Wednesday, April 20, 2011

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

Our first full day is in Victoria, British Columbia and, to be sure, is where the difference between going with the flow and checking it off your list came to the fore.

With two lazy children in tow, they missed the regular breakfast in the Lido. This wound up being a good thing. Crystal has a late riser’s breakfast in the Trident Grill that, to my mind, is much better than the standard buffet breakfast offered…and in a nicer setting. (The breakfast buffet offers very fresh and well presented standard offerings. As a comparison, both Celebrity and Seabourn offer far greater variety, but the quality of what is offered is, nonetheless, excellent…and I don’t think the sort of variety offered by Celebrity is necessary with the demographics of this cruise.) The Trident Grill has a good number of items, cooked to order eggs and such, so I am not sure of why it is so underutilized as a breakfast option. In a way it is a cross between a buffet and the dining room. I like it very much…so much so that if I do not have plans, I would delay my breakfast (not my coffee!) until the Trident Grill opens.

After breakfast, we took the Crystal Cruises’ complimentary shuttle bus into town; not having anything planned and with no expectations at all.  We started off by visiting the Pacific Undersea Gardens as an assumed to be hokey family experience. It actually is a small, but very well done, exhibition of Pacific Northwest marine life, including a diver handling a giant pacific octopus and wolf eel in what seemed like a family owned and operated venture right in the Inner Harbour. My wife loves a carriage ride, so it was off to the horses just steps away for a 45 minute journey through Beacon Hill Park.

After a wander through the town, we were walking toward the very impressive Empress Hotel and we see the awning of Miniature World. Yes, it is a tourist trap if there ever was one. But I have to admit it was pretty amazing, the photographs look fairly realistic and the kids enjoyed it. (Nirvana to Miniature World in a few days.) Can’t make it up!)

It was then off to The Empress Hotel for high tea. The price is not for the faint of heart, but the tea was excellent and “the show” was enjoyable. It was not my cup of tea, but it was an experience that was an enjoyable bit of family time and my wife was happy.

Back on board the Crystal Symphony in the late afternoon, it was time to test out the hot tub. It is a very large rectangular tiled affair that is more akin to a jetted pool than the whirlpools you find on most every other cruise ship. The water is kept at a great temperature and there are plenty of strong jets. It is definitely more of a communal experience…more Asian, if you will. Three tiny notes: I am not thrilled with being in the center of the ship around all the lounge chairs. (On this cruise they are pretty much empty, though, as the temperatures are in the 40’s.) Because the whirlpool is so large the motors are larger so it is a bit too noisy to comfortably have a conversation with anyone other than the person right next to you. You have to physically exit the hot tub to restart the jets.

Time to get ready for dinner…and that is when the size of the cabin shows itself. It is sufficiently narrow that when one person is at the vanity it is almost impossible to reach the refrigerator or safe as you weave behind the glass and wood table and the leather sofa. Sitting at the sofa and writing, say my blog, was not a problem, though. It is, however, manageable. Similarly, the bathrooms are tight and you do need to be careful to put your things away so that your partner will be able to layout his/her toiletries. The showers are quite good, the towels are large and of good quality and the Aveda toiletries are not miniatures, so they are easily handled. I do like glass vessel sinks a lot.

The Dining Room itself is not a “modern marvel”, but it is very attractive and, as with the rest of the ship, comfortable and very well maintained. It also has waiter stations set up so that they have the least impact on your dining experience. There are many tables for two and the tables are spaced sufficiently apart that you have a fairly private dining experience. Here too there is a stylistic difference in waiter service. A card is placed at your table letting you know the name of your waiter and assistant each evening. I guess it is nice to know their names, but I would rather learn them through interaction. Certainly not an issue; more of a “nice to know” comment. The sommelier is very good and efficient and takes the appropriate time to chat with you. Coupled with excellent table settings and lighting, there is no reason you would not have a luxury dining experience.

Dinner was excellent. Each dish was very well prepared and presented nicely. The service was so efficient we asked that it be slowed down a bit. (I think may have been caused, in part, by there being so few people dining late.) One of my Crystal clients strongly recommended the Weiner schnitzel and they were right. My wife had a “fall of the bone” lamb shank that was rich and delicious.

One thing that I find a bit awkward is that the Dining Room menu is not available on the television (at least I haven’t found it) and it is not in the daily program. As such you must ask your room stewardess to supply you with one if you are someone who likes to contemplate you dinner before arriving in the restaurant. Also, my children prefer dining in their cabin so we must ask for the menu and then provide a number of each item they would like to our stewardess rather than room service. Ultimately it is a bit more stylistic than anything else, so once you know it is a very easy process…and you do have the benefit of truly seeing the entire menu as presenting in the Dining Room.

As I am not big on the shows, it was back to the Connoisseur’s Club for a cigar and a whisky before calling it an evening.  It is not, at least on this cruise, heavily used, but there are a few friendly people that stop in, a very good cigar collection and...what's not to like.