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Age: 63

Occupation:High School Teacher

Number of Cruises: Around 20

Cruise Line: Crystal

Ship: Crystal Harmony

Sailing Date: NOT FOUND

Itinerary: Alaska

My traveling companion, Bodil, and I have both taken several cruises of different types. We decided to see if there really was a significant difference between a more expensive luxury cruise and our usual mass market variety. This Crystal Harmony cruise was a good way to test this out. We found that although the architectural layouts of the ships are fairly similar, the big difference is in the service and the attitude of the staff and crew. In their two months of training the crew receives before they enter the ship it appears that they were not taught the words “no” or “that cannot be done.” This was probably more noticeable on this cruise because there were only about 500 passengers on a ship designed for 960. Therefore, there was approximately a 1:1 crew to passenger ratio. We were made to feel that our enjoyment of the cruise was of paramount importance to every staff or crew person we encountered.

PRE-CRUISE

In order to reduce cruise day stress we opted to take advantage of the pre-cruise option to stay in the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco even though we were being driven to San Francisco instead of flying into the city. We were charged the full price of the option even though we were not using the airport to hotel transfer. We agreed to this, but were not pleased with the poor treatment we received from Crystal. This was one of very few aspects of the cruise that did not meet our expectations. When we checked in at the desk the reception clerk had trouble finding our reservation and had no information about what we should expect the next day. I thought someone from Crystal would be contacting us later with this information. When we had been given no information by 8:00 PM I contacted the concierge and was sent on a wild goose chase to an empty meeting room where she had said there was supposed to be a Crystal representative. Finally, after several phone calls, one of the staff at the reception desk found a form letter with information about luggage and transfer to the ship. The next morning we checked with the bell staff and found that our names and room number had not been included in the list of scheduled luggage pickups. The bell captain had done a cross check with the guests registered by Crystal and added our names to the list himself. He did not know why we had been overlooked. When we came down to the lobby at the appointed time, the Crystal representative was there. She was very friendly and helpful. After we finally got hooked up with her everything was easier. Our documents were checked while we were still on the bus and embarkation went smoothly. We were on the ship very quickly. A crew member escorted us to the Trident grill where there was a nice selection of items cooked to order. We ate overlooking San Francisco Bay on a beautiful day. Although we made it to the ship, I feel that Crystal should have welcomed us; not had us finally finding them. If I had not done similar hotel/transfer packages before, so that I knew what to expect, this could have been very stressful.

THE SHIP

The Crystal Harmony is a beautiful midsize liner with classic lines and understated décor. My favorite place to relax during the day was the Palm Court. This lounge was a large area broken into smaller groupings with planters of living greenery. Natural light was provided during the day with four large skylights along with picture windows on both sides of the room. Large comfortable wicker chairs and sofas with light green and cream cushions were quietly inviting. Adjoining the palm court was the vista lounge that overlooked the rear of the ship with floor to ceiling windows on three sides. In general the décor of the ship was beautiful without being flashy. There was no neon or blinking lights, but lots of wood and brass with beautiful chandeliers, art, and plants. In the late evenings I enjoyed the Avenue Saloon piano bar with the cozy feel of an old fashioned living room. Deck seven has a full wrap around teak promenade where 3.7 times around is one mile. I was never up early enough to walk it with the cruise staff, but enjoyed walking by myself or with Bodil several times. There are nine relatively small elevators; three banks of three. There was never much of a wait for the elevator and they were quite fast. There was a nice theater for movies and lectures in addition to the large show lounge. The slot machines in the Casino seemed to be set to be extremely tight. I have never before played where I did not win a couple of small jackpots even though I often lose overall. Luckily the craps table was much luckier for me so it all came close to even by the end of the cruise.

