The only purpose of this trip, for us, is to experience the new Crystal Serenity. Since we missed the inaugural in July, we wanted to catch up with the latest addition to Crystal's fleet. We do not intend to go ashore in any of the ports, so the main thrust will be comparing this ship to her older sisters.
Perhaps it is because of media coverage that the City of
Angels is often known more for its troubles than its treasures. But for a
metropolitan area serving more than 15 million vastly multi-ethnic people, one
has to wonder how problems could possibly be avoided. Known to most people as LA
(elay), it has not always been a sprawling metropolis. When Spanish
explorers first visited in the 16th century, there were only a few small native
settlements on the shores of what is now Los Angeles.
Our journey began with a car transfer from home to the ship in San Pedro.
We were picked up at noon and arrived at the port before 1:00 PM. Immediately upon
entering the terminal, one of the ground crew came over to welcome us
Our journey began with a car transfer from home to the ship in San Pedro. We were picked up at noon and arrived at the port before 1:00 PM. Immediately upon entering the terminal, one of the ground crew came over to welcome us back.
There were no crowds waiting to board and plenty of chairs for those who had already arrived. Embarkation was scheduled to begin at 2:00 PM, so we had about an hour to wait. At check-in, we were given color-coded boarding cards. When embarkation began, they called each color in order of arrival. The process could have been speeded up a bit, but it wasn't a problem. Anyone who arrived at the official embarkation time of 3:00 PM would have walked right onto the ship.
We boarded through the upper level of the lobby where we were greeted by Bruno, our waiter during the second half of last year's World Cruise. We were escorted to our room by a friendly woman from the shops. In the elevator lobby, we ran into Mary from the shops who we have known for years. As with all Crystal ships, there is a crystal fountain with a bronze statue with a musical theme. In our opinion, this is not the most attractive of the three fountains and the sculpture is way too big for the space.
Our first impression of the ship is very positive. There is a lot of dark wood and chrome, no brass or mirrors. The only jarring decor is very unattractive gray marble facing on the elevators and stair landings. Otherwise, the decor is beautiful, more like Crystal Harmony than Crystal Symphony's modern style. There is some contemporary, ocean-themed artwork in the stairwells and elsewhere, but it certainly isn't anything museum-quality.
Our penthouse is roughly the same size as those on Symphony, but it appears smaller due to the layout and oversized furniture in the sitting area. The two lamps by the sofa are way too large for the space. The verandah is twice as deep as the other ships', which is nice, but the privacy walls do not go to the ceiling so they do not feel especially private.
The room features plenty of storage space and drawers, but the way it is arranged is a bit inconvenient. There is a sort of desk arrangement that divides the bed from the dressing area. The side facing the bed has drawers, a flat-screen LCD TV, DVD player and CD sound system, plus a desk with computer connections. At the end is a bar stocked with soft drinks and water at no additional charge. Penthouses also get a free supply of alcohol upon request to the butler. There is a smallish walk-in closet with a door that won't stay open on its own. The bathroom is well appointed with attractive decor, but the toilet is squeezed into a small alcove created by the glass walls of the adjacent shower. The shower enclosure is spacious and a big improvement from clingy shower curtains. Unfortunately, we found later that the drain is inadequate and the shower routinely flooded the bathroom floor.
We waited around for the usual welcome aboard by our stewardess and butler, but neither of them showed up within the first hour. So, we went off to explore the ship and see who was out and about.
The first familiar face we ran into in the lobby was Tayfun, now the assistant Food & Beverage Manager in charge of butlers and alternative dining. He told us to tell him if we need anything and was somewhat appalled that our butler hadn't come by already. We didn't complain about that, but there was no avoiding it when he asked if we had met him yet. Tayfun is always very friendly to us. We've known him almost from the beginning when he was our headwaiter.
We were on our way to the reception desk to ask if our friend Harry was still on board. He was, and came out to greet us and chat for a few minutes before departing for Australia and his vacation. While waiting for Harry, we chatted briefly with Renato, the Shore Excursions Manager. He was glad to hear we like the ship so far, but wants to hear what we think after we have been here for a while.
As we were wandering the stairways, we bumped into Peter, a butler from the last World Cruise, who actually became misty-eyed when he saw us. He wasn't our butler then, but we did have many lengthy conversations with him. He is currently a waiter in Prego, but intends to go back to being a butler for his next contract. He expected Prego to be more exciting, but has decided he has more meaningful interaction with guests in the more laid-back butler position.
We confirmed an issue we had heard about regarding the butler service for the "AA" category staterooms on Penthouse Deck. Originally, these rooms were not intended to have butler service, but when they didn't sell well Crystal added that perk. However, the butlers were told not to serve the pre-dinner canapés or free liquor, plus some other services. This has caused many complaints and problems, hence the reason many of the butlers took other jobs. We have learned that butler service may soon be eliminated from the "AA" (changed to "P") category as was originally intended. No word yet on whether this includes a price reduction as well. It remains to be seen whether any of these changes are actually implemented.
After chatting with Peter for a few minutes, we returned to the room to prepare for the lifeboat drill at 5:15 PM. Unlike the other Crystal ships, the lifeboats here are tucked into the side of the ship on deck 6, rather than hanging over the promenade. This allows for unobstructed views from all staterooms, but causes some long, narrow hallways in the public areas devoid of windows. This results in a somewhat claustrophobic feeling and being totally cut off from the sea. Also, the muster stations are located in lounges rather than the outside deck. They have decorated the hallway next to the casino with a Roman theme to match Caesar's Palace, so that side isn't quite as dark as the Photo Shop section. The elevator lobby near the Galaxy Lounge is way too narrow and quite creepy.
We arrived a few minutes early for the lifeboat drill at our designated location in the Galaxy Lounge, where chaos was in full swing. The lifeboat captains were asking people for their lifeboat number, of which most were completely oblivious. When the staff member didn't get an answer, he would ask to see the room key where this information is printed. This also resulted in many blank stares from guests. How did these people intend to get back into their room if they didn't bring the key? In any case, the whole thing couldn't possibly have been more incoherent and we have no confidence whatsoever that we would find our way out in an emergency.
Typical of Crystal's lack of advance planning, the stage crew was attempting to prepare for tonight's show during this whole fiasco. That meant opening and closing the curtains, turning the lights on and off, etc. Hadn't someone thought to take down last night's scenery before this? The evening show starts in just a few hours and we find it hard to believe they couldn't have done this at a better time.
After the drill, we returned to put away our lifejackets. Christina, our stewardess, came by to introduce herself and to see if we wanted anything special. Although she did have a list of our preferences, she had not acted upon them at this point. However, she did take care of it during dinner. We told Christina that she didn't have to wait for us to emerge on port days if she wants to go ashore, much to her delight.
Simon, our butler, also came by to show us the room and to insist that we call him for anything we need. This in spite of the inability to program the telephone to page him. He seems like he will be a good time. As soon as he left, Dave opened the door to ask for the dinner menu and found him telling another butler how nice we were.
By this time we were starving, so we went up to the Trident Grill for hamburgers, which were very good. The grill here is larger, but offers the same selections as other Crystal ships. The grill man was an old friend who had moved to the galley. We also ran into Benjamin, a deck steward who had told us last year he would not be returning. He is one of the nicest and most attentive of all the deck hands. That's saying a lot because they are all extraordinarily pleasant. Benjamin remembered our names and that Bill likes his iced tea watered down. He also knew where we liked to sit out by the pool. All of the other deck stewards came over at various times to ask our names and to introduce themselves. We were also greeted by Ruel, who almost knew our names.
We continued wandering around the ship and ended up taking the laptop to the Computer University @ Sea to be configured. We had stopped by earlier, but Jesse told us we had to bring the computer down with us. Lara, formerly Crystal Society Hostess, is now the Dean and she rushed over to greet us and talk about her dog and her recent marriage to Atle Knutsen, the Vice Captain. Jesse configured the computer which took all of three seconds and cost $25.00. Due to many complaints about high internet rates, Crystal now has a flat-rate for the entire cruise available for $30.00 per day for up to 3 hours access per day. This is still ridiculous, but much better than the $5.00 connection charge plus $.75 per minute. It appears that they have eliminated the per byte charge that was indecipherable before. Lara said that it wasn't economical to access our shipboard email from the room, but the computer center is open 24 hours, so we can either use our regular email addresses with our flat rate, or come down there to send emails for $2.75 each. We feel strongly that these fees are outrageous and significantly higher than other cruise lines charge.
By the way, the computer center is nicely arranged with a reception desk and a separate area for casual users that is segregated from the teaching section, a vast improvement.
When we passed through the hallway where Antonio, the maitre d', was holding court, he ran out of his office to greet us by name. He insisted we come in and verify that the table he assigned to us is acceptable. For such a short cruise we really don't care as long as it is a table for two, but we pretended to be thrilled with a table by the window. Ordinarily we don't like the window tables, but on this ship all of the window tables are for two with tables for 6 and 8 next to them. The tables around the center of the room are also large, but this may be due to the nearly sold out capacity.
We stopped to chat with Richie, a waiter from an adjacent station and Jerry's roommate during the World Cruise. He said he would tell Jerry we said hello when he returns for the World Cruise.
As mentioned previously, the ship's decor is extremely beautiful and far superior to Harmony or Symphony. It looks like a very upscale hotel. The biggest improvement is in the lighting. Gone are the washed out fluorescents and in are halogen spot lights and incandescent recessed lights that are dimmed at night. They still do not understand the science of dimming though and the lobby is way too dark at night, in our opinion.
There are several new rooms used for various classes. The Studio is used for a variety of enrichment classes, including keyboard instruction. We heard many people saying they were going to sign up for classes. There is also a room for private dinners that can be arranged with matching wines, we assume all for an additional charge. These rooms are located on Deck 7 where staterooms are on the other ships. This is also the location of the two alternative restaurants, Prego and Silk Road. Silk Road also features a first-come, first-served sushi bar. The alternative restaurants require advance reservations and a gratuity of $6.00 per person is suggested. The decor in both restaurants is very attractive and they are significantly larger than on the other ships. We have heard extremely good reviews of Silk Road's contemporary Japanese cuisine by famed chef Nobu. We asked Simon to make us a reservation for next week to sample it for ourselves.
Tonight's dress code is casual with no assigned seats in the Crystal Dining Room.
As is our custom, the highlighted items on the menu are the items we actually sampled.
SOUP & SALAD
Food review: Overall, the food was about the same as it is on the Symphony. In other words, not bad, but not great. Everything was satisfactory except the tomato salad that had no flavor, and the fruit appetizer. Everything else was slightly above average, but nothing special.
We were seated in the general vicinity of our assigned table, but not with our permanent waiter. We were served by Zoltan, who seemed to be extremely thrilled to wait on us. He knows us from the World Cruise, but hasn't waited on us before.
Tonight's entertainment is the "Bon Voyage Show Time" opening with "Chorus Line" and closing with "Grand Hotel", with a special appearance by À capella Group "The Plaids". This is the first welcome show we have ever seen that was worth looking at. All of the acts were outstanding.
Although the tiered seating arrangement in the Galaxy Lounge is an improvement for viewers, the overall decor is drab. The small lamps on the cocktail tables do add a nightclub atmosphere that is nice. The stage does not protrude into the audience which tends to limit visibility from the side seats. Also, there are railings on the side of the stage that intrude upon the view.
