Hello from aboard the Crystal Symphony! We are currently on an 11 day cruise called Tropical Tradewinds. We are escorting a small group of customers on a program called Vacation Vignettes. Our Vacation Vignettes program offers such benefits such as a Concierge Host (that’s us on this sailing) that are in place to help with information, any problem solving and to escort a complimentary shore excursion that we provide to clients involved with this program. Included in this Vacation Vignette there is a welcoming cocktail reception which we are hosting tonight.
Our host, the Crystal Symphony
The ship itself is very nice – not only in beauty but size. She only holds about 900 passengers, which sounds like a lot but in today’s world of super ships holding 3 and 4 times as many, the Symphony has everything one needs and it doesn’t take a week to find everything.
The food – a really, really important part of any vacation experience – has been amazing. It’s also good to note that the wine prices are very, very good with minimal mark-up and the wine list is very extensive with something for every budget.
Today, we are going through the Panama Canal after having departed from Costa Rica a couple of days ago. It is truly an engineering marvel especially considering it was built almost 100 years ago. It takes much longer going through the canal and lake than I anticipated. In total, it takes roughly nine hours before we finally enter the Caribbean Sea. We have cruised quite a bit and are thoroughly enjoying our experience with Crystal and the opportunity of going through the famous Panama Canal.
I should mention that the shows, the service and the Crystal experience have been superb! Additionally, to our kids…yes, even the gym is good as we have been there every day since we set sail (in an attempt to NOT gain any weight this trip). We will have more to come as we enjoy the Caribbean!
Ed and Karen Buchholz
We are continuing to enjoy our Crystal Cruise. We hosted a cocktail party for our group and all our guests seem extremely nice. They have come from California, Indiana, Maryland, Virginia and Colorado—a small but very nice group. Yesterday was our first stop on the cruise…Aruba! This is the first time we have ever been to Aruba and we were very impressed. We spent the morning strolling the shopping district located right by the pier. It was your typical assortment of jewellery shops, market stalls and a good selection of higher end stores such as Louis Vuitton, Kenneth Cole, Bvlgari, La Costa and the like. Tanzanite was also a big seller.
The afternoon was spent touring the island with a couple we met at our dinner table. They had hired a car and driver and invited us along. “Bully” was a great tour guide and showed us much of what the island has to offer. Aruba is a surprisingly arid island and the landscape is very rocky and covered in cactus plants. From the top of one of the rock foundations you get an amazing view of most of the island. The north shore of the island is quite desert-like and rugged…no swimming per se but quite beautiful.
A stop at the island donkey sanctuary was very interesting. Apparently with the introduction of automobiles to the island, the residents abandoned their past form of transportation – donkeys. They let them go wild and this sanctuary takes in donkeys that need help because of sickness or if they have been hit by a car. The sanctuary boasts some 63 residents and the wild population is estimated at 90+.
Aruba, unlike many other Caribbean islands is quite clean and there is an obvious pride of ownership in their homes and their country.
A drive through the hotel zone showed us the beautiful beaches that Aruba offers and the tourist infrastructure that includes a myriad of many restaurants, shops and entertainment options. Again, I was very impressed with the quality of the beaches…beautiful white powder beaches, calm turquoise waters and not too crowded. We may make Aruba one of our next vacation destinations.
Today is another day at sea and we hold “office hours” for our group should they have any questions, requests or needs. With the level of onboard services, any requests are handled quickly and efficiently. Crystal Cruises treats their customers very well and the level of satisfaction is visibly excellent. The onboard cruise consultant has been very busy booking clients on their next cruises. We have met one fellow who is on his 28th Crystal Cruise and has the next 2 already booked. In fact, there is a passenger on board that has been on 200 Crystal Cruises!
Much has happened since our last blog. The next stop after Aruba was St. Maarten where we hosted our group on an island tour. We tendered in from the ship and toured the island with stops in Philipsburg, places for some great photos, Orient Beach (caution: there is a clothing optional side to the beach) and a Museum in Marigot. It was very educational and our group seemed to really enjoy the tour and our time together. I was quite impressed by the crew as we were getting on and off the tender. We had a couple of people that are somewhat mobility-challenged and they were very helpful in making sure everyone could get on to visit the island.