THE STATEROOM

Since the ship was sailing with a short passenger load, we were upgraded from our reserved porthole cabin to a deluxe stateroom with a large window on deck five. The stateroom was very similar to cabins on most modern ships with a nice sitting area, plenty of storage, and comfortable beds with very comfortable pillows. The difference was a fresh flower on the desk; a well stocked mini bar with complementary beverages; a bowl of fresh fruit replenished daily, with a fruit knife and plates to help enjoy the fruit. Although the bathroom was fairly small it had a tub and shower with well placed grab bars plus a full complement of top quality toiletries. The linens provided included large bath “sheets” in addition to the standard size bath towels. The hair dryer was the usual gutless wonder. Bring your own. There was no good reading light near the sofa and the bedside lights were not good for reading in bed. Otherwise the lighting was very good. The light switches were built into the headboard. I am a restless sleeper so I frequently turned on the lights by accident during the night by hitting them with my pillow or my head. Luckily the one I hit most often was for the nightlight. The closet door would not stay tightly closed so the closet light stayed on all twelve days. It made a good nightlight. The color scheme was a soothing mauve and light gray. The air conditioning came from a baffled vent in the ceiling. It worked well with no drafts. Terry robes and slippers were supplied for each of us. There were also two small soft mohair blankets for naps or reading. The comforter on the bed was too warm for me. I am sure that lighter blankets would have been provided if I had thought to ask.

One of the best things about cabin #5050 was its wonderful location. It was conveniently located just off of the main reception area that was also where the main dining room was. It was midway between two banks of elevators so that it was convenient to get to anywhere on the ship. Bodil and I especially enjoyed the music of the pianist who often played in the Crystal Cove (reception area). We could easily slip down to listen when he played.

DINING

The variety of good dining options was a highlight of the cruise. We were assigned to the late sitting at a table for eight. Our dining companions were a wonderful group of people. Some reviewers have described the two sitting format as a low point of the Crystal ships. I feel just the opposite. Having dinner with the same waiters and the same group of congenial people definitely adds to the overall experience. There are two alternative dinner restaurants. Kyoto serving Japanese food with a strong Western influence was my favorite meal of the entire cruise. The lobster dumpling appetizers alone were well worth the $6.00 gratuity suggested. The rest of the dinner was of the same excellence. I would have liked to dine there again, but Bodil did not really want to miss dinner with our usual group another time. We did not try Prego, the other alternative dining venue. Twice during the cruise there was gourmet outdoor dining on the lido for dinner. We tried it, but did not find it to be as nice as the dining room, although the steaks were cooked just as we ordered them. Three times there were extensive themed buffets, also served on the lido. The food was good, but the lines were quite long. Most of the time we ate in the dining room where there were extensive choices on the regular dinner menu. I have an overdeveloped sweet tooth so I really enjoyed the variety of special desserts.

Breakfast can be taken in the dining room or in the Lido café. In the Lido café egg dishes, pancakes, waffles, and French toast were cooked to order at stations. A large assortment of typical breakfast foods was served buffet style. At the end of the line a server carried trays to the tables and brought beverages. The only reason we sometimes ate in the dining room was that they served excellent eggs Benedict. The sauce was perfect and hot when it arrived at the table, a rarity. Another option we took advantage of was breakfast served in our room. The room stewardess brought a full breakfast for each of us. Everything was hot or cold as it was supposed to be and very attractively served. She would not accept a tip for delivering the breakfast.

For lunch there were several options. The dining room had a full multi-course menu. The lido had a buffet, and there were cooked to order steak sandwiches, pizza, and other fast food type items at the Trident grill. The beautiful extravaganza usually served as a midnight buffet on one night of the cruise was served one afternoon as the noon meal. This makes much more sense and was enjoyed by almost all passengers. It was set up on many tables in the large reception area outside the dining room. Plates were then carried into the dining room to eat. We enjoyed looking at the beautifully displayed and garnished food and the ice carvings. We also liked eating it. I have never been willing to brave the lines at midnight so it was my first time actually eating such a buffet. In addition to the standard lunch places there was also a small restaurant called the Bistro that had sandwiches and desserts available many hours of the day for a casual snack. One day Bodil ordered room service for lunch. Her club sandwich arrived very quickly and was beautifully presented with appropriate accompaniments on a tray with a linen cloth and silver salt and pepper cellars. She said that it was delicious.

Every afternoon at 3:30 tea was served in the Palm Court. A trio of accomplished musicians played while formally dressed servers carried trays of delicious little sandwiches and fancy treats to everyone in the room. Each person had their own silver pot of the very hot tea of their choice. It was an elegant occasion every day and even more so on the day of the Mozart tea.

Late in the evening, servers circulated among the lounges and into the casino with trays of savory snacks.

