Our main purpose for taking this trip is for Crystal Harmony's 15th Anniversary, although, as it turns out, this is now the ship's farewell season with Crystal Cruises. We don't know quite what to expect from the special events during this cruise, if anything, but Alaska is a destination we enjoy with or without any extras.
Since we have been to Alaska twice before, we have done most of the shore excursions that interest us already. Therefore, don't expect many first-hand accounts from shore. Our very first cruise was to Alaska aboard Holland America's Noordam. Since then we have been hooked on cruising, as you are already aware if you are reading this. It's hard to believe that was over 15 years ago!
Five years later, during Crystal Symphony's inaugural year, we again cruised to Alaska on virtually the same itinerary as this cruise will be. We must be destined to return to Alaska at least once every decade.
Originally, we had booked a hotel in San Francisco that would allow us to leave our car for the duration of the cruise. However, after reading some reviews of the hotel and its unsavory location, plus the discovery that it does not have air conditioning, we decided to drop that idea and park in the port's garage. We weren't afraid of the neighborhood particularly, but it didn't seem like the best place to leave a car for two weeks in an open lot. So, we are now booked at the more main stream, and ideally located, Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf.
Apparently, we were in no rush to leave because we dawdled around until 2:00 PM before finally setting out for Santa Barbara by car. The only negative to speak of was the heavy traffic on the 405 that started just before LAX and lasted until we turned off toward Ventura on the 101. After that it was smooth sailing, but it did add an hour to our travel time.
We made a brief pit stop at a Camarillo Jack in the Box for a snack, etc., then drove up the coastline to Santa Barbara. The weather couldn't possibly be any more perfect today. It was around 80 in the afternoon without a cloud in the sky. By the time we arrived at the hotel around 6:30 PM, it was in the mid 70's.
Based on overwhelmingly favorable reviews on TripAdvisor.com, we selected the Harbor View Inn for our overnight stay. The hotel is directly across the street from the wharf and a huge, deserted beach. It is a low-rise affair with only three floors, but the property is attractive and has a nice pool area and an adjacent restaurant that provides poolside and room service. The front desk staff was pleasant and we had no problems checking in.
We had to park toward the rear of the parking lot, but that turned out to be a good thing because the entrance to our building was in that area. Our rate was the lowest AAA price of $292, so we didn't expect a view, nor did we get one. However, there is nothing wrong with what we got either. We would have upgraded to a pool view if we were staying longer, but we hadn't planned on staring out the window anyway. There is a small balcony overlooking a residential area behind the hotel with mountains beyond. The walls separating the balconies provide no privacy at all, so we wouldn't be inclined to sit out there even if we did have something to look at.
The room itself was very attractive and spacious. The sliding glass doors were covered with plantation shutters and blackout drapes in pleasant earth tones. There is a desk, a comfortable chair and everything one would expect at this price. We'd say the rooms are on a par with an upscale Hyatt Regency, although the property itself is more like an upscale motel on the outside. Again, there is nothing wrong with it and the grounds are beautifully landscaped and well kept. The bathroom has a separate room for the toilet and shower, plus a room with a bathtub and the sink. There is a coffee maker, as well. When we arrived, there were complimentary beverages (coffee, various teas and lemonade) set up in our building's lobby that we assume are there all day. They had been removed by the time we returned after dinner, around 9:00 PM.
After freshening up a bit, and we do mean a bit, we wandered down to the street and walked across to Stearn's Wharf to check out the view. There were lots of people out and about, but it wasn't crowded by any means. We strolled the length of the pier and took in the view and great weather. There are two restaurants on the pier, but both had people waiting, this being Father's Day and all. We caught a seagull in our coastal photo, then checked out the tacky trinket shops where we bought our required Christmas ornament for Santa Barbara.
We debated briefly about whether or not we should wander up State Street, the main shopping area in Santa Barbara, that stretches inland from the wharf (our hotel is at the corner of State and Cabrillo Ave., a perfect location!) We opted to check the menu at the hotel restaurant on the corner, Eladio's. The hotel literature described the menu as Californian with Asian influences, but it is clearly an Italian restaurant. In any case, we deemed the menu reasonably priced and appealing, so we went inside.
The hostess was extremely pleasant and seated us outside on the attractive patio directly overlooking the beach (and the street, but that wasn't a problem). Even outside after 8:00 PM the weather was perfect. Even the waitress commented on how nice it was.
Our waitress was equally as personable as the hostess and we thoroughly enjoyed our outstanding meal. We both had the very fresh House Salad with a balsamic vinaigrette, which was perfect. Our entrees were the Sole with Fettuccini Alfredo and the Lemon Chicken, both of which were wonderful. The grilled asparagus that accompanied the chicken was incredible and we don't usually like it at all. Both desserts, a Kahlua Mousse Cake and a Lemon Tart, were to die for. The tab for this great meal was only $52.00, including tax. We expect to have breakfast here tomorrow morning.
After wandering back to the hotel well after 9:00 PM, we promptly crashed. Although we could clearly hear the trains passing during the day, we heard nothing during the night with the door closed.
We didn't try to access the internet to upload the site tonight because we know the hotel tomorrow offers free high-speed access.
Our day started with a very nice breakfast at Eladio's where the waitress we had last night seated us. The waitress who served us today was equally friendly. We both loved our meals. French Toast stuffed with mascarpone cheese and Eggs Benedict. Both were excellent.
After breakfast we collected our stuff and checked out around 11:30 AM. The front desk agent said that the hotel is 90% booked during the time we will be passing this way again, so we may have to make a reservation rather than wing it, but we'll decide that later. Although we thoroughly enjoyed this hotel, there are several others in close proximity that should be at least adequate.
We set off toward San Luis Obispo on highway 101 with no traffic to speak of. The scenery along the way is especially beautiful this year due to all the rain we have had. It almost looked like a movie set it was so perfect.
The drive took only about 90 minutes rather than the two hours we anticipated, so we arrived at the Quality Suites long before the official check-in time. No matter, we were promptly checked into a ground floor room at the back of the complex. The front window overlooks the "quiet courtyard" with a fountain. The bedroom window overlooks the parking lots, but there are trees blocking the view anyway. It isn't luxurious by any stretch of the imagination, but it is spotlessly clean and everything is in good repair. There is a TV in the living room and bedroom, along with a wet bar, microwave and refrigerator. Also, free wireless internet service that is particularly convenient for us. All we had to do was call the front desk for the access code and it was all set. We probably wouldn't stop here again just because there isn't anything to do nearby, but for this purpose it is fine and the price is right, $148.00 with the AAA discount. That includes a cooked to order breakfast in the morning if we can get up and ready before 9:30 AM. Our only minor complaint about this hotel is that the sound insulation is very poor, so we can hear every step and other noises from all sides. One night is OK, but we wouldn't want to stay longer because of that alone. We're also not thrilled with the bathroom sink/vanity being out in the bedroom, but we can live with that.
All we did all day was watch two Indiana Jones movies on TV. We thought we might crash, but that didn't happen. At around 7:00 PM we wandered out to the street and walked around looking for someplace to eat. There wasn't much to choose from and most of the shops were closed or out of business, including the Mexican restaurant next door.
Eventually, we walked the other direction on the street, passing motel after motel, until we came upon the Apple Farm Inn & Restaurant. This place had been our second choice for lodging, but we decided it would be way too "cute" to suit us. They have an elaborate gift shop and bakery, plus the inn and restaurant. We only had to wait about ten minutes for a table, but we had time enough to browse through the shop.
Once seated the meal began in a frenzy as our waiter was training a new waitress. We don't know if he was always so rushed or if he was simply trying to impress her with his efficiency. Either way, it felt quite rushed with our entrees arriving before one of us had finished his salad. That said, the meal was substantial and very good. The soup and salad were nothing special (came with the meal). The tri-tip and the pot roast were high quality and very good, as were the scalloped potatoes. The only downside was the vegetables that tasted vaguely of burnt plastic wrap. No matter since there was enough food to choke a horse. Of course, we had to have one of their homemade desserts anyway. The peach cobbler with homemade ice cream was satisfactory, but not outstanding. The boysenberry pie was better. The total bill came to $52.00, including tax, the same as last night's fancier fare, but this was a much larger quantity.
On the way out we stopped at the bakery counter to buy some huge muffins and an equally large cranberry-orange scone for breakfast, just in case we miss the freebie breakfast. We were surprised that these four enormous items only cost about $7.00 total. Anywhere else these muffins would be at least $3.00 apiece. Whether they are any good or not, we'll find out tomorrow.
The rest of the evening was spent watching TV and listening to the children above us running up and down the hallways and throughout the courtyard.
Today's weather was again perfect. It was about 80 in the afternoon, sunny all day. In the evening it dropped to the high 60's. The weatherman says it will be the same for the rest of the week in this area.
Both of us were pleasantly surprised that the noise of the day didn't carry over to the night time at the hotel. We never heard a peep out of anyone until we woke up around 9:00 AM. However, that meant we missed the free breakfast, so we had to eat the mediocre, but huge, muffins we bought at the Apple Farm Bakery yesterday. That was enough to fill us up so we wouldn't have to stop before we reached Santa Cruz.
We left the Quality Suites around noon. Although there wasn't anything wrong with that hotel, we wouldn't stay there again. There were other, more attractive places nearby at roughly the same price. However, for a Quality Suites they really did seem to care and they did provide more amenities than one would expect from that brand and price range.
Today's weather is again perfect, clear and in the high 70's. The drive up highway 101 was very scenic. People really do need to get out of Los Angeles to see the real California everyone dreams about. There was no traffic and the drive was uneventful.
We expected the drive to take over three hours, but it was 2-1/2 hours at the most. Thirty minutes of that were at the end when we had to drive along highway 1 into Santa Cruz and then navigate the older part of town to get to the hotel.
Our expectations for the Coast Santa Cruz Hotel weren't all that high, but we were very pleasantly surprised. Not only is the hotel located directly on the beach overlooking the pier, but it appears to have been recently renovated. We have no idea what the reviews we read were complaining about. It is an older hotel, but the decor is new and attractive and the location certainly can't be beat. They provide free valet parking and wireless internet access. Our rate was $233 at the lowest AAA rate, which is a bargain for this view. There is also a great view of the Boardwalk area that must look great all lit up at night. We heard the desk clerk on the phone telling someone the rate was $400, but that must have been for a holiday or something.
After settling in, we strolled downhill one block to the pier and walked out to the end, pausing to gawk at some sea lions with two pups resting on a pontoon. There were areas cut out in the decking so people could look down on the sea lions among the pilings. There are several trinket shops and restaurants on the pier, but we weren't interested in any of them at this early hour. It was warmer on the pier than we expected, but not unpleasant.
This area of the coast is attractive with towering pines and craggy cliffs. The hotel is directly adjacent to the pier, as mentioned previously. There is a nice view of the Boardwalk midway that fronts the sand. We decided to walk over and check it out, although we had no intention of riding any of the rides. We figured it would kill another hour until we felt like having dinner.
The Boardwalk area was surprisingly nice for what it is. There is a historic wooden roller coaster called the Big Dipper, along with newer carnival-style rides, midway games, fast food, etc. It wasn't tacky at all and, in fact, was rather pleasant in a retro sort of way. The area is open free of charge. You purchase tickets that are used for the rides. There is also a huge "casino" building, called the Coconut Grove, housing a large arcade and more midway games, plus some shops.
After our walk we stopped into a restaurant at the street end of the pier for an early dinner. It was around 5:00 PM at this point. We were too early for the dinner menu, so we ordered from the lunch menu. We had potato skins that were satisfactory, a BBQ chicken sandwich, and a teriyaki chicken sandwich (both came with fries.) The sandwiches were edible, but that's all we can say for them. The desserts of orange crème brulee and mud pie were much better than everything else. However, the price was higher than both of our previous evening meals at $57.00, including tax. The two previous meals were well worth what we paid, but this certainly was not. In any case, at least we were full and done for the day.
We wandered back to the hotel, which is uphill, but not ridiculously so. Then we ensconced ourselves in the room while catching up with computer stuff and gazing at the view. After sunset the full moon rose just to the right of the pier. Couldn't be better!
After a very nice breakfast at the hotel's restaurant overlooking the beach, we wandered down to the front desk to check out. The clerk very cheerfully gave us directions to the nearest Longs Drugs so we could stock up on a few things. After making that brief stop, we were off on the road toward San Francisco.
The drive through the mountains around Santa Cruz was scenic and relatively easy. Once on the freeway into San Francisco, there was no traffic at all, so the drive only took about ninety minutes. Once off the freeway and onto The Embarcadero, it took a bit longer simply because of all of the traffic lights. Otherwise it wasn't a problem at all.
We were too early to try to check into the hotel, so we turned off to see where the port parking garage was in relation to both the port and the hotel. We found the general area quickly enough, but we had to go around the block a few times to finally find the garage. This was all on side streets with no cars at all, so it was very easy to do. We determined that we would be able to walk back to the garage from the port with our luggage, which was nice.
The next stop was the Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf, still surrounded, for the most part, with scaffolding. They have been renovating the outside of the hotel, mostly the roof, for several months. Our impression from TripAvisor reviews was that this renovation wasn't bothersome. Even so, we had "come this close" to changing hotels. Unfortunately, we didn't follow our gut feeling and actually do so.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by a friendly doorman and valet who let us leave the car in the driveway while we checked in. Since we didn't intend to leave the car here, he suggested we either self park across the street or leave the car where it is if we would be back soon. We said we would be back within an hour. There was no charge for doing this, which was nice, although we did give him a tip for his trouble.
At the reception desk there were several guests ahead of us being told their room wasn't yet ready. We didn't really expect ours to be ready since it was only 1:00 PM and check-in time is 4:00 PM. However, our room was ready and we went off with the cordial bellman to the fourth floor Executive Wing.
As soon as we walked into the room we knew we were in trouble. The window was covered with plastic with a note saying not to open it because of work going on outside. No kidding. Not only was work going on in general, but they were literally pounding non-stop on the outer wall of our room! Besides that, two of the lamps in the room didn't work, the window shade was water stained, and the wallpaper was peeling. Not a good first impression. However, we thought just maybe the pounding would be brief, so we went off to take the car to the port parking garage.