The next stop was St Bart’s. Again, we tendered in. Unfortunately, it was Sunday and all of the shops and most of the restaurants were closed. Wandering through Gustavia, it looked like it would have been excellent shopping there was a lot more than tee shirts and hats – on the other hand, I think we saved quite a bit of money having the shops closed! Instead, we went off to Shell Beach which is easy walking distance from the pier. It is aptly named as the beach has long stretches of many, many shells. There is a beach bar/restaurant…excellent food albeit very expensive. Being a French island, everything is priced in Euros and we shared an entree. With a couple of beer each, our lunch was about 66 Euro…close to $100. Beach chairs were crazy expensive too…30 Euro each for the day. Needless to say, a towel on the sand was just as good. Caution, again, it’s a French island so you can expect some topless sun bathers. It’s too bad we landed there on a Sunday as there seemed to be many different stores and restaurants but our choices were very, very limited.
The show that night was a wonderful pianist who played and sang songs in a boogie-woogie style like Jerry Lee Lewis. Pretty good for a guy from Scotland.
Our last stop was Tortola and our focus was beach time. Frankly, aside from a few market stalls, we didn’t see anything much else to do but go to the beach. There are lots of choices of beaches but we chose the most popular beach…Cane Garden Bay. We decided to go there because it has lots of bars/restaurants along the beach, lots of beach chairs (affordable at $5 per chair and $3 for an umbrella for the day) and it is in fact a nice beach with typical soft Caribbean sand and that wonderful turquoise water. It was also interesting watching the many pelicans diving into the water for their sustenance. It was quite busy on the beach but you never felt crowded. It was handy for beverages and food, its happy hour all day with “rum punches and painkillers” 2 for 1 all day. At 2 for $6, or a bucket of 6 beer for $15 it was a wonderful day at the beach. The taxi was also only $8 per person each way and the taxi driver also provided some good narration along the way.
We ate in the Asian restaurant last night and it was excellent…nice sushi and sashimi, wonderful entrees and of course desert to die for. You are expected to leave a gratuity for that evening and they suggest $7 per person. Considering many cruise lines charge $25 – $30 per person extra for their specialty restaurants, this is a bargain.
The entertainment was a comedian/variety style show, which again was good. They certainly play to the crowd whose average age must be near 70, playing songs from the 40’s, 50’s and some 60’s. We are certainly not the youngest people on board but on the lower side of the scale. Interestingly enough, they are a young hearted crowd and easy to relate to, although there is never anyone in the disco and it has become a bit of a joke for the entertainers.
So far, I have only two disappointments. The cost for Internet service is quite high and it is very slow. You do have some choices. You can pay by the minute at $.72 per minute, purchase two hours for $50, purchase 10 hours for $200 or purchase 20 hours for $300. 10 hours or more seemed way too much for our needs so we opted for the 2 hour package…we’re now on our 3rd package but I am sure we won’t need any more. The second disappointment is in the casino…I keep losing and I am putting all of the blame on the dealers!
Today is our second last day and we are at sea for the next two days. Watch for one last update once we get off the ship!
It’s over 😦 . We had a most enjoyable cruise on the Crystal Symphony. The guests were wonderful and it was a treat being on board with them. My overall impressions of Crystal Cruise Lines is that it is a wonderful high end cruise line (without being stuffy) where customer service is incredible and they work very hard at it. Everyone on board, and it didn’t matter who, was extremely friendly and courteous. It is no wonder they have so many repeat customers. We met people on board that have cruised a dozen times or more with Crystal and many that have their next or next 2 or 3 cruises booked with them already. They work very hard to make you want to come back, time and again. I didn’t meet the gentleman on board that was on his 206th cruise but I understand the crew is like family now.
OK, the worst part for me is boarding the ship without feeling like cattle being driven to market. Since the ship is on the smaller size, everything was very well planned and we weren’t rushed off the ship. Our departure time was at 10:15…very civilized and it was easy and without pressure. Our room stewardess didn’t rush us out of our stateroom, breakfast was served in a leisurely fashion and we had time to kick back and catch some rays before leaving. We didn’t feel kicked off but rather gently persuaded that it was time to leave – until the next time. Once we got off the ship, we were directed to the appropriate bus and when we got to the airport, they had pre-paid porters available for us…nice touch.
Now, if airports and airlines were as courteous…