Most of the food served was cooked well and presented attractively. The only exception we had was that the dark meat of the roast turkey one night and the duck on another were extremely dry and unappetizing. I always prefer the dark meat, so this was a bit of a disappointment. At any meal, if the items on the menu did not appeal, there were several alternate selections always available. Among these was Caesar salad, filet steak, or salmon. On several nights the head waiter prepared traditional flambéed desserts at our table. These need only be requested a day ahead. He also prepared a very delicious Caesar salad for all eight of us one evening.

I have always had very good service from the dinner waiters on every cruise. On this cruise we also got excellent service from the breakfast and lunch waiters where no tip was directly involved. In fact, the friendly service in the lido at breakfast greatly added to our pleasure in the meal. By the end of the cruise we were laughing and bantering with the servers much as you would with family at breakfast. The same people tended to serve us each day even though it was cafeteria style open seating.

A very large difference between this cruise and others was the dress code. Every night at dinner everyone dressed appropriately for the designated code. Overall the people dressed up more than on other ships even on “casual “ nights. I spotted only one baseball cap in the dining room, and no one came into dinner in jeans, shorts, or wearing a tee shirt. The dress code was also expected to be followed in all public areas of the ship for the whole evening. People did not change back into their daytime wear after dinner. Another major difference was the behavior of the children. There were few children on the ship; and those who were aboard were never seen running loose. They were either in the company of their parents or in the children’s program with the counselors. Not even once did I arrive at an elevator and find the buttons for all floors pushed, and the elevator empty; a relatively common occurrence on some other family oriented cruise lines.

ACTIVITIES

There were no belly flop or hairy leg contests. Instead, there were an abundance of educational opportunities. Guest lecturers and instructors were aboard with lessons in lounges and in the Lido Café plus talks in the theater. Bodil went to the needlepoint class where she was given all necessary yarn and supplies as well as friendly instruction. We both tried the water color class. There was Berlitz conversational Spanish; a roomful of Yamaha keyboards for piano lessons; another room full of computers for the Computer University at sea program; as well as the more typical dance lessons. The lectures were on a wide variety of subjects. All of the ones I attended were well presented, interesting, and informative. Among the topics were Dutch life and culture, preparing for retirement (other than financially), hostage and kidnapping situations, bears, and Alaskan literature and lore. I am sure that there were others that I have forgotten.

I did not like the fact that there were a lot of activities on sea days and almost nothing planned for port days. On the days at sea two of my favorite activities were always at the same time. It would have been nice to vary the times of offerings so that a person who enjoys trivia games could also try a dancing lesson on a different day. Unfortunately both were always offered at 10:00 AM. On port days not even the library was open. If you did not already have a book or other activity available you were out of luck until the ship sailed. The only places I found available were the gym, the lounges, and the promenade deck. I usually do not stay ashore for a long time in ports I have been to previously. On most ships I spend my days enjoyably in the library after I return to the ship. Another “dead” time was from 6:15 – 7:45 PM every evening. During this time there was no music in any of the usual venues nor any activities available. This would have been fine for a passenger with the main dinner sitting, but I did not really prefer the extra down time before dinner.

Every day at 8:30 and 10:30 PM a relatively recent movie was shown in the theater. It was then repeated at 2:30 the next afternoon. We enjoyed most of their selections. There was also a schedule left in the cabin each night of several classic older movies being shown on the television set in the stateroom during the next day. At any time there was a choice of at least three movies plus standard cable type fare.

I have been on ships with dance hosts before. I enjoyed the experience so that I was looking forward to an opportunity to dance in the evening. Unfortunately for me, on this ship one of the hosts danced every dance with the same excellent dancer. They alternated dancing with her; the other one would dance with one of the ladies sitting in the front few chairs. They never made their way further back into the room to dance with the other unaccompanied ladies; therefore, I watched the dancing and enjoyed the excellent dance band, but was never asked to dance. One evening a lady who was more assertive than I went up and asked one of the gentlemen to dance. He did.

The after dinner shows in the Galaxy show room were enjoyable, but not especially different than other ships’ offerings. The volume was appropriate for the music featured, the costumes extravagant, and the sight lines in the theater were good. One of my favorite evenings featured the ballroom dancers who taught the dance classes and an excellent banjo player. Bodil enjoyed the production show that featured tunes from the fifties. After the show servers, in uniforms appropriate for a 50’s drive-in, served shakes and hot dogs to the audience as they came out of the theater. An oldtime jukebox was playing . It was an unexpected extension of the show.