After the show we were wandering by the Avenue Saloon and found one of the cocktail waiters standing in the hallway. Marko chatted with us until Ross, a bartender, rushed out to chat with us right on cue. We had just told Marko that this was not our first cruise. Erika came out shortly thereafter and joined in the conversation. They said that the days leading up to the inaugural were a nightmare because the French shipyard workers spent most of the time smoking and sitting around when they weren't stealing the $16,000 cappuccino machines. The crew started swapping stories about what had been installed that day and stolen the next.
They had to assign someone from Crystal to go around and check all the crew cabins for mattresses, etc. She checked off each room as they were completed and sent others back for missing items. Later, when the stewardesses went in for final bedding and such, they found that when a mattress was missing from one cabin, the workers had just taken it from one she had previously marked as completed. In other words, they did basically nothing because it was easier to do that than go onto the dock to get another mattress.
Another story we heard from several crewmembers was that when the ship was delivered there was a design flaw that caused the sewer gases to be sucked into the air conditioning intake, making the entire ship smell like sewage. When they asked the ship yard to send out workers to correct the numerous problems, 200 workers showed up, again doing mostly nothing. Eventually, the entire plumbing system had to be replaced. We saw little evidence of this because our shower continued to flood the bathroom in spite of an attempted repair to the drain. The only other problem in our room is that the volume control in the bathroom (for the TV sound) does not work.
By the way, everyone agrees that the location of the bar immediately inside the doorway into the Avenue Saloon creates an unfortunate bottle neck. Although this is one of the most beautiful rooms on the ship, getting into it can be nearly impossible.
Apparently, there are a number of other technical problems looming, but they are to be taken care of shortly. We have seen some poor finish work, but nothing unexpected for a new ship.
Here is a list of the gifts we received today:
Two bottles of wine and two bouquets from Crystal Society
$200 shipboard credit from Martha Carpenter (Crystal Cruises)
$200 shipboard credit from Auto Club
$700 shipboard credit from Crystal Society
$400 shipboard credit from American Express
So, we have a total of $1,500 in shipboard credits to spend on this voyage. $420 goes to internet access right off the top.
When Europeans first reached San Diego in
1542 under the command of Captain Juan Rodriguéz Cabrillo, they found thriving
long-established Amerindian settlements along the shores. The centuries-old
small villages remained until the mid-1700s, but the original inhabitants
represented a diverse group, comprised of more than 30 tribes. It is not likely
that they all arrived at the same time. Various clans probably stopped here
during the long migration from Siberia to the tip of South America over a period
of thousands of years. Unfortunately, land ownership was not in the cultural
traditions of these nomadic peoples, and when the first of five Spanish
expeditions came in 1769, the end of their way of life was close at hand.
Although we were awake in time for breakfast, we dawdled until 10:45 AM before venturing out, much to the surprise of Christina who was in the hallway. By the way, we had been told before the ship was launched that they planned to eliminate the unsightly carts used by the stewardesses, but they were still very much in evidence.
There are now two choices for late risers breakfast. Table service at Tastes by the Neptune Pool, or the usual Continental breakfast items in the Bistro. We walked by to look at the menu at Tastes and it does look somewhat appealing. However, it was too warm to suit us on the pool deck with the roof closed, so we went down to the Bistro to just snack. We will have photos of these areas as soon as we can get them without throngs of people in the way.
The Bistro on this ship is quite large and very attractive. The furniture is comfortable and the service prompt and friendly. We only knew one of the waiters, but everyone else was equally attentive. The buffet is much larger than on the Symphony and roughly the same as the new configuration on Harmony, but the selection is exactly the same.
After snacking on fruit and sweet rolls, which were very fresh and tasty, we retrieved the camera to get some shots of the ship as we explored.
We are docked just steps away from downtown San Diego today, along with the Statendam and Monarch of the Seas. This was boarding day for both ships, as well as Crystal Serenity. Boarding was well underway for us before we left the Bistro. There are over 200 guests arriving today to make up a near-capacity crowd. The weather is beautiful, but somewhat chilly in the shade.
Here are some observations and comparisons of various public rooms. The Palm Court on this ship is a combination of features of Harmony and Symphony. This wasn't a particularly wise thing to do. The entrance lobby is large to accommodate the crowds before the Captain's parties. However, there is an ugly planter filled with tacky petrified plants flanking the doorways. Immediately inside the room is a large dance floor with a small stage. There is a shortage of furniture compared to Symphony, but it is attractive enough. They have situated the bar between the Palm Court and Vista Lounge section, but there is not a wall dividing them and the lounge is not nearly as attractive as it is on the Harmony. They really should have stuck with the Symphony's design for this room.
The Seahorse pool area is essentially the same as it is on Symphony except there are two spas attached to the pool rather than one. Later, we realized this was not an additional spa as there is no spa at the Neptune pool as on Symphony. There is a larger bandstand at one end and a larger covered seating area at the other. Both of these are improvements. The attempt at modern art is not. Both sculptures are too small for the space and look like something one could buy at Pier One.
Serenity boasts a return to a separate disco for the late-night crowd, such as it is. Pulse disco is attractive on the outside, as well as on the inside where there is a central dance floor and abundant seating. That's assuming one is willing to brave the dark, very creepy, narrow hallway to get inside. Apparently, few do, because it is empty most nights except for the staff entertainers who hang out here.
This ship has the Harmony's version of a cabaret lounge at the back of the ship, which is a vast improvement over the dreadfully uninviting Starlite Club on the Symphony. The Stardust Club is an attractive, warm room with intimate seating arrangements that encourage people to drop in and listen to the band for a while. There are way too many huge chandeliers, but they are attractive in themselves, so we'll forgive the quantity.
We decided to have lunch in the Lido today, which was very crowded. The design creates a sense of crowding although the space itself is similar to the Symphony. However, the way the seating is spread out along the sides and at the back creates some bottlenecks. All of the tables along the windows are too large. They should be changed to smaller tables to make more room for the lines and to appease the guests who most definitely do not want to share tables with strangers at lunch. The serving line is completely incoherent with hot items popping up before and after the salads, etc. The outside seating area is half the size of either Symphony or Harmony, but is probably adequate.
We chatted with Peter behind the line, who again expressed his excitement to see us. The line moved slowly because there was a station for smoked salmon with all the accompaniments placed in the center of the line. This should have been placed elsewhere so guests would not block everyone else while they picked up each tiny onion or olive. The food was essentially the same selection as usual, except it was served in ceramic casserole dishes in smaller quantities. This resulted in a much-improved overall quality and the best Lido meal we have ever had on a Crystal ship. We still think the selections are too fancy for a casual buffet, but everything we had was very good.
Benjamin took us outside at our request. We eventually got too cold, but it was OK while we were eating. Gianlucca came over to greet Dave because he had missed him earlier. He is now a headwaiter in Prego, where he belongs being from Rome and all. Besides, it is pretty much impossible to look any more Italian than he does.
Several new deck stewards came over to ask our names and introduce themselves. Word travels fast among the Filipinos when we show up.
After lunch we ran into Lara's mother who joined today for this cruise. She lives up the street from Dave's uncle Doug in Point Loma. She arranged with her husband to flash a beacon at the ship as we sail away, so we said we'd look for it. As we sailed out at 2:00 PM, the ship blew the horn three times as it passed their house. And, we did indeed see the beacon flash in return! Is that cute, or what?
Tonight's dress code is Informal. Ordinarily, this would be the Captain's Welcome Party with formal attire, but that will be held tomorrow due to the large number of guests who arrived today. Simon did not deliver dinner menus tonight, so we do not have a copy of the actual menu for you today. However, it was the same as any second night on any Crystal cruise. In fact, we simply copied the following menu from the World Cruise and made a few changes that we can remember.
We arrived in the lobby about half an hour before dinnertime, so we stopped to chat with Mary in Captain's Choice. The shops on this ship are very attractive and the area resembles an upscale mall. However, the merchandise is identical to that found on the Symphony right down to the Chinese Gambling Chip necklaces they have been trying to unload since day one. Mary said that although she doesn't like sushi and thinks it is a "trendy fad", that we have to try the sushi in Silk Road because it is incredible and "like nothing you have ever had."
Throngs of guests were still leaving the Crystal Dining Room when the late seating was set to begin, so, needless to say, there was a delay for our seating. It wasn't much, but was enough to cause quite an uproar among the waiters who only had a few minutes to prepare for us.
Food review: Again, everything was good, but not spectacular. There really isn't anything to report other than the meal was satisfactory. The Roman soup was nothing like the versions served on the other ships, but was very good nonetheless.
We were seated at our assigned table for two along the window. The dining room was pretty much full except for some small tables that were vacant. Although we have seen our waiter before, we were not familiar with him. Both he and his assistant, Dominic, were pleasant and the service was fine. Our sommelier is Astrid, who we have known for quite a while. She knew we did not order much wine, but came by anyway just to be pleasant. Later she returned to present us with a gift of wine from Adair, hence the reason we never have to buy any!
Our headwaiter is Igor, who was promoted during the last World Cruise. We know him only from a distance. Mario, another headwaiter, came over after he saw us. We have known him forever. During the meal, the waiter from last night came over to say that he had "been hoping against hope" that he was our permanent waiter. Are we popular, or what?
Although it didn't seem as though there were any lulls during dinner, we were not finished until 10:00 PM.
Tonight's entertainment was a Variety Showtime featuring "Dance Champions" Clive & Samantha Keay and Banjoist Peter Mezoian. Both acts were OK for what they are, but not worth writing home about.
Unlike every other cruise at this point between San Diego and Mexico, the sea is like glass. It is almost impossible to tell the ship is moving. We move one hour ahead on the clock tonight.
The sea remains so calm that we can barely tell the ship is moving. It is still a bit chilly outside, probably in the high 60's. Definitely not pool weather yet.
We were awakened before 10:00 AM by announcements for the crew fire drill. Then at 10:00 AM the alarms sounded and more announcements came for the crew. We've never understood why it is necessary to make announcements in the cabins for this, except maybe one to warn us about it.
In any case, we didn't venture out until noon when we went up for the Asia Cafe luncheon buffet around the Neptune Pool. We were anxious to see if they had improved anything about it. The biggest improvement was that they have built in kitchens that eliminate the grease-spewing BBQ grills that used to foul the air during these events.
The food variety was unchanged, but the flavor of all of the dishes we sampled was vastly superior to the other two ships. We sat outside to listen to the band while eating. We were fawned over in the extreme by the deck stewards. Their supervisor came over and told us that they had told him we were so nice to them that they want to serve us. Every one of them has come over and begged us to order something from him. Benjamin literally pushes the others out of the way to get to us first.
We stayed outside until after 1:30 PM, then went down to pick up the preliminary cruise itineraries for 2005. So far we are limiting our choices to shorter cruises that are round trip from Los Angeles, mostly for convenience sake.
After returning to the room, some maintenance men arrived to leave a temperature meter that records the room temperature over 24 hours. We haven't noticed any problems with the temperature so far. They came right back and installed a noise meter in the bathroom. Again, we have had no problems with noise in the bathroom. What they need is a flood sensor for the shower! It's also impossible to keep the toilet seat up which results in some acrobatics at times.
