Saturday, April 9, Los Angeles/San Pedro, CA, USA
Sunday, April 10, Los Angeles/San Pedro, CA, USA - Depart Midnight
Monday, April 11 - Santa Barbara, ca, USA - 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Tuesday, April 12 - San Francisco, CA, USA - 9:00 AM - Midnight
Wednesday, April 13 - Cruising the Pacific Ocean
Thursday, April 14 - Astoria, OR, USA - 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Friday, April 15 - Seattle, WA, USA - 9:00 AM - Midnight
Saturday, April 16 - Victoria, BC, Canada - 8:00 AM - Midnight
Sunday, April 17 - Vancouver, BC, Canada - Disembark
Welcome to our 49th Crystal Cruise! Slowly, but surely, we are inching toward our 50th Milestone, but for now we're tossing in this short cruise as an excuse to embark on another marathon road trip. Another reason we ended up on this cruise is that the fares for this year are so outrageous that we couldn't bring ourselves to cough up the cash for the 15-day cruise around Hawaii we had originally booked. Don't expect any lengthy cruises with us on Crystal until they come to their senses or we cash in our 50th freebie cruise. That doesn't mean we won't travel, of course, but we'll be more creative from now on.
We may have some difficulty obtaining copies of the menus on a daily basis because we are not in a Penthouse this time (we are on deck 8.) The butlers are very good at providing them, but we have found that the stewardesses don't quite grasp the concept. We will do our best to get them for you, but no promises. If you don't see daily updates, the entire blog will be posted after we disembark. We won't decide for sure whether we will post live until we arrive on board.
The itinerary for our Pacific Coast Road Trip that will follow this cruise will be posted as a separate page when we get far enough along in the planning. You can expect another string of stops at kitschy tourist traps and visits to whatever natural wonders we happen to stumble upon.
February 22, 2011: The document package for this cruise arrived today. It is about the same as always, with a few changes to the information due to the online check-in procedure. The luggage tags are new since we cruised last. They are much larger and have the ship's name pre-printed on them. It looks like the new design will make it easier for the crew to direct the luggage to the correct room.
March 1, 2011: We decided to have our travel agent rattle Crystal's cage to try to get a refund of the difference between the Crystal Society discount and the "New to Crystal" discount. For us this amounts to $300. It seems that many people have complained and received this refund, so we'll see what happens. We find this discrepancy very offensive to repeat guests, so hopefully Crystal will do the right thing.
March 5, 2011: Crystal offered us a $50 per person refund for the above issue.
March 8, 2011: We now plan to arrive in San Pedro the day before sailing because our preferred car service has disappeared. We're more comfortable getting there early anyway "just in case". We usually don't arrive at the San Pedro port until after lunch, so this way we can take advantage of the noon boarding with lunch in the dining room. On such a short cruise (for us) every minute counts!
March 21, 2011: We cancelled our request for Crystal's tuxedo rental service today because we never received the confirmation that should have come within 7 days. The reservation was entered three weeks ago. Oh well, better luck next time.
April 4, 2011: Looks like everything is good to go for our departure this weekend!
Saturday, April 9 - Los Angeles/San Pedro, CA, USA - Doubletree By Hilton Hotel
San Pedro is the home of The Port of Los Angeles World Cruise Center. Major
Cruise Lines offer vacation cruises to Baja California, the Mexican Riviera,
Alaska, Hawaii, and other destinations around the world. Celebrity Cruises,
Costa Cruise Lines, Crystal Cruises, Cunard Line, Disney Cruise Line,
Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, Princess
Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, and
Catalina Express, along with other cruise lines offer frequent sailings that
make San Pedro the busiest passenger port of call on the United States West
Our luck held out and we were promptly picked up by our new car service at noon as scheduled. We can therefore recommend Extreme Limousine in Escondido. The driver was very pleasant, also. Dave asked if being "extreme" meant we have to smoke crack, bring along Paris Hilton, and moon people out the window, but he said that wasn't necessary. There was no traffic to speak of, so we arrived on schedule at 2:00 pm at the DoubleTree Hotel San Pedro. The hotel is a couple of miles north of the port out near the end of the channel. There isn't anything nearby, so this isn't a place anyone should choose as a vacation destination, that's for sure. The actual location on the marina is nice. There is at least one wedding party at the hotel and there is one going on at the adjacent Los Angeles Yacht Club, as well. We also overheard several guests talking about boarding the Disney ship tomorrow. The hotel offers a fly/cruise, park/cruise package so this is probably the majority of their business.
We were told that our room wasn't ready (we didn't expect it to be) because hotel is sold out which was a blatant lie...we checked availability before we left home, but a common excuse for slow housekeeping. Dave worked at the front desk at a DoubleTree Hotel in 1999, so he knows what to expect from this brand (not much.) We were told they would call our cell phone when the room is ready, but we'll tell you up front that that never happens. They did store our luggage and they were very pleasant.
We took the time to sign up for the free shuttle to the port tomorrow at noon. Only one other party was signed up at that time. The only other ship in port tomorrow with the Symphony is a Disney ship. We did have to wait until the bellmen finished pushing themselves around on the bell carts, however. The complimentary hotel shuttle will take guests anywhere within a five-mile radius, so it would be possible to have them deliver you to Ports of Call Village or elsewhere for dining and shopping if you're into that.
After wandering out to look at the marina we came back into the hotel and had lunch in their restaurant. The service was friendly, the food was good (a sourdough patty melt and a fried chicken salad) and reasonably priced for a hotel, about $12 per person. After lunch we strolled outside around the marina to kill time.
We arrived back at the hotel at around 3:45 pm and waited in the dingy lobby until the front desk wasn't busy. The furniture in the lobby was probably very nice at some point, but now it is dirty and very worn. Needless to say, when we checked with the front desk our room was ready and we had not received a call telling us so. That is what we expected, but why offer if you aren't going to follow through?
We were upgraded to a marina view room, even though we are staying for free with reward points (regular rate for the upgraded room is $189), plus we received a free full buffet breakfast, two bottles of water and internet service for being Gold Hilton Honors members. Of course, we got the warm DoubleTree chocolate chip cookies, as well.
As far as the room goes, it has a nice view and the beds are the usual comfortable DoubleTree beds. The room itself isn't very clean, in fact, parts of it are filthy. Crumbs on the carpet, worn furniture, an ancient air conditioner, big yellow stains on the lampshade, dirty/stained bathroom floor, dirt caked in the corners of the bathroom, stained bathtub, the toilet seat won't stay up, and the soap smells like mildew (on purpose, we assume.) Other than the crumbs, the carpet is relatively clean. If we were paying for this room, we would probably complain, but it is good enough for one night and it is free, sort of (we do realize we're paying for it somewhere along the line!)
Oh yeah, and the internet cable is broken and won't stay in the computer. So, under the desk Dave went to plug in our own cable and set up our little travel wireless network for the two of us to share the one free connection! Frankly, we're shocked that it actually works considering it only cost $29.95. FYI, the rate for 24 hours of internet service here is $11.95, which in this day and age is ridiculous. It should be free for everyone. Wireless is only available in the lobby, but a broken cable is generously provided at the desk in the room.
It is very windy here in San Pedro today. Hopefully it won't affect the ride too much for the ship's arrival tomorrow morning. The temperature is in the mid to high fifties, so a bit chilly. It is sunny though.
Nothing happened between our arrival in the room and dinner time except brief napping. There is an extremely loud wedding party still going on next door at the yacht club, but that kind of thing doesn't bother us. The kids running up and down the halls unsupervised does, but that is to be expected with a Disney cruise embarking tomorrow. We haven't heard anything through the walls yet.
We went down to the hotel's restaurant at 8:30 pm for dinner. It was nearly full, but we were seated right away. The service was very poor, but the food was again good and reasonably priced. They were out of our first choice, which is annoying, but not a deal breaker. We were never asked if we wanted drinks or dessert. This shows a lack of training because every restaurant manager wants the staff to push both of those things to maximize profits. We went back up to the room and had the welcome cookies for dessert. They are still the same, and very good.
We'll give the hotel credit for giving us all of the Gold level freebies without being asked and the staff is friendly, but other than that this property leaves a lot to be desired.
Sunday, April 10 - Los Angeles/San Pedro, CA, USA - Embark Crystal Symphony - Depart Midnight
Two good things we can say about this hotel...the beds and linens are extremely comfortable and there is good water pressure in the shower. So, it isn't all bad. Also, the free breakfast buffet was very nice and included everything one would expect. The regular price for the buffet is $15, which isn't a good value, but most people who didn't have coupons for it were ordering from the menu. Everything we saw people receive from the kitchen was an enormous portion and looked delicious. We had the same server from lunch yesterday who was happy to see us again.
All in all, we probably can't recommend this hotel without trying some of the others in the area first. We're not sure the nearby Crowne Plaza is any better, but it would be worth a shot. However, it is definitely more relaxing to arrive at the port the day before rather than doing the 2-hour drive the day of embarkation. Our final bill for this stay was $50, which was for last night's dinner, so all that considered it was worth it.