The ship has a “no announcements” policy so that it is essential that you read the daily paper left in the room. The captain comes on the speakers at about 9:00 AM with pertinent information about the progress of the ship and the weather. After that, the only announcements are for emergencies. Most of the time I really liked the policy, but was unhappy to find that I had missed the sighting of a large group of whales one time while resting in the stateroom.

The daily paper was a cut above most in that it had interesting articles about people on the ship and the places we visited as well as the daily schedule information. I actually enjoyed reading all of it. Many ships use their paper primarily for advertising onboard revenue sources.

THE ITINERARY


This was a twelve-day cruise round trip from San Francisco. I have been to Alaska twice before on the Universe Explorer that emphasized education about Alaska, especially the port towns. A lot of the tours sponsored by this ship were expensive so we decided to just do what we felt like in each port without much planning ahead.

Ketchikan: We enjoyed a small museum that cost only $2.00, then spent a couple of hours just walking around the town. I have a tradition of buying very nice Christmas ornaments for each of my daughters when I travel. I found some special ones in a store near the dock.

Sitka: This was our major shopping port. We bought most of our souvenirs and gifts for family here. I found some unique hand made boxer shorts with fish on them in a shop that specialized in fishing items. My grandson found them to be as fun as I did.

Glacier Bay: For our day in Glacier Bay State Park four rangers came aboard to interpret what we were seeing for us. The weather was unbelievably perfect. One of the rangers gave a talk about bears in the theater just before they left. It was one of our favorite lectures.

Skagway: We took the White Pass scenic train tour. Although the scenery was nice we felt it was a bit overpriced at $87 each. We rode the train up with a little bit of commentar; no stops to savor the views. We then rode the train back. After lunch on the ship we walked around the town a little. Not a lot to see and it started to sprinkle so we headed back to the ship. The dock was about ½ mile from town so it made a nice evening walk.

Juneau: We especially enjoyed the Alaska State Museum within easy walking distance of the ship. It was small enough to see everything and large enough to have a very good variety of exhibits.

Vancouver, BC: We walked around a bit, then took the Sky Train on a complete loop of the Vancouver area. It was a fun and relaxing way to see the city for $3.00 each.

Victoria: Instead of doing the usual tourist things, we followed the advise of a fellow traveler and spent a couple of hours in the World of Miniatures museum built into the side of the Empress Hotel. It was only about a block from where the ship’s shuttle bus service let us off. I have never seen anything like it. Miniatures of battle scenes, Dickens books, the Transcontinental Railroad, a circus, a carnival, fairy tales, European castles, and the usual doll house type scenes. We found it to be much more interesting than we expected. We then did the last of our shopping in the Beaver Gift Shop right on the pier.

RANDOM OBSERVATIONS

I do not drink coffee, but Bodil said that the coffee on this ship was especially good every time and that it was always hot.

There are no courtesy phones on the bulkheads around the ship. I found this out one evening when I was too sea sick to go back to my cabin and wanted to call the medical center from near an outside door. Instead I found out how truly helpful and courteous the staff of the ship are. I went to the nearest place that I thought would have a phone, Kyoto restaurant. The maitre d’ did not act at all put out by a slightly green passenger asking him to contact the medical center. The nurse on call made arrangements to meet me at the center. When I got there she was extremely kind and helpful even though the doctor said that I was not eligible for the shot that other passengers had received to relieve seasickness. This was due to other medications I was taking. I followed all of her suggestions, and was myself again within a couple of hours. I was quite surprised when I got my ship’s bill. There was no charge for the after hours visit even though the doctor had been consulted.

The debarkation was almost as civilized as that from the Disney Magic. We were given a time to report to the Galaxy lounge. A member of the staff escorted small groups off the ship at their appointed times. You could read a book or visit without listening for your color to be called. As you left the ship there was staff to carry any larger hand luggage without wheels. At the bottom of the ramp there were staff and porters to help find and transport the luggage to the front of the terminal. Very smooth, very easy.

I have enjoyed every cruise that I have taken, but this one definitely ranks at the top. The attitude of the people who make or break your cruise was unfailingly wonderful, the food first rate, and the entertainment generally top notch. Several repeat passengers told me that it is not as great when you take a single segment of the around the world cruise. There is an unwritten class system that makes the full trip passengers more special. This would be a disappointment after the near perfection of this cruise. Therefore, I will try to book another self contained cruise as soon as I can afford one that goes to ports that interest me. There is definitely a difference.

 

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