The garage was only about 4 blocks away, so a quick drive. We parked the car and went to find the attendant, as instructed. He was in a tiny office under the ramp, but he readily came out to help us. Talk about friendly! Nothing tops this guy. He was extraordinarily helpful and had us move our car down a level where he would be able to see it. We paid him the $12 per day fee, plus the extra day for arriving early. So far so good on this portion of the trip.
We walked back toward the hotel along the waterfront to the Pier 39 shopping and entertainment district. This area is about as touristy as it gets, but we figured we could kill and hour or so at least. At the end of the pier we took a photo of nearby Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. The weather remains perfection, so walking around was pleasant. We looked in a few shops and took a couple more pictures of the old carousel and the city skyline in the other direction, then stopped for some God-awful snacks that were barely edible. We have no clue what the "chicken" fingers were really made out of.
The hotel was about two blocks from this location, a very easy walk. The area was thronged with tourists, but not ridiculously so. It was simple enough to get back to the hotel and our room. If we had been inclined to take a tour or a boat to Alcatraz, it would have been very easy to arrange these activities from the pier area.
Upon arrival back at our room, the pounding was still going on full throttle. This was too much to handle for any length of time, so we did something we haven't done in twenty years of travel and insisted on a room change. After being on hold for the front desk for over fifteen minutes, Dave went down and talked to them in person. The clerk insisted that they weren't supposed to be pounding at this time of day. We suggested that they might start up very early in the morning, which elicited the response, "They aren't supposed to start before 10:00 AM." Yes, but you also just said they weren't supposed to be pounding now, so how accurate is the 10:00 AM promise?
Eventually, we were moved to a room on the second floor, technically a downgrade. When this was brought to the clerks attention, he threw in access to the Club Lounge (which we will never use) and pointed out that the new room has a balcony. OK, whatever, at least we won't have pounding.
We hauled our luggage down two floors to the new location, which was much better. The room appeared to have been renovated more recently than the first one because the wallpaper was nicer, as were the drapes. The famous balcony was about two feet deep with no furniture on it, overlooking a rooftop of air conditioning units. However, there was no pounding. Shortly, a room service waiter arrived with a bottle of champagne on ice from the General Manager. There really isn't much else they can do to kiss up, but they should have a better handle on which rooms are not serviceable before they assign them to guests.
We were expecting our Disneyland friend Judie at 7:00 PM, so we just sat around and rested until she arrived. Although we don't have a chance to get together often, in fact it was ten years since we saw her last, we fall right back into our routine of hysterical stories. We felt like WWII veterans reliving our war stories.
Our dinner was in the hotel restaurant where we were served by an extremely accommodating and friendly waiter. He didn't seem to mind at all that we were doing more talking than menu reading. We closed down the place with all of our reminiscing and general carrying on. Oh, and the meal itself was outstanding. We all thoroughly enjoyed our choices.
Eventually, we sent Judie home with our manager's bottle of champagne and ended our day on a high note, still smiling from our ridiculous stories of 25 years ago.
So, let's get down to basics about this hotel. Essentially, it's a dump. The staff is very friendly and seem to really care, but the facility badly needs a makeover. The bathrooms are microscopic by today's standards and the decor is very dated. The whole place has a dingy, faded feeling. Apparently, the beds are something special that Sheraton is touting and they are comfortable, but not any more so than the three previous hotels, including the Quality Suites. There is no way this hotel should be rated four stars. It really is barely a three. We definitely would not stay here again. There are way too many other places to stay in the area that are equivalent or better for the same price.
Sailing under the famed Golden Gate Bridge is an
unforgettable experience and is naturally a highlight of your visit to San
We had no problem getting up early enough today since we didn't sleep for more than an hour or so at a stretch. The special Sheraton beds were the least comfortable of any of the three hotels we stayed at previously. Needless to say, we can't get out of this hotel fast enough.
Breakfast in the deserted hotel restaurant was good and the server was as friendly and personable as the one we had last night. We can't complain about the staff at all. Everyone has been above average and the service is quite good.
The same bellman who delivered us to our room yesterday came up to take us back down. The front desk clerk asked if we enjoyed our stay, Dave said, "Sort of." That prompted a concerned look, then he asked if we had received anything to compensate for it. We didn't want or expect anything, so we told him the champagne was enough. He was nice about it and did appear to care.
With checkout complete, the doorman summoned a cab for us. The port is only two blocks from the hotel, so if we didn't have luggage we would have walked. Porters took the luggage and we were directed to the check-in area where was had to wait about ten minutes. It was only 12:15 PM, so we fully expected to wait. The ticket says boarding begins at 3:00 PM, but we know it always starts at 2:00 PM. There were some totally dippy guests in front of us who didn't understand the concept of waiting for ten minutes. After they went on their way, the representative asked if we were with them, to which we replied, "No, thank God!" She thought that was hysterical.
The wait was very short and we were ushered off to the check-in counter. In the line for that we ran into Eloise and Dick from the World Cruise. They are very pleasant and always seem to have a great time ashore. They said that they are pretty much over world cruising and that 105 days is just too much. We agree if only for the forced camaraderie that Crystal pushes during a world cruise.
Check-in was uneventful and we walked up the ramp, skipping the boarding photo, and onto the ship. This was 12:30 PM, so the rooms were not ready yet. They handed us a brochure saying that we could enjoy the ship's amenities while waiting and that lunch was being served in the Crystal Dining Room. There was a table by the entrance to check hand luggage that would be delivered to the room later, which was nice.
We were recognized by Victor, the maitre d', who was our headwaiter for our first cruise on Crystal Harmony. During our meal, Ben, the Head Sommelier, rushed over to greet us. We hadn't seen him since the 2003 World Cruise when he was our Sommelier. We thought for sure he was gone, so it was nice to see him. Our lunch wasn't anything remarkable, same as usual. We also chatted briefly with Thomas Mazloum, Crystal's Vice President of Hotel Operations, who stopped to greet us. He is the host for this voyage.
Louise, one of the long-time World Cruisers, came over to chat with us. She is always jovial. We saw a few other familiar faces, so Crystal was at least somewhat successful in attracting a few old-timers, including us.
We decided to make our Kyoto reservations and went to stand in line for that. The air conditioning appears to be turned off, so it was way too stuffy and warm inside everywhere. Once at the front of the line, we made a reservation for tonight and for the last formal night when we know it won't be busy. Ordinarily, guests are not allowed to make two reservations for the same restaurant on the first day, but we know the dates we chose would not be popular. The maitre d' had a bit of an attitude, which is unusual for Crystal, but he wasn't rude or anything close to that.
The next stop was the Computer University to set up access from the room. They are back to charging $15.00 to set it up, which is ridiculous. The package for three hours per day of access costs $30.00 per day if you buy the entire cruise. Otherwise there is an outrageous hourly rate. It took forever to get set up because other guests kept barging into the conversation while the guy was trying to set up the laptop.
Once back in the room, where our luggage still hadn't arrived at 4:00 PM, our stewardess, Maria, came by to bring up two beautiful rose bouquets and three bottles of wine. Some of our luggage did arrive seconds later along with the waiter we had on the Serenity a few cruises ago.
The lobby area is decorated with banners and signs proclaiming "Welcome Home" for Crystal Harmony's 15th Reunion and Farewell Season. It's a nice touch. We received an invitation to dinner with David De Havilland, the retired cruise director, for tomorrow night in the dining room. Later, we received an invitation for a Reunion Cocktail Party in the Palm Court for this evening. When we took the RSVP form to the desk for the dinner, the woman at the desk knew nothing about it. The look on her face was priceless. It didn't really faze her, but she was obviously shocked. We had a brief, amusing conversation with her, then went up to the room.
We have never had a regular cabin on the Harmony, so we weren't aware of how tiny the bathrooms are. Now we can see why Crystal has decided to retire the Harmony. There is no way these bathrooms can compete with other luxury lines or even Crystal's own ships. The rest of the stateroom is basically the same as the other ships, without some of the cabinets. The layout is functional and it appears that the fabrics have been recently updated. There is a definite lack of storage space, which is very inconvenient.
We killed some time taking a few port photos from the Sun Deck. The hotel's close proximity is even more obvious from this vantage point. The parking garage is even closer, located next to the red building in this photo. This is a nice vantage point for viewing many of the city's famous landmarks.
Lifeboat muster was held at 4:15 PM because the sailing is quite early, at 4:45 PM. From the attendance it appears that the ship is quite full. However, we also noted that there are many large groups and travel agents, so the ratio of repeat guests to newcomers may not be all that high. We have seen a handful of children, but that doesn't really mean much since we weren't out and about. Just before we sailed, Bill went in search of our missing piece of luggage and found it sitting in the elevator lobby. That happened once before, but usually the luggage beats us to the stateroom.
Maria dropped off several gifts:
By the way, the bouquets are stunning. They consist of a solid dome of large, bright pink roses and lilies. It is nice that they have cut down the size, but still manage to provide something really special. They used to send enormous bouquets, which would be fine ashore, but were way too big for the space available in a stateroom.
As the ship sailed out, a fireboat with water spraying out accompanied the ship into the bay. The Captain announced that it will be rough once we leave the bay due to high winds. He advised "making preparations", as necessary. We assume that means taking seasick drugs since he did say that those guests who have this issue should pay special attention. As we sailed under the Golden Gate, the ship blew the horn and out we sailed into the open sea.
Tonight's entertainment is being presented before dinner at 6:30 PM and is the usual "Pirates to Pinafore" bore, plus some Reunion entertainment tacked on. The first half of the "Pinafore" show is unbearable. We decided we are never going to this show again. We only go to see who is on the bill for the entire cruise, but getting that information is not worth sitting through this pretentious show. The middle of the hour consisted of Ron, the Cruise Director, telling us who would be entertaining, explaining the various activities, and narrating a video about the ship in general. That part was fine. David De Havilland came out and spoke for a few minutes, which was entertaining, as usual for him. He seems to be really glad to be here. Ron then dragged out the headline entertainers to introduce them. After that was an abbreviated conclusion to the regular "Pinafore" show, which was bearable, but that's about it. This isn't to disparage the performers, they're just fine. It's the show itself that sucks.
The Crystal Society Reunion Party was held at 7:45 PM in the Palm Court. Essentially, it was a Crystal Society party without the awards part. Thomas Mazloum profusely, and sincerely, thanked those in attendance for supporting Crystal for fifteen years. Then David spoke briefly and it was over. We did see several Crystal diehards, but not as many as we expected.
Dinner tonight was in Kyoto Restaurant. The maitre d' didn't have his attitude on tonight, so we are putting him back at neutral status on our list. As always, the items we ordered are highlighted.
Seared and Thinly Sliced Prime Beef Tenderloin, Garnished with Spicy Daikon & Onion Salad, Lemon-Soy Sauce
Skewers of Grilled Japanese-Style Chicken and Shitake Mushrooms with Spring Onions Brushed with Soy-Mirin Sauce
Sashimi Salads Sushi House Special Roll Soba and Udon KYOTO SIGNATURE OBON TRAY MAIN DISHES DESSERTS
House Special Roll
Soba and Udon
KYOTO SIGNATURE OBON TRAY
Food review: Everything we ordered was outstanding, as usual for this restaurant. The only minor complaint was that a change to eliminate the miso soup was overlooked. Otherwise, everything was perfect.
Everyone who knew us stopped and chatted with us. Several crew members, the wine steward Gilbert, Ben, and Kirk from the office whom we have never formally met before today. We have spoken with him before, but only briefly in passing. He said they were going over the World Cruise books to brush up on names and someone in the office told him we are "family", so it's safe to talk to us. At least now we know they do go over the photos and try to learn the names of World Cruisers. We always believed they did this because nobody knew our names until after we had been on at least one World Cruise.
In spite of the warning about getting seasick we heard from the Captain earlier, there was no unusual motion during the evening. It has been overcast all day and was very windy and drizzly once we got out to sea. After dinner, it did become very slightly rough, but nothing out of the ordinary. One of the regulars who was on the previous cruise also, told us it was very rough during this part of the cruise last week. We could care less what the weather is like for a cruise like this.
When we arrived back at our room, Maria was in the hallway folding towels. She was in a talkative mood. Mostly she wanted to verify that she had done the things on our preference list correctly. She didn't understand the part about guacamole being delivered until we explained that was for the Penthouse Deck butler and didn't apply to her. We assured her she didn't have to deliver food to us, but we would like copies of the dinner menus. She thought we wanted to order room service, but all we need them for is so we can share them with all of you.
We received a handwritten note from the Cruise Director, Ron Goodman, welcoming us on board. His note also said to let him know if we need anything, which he always says to us. We never want anything worth asking for, but it's nice of him to ask. He does do a very good job at what he does and he is always appropriately nice to us.
It was just rough enough overnight that we slept more than we have in months. One advantage of being in a regular stateroom is that they don't seem to creak as much as the Penthouses do. That never bothered us, but it is an obvious thing. The choppy seas continued on into the day, but it wasn't enough to be bothersome.
Our day started with lunch in the Lido, which wasn't crowded at all. In fact, it was nearly empty most of the time we were there. It does seem that when the weather is cool, guests tend toward the dining room even though the Lido is completely inside.
The food seems to have improved in the Harmony's Lido, as well. Everything we had was very good to outstanding. Unfortunately, the layout of the Lido serving line is so incoherent here that getting everything you want is like running an obstacle course. Waiters are supposed to fetch drinks, but it took a few tries to finally get an iced tea. While we were eating, we saw a few World Cruise passengers we know from 2002 and our waitress from the previous cruise on the Harmony.
After lunch we wandered around the shops on Deck 6 to check out the 15th Reunion merchandise. They do have a fairly good selection of Reunion items as well as Crystal Harmony Alaska items. Point is, someone thought about this in advance, which is a pleasant surprise.
The browsing done, we returned to the room to watch some DVDs we had brought with us. We emerged from the room in the late afternoon for some ice cream and cookies, then went back as soon as we were finished. The sea is slightly rough today, so both pools are empty. That didn't stop eight people from cramming themselves into the one operable Jacuzzi, however.
Today's weather was in the 60's and cloudy all day. The sea was a bit less rough during the day, but it picked up again late in the evening. Again, it isn't anything unusual, just pointing out that there is some motion.