We are booked on the hotel shuttle to the port at noon. A sparkling clean Crystal Symphony will be a very welcome upgrade!
A bellman called us at 11:45 am telling us that the van is ready to go. As it turned out there were two hotel vans full of people, so we jumped on and were off to the port right away. There was one other couple in our van going to Crystal Symphony. Everyone else in both vans went to the Disney ship. There were no other passengers arriving when we did, so it was easy to give the luggage to the porter and wander into the terminal.
After the usual security check, during which Bill practically had to undress while Dave sailed on through, we were given numbers to be called for boarding. The wait was only about ten minutes. We had a trainee checking us in, but she was very nice and thought we were amusing. She took our picture for our shipboard cards twice because she wanted us to look our best. Nice try and thank you, but we are glad they aren't using the extreme close ups on the cards anymore!
The next stop was the usual boarding photo with no waiting, up the escalator and up the the gangway. That part would have been faster if the people in front of us had a clue that they needed the card for boarding, but once that was sorted out we were on board in minutes. The usual line of crew waiting to take people to staterooms wasn't there because rooms aren't ready until 3:00 pm, but they did have people there to point you to the dining room and give you other options until the rooms are ready. We were handed a "Welcome Aboard" brochure telling us the same thing the crew member said which is probably a wise idea under the circumstances.
We checked our hand luggage in at the table by the dining room, then wandered in to have lunch. We were seated in the far right toward the back at a table for two by the window. We had a lovely view of the fuel barge for most of lunch. Our waitress and her assistant were fun. There are very few familiar faces among the dining room staff with the exception of the headwaiters and sommeliers, most of whom we have seen before.
The food at lunch was very good...a grilled chicken breast with mushroom rice pilaf and vegetables, and a filet mignon. We would rate both meals outstanding. The portions of meat were reasonable for lunch, also. While clearing the table our waitress accidentally knocked over a full glass of champagne (served free of charge), part of which did end up on Dave's shirt and pants. He could care less, but of course the server was very apologetic. We assured her we didn't care and not to worry about it, which prompted effusive thanks from her. We both had dessert since she ended up completely resetting the table after changing the tablecloth. One was chocolate frozen yogurt and the other was a raspberry sundae sort of thing. Both were excellent.
After lunch we wandered around taking pictures of the new Lido and the Seahorse Pool area we haven't seen before. The Neptune pool was removed and is now full of sofas and new furniture. We'd say it is an improvement. We're not in love with the furniture by the Seahorse Pool and it is already a bit worn and the cushions are dirty. It just wasn't a very good choice. The Lido Cafe looks very attractive, but we'll have to judge the functionality of it tomorrow. It looks kind of narrow in the seating areas, but it might turn out to be fine.
After lunch the concierge wasn't doing anything so we went over to ask about the end-of-cruise transfer. We hadn't recognized her from across the lobby, but she is Denise who we know from the Harmony when she was Herbert Jaegar's secretary. She confirmed very discretely that we were wise to make the decision to book on board rather than through the office, which, of course, we already knew. She will get back to us with the price, etc. We were pleased to learn that the As You Wish credit for this cruise is $500 per person, not total, plus another $550 from American Express. So, we should easily end up with a zero balance even after paying our gratuities, internet and the private transfer.
We sat around in the shade by the Seahorse Pool to kill time until the rooms are ready. Charlie and John John offered us drinks multiple times. We were "claimed" by John John for the cruise. We didn't know him before he introduced himself to us. He had time to chat for a few minutes about the crew transfers and how long some of the flights are.
Around 3:00 pm we went down to the room and settled in quickly. The bathroom sinks have been changed since we were here last. They are now thick translucent white plastic and an oblong shape that doesn't hang over the countertop.
Click for Today's Activities.
We start out this cruise with the following gifts:
Our stewardess, Merlii, came by to be sure she had set everything up according to our preference list (she had). We asked her to bring menus every day and she didn't grab her heart or act like it was a horrible imposition, so hopefully we will get them to scan for everyone's enjoyment. We had some problems with the scanner, so bear with us if the quality isn't quite as good as usual. We'll be doing our best to bring you everything we can.
We unpacked and sat around waiting for the Disney Wonder to sail out. Bill's rental tuxedo, but not Dave's, was waiting in the room. Recall that we cancelled both of them. Merlii took it away and assured us we would not be charged for it. That system has some tweaking to be done before it works the way it should. We would not have been comfortable relying on it without receiving the confirmation that was promised.
Around 5:30pm we wandered outside to wait for the Disney Wonder to sail. The ship's horn plays the first seven notes of "When You Wish Upon a Star." Sorry, but that is so cool! OK, so we're Disney geeks, but it really is cool. The scroll work on the front of the ship has several hidden Mickey's and other characters worked into it. At the aft there is a 3D sculpture of Donald Duck hanging over the edge.
A young couple with a baby asked Dave to take their picture with the ship in the background. She said that they had worked on the ship and that's where they met. We told them we met working for Disney also...of course, it was 30 years ago for us and maybe five for them! We all agreed that we are programmed to take pictures for other people. We still automatically offer and people readily ask us to take their picture. Once you have it, you're stuck with it!
After the sailing, we took the computer to CU@Sea to get it set up for use on the ship. The attendant immediately recognized us and asked if we still have the icon on the desktop. We did until a few weeks ago when it disappeared on its own. He put it back and was amused when he started to type in the name and the computer filled it in from our last cruise. He just had to change the 6 to an 8 and that was it. There is no longer a charge for doing this, which is as it should be. We signed up for the $50, 2-hour plan to start with. Last time we sailed this route the internet wasn't working most of the time, so we're hoping for the best this time around.
Tonight's Dress Code is Casual.
We have a reservation, made online a few weeks ago, for dinner in Silk Road. So, we don't have a regular dining room menu for you tonight. If we get one at the end of the cruise in the menu package we will add it to the gallery and link it here. As far as we know there have not been any changes to the Silk Road menu since we posted it a few years ago, but if there is we will get a new one and post it ASAP.
There was a lifeboat drill at 8:00pm, so we got dressed for dinner, did the drill (it was freezing outside at that hour, by the way), then rushed down to Silk Road.
We were one of only three tables of guests dining in Silk Road tonight, plus a couple of people at the sushi bar. Willy was gracious, as always, and just about everyone else fawned over us during dinner at some point. Click here for the menu. We ordered pretty much one of every entree, a variety of sushi/sashimi, and the Chocolate Soufflé Cake with Sesame Ice Cream for dessert. None of it was as good as it once was, but everything was still very good. The Nobu Cod dish was particularly disappointing as compared to the past, but most people would probably think it was fantastic.
OK, we lied about not having a Crystal Dining Room menu for you after all! Our stewardess is so on top of our requests that she brought us tonight's menu. Click here to view it.
Against our better judgment, we went to the evening's show. It was the same very tired opening number featuring the building of Crystal's ships and the Grand Hotel number. They really should stop showing the shipbuilding video because it emphasizes how old Crystal's ships are getting. The rest of the show was a snooze fest. This is not a good way to garner enthusiasm for the production shows to come. We were surprised that so many guests attended even though there is only one show tonight.
The ship sailed at midnight, not 11:00pm, which was the original scheduled departure time.
Please forgive any typos tonight. We had to rush to upload using our Verizon service because the ship's internet is so slow it is unusable. In other words, the same as it always has been.
Monday, April 11 - Santa Barbara, CA, USA - 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Fair Mediterranean-style weather
coupled with beautiful Mediterranean-style scenery make
Santa Barbara a prime vacationer’s destination. This jewel
of the Pacific, often called the American Riviera, is also a
cultural and educational center, with an array of museums
and several schools and universities, including University
of California, Santa Barbara, and Brooks Institute of
Photography drawing students here from around the world.
Click for Today's Activities.
The weather is beautiful today, but very chilly. Nice to look at, but not quite pool or beach weather.
We didn't get our act together until noon-ish and we had no plans to go ashore here. We're stopping in Santa Barbara on the way home during the road trip portion of this trip, so there is no need to tender in today.
Our day started with lunch in the new Lido. The food is the same general selection as before and everything was good, but the hot food wasn't very hot. The arrangement with no trays and multiple serving stations looks very attractive, but it is somewhat confusing and difficult to maneuver with no apparent traffic pattern. It wasn't busy at all when we were making our choices, but it might be a nightmare when there is a rush.
The arrangement of the food stations is odd. Desserts are first, then a salad bar, cold foods, carving station, hot foods, and around the back are warm desserts, cheese, etc. The end result of this is that you have to make several stops back and forth to get what you want while possibly juggling more than one plate. No one offered to help us (we didn't need help anyway, but...) and the system of waiters bringing our drinks resulted in running out of water twice. The Prego waiters serving in the Lido were a bit surly, as well. Of course, the regular deck guys were doing all the work and they were attentive as always, there just aren't enough of them.
