Tuesday, April 19, 2011

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

Up early for our train ride to Vancouver and we have our second sunny day in a row. The Amtrak station is, to say the least, a bit tired and a mere remnant of its important past. The train, however, was just fine. Our four hour journey went quickly with some nice, but not outstanding, views.

We arrived in Vancouver at 11:30 a.m., but with boarding scheduled for 3:00 p.m. we were a little concerned about what we were going to do. Not a problem. We were met with an apology…that our luggage would not be available until about 3:00 p.m. but we could go right onboard. Just as we boarded an attendant took our carry-ons, tagged them, and said they would be delivered to our suite.

My family’s first impressions of the ship (which I will detail later) were very good. It is extremely well maintained with numerous public areas suiting a wide variety of desires. After a wander around we had a very nice lunch in the main restaurant. I have a very pretty and tasty seafood salad and a perfectly cooked, and tender, petit filet mignon. Our bar waiter freely poured complimentary champagne; a bit on the sweet side for me, though.

After lunch we headed up to Deck 11 to the Trident Bar & Grill while waiting for our room to be readied. It is a very pretty area under a magrodome filled with comfortable wicker seating and pleasant green umbrellas, creating a sort of wintergarden. The staff is very friendly and genuinely wants you to have a great experience. One thing the staff does that is a bit different for me is they each ask me my name when introducing themselves so that they will know and remember my name. It feels a bit awkward the first couple of times, but once you understand the purpose, it seems like sort of a Crystal ritual and makes you feel part of the staff’s experience rather than the object of it.

After a nice glass of wine it was time to head to our room. First, facts are facts; the rooms are definitely on the smaller side. The closet space is just enough, but there is plenty of drawer space. That said, the rooms have high quality finishes with whitewashed oak, a leather sofa, comfortable chair and a nice, firmer, bed. The deck has two reclining aluminum with mesh seating chairs a decent sized table and real teak decking. The bathrooms are compact, but very functional with two glass vessel sinks and a tub/shower combination. Counter space (nice granite that it is) is, however, at a premium. There is a TV/DVD above the cabinet that houses the safe (at eye level) and the refrigerator (stocked with complimentary soft drinks and water). The library has a very good selection of DVDs to select from.

Settled in, I took a second wander around the ship and the family voted to stay onboard even though we were not departing Vancouver until midnight.

We dined at Prego, the Italian specialty restaurant and both the service and the food were excellent. I enjoyed excellent Spaghetti Vongale and then perfectly prepared Striped Bass in a very classy, yet comfortable, setting. Everyone enjoyed their respective dishes equally, though my son did say that he felt the duck was flavorful, but a bit overdone. The sommelier was very good, providing some appropriate guidance in a knowledgeable, yet inoffensive, manner. Excellent!

Still settling in, the kids opted for some videos and room service (yes, after dinner room service), my wife an early evening in the stateroom and I headed to the Connoisseur’s Club for a whiskey and a cigar. This is a stately space with very comfortable chairs with appropriately dark wood, rich fabric and leather furnishings and a strong selection of cigars. I met a very nice extended family from the Dominican Republic with the father being on his 13th Crystal Cruise. His only disappointment was that he was not able to have the Spaghetti Vongale that evening, so he booked Prego for the next night. Service was appropriately friendly, but inobtrusive.

One thing that I like is that there is no showing of your room key for charges in the restaurants or bars. It is more hotel-like with you merely signing your name and providing your room number. After they know your name, your bill is presented with your name and room number already printed on it. I like this very much in a pay-as-you-go setting as it is no different than a Four Seasons or Fairmont setting. (Crystal Cruises is going all-inclusive in March 2012, so this distinction will soon be irrelevant.)

As I wrapped up my evening, I drew some initial impressions…all subject to modification as this cruise continues on:

- The demographic, even during this Spring Break cruise, is remarkably older. As a frequent cruiser on Seabourn I can tell you that the age disparity is quite noticeably older on this Crystal Cruise. I would say that I, at 53, am probably in the youngest 10% (5%?) of the cruise guests.

- There is a decided mix of Japanese (no wonder as Crystal Cruises is Japanese owned and this cruise is focused on the West Coast with its higher Japanese populations); Central Americans (I am not sure why…yet); and, elderly.

- There is no way around the fact that the standard and veranda cabins are small. There has to be a balancing of getting more options out of the ship (as compared to, say, Seabourn or Regent or Silversea…which I will discuss later) versus getting more out of your standard accommodations.

- The ship is immaculately maintained with d├ęcor that is generally quiet, but comfortable with hints at being modern. The focus is definitely on meeting the demographics, but looking to attract a more youthful market. I do need to better explore the ship to comment on more of the spaces.

- Crystal Cruises’ staff know how to do everything well…and they do. It is a different style than Seabourn’s (just as a point of comparison), but I am still getting my head around the differences. That is not a bad thing; just something different.