We did attend the Captain's Welcome Reception before dinner in the Palm Court, but we used the express entrance to skip the Captain. Sitting in the hallway area to the Vista Lounge, we could see everything we needed to see without being involved in it. A retired Crystal officer and his wife joined us. We knew both of them, but had never been formally introduced, so it was interesting chatting with them.
Tonight's dinner is in the Crystal Dining Room with David De Havilland's party. If the poor guy has to do this every night to accommodate everyone, we truly have sympathy for him. We arrived at the appointed hour and were ushered to a table next to the Captain's table in the dining room. There were place cards on the table, so when David arrived and wanted to sit next to us, he was out of luck. He really warmed up to us on the 2002 World Cruise, but he has always been way too busy to have a real conversation.
We chatted a bit before the other guests arrived, which was quite pleasant. He really is a nice person and has a lot of insight into how things work, or should work. He was a Cruise Director for several cruise lines, totaling thirty years in that job. He seems slightly bitter about being forced to retire at age 60 due to "company policy", but he did say he doesn't blame Crystal for that. Apparently, the insurance company has something to say about it, too. It really is too bad because he is very talented and the guests love him. You'd never guess he was over 60, if that. Someone asked if he had to host a table every night and he said that he only has to do this six times, which isn't too terrible. He did say that he never once was able to sit down with guests in the dining room while he was a Cruise Director, so it could be that he will enjoy these evenings.
The evening was enjoyable, but most of it was idle chit chat, as is usual for this type of thing. There were eight guests, including David, at the table. A woman at a table behind us was clearly annoyed at not being included in everything, but we have no clue why. Maybe she wanted to sit with the Captain or something?
Our waiter was Tadas, who was our assistant waiter on a previous Harmony cruise. He was overjoyed to see us again and was especially amused at our casual responses regarding our order. You had to be there, but he was very amused by the memories.
The meal was essentially the same menu as every Welcome Aboard dinner. Although we asked for menus to be brought to us in advance, they were not, so we don't have a menu for you tonight. However, if you go back to any previous diaries, you will find it. We both ordered the Captain's Salad, which was nothing like previous incarnations. However, the balsamic vinaigrette dressing was outstanding. The plate looked nice, but there was nothing special about the greens. We both also had the pasta course, which was angel hair pasta with olive oil, toasted pine nuts and pesto. It was outstanding. Both entrees were very good, as well. Other guests at the table raved about the fish, which was very good. However, the portion was microscopic and nothing came with it except three tiny scallop rounds. The Chateaubriand was very good, also, but the meat wasn't as tender as it usually is. It had a very nice flavor though. The dessert was a white chocolate tear drop that consisted of a teardrop formed out of a thin layer of white chocolate and filled with white chocolate mousse. It was outstanding, as well. We also sampled the new Crystal Chardonnay and thought that it was exceptional.
Dinner dragged on until 11:00 PM when we realized most of the other guests in the dining room were already gone. The time went by mostly because there was a huge lull between courses, but we didn't mind. One couple left because they wanted to see the show, but we waited until everyone else was ready to leave.
It was 11:00 PM by the time we left the dining room, so we missed the first section of the show. Tonight's entertainment is the lavish production show "Million Dollar Musicals". We know this show forward and backward, so missing a few minutes didn't really matter. Although this is one of the best currently running, we have seen it way too many times, so it is getting a bit tedious. This cast is on par with the usual standard, but not one of the best we have ever seen. The leads are satisfactory, without being extraordinary.
We received pins commemorating Crystal Harmony's 15th Anniversary. They were on the bed when we returned to the room after the show. Everyone who sails on the Harmony this year gets this pin.
Tonight we set the clocks back one hour.
We were up earlier than usual, 9:00 AM, so we were out early enough to shock our stewardess and require some sort of food before lunchtime. Our first stop was the Bistro, but a lecture had just let out and it was rather crowded. Then we went up to the pool area where they now serve the same Early Risers made-to-order breakfast as served on the Serenity. We both had the Peanut Butter & Jelly French Toast, which is far better than it sounds. It is, in fact, outstanding. The portions were above microscopic, too, another improvement. There were signs set out explaining that the Deck Stewards would take your order and bring the food. On the Serenity guests had no clue how the system worked, so adding a sign or two was a bright idea.
After eating, it was 11:00 AM, we made it just in time to the Round Table Discussion hosted by David de Havilland in the Galaxy Lounge. The participants included the creative directors who make up the production shows, one of the early production managers, and a few others. The discussion was entertaining and enjoyable. They all said the same thing about the "Crystal Family" that we do believe is sincere. They all agree it really started after the big fire on Harmony just a few months after she was launched. Before the ship was rescued and returned to port, the president of Crystal arrived at the port and handed out refund checks on the spot when the guests returned. Everyone raved about how well things were handled and that was the beginning of the fanatic loyalty most repeat guests have to Crystal.
At the end of the discussion, there was an original song sung that was enjoyable. Then, Thomas made everyone sing Happy Birthday to David, who had been trying to keep his birthday a secret. However, he did mention to our table last night that today is his birthday. A bunch of people from the back office brought out a cake, which was very nice.
After the lecture, we went to the dining room for lunch. There was a Nuevo Latino buffet around the Neptune Pool, but we could smell the greasy BBQ grills in the hallways, so we weren't interested in going up there when the roof is closed. Besides, they serve a sampling of the Mexican items in the dining room. We had the tortilla soup, which was very good, but not what one expects from tortilla soup. This version was a cream soup and had some corn in it. Our entrees were the chicken enchiladas that were sort of a cross between a taco and an enchilada. As usual, nothing like any enchilada we have seen on shore. That said, they are very tasty in their own way.
After lunch, we stopped by the shops to buy some 15th Reunion logo shirts and such, then took them to the room. Maria was just arriving to clean, saying that since we told her we were always late, she saved us for last. We don't mind at all, but she thought we might be annoyed. We definitely were not and simply went up to the deserted Palm Court to sit around and kill some time before returning.
We were in the room for most of the afternoon, as usual. Today's weather is about the same as yesterday, cloudy and cool, but the sea isn't quite as rough, so there isn't much movement to speak of.
We went up to the Vista Lounge before dinner to wait. And wait we did. Thirty minutes for our drinks to be delivered from the time the order was taken. This is very unusual, but there were several private parties going on, which is not unusual. When the waiter eventually brought the drinks he apologized profusely, saying that he had to go and fetch more Perrier because the parties going on had depleted the supply.
Tonight's dress code is Informal.
ye Lords and Ladies of the Realm are Welcome to Partake in This
Food review: This menu is almost nobody's favorite, but they dredge it up whenever a cruise is longer than ten days. Fortunately for everyone, the show that went along with it is long gone. They still do the whole Medieval decor and costume thing in the dining room, which is fine. All of the menu items we ordered were outstanding. In fact, far superior to the same items served on the other ships. Although everything was exactly the same on paper, there was no comparison to the mediocre fare served on the Symphony for this menu.
Our waiter is Mile, who was wondering where the heck we had been the past two nights. We haven't seen him before. We didn't catch the assistant's name, but he was very friendly and seems like a lot of fun. We weren't acquainted with the headwaiter either, but he was pleasant enough. During the meal both "kings" stopped by, Victor the maitre d' and Ben the Head Sommelier. We know Ben very well from a World Cruise, so we picked up right where we left off with him. Our table is by the window, which isn't our preference, but it should be fine for just one cruise.
The evening entertainment is a Comedy Showtime featuring Mark Merchant, Jimmy Travis, and Mike Goddard. All three were very entertaining. It was nice to hear some new material from all three of them. All of them have been performing on Crystal Harmony since the beginning, so we have seen them all several times. After the show, Mark received Crystal's Entertainer of the Year Award, something he deserves. We greeted him on the way out of the theater and then went back to the room.
Crystal Harmony is now in sheltered waters, so there is no more rough water tonight. It appeared to be raining closer to the shore, so we expect it will be raining tomorrow. The forecast does call for rain, but you never know for sure until it happens.
Ketchikan is the salmon capital of the world and a
paradise for fishermen and nature-lovers alike. A quiet city, it hosts quaint
restaurants perched on stilts above the water, scores of fascinating shops and
spectacular views from every vantage point.
We are doing something a bit different with the photos for today. Rather than links throughout the text, you can view them in the Photo Gallery.
As you can see from the photos, the weather today is anything but rainy. In fact, it is in the 70's and absolutely gorgeous outside. Jackets not required! Everyone carried on about how unusual this is, but we have been here twice before and the weather was just like this. Apparently, we inspire good weather.
We were up much earlier than we usually are, but it wasn't for any particular reason other than simply waking up. It was around 10:00 AM when we ventured out of the room, so we went up to the Late Risers breakfast by the pool again. The area was nearly deserted with only about ten tables set for breakfast. We were almost immediately greeted by a fan of this site, who was nice enough to introduce himself to us.
Once seated, we had the usual French toast, plus some fresh fruit, eggs and bacon. In our opinion, adding the late breakfast is one of the best things Crystal has ever done.
After eating we wandered up to the Sun Deck for our usual port photos. The weather couldn't possibly be any better than it is today, so the scenery is especially spectacular all around us. There is only one other ship in port, the Vision of the Seas, so town isn't as overrun with tourists as it can be when there are many more ships in.
There was a maintenance man replacing light bulbs on our verandah when we returned to collect our stuff to go ashore, so we walked down to the Promenade Deck to kill a few minutes. They were taking the tenders out and doing something or other with them. The deck was wet and roped off, so we gave up and went back to the room which was now available.
We collected our camera and other stuff for going out and walked down to the gangway to go ashore. No offense, but what the heck are people thinking when they don't have their ID card out and ready at the gangway? Surely these people are old enough to know you need it by now. Needless to say, one woman blocked the whole thing while she searched for her keycard and ID. She only watched five people ahead of her show them, but apparently wasn't interested in paying attention.
Our walk along the pier was uneventful. Basically, we followed the crowds, figuring they would lead us somewhere. That was almost correct, although nobody was going toward Creek Street, which was our destination for today. We did stop in one shop, but didn't buy anything.
Once at Creek Street we stopped for some photos before strolling along the wooded "street". The first building is Dolly's House, which was a bordello until the early 60's when the area was cleaned up. It is now a small museum, but we didn't go inside. A local man was standing outside of his friend's shop and he stopped us to chat. He wanted to know where we were from, etc., and to encourage us to shop in local stores rather than the big chains. We always do that anyway. He was really just being nice, not trying to rope us into going into this particular shop. A guest from the ship stopped and loudly told us to go to one of the chain jewelry shops, which we declined. This was right in front of the guy who was just telling us he was a local. Some people can be so insensitive and/or full of themselves it's ridiculous.
The stroll up Creek Street was very picturesque. When we have been here later in the season, the stream was teeming with salmon, but the water level was quite low today and no fish were in sight. The guy we had been talking to earlier told us that they don't can salmon here anymore because it is cheaper to get it from Canada. That doesn't stop every store in town from selling it, however.
After a pleasant walk along the creek, we walked back through town looking in shops for our usual Christmas ornament. We saw some small totem pole ornaments and were going to buy one until we looked at the price, $25.99!! If it had been top quality maybe, but this wasn't anything special. In another shop we saw the same item for $2.00 more. So, we kept looking until we found something for $2.99, more reasonable for something like that.
Once the big shopping expedition was over, we returned to the ship around 1:15 PM. We sat on our verandah watching guests and crew return to the ship. Eventually, it was time for a late lunch, so we went up to the Trident Grill. Both of us had Napa Chicken Wraps that were very good. The weather being as it is today, it was very pleasant on deck watching the scenery outside the window. We ran into Jeff, the ship's videographer and former Crystal Cove pianist. He knows us quite well, so we had to stop to chat for a few seconds.
By the time we finished our lunch it was just about time for the sailing at 4:30 PM, so we went up to the Sun Deck to watch the sail away. Just as we were leaving the dock, we met our neighbor from a previous World Cruise. Of course, we had to catch up with her until time for her to move up to the bow for some photos. We stayed at the rail and added a few more sail away photos to the gallery.
After we had been sailing for a while, we went back to the verandah for an hour or so before finally coming back inside. It was tough to leave the great weather outside, but life goes on.
Before dinner we went up to the Vista Lounge where we were two of only four guests in attendance. Eventually, we were the only two up there. We did receive our drinks promptly tonight. The sun was still well above the horizon even as we left for dinner at 8:30 PM.
Tonight's dress code is Casual.
Soup and Salad
Traditional Main Fares
Food review: The Split Pea Soup was outstanding and couldn't have been better. The salad was better with the Balsamic dressing substituted for the French on one of them, but it didn't make it any more than average anyway. The "crisp bacon" was a round slab of bacon about 3" in diameter and it certainly wasn't anywhere near crisp. The pasta was very good. Our salmon entree suffered from a very heavy red wine sauce that didn't compliment the fish at all. The salmon itself was fine and properly cooked. It was topped with a disgusting looking "log" of onion puree. Use your imagination to figure out what it resembled. It was quickly pushed aside after tasting it. The potatoes under the filet were good. Dessert was outstanding in itself, but the espresso sauce was watery and lacked a distinct flavor. The cookies were actually edible for a change, but nothing special.
There are several entertainment options offered tonight. The main show in the Galaxy Lounge is the old production show "Some Enchanted Evening". Earlier, there was a concert by vocalist George DeMott in Club 2100, which we did not attend. After the main show, there is a Late-Night Comedy show with Ventriloquist Gary Hunter, also in Club 2100.
Our first stop was the production show. This show fell flat on its face when it debuted several years ago, in spite of much hype on Crystal's part. We had high hopes that they had revised it, which they had. However, the producers apparently didn't understand quite why it flopped because the worst numbers were still in it. The opening act is way too long with some very hyper choreography heavy on the elaborate hand gestures. That coupled with the ghastly costumes and wigs makes for a nearly unbearable fifteen minutes. Not to fault the talent, they do the best they can with the material. To be honest, there are a couple of scenes that border on brilliance, but they are brought crashing down by a dreadful "South Pacific" number done in red sequin sailor suits to a jazz beat. Rogers and Hammerstein must be spinning in their graves over that one. This horrid number is flanked by a brilliant scene from "Carousel" that is elegantly staged, and the new finale featuring the "Shall We Dance" scene from "King and I". Both scenes are tasteful and elegant, with beautiful costumes and music that is true to the original. Despite the effort to improve the show, it barely got a response from the audience until a few staff members stood up and tried to start a standing ovation, which failed miserably. The whole thing was sad. Sometimes shows die for a reason and should remain so. However, this is better than the ghastly "Berlin" show that had risen from the grave previously.
