Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Crystal Symphony - Goldring Travel's Pacific Exploration of Crystal Cruise's Luxury Experience - Part II

How to Make a Seemingly Ordinary Cruise Itinerary Extraordinary

I have to admit that when I booked my family's April 17, 2011 Pacific Coast cruise on the Crystal Symphony my focus was more on "getting on the ship" and doing so when my children were on Spring Break than I was where it was going.  (Yes, going on cruises is a wonderful thing, but first and foremost I am "Dad" and leaving my children for a cruise is not one of my favorite things, so there has to be a balance.)

Originally this cruise had a totally different itinerary, but with the recent undesirability of cruising within Mexico this Pacific Coast itinerary was created.  The itinerary includes Vancouver, Victoria, B.C., Seattle, Astoria (Oregon), San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles.  It sounds nice, but not very exciting.  But a good travel agent...or anyone willing to think outside merely ship's tours...can make it a unique and exciting week.

Vancouver is nice and it is pretty, but not really a great city for sites or children.  So, instead, we are flying pre-cruise to Seattle.  Originally we were going "budget" staying in a suite at the Holiday Inn due to its location.  But I received a great offer from Fairmont Hotels (You really should join its President's Club) and now we are staying in a Deluxe Executive Suite for only a few dollars more than the Holiday Inn and are walking distance to Pike Place Market; a mandatory place to visit.

Other than that and the Space Needle, what are we going to do?  With a 15 year old son who loves his electric guitar and has a giant poster of Kurt Cobain and the Jimmy Hendrix Experience on his wall...we are going to the Experience Music Project (named after Hendrix) where there is a new Nirvana exhibit opening.  (If you don't know who Nirvana is just trust me it is cool.)  Oh, but there is more.  In sort of a surreal "experience", I discovered that there will be a "panel discussion" between three of Nirvana's roadies; and we will be attending.  (Still trying to get my head around some party animals having a panel discussion, but that is what makes it fun.)  Dinner will be at a great seafood restaurant, The Brooklyn.

Now, how do you get from Seattle to Vancouver?  Plane, ferry, automobile?  How about what is supposed to be a really beautiful train ride. Yep.  A four hour  train ride in Business Class depositing us in Vancouver for just before noon.  We will check-in, drop our bag and then head off for a wander around the city and, in all probability, touristy horse and buggy ride and a nice lunch before boarding the Crystal Symphony around the scheduled 3:00 p.m.  After getting settled we will have one of probably only two family dinners (the kids want and need there vacation too!) at Prego, Crystal's Italian specialty restaurant.

Victoria, B.C. is a "take a breath day" and I am sure we will consider a wander over to the Butchart Gardens, but $100 for a this family to walk through gardens might not be the ticket.  The Pacific Undersea Gardens might be more to our liking.  Who knows?  One of the things I teach my kids (by example) is that planning everything makes sure you miss a lot.  Wandering around is a good thing.

When we return to Seattle the next day, we are going to the Boeing Factory in the morning.  I was there fore a VIP tour during the American Superyacht Forum a few years ago.  It is just plane cool  (Get it?)

I will then leave my family and visit Seabourn's new offices in Seattle meeting up yet again with John Delaney, Senior Vice President and, probably, Rick Meadows.  I am very much looking forward to seeing the new operation (albeit I know everyone is still settling in) and will let you know how "separate" Seabourn is from Holland America; rhetoric aside.  (So far, I must say, it seems like things are pretty much separate.)

In Astoria, Oregon we will be engaged in a Voluntourism project organized by Crystal Cruises where we will head off in a school bus to help clean up Fort Stephens Sate Park; a most worthwhile 3 hours of our afternoon.  Astoria makes a big effort to promote itself, but I find there is a bit too much promotion.  That leads me to believe that the best thing to do in our morning there is to...wander.  I am confident something beautiful and/or interesting is going to find us.

After a day at sea, we are in San Francisco.  We have been there many times, but...as it seems is the case with almost everyone I speak to...we have never been to Alcatraz.  Now we will be.  (I am amazed at how quickly the tickets for this trip sell out.  I booked our early morning trip weeks before our arrival and the entire morning was almost sold out.  You must plan ahead.)  After that we head off to Chinatown for a lunch in a small Chinese restaurant that supposedly has almost no decor, but an incredible chef that determines his menu each day.  As our time in San Francisco is short, with a 4PM departure, that is all we have time for.

Our last port is Santa Barbara.  With so many wineries and so many touristic wine tasting opportunities and, of course, my children in tow, what to do?  Oh, what to do?  How about a Cupcakes & Wine Tour.  Yes, that is correct.  We are going on a Santa Barbara Adventure Company tour that includes wine tastings at a number of wineries, a cupcake tasting with six different wine-laced cupcakes, and a deli-style lunch at one of the wineries.  Seriously, what kid doesn't love cupcakes and what a great diverse day that could have been really boring if we just did stuffy wine tastings all day. That evening is our second "family dinner" where we will dine in Crystal's Silk Road Asian restaurant overseen by Nobu.

Now all I need to do is find time to enjoy the Crystal Symphony and all she has to offer.  And, of course, my fingers are crossed that we will be able to dine in the Vintage Room.

The alternative: Fly to Vancouver the day of the cruise, take ship's tours each day so that you see "stuff", but never really engage the communities you are visiting.  Yes, there are those that live by that formula and are very happy.  But, alas, if you always line up in the main salon waiting for your tour number to be called, you will most definitely miss the proverbial boat.

From my perspective, we have taken a cruise where we could visit some ports and transformed it into a "travel experience" balancing the ship's offerings, some unique opportunities available in various ports...if you dig a little bit and, of course, time to discover by just wandering around. 

As a final thought for now:  That is our plan.  Does anyone really think I am going to totally stick to it?

Do you have any questions, thoughts or want to discuss this or any other topic?  Join the discussion on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.