As usual, we fell asleep and had just enough time to get dressed and make it to Palm Court for the Captain's Welcome Reception.
Tonight's dress code is Formal for the Captain's Gala Reception. There was a line in the lobby, but it only took a few minutes to make it inside. Herbert Jaeger, the Hotel Director, came out and asked us if we wanted to go through the back door, but we declined. This Captain likes us and we hadn't seen him yet, so we thought this would be a good way to get it over with.
At the head of the line, Paula Jean, the Crystal Society Hostess, was asking names and introducing guests to the Captain. There were no other officers in the reception line, which was odd. Paula Jean doesn't know us, but when she heard our names she said, "Oh, I have to talk to you." We assume that means we are in the group of highest number of cruises this time, so she'll want to call us onto the stage at the Crystal Society Party on the next formal night. We aren't hot to do this, but it is relatively painless, so we do it if they ask nicely enough.
The Captain was doing his usual idle chit chat with the guests and hurrying them along. That is, until we arrived and he launched into a lengthy conversation about whether we had been on the Harmony, how it was, are we going on the World Cruise, etc. We had to break it off because it was holding up the line. Paula Jean was flabbergasted. He seemed as though he had a cold and wasn't shaking hands with guests, which has been the policy for over a year now.
We sat to the side of the room, which was packed to standing room only. An older couple sat with us and the man complained constantly about the lack of hand shaking. He didn't buy the excuse of spreading germs and asked everyone he could whether that was the real reason. He was also annoyed that there were no other officers in the line, which is unusual, we must admit. However, who cares?
After the usual speeches, which were entertaining and brief, Nikki came over and greeted us warmly, as always. She said she has been so busy this cruise with new bookings it is unbelievable. She asked about the house and heard a short summary of the nightmare we found upon our return last year. We told her we'd be down to see her for our next booking as soon as we can stay awake long enough to make it.
We stopped by the room on the way to dinner, mostly to kill a few minutes while the crowd filtered into the dining room. By the time we arrived it was an easy walk in. The room was packed, with only a few tables for two unoccupied.
GALA WELCOME DINNER
SOUP AND SALAD
Food review: Again, the meal was satisfactory for the most part, but nothing outstanding. Well, to be fair, the tiny portion of Chateaubriand was outstanding, as was its sauce, but the portion was maybe four ounces, if that. The twice baked whipped potatoes on the plate with it were so dry they were inedible. The two snap peas, one baby carrot, 1/8 of a squash, and 1/4 of a broccoli floret were fine. The pasta appetizer tasted alright, but it was very starchy. In case you are wondering how mousse can be crunchy, it had a piece of what tasted like a Nestle Crunch bar in the center.
The dining room was fairly chaotic, but it didn't affect us at all. They summoned butlers down from the Penthouse Decks to help serve some of the larger tables. As is usually the case, if one large table starts on the special orders, their waiter is so bogged down that everyone else at his station suffers. Our headwaiter was occupied with a single table the entire evening. Since we didn't need any special attention, this wasn't an issue for us, just a comment on what was going on around us. Our Waiter, Karol, seemed to be in control of his station. Our Assistant Waiter, Dominic, seems to be a fun guy. Too bad we are on for so short a time.
Pat, the leader of the "Harmonic Trio", had seen us on embarkation day, so we knew he would come by and insist on playing for us tonight at the table. Even though we said it wasn't necessary, he said, "But we WANT to play for you," and proceeded to do so. We told him we'd stop by some night and catch up on the ship gossip. He knows all of the information too hot to share here, but he isn't always particularly forthcoming with it unless we pry it out of him. However, you all know we will try! By the way, we find the strolling musicians stopping at each table to be very annoying. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to play from a central location or maybe walk around and let interested parties summon them?
We declined the offer for a photo at our table, as did 90% of the tables the photographer approached. We don't mind this practice as long as they take no for an answer, but it does seem rather pointless. By the way, this ship uses the same method of photo sales as the Harmony where you have to look at your photo when the Photo Shop is open and take it to the cashier. The Symphony abandoned this practice during the second cruise because it inhibited sales. There, the photos are always on display and you turn in an order form. The photos are delivered to your stateroom. We prefer this method by far. Besides, looking at all of the photos is one of the favorite activities of many guests. You'd think they might keep the shop open after the show, which is the only time there is reason to be anywhere near it, but of course, they do not. The photo hallway looks like this photo 90% of the time.
We had time to stop off at the room to air ourselves out after the dining room became quite warm at the end. We wish they would choose a temperature and stick with it rather than changing it for every complaint of too hot or too cold. At least if you know it will be cold or hot you can dress accordingly.
Tonight's entertainment is the lavish production show, "Million Dollar Musicals". This is one of the best shows and we would have said it rated very good tonight. That is until the missed cues, dropped costumes, and technical glitches began to pile up about 2/3 of the way through. This cast is very strong and quite good. To be fair, they did cope with the problems very well and first-time guests probably wouldn't have noticed the missing or half-working video screens during the finale. However, this show usually gets a standing ovation and there was no hint of that tonight, although it was well received. These production errors have plagued Crystal's shows on all of the ships for the past couple of years and it is unfortunate that they didn't work them out for the new ship.
We decided to go directly up to the room tonight rather than hang around in our formal wear. The sea remains as smooth as glass and the Captain announced that he expects it to be the same tomorrow. Some people were complaining that it is too cold, but it will be in the 80's at the first port, so who cares?
We were awakened early by the phone ringing, but no messages were left on our
voicemail. A bit later, around 10:00 AM, the ship's alarms went off inadvertently
with an announcement immediately following from the Captain telling everyone to
disregard it. So, we were out about half an hour before lunchtime.
We were awakened early by the phone ringing, but no messages were left on our voicemail. A bit later, around 10:00 AM, the ship's alarms went off inadvertently with an announcement immediately following from the Captain telling everyone to disregard it. So, we were out about half an hour before lunchtime.
Since Paula Jean had said she wanted to talk to us, we wandered down to the Crystal Plaza to see if she was busy. Finding her at her desk occupied with other guests, we browsed through the shops instead. Mary filled us in on a few of the regulars who are on board. The man with the highest number of cruises, in the hundreds, is here, but we have yet to see him. She wasn't sure of the numbers for this year's World Cruise, but it seemed to be rather low. We know that one of the segments has a total count in the low 400's. This ship is larger than Symphony and holds a bit over 1,000 guests compared to 940 for the other two ships.
Our goal was to buy some logo hats or shirts, but the pickings were very slim. All they have are a few sweatshirts with the Crystal Serenity logo on them and not much else. The other two shops have merchandise identical to Harmony and Symphony.
For lunch, we went up to the Lido and had another very good lunch. What a vast improvement it is! There were several items on the buffet that were appealing to us and everything was very good to outstanding. We chatted with Peter and Joaquim, who was overjoyed to see us. Of course, he is overjoyed to see almost anyone. Let's just say he's rather cheerful.
All of the tables in the Lido, inside and out, were occupied by the time we finished eating. The seating arrangements are at mostly large tables which results in many parties of two taking up an entire table. Crystal needs to learn that this is not a group of "joiners". We moved outside by the pool after lunch and it was fairly full also. The Tastes area tables were all occupied by baffled looking guests wondering how the whole process works. We think they could do a better job of explaining the process of obtaining your food from this location. It is sort of combination of table service and buffet that makes no sense at all, especially when the ship is full as it is now.
The weather is a bit warmer, but not hot. It is probably in the low 70's. The sea is slightly choppy, but there is still very little movement. This didn't stop a run on the seasick wrist bands in the shops, however.
When the band finished at 1:30 PM, we wandered back down to the Photo Shop to purchase our ghastly boarding photo and a book of interior shots of the ship. We will have our own photos to post of the remaining public areas not previously covered, but we're waiting until the first port day when most guests are ashore.
After we returned to the room, a maintenance man came in to determine whether our phone was working. Since it rang several times earlier today, we assumed it was. He determined that it was indeed working. Also, he informed us that the speaker in our bathroom is broken and they are waiting for spare parts to repair it.
Simon came by to see if the phone was really fixed (it was) and to say that he was worried because he hadn't seen us for two days. We assured him everything is fine and that we almost never ask the butler to do anything. He insisted on bringing an appetizer of guacamole and chips, which he did at 4:30 PM.
Tonight's dress code is Informal.
We stopped by the shops to look for a vest for Bill, but the merchandise selection for men was very limited and extremely over-priced. It occurred to us to ask at the Front Desk for Ronnie, formerly the librarian, now a telephone operator. At first the woman at the desk thought he was in back, but it turned out he was back in the library for tonight, so we rushed up to see him.
Ronnie was thrilled to see us and proceeded to tell us as much gossip as humanly possible in fifteen minutes. You may recall that Ronnie is the beloved librarian who also dressed in drag for some of the World Cruise parties, to the delight of the regulars. Most of the news concerned who is or is not working the World Cruise. Turns out that pianist Tom will be the only one of our "group" who will be there, so he's a bit depressed over his decision to do the World Cruise again. He told us last year that he wasn't interested in doing it again, but money must talk. We had to run to dinner, but decided to come back afterwards to continue the conversation.
Tonight's menu is virtually identical to the old 50's dinner held on the other ships, but that theme night has been dropped here. In fact, there are no theme nights on this ship since both production shows associated with those nights have been replaced, thank God.
SOUP AND SALAD
Food review: Both soups were outstanding and the highlight of the meal. Everything else was slightly above average. Both entrees looked like they would be really tasty, but they fell short of perfection by lacking any strong flavors. The cheese cake was very good, but the portion was microscopic.
The large table next to us was vacant, so it was fairly quiet in our section of the dining room. Dominic kept asking specific questions about whether we liked each course, not accepting our answer of "fine". He asked why the chicken was not great, but just acceptable. The answer to that was that the stuffing tasted like wet coconut pressed together. Otherwise the dish was fine. The prime rib would have tasted like nothing if not for the sauce, but the portion was adequate.
We weren't hot to go to the show, so we went up to chat with Ronnie again. That conversation lasted until well after 11:00 PM when the library closed. We heard the story of why he moved to telephone operator, etc. It's basically the same story as last year that the Filipinos have no where to go once they reach a certain plateau, so in order to get the same pay with less work, being an operator was the only option. We think they pile extra work on him because the guests love him so much and he is competent, too. However, extra work does not translate into higher pay around here. He also had some stories about the fun everyone had while they were being housed at a resort in France while getting the ship ready to sail. Since the library wasn't finished until the last minute, he spent almost two weeks lying on the beach and basically taking a vacation. However, all of the books finally arrived only the day before the first sailing and his computer wasn't working, so everything had to be done by hand. We've heard essentially the same story from everyone, but things like that are to be expected under the circumstances.
Tonight's entertainment is "Dynamic Vocalist" Danny Walten. As mentioned above, we did not attend the show.
We received a letter from the Crystal Society Hostess informing us what valuable guests we are and that she wants to honor us at the Crystal Society Party for being among the most-traveled members at 35 cruises. That's fine, but with two port days coming up there is no way for us to fulfill her request to come to her desk to give her information for her introductory remarks. She'll just have to wing it.
We move another hour ahead on the clock tonight.