The biggest problem is that the hot food is served in small casserole dishes that slide around on the slick heated surface. It is also difficult to reach the dishes in the back (there are four dishes on each warmer that are not attached to the surface in any way.) It isn't terrible, but it could be improved.
Click for the Crystal Dining Room Luncheon Menu.
We do like the wide selection of small desserts. The bite-sized portions make it easy to fill a plate with several choices without going overboard with the calories.
After lunch we took our usual port photo from the upper deck, then went back down to the Neptune area and camped out on one of the new sofas in the center. Norman and Allan ran over to greet us. Allan actually remembered the last time we were here, two years ago! Other than sitting there watching people, we didn't do anything. Oh yeah, who decided to put the big wooden bar stools in front of the ice cream area? This is a very popular place and the chairs block almost the entire serving area. When they were at the bar the chairs were rarely used, so why not remove them completely?
In our opinion, removing the Neptune Pool and filling the area with comfortable furniture was a wise move. The area looks twice as big as when the pool was in there and now it doesn't smell like chlorine. It is a nice place to sit (or sleep, which seemed to be the main activity going on today.)
They are serving sweet potato fries and the regular fries in small metal frying baskets, complete with handle, lined with paper. A trendy fad that doesn't belong on a ship like this. It takes up half of a plate and the deck stewards are always juggling them around trying to fit them on their tray when they're picking up dirty dishes. Whoever thinks of this kind of BS back in Los Angeles should be forced to serve on the ship for a month and deal with it in action.
There is a Coast Guard boat circling the ship to protect us from whatever. We also saw a small buoy that is attached to some sort of aquatic life that is pulling it around. It must be attached to it somehow, probably entangled in the looped rope at one end.
By the way, the tenders today took guests to a marina north of town and there is a free shuttle to the Court House on State Street which is the main shopping area for Santa Barbara.
We keep forgetting to mention that we are in one of the aft staterooms with the double-sized verandah. People have asked if the solid railing blocks the view too much. In our opinion it isn't an issue at all. We didn't even realize it was different until today. If you stand at the railing your neighbors can clearly see you though...the extra privacy screen isn't as "private" as the rest of them. Most of you probably aren't as anti-social as we are though.
The Captain's announcement at sailing time warned of strong headwinds that will slow us down and make walking around deck tonight unwise. No mention was made of rough seas (it was smooth sailing last night.)
We wandered up to get some ice cream at 5:00 pm and sat around in the Neptune area until after the sail away. The guest count at the moment is "600 or so". One of the deck guys said he'd let us know how many people are coming and going in San Francisco. He said the previous cruise was 800 or so, but everyone was on deck all day so they were always busy. There was almost no one up there when we were there this afternoon and only two people were left when we went back to the room at 6:00 pm.
The ice cream selection is quite extensive now, plus the usual choice of home-made waffle cone or in a cup. There are four liqueurs and four other topping in squeeze bottles, strawberries, various sprinkles and cookies. They will also make a shake for you out of whatever flavors they have and there is a frozen yogurt machine. The ice cream guy knew our names and who is who even though we've never met him.
We discussed the all-inclusive concept that starts next year with a few people who might be affected by it. All of them said the bar department, sommeliers and deck stewards are sure to be negatively impacted by it. The company has assured them that the percentage will not change and that it will be divided equally, but if you probe further you can tell they anticipate losing a substantial amount of income. Anyone who has worked in a tipped position knows that if tipping is taken out of the hands of the customers that their tips will decrease. We brought up the subject of the As You Wish credits that are left over in guests' accounts being a big chunk of change for the crew (many people give whatever is left, sometimes hundreds of dollars, to the Lido staff or others). We don't see any way this is going to be a good thing for anyone except waiters and stewardesses whose gratuities are often pre-paid already. Everyone else is bound to suffer a decrease in tip income. They are not getting a salary increase to compensate for it as far as anyone knows right now. The crew members are keeping an open mind about the whole thing, anticipating that Crystal will do the right thing by them, which is more than we would do under the same circumstances. Crystal does have a good reputation for treating their crews well, so there is hope that something will be adjusted to make up for the loss of tips.
Tonight's Dress Code is Formal for the Captain's Welcome Aboard Party.
Since there was no line to meet the Captain, we decided to go through the receiving line. Paul McFarland and Josef Matt were first in line and they definitely know us. We passed along the regards to Josef we were asked to do and he sends his back (you know who you are. Both he and Paul were genuinely concerned with your well-being.) Next up was the Captain standing all alone waiting for people to take a picture with him. He's very nice and he seems to like us, but some people have the impression that he is standoffish, which is not the case at all. We also passed by the new Crystal Society Host, Eduardo, but we don't know him and he doesn't know us, so nothing much to say about him other than he looks pleasant enough.
We sat in the back where we can see, but not be seen. Jimmy Travis, an entertainer who has been on nearly every cruise we have, sat across from us. We had a lengthy conversation with him. He remembers us because we were on a shore excursion on which he was the ship's escort. We were the only people on that tour who didn't get lost or complain, so he thinks we're OK. His take on the current travel situation in general is that "it is changing," to say the least. His work has been cut way down, not just with Crystal. We are all interested to see what happens after Crystal goes all-inclusive next year. We're all wondering if Crystal can make it at the current higher fares that has put a lot of people off, including us.
The Captain's speech was as usual, nothing worth repeating here (not that we could even if you asked.) We continued our conversation with Jimmy after the Captain finished talking, so we didn't get to the dining room until about 10 minutes after the starting time. We weren't the only ones arriving though. We haven't heard about or seen any evidence of the Open Seating dining plan. We intend to ask someone we know in the dining room about how it is going. We did notice that the headwaiter in that section has a laptop computer with a seating plan on it, but we don't know if that has something to do with that or if it is just an updated way to do the seating in general.
Vlada and Roland (headwaiters) greeted us at the door. We were taken to our regular table around the outside of the center section. Most people want to sit by the window and we certainly could get one of those tables if we want it. But, when you sit there all of the other tables are constantly looking at you during dinner. We'll pass. Plus, we can watch the waiter station nearby at our regular table.
Celso is our headwaiter. He is always extremely nice to us and he was genuinely happy to see us. Our Senior Waiter is Daniel and the Waiter is Vlado. Both of them are very pleasant and seem like they'd be a lot of fun on a longer cruise when we'd have more time to interact with them. It is weird though that their station is spread all over the room rather than a contiguous set of tables. Daniel said it is because there are so few guests that they tried to assign tables equally to all of the waiters. He also said that some waiters are not working at all (taking turns among cruises working and off.) We've never heard of that happening before, but perhaps it is a sign of the times. We'd say the dining room was about half full with the center section where the officers' tables are being nearly empty. Since this is the only formal night it appears there are no officers' tables at the late seating during this cruise.
Click for the Captain's Gala Dinner Menu.
All we can say about tonight's dinner is that everything was fabulous! Really, you heard US say that. Nothing whatsoever to complain about. We both ordered the same meal: Captain's Salad, the pasta course, and the Chateaubriand. The pasta wasn't anything particularly exciting, but it looked nice and was fine for what it was. The salad had a very tasty dressing and the greens were attractively arranged. The main course could not have been better, honestly it was perfection incarnate. And, get this, the portion was HUGE even by our standards. It consisted of two slices of meat that were over an inch thick and probably three inches in diameter. It was perfectly cooked as ordered and everything on the plate with it was tasty also. It was as good as the food was back in the day when every meal in the Crystal Dining Room was an event to look forward to.
We both had the sherbet for dessert and it was good, also. They used to serve this as a course between the appetizers and the main course, but those days ended a few years ago. Another change is that there is no longer a fruit selection offered among the appetizers. We always ordered that so we notice it missing, but it probably isn't a popular choice in general. And, we are aware that we could order it at any time and we'd get it with no problem. This is, after all, Crystal and whatever one wants, one gets.
Bill ordered a glass of "red wine". He got it and it was fine, but it cost over $14.00 for a tiny serving. That's ridiculous for the general red wine of the night. Maybe they are trying to make it look better for when they go all-inclusive? Oh, and this afternoon we noticed that the standard mixed drink prices at the Trident Bar have gone up to $7.75.
During dinner our butler, Teodor, from the Pacific Crossing stopped by to talk to us. He said he saw Bill's name on the tuxedo rental he returned, so he looked through the guest list and when he saw Dave's name also he knew it was us. So, he tracked us down and found where we are sitting so he could talk to us. See, not everyone hates us! He was our butler another time also, but the last cruise was when we met his girlfriend Paula, a bartender. We convinced her to go to Hong Kong Disneyland and we met her there. They are both very nice and friendly people, so we were happy to see him. He told us Paula is in the Palm Court this cruise, so we plan to go up and see her ASAP. We left our headphones with him after the last cruise and he said they still use them and think of us every time. How nice is that?