Many guests rushed from this show directly to the Club 2100 to see Gary Hunter's act. He started off reminiscing about Crystal Harmony and a few ventriloquists he has known. Gary has an easy, natural stage presence and is always entertaining. Frankly, we think he has such a quick wit that he should stick to a comedy routine, although he is a talented ventriloquist. He is the Cruise Director on Crystal Serenity and does an outstanding job at that, too.
We were told that the Captain expects the ship to enter the mouth of Glacier Bay at 9:00 AM, but we are not expected to reach the first glacier until 11:30 or noon, which is great for us. Let's hope the weather stays as beautiful as it was today. By the way, at midnight it was still light enough outside to see the silhouette of the mountains across the water. Since we are in the Inside Passage, the water is completely calm. Every now and then we would pass through a school of fish that were jumping out of the water. We assume they were salmon because they were huge.
This stunning amphitheater of glaciers and granite peaks is best viewed from the sea. The ice in Glacier Bay fell as snow centuries ago on the mountains that ring the bay. Compressed by its own tremendous weight, it flows seaward, producing some of the fastest-moving glaciers known. In the summer, rare humpback whales come here to feed-with luck, you'll see one of these gentle giants.
As yesterday, the weather is absolutely spectacular today. It was almost warm on deck. Well, maybe with a jacket, but for Glacier Bay it certainly was warm. That may say something for the reason that there is substantially less snow on the mountains than there was ten years ago. And, even more obviously, less than our first visit years before that. At that time the entire way up to the Grand Pacific Glacier was covered in snow. Now, there are only patches.
Our day started early again, so we wandered in search of food. First to the Bistro, which was too crowded to suit us. Up on deck, the Late Risers breakfast was only set up at a few tables that had been commandeered by people waiting for glacier viewing. Across the way, there were no deck stewards in sight to serve anyone. So, we ended up back down in the Bistro where we snacked on fruit and some excellent breads and pastries. The bread and rolls on the Harmony are far superior to anything we have had on either of Crystal's other ships, although the general selection is identical. Obviously, someone here isn't following the exact recipe and makes everything taste much better. At the very least, the breads are fresher here.
After fortifying ourselves with sugar, we bundled up and went up on deck for the Glacier Bay viewing. The ship entered the mouth of Glacier Bay around 9:00 AM, but it took several hours of very scenic cruising to get to the destination. At the farthest inland reach of the bay is the confluence of two huge glaciers, the Grand Pacific and Margerie glaciers. Two hundred years ago, the Grand Pacific went all the way to the sea and there was no Glacier Bay. It has rapidly receded to the point where it is mostly just a pile of dirt and ice, although behind that is still an enormous ice field 65 miles long. When we were here fifteen years ago, this glacier was still actively calving icebergs, but now it is barely possible to tell that there is any ice at the leading edge because of all the rock. The Margerie glacier is the one that has all the action now and is still a wild collection of pinnacles of towering blue ice in fantastic shapes.
Crystal Harmony slowly crept up to the face of the glacier, where we sat for over an hour watching the huge chunks of ice fall into the bay accompanied by cracks and thunderous splashing. There isn't much to say as a way of description except to say that the entire day was spectacular. We'll let the photos stand for themselves. In the Photo Gallery, the pictures are posted in the order they were taken, so if you start at the beginning you will follow our day just as we did.
We spent all day out on deck either standing on the Sun Deck or sitting at a table by the pool. The weather was nice enough to stay outside with only a regular jacket. The sun was out, too, so we are little worse for wear in the sunburn department. It was well worth it though. No matter how many times we visit this area, it never loses it's appeal. Everyone should see it for themselves at least once.
Back to shipboard life, there was an Asia Cafe lunch buffet incongruously served by the Neptune Pool. Crystal rarely changes their routine no matter what the circumstances, but we think a deck BBQ or something else would have been more appropriate. Most guests stayed in the Palm Court where the park rangers had stationed themselves with information and souvenirs. Crystal thoughtfully had servers wandering the open decks serving complimentary hot cider and hot chocolate during the height of the viewing hours.
We have been surprised at the poor service from the ship's photographers during this cruise. They did come out while the glacier was in the background, but they were highly selective regarding which guests they asked for photos. Apparently, they felt that only traditional couples needed photos because we never saw them ask singles, groups of friends, or whatever, if they wanted a photo. In fact, most people had to flag them down to get a picture taken. Not that they should have been pushy, but they should have gone along the railing and asked everyone if they wanted a picture and not gone picking and choosing. One of them was carrying a Santa Claus hat, "so you can use it on the Christmas card," but thankfully he had no takers that we saw. In any case, we have never been asked if we want a photo during this cruise.
After the ship left the main glaciers, we returned to our verandah for a few hours. We passed a couple of other spectacular glaciers and towering peaks as we lounged in luxury. Eventually, we realized we hadn't had lunch yet, so we wandered up to the Trident Grill for cheeseburgers and tuna wraps. Harry, the Front Office Manager, finally tracked us down and sat to chat for a few minutes before returning to work. We have known him forever, so it is always nice to chat with him. We'll probably see him at the Crystal Society Party tonight, too. He said the company is being very thoughtful about offering various options to the officers and staff once Crystal Harmony leaves the fleet in November. It is nice to know they aren't just giving everyone the axe in November like most cruise lines would do.
After eating enough to choke a horse, we went back to the room and gazed out the window for the rest of the afternoon. We both ate more than we usually would at 3:30 PM because tonight is the French menu neither of us is particularly fond of.
There was a Crystal Society party before dinner at 7:45 PM in the Palm Court. There are only about 350 repeat guests on this cruise out of a total of around 850. That's a very poor percentage for a Crystal cruise. However, the people who are back have some of the highest cruise totals on record. There are four guests here with well over 100 cruises to their credit. We made a beeline for the Vista Lounge, although we did play along and stop for the photo with Andrew, the Crystal Society Host, and the Captain.
On the way, we ran into Rudolf, an old friend who is now in the Shore Excursion department. We haven't had a chance to have a conversation with him yet, but we hope to soon. Once in the lounge, David de Havilland stopped us to thank us for the birthday card. Then took us back out to the entrance to get a photo with us and Ron, the current Cruise Director. That seemed to throw a bit of a curve to Ron, who was about to start the proceedings, but he went along with it just fine.
Harry joined us for a chat while the various announcements were taken care of regarding highest number of cruises, etc. They announced which crew members had been here from the beginning and similar things appropriate for an anniversary. It wouldn't be quite as poignant if the ship wasn't leaving the fleet soon. We can only imagine how sad that last cruise will be for a lot of people.
Tonight's dress code is Formal.
Appetizers Soup and Salad Pasta Special Salad Entree Main Fares Traditional Main Fares Vegetarian Selection Dessert
Soup and Salad
Traditional Main Fares
Food review: The fruit appetizer was very nice with a large variety of different fruits artfully arranged around a basket carved from an orange. The onion soup was satisfactory, but nothing special. Both salads were fine except for the absolutely ghastly fried brie that tasted like metal. Yuck! Both fish entrees were above average in general, except the snapper had a sauce that wasn't appropriate. There were also olives that spurted a foul liquid when bitten into. Obviously, the halibut was the better choice tonight and it was from the "always available" menu in the small print. The soufflé was outstanding as usual. Franz, our headwaiter, brought a bottle of Grand Marnier to each table to add some to the soufflé, if desired. A few drops would have been fine, but he added enough to flambé a steak. One of us opted out of the addition, which was the better thing to do.
The evening entertainment for tonight is "As If We Never Said Goodbye" presented by David de Havilland, featuring Richard Berman, Lane Blaylock, George DeMott, Cody Gay, Mike Goddard, Gary Hunter, Tara Khaler, Jennine Jones, Lori Moran, and Bernard Walz. All of them are long-time performers on Crystal Harmony who have returned for the 15th anniversary. As usual with Crystal, this slapped together show produced on board was outstanding from start to finish. They had constructed an elaborate set to look like it might be David's home where he was having a cocktail party. The "guests" arrived one by one with a ring of the doorbell. God forbid they should do this more often and let the singers actually choose songs that are appropriate for them. The show received a well-deserved standing ovation. The show lasted until midnight, but almost no one left early.
For some odd reason, they had the Bistro open afterwards serving pastries and desserts. Actually, this isn't a bad idea since most guests have to walk by it to get back to their rooms. However, it was far from crowded.
We received very nice silver picture frames to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Crystal Harmony. Crystal has always done a very good job of selecting lovely gifts for various occasions. They are always tastefully wrapped and nicely presented with an appropriate card.
The sea continues to be calm, although there is a slight bit of rocking tonight. The sky immediately became cloudy once we left Glacier Bay and it looks as though it will stay that way for tomorrow. Since it often rains in Sitka, we wouldn't be surprised if that happened tomorrow.
The symmetrical cone of Mount Edgecumbe and countless
green-tufted islands welcome Crystal Harmony to picturesque Sitka. In its
heyday, it was referred to as the "Paris of the Pacific" and knew great
It did rain overnight, but by the time we were out and about at 10:00 AM, there was no more. It was very cloudy all day, but the temperature was in the high 60's, so it was pleasant for walking around town.
Our day started with the Late Risers breakfast by the pool, as usual. This time we ordered eggs and bacon, plus a plate of fresh fruit, all of which were very tasty. Judging by the attendance for these breakfasts, we aren't the only ones who think it is a great idea. Even so, we'll never understand why Crystal is so averse to using the Lido Cafe more than they do.
After breakfast we went down to try to book another cruise, but the Cruise Consultant wasn't at his desk. We didn't care since we would see him another day. However, we ran into him on the way back to the room. Our intention is to try to book the final cruise for Crystal Harmony in November. Randal said it is so in demand that they are only taking waiting lists for a $250 per person deposit and the office will notify guests who get the reservation. That's fine with us, so we'll take care of that in a day or so. We just thought it might be interesting to be on the final cruise, but we won't be terribly disappointed if we can't go.
We went up to the Sun Deck for our usual port photos and then back to the room to collect our stuff to go ashore. This is a tendering port, so the ship is anchored a distance off shore in the sheltered Crescent Bay. The scenery is spectacular even with the cloudy weather. The area is surrounded by forested hills and towering, snow-capped mountains beyond as far as the eye can see. In the bay there are some small islands where some brave souls have built homes. An eagle flew over the ship and soared around while we were up on deck.
Rudolf was standing near the tender landing and was concerned we weren't properly bundled up for the chilly weather. However, we know we will instantly be too warm once we start walking around. We realized we had never been to the tender landing on this ship before. The tenders themselves are much nicer than those on Crystal Symphony. The trip to shore took about ten minutes across the picturesque bay and into Crescent Harbor.
The small harbor was filled with fishing boats. Directly adjacent to the tender landing is a large roofed area where fishermen were repairing their nets. This is very much a working fishing port. Overlooking the marina is the historic Russian Bishop's House, now a national monument.
We walked toward the downtown area, only a few short blocks away. In the center of town is the recreated Russian Orthodox St. Michael's Cathedral. Surrounding the church are numerous shops selling Russian and Alaskan art and souvenirs. The Russian shop we browsed had some very nice items that the salesman said the owner went to Russian to purchase. There was a samovar the same design as the one we already have selling for $1,200. Ours is over 50 years old, but looked exactly the same. We just browsed and chatted with Pauline, one of Crystal's "Centurions" with 150 cruises under her belt. She is amazing, always out and about by herself in port.
A local woman told us that it doesn't get as cold here in the winter as it does in New York, although it rains a lot. She said the permanent population is around 9,800.
Our walk continued down the street to the Pioneer House, where we took some pictures and turned then back toward the port. We browsed a few more shops, then walked to the far end of town for some pictures of St. Peter's by the Sea and it's historic bishop's house behind that is used as a tea room and meditation center. There are some cute stone animals in the narrow park fronting the marina. We made our way back to the tender landing, sanitized our hands as required, and sailed off back to the ship. We were back on board by 1:30 PM.
The bulk of our afternoon was spent doing laundry and watching DVD's we had brought along. Other than a foray to the Trident Grill for a late lunch, we stayed in the room for the remainder of the afternoon.
Tonight's dress code is Casual. Sorry, but we don't have the complete menu for you tonight. We haven't been able to obtain copies of menus each night as we usually do. We have been recreating them so far from past cruises, but there was not a close enough match to make one for tonight.
We went to the Photo Shop to look for our pictures from the party yesterday, but they were still putting them on the racks at 8:00 PM. It is extremely inconvenient to purchase photos on this ship because the hours are so limited. When the photos are on display the hallway is jammed with guests trying to find their pictures. The previous method of displaying photos all day and having guests order them for delivery was far superior, in our opinion. In any case, we never did find either of our photos, so we assume they haven't been printed yet. Let's just say we are not impressed by the photo staff for this cruise.
While we were waiting we were finally able to catch up with Shelley, the shop manager. We had meant to talk to her sooner, but she has been busy doing an inventory of everything on board. Apparently, NYK is going to buy Crystal's shop inventory when the ship transfers to them in November.
Dinner was uneventful and a mixed bag of good to average selections. The fruit appetizer was the same as usual, and just fine. The salads were fresh and had the same great dressing as usual, but there was something in it that had the texture of dirt clods. Could be they burned the pine nuts or something, but whatever it was didn't belong there. The menu said the chilled soup was a "Banana Cappuccino with Chocolate Foam". What arrived was their standard version of chilled banana soup, which was good, but had nothing whatever to do with cappuccino or chocolate foam. Where that came from we have no clue. The mahi mahi entree was awful. The fish itself was satisfactory, but there was another of those incongruous sauces served with it, plus some diced potatoes and something green that looked like chives, but wasn't. The combination just didn't work. The steak entree was very good without the béarnaise sauce that had rosemary added to it. The steak was topped with onion rings and had a nice flavor on its own. The roasted vegetables served with it had the odd flavor of cinnamon and would have been more appropriate with Moroccan or Indian food than a plain old steak. The Macaroon Tart dessert was edible, but that's all we can say for it. We were offered Bananas Foster twice, which we declined. Our waiter tried in vane to get us to order the Sacher Cake for dessert, but we know from past experience that they don't do this cake very well.
