supposed to happen at 8:10 AM, but didn't actually come until 8:45 AM.  When we did go down when called, the end of the line was in the lobby, so it took until just after 9:00 AM to get to the immigration officers sitting in the Galaxy Lounge for the pointless questions.  Standing in line would have been more pleasant if the idiots behind us didn't find it so boring that they had to play an iPod at full volume for the benefit of everyone in line.  We're really surprised that someone didn't slap it out of their hand because we sure did come close to it.  Lesson number one:  If you want a true Crystal experience, do not book a 7-day reduced fare cruise.

That done, we went up to the deserted Lido for breakfast.  We only had what one might call an expanded continental breakfast, although everything was available.  The French toast from the buffet line was very good again, as was everything else.  Everyone among the crew we know who was working came over and said the appropriate things as we were leaving.

Our departure time was supposed to be 8:50 AM, but we dawdled around in the room and with breakfast so long that we just wandered off the ship at 9:30 AM.

At the luggage, we ran across Marco who used us as an excuse to walk away from what he was doing to "help" us find our luggage.  That wasn't too difficult because our group was long gone and ours were the only bags left in the section.  We had a nice chat with Marco about embarking in Costa Rica, which is the plan for next year.  We wanted to stay at Villa Caletas where a World Cruise Event was held.  Benji had already told us that we absolutely MUST stay there and Marco reiterated that.  He said he still knows some people who work there so maybe he can help arrange something special for us there.  That would be nice, but we certainly don't expect him to do that.

After our chat, we wandered out of the terminal, passing familiar ground crew who wanted to know when we were coming back.  We called our car company guy who was waiting in the parking lot, he picked us up within minutes and we were back home within two hours.

summary

After reflecting a bit on recent Crystal cruises, we have come to the conclusion that Crystal has pretty much perfected their product.  What is offered is consistent between the two ships, the service is genuine and friendly, and the food generally very good to outstanding.  As far as the tangibles go, there isn't much Crystal could do to improve it at this point.

From a hardware standpoint, we really think they wasted a ton of money on the stateroom remodel.  The bathrooms do look attractive, but the glass sinks are noisy, messy, and a general hassle to use on a daily basis.  This is something that belongs in a trophy bathroom, not a cruise ship.  Also, please don't try to fool us by announcing that the bathrooms are "all new".  The only parts that were redone are the counter, sinks and lighted mirrors.  85% of the bathroom was untouched.

The same goes for the new stateroom furniture, which is very uncomfortable, way too big for the space available, and generally tiresome to live with.  The new bedding and fabrics are lovely, but it all serves to make the already smallish staterooms appear to be even smaller.  We highly doubt that was the objective.  Updated woodwork or new mattresses would have been a better place to spend the money, in our opinion.

We're very glad the Red Flower amenities went away.  The product itself is very high quality, so no insult is intended there.  In fact, we used the same bar of soap for 14 days!  But round soap on a cruise ship?  Whose idea was that?  Also, we don't know many men who want to smell like gardenias or oranges all day.  Something more appealing for everyone would be a better choice.  We're not huge fans the the replacement Aveda products, but at least they have a scent that doesn't overpower and they are also of very high quality.

Crystal's entertainment overall is very tired.  We have been saying this for years and we have seen little improvement.  The production shows are too formulaic and sometimes try too hard to be trendy at the expense of real entertainment.  Their regular headliners, while a talented group, have been on every single cruise we have taken in the past five years.  Are there only five performers worthy of Crystal?  We doubt it.  We'll give them credit for the Cabaret at Sea theme cruise.  The shows offered were entertaining and a nice change.  Plus, we're sure some people had a religious experience seeing Jerry Herman in the flesh.

Please, Crystal, come up with something new to publish in the "Reflections" newsletter.  They are still printing the "Return to Elegance" article that started with the debut of the Symphony in 1995, for God's sake.  We will say though that there weren't many, if any, errors in the paper this time, so our compliments to the editor.

The star of this show was the food.  We have been very critical of the food served aboard Crystal Symphony in particular, but it was like night and day compared to the past.  Overall, this is the best cruise line food we have ever experienced all the way from the Crystal Dining Room to the Lido Cafe.  Even the portions were back to normal.  Good job! 

We would advise Crystal management to quickly put a stop to the staff referring to Crystal Symphony as an old ship.  This does a disservice to a well-built ship that is superior in many ways to her younger sister.  The Symphony does not appear worn or old and constantly pointing out the age of the ship only serves to plant seeds of doubt in the mind of future passengers who may be considering a Crystal cruise.  The only "old" looking features we can find are perhaps some dated colors and fabrics, mostly in the Galaxy Lounge, but that is just a matter of taste for the most part.  We found few maintenance issues, the air conditioning works, and there are no more creaks or rattles than there were when the ship was new.  And we should know, we sailed on the Symphony's inaugural!

As always, the genuinely friendly and attentive service sets Crystal Cruises apart from all of the others.  There is never any pressure to buy anything and the smiles are endless and honest.  It truly is like going home to return to a Crystal ship.  For us, Crystal Symphony is the perfect cruise ship in layout.  The spacious public rooms and light filled corridors are in stark contrast to her much darker sister, Crystal Serenity.  We plan to stick to cruising on the Symphony for the foreseeable future.


 

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