In case anyone cares, the flowers on the tables in the dining room were two pink roses. Wow, it only took twenty years to stop using those 7-day things everywhere. And, no more musicians in the dining room, strolling or otherwise. We didn't mind so much if they were just posted in there during dinner, but we did hate it when they went from table to table. For us this is a very welcome change.
We asked Daniel for a copy of the menu "just in case", but we found both the lunch and dinner menu waiting for us when we stopped by the room on the way to the show. So, no need for a back up plan with a stewardess who is on top of things.
We noticed that there is NO artwork for sale hanging in the hallways or on display anywhere else, so at this point we would assume the days of tacky art auctions are over...for now.
The evening entertainment is the lavish production show "Million Dollar Musicals", usually the best of the lot. Joseph told us that this is the last performance for this show, which Paul confirmed later. It is also the last of the shows with gorgeous costumes that are actually tasteful. Unfortunately, this particular performance lacked any energy at all and even we were bored by the end. We couldn't put our finger on what the problem was, but it might be that the pre-recorded tracks weren't loud enough and it was too obvious the cast was lip-syncing (except the leads, of course.) There was a bit too much overacting by the leads, as well. Overall, it wasn't awful, but we've seen better renditions. It probably is time to retire it, although it is much better than some of the newer shows for sure.
During the show, the aforementioned Paula showed up just to say "hi" to us. She sure made an effort to track us down!
It was very smoky in the Galaxy Lounge tonight, which is a first that we can remember. We thought it was coming from the casino, but when we left the lounge there was nobody in there and the lobby wasn't smoky. Maybe there were crew members smoking in the back room or something, but it was almost unbearable. If it continues we'll say something about it. It definitely wasn't coming from the lounge itself, which is non-smoking.
A little tidbit of change for those of you who are frequent Crystal guests. You surely remember the white flowers that always seemed to last exactly the length of a cruise and were found in every bud vase that exists on the ship. Well, there is some variety among the flowers this cruise. There is a spray of white orchids in the room and the dining room vases have roses already mentioned above. Yesterday the roses in the dining room were white. Next to the Crystal Fountain in the lobby are two very tall, shiny black pedestals topped with arrangements of white orchid plants.
During the show it became a bit rough. We do mean a bit, it isn't anything unusual. Later on it got more rocky and we could feel the stabilizers kicking in to stop the rolling. The Captain announced we would not make the Golden Gate Bridge at the previously announced 7:45 am due to the high winds and that it would more likely be between 8:15 and 8:30 am. Like we'll notice? It is a sight to behold if you have never arrived or departed San Francisco by ship and should not be missed if the opportunity presents itself.
The ship's internet isn't connecting at all tonight, so any updates will be made when we can connect through Verizon again.
Tuesday, April 12 - San Francisco, CA, USA - 9:00 AM - midnight
Sailing under the famed Golden Gate Bridge is an unforgettable experience and is naturally a highlight of your visit to San Francisco. Upon arrival you will discover why this metropolis is one of the most diverse, dynamic and beautiful cities in the world. San Francisco is a melting pot of cultures and an important financial center of the world. Hellenic in its setting and climate, European in its intellectual and cultural scope, American in its vigor and informality and Asian in its tranquility, San Francisco is indeed one of the most exciting cities of the world. Opportunities for discovery abound. Stroll through Chinatown, shop at Union Square or browse through Fisherman's Wharf. Or perhaps, the attractions of North Beach will beckon. Sip cappuccino at a sidewalk café, feast on Italian food or browse through tempting specialty stores. Across the Golden Gate Bridge hide giant redwoods and artistic Sausalito which provide the perfect getaway from the city. Whatever your choice, San Francisco's distinctive charm engenders a special affection in the hearts of all who visit.
Click for Today's Activities. Click for today's Dining Hours, etc.
We don't know what they did to the beds on this ship, but boy are they hard as rocks! The linens and such are luxurious, but it is almost like sleeping on a bed with no mattress. Crystal has a long way to go to catch up with current trends in hotel bedding.
Our arrival was delayed by strong winds. It wasn't unusually rough overnight, at least no more so than usual along the coast. In any case, the clearance announcement didn't come until 9:45 am. The weather is beautiful, 57 degrees, clear and sunny. We have no plans to go out today because we will be back here for a 4-night stopover on our road trip, plus we've been here many times before.
Something we noticed today is that there are now peepholes in the stateroom doors. We always thought it was odd that they weren't included originally.
We were up earlier than lunch time for a change, so we killed time by taking our usual port photos from the upper deck, then settled in the chairs in the Neptune area to await the opening of the Lido. Here are pictures of the serving stations in the new Lido in the order they are presented in person: Beverage Bar, Desserts, Salad Bar, Smoked Salmon/Other Toppings (but no smoked salmon), Carving Station/Hot Foods & Made-to-order Pasta, Rolls/Salads/Smoked Salmon, Cheese/Soup/Hot Desserts/Cookies.
There are a large number of guided tours going on today, plus many visitors. We haven't seen this many organized tours since the early days when it went on in every port. They must tell these groups to dress up because they're all dressed very nicely, much better than the actual passengers during the afternoon.
We collected a lunch from the Lido, but went back to the Neptune area to eat. One of the deck guys carried one plate for us and brought us drinks. Something to remember with the new set-up is that if you don't sit in the Lido itself you'll need to find silverware (the stewards will bring it, if necessary.) Here is a photo of one of our plates from lunch today and here's a dessert photo. Everything, especially the chicken from the carving board, was very good to outstanding.
After lunch we stayed put for about an hour before returning to the room for a pit stop. There was a message from the concierge with the price for our private transfers in Vancouver. You may recall that we already have a quote from the L.A. office for $280 that includes gratuity and taxes. We checked with several other companies in Vancouver and the three quotes we got are $200, $220, and $250, not including gratuity or taxes. The quote from Crystal today: $430!!!!
So, off to the concierge desk with the fax from the office with the $280 price quote (which includes gratuities and taxes, explaining the discrepancy from the local direct quotes.) She agreed to send the information back to the office to try to figure out why there is such a huge difference now. We will not accept the $400+ price under any circumstances. We told her we need to know ASAP so we can contact the other places and book directly instead. She said they would get back to us later today or early tomorrow.
While we were at the desk, a man was trying to check-in without a passport. While everyone should be aware that you need a passport to join a cruise these days, we couldn't help but feel sorry for someone who got this far and could potentially be denied boarding.
We stopped in the newly decorated Prego restaurant for a look. The room is very dark now, but it might look better with all of the lights on. The foyer area is very nice. The rest of it has a trendy look that is in keeping with the direction Crystal seems to be going in general with the decor.
The rest of the afternoon was spent somewhere or other on the Lido deck being fawned over by the deck stewards. We still can't get the ship's internet to work either at all or at a fast enough speed to get the job done. We're having a bit of a problem keeping the Verizon connection going today even though we are getting a 4-bar signal. So, the whole internet thing this trip is totally frustrating.
We went down to the lobby to ask Eduardo, the new Crystal Society Host, how many voyages we have in a penthouse or stateroom so we'll know how to budget for the free 50th Milestone cruise. His computer was so slow it took at least fifteen minutes to get any of the information. A guest wandered by and said that the internet is completely down and has been since yesterday. We managed to send an email through it today, but uploading or doing anything else is impossible. Since it appears to be unavailable we might ask for a refund and give up trying to use it.
Eduardo is very nice, but since he's new he doesn't really know anything off the top of his head. He did tell us that Kelly has resigned and that Jane was here before this cruise to train him. As we said, he is very nice, but he seems too young to be in that position.
After our usual late afternoon ice cream snack, we wandered back to the room and stayed there until dinner time.
Tonight's dress code is Casual.
We went to Palm Court to visit with Paula before dinner, so of course we ended up being late to the dining room. Daniel and Vlado were both standing at the door waiting for us. As expected for a dinner while in a nice port, the dining room was less than half full, if that. Paula said that a possible makeover for Palm Court is in the works for the next dry dock. What they really need to update is the Galaxy Lounge. Some of the chairs are threadbare and the whole room screams 1980 (even though the ship was built in 1995.)
Click for tonight's Dinner Menu.
It is nice to see some changes on the menus, but many of our favorites are no longer offered. We confirmed that both the fruit appetizer and the cold soups are history. One can get fruit or berries anytime for the asking, but the cold soups must be ordered in advance as a special through your headwaiter. Celso offered to bring us a different one every night, but for such a short cruise we will try other things instead. He said that they did an analysis of the menu items and the least popular dishes were removed to reduce waste (and lower costs, we assume, although Celso didn't say that.) We prefer this option rather than the attempt at serving tiny portions in the past.