The evening entertainment is the premier of the production show "Encore - By Popular Demand", consisting of highlights from the past fifteen years of Crystal shows. The musical numbers in the show were very good to outstanding. Most of them were plucked from defunct old productions. Aside from the "Masquerade" scene from "Phantom of the Opera", we think they could have picked more impressive numbers, but overall everything worked just fine. The show was a bit too heavy on the video clips and the history of Crystal that was more like a commercial than information. It was a bit like whoever produced the video had no clue what production numbers they were leading into, however. For example, the finale was lead up to with a video proclaiming Crystal's devotion to producing entertainment for its international clientele. That's all well and good, but the numbers that followed were from "Spirit of America" and "Crystal Country", both of which are overtly patriotic in nature. Also, several video scenes were repeated, which was unnecessary. So, from our perspective, if the video was edited better the show would be very good. Personally, we would have liked to see a short fashion show of sorts showcasing some of the stunning costumes of the past rather than another video. This could have easily been done during or following the video touting the hand made costumes and adherence to quality workmanship.
The show is longer than usual, so we weren't out until 11:45 PM. It did start a few minutes late, but not that much. It didn't bother us, just commenting on it. Last night's special show let out at midnight, but the time went by so fast we didn't realize it until we got back to the room. Tonight we were aware the show was running long.
It started raining as we sailed out of Sitka tonight and it remained very cloudy into the evening. There isn't anything to see in the next port anyway, except on a tour, so we will probably stay on board.
Haines has one of the most idyllic settings in all
Alaska. It lies nestled along the shores of the Chilkat Inlet against a backdrop
of glacially carved mountains. Naturalist John Muir and missionary S. Hall Young
were so impressed with the area that they were intent on establishing a
Presbyterian mission here.
Clouds and drizzle are the order of the day, but it doesn't matter to us. We had no plans to go ashore here. We have done the railway tour and some others on previous visits. The town itself is charming, but there really isn't anything to see that isn't visible from the comfort of our verandah. As you can see from the photos, this is quite a spectacular area.
We had no choice but to get up at 10:00 AM because of the crew fire drill. We're usually awake earlier than that anyway, but we would have liked to sleep slightly longer than we did. They start off about fifteen minutes early making an announcement that guests are not involved, so don't be alarmed by the alarms. That is followed by more announcements and alarms. It is all necessary, so we can overlook it.
We didn't make it in time for the Late Riser breakfast because they shortened the hours today and it ended at 11:00 AM, rather than 11:30 AM. The Bistro was packed, which should say something to Crystal about closing the breakfast earlier than usual. We decided to sit by the pool until noon and wait for lunch. Eventually, a deck steward brought us some orange juice to tide us over. Just a comment about deck service on this ship. The stewards are friendly enough, but the service has always fallen far short of the attentiveness shown to guests on the other two Crystal ships. We're not sure what they are doing, but it certainly isn't bringing drinks to the guests most of the time.
Noon rolled around, so we strolled into the Lido and filled our plates with several tasty items. The roast chicken was excellent, as usual. There was also a tasty beef roast and some chicken skewers with salsa. We skipped dessert.
After lunch we wandered around the Sun Deck until we finally made our way back to the room for the afternoon.
As we were leaving the room for the Palm Court before dinner, Maria stopped to tell us how nice it is that we are so tidy. She said we have the cleanest room of any guests she has ever had. She even brought her sister from across the ship to show it to her. True, we don't throw our clothes on the floor, but we didn't think we were any neater than anyone else. No wonder the stewardesses on World Cruises love us.
Tonight's dress code is Casual. There is casual dining at the Trident Grill this evening in addition to the usual options.
Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail with Créole Rémoulade Sauce Salads Pasta
Blue Plate Special Vegetarian
Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail with Créole Rémoulade Sauce
Blue Plate Special
Food review: We were surprised to see the 50's menu back with that title since the accompanying costumes and show are long gone. However, we found a lot to order! The shrimp cocktail was very fresh and tasty, as was the fruit cup. The corn bisque was outstanding as it usually is and was much improved by changing the recipe to eliminate the sun-dried tomatoes and dried leeks that used to be tossed on top. The prime rib was average because of an odd flavor in the sauce. The meatloaf had a nice flavor and came with peas and carrots, plus a tiny scoop of mashed potatoes. The only detriment was its too-soft texture. We made some additions to the banana split that made it a real banana split, so it was very good. The cheesecake was average, but it looked attractive with a clear sugar-glass pane sticking out of the top.
There was quite a view outside the window as we ate and sailed away from Haines. It remains light until nearly midnight, so the spectacular scenery is clearly visible until well after bedtime. Even at 10:15 PM we were able to take a couple of new photos of the sunset and of a glacier just fifteen minutes sailing from the city.
The evening entertainment is titled "A Lady, A Man and a Baby Grand", featuring Australian Piano Sensation, Bernard Walz, and Star of "Phantom of the Opera", Dale Kristien. We weren't in the mood for the show, so we went directly to the room instead.
There was a cruise ship following closely behind us that we couldn't identify, so Bill called the front desk to ask if they knew what it was. The woman at the desk said, "Wait a minute and I'll go outside and look." That was too funny. We could have done that. We thought maybe they would know something like that off hand. In any case, she called back in a few minutes to tell us it was the Norwegian Star.
Tomorrow's port call has been significantly shortened. We assume this has to do with having too many ships in port because we will have to tender rather than dock.
Juneau, the capital of Alaska, is a town accessible
only by air and sea. It was founded during the rush for gold in the 1880s and
was named after Joe Juneau, the prospector who first discovered gold in this
state. Today, much of its independent frontier atmosphere remains. The infamous
and rowdy Red Dog Saloon coexists beside impressive modern office towers.
We didn't even bother trying to make it ashore today with the shortened hours. Why even bother stopping just to leave at 1:00 PM? In any case, we didn't get up until 10:30 AM, so there just wasn't time to tender into town and actually do anything. Too bad, because there are a lot of unique shops in town, plus the new tramway that would have been interesting to see. Oh well.
Today's weather is cloudy, but not too chilly. It didn't rain, although it did look as though it might for most of the day.
Crystal Harmony had to anchor off shore because all of the dock space was taken up by four much larger ships. Holland America's Veendam was at the downtown dock. Celebrity's Infinity was across the street from the tramway station. The Dawn Princess and Serenade of the Seas were at the far end of the docks. Crystal doesn't visit Alaska often enough to get priority docking like Holland America and Princess do.
We went up to wait for lunchtime by the Neptune Pool. God forbid they should have regular hours for the Late Risers breakfast. Today it ended at 11:00 AM. They need to understand that a late riser is a late riser, whether the ship is in port or not. Judging by the jam-packed Bistro, we aren't the only ones looking for breakfast foods at 11:00 AM. We intend to complain about the early closing on the Quality Assurance form at the end of the cruise and perhaps in person if the opportunity arises.
Although our order for orange juice was taken, we sat for 30 minutes and never received it. This is the second time this cruise that kind of thing has happened. The deck stewards tend to be more interested in talking among themselves than in delivering orders. They are very pleasant, but their service is rather spotty. That is quite a contrast to the other two Crystal ships where they are exceptionally attentive.
We decided to go to the Crystal Dining Room for lunch today. We were seated one table down from our usual table, so we had a different waiter. He was very nice, so no problem there. The Quatro Formaggi pasta dish was outstanding and by far the best thing we ordered. The waiter recommended the fish and chips over the BBQ flank steak, which was a mistake. The steak was very good, but the fish was soggy and rubbery. The mixed berry shortcake was really a square of sponge cake with a layer of berries in whipped cream in the center. It was satisfactory.
After lunch we stopped at the Cruise Consultant's Desk to get on the waiting list for the final Crystal Harmony Cruise in November. There is a new woman training for the job, so she wasn't aware that Randal had already told us it was $250 to get on the list. She had it down for $100, which is the usual onboard deposit. However, we did correct her and when Randal arrived he confirmed we were correct. Both of them were very nice.
We wandered across the room to chat with Andrew at his desk. We chatted about nothing worth repeating here. Mostly he wanted to know if we thought the way he did the recognition at the Crystal Society Party was acceptable. We assured him it was. Honestly, he is the most organized and coherent Crystal Society Host ever. He always seems to have accurate information and he handles things very efficiently.
Crystal Harmony will be sailing the scenic Inside Passage for the rest of today and tomorrow. So, it's like a sea day, except with ever-changing scenery passing by. It is possible to see enough of Alaska to get a feel for it without very setting foot on shore, so this really is a cruise for anyone.
The rest of our day was spent watching DVD's in the room. We will leave them with the ship when we go so they can show them on the crew channel. We gave up trying to do laundry because the machines are always busy, so we sent our laundry out. Our shipboard credits should easily cover it, so it's no big deal.
Tonight's dress code is Informal. We have an invitation for cocktails in the Captain's Quarters before dinner. We almost didn't go, but decided at the last minute that we had nothing better to do, so why not? The same people from our David dinner table were there, so at least we knew a few people. Also, Tor and Linda were there, so we had someone to talk to. The Captain's Quarters on the Harmony are in the front of the ship and have a glassed in porch overlooking the bow, complete with a hammock. Not bad.
We don't have a menu tonight, but the title was "California Dinner". We have no idea what the point was because nothing on the menu was even vaguely associated with anything Californian. We both had to order the always available steak to get anything we consider edible, if that tells you anything. Nothing we had was anything special, although the steaks were very tasty. However, the real drama was apparently in the galley.
Our meal took two hours from start to finish. At one point, it was exactly 25 minutes from when our plates were taken away until someone finally came and cleared the rest of the table and brought dessert menus. That was the second lull. There was a fifteen minute delay earlier. Eventually, the Hotel Director showed up and went into the galley. A little bit later, the Executive Chef from the office, who is on board for the reunion cruise, also came in and spoke to the maitre d'. All we could find out was that there was a traffic jam and, "much screaming." This is the second time there has been some sort of bottleneck in the kitchen that made dinner drag on all night. Ordinarily we don't mind a few small delays, but 25 minutes between courses was really pushing it. Frankly, we were bored silly about halfway through the meal and just wanted to get the heck out of the dining room.
The evening entertainment is an all-comedian version of the popular "Liar's Club". We're not all that fond of this activity because it is played as a game where the audience is arranged into teams. That just doesn't appeal to us. Generally, it is very hit and mess whether it is funny or painful to watch, but with the crop of comedians currently on board we would expect this to be one of the better presentations. Due to the lengthy dining experience tonight, we arrived just as the show started. We weren't interested in being on a team anyway, so it wasn't a problem for us. We're not sure if everyone stuck in the dining room felt the same way though.
The Liar's Club show is usually done during the pre-dinner hour or in the afternoon, but because of the all-star cast it is the evening's entertainment. Each comedian got up and did his own monologue that had nothing to do with the definition of the word he was supposed to explain. Most of the jokes were amusing to hilarious, but it dragged on way too long. The first word took 30 minutes to get to the voting by the audience. There were 38 teams, so taking the vote took forever. It would have been better under the circumstances to just vote by applause rather than keeping a real tally. It was all for fun anyway. They did three words, so it took until just before midnight to finish. Most of the material was pretty good, although a few of the jokes really pushed the envelope for cleanliness, even if they were funny. None of it offended us, but we're sure there were some who will complain.
We move the clocks forward one hour tonight. The ship started rocking a bit toward the end of the show, so we must have sailed into an open stretch of ocean tonight. It should be calm again during the Inside Passage sailing tomorrow though. The weather cleared up by sunset, but it still looked like there were some storm clouds looming in the distance.
We were told that the reason we had to leave port early today is that it is too far to Vancouver to make it on time if we stayed until 5:00 PM. However, we are now scheduled to arrive there at 10:00 AM rather than noon, so that explanation doesn't make much sense. It is more likely that the port was full of ships and we had to leave so another one could arrive after 1:00 PM.
Protected from the open sea by forested isles, sheltered from the windy mainland by the tallest coastal mountains in the world, this 1,000-mile waterway seems custom-made by nature for a cruise. The deep, calm waters of the passage meander between dense pine forests where wild game abounds, with occasional rustic towns along the way.
Today's weather is cloudy and rainy, so no outside activities or sitting outside. We slept long enough to simply wait for lunch time to emerge from the room. The ship is sailing the Inside Passage today, but the rainy weather isn't the best for gazing at the scenery.
Crystal's hyped up Grand Gala Buffet was held in the lobby during the lunch hours, so we went up to the Lido. Other guests seem to feel the same way we do about the buffet because the Lido was just as busy as it is on a normal day. Everything we had was very good, but not worth mentioning. There was a sushi bar added today that looked attractive and was quite popular.
After eating we wandered down to look for our Captain's Quarters photo, purchased that and ended up in the Vista Lounge. We don't even make the pretense of bringing a book or magazine anymore. We just sit there and stare out the window. If we even pretend to read we're falling asleep all over ourselves in about five seconds. It poured rain for about fifteen minutes while we were sitting there, but the windows were kept clear by a strong head wind.
We decided to get some accounting chores out of the way, so we went back to the room to fill out our gratuity form and Customs Declaration. We turned those in at the front desk, then went up to Captain's Choice to buy some jackets to use up our remaining shipboard credit. Even though they would have ended up being free, we couldn't bring ourselves to buy the $75.00 sweatshirts, so we bought fleece jackets for $49.95 and a Crystal Harmony windbreaker for $75.00.
With all of our duties taken care of, we ended up back in the room to watch more DVD's and/or nap for the rest of the afternoon. We did manage to venture out for some ice cream in the late afternoon when the water was sloshing out of the pool to entertain us.
Tonight's dress code is Informal. Mark Merchant has a show in the Club 2100 before dinner, but we weren't ready early enough to attend.
Appetizers Soup and Salad Pasta Special Salad Entree Main Fares Traditional Main Fares Vegetarian Selection Low-Carb Selection Dessert
Soup and Salad
Traditional Main Fares
We aren't big fans of Neptune's Dinner, but we did manage to find a few things to order. The chilled soup was outstanding. The salad was nothing special, although quite fresh. The portions served for the entree were microscopic, but everything tasted good. The shrimp was a bit tough and we find it hard to believe the beef was a filet, but it was all satisfactory. The sherbet was tasty. Dave asked for some assorted berries with whipped cream for dessert. Mile concocted it himself from some extremely tasty blueberries and raspberries.