Sweeping 25-mile wide Banderas Bay is
commanded by charming Puerto Vallarta (vai YAR ta). The name
honors Ignacio Luis Vallarta, a previous governor. With the severe coastal
mountains only a few miles inland, the town has an atmosphere of utter isolation
from the rest of the world. Though it is difficult to imagine, Puerto Vallarta
was once a sleepy little fishing village. Original native American settlements
date back many centuries. It is known that the kingdom of Xalisco ruled
the Pacific Coast from the early centuries of our common era. Perhaps the
original inhabitants of Mexico passed through this area centuries before,
as they moved southward from their origins in Siberia.
The ship arrived almost imperceptibly into Puerto Vallarta this morning. The weather continues to be nearly perfect with temperatures in the high 70's - low 80's. It is a bit overcast, but when the sun comes through it instantly becomes way too hot.
We left the room at noon when Cristina called to ask if we were going out today. We were, in fact, about to walk out the door when she called. Our first destination was the Front Desk to have a birthday card delivered to Emilie, our Assistant Stewardess from the last World Cruise. On the way, we were intercepted by the maitre d', Antonio, who wanted to chat about moving to California. He seems like a pleasant person. We had never had a conversation with him until today. He told us that Crystal is considering building a fourth ship and assigning the Harmony exclusively to the Japanese market. They have to decide within the next six months.
We learned that there are about 185 full World Cruise guests this year. That is roughly the same amount as the year before last, so nothing special. There were a few more booked, but a few people died during the year and a couple of others cancelled. The first segment has less than 500 guests total, but the rest have a bit less than 700, which is an improvement over last year. Antonio said that these round trips from Los Angeles and the same type in the Caribbean have all been nearly sold out.
The Front Desk clerk was occupied with an old couple trying to figure out how to pay their account. He asked them for their credit card and the woman handed him her room key. True it looks like a credit card, but the whole point of going to the desk was to provide a credit card for the end of cruise charges, so she should have been aware of what card he needed. We gave up and gave the birthday card to Billy to be delivered.
Although the Dining Room was fairly empty, we opted for the Lido lunch instead. The selections are basically the same in both with just a few variations. Once again, everything was excellent and there were many acceptable choices for us. We can't emphasize enough what a vast improvement this Lido's food is over Harmony and Symphony. As usual, we were fawned over by the deck stewards, even the ones we have never met before today. They make a point to come over and introduce themselves and literally beg us to order something from them.
After lunch we wandered up to Deck 13, Sun Deck, for a couple of port photos. The view from here is nice with a panorama along the coast and over the city toward the mountains beyond. We also had a chance to chat with Renato who had the same sort of horror stories about the inaugural as everyone else we have talked to. As we had discerned, the quality of construction for this ship is equivalent to Harmony, far below that of Symphony which is acknowledged to be of top quality. That's not to say it isn't more beautiful, just that the actual construction isn't particularly good.
It was too hot to stay out on the very crowded pool deck and the Neptune Pool area had the roof closed and every table filled with guests who had just returned from town. The Tastes late lunch appears to be very popular by the number of tables occupied. Antonio told us that the Chinese Chicken Salad is particularly good. It does look good and is served in an unusual ceramic bowl that adds to the presentation.
With most guests in town or up on deck, we had a chance to get a photo of the Bistro buffet and it's comfortable seating area. Crystal has wisely expanded this popular venue to more than double the size of the other two ships. However, the selection of bistro-style snacks remains the same. This location also serves specialty coffees and teas at no additional charge. By the way, whenever one asks for water now, they bring bottled water. All soft drinks and bottled water are complimentary.
We spent most of the afternoon in the room where it was cooler. Some of the public rooms are kept too warm to suit us, but we're not sure if this is by design or because of a defect in the system. The Crystal Fountain hasn't been functional since the second day. Someone has been working on it for the past two days, but it appears that he has given up and drained the water.
The weather was pleasant enough to spend the time before the sail away on our verandah watching the stragglers come back to the ship, including one young man who appeared to have spent the day in a bar. It took him several tries to figure out which I.D. to show at the gangway. He arrived literally at the last second just as they were about to pull up the gangway. Simon brought our nightly supply of guacamole and chips while we were watching the sailing.
Tonight's dress code is Casual.
SOUP AND SALAD
Food review: The salads were satisfactory, but nothing special. Both the pasta special and the vegetarian lasagna were edible, but nothing like what we expected based upon the description. Of the two entrees, the shrimp dish was the best and bordered on excellent. However, the garlic potatoes served with them were as dry as dust. The shrimp portion consisted of three medium shrimp, but they were tasty. The salmon was overcooked and way too dry around the edges. The Profiteroles were about 1" in diameter, but were fairly tasty for the three bites they lasted.
Dominic made fun of us because were aren't very excited when he delivers a dish. When we explained it was due to the fact that we have seen these menus 35 times he was shocked. There were some lulls in the service tonight. It must have had something to do with the kitchen because the entire half of the dining room we could see had nothing on the tables for at least fifteen minutes. Karol forgot to serve Bill's side order of garlic potatoes until he was almost finished eating.
We asked Astrid what had happened to Daniel. She said he had met the love of his life and moved to the bay area. He is currently waiting for a work permit so he can get back into the wine business. She said she only came back to the Serenity because he had asked her to help him out. When she arrived he was already gone. Everyone else from the Symphony stayed there when they found out he wasn't coming back.
Tonight's entertainment is the musical show "Forever Plaid". The performance could not have been any better. The four men did an outstanding job. The attendance wasn't the best and a few people tired of the shtick, but we thought it was a nice alternative to a regular shows.
There was a notice on the Computer University announcing that there is a problem with the satellite service, so no internet service is currently available. This happens in this part of the world every time, it isn't unusual. It's not that big of a deal and we haven't had any problems so far.
It is still fairly calm, although there is slight rocking motion to the ship tonight. Certainly nothing close to be rough and most likely from the wind that rough water.
Hernan Cortes and his minions,
in search of Chinese treasure in the Pacific, were among the first to visit the
area now known as Manzanillo. In 1522, Gonzalo de Sandoval, under orders from
Cortes, dropped anchor in the Bay of Salagua (north of Manzanillo Bay), looking
for safe harbors and good shipbuilding sites. In the year before he left,
Sandoval granted an audience to local Indian chieftains in a small cove, which
today carries the name Playa de La Audiencia. A great part of his fleet, which
left to conquer the Philippines, was constructed in Salagua.
Paula Jean left a message for us saying she would call us tonight between 4 and 5 because, "You don't do mornings." All she wants is something cute to say about us for the Crystal Society presentation tomorrow night.
We were up by 10:00 AM, but made no effort to get ready or out of the room until just before noon. This isn't the most exciting port, but we went up to the Sun Deck to take a couple of port photos anyway. There is a large bay ringed by resorts just across the harbor from the ship. It is warmer and more humid than it has been so far, but it isn't ridiculous because of the light cloud cover.
Again, we had lunch in the Lido with less success than we have had prior to today. There wasn't really anything wrong with the food, but the selection wasn't what we wanted. However, there is little chance of starving around here, so we made up a meal as best we could and sat outside on the aft deck.
After lunch, we wandered around for a few minutes and ran into Polly, a woman from the office who helps with the shows. We met her several years ago on the Symphony when she was traveling with Philip, who we have known since the beginning. He finally got his big break as a costumer with the Broadway production of "Wicked". She was glad he finally found a way to break away from Crystal.
We ran into Simon in the lobby where we were inspecting the latest version of the Crystal Piano. This one has the ability to play itself, but we have never seen it operating. Simon said they sometimes use it on port days, but it doesn't sound as natural as having the pianist there. Simon confirmed our reservation for Silk Road on the 17th. We chose that date so we could avoid the Baked Alaska Parade in the Dining Room. Simon said that guests either love it or hate it.
With nothing left to do, we returned to the room for the rest of the afternoon. The sky became darker and there was some thunder and lightning, but that's about it. It made no difference to us and from what we could tell most of the guests had returned to the ship in time for lunch.
The Guest List arrived and by our count there are about 782 total guests and 539 are Crystal Society members. From the crowded feeling in the Lido and on the pool deck we thought the ship was sold out, but it is 300 short of that.
Paula Jean called to get information for our introduction at the Crystal Society Party tomorrow night. She wanted a special "Crystal Moment", but we couldn't think of anything specific. However, she was happy with our assertion that we make lasting friends with the crew. It's basically the same thing everyone says, although it is true. We expressed surprise that we were high enough up to be recognized, but it's because all of the really high up guests are on the first seating. Not that 35 cruises is anything to sneeze at, but there is at least one man on board with well over 100.
It started to rain just before the sail away, with the lightning and thunder continuing well after dark. The sailing was as usual a bit late for no apparent reason. No announcements have been made before any of the sailings as was always done in the past.
In the lobby before dinner, we chatted briefly with one of the guys from "Forever Plaid" who is always hanging out by himself. We always feel sorry for the ones who are sort of on the outside of the group. He seemed quite pleasant.
Tonight's dress code is Casual.
SOUP AND SALAD
Food review: The Chinese chicken salad was very good, as were both entrees. Everything else was satisfactory. Our headwaiter came over and removed the bones from the fish without being asked, which was nice. Too bad he didn't do the same for the chicken, but one can't have everything.
Antonio stopped to chat for a while. He seems to be contemplating buying property in Temecula for a winery when he leaves shipboard life.
Tonight's entertainment is guitarist George Sakellariou and was presented before dinner, which we hate. There is no reason we can see for changing the schedule tonight. However, we weren't interested in this act anyway, so it's not a problem this time. There is a cabaret show in the Stardust Club starring singer Danny Walten at 10:30 PM.
We dawdled around in the Dining Room and made it out just as the cabaret show began in the Stardust Club. We stood in back to see if we were interested in the singer. After determining that we weren't all that excited with him, we moved next door to the Avenue Saloon to listen to Collin Salter, the pianist/singer who has been trying to get us to come in for days. He was acceptable, but we wouldn't knock anyone over to get in to see him. The room itself is attractive in a gentlemen's club sort of way. The furniture is comfortable with velvet loveseats and sofas, plus wooden barrel chairs with soft upholstery. It is quite dark and would be too crowded on a regular night to bother with. This is the lounge where the bar is directly inside the entrance, so most people don't even come in. Once past the bar area, there is a nice seating section. We stayed until just before midnight and made our exit during one of Collin's breaks. Marko, one of the new bar waiters, came over and introduced himself and asked our names. He has been very friendly from the first day when he tried to get us to come in.
On the way back to the room, we passed the deserted lobby where the Harmonic Trio was playing to a single couple sitting in the bar. There were no other guests in sight. Pat brightened up when he saw us, but we didn't stop.
We received a very nice note from Nikki and a gift of two Crystal calendars and a box of chocolate truffles. She expressed her disappointment that we won't be on the World Cruise, but was glad we came for at least a short time. We intend to book another short cruise on the Harmony for September as soon as we can.
The day started with stormy skies and slightly rough seas, but all was calm again by late afternoon. It is still quite warm, in the low 80's, and very humid. The coast of Mexico was in sight all day.
Today's lunch was the Nuevo Latino buffet around the Neptune Pool. We were out and about early, so we staked out a table and waited for the lines to subside around 12:30 PM. Nearly every table was filled both inside and out. Several Deck Stewards brought bottles of water and iced tea to make our table look occupied, but we took turns getting our food anyway.