Tonight we ordered the Fine Herb Crepes and Savory Zucchini & Ricotta Cheesecake appetizers, both of which looked beautiful, but weren't knock your socks off good. The portion of the crepes was quite generous for an appetizer portion. The Florida Grown Greens salad was attractive. The pasta course was satisfactory, but not worth writing home about (so we won't.) The Lemon Sole and the Jumbo Shrimp main courses were above average. Again, not fabulous, but very good and the portions were a reasonable size. For dessert we had ice cream and the Hazelnut Pudding option, which was beautifully presented and well worth the calories.
The evening's entertainment is "The Maverick Magician", Jamie Allan. We did not attend the show.
The Crystal Society Party invitations arrived tonight. Wouldn't it have made more sense to have the party on our one sea day so that could be the informal dress code evening? Instead, the sea day dress code is casual.
Wednesday, April 13 - Cruising the Pacific Ocean
Click for Today's Activities.
It is somewhat rough sailing today with high winds and cool temperatures. The swells don't appear to be very high, but the wind is causing the ship to sway to the side sharply every now and then. It is sunny, but chilly outside.
We didn't venture out of the room until lunch time when we went up to look at the American Classics Buffet in the Lido. We had no intention of partaking in it, but we wanted to see what they are doing with it now that the theme buffets aren't on deck anymore. Basically all there is theme-wise are the staff uniforms and the napkins on the tables are blue. We assume the food is the same minus the BBQ. It wasn't any more crowded than the Lido usually is at opening time, but that probably has to do with it being rough and cold rather than the buffet itself.
We went downstairs to look at the Dining Room menu, pick up gratuity forms and get the list of stateroom/penthouses open for viewing today.
The Dining Room was popular today, as expected considering the advanced age of the passengers on this voyage, plus the weather conditions. We really miss the fruit and cold soup at lunchtime because we almost always ordered them. We were hard pressed to find anything we wanted, but what we did end up with was a generous portion and very good. The food continues to be better than it has been in years. Click for the Luncheon Menu.
A woman was seated across from us who immediately announced, "I'm NOT happy!" First she wanted a window seat, which are almost never available unless you arrive during the first half hour (which this was not). Next she complained that the BBQ ribs from upstairs are not on the dining room menu. Of course, the waiter immediately said he would go up and get them for her and after that she was happy. He went up twice to fetch things she wanted and he was very pleasant about it.
After lunch we went up to look at the new decor in the Penthouse and Penthouse Suite categories. We can only hope that the new designs for the Serenity are as tasteful as what they did to the Penthouses here. The bathrooms are an enormous improvement from what they were. Here are some pictures of the changes. Penthouse (PH): Overall Room, Bathroom Sinks, Bathroom Shower, Bed. The sliding door to the verandah has been replaced in all of the penthouse categories (the metal part is white and the handle is bigger with a built-in childproof lock.) Penthouse Suite (PS): Sitting Area, Bedroom, New Bar Area, Bathroom, Shower. The shower stall in the PS now slides open at the corner. All of the lighting in the bathrooms is halogen, no more fluorescent fixtures.
The only fault we can find is that they left some remnants of the old rooms untouched and they stand out like a sore thumb. For example, they didn't replace the Jacuzzi tubs which has old, yellowed jets. The woodwork in the PH looks very dated compared to the new finishes. In the PS the new bar area looks very attractive, but right across from it is the original vanity (with new light fixtures) that looks out of place now. There are some other minor things that look very aged, such as the electrical outlets and the holes in the ceiling where the shower curtain track used to be. But, we can't fault the design, it looks WAY better than the old blue or pink tile scheme.
By the way, the towering headboards have reading lights built into them, so we assume the ones coming to the Serenity will have a similar feature. That means the lamps are purely decorative. One design flaw we did notice is that the new crystal bedside lamps block half of the bank of light switches behind them. You'd have to squeeze your fingers behind the lamp to turn the room lights off/on from the bed.
The staterooms on Deck 9 still have the glass sinks.
The updated lighting in the Crystal Dining Room consists of added spotlights over each table. We didn't even notice it until the end of dinner, so it isn't much of a difference. Nice try though.
Check out this picture for what the Seahorse pool deck looked like this afternoon. We thought they might be sanding the deck, but when we asked about it we were told they have to do this every time it is windy because the furniture is too lightweight. In any case, it looked pretty bad today.
The ship's internet service is still not working. We asked for, and received, a refund for the time remaining of the internet package purchased at the beginning of the cruise. They deducted the minutes we wasted trying to get a connection and the fifteen minutes it took to send one short email. It is better than nothing though.
We went to the empty Neptune area for a snack of fruit, a small pizza, and to try the sweet potato fries in the ridiculous basket. The pizza was a huge improvement over what was served before, perhaps the same as the version on the Serenity. The fries aren't anything spectacular, but some people will probably prefer them. The basket is still overkill. In the picture it is shown on a dinner plate, so you can see how much space it takes up.
We got a call from Denise about the discrepancy in the private transfer price. Crystal's office claims they made a mistake with the lower price (which is still $50 more than any of the other companies we contacted), but they will honor the lower quote. They want a credit card to make the reservation and we want to charge it to our shipboard account to use up the credits. So we're back to square one until the concierge can contact the office again. It shouldn't be this difficult. The concierge is doing her best to straighten it out to our benefit, but the office is doing their best to make it a hassle. We have always charged private transfers to our account, so we're not asking for anything unusual.
There was only half an hour to kill before dinner, so we sat in the nearly empty Starlite Club and had a couple of drinks. The hors d'oeuvres served tonight were Egg Plant Fritters, which we skipped, and Jumbo Shrimp.
Tonight's Dress Code is Casual (on the only sea day?????)
Click for the Dinner Menu. We arrived at the dining room a few minutes early and it was still closed. Later, we asked how they avoid having guests barge in with the Open Dining option now (the doors were closed) and we were told that they don't schedule any reservations for the turnover time between seating. By the way, it is not possible to walk in without a reservation, but guests may switch back to assigned seating if there are tables available (and there always are.)
Our research on the Open Dining by Reservation turned up about what we expected. We asked several different waiters, headwaiters, etc., and every single one of them told us it is NOT working, the staff hates it and there are a lot of complaints from the guests. The primary issue from the guests' standpoint is that they want a window table, but there are only three available. They also don't like being segregated in the back corner of the dining room, they feel rushed because the tables are needed for arriving guests, and they don't get to know their waiters. In other words, there is "no ambience" in the Open Dining section. Another big issue is that many Open Dining guests ask to join other tables in order to meet new people. However, most of the tables are for two because that is the most popular request. The larger tables are occupied by groups who already know one another and don't want strangers to join them. What it boils down to is a culture clash between guests used to the way Crystal does it and guests used to true open seating dining that Regent offers.
From the staff side of things, they don't get the same amount of gratuities they would at a regular assigned table, they are uncomfortable because they don't know what the guests preferences are, and they don't have the same guests every night so they can't establish a rapport.
Other problems are with guests not understanding the concept. For example, some people walk in and seat themselves in the regular section. They are under the impression that the entire dining room is open seating. And, some people at assigned tables now believe that they can bring guests and still be seated at their regular table. We were told that the whole concept drives the maitre d's crazy mostly because they have to watch the door like a hawk to keep people from walking in unnoticed. They constantly have to smooth over complaints by guests who don't bother to read the rules about needing a reservation in advance. The reservation rule is strictly enforced, or so we are told. So, whatever you have heard from some other people who claim to know what is going on, take it from the horse's mouth that it DOES NOT WORK. The general consensus is that it has to be all open seating or none. The staff strongly prefers assigned seatings. When we asked how popular the option is, the answer was, "Too popular."
Honestly, we haven't even noticed the Open Dining guests at all, so to us it is a non-issue. When we asked staff about it, all we asked was, "How is the Open Dining going?" We didn't lead them to badmouth it. The reaction from every single one of them was an eye roll, followed by what we already told you.
Let's get back to dinner! Again, everything we ordered was very good with generous portions. The prime rib in particular was a huge piece of meat at least an inch thick and covering half the plate, cooked exactly as ordered. The fish main course was also quite generous. We both had the corn soup (that used to be called Corn Bisque), and it was excellent. The chicken tower appetizer was beautifully presented. The Carrot Cake dessert was one of the deconstructed presentations. It consisted of a small scoop of orange ginger sherbet in an orange cone, a small carrot cake topped with a marzipan carrot, and a shot glass-size serving of lemon tapioca. It was beautiful to look at and delicious, as well.
The dining room was nearly empty tonight. Many waiters had no guests at all. The usual officers' tables in the center of the room are not staffed at night (although they are set and still look nice.) However, the First Seating is full. That's no surprise considering the advanced age of the guests on this cruise. Crystal doesn't seem to be attracting the younger clientele they expected on the shorter cruises if this one is any indication.
We have had numerous conversations with the staff since we arrived regarding the all-inclusive concept coming next year. Most of these conversations were initiated by a staff member asking us, "What do you think about us going all-inclusive?" We always reply, "We would prefer to pay our own way and have a lower fare, but it doesn't really matter to us."