Once again, dinner took the full two hours. This time the lulls were spaced out, so it wasn't quite as tedious as last night. The problem is in the kitchen, not with our waiter as far as we can tell. A table of four near us had a special order coming, but one man left before it arrived because it took so long. When it finally came it appeared to be lobster, which takes about five seconds to cook. When the food arrives it is very good and looks right, but something is obviously going wrong in the back to create delays like this.
We chatted briefly with Rade and Mile before we left so they would know we aren't holding the delays against them. Mile seemed quite frustrated by the whole thing, as he should be. After all, his income depends on good service and most guests can't differentiate between kitchen problems and server problems.
The evening entertainment is a variety show feature comedian Mike Neun and vocalist Michel Bell. We arrived seconds before the show began. The comedian was first and was very funny. He is sort of a folksy musician/comedian and does a good job at working in jokes about the cruise and such. We're fairly certain we have seen him before, but his material wasn't familiar to us. Michel Bell is famous as a Broadway vocalist in "Showboat" and others. His big showstopper is "Ol' Man River", which he does extremely well. We have seen him many times before and he is consistently good. Quite a few guests left soon after he started, but that could be that they have heard his act many times rather than a reflection on his talent.
We were informed that the ship will arrive at 10:00 AM tomorrow in Vancouver, two hours earlier than scheduled. The weather tonight is stormy with occasional rain showers and high wind. It is mildly rocky, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Prosperous and vibrant Vancouver is Canada's
third-largest city and British Columbia's most cosmopolitan center.
The weather today is sunny and warm, nearly perfect in every way. We slept in and started our day with lunch in the Lido, which was satisfactory, but nothing special. We were amused by a huge seagull who was politely begging at the table like a dog. He just stood there staring at us. Another bird came and grabbed food right off the table, but the polite one kept waiting. Some waiters fed him a few crackers, so he did get something for his patience.
After lunch we went up to the Sun Deck for our usual port photos. The enormous Island Princess is docked across from us and Holland America's Zaandam is behind us at the same dock. The Island Princess is easily larger than Crystal Harmony and the Zaandam combined.
We weren't very motivated to do anything today, so we dawdled around until after 2:00 PM before wandering ashore. The trek through the terminal took longer than our walk through town. It was amusing when the immigration officials thought we were crew and sent us into a special line to have our documents checked. We could tell he didn't believe us when we told him we weren't crew, but eventually we were directed to the proper lane to exit. We're shocked that still happens. We thought we were well past being mistaken for crew at this point.
All we intended to do was walk the length of the Gastown area and maybe browse in a few shops. The big attraction here is the Steam Clock, which we have seen before. A crowd was waiting for 3:00 PM to see what happens. The answer is "not much", so we didn't wait. The area in general has deteriorated since we were here last. There were more homeless people sleeping in doorways and begging from tourists than we saw in San Francisco.
We weren't interested in any of the shops, so we turned around and wandered back toward the port and Canada Place where the pier is located. This certainly has to be one of the best terminal facilities in the world. There is a hotel, an Imax theater, and a few restaurants and shops there also. We took a detour through a sunken fountain park area, then walked the length of the observation walkway at the terminal.
After returning to the ship, we went directly to the ice cream bar and sat outside to watch them set up for the deck party tonight. The staff had hung up patriotic bunting everywhere. In addition to the huge stuffed bear, now there were a piano and totem poles on the stage built atop the Neptune Pool. The two outdoor Jacuzzis by the Seahorse Pool were covered with wood today, also. The band was set up on the poolside stage. One side of the entry to the covered pool area is decorated like the entrance to a saloon, complete with swinging wooden doors and the aforementioned stuffed bear. They were spreading sawdust on the deck when we wandered by at 6:00 PM. There were old-time lanterns on the tables by the pool and large bowls of peanuts in the shell. We'd hate to be the ones who have to clean up after this thing.
We stayed outside watching the other ships sail away. First the Zaandam at 5:00 PM, then the Radiance of the Seas from an industrial port farther up the bay, and finally the Island Princess at 6:00 PM.
Tonight's dress code is Casual/Western. The entire evening revolves around the "Red Dog Saloon Cookout", Country Fair and Deck Show. From 6:30 PM - 9:00 PM is the Red Dog Saloon Cookout around the covered pool. From 8:15 PM to 9:30 PM there will be Country Fair Games of Chance and Dancing Under the Stars by the Seahorse Pool. Then, at 9:30 PM is Red Dog Showtime starring Jimmy Travis and "Reba", also by the Seahorse Pool.
Crystal certainly went all out with the decor for this event. They were a bit concerned that it might rain and announced that the show would be moved into the Galaxy Lounge in that event, but the weather cooperated fully. We ventured up to the Sun Deck for some photos just before they set out the food around the pool. The food lines are basically the same set up as they use for the themed lunch buffets, which are quite elaborate. Red, white and blue bunting was hung everywhere and it really was quite festive.
The entertainment staff were dressed as saloon girls and cowboys. They hosted games of chance during the evening that were quite popular. There was freshly made cotton candy being served in the same area. We waited until 7:30 PM to actually join the food line and by that time there were no guests to speak of getting their food. However, all of the tables inside and out by the pool were packed, so we had to take our food all the way to the aft deck outside of the Lido. That was actually a wise choice for us because it was quite noisy everywhere else.
There was a piano player on the stage over the inside pool with a singer joining in now and then. Outside, the ship's band was playing on the stage by the Seahorse pool, in addition to the games and whatnot going on out there.
Although the food looked impressive, we only found two entrees we were interested in, prime rib and a sort of individual chicken pot pie, plus mashed potatoes. Everything was very good, but we were surprised they weren't serving ribs and other traditional BBQ items since that was the theme. Most of the hot entrees and sides were ultra-fancy dishes that Crystal always serves. Very odd choices for this type of dinner, in our opinion. We had better luck with dessert.
Since most guests on the aft deck left soon after we arrived, we had a lengthy conversation with one of the Filipino deck stewards about what will happen to them when the ship leaves the fleet in November. He said that since the other two ships are fully staffed and the Filipinos rarely resign, he will have to wait until a slot opens up. None of them want to go to other cruise lines because NYK (Crystal's parent company) treats them so well. They get free medical for themselves and their family from a special hospital in the Philippines that not all cruise lines participate in.
Also, we heard the the Japanese are keeping the Prego restaurant while expanding the Kyoto restaurant and the Lido. The hamburger grill will change to a sushi bar and the indoor pool with be replaced with hot tubs. We asked whether the main dining room on the Asuka, NYK's current Japanese ship, serves and were told that it is Japanese food. The only cutlery is chopsticks. We weren't sure why they would need the Kyoto restaurant if they serve Japanese food in the main restaurant, but there is probably more to it than we know.
We went up to the Sun Deck to watch the poolside entertainment from above. All of the available seats on the deck were taken.
Ron, the Cruise Director, opened the show that features the ship's band, Jimmy Travis, and "Reba", an incredible look-alike who had everyone fooled. In fact, it was never officially revealed that she was an imposter and many guests fully believed she was the real thing. People from the terminal were yelling over to the ship asking if that was Reba McIntire, that's how good she was. We do think they should have made an announcement to reveal the truth at some point, but that was never done. Guests were still talking about seeing the real thing and what a treat it was long after the show was over.
In addition to the poolside entertainment, there was a Sawdust Comedy Hour starring Mike Goddard in the Club 2100 at 10:45 PM. Mike was hysterical and the room was jammed to standing room only. They should have held this show in the Galaxy Lounge, in our opinion. One of the amusing jokes came toward the end when he said, "What time is it? I have to go soon because I have to take my Viagra before bed. No, really, it's not what you think. It's for the gout. It's no laughing matter, gout is very painful! I have to take my Viagra before going to bed, you know? It keeps the sheets from touching my big toe."
Back at the room, we received confirmation of our reservation for the supposedly sold out final voyage on Crystal Harmony. We also received our disembarkation tags and information. They are still awaiting information on immigration procedures for San Francisco, but we're sure we'll have to get up at the crack of dawn to comply.
Discovered by Captain Cook over two centuries ago, the
lovely city of Victoria has successfully nurtured its English ambiance and
heritage. Wonderful legacies are preserved with bright-red, double-decker buses
and the delicious tradition of high tea.
As one of the comedians said last night, "Enjoy your 23 minutes in Victoria," which to us meant, "Go ahead and sleep in and forget you were ever there." Too bad, because this is a very attractive city worth wandering around in, at the very least. Oh well, maybe next time. The weather today is cool, but mostly sunny. The wind is quite cold, but it was easy enough to stay comfortable.
We killed time until lunch by taking a few port photos (Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo3), then went down to check the Crystal Dining Room menu. However, we had forgotten that there was a Jazz Brunch scheduled there today, so up to the Lido we went. There were as many guests in the Lido as usual, but there was also a line at the brunch buffet, so it was reasonably popular. Our lunch was uneventful and pleasant sitting on the aft deck. When it got crowded with dippy conversations at every turn, we wandered down to look at the lobby buffet.
The buffet looked nice for a change, lots of "real" food like Eggs Benedict, among many other things. Even at 1:00 PM there was a string of people in the line. Point is, it was a popular choice and, in our opinion, better than the Grand Gala Buffet.
Sailing was scheduled for 1:00 PM, so we went up to the Sun Deck to watch the proceedings. The gangway was still out at sailing time when the last tour bus finally pulled up. The guests were rushed back on board and off we went. We finally got back to hearing the sail-away music today after having it banned in Alaskan towns. Apparently they find shipboard announcements and music more offensive than the deafening roar of the seaplanes taking off every five minutes.
Standing out on deck killed enough time to bring us back to our usual schedule of doing nothing except hiding in the room watching videos. We're trying to finish them so we can turn them over to the staff for the crew channel, as we usually do.
Tonight's dress code is Formal for the Captain's Farewell Cocktail Party. The Captain who started the cruise left yesterday, so there is a different Captain saying goodbye to the guests tonight. We arrived about fifteen minutes into the party, but the speeches hadn't yet started. As usual, we went straight to the Vista Lounge where we could hear, but not actually participate in the evening. There were brief, appropriate, words by Ron, Thomas Mazloum, Gregg Michel, and the Captain. We have never sailed with this particular Captain before, but he seems as though he would be a good time. Nothing unusual happened at the party, so no news to report there.
We have a dinner reservation in Kyoto again tonight. We'll do anything to avoid the Baked Alaska Parade for the umpteenth time. It was bad enough the first time, let along the 40th.
Seared and Thinly Sliced Prime Beef Tenderloin, Garnished with Spicy Daikon & Onion Salad, Lemon-Soy Sauce
Skewers of Grilled Japanese-Style Chicken and Shitake Mushrooms with Spring Onions Brushed with Soy-Mirin Sauce
Sashimi Salads Sushi House Special Roll Soba and Udon KYOTO SIGNATURE OBON TRAY MAIN DISHES DESSERTS
House Special Roll
As usual, everything was outstanding. As you can see, we each ordered two appetizers and three entrees. Much to our waiter's dismay, we asked that all of the entrees be delivered at once, which he did. The entire table was full of food, but it was in reasonable portions and we finished every bit of it. The chef came out to see how we were doing and we assured him that his food is the best of the three ships Asian restaurants. We'll miss Kyoto when the Harmony is gone.
Both alternative restaurants were nearly empty tonight, although Kyoto had more business than Prego for the late seating. We don't go to Prego anymore unless we have to. There is nothing specific wrong with it, but we're tired of the menu.
We stopped by the room on the way to the show and found "Farewell Season" pins and chocolate dipped strawberries waiting for us. The strawberries are a treat they used to leave in the rooms on every formal night. We can't remember the last time it was done though. It must be several years, at least.
The evening entertainment is the production show "Curtain Call". Nearly everyone collapses in rapture over this show, but we still find parts of it somewhat annoying. We don't hate it and the performance and staging are quite good, but we dislike having the order of songs in famous musicals rearranged. Also, the rock "Mama Mia" finale is inappropriate for Crystal's general clientele. We looked and around the room during this section and would judge that half of the audience absolutely loved it and the other half was appalled by it. We don't find it objectionable, just an odd choice for a group of senior citizens. It does seem to get a good response for the most part, so maybe it isn't too daring.
Although it was very cloudy tonight, there is no unusual motion tonight. It is, however, very cold outside, probably in the low 50's.
The weather certainly did cooperate to make the final day of the cruise a beautiful one. There was an American Classic buffet at the pool today. Ordinarily, we skip the buffets, but the dining room didn't have anything that appealed to us on the menu, so we went upstairs.
Now we know why the Red Dog Saloon buffet didn't have any traditional BBQ items included. They were all on today's buffet. Ribs, steaks, cajun chicken, baked beans, corn on the cob, etc., all were featured. We had no problems filling our plates and finding a table outside in the shade. The band was performing on the Seahorse Pool stage for the first time this cruise that we are aware of.
The food was above average plus a few very strange concoctions. The carrot and raisin salad was dry, no dressing at all, as was the fried chicken salad that was simply cold popcorn chicken. Most of what we had was at least edible, with a few things, especially from the grill, excellent. By the time we had started eating, all of the tables were jammed and people were wandering around looking for seats. We'd guess there were tables available in the Lido, but since the weather was so nice everyone wanted to be outside.
We stayed outside until 1:30 PM when the band finished, then went down to talk to Victor, the maitre d', about seating arrangements for our upcoming cruises. We were happy to be by the window during this cruise because there was something to look at. However, it was way too noisy because all of the large tables are directly adjacent to the window tables of two. So, we asked for our usual location around the inside circle. He was appalled that we wanted one of those tables, but he did say he would take care of it. We chatted with Victor for a few minutes, then went up to the room to pack, fill out the QAP forms, etc.
Our immigration inspection is scheduled for 6:30 - 7:15 AM tomorrow morning. They delivered cards with numbers on them that correspond to our appointment. The rules are to listen to channel 33 for your number to be called before going to the lounge to be paraded by the U.S. officers. The whole process is a total joke and a complete waste of taxpayer's money, but such is life these days. Early this morning a coast guard helicopter buzzed the ship to be sure we weren't invading the country or something.