They haven't quite figured out a coherent arrangement for the deck buffets yet. The first part with the cold foods is roughly the same as the other ships, but the hot foods are around the corner at Tastes. This leads to guests going in every direction and clashing in the center of each line. There were several disgruntled guests at the hot food counter because they weren't serving tacos and didn't have tortillas that weren't already made up into fajitas. We have to say that the only recognizable items were tamales, but they were in odd flavors such as salmon and cream cheese, or vegetarian chorizo. Most of the selections we had were tasty enough and we had plenty of food.
At just after 1:45 PM we decided it had become too warm to stay outside, so we went down to the lobby to get a list of rooms that would be open today for inspection. We waited for Paula Jean to arrive at her desk so we could inquire about which Milestones we still have unused. This makes a difference for the next cruise because certain levels give you a cabin upgrade and others are airfare or stateroom credits. We're not sure at this point what levels we have coming. She said she would email the office and find out for us tomorrow. We also gave her our snow story from the last World Cruise for tonight's Crystal Society party.
The man with 126 cruises is ill, so he isn't participating in the party tonight. During the first seating party the highest number of cruises is 60. During late seating, the highest is 36, so we are the second highest of three with 35. We determined that they are not taking honorees to dinner, which is perfectly fine with us, but Paula Jean looked horrified as though no one told her she was supposed to do that. It has been so many years since we have ranked high enough that we have no idea whether it is still common practice or not.
We took the tour of the open staterooms. The verandah cabins are identical to those on the Symphony except the wood is dark cherry instead of whitewashed oak. The AA or P cabins that are supposedly upgraded versions of regular verandah rooms are identical to the regular rooms as well. The only obvious difference is the addition of a gold accent stripe on the wood. This certainly doesn't warrant the higher price.
Penthouse Suites are roughly the same as on the Symphony, but there is the addition of a dining table and four chairs. We don't recall what the configuration is on Symphony, but it seems to us that they were more roomy.
After our tour we went down to wait for Nikki to book our next cruise. There were a few people waiting on the sofas near her desk, but several guests barged in out of turn, as always. We decided we would prefer to nap than wait, so we left. Paula Jean was horrified, but we assured her we didn't care and that it certainly wasn't Nikki's fault.
The Crystal Society Party was held in the Palm Court beginning at 7:45 PM. We arrived early enough to get a seat where we wouldn't have to climb over anyone to get to the stage during the presentation. Two old ladies sat with us and were appalled when we were called up as the second-highest number of cruises. The best part of the whole thing is the reaction of the other guests. They just can't imagine how anyone could rack up so many cruises. Two instructors from the Computer University had come over to sit by us purposely. They were also appalled by our number of cruises.
We received a bouquet of red roses, rose boutonnieres, and a photo with the Captain, Paula Jean and Gary Hunter, the Cruise Director. The Captain even shook hands with us, which he isn't supposed to do. Nikki was somewhat surprised that Paula Jean hadn't sent the bellmen around to collect the bouquets to be put in a vase and delivered to the guests. Apparently she wasn't aware of this procedure. We followed them down the stairs with Nikki carrying the flowers. However, we ran into Cristina on the way and she took them and found a vase.
Tonight's dress code is Formal. We were about half an hour late to dinner because of the lengthy discussion with Nikki and Paula Jean, but nobody seemed to mind. The Dining Room was over half empty due to both alternative restaurants hosting large private parties.
SOUP AND SALAD
Food review: Everything was good, but not spectacular. The sherbet course was way too heavy on the alcohol content and was somewhat shocking to eat. The fish was perfectly cooked, but didn't have much of a flavor. The soufflés were very good, but not as good as on the Symphony where they are a highlight.
Dominic and Astrid talked about working on Disney Cruise Lines, among others. They said Disney treats their crew equally as well as Crystal does, which is very good. However, the same cannot be said for Celebrity and other large ship lines. Dominic would be fun to have as a waiter some time. He speaks excellent English and has a good sense of humor. He constantly teases us because we always say things are "fine", or "OK". However, once he found out how many cruises we had been on he understood that we have seen these menus so many times that it is difficult to surprise us. We also chatted with Karol. He came from the Harmony and didn't know us before this cruise. He seems pleasant, but his English isn't quite as good so he is a bit more serious.
Tonight's entertainment is the production show "Fascinatin' Rhythm". The show opened with several technical problems piled on top of one another. First, the video screens lowered for the introduction, but nothing appeared on them. So, they went back up. The curtains opened and the dancers began their approach to the edge of the stage, while the curtains closed on them. Other than that the show was fine. This cast is outstanding for the most part, which makes up for some of the technical problems. This production has been changed significantly from the version playing on Harmony and Symphony. One entire number has been replaced with the only tasteful costumes in the show. Because they are classy and not vibrant Technicolor extravaganzas, they don't quite fit, but they are nice.
The ship is basically just sitting off the coast of Acapulco, which is visible on the horizon. We dock at 7:00 AM tomorrow for an all-day stay. It is supposed to be at least 88 degrees and partly cloudy. The clouds might help to alleviate the heat a bit, but we expect it will be very humid again.
Internet service was not available tonight,
as is common in this part of the world. The TV signal was also
intermittent on the satellite channels.
Among Mexico's treasures, there are many tangible
components, like gold, silver, oil and rich fertile soil, but perhaps the
greatest prize in the land of mystery is something that is somewhat less
distinct. Mexico wears her beauty as gracefully as la Malinche wears her elegant
white gown for the traditional Matachine. No one has missed the lovely
landscape's natural complexion. The Sierra Madre appears through the
coastal mists as if they were painted upon a watercolor backdrop. It is only at
a second glance that you realize it is real. After WWII, a series of development
projects were launched in an effort to build up the nation's resort areas and
attract foreign visitors. Initially prosperous, the economy later began to
waver, and progress slowed somewhat.
Today's weather is about as beautiful as it gets, although it is hot. It's in the high 80's, but there is a breeze that moderates the heat a bit. We took a few photos from our verandah overlooking the city, the fort, and the bay immediately adjacent to the pier. The usual batch of taxi drivers was evident grabbing at anyone who walked by.
We told Cristina last night that she doesn't have to clean our room this morning so she can go ashore early. So, we didn't rush out of the room even though we were up earlier than lunchtime. Our first stop was in the nearly deserted Lido when lunch did roll around. Even with very few people on board, the Lido seems crowded due to the seating configuration. We sat outside on the aft deck where it was very pleasant in the shade.
We overheard a ridiculous conversation between two old ladies, one of whom was complaining that the butler walked in after knocking twice. Her friend asked her why she didn't lock the door. She claimed she didn't know she could lock the door. OK, so why didn't you put out the "Do Not Disturb" sign, asks her friend. She hadn't thought of that. At that point, she went back to blaming the butler for walking in.
After lunch we got some ice cream and went out by the Seahorse Pool to eat it. The Deck Stewards fought to bring us water and whatever else they could think of to offer us. However, it was way too hot to stay there for long and we went off to stroll the upper deck and the public rooms before returning to our room.
We received a belated invitation to a Crystal Society dinner in Prego with Nikki and Paula Jean. We assume all of the other honorees are also invited, so it will likely be a set menu. Since we don't want to eat there twice during this cruise, we will probably decline the invitation. It appears that Paula Jean didn't realize she was supposed to take everyone to dinner since she seemed surprised when we mentioned the possibility. However, we told her at the time that we didn't really want a dinner anyway. We were just asking to be sure she wasn't expecting us.
Our afternoon was spent in the room watching movies and sitting on the verandah watching some little kids grabbing at everyone who returned in a taxi. They would rush to open the door, then, we assume, expect at tip for doing so.
Tonight's dress code is Casual.
SOUP AND SALAD
Food review: Both soups were very good, especially the chilled selection. The halibut entree was above average, but the things that came with it were nondescript. Bill thought the Weiner Schnitzel tasted like fish sticks. The dessert wasn't anything to rave about.
We were the only guests at Karol's station. Dominic showed up near the end of the meal. There was a rush at the casual dining upstairs, so he was called up to help them. Astrid amused herself by pouring our two remaining glasses of wine exactly even on the first try.
Tonight's entertainment is a local folkloric show. There were supposed to be mariachis in the Crystal Plaza before dinner, but we didn't see any evidence of them. It didn't appear as though they had ever been there although we did see them waiting on the pier earlier. We skipped the show and took a stroll around the outside decks instead. On the way back to the room we passed by the Galaxy Lounge and heard some screeching music that made us glad we had skipped the show.
The sailing is at midnight and the view is spectacular. It is still very warm out, but when the wind blows it is bearable. The moment it stops it is instantly stifling.
For hundreds of miles along the coast north of
Acapulco, the Sierra Madre range collides with the Pacific Ocean, forming
a dramatic series of spectacular beaches, bays, coves, and promontories. Until
just a few years ago, most of this gorgeous coastline remained undeveloped with
the exception of a sleepy little fishing village called Zihuatanejo, set
on a lovely bay of the same name. Just 150 miles northwest of Acapulco, Zihuatanejo
means the land of women in the Purepecha, language of the Tarascan
people. The old fishing village has managed to retain some of its charm, but it
the sleepy character has taken a back seat to the task of managing the flow of
international traffic into and out of the resort region. The malecón, or
waterfront area, and the brick streets behind it, are lined with hotels,
restaurants, and boutiques. The village is still a charmer. The seaside
promenade overlooks the pier, and tiny bars and restaurants are inviting.
It's another perfect day in the small bay off Zihuatanejo. It is very hot in the sun, but reasonable when the wind is blowing. We went directly to the deserted Lido for lunch. It filled up at around 12:30 PM when the tours returned. We chatted briefly with Peter about his impending vacation and his land purchases in Romania where he is building a summer house.
After lunch we walked around the upper decks for our usual port photos. The setting is picturesque and obviously upscale judging by the many mansions on the steep hillsides, yachts in the coves, and luxurious resort and condominium complexes tumbling down the cliffs. There is quite a bit of new construction going on, so this area probably won't remain a tiny village for long. Most crew members told us there is nothing to do in town, which we already knew.
We ran into Paula Jean who was huffing and puffing from a climb up the stairs. She said she had contemplated taking the elevator up to do some exercise and decided it was defeating the purpose. She asked if we were planning to attend the Crystal Society dinner in Prego. We declined, but she said she would hold the reservation until the last minute in case we change our mind. Ordinarily we would participate, but this is such a short cruise for us that we don't want to waste an evening having dinner with people we don't know. Nikki and Paula Jean are fun, but we can't be bothered with the other guests. She said it is just two other couples, but we still don't want to bother.
It was too hot to stay out on deck for long, so we returned to the room with the intention of sitting on the verandah. In the meantime, we watched the ship attempt to stay put in the bay using only the propulsion system. It didn't appear to us to be a very secure way of keeping us off the rocks in the wind, but no one seemed alarmed by it. We saw a large sea turtle surface and lazily glide back into the depths as we watched.
The sailing was delayed about an hour while we waited for some spare parts that were on the way from Acapulco. There was a very clear announcement about this and the reason for it. That didn't stop our neighbors from complaining loudly to one another that the ship should not be waiting for late guests, they should have to pay for the fuel, and on and on for at least 30 minutes.