While everyone has an open mind about it, the overwhelming feeling is that there will be a huge turnover among the staff. The sommeliers in particular are up in arms about it. In order to keep them, a large salary increase will be necessary. Many of them are planning to leave. It was even suggested to us that perhaps they will simply be eliminated and the waiters will pour the wine (that was speculation on the part of the person who said it, it isn't official.) Everyone except waiters and stewardesses are expected to suffer extreme reductions in their take-home pay. All in all, it doesn't look good for the staff unless Crystal coughs up large salary increases to make up for the loss of tips. We doubt Crystal can afford to do enough in that regard to keep the current staff. Only time will tell and we do hope it works out for the best, but talking from our own experience it doesn't look very promising for the existing crew.
We were under the impression that the waiters and stewardesses (and butlers) who are covered by the included gratuities would get a similar payment per room or per guest as they do now. When we brought up that possibility we were told that doesn't appear to be the way it will work, but nobody knows for sure. They feel it is more likely that their salaries will be increased, but it probably won't be as much as what they make in tips now. Most tipped employees do not report 100% of what they receive (talking from experience...nobody told us that here), so the only gratuities Crystal would be aware of are those that are charged to a guest's account or prepaid. What will happen now is that it won't be as likely that guests will tip over and above the included amount. We were appalled to confirm that many guests do not tip AT ALL. We knew it happened occasionally, but a waiter told us that last cruise 20 out of 36 of his guests stiffed him. That's outrageous.
The discussions about the all-inclusive and open dining concepts were compiled from several conversations over the past few days. We don't want to quote one particular person, but we can assure you that every one of them said essentially the same thing and not one of them was in favor of either change. However, all of them said that they believe Crystal will do the right thing by them. But, they still expect a big turnover if only because a lot of the old-timers just don't like any type of change.
Tonight's entertainment is Vocalist Jacqui Scott at 7:00pm for Late Seating and 8:30pm for Early Seating in the Galaxy Lounge. We did not attend her show.
At 10:15pm there is one show for all guests in the Galaxy Lounge, "Comedy Improv at Sea" with The Vancouver TheatreSports League. We did go to this show and is was about what we expected. It started off very badly, but by the end it was relatively amusing even if not roll-on-the-floor hilarious. We might or might not attend one of their shows again. So, it wasn't terrible, but not quite a must-see either. However, we are very glad to see that Crystal is making an effort to offer some new types of entertainment.
It is supposed to be raining and only around 42F tomorrow in Astoria. Apparently it is no big loss if we stay on board, so we'll see what kind of mood we are in tomorrow.
Thursday, April 14 - Astoria, OR, USA - 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
the mouth of the Columbia River, Astoria is named after legendary investor
and America’s first millionaire, John Jacob Astor. The tycoon’s American Fur
Company founded Fort Astoria in 1810, making the site not only the company’s
primary fur trading post in the Northwest, but also the first permanent
American settlement west of the Rockies. Other historic figures and facts
linked to Astoria include Lewis & Clark, who stayed near present-day Astoria
during the winter of 1805-06, and how in 1847, the first post office west of
the Rockies was established here.
Click for Today's Activities.
It is indeed pouring rain and very cold (low 40's) today. The town resembles one we might see in Alaska, cute houses on a forested hillside. Click for Port Information. The new port brochures are much more detailed with a better map. This is a big improvement.
We got a call from Eduardo about our 50th Milestone. He says we have 23 penthouse cruises, so if we were to take our milestone cruise right now we would get a free stateroom. Banking it gives us a few more options, but we will wait and decide what to do next time there is a cruise we are interested in. Eduardo said he would send our cruise history to the room later today, which he did. He does seem to be on top of things and he follows through properly.
We went to the Late Risers Breakfast in the Neptune area. It is VERY cold today, so there aren't many guests out and about. The breakfast was fantastic. The Apricot French Toast is to die for and they have upped the portions to be a normal restaurant size. Good job!
After eating we wandered out to the Promenade Deck for the usual port photos. Did we mention that it is FREEZING and WINDY? Oh, and raining sometimes off and on. The town looks kind of like something out of Alaska with big logs awaiting shipment arriving and being stacked near the pier. The Astoria Bridge crosses the Columbia River right next to the port. The locals have set up some booths selling souvenirs and such at the pier. Cute houses are dotted among the trees on the hillside across from the port. The downtown area is about two miles from the pier, so Crystal has provided a shuttle to the town center. We were planning to go out and wander around, but after doing some laundry we're kind of losing momentum. Also, we will be driving through here on the way home, so IF we choose to, we can stop and look at the town.
We went down to check with the concierge about our transfer. She said not to worry about it and that she is "certain" it will be OK, but there is no communication with the office (or anyone else) at the moment because the satellite connection is down again. We'll take her word for it. As we've said before, it should be OK to charge it to our shipboard account, but it is disconcerting to have contradictory information coming from the office. What we are confident about is that the onboard staff will do whatever is necessary to work it out.
While we were sitting in the lobby waiting for the concierge, a guest told us that it is WAY too cold to bother going to town and, "You aren't really missing anything that is worth putting up with the wind." OK, you convinced us! We do plan to at least drive through town on the way back down the coast since it is on our way.
Numerous guided tours went through today, travel agents we assume. They all had lunch in the dining room and left with gift bags. We haven't seen so many promotional tours since the early days of the Symphony. At least they are making an effort to drum up business and it hasn't been too intrusive for the guests. There is a free shore excursion they are pushing for in-transit guests in Vancouver. This smacks of the tour they forced everyone to take in Miami back in the day. They wanted all of the guests out of the way for a huge travel agent event on board. They are being more subtle about it this time.
Click for the Luncheon Menu.
We waited until late afternoon to have lunch from the Trident Grill. Both the pizza and a cheeseburger were very good. It was too cold to stay there for long, but we managed to wait until the sail away before returning to the room.
The tuxedo rental saga continues. We got a call thanking us for returning the tuxedo, but could be please come down to Apropos and sign for it. Uh, we returned it because we cancelled it three weeks ago. There won't be any signing going on, but we will go down and straighten it out.
We forgot to mention that the pilot arrived via helicopter this morning. He was picked up the same way. He wandered out onto the bow and was whisked up to the waiting helicopter. Considering how rough the water is this is probably a safer method than trying to get a small boat alongside.
The captain's announcement before sailing warned that there would be large swells and high winds until we get close to Seattle. In other words, expect it to be rough tonight. He also said that we might be late arriving because the ship has to fight a strong current.
Our private transfer arrangements were indeed worked out and charged to our shipboard account (so we can use As You Wish credits to pay for it.) Kudos to the concierge team for straightening everything out. Rule #1: Get it in writing and bring the paperwork with you!
Tonight's Dress Code is Informal. Here is a quote from Reflections about it (we added the underline): "The Dress Code throughout the ship for the entire evening after 6:00pm: INFORMAL - Cocktail party dress or pants suit for the ladies. Jacket and slacks for the gentlemen; a tie is optional. In consideration of all guests, only those who adhere to the guidelines will be allowed into the public rooms. Thank you for your kind understanding and cooperation." There is no mention of changing into casual wear after dinner and we have never seen the mention of not being allowed into public rooms before. Interesting. Do they actually enforce this rule?
It is indeed rough sailing tonight, but the Captain's Farewell & Crystal Society Party went on as scheduled. The speeches and presentations were as usual. The highest number of cruises brought on stage was a 50th Milestone. Paul announced that due to the weather, the production show could not be presented tonight, so Jimmy Travis will take the stage instead. Paula Jean stopped by and asked where we have been hiding. We did try to go down to at least say "hi", but there is always a line waiting to sign up for future cruises.
Before the party we stopped by Apropos to talk to them about the tuxedo issue. Once it was explained that we had cancelled it, he realized it had been returned before the formal night, he knew it was a mistake. We told him that we never received a confirmation for either rental request, which is why we cancelled both. They were not aware that the confirmations weren't going out, so it was news to them. We received an apology for the inconvenience and assured there would be no charge.
Click for the Farewell French Dinner menu. The dining room was sparsely populated again tonight.
Our dinners were again very good, continuing the trend for the food this cruise. The pickings were a bit slim for us, but if you like escargot and caviar this menu is right up your alley. The only selection that wasn't great was the consommé, but only because it was over salted. The presentation was nice. The Filet Mignon was outstanding and cooked perfectly, as ordered. The Grand Marnier Soufflé was good and brought back memories of the days when there were several varieties of soufflé offered on board. The headwaiters will add a dash of Grand Marnier if you so choose. We passed, so he offered us a shot of it instead (we still passed.)
We had a nice conversation with Daniel as we were leaving. As we had surmised earlier, he would be fun to have as a waiter on a longer cruise. Vlado is fun also, so it would be a nice combination to have both of them again some time, although that is unlikely to happen.