Tonight's dress code is Casual.
The evening entertainment was held before dinner at 7:30 PM so everyone could get to bed early, finish packing, or whatever. The show is titled "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries" and features Michel Bell, Mike Goddard, Mike Neun, Jimmy Travis, Gary Hunter, Mark Merchant, and a special farewell by the Crystal Ensemble of Singers and Dancers. Anything is better than the usual farewell show. However, tonight's show stood on its own as a nice conclusion. All of the performers mentioned did a short act, then the ensemble closed the show with a nice number.
Everyone arrived at dinner late, mostly because all of the public restrooms had lines out the door after the show. We took a detour by the room instead and arrived at the dining room around 8:50 PM. Our food came out promptly tonight, probably because there were many large tables that were empty. Nothing we ordered was worth talking about, but everything was edible. We chatted with Rade for a few minutes on the way out. He is much more friendly than Mile, so we hope to see him again in the future.
There was a cruise countdown held in the lobby after dinner. They did this at the end of a World Cruise and it was a nice occasion. This time, they handed out Mardi Gras beads to anyone who wanted them, although we did ask if we had to do any favors to get them. Guests on the upper level received streamers to throw down and free champagne was dispensed. We chatted briefly with Harry before the final countdown.
The Galaxy orchestra was playing in the lobby during the party. After brief speeches by Ron and David, they counted down and shot off a confetti cannon filled with sparkling metallic paper. It was quite festive and a good way to end this special cruise.
On the way up to the room, we ran into David in the library, so we stopped to chat with him and say our goodbyes. He really does seem to be a very nice person and it was a pleasure to get to know him a bit better now that he is retired. He wants to come on the final cruise also, but since it is completely sold out he isn't sure that is possible at this point. Crystal really should make arrangements for him to be here to really complete the full circle.
After dragging our luggage into the hallway, we finished up and got into bed as fast as possible. Since we have to get up in less than five hours, there isn't really much point in going to bed at all, but such is life on the last night of a cruise.
During dinner we noticed that the waves outside were much higher than they have been. Although there is a bit of rocking, the ship is going so fast that there is minimal movement. It also helped that the ship is heading into the wind rather than being buffeted from side to side. We expected parts of this cruise to be very rough, but so far that hasn't been an issue at all.
As usual for the final night, we got very little sleep. Anticipating the inevitable 6:00 AM wake up alarm is enough to keep both of us awake all night, in spite of the rocking of the ship.
Our immigration inspection was scheduled for 6:30 AM - 7:15 AM, so we did as instructed and waited for the announcement of our number. Apparently, the system didn't quite work because they were re-calling numbers all morning. If it is impossible for most guests to figure out which deck the Lido is on after twelve days, how can they possibly figure out this morning's rules?
When we were called, we went down to the Club 2100 to walk past (literally, that's all there was to it) the immigration officers. They weren't even sitting at tables this time, just standing there looking at identification. Maybe someday we'll figure out the point of all of this. It sure would make life easier if they would stand by the gangway and do the "inspection" as guests are disembarking.
From the inspection we went directly up to the Lido for breakfast, our first and only breakfast on board. There was a nice array of breakfast items on the buffet including cooked to order waffles and eggs. All of the Lido tables were occupied, so they were putting people outside and in the Prego restaurant. We were in Prego, which was fine with us. Everything was tasty, including the pastries that are usually fairly nondescript.
After eating we had over an hour to kill before disembarking, so we went back to the room to finish up. Maria wanted to change the bed, so we let her do that and chatted with her a bit. Then we just sat there until our appointed time of 9:30 AM to appear at the Galaxy Lounge.
On the way to the lounge we ran into two Crystal "Centurions", guests with over 100 cruises. We know both of them quite well, so we stayed and chatted for a few minutes to catch up on things. It appears to have been quite some time since any of them have been on the Harmony. Both of them said the Symphony is their favorite ship, but they, "have gotten used to," the Serenity.
We wandered down to the lounge to see if our number had already been called, which it had. It didn't really matter when we left since we didn't have any arrangements that were time sensitive. The line was a bit long, but moved quickly once the parade of wheelchairs made it down the gangway. Crystal always does a very nice job of spacing out the disembarkation to avoid congestion and this was no exception. We particularly appreciate being able to stay in the stateroom until just before leaving.
In the terminal, we ran into Harry who was directing traffic. Since we had waited a few minutes after our number was called, our luggage was easy to spot sitting nearly alone in our section. Luckily, we had bought a new rolling suitcase that has attachments for smaller bags. That made it quite easy to roll everything outside to the sidewalk, which was quite a distance from the luggage claim area. No porter required.
There were multitudes of Crystal representatives putting people in taxis and generally directing traffic outside of the terminal. Two lanes of traffic were blocked off to make it easier for taxis to line up while leaving space for private cars to pick people up. It couldn't have been any easier or any better organized.
Bill went to retrieve the car from the garage about a block away while Dave waited with the pile of luggage outside the terminal. Getting the car back was no problem and there was plenty of room at the curb to take a few minutes to cram everything back into the car to begin the trip back down the coast.
Our first destination was Monterey, about a two-hour drive away. After making a convoluted stop for gas along the way, the rest of the drive was uneventful, with no traffic to speak of.
Once we arrived in Monterey, we took a few wrong turns and missed the hotel. However, that was easily resolved in a small town like this. The Monterey Bay Inn is directly adjacent to the huge Monterey Plaza Hotel where we stayed last time. We decided not to stay there again based on the high price and the fact that we found the service a tad stuffy to suit us. The inn doesn't look like much on the outside other than a concrete block, but inside it is very attractive and upscale. Parking is convenient, directly under the hotel. The inn has only four floors, so it is small enough to be intimate while being a step above a bed and breakfast.
Although we arrived at just after noon, our room was ready and the friendly desk agent gave us our key. Our rate, $239.00, included a two-day pass to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for just $15.00 more than the basic rate. We had requested an ocean/coastal view at the AAA rate, which is what we got. However, we could certainly consider this view to be a full ocean view in anyone's book. There is also an attractive little park with a fountain right outside the sliding glass doors.
The room itself is stunning and very luxurious. The bathroom rivals anything in a private home. Granite counters, double sinks, a separate room for the toilet, dimmable lighting, etc., grace the room. A free continental breakfast is included and will be delivered to the room at the time specified on a door-hanger we have to put out before midnight. The hotel also offers high-speed wireless internet in the rooms for $10.00 a day, which seems to be the going rate, so far. Well, other than being free, that is. It is odd that the higher the room rate, the less likely it is that the internet service is provided free of charge.
We decided we desperately needed to nap, so we hauled ourselves into the extraordinarily plush bed. The abundance of pillows and fabrics looked like something out of a design magazine. There is a down comforter and a very plush mattress topper that is so comfortable we probably won't want to get out of bed. Unfortunately, although there is no need for cooling today, there is no air conditioning here or elsewhere in Monterey. The downside of that is that there is no white noise of the blower to drown out other sounds. And, this is a very noisy place! People walking above, below, on the decks, moving furniture around, slamming doors, driving by, screaming on the beach, in addition to the waves crashing, fountain splashing, and seagulls squawking. It probably won't bother us at night, but it certainly prevented any meaningful napping.
However, the comfort of the bed did make for a bit of rest before we got up and opened the shutters again. We didn't do much for the rest of the afternoon except watch TV and stare at the view. That's exactly what we had planned to do today, so it worked out just fine, didn't it?
Even lazy-asses need nourishment, so we did manage to drag ourselves out to dinner at a nearby El Torito. We always crave Mexican food after a Crystal Cruise. We can only handle so much fancy stuff. Two weeks is certainly enough. We were very happy with our meal at the restaurant. We thought it was farther from the hotel than it was, so at first we drove down the street. It was so ridiculously close that we brought the car back to the hotel and walked to the restaurant.
With a ton of food to fill us up for just $42.00, including tax, we went back to the room for an evening of watching reality shows on TV.
With the constant racket around here, there was little trouble getting up early enough for our complimentary breakfast delivery. Our food was delivered at the time we requested and was nicely presented. There was a plate of fresh fruit, a bagel with cream cheese, a hunk of banana nut bread, orange juice, and tea. Everything was outstanding.
After we finished eating, we put ourselves together and started off for the short walk to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We didn't stop in any shops on the way because we didn't want to carry any bags with us. We thought we would shop on the way back to the hotel.
There were throngs of people heading to the aquarium at 11:30 AM. We had the passes from the hotel and had been told to go directly to the "Member's Entrance" rather than waiting in line. We did that and had no wait to get in at all. The woman stamped our hands, although we're not sure why. We can come back tomorrow also, if we choose, but we don't see any reason to do that.
Using the member's entrance put us in the new section of the aquarium housing an amazing jellyfish display that can't be seen anywhere else. Adjacent to that is an incredibly well done shark exhibit with loads of information, history, etc. All of the material was presented in very creative ways. We were impressed with everything we saw throughout our stay. There really is something for everyone, although most of the children seemed more interested in pushing the buttons rather than looking at what they were activating when doing so.
The shark and jellyfish wing wasn't terribly crowded, but as soon as we crossed the bridge into the main part of the aquarium it was jam packed. The original kelp forest display is still impressive. We wound our way through the displays, taking a few pictures along the way. The extremely popular sea otter exhibit in the center of the complex was thronged with people waiting for the afternoon feeding frenzy.
The aquarium is beautiful inside and out. The views from the outdoor patios are stunning. Wildlife comes right up to the water's edge. The nearby rocks were filled with sea lions and birds. Today's weather turned sunny in the mid afternoon, but became overcast again as the day wore on. We were tired and fed up with the crowds at the aquarium by 1:30 PM. We saw everything we wanted to see and the screaming children and general chaos finally got to us.
Back outside, we wandered up and down Cannery Row looking in a few shops, all of which sold the same tacky tourist crap. We recall that there were more galleries and nicer stores in the past, but there certainly wasn't anything interesting to us now.
We only entered a couple of shops, but didn't buy anything. Every time we passed Louie Linguini's Restaurant we were offered a sample of clam chowder, so we eventually decided to stop there for lunch. On the way in the guy giving out samples gave us a coupon for a free cup of soup, but we didn't order it. Instead, we both ordered pasta dishes that were very good and reasonably priced for the area. Another place where we checked a menu had cheeseburgers for $12.95! Our entire meal of more pasta than we could eat was only $32.00, including tax. All of the restaurants up and down the street were packed, but we only had to wait about five minutes for a table.
The streets were being marked with "No Parking" signs for July 9th. We didn't know why until we looked up a local activities guide and saw that there is some sort of boat landing reenactment going on that day.
After lunch we browsed in a few more shops before wandering back to the hotel. We walked down to the small beach park just beyond our hotel for a few more photos. The park and small beach are quite nice actually. As mentioned previously, there is an attractive fountain that our room overlooks. In the hotel photo taken from the beach, our room is on the third floor toward the right end and next to the room with the semi-enclosed balcony. If we were to stay here in the future, we would insist on a room directly facing the ocean to avoid the noise from the beach and the street. The rooms and amenities here are outstanding, but the noise level is ridiculous.
We promptly crashed in the room where we stayed until time to forage for dinner. Well, food anyway...sort of. Both of us were still full from the pasta this afternoon, so we walked back to the Ghiardelli Ice Cream Parlor and had sundaes for dinner. This "restaurant" has to have one of the most incoherent systems we have ever seen, but once we placed our order it did come up quickly. They had a line almost out the door the entire time we were there and at the prices they charge, they have to be rolling in cash.
Although we did briefly browse a small bakery nearby, we decided that the free hotel breakfast was enough to get us going in the morning and passed on buying anything. We were surprised at how many people were out walking around considering that there really is nothing to do along Cannery Row at night. OK, there is one nightclub with blaring music, but that's pretty much it. Over half of the shops closed at 6:00 PM. Only the tackiest trinket shops and candy shops were open after 8:00 PM. Our big thrill for the night was watching people shoot off their leftover 4th of July fireworks on the beach below the hotel.
Our tentative plan for tomorrow is to drive to Cambria and perhaps spend the night. However, we will wing it as far as hotels go, so everything is subject to change depending on our mood at the moment.
We became somewhat accustomed to the noise level at this location and slept better than the night before. Breakfast was delivered a bit earlier than the time we expected, but we were ready anyway. The breakfast bread served today was a crumb cake with apple filling which was as outstanding as yesterday's selection. All we did after eating was kill time until check-out time at noon.
The front desk agent at check-out was incredibly friendly. We would probably stay at this hotel in the future if we could get a room overlooking the water directly. The hotel itself is great, but noise from the street was unpleasant even though it was a distance away.
Our travel out of Monterey was a bit convoluted and took us through Pacific Grove. We almost took the 17 Mile Drive again due to a wrong turn, but the $8.50 admission made us turn around and find the way to highway 1 instead. The drive along the coast on route 1 is winding, but is one of the most beautiful in the state. The scenery is unbelievable. We saw a lot of evidence of recent landslides along the way where whole sections of the hillside had fallen onto the road. It had all been cleaned up by now, so it wasn't an issue for us.
We expected the drive to take about two hours, but we didn't arrive in Cambria until 3:00 PM. There was a brief stop at one point when traffic came to a halt and everyone got out of their cars. Luckily it was at a point of spectacular scenery, so it was too awful. When people started parking in the road and getting out we feared that the delay would be lengthy, but it probably wasn't more than about fifteen minutes. The drive took longer only because of the twisty road, not traffic.
Upon arrival in Cambria, we almost missed the turn because we were busy gawking at shops along the way. We turned off at Moonstone Road where the hotels are located. Most of them are variations on bed and breakfast inns or small, old motor inns. The majority of them have been remodeled nicely. We didn't have an advance reservation, preferring instead to see the inns first hand before choosing one.
First we drove into the small town of Cambria to see where the shops and restaurants were in relation to the hotel strip. Back on Moonstone Road, we started driving along checking out the hotels. We had decided upon three candidates based on TripAdvisor reviews: Best Western Fireside Inn, Sea Otter Inn, and Pelican Suites. Based solely on driving by them, the Pelican Suites appeared to be the nicest of the three, so we stopped in there first. The other two were side by side and looked nearly identical.