Our dinner tonight is in Prego where we requested Peter as our waiter.
Tonight's dress code is Casual.
Valentino at Prego Selections
Polpette di Aragosta e Gamberi
PASTA AND RISOTTO
Here is the menu from the Crystal Dining Room so you don't miss anything.
SOUP AND SALAD
Prego food review: In addition to the highlighted menu items, we also had the special salad of the night which was arugala with toasted pine nuts and parmesan cheese with balsamic vinaigrette, and the special fish selection of the day, broiled grouper with garlic mashed potatoes. Also, we sampled the vegetable ravioli that was a special of the day. All of the special items except the fish were outstanding. The fish was about the same as it is in the dining room, so nothing special. The pumpkin ravioli were outstanding, as well. The soup was above average. Dessert was also above average.
Nikki stopped by to literally beg us to reconsider coming to the Crystal Society dinner. She had more success making us feel guilty than Paula Jean did, but we simply do not want to go to a group dinner during this cruise, especially in Prego. We invited she and Paula Jean to go with us to Silk Road during our regular reservation in a few days. Nikki said she would see if she could allow for the time, but she did seem as though she really wanted to go. We really do like her and hope she can arrange it, but we're just not hot on the group thing with the pre-set menu.
We spent so much time chatting with Peter that we didn't leave the restaurant until after midnight. Everyone else was gone, including the waiters, except for Gianlucca who was doing paperwork at the front desk. Peter was doing most of the talking, we were just listening and asking occasional questions. He and Gianlucca are both very nice and interesting to talk to. Peter has the most to say and often talks at length when he has the chance. Peter sort of usurped us from another waiter, Vincent, who seemed to really want to wait on us. He has been friendly in the Lido, but we don't really know him. The Specialty Restaurant Maitre d', also Peter, came over and chatted for a while. We hadn't met him before this cruise because he has always been on the Harmony. He was also very pleasant and seemed quite nice.
Tonight's entertainment is the very strange Bettine Clemen in "Flutasia," a Spectacular Music and Video Show. We heard about this unusual presentation during the last World Cruise and avoided it tonight, too. Actually, we didn't get out of the restaurant until nearly 12:30 AM because we stopped at the door and talked with Gianlucca for a few minutes after finishing up with Peter.
We ran into one of the lecturers who knew us from a previous cruise. She had stories to tell about flying in Russia that Dave could relate to. We figured if we are still alive to talk about it, it must have been just one of those life experiences you talk about, but don't want to repeat. She agreed with us that there are too many narrow hallways and dead ends on this ship, which leads to a sort of claustrophobic feeling at times. Otherwise, the public rooms are beautiful. Unfortunately, one has to navigate through the corridors to get to them.
It was slightly rough after dinner, but
nothing unusual. It's only mentionable now because there has been no
movement at all before this.
Today started off rather stormy, with rain and high winds, but it had died down
by late afternoon. The sea was never particularly rough, although there
was some motion for most of the day. It is still quite warm outside and
Today started off rather stormy, with rain and high winds, but it had died down by late afternoon. The sea was never particularly rough, although there was some motion for most of the day. It is still quite warm outside and very humid.
This is the day for the Grand Gala Buffet in the lobby, which we never participate in. We did go down to look at it from above and found that it is a greatly reduced version with few fancy displays. The food was the same as always with piles of shrimp, crab, and lobster being the most popular.
We went up to the Lido for lunch. They only had one side open, but there were quite a few guests who had opted for that location rather than the crowded dining room. After eating we went down to buy a couple of shirts in Captain's Choice only to use up some of our shipboard credit. The pickings are very slim in the shops. There are only two kind of logo shirts and a few visors. It seems as though they should have stocked up on inaugural items since that is what everyone is asking for. The shop clerk asked if we were brothers, the first time we have had that question this trip and a very odd assumption considering who it was coming from.
After dropping our bag off in the room, we went back down to await Nikki's desk hours to book our next cruise. We spoke to Paula Jean in the meantime to confirm our date with she and Nikki for Silk Road in a few days. Also, she confirmed that we have our 30th and 35th Milestones left to apply to future cruises. The 30th Milestone gives us either an upgrade to First Class airfare, $3,500.00 shipboard credit, or $2,800.00 off the cruise fare plus $350 shipboard credit. We would also get the private car transfer from the airport to the ship and a few other things such as a free shore excursion.
We waited for Nikki for about half an hour while some other guests dawdled at her desk. It's not as though we were going anywhere, so we didn't care. Nikki also confirmed our date for the 17th and insisted that we have to be good and be sure she is out of there by 10:30 PM. We agreed that was fine because we want to see the production show that night. We booked a short cruise on the Harmony for this September, plus the same cruise as we are on now for January 2005 on the Serenity. We're not leaving home for any extended periods until the remodeling of our Bonsall house is finished. We learned our lesson about that last year!
By this time we needed some ice cream from the Trident Ice Cream Bar by the Neptune Pool. The roof has not been opened since the cruise began, but the area is air-conditioned, so it's pleasant enough most of the time. Benjamin and Jhun fawned over us with Benjamin insisting we come up for the casual dinner. Since tonight is Neptune's Dinner, we might go tonight if things go right.
We were invited for cocktails in the Captain's Quarters tonight at 7:45 PM, so that was our first stop after resting for the late afternoon in the room. His quarters are about the same as those on the Symphony, but perhaps a bit larger. We spent most of the time chatting with a woman we had met on a World Cruise. She said she had a photo taken with us that is in her album, which is why she remembered meeting us. We had a nice talk with her. Herbert Jaeger came over toward the end and told us that Josef Widmar is arriving tomorrow. We also chatted with some guests who wanted information about the World Cruise and what we thought of it.
Tonight's dress code is Informal.
SOUP AND SALAD
Food review: The salads were nothing special, but were edible. Karol misunderstood Dave's question about the pasta and brought out a plain pasta with just oil and parmesan cheese. It was outstanding. The fish entree was very good, although it looked somewhat disgusting with the skin left on it. The crab cake was satisfactory, but the salsa made it above average overall. The dessert was terrible and barely worth eating.
Tonight's entertainment is a concert by Broadway Vocalist Mike Eldred. There was also a Comedy Cabaret starring Comedienne Jennifer Rawlings presented at 8:00 PM. We would have gone to the comedy show except we were at the Captain's party instead. The vocalist was fairly entertaining, but not nearly as good as he thinks he is. We wouldn't pay to see him in concert, but here he was acceptable. He stood at the door to greet both of his adoring fans after the show, which was ridiculous. There weren't more than 100 people there, if that.
Gary Hunter, the Cruise Director, came out and failed to realize that we move an hour back on the clock tonight. His banter trying to figure out whether that was really true or not was very amusing. We're not big fans of his ventriloquist act, but he's quite good as a Cruise Director. He referred to the trio in the lobby as "Music to Ask Questions By" since they are serenading no one unless someone happens to be at the Front Desk asking a question. You had to be there, but it was amusing when he said it.
It is still a little bit rough tonight, but the ship barely notices it. Everyone seems to agree that this ship rides really smoothly. It isn't terribly rough, but we're fairly certain we'd feel more motion on the other Crystal ships.
Established by Spanish settlers in 1531 to export
valuable hordes of gold and silver that were taken from rich inland Sierra Madre
mines, Mazatlán is slightly off the traditional shipping routes of the
period. The location served the colonists well since traffic heading north or
south along the coast (and pirates pursuing them to plunder their cargo)
generally avoided the port. Travel times were already long, so additional
distance was unwanted. Vessels followed a fairly straight line along the North
American coast as far as Manzanillo before crossing over to follow the Baja
coast. In fact, commercial ships steered well clear of Mazatlán for many
decades because it was rumored to be a haven for pirates! Because of these
factors, the port did not really begin to grow until the 18th century when a
fishing industry was established to exploit the bounty of its rich coastal
It poured rain in the early morning hours, then tapered off to occasional showers until late afternoon when it became partly cloudy. It is still warm outside, but pleasant. There was the weekly 10:00 AM crew fire drill this morning, complete with in-cabin alarms and announcements, so we were up earlier than usual. That gave us a chance to try the late-risers breakfast at Tastes.
Tastes serves a late breakfast from 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM, then late lunch from 1:00 PM until 3:00 PM. Both are table service around the Neptune Pool. We had the peanut butter and strawberry jam French toast. It was far better than it sounds, but in a microscopic portion. Since we were just snacking until lunchtime, it wasn't a problem for us today. Tayfun stopped to talk for quite a while about what he does on vacation. He sometimes returns to visit Turkey, but now lives in Miami with his girlfriend or relatives.
After breakfast, we took time to get our usual port photos from the Sun Deck. We are directly across from the main gate to the port and a wide avenue that cuts through the downtown area. Even though we are literally 30 feet from the main gate, guests must board a tram to get there. The Carnival Pride is docked directly behind us and doesn't appear to be much larger than Crystal Serenity, although it certainly must be.
The city itself doesn't look particularly attractive and consists mostly of drab concrete buildings surrounding a yellow church. There is a small village across the channel from us with a tiny harbor. Beyond that is a rocky point populated with ramshackle dwellings and small businesses.
It rained briefly again in the early afternoon, but it didn't matter to us since we had not intended to leave the ship anyway. We sat outside in the shade by the Seahorse Pool for most of the day. Crew for the World Cruise began to arrive today. The doctor from the Symphony and then on the Harmony last year saw us and stopped to chat.
We waited around until almost 1:30 PM before going in to try Tastes for lunch. Almost all of the tables were full, so we asked the waiter to bring our order outside, which he did. The Deck Stewards had already been fawning over us. One of them asked us why we are so nice when most others barely look up when they bring something. We said it was just that we had worked in restaurants and think the servers should be treated nicely. They should be really thrilled when they get the gratuities we charged to our account today. We had so much shipboard credit to use that we gave most of it out in tips.
Our order was for the Chinoise Chicken Salad and a Marguerita Pizza. The salad looked really good and was served in an unusual ceramic bowl. However, it consisted mostly of sliced red onions that overpowered any other flavors. We could still taste it hours later. The pizza was ghastly, as it always has been. We had high hopes for it because the new serving area has real pizza ovens, but that couldn't help the cardboard crust and canned sauce. If they are making the toppings from scratch, somebody needs to find a new recipe. Even so, this venue is extremely popular for breakfast and lunch.
One of the women we were supposed to have dinner with tonight at the Crystal Society dinner stopped by to introduce herself. She was surprised we had never met or at least looked familiar. We were also. She had basically the same comments about the new ship that we do, so nothing new there. She feels that Crystal Symphony is the perfect ship. We almost agree and feel that it probably will be once some of the public rooms have been re-done. She heard that the dining room is being refitted this year to be like the one on Serenity, which will be a huge improvement. Also, she heard that Crystal is really hurting on the Harmony Hawaii cruises and sailing with less than 300 guests. They had to remove the equipment from the casino in order to comply with Hawaiian laws, so there is no extra income either.
At around 3:30 PM we returned to the room to wait out the rest of the day in comfort and away from the dippy guests who still can't find the ice cream bar.
The sailing was delayed about 30 minutes again. We haven't sailed on time from any port so far, which is extremely unusual. They played the departure music loop six times before someone realized it and stopped it mid-song.
Tonight's dress code is Informal.