Tonight's entertainment was supposed to be the production show "Curtain Call", but the rough weather made Paul switch it to tomorrow and bring on Jimmy Travis instead. There were only about 30 people in the audience, if that, so it was a difficult room for a comedian. Jimmy did a very good job under the circumstances, but bringing a passenger up to tap dance with him helped him out at the end (she was actually entertaining.)
It was somewhat rough for most of the night, but nothing unusual.
The "Emerald City" of Seattle lies on the shores of Elliott Bay, flanked by two rugged mountain ranges. To the east are the Cascades, while the Olympic Range lies to the west. Towering in the distance is the 14,400-foot peak of Mount Rainier, the tallest volcanic peak in the lower 48. Seattle's lively past dates back to the 1800s when it was the gateway to Alaska. Representing more recent development is the distinctive Space Needle, which was inaugurated for the 1962 World's Fair. Nowadays this prosperous and lively city is home to such famous enterprises as Boeing, Starbuck's Coffee and Microsoft. The warmest of welcomes is guaranteed on Crystal Symphony's visit to a destination touted as one of the United States' most livable cities.
Click for Today's Activities. Click for Seattle Port Information.
Today's weather is misty and cool, but not stormy like it was in Astoria. So, we have no excuse not to go out today.
The ship is docked right in the middle of downtown Seattle between the Pike Place Market and the new Olympic Sculpture Park, in other words, perfect. We can easily walk to the Space Needle from here.
First stop, the Lido for lunch. We have decided that the new layout is fine, although we didn't mind the old one, but they really need to do something about the serving dishes sliding all over the warming trays. The food was good, nothing spectacular, but good.
Click for today's Luncheon Menu.
Next up, the usual port photo from the upper deck. You can see in the photo how close we are to the major sights. The pool furniture is back out, but missing all of the cushions.
We wandered ashore around 2:00pm, turned left out of the terminal and ended up at the new Olympic Sculpture Park. It isn't an amazing display, but it is a good repurposing of an older warehouse area. There is a fountain at the corner, then you can make your way up some concrete stairs for a view, along a lovely walkway with a few large outdoor sculptures, and next to an amphitheater and a building housing a cafe.
Just few blocks uphill from the waterfront is Seattle Center, home of the Space Needle and some remaining buildings from the 1962 World's Fair. The Space Needle has been refurbished and the entrance area and the public rooms inside are very nice. The building itself at the observation level is showing its age a bit, but overall they are doing a very good job of maintaining the iconic structure. Your picture is taken as you walk up to the elevator and it can be emailed for free from kiosks at the observation level, a nice touch that helps justify the high price of admission, $18.00 per person.
The ride up to the top takes 45 seconds. There was a Crystal tour up there, but overall it wasn't crowded and there was a good view of the ship from the outer deck. There is an extensive gift shop at the bottom of the tower, so we had to stop and browse around for keychains (to make Christmas ornaments for our travel tree) and a t-shirt (to make a travel throw). We found what we needed and wandered off to check out the rest of the park.
There are several museums at Seattle Center, some of which are repurposed World's Fair buildings and others that are new. There is a huge musical fountain remaining that was probably quite spectacular back in the day. Another recognizable remnant makes up the Pacific Science Center, formerly the Science pavilion of the fair.
A newer addition to the park is the Seattle Music Experience. The building itself is worth the price of admission. We didn't go inside. After a brief stop to rest and refill on water, we took the monorail downtown ($2.00 one-way). The other terminal is located at the Westlake Mall, which is also the drop off point for Crystal's shuttle. It is only a short walk downhill to our other destination, the Pike Place Market on the waterfront.
The market is famous for its fish, but the long corridors are lined with flowers on one side and crafts and trinkets on the other. The vendors were all very nice and there were some cute things to buy, but we refrained from buying anything. The prices on the stunning bouquets of flowers for sale ranged from $10 to $15, quite a bargain for what you get. Outside the market there are all sorts of performers and people selling things, including hand-blown glass bongs. That, along with a large community of homeless people makes the area less appealing than it would be otherwise. There are lots of new hotels and other businesses in the area, but we have noticed many closed restaurants and shops.
From the market it is only about four blocks to walk back to the ship. The city has conveniently installed stairs and elevators to get down to the waterfront level from the city. In the terminal, security is as tight as at an airport. Bill's belt buckle set off the alarms and he was pulled aside for an inspection. We had to show our ID's at least five times in addition to the X-ray inspection and the metal detector. The gangway is on Deck 7, so once back on board there was no further security check other than scanning the ID to account for our return.
It was around 5:00pm when we returned to the ship, but we didn't make it up to the Trident Grill until 5:30pm. The bar and ice cream were already closed even though the posted hours and listed in Reflections show the usual 6:00pm closing time. We didn't care, but it isn't right. If hours are posted they should be adhered to. The reason given is that there is Casual Dining tonight in the Lido. The grill was still open, so we had grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and some fruit. By the way, the sandwiches are actually grilled now, not broiled in an oven like they were originally.
The deck stewards have hideous new uniforms for the Casual Dining service. They look like massage therapists or nurses (all white).
The evening entertainment, the production show originally scheduled last night, "Curtain Call", is scheduled at 7:00pm and 8:30pm. WE HATE THAT! So, we won't attend the show since it screws up our preferred schedule. There is an improv show at 10:15pm for all guests. It was sparsely attended last time, so it will be interesting to see how it goes tonight when the ship is still in port.
Tonight's Dress Code is Casual. As already mentioned, Casual Dining is available tonight from 6:30 - 9:00pm in the Lido Cafe.
Click for tonight's Dinner Menu.
The dining room was jam packed full tonight due to a travel agent promotional dinner going on in the center section. They had a fixed menu, so the service was fast, but we hardly saw our waiter all night. Others filled in, so the service was fine. We recall the days from the very beginning when this kind of thing happened in every port. Crystal has to do something to get new business and this might be a good way to convince agents that the Symphony isn't an old bucket of bolts.
Everything we ordered from start to finish was outstanding. The duck quesadilla was tasty and attractively presented. The black bean soup was fantastic, could not have been improved upon. The tomato salad was OK, nothing spectacular, but good. We both had the short ribs entree which was recommended by our waiter and headwaiter. It was fantastic. We tried each of the featured desserts. Not only were they beautiful to look at, but they were tasty, as well. So far, so good in the food department.
We decided to give the improv group another shot. The audience was about the same or perhaps a few more than the first show. This time around they were more consistently amusing. Again, not roll on the floor funny, but better than staring at the wall. A couple of the actors are much better than the others, but it works overall. We're still not convinced this kind of thing is a good idea for Crystal, but we're glad to see an effort being made to change up the entertainment. But, please don't rearrange the schedule to accommodate it.
Disembarkation information was distributed today and we received our Gratuity Cards. We had so much As You Wish credit left that we not only paid for our private transfer, but we could give out VERY generous gratuities to the crew.
By the way, the QAP forms are still the same computer-read forms as before, but there is a new section asking about interaction with the LA office we've never seen before. There is no mention of the online option that should have been implemented by now.
Discovered by Captain Cook over two centuries
ago, the lovely city of Victoria has successfully nurtured its English
ambiance and heritage. Wonderful legacies are preserved with bright red
double-decker buses and the delicious tradition of high tea.
Click for Today's Activities. Click for Port Information.
Here's something to know if you charge gratuities to your account: Do NOT write Lido Deck Stewards if you intend your tips to go to the deck stewards. We learned today that the system has changed and if you write "Lido" something, it means inside the Lido Cafe. If you want to tip the deck stewards you have to specify "Trident Bar Stewards". Luckily one of the deck guys we know very well had the guts to ask us if we meant to give all of it to the Lido Cafe (we intended to give all of it to the deck stewards.) If he hadn't asked us we never would have known. It was easily corrected and we didn't have to do anything, but it is something to keep in mind. With all of the changes to department assignments it would be wise to ask the Front Desk exactly how to direct your gratuities before turning in the form.
It is very cold, low 40's, and very windy today, but mostly sunny. We started off with the Late Riser's Breakfast, which was again fantastic, and then wandered around until afternoon before heading into town. Since we have been here many times, we're only going in to take a few pictures and walk around. We did all of the tours in the past, but we haven't actually walked along the downtown waterfront. Usually the ship sails at 1:00pm, so this late departure gives us no excuse to skip it again.
There are a lot of tours again today, so it is apparent that Crystal is making a big effort to promote Crystal Symphony. The tours aren't disruptive except we sometimes feel like animals on display in a zoo when they are looking at our food or whatever. We'd rather they do this than keep losing customers though.
Click for today's Luncheon Menu.
After taking our usual port photos, we took the shuttle into downtown Victoria and wandered around the area. The drop-off location is at the side of the Fairmont Empress Hotel right on the waterfront. The city is beautiful with flowers everywhere even though it is just now warming up enough to plant them. The harbor is attractive with lots of activities.