When we went in to ask if the Pelican Suites had any rooms for tonight, the staff went out of their way to be helpful. One woman insisted on showing us an ocean front room saying it was her favorite. It directly faces the ocean across the street. Without being asked, she gave us a $100 discount saying that since we were walk-ins she would give us a deal. We knew from checking the internet that the ocean front rooms cost $340 a night, so the $240 price was a good deal at this time of year. We didn't bother looking elsewhere and took her offer.
After agreeing to take the room for the night, she showed us the room where they serve complimentary breakfast in the morning, a dessert buffet in the evening, and wine and cheese in the afternoon. She kept asking us to help ourselves while she filled out the registration information, but we weren't interested at the time. However, she certainly was hospitable about everything. She told us they had just taken over management of the adjacent inn, so the name of the combined property will change to Pelican Cove Inn in the future. We were amused when she said, "Don't worry, those people won't be over here." We're not sure if she meant the staff or the guests, but either way everyone was amused by it.
Once we checked in and carried our stuff to the room, we checked out the view and other niceties in the room. The room is huge with a sunken living room area complete with fireplace. The king bed is a four-poster. We're happy to see two ceiling fans, as well. There is a bar area with a microwave, refrigerator and complimentary coffee, tea and bottled water. The woman who checked us in said several times to be sure to tell them if there is anything they can do to make us more comfortable. So far, so good.
After settling in, we debated a bit about whether to stay here for two nights and then drive to Ventura. Ultimately, we decided we liked this place enough to stay another day, so we went to the office to see if we can extend. The woman at the desk said, "I hope so," when we asked. And, yes, we can stay another night.
Then, we drove the few minutes to town to check out the Seekers Glass Gallery, among other artistic shops. Although we had no intention of buying any more glass objects, we couldn't resist and did purchase a couple of unique items. We had a nice chat with the saleswoman, who insisted she would wrap everything up while we browsed some other shops or had dinner. Although we did look in a few shops nearby, we didn't buy anything. There are, however, a number of shops that have interesting enough merchandise that just looking is enough of an activity.
After picking up our packed items, we looked at some restaurant menus that had been recommended by the woman at the hotel. We decided to drive up the street a bit to look in a large garden shop that seemed interesting. The journal left in the hotel room had an entry by a recent guest recommending Chenoa restaurant, which was next door. It is billed as "Progressive American" cuisine, so we thought it might be a lot of weird stuff, but it turned out to be an outstanding meal all the way around. The soup, salad and appetizer were all incredible. However, the Pecan Encrusted Halibut was unbelievable. It was the best meal we have had so far this trip and we have had some good ones. Just when we thought the meal couldn't get any better, we ordered desserts and they were just as incredible. Too bad we were one of only three parties in the restaurant the entire time.
We drove back to the hotel to make calls home and watch TV after that. A line of parked cars had appeared along the beach waiting for the sunset. Since it was a cloudless day, the sunset wasn't anything thrilling, although the beach walk did look inviting. We'll probably do that tomorrow sometime.
Our plan for tomorrow is to go back into town and check out a few more shops that looked interesting.
Although we were awakened at 5:30 AM by an errant alarm clock set by the previous guest, we didn't stumble out for breakfast until 9:30 AM. We didn't have far to go, maybe fifty feet, if that, back to the lobby for our included breakfast buffet.
Upon arrival, the cook greeted us and explained what all of the hot dishes were. In two large chafing dishes he had prepared a scrambled egg dish with tortillas and tomatoes, French toast, potatoes with green peppers, and sliced ham. There was a station featuring cereals, granola, yogurt, and various toppings, plus a table where guests could make their own waffles. Pre-measured cups of batter were set out along with strawberries and sliced melon. There was also a plate of homemade pastries. Everything was very good and nicely presented. The dining room looks sort of like a French cafe with linen-covered cafe tables and a fireplace on one wall. It couldn't be much nicer for something included with the room.
After filling up on the free food, we drove to what we expected would be an interesting exotic plant nursery. We didn't even get out of the car. What a dump! So, we continued on into Cambria, only a few minutes away, to more fully explore the west village. Luckily we arrived before the tour busses disgorged throngs of seniors into the shops.
Most of the shops sold merchandise we wouldn't buy on a bet, but we did find a few interesting things created by local artists and at very reasonable prices. We also explored the east village sections we had skipped yesterday, also buying a couple of small items and garden decorations. We had a pleasant conversation with a woman running an Indonesian wood carving shop. She said she was originally from Indonesia, so she likes to go back and purchase merchandise from the local people. Whenever she and her husband show up the people are thrilled because they buy enough to support the village for a year. She had some interesting items, but they were too large for us to haul home with us. Her prices were very low for how well made the pieces were and we wished we could have bought a couple of things. Maybe next time if we don't have a car full of cruise luggage to haul, too.
We had to park along the main street a bit of a distance from the shops, so we were tired of walking by the time we finished the last store of the day. The woman there was also quite friendly and explained that the wind chimes we bought would last forever because of the way they are assembled. A local artist has been making them for "decades" and she has people come back years later saying the chimes are still in perfect condition. Sounds good to us.
As we drove back through the east village and stopped for gas, we certainly were glad we were done for the day. The streets were packed with tourists and every parking space was taken. That was made even worse by a farmer's market that was being held nearby from 2:30 - 5:30 PM this afternoon.
Back at the room by 2:00 PM, we promptly crashed due to the early morning wake up today. Today's weather is absolute perfection with no fog and not a cloud in the sky. Even so, the temperature has been in the high sixties, although it feels warmer in the sun. It is great for walking around, not to mention gawking at the ocean view from our room.
Eventually we revived enough to force ourselves to go out for dinner. We set out walking along the boardwalk across the street from the inn. The Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill is located about midway between each end of Moonstone Beach, about three city blocks from our location at the southern end. It seems as though everyone comes out around sunset to walk along the boardwalk and on the sand. There were some huge driftwood shelters erected on the beach where people were taking pictures and climbing around. Our walk was only a few pleasant minutes and we were at the restaurant.
Everyone seemed to be migrating toward the restaurant. It has a large outdoor patio facing the ocean, plus indoor seating. It is a bit chilly tonight, but not freezing. When we gave our name to the hostess, she said it would be a 15-20 minute wait, but since we didn't care whether we sat inside or out, it ended up being less than five minutes.
We were seated outside, but they have heating vents in the floor that send warm air up under the tables. It was very comfortable the entire time. There was a narrow table built into the front railing of the patio where people sat facing the sea and a persistent seagull who would pounce the moment anyone stood up. Or, in some cases, before they left. The restaurant brings out spray bottles of water for guests to use to keep the gulls away.
Once again, we had an outstanding meal. Both of our interesting salads were tasty and unusual. Our entrees, a "petit" filet with BBQ shrimps, was also outstanding and HUGE. The meat was as big as our hand and an inch thick, wrapped in bacon. Eight large, grilled shrimp completed the entree that was accompanied by rice pilaf and steamed vegetables topped with parmesan cheese. The dessert of vanilla ice cream topped with mixed berries sautéed in Grand Marnier was less successful, but edible.
After dinner we strolled back to the hotel along the boardwalk. By this time sunset had finally passed. The crowd gathered at the parking area for the sunset must have been disappointed because, as last night, it was nothing to write home about. Clear skies make for boring sunsets.
Again ensconced in our suite, we decided to make definite reservations for our overnight in Ventura tomorrow. Being a Saturday we didn't think it would be wise to wing it like we did here. From the time we left for dinner until two hours later, the Sheraton we had originally chosen was sold out. So, we switched to the Marriott Ventura Beach instead. Judging by our experience at the San Francisco Sheraton, this might have been a wise choice.
This morning in Cambria was quite foggy and stayed that way until we drove inland. We had the free breakfast again, which was a different selection of hot dishes. The scrambled egg dish today had cheese, tomatoes and onions mixed in it. The chef described the other selection as Eggs Benedict, but it was Eggs Florentine. The meat today was bacon. There were potatoes again, but we didn't notice what kind they were. Everything else was the same and quite good.
After eating and packing up, we checked out with the extraordinarily gracious desk clerk and hit the road for Ventura. Whenever we would get near the coast it would be foggy, but just a mile inland was completely clear. The scenery going south was just as impressive as on the way up, with no traffic to speak of. There was quite a bit of traffic going south after we passed through Santa Barbara, but it didn't affect us. The drive took just over two hours, as expected. We would have arrived at the hotel around 1:30 PM, but the directions from the Marriott website were inaccurate, so we passed the correct turnoff and had to make our way back a few miles.
The hotel looked nicer on the outside than we expected in a modern, airport sort of way. It appears that the entire hotel has been recently renovated to make it a bit less stark. The lobby area is one of those big 80's-style atrium that was probably a sterile white when it was built. Now, there is a lot of colorful furnishing and art around to make it more interesting. Check in was prompt and friendly even though we arrived several hours before check in time.
The desk agent instructed us to park around the side of the hotel and come in that way to be closer to our room, so we did that. We are at the very back of the hotel on the ground floor. That isn't a big deal since none of the rooms have much of a view anyway. In fact, very few of them even have balconies at all. Apparently, our room is handicapped accessible because the doors open outward and the bathroom tub/shower is equipped with more grab bars than in a hospital.
Although the room is newly decorated and tasteful, it has a very sterile feel to it. The bathroom is particularly stark, but everything works. The maid thoughtfully left the previous guest's soap in the shower for us. Just like home.
While we were lying around semi-napping, we started to hear dogs barking. Eventually, we realized that they were in the hotel, not outside. Since we can hear everything from the hallway as though they are in the room with us, it was quite disturbing. We heard a conversation between a couple that informed us that there is a dog show at the local fairgrounds, so that explains the dogs in the hotel.
Eventually, we wandered to the central courtyard where there is a waterfall and the pool. That area is relatively attractive and we probably would have had a better impression of the hotel if we had come through there to get to our room in the first place. We kept running into people in the hallways with dogs. Not one or two, but every few feet there would be another one. Down one corridor it sounded like a kennel with all of the howling and barking going on.
In the lobby we asked the concierge for some local information and she deluged us with information. Boiling it down, she said to go to the harbor village for dinner and shopping, so we did. The drive was only about two miles. The Four Points Sheraton where we originally intended to stay is directly adjacent to the harbor and seemed nice from the outside. However, there really wouldn't have been any advantage to staying there, as it turned out.
We looked in a few shops, realizing that most of them were absolute dumps with everything covered in dust. None of the restaurants were appealing and most looked a bit grungy to boot. The view of the harbor was attractive and walking along the docks was pleasant, but that only killed a few minutes. We decided very quickly that going back to the hotel for dinner was a wise idea, so back we went.
We did keep going past the hotel down Harbor Blvd., just to see what was along the beachfront. Not much actually. There is a high rise Holiday Inn under renovation to a Crowne Plaza Hotel that is right on the water, but that's about it. Everything else looked as though it had seen better days, fifty years ago. We ended up at the fairgrounds where the dog show would be held. The parking lot and nearby park were filled with campers and hundreds of dogs, so we know they aren't all staying at the Marriott.
Back at the hotel, we went to the hotel's restaurant, Cafe Pacifica, for dinner and were seated immediately. The restaurant is attractive enough, but has the same airport look as the rest of the hotel. The food is described as Mexican Fusion, so there were a few Mexican items, such as Chicken Flautas for an appetizer, tortilla soup, etc. We enjoyed everything we had including the unusual sounding chili chicken ravioli with cilantro pesto sauce that was outstanding. Our waited said that the hotel is always pet friendly and dogs are allowed everywhere except in the restaurant. Then he added that if we wanted to eat with our dog they would be happy to set up one of the tables on the outside patio and serve us there. Yes, he was serious.
On the way back to the room we couldn't believe how noisy all of the dogs were! It was constant barking and howling all the way down the corridor, which was quite a walk. We're sure this is unusual because this doesn't look like the type of hotel where every room would be full of dogs.
Once back in the room we declared ourselves done for the day and spent the rest of the night watching TV and updating the site.
Breakfast at the hotel was interesting and outstanding. The breakfast buffet was tempting, but we were more in the mood to be served from the menu, in spite of urgings by the beyond friendly waitress. The breakfast quesadilla was wonderful, as were the pancakes that were not only huge, but the best we have had in years. The crunchy French toast was a low-cholesterol selection, but it sounded interesting enough to order on its own, which it most definitely was. The waitress decided we hadn't had enough food and brought out a free bowl of fruit from the buffet.
Although we probably wouldn't stop in Ventura again, if we did we might stay at the Marriott again. We would inquire in advance about groups staying there, however. the dogs turned out not to be noisy at night, so that wasn't a big deal. But, we heard the waitress say that they had had problems last week with a hard rock band staying there who disrupted the place until 4:00 AM. The hotel ended up refunding other guests' money. This is obviously a hotel suited to large groups or meetings, rather than vacationers. The staff was uniformly pleasant and friendly with each one of them greeting us in the hallway as they passed. In that regard, it couldn't be better.
We set off toward home a little before noon and had no traffic until the merge from the 101 to the 405 freeway. From there until the airport, it was bumper to bumper, which added an hour to our travel time. We made a pit stop at our house in Laguna NIguel, then continued another hour south to Bonsall. The total driving time was about three hours, not great, but not terrible either.
Our trip up and down the coast, stopping at cities we rarely, if ever, visit, was a highlight of the trip. We most enjoyed Santa Barbara and Cambria because of the cities and the lovely hotels we stayed in. The least favorites were San Luis Obispo and Ventura, both of which lacked interest for either of us except as a place to stay over night. There are better areas we would choose next time around.
We felt that Crystal did a great job with the extras for the 15th Reunion on Crystal Harmony. It was fun to see the original cruise director again, as well as entertainers who have been around forever. There were way more entertainment options on this cruise than usual, which was a plus considering the cruise was sold at a discount to begin with.
The food on Crystal Harmony remains better than the other two ships, by far. Unfortunately, after staying in a regular stateroom, we can see why it is necessary to transfer the ship out of Crystal's fleet in order to compete in the luxury market at Crystal's prices. The bathroom was microscopic, although we did get used to it after the initial shock. We would book another cruise in that category, no question. The ship is clean and in good repair. And, the public rooms are on a par with either of the newer ships and in some cases, better.
It will be interesting to see what has happened on board by the time we return in a few months for the Mexico season and especially for the final cruise for Crystal Harmony in November, 2005. Stay tuned!
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