SOUP AND SALAD
Food review: The shrimp in the appetizer was very fresh. The soup and salad were very good, but the sweet and sour pork was outstanding. It is by far the best dish we have had so far. Dominic was shocked when we told him it was "extraordinary" because we usually just say it was good or fine.
Tonight's entertainment is another re-arranged timing, so the main show is before dinner. It doesn't matter since there was little chance we would attend "Diva Diva", a Classical Performance. There is also a cabaret show featuring The Plaids in the Stardust Club at 10:30 PM. There was standing room only for the cabaret show. Of course, had there not been staff members and officers hogging seats there would have been room for the paying passengers. In any case, The Plaids were outstanding and couldn't have been better. They would be worth paying admission to see. The Cruise Director came out and sang a funny song about leprosy. You had to be there.
We stopped to chat with Pat from the level above in the lobby. He claims this is his last contract, but he has been saying that for the last four years. We told him we'd come down and talk tomorrow night if we get the chance. We heard that he was bent out of shape because he wasn't allowed to do the World Cruise this year. We know the Cruise Director during the World Cruise doesn't particularly like him, but it may also have something to do with the group's ratings last year, which weren't the highest.
It has been extremely windy ever since we left the port, so there is some motion tonight. It is just enough to remind us that we are on a ship, nothing much more than that. The sky is clear, but it is supposed to be about the same weather tomorrow as it was today.
The tip of 1,000-mile long Baja California is a
rocky point called El Arco, or "the arch." Its
mysteriously beautiful crags have drawn people here for centuries. According to
geologists, the peninsula was created as a result of violent seismic activity
along the San Andreas Fault between 10 and 15 million years ago. At that time,
powerful earthquakes caused Mexico’s west coast to split away, and Baja
was formed. The sea that filled the newly created gap between the peninsula and
the Mexican West Coast is known as the Sea of Cortés or the Gulf of
California. It is the world’s youngest body of water, and it contains more
than 100 uninhabited islands, some of which have still not been explored. The
earthquakes have subsided to a degree, but they have not ceased. Mexico’s
Pacific Coast is still an active seismic zone.
Today's weather is perfection. The temperature is in the mid 70's with a strong breeze and just a few puffy white clouds in the sky. It was almost nice enough to tempt us ashore, but not quite. A woman in the elevator was talking about how it would have been pleasant except for the vendors constantly grabbing at her.
We were up a bit earlier than usual, but we waited until lunchtime to go down to the lobby and turn in our Customs Declaration. We received our disembarkation information folder with instructions to fill out two forms and turn one in at the Front Desk. This makes no sense to begin with, plus they only provided one form. We figure we'll find out soon enough if we really have to fill out another one.
Lunch was as usual in the Lido, which was deserted. They had inadvertently listed the hours in Reflections as 11:30 - 1:30 PM for lunch, so they had been open for an extra half hour with no takers. The food was above average, but the selection has become routine. We sat on the aft open deck where the weather was perfect.
Again, we share the area today with the Carnival Pride from which we could hear the constant announcements for $20 massages and collagen treatments. What fun it must be on that ship. There certainly must not be much napping going on.
The bay is very busy with parasailing, jet skis, tour boats, fishing boats, etc., all vying for space. The small beach between Los Arcos was full of sunbathers and the small harbor was jammed with yachts. The town area hasn't changed much and is still a jumble of colorful low-rise hotels and other businesses of interest to the tourists.
Tayfun tried unsuccessfully to get us to play paddle tennis. He tries this every day, so it has become a standing joke for him to torment us. After our walk around the Sun Deck, we wandered back down to the room to drop the camera and decide what to do for the rest of the afternoon, which ended up being nothing, of course.
The Deck Stewards have begun their farewell fawning in the extreme because they receive the gratuities on their accounts already. They fawn over us anyway, but it goes into full throttle once the tips are posted. They are the only staff who always make it a point to thank us for tipping them through our account. Even the ice cream man took time to thank us.
There was a champagne sail away party on deck at 5:30 PM, so we wandered up there to see what was up. There were only a few people by the Seahorse Pool and nobody on the upper decks, but we stayed out anyway. It was quite chilly with the wind blowing, but the view was spectacular. Marko came over to talk while attempting to hand out champagne to passers by. He wants to move to Brazil or South Africa because they are so "liberal", but we're not quite sure what he meant by that. Neither seem very enlightened to us, but maybe he knows something we don't.
Tonight's dress code is Casual.
We didn't receive a menu to include for you tonight, but there wasn't anything special to mention anyway. We had to default to some safe choices for lack of anything better to choose from. The best selection was the Roasted Squash Soup with Pumpkin seeds, which was outstanding. The salad was nothing special. The crab cake appetizer was satisfactory. Our entree was the Maple Glazed Pork Chop and it was also satisfactory, but not much above average. Both desserts, a Sabayon Pear Tart and a frozen mousse of some sort, were barely edible.
Dominic talked at length about what he wants to do in Croatia and how things are going there. He seemed to think it would be fine eventually, but right now the government is still full of former communists who require bribes to get anything done. During the conversation, another assistant waiter was sent over to tell Dominic he had a phone call. That's code for "STOP TALKING". However, since we were Karol and Dominic's only guests tonight it wasn't as though he had anything better to do. It turns out that Karol thought he was bothering us, which was certainly not the case.
The evening entertainment is a variety show featuring the Cruise Director, Gary Hunter, doing his ventriloquist act, plus another shot for the singer we heard a few nights ago. The singer was acceptable, but forgot the words to one song in the middle of it. Otherwise, he was OK. Gary's act was the same as it has been for the last nine years that we know of, but his stand-up act before the ventriloquist part of it was very funny. He should drop the puppets and just do a comedy act.
After the show we waited in the lounge for the singer to give up waiting by the door for everyone to admire him. He did the same thing last time and blocked the exit for fifteen minutes. We took our usual walk to the other end of the ship and checked the disco, which was as cold as a refrigerator and completely empty, as usual. The Hotel Director, Hubert, from our Harmony cruise stopped us because we looked familiar, but he couldn't recall when he met us. He was quite friendly and took the time to chat for a while. Eventually, the Captain arrived and joined in the conversation. We were standing in the Photo Shop hallway where it is fairly narrow, so it felt like we were manning a reception line as other guests walked through. Hubert is looking forward to his first World Cruise. He has always been on the Harmony and that ship has never done a World Cruise. Crystal seems to be mixing up the staff a bit more now, which may or may not be a good thing.
It was very windy when we sailed and only became more so later in the evening. It is rougher than it has been since the cruise began. That isn't to say it is terrible, just that there is more movement than we have experienced before on this cruise. There was some lightning earlier, but it seems to be mostly the wind causing the storminess.
The rough seas continued through the night and into the early afternoon today. The temperature has fallen to the low 60's with mostly cloudy skies and strong winds. However, it did become a bit less rough around lunchtime when we emerged from the room.
There was an American Classic buffet around the Neptune Pool, but since this isn't one of our favorites, we opted for lunch in the Dining Room instead. While waiting for the Dining Room to open we dropped off birthday cards for staff members whose birthdays will take place after we leave. The front desk clerk said they can't deliver to crew cabins anymore, but we know that isn't true. However, all of our cards were for Front Office staff, so it wasn't an issue. We chatted with Billy for a few minutes. He insisted we come by before we disembark in Los Angeles even if he is running around. He is currently working to arrange the limo transfers of the few guests currently on board who are continuing on the World Cruise. They have to be taken off in San Diego and delivered to the hotel where the Bon Voyage Party will be held in Beverly Hills.
We also stopped to give Nikki our new address and chatted briefly with her. She said that there hadn't been a big rush to book today, so she won't be quite as pressed to rush through our dinner tonight. Since we want to attend the show tonight, we always intended to only spend a normal amount of time in the restaurant. Besides, Paula Jean is scheduled to host karaoke at 11:00 PM, so we assume she will want to rest at some point.
Karol served us at lunch, which was a very good Chicken Parmigiana. He informed us that Dominic was just informed that he has to stay for one more cruise. That wouldn't be a big deal except the next cruise is 26 days long. He didn't look very happy about it, but we didn't talk to him to get any details. This must have been sudden because he had told us just last night that he was leaving in Los Angeles.
After lunch, we wandered up to the Lido Deck to check the weather. The few guests who were sitting out by the pool were wrapped in towels and blankets, so we didn't stop. The band had given up earlier than usual. We didn't look at the buffet, but it didn't appear to be very busy up there.
We ended up back in the room where we got started filling out he Quality Assurance Questionnaire. Although they have changed it slightly, it is still arranged in such a way that it is difficult to say anything that isn't positive.
Tonight's dress code is Formal for the Captain's Farewell Party in Palm Court before dinner. We went through the Express Lane to avoid the reception line and sat up front where we could see, but not necessarily be seen. Alex from the Front Office came by to chat, as did Tayfun and Herbert Jaeger. Herbert wanted to know what we thought of the ship, but he was called away before he got a real answer.
Our dinner tonight is in Silk Road with Nikki and Paula Jean. They were waiting for us at the door as we walked down the long corridor. A couple of guys from Shore Excursions were there with them, so we told them to get away from our dates or we'd fight them. Nikki thought that was hysterical.
The food and atmosphere in Silk Road could not be better. Everything was exquisite down to the last detail. Nikki ordered a large enough variety of sushi to feed twenty people. We're not normally sushi eaters, but this selection was incredibly delicious. The entrees were even better and probably the best Japanese food we have ever had. The Kobe beef came with three sauces: sweet, sour, and spicy. All were outstanding and very complex flavors added to the incredible beef itself. The teriyaki chicken wasn't the usual flavor, but was also outstanding with a hint of toasted sesame seeds. There were elaborate grilled vegetables served with the meat, but we were so stuffed from the appetizers we barely noticed them. We also had lobster spring rolls with a spicy salsa that were wonderful, plus some interesting rock shrimp tempura that were unlike any we have ever tasted. If Crystal could make the food in the dining room half as good as this, they'd really be onto something.
Dessert was a chocolate soufflé cake that was very good, but the real crowd pleaser is the toasted sesame ice cream that comes with it. It sounds odd, but was delicious and unusual. We cannot say enough about how great this restaurant is.
We were the only passengers in the restaurant, as usual for the last formal night. Everyone else in the room worked on the ship. Nikki and Paula Jean were fun and we thoroughly enjoyed talking to them. Paula Jean said we were lucky we skipped the group dinner because one of the couples was "a bit much". We met them the other day and have to agree with her. Nikki told a charming story about her grandmother's house being discovered in near ruin by a man who is restoring it with the help of information from Nikki's mother. The evening overall was a highlight of the cruise.
Tonight's entertainment is the new production show "Curtain Call". We made it just in time for the show. Basically, the premise is to recreate show stopping moments from big Broadway shows such as "Les Miserables", "Cats", "Chicago", etc. It more or less does that successfully except for completely rearranging the sequence of some of the shows. There were technical problems galore that we noticed and probably more we didn't know about. The theater was designed for this show, so the lights in the house are tied in with the effects on stage. The only issue we can see with this production is that it is geared to a much younger audience than Crystal generally attracts. The finale is from the show "Mama Mia," which is a rock opera. It's odd that Crystal doesn't seem to know who their passengers are, but the show seemed to be accepted positively by the majority in attendance.