We strolled past The Empress and over to the Parliament Building, walked around the grounds in front and back into the city. There is a British Columbia Museum on the corner with a carillon out front that just happened to start playing as we walked by. We took a short route behind the hotel, then back toward the port on the other side. There is a Miniature World on the side of the hotel, so we figured we'd get a head start on our roadside kitschy attractions and go inside. The woman at that counter was very friendly, as everyone has been here who we have encountered so far.
The miniatures were better than we expected. It certainly isn't a must-see attraction, but it was pleasant for something to do out of the cold and wind. The scenes range from a recreation of WWII bombed London to Circus World at the exit.
The museum killed about an hour and by then we were ready to return to the ship. As mentioned, it is very windy and cold, but sunny, so if you can get out of the wind it is fine for walking around. At the shuttle stop two women were complaining to the bus driver that the shuttles are coming too often. And the point of that is? Once on the bus, another two old ladies began complaining because they didn't want to sit and wait for other guests to board. Remember this bus arrived fifteen minutes early. You can't win.
Victoria is a very clean, attractive city well worth visiting. The locals are friendly and very helpful, as well.
Back at the port we had to stop in the souvenir shop to buy some tacky trinkets, then we fought the wind to get back on board. It was around 4:00pm when we returned. There is a sign at the cash register that says, "Unsupervised children will be fed espresso and given a free puppy."
Something of note that isn't important to us, but we did notice, is that the bathroom amenities are not re-stocked during the cruise (yes, we know we can ask for more.) It used to be that the shelves were always full of back-up bottles and soaps, but now you only get one of each. We are in no danger of running out of the bottled items, but the soap is pretty much gone. We're sure this saves Crystal a load of cash because people likely took home all of the stock when they left.
We had a late lunch at the Trident Grill around 4:30pm.
Tonight's entertainment is the production show "The Envelope Please". For our "packing convenience" the Late Seating show is at 7:00pm, so that makes three out of six shows scheduled before dinner. As you already know, WE HATE THAT!!! We sort of understand the earlier time on the last night, but just because it is time to pack doesn't mean that late seating guests are ready for bed at 10:00pm. The luggage doesn't have to be put in the corridor until 11:00pm anyway.
We did go to the show at 7:00pm. It wasn't the best rendition of this show, which we don't like anyway, so we were bored very quickly. At one point, a song ended and there was dead silence where applause was obviously expected. Eventually a few people applauded to be polite. It was all THAT bad, but it wasn't very good either. All of the entertainment during this cruise has been rather lackluster.
Tonight's Dress Code is Casual. Click for the Dinner Menu.
Continuing the trend this cruise, most of the food was outstanding. The Ahi Tuna & Crab Meat Sandwich was much better than we expected form the description. We can honestly say it was delicious and beautiful to look at. The chicken soup was satisfactory, but we have had better here in the past. We both had a double serving of the Sweet & Sour Pork that was especially good tonight. It isn't poured over the rice now. The chunks of pork are crispy fried and tossed with diced vegetables, then tossed in a sauce. The rice was formed into a large cube and topped with sesame seeds. The "Sunset" dessert was interesting. The ice cream was served in a pink meringue cup that was glued to the plate with melted chocolate. We also tried the Hibiscus Flower Ice Cream. The flavor was sort our sour cherry-ish.
After dinner we had a lengthy conversation with Daniel about nothing in particular, just personal chit chat. However, we ended up being the last guests to leave the dining room. We asked Norbert (maitre d') about the notice in Reflections about guests who do not abide by the dress code not being allowed into the public areas after 6:00pm. He was horrified that was printed and knew nothing about any such notice. We assured him it was there, so he said he would have to look into it because "I won't involve myself in the dress code anymore." That was the answer we expected. He explained that there is no way to enforce the code because if someone absolutely refuses they can't refuse to serve them dinner. We said, "And then if they complain you'd get in trouble." Answer, "Yes, of course." OK, so exactly how is anyone aboard the ship supposed to enforce a code that isn't backed up from the top? They can't, period, end of story.
We didn't get back to the room until 10:45pm, so we hurried to put our last piece of luggage in the hallway (the largest piece went out before dinner.) It only took us about 15 minutes to pack everything, so it wasn't a big deal at all. If we weren't taking the road trip afterwards we wouldn't have had any large pieces to check at all.
An interesting note in the disembarkation information we haven't seen before is that if you have independent arrangements you may disembark "at any time, at your leisure". So what they are saying is leave anytime you want to as long as it is before 9:45am. It has always sort of gone without saying that independents could do that, but this is the first time we have seen an official announcement to this effect. It could be that it varies depending on the port and how full the ship is, also.
The ship departed Victoria, VERY SLOWLY, at midnight for the short trip to Vancouver.
We are scheduled to meet in the Crystal Cove for our escort to the private transfer at 9:30am, with a departure at 9:45am. The best part of arranging a transfer through the concierge is that you also get personalized disembarkation. You literally have to think about nothing until you are dropped off at your destination. They practically hold your hand and put you in the car! Really, we're not making that up.
We apologize for not posting today's update promptly, but there was no wireless internet at the port and the ship's system is officially not working. They offered twenty free minutes to everyone to print boarding passes, but we're not sure that ever happened with the satellite problems.
Sunday, April 17 - Vancouver, BC, Canada - Disembark Crystal Symphony
Prosperous and vibrant Vancouver is Canada's third-largest city and British Columbia's most cosmopolitan center. Enjoy exploring the restored Gastown district or discovering the intrigue of Chinatown. Seize this opportunity to sample delicacies from the sea, explore the North Shore and Stanley Park, the largest natural park of any city on the North American continent, and browse among shops and galleries in Granville Island. Blessed with an unsurpassed natural backdrop, Vancouver is set amid a gorgeous landscape of water and mountains. On a clear day, one can view rugged mountains, emerald-green parklands and the luminous sea from almost any vantage point.
We were up at the crack of dawn, 7:00am, but it is better than going through U.S. Customs in L.A. There is none of that here in Vancouver. The weather is party cloudy and cool, in the high 40's.
We had our first and only breakfast in the Lido to start off our day. The food was the same as in the past, but elevated to a higher level. Everything was outstanding. There was everything one could possibly want readily available.
After breakfast, we went back to the room to get our remaining stuff together, then wait until our designated meeting time for the concierge at 9:30am.
We waited for about fifteen minutes, but we're in no rush at all. We don't want to arrive at the airport before noon because that is our reservation time for the rental car. Denise came and fetched us at around 9:50am. She walked us all the way to the car even though there was a Crystal representative waiting for us in the terminal. The rep knew everything about where we are going and why. She even knew we are driving back to San Diego. Everyone seems to think that is a great idea!
Our driver was very nice and easy to have a conversation with, so the time flew by. It usually takes about 45 minutes to get to the border, but the Vancouver Marathon was clogging up some streets today. The driver said that every year when the first cruise ship arrives, that's the same day the marathon runs, so he is used to getting around the streets that are closed. As far as we could tell, it didn't delay us at all.
There was a posted waiting time at the border of 40 minutes, but it didn't seem that long at all. The border agent asked where we live and we were on our way. There are no forms to fill out at the border, just a show of passports.
We made a brief rest stop, then continued to Bellingham International Airport. We were dropped off outside the terminal at noon, exactly as scheduled. Denise had already told us that the airport is small and easy to get around and she was correct. This was a much better place to pick up a rental car and get started than a busy airport like Seattle.
Overall, this cruise was fine, no problems on board, just the ones created by the office. We wouldn't rank this in the top ten or anything, but it was pleasant, short, and to the point. The guests were some of the oldest we have ever seen en masse, but that doesn't affect us at all, it is just an observation.
The food was vastly improved from just a few years ago. Almost everything was outstanding. At worst it was average.
Service was, as always, flawless. Our stewardess got every single request taken care of before we arrived and she even made sure we had lunch and dinner menus. She definitely is in the top ten of our stewardess experiences. Everyone else was great, as well. A true pleasure. A Crystal Cruise is worth the price just for the interaction with the wonderful crew alone. Well, almost, but you know what we mean.
These short cruises do lack a certain spark though. There was no Gala Buffet, only one theme lunch buffet, and the entertainment schedule was a mess. Too many shows were moved to 7:00pm for Late Seating guests. Even one is too much for us, but THREE on a seven day cruise is ridiculous. The production shows lacked energy and are getting very tired. We were happy to see an effort being made with the improvisation group though. It is a start at getting something new on these ships.
Oh, someone asked us if the new plastic sinks keep the water in better than the glass ones. Sorry to say, they do not. Water goes all over the mirror and the counter with little obstruction. However, the new sinks don't hang out as much over the edge, so we didn't bump into them at all.
We begin the road trip blog in Bellingham, WA when we're on our own! Hopefully we'll be able to figure out how to feed ourselves...
Don't go away, the land portion of this journey begins on the Pacific Coast Road Trip page.
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