After the show we went directly up to the room. It appears and smells as though they shampooed the carpets in the corridor during dinner. The sea has become about as rough as it was last night with a very strong wind and large swells. The ship rides very smoothly though, so the movement isn't objectionable.
We arrived in San Diego significantly earlier than expected. The ship was inside the bay at 9:00 AM and docked by 10:00 AM. Although they made several announcements that the immigration inspection would be held earlier, it was impossible to hear in the staterooms, so the ship wasn't cleared until the scheduled arrival time of noon.
With the commotion of arrival, we were up and out by 10:30 AM, so we went down to give our webcam address to Paula Jean and turn in our QAP form. Paula received the delivery of the photo taken of the four of us last night at dinner, but she wanted to add a label to it before giving to us. Dave and Paula chatted while Bill talked to Renato, who was thanking us for the early birthday card we left for him yesterday.
Paula Jean was called up for her customs inspection because she had arrived in a Mexican port. She was gone all of five minutes for the ridiculous ritual of appearing before a customs agent and saying where you are from. We had moved over to chatting with Nikki by this time. She informed us that she has no clue about computers and will get Paula Jean to figure out the camera access. She said that when they finally forced her to use the computer system for ordering supplies, she ended up with four tape dispensers instead of just the tape. When the woman who was also a top cruiser barged into the conversation we left for late-risers breakfast at Tastes.
Today we ordered the blueberry blintzes with lemon cottage cheese and the bagel sandwich. The sandwich consists of a sliced bagel with a fried egg, grilled onions, cheese and your choice of grilled ham, turkey, or something else we have forgotten. It was very good, but the grilled onions were a bit much for a breakfast item. The blitzes were somewhat odd because the lemon changed the consistency of the cottage cheese, but they were edible. The Deck Stewards fawned over us excessively, which can border on annoying sometimes.
After eating we went up to survey the port from the upper deck. We are docked at the same place as last time, directly in front of downtown. We eventually went to the room to start packing and to watch the departures from our verandah. The ship had been cleared while we were eating, so there was already a stream of people disembarking by 12:30 PM. Niklas, the Assistant Cruise Director, was waiting on the pier to join the ship for the World Cruise.
It looked as though far more than 190 guests disembarked today, but that is the number we were told. A couple of tours were offered today, but only a few guests left on those. Shortly after disembarkation, a large group of visitors embarked for tours. At around 1:00 PM, we were joined at the pier by the Legend of the Seas.
After finishing most of our packing, we went up for a late lunch and basically did nothing much for the afternoon. We decided against going ashore since we can easily come here anytime. Not that we will, but we can. The weather is nearly perfect, although it is a bit hazy.
Bill called his mother on the cell phone to check in and discovered the ship was visible on the San Diego Tribune webcam, so we went up to the Sun Deck where she could see us. We returned at 6:00 PM for the sail away, but it was too dark by then for anything to be visible. It was also freezing, so we didn't stay out long enough to see Lara's mother signal the ship from their house on Point Loma. We did hear the ship's horn at that time though.
Today's dress code is Casual.
We did not receive copies of the menus tonight, again, so we don't have the complete list of choices for you tonight. There was nothing special to speak of anyway, so you're not missing anything. The chilled apricot soup tasted like soap. The only thing sort of wrong with the split pea soup was that it needed seasoning, otherwise it was fine. The salads were full of wilted bits way past their prime. We both had the vegetarian entree selection of spinach and ricotta cannelloni, which was very good. The swordfish entree was good, but the purple potato wedges served with it were so dry they were inedible. Karol described the chocolate fudge Sheba dessert as sponge cake, but it was actually a grainy, very sugary mousse over a chunky walnut crust. If it hadn't been for the scoop of vanilla ice cream he added as a bonus, it would have been a total waste. Dominic was appalled when Dave didn't eat his, but we had plenty of food and didn't mind.
Dominic was annoyed because they chose him out of several others to stay for another cruise. Karol said it was because he was good, but he wasn't buying it. He was sort of over it by tonight and was his usual amusing self. Apparently the Polish waiters really hate it when their assistants talk to their guests because Karol came over and literally dragged him away during one conversation. Karol is perfectly acceptable, but Dominic is actually fun, too.
We attempted to tip our wine steward, but she was in some sort of mood and was ignoring everyone unless absolutely necessary. Hey, it's her loss. We chatted briefly with the maitre d', Antonio, on the way out. He seems to find us fairly interesting, but God only knows why. Igor, our headwaiter, said the right things as we left, but that's about it. We only interacted with him maybe three times total. Laszlo came over and told us that anytime we are anywhere near Hungary to be sure to let he and Susi know because they want to take us around. They had invited us to stay with them during the last World Cruise and we keep in contact with Susi through email on a regular basis.
On the way to the show we stopped by the Front Desk for some note cards and were engaged in a lengthy conversation with the two woman working there. Someone in the back office must have told them we are fun or something because they acted like we were old friends. Something juicy had happened in the crew area today, but no information was forthcoming from them.
The evening entertainment is a single "Farewell Show" at 10:15 PM. This show consists of two short appearances by The Plaids and the flautist from a few nights ago, plus a mini-production by the Crystal Ensemble. The flautist was bearable for about five minutes. We can't imagine sitting through her entire show and are really glad we didn't. The Plaids were excellent, as usual. The production show isn't really anything except a pretentious display meant to bring up memories of the cruise in an artful way. It is a leftover from an earlier attempt to create something memorable for an opening and closing show, most of which was abandoned soon after it started.
We finally heard from a reliable source that there are only 170 guests on the full World Cruise and that the first segment has only a total of about 400 guests. The second is around 600 and the last is only 350. That's just about as pathetic as it was last year. It seems that the main thing causing the dwindling numbers are that some of the regulars are dying off without being replaced by newcomers. Someone told us that there are several couples on the full cruise that are new to Crystal, but we find that hard to believe. There are usually one or two, but no more than that.
Many guests we've talked to think the Radisson Seven Seas is giving Crystal a run for their money. Radisson ships have significantly larger staterooms and penthouses with open seating dining. They are also less formal than Crystal, a very tempting feature for us.
It is only 89 miles by sea from San Diego to Los Angeles, so we moved at a snail's pace all night on glassy smooth water. The speed is so low that the ship is rocking in the slight breeze.
There is still no additional Customs Form delivered to us, so we're not sure if the printed information is correct that we have to fill out another one identical to the one turned in yesterday. It makes no sense, but that's what all of the disembarkation information says. We'll see.
Apparently, the room next door, which is vacant, required a wake-up call at 5:30 AM, so we were up after that time, as well. No matter, we had to get up at 7:00 AM anyway, the perfect way to ruin a vacation! The ship arrived earlier than expected and we were already docked by 7:00 AM.
We had our first breakfast in the Lido where we chatted with Peter and did the goodbye thing. The breakfast food has been improved as much as the Lido lunch, which is significant. The selection is actually a bit less because they do not offer made-to-order waffles, but the quality was very good, everything was hot when it should be, and quite tasty. There are station for eggs and omelets made while you wait. The pastries weren't as good as their other two ships, but everything else was far superior.
There were no available tables inside, so we sat outside on the aft deck. It was a little chilly, but not unbearable. The weather is hazy today, but otherwise sunny. The Majesty of the Seas is docked at the adjacent terminal and the Queen Elizabeth 2 is directly in front of us ready for the start of her World Cruise, as well. It is always amusing to see the difference between the Crystal World Cruise boarding and the QE2. Crystal has musicians, a red carpet, white-gloved escorts, hundreds of agents everywhere, fresh flowers, champagne, and you name it. The QE2 boarding looks like any cruise would. At least Crystal knows how to put on a show.
After eating we went back to the room to collect our hand luggage. While waiting, Simon came in to re-stock the bar or whatever. He tried to get us to take the two bottles of champagne in the refrigerator with us, but we didn't have room. He told us to be sure to ask for him next time we come, so we must have been pleasant enough for him. He said we were the most fun he'd ever had with guests. We don't request crewmembers, by the way. We have found that it rarely works, so we never bother anymore.
We wandered around the Promenade Deck to see if any of the crewmembers arriving were those we know. We saw Percy from the strings. Actually, he saw us and started waving frantically from the dock. He is the person who recognized us from a Holland America cruise over ten years ago.
Our scheduled disembarkation time was 9:25 AM, so we wandered down to the Galaxy Lounge at 9:10 AM, where Paula Jean was directing traffic. Crystal's procedures for disembarking are far superior to what we have experienced elsewhere. The basic premise is that guests are assigned a specific time to meet in the lounge for departure. In the meantime, there is no need to leave your room even if your departure is for later in the morning. This results in less crowding and fewer annoyed guests.
We were called at 9:15 AM, so we stopped for the goodbyes with Paula Jean, then went down to the lobby to find Billy for the same reason. He was sorry we aren't staying for the World Cruise, but he understands better than anyone why not.
After making our way to the terminal, we ran across Renato and another Shore Excursion manager who acted as though we were his best friends. Then it was outside to wait for our pick-up over an hour later. We were off the ship with our claimed luggage by 9:30 AM.
We had an hour to wait, but we knew we were early, so it was not a problem. People-watching was fairly amusing. We honestly wonder how some of these people ever got to the ship in the first place, let alone an airplane. Talk about clueless. The porters were fairly surly and most were complaining loudly about their tips. One said, "That guy gave me a dollar and I thought for sure he was going to ask for change!"
Our driver arrived and we were home by 11:30 AM. Who could ask for more?
Overall, this was a very pleasant cruise with smooth sailing and nice weather throughout. We had no intention of leaving the ship and we didn't, so we can't comment on the ports.
In comparison to Crystal Harmony and Crystal Symphony, Crystal Serenity is generally more beautifully decorated and the service is equal to the other ships. We felt that the food in the Crystal Dining Room was equal to Symphony, with Harmony being marginally better. The alternative dining options on Serenity were far better than her sisters.
The staterooms and penthouses are the same or slightly larger than those on the Symphony, but do not appear to be so in reality. The decor is nice, but some of the colors will not stand up over time. We thought the layout of the penthouse wasn't as good as the Symphony, although far better than Harmony's dated accommodations. Other than minor plumbing problems, we did not have any issues with the ship being new.
A sentiment shared by many repeat Crystal guests is that of disappointment with the new ship. The interior is dark and sometimes claustrophobic compared to the light, open feeling of the other two ships. The public rooms, once one gets to them, are beautiful, but there are too many long hallways and dead ends, and the rooms are spread over three decks rather than two. Many areas, particularly the pool deck and the Lido are designed so poorly that they are always crowded. We didn't see the big improvement in the Palm Court that has been touted. We still feel that the one on Symphony is the most attractive and functional, although it needs a decor makeover.
The Crystal Dining Room is gorgeous, something that can't be said about the Symphony (the Harmony has been redecorated and is essentially the same as the Serenity). The noise is still very distracting and conversation is difficult, which is the same on all three ships despite various attempts to fix it.
None of the flaws noted would dissuade us from sailing on this ship again. If everything was equal for a certain cruise, we would probably choose Crystal Symphony, but otherwise it really doesn't matter.
Thanks for joining us! Check the home page for more adventures.
© 2015 Jet Set Enterprises, Inc.