This was my 4th Crystal Cruise, and 25th overall. It was an eastbound crossing, from Miami to Lisbon - 8 sea days, no ports. Theme was the same as my 2005 Crystal cruise on the Symphony, Big Band with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.
Since I made my own air travel arrangements, I flew to Miami from Boston a day early to be on the safe side. Obviously, if you miss the ship on a transatlantic cruise, there is no catching up to it! I stayed at the Port of Miami Holiday Inn on Biscayne Blvd. Nothing special, but within sight of the port and also directly across the street from the lively Bayside Market Place. "Super Shuttle" fare from airport to downtown is only $15 per person and they deliver you to the door of your hotel. Hotel to port would be a short taxi ride, but my sister, who was in Florida for the winter, took me to the ship, where she joined me for tea as a visitor. Speaking of visitors, Crystal, unlike some cruise lines who banned visitors after 9/11, is very accommodating. The request form is available on their website; they say to allow two weeks before sailing, but I have normally received approval within a couple of days after faxing the form to them.
Boarding was Crystal's normal painless process. Crystal's staff never cease amaze to me. One of their ground staff recognized my sister and me immediately, even though it had been a year since he had seen us in Ft. Lauderdale, and he even remembered that she lives in Rhode Island when not in Florida! Crystal had upgraded me twice, once from my usual Deck 7 cabin to a balcony room on Deck 8, and finally, when they decided to use the crossing for Deck 8 cabin refurbishing, to a Deck 9 cabin. This turned out not to be as desirable as I thought, as during rough weather there is a lot more motion in the higher-up, forward cabin, than amidships on Deck 7. Cabins appear to be identical in size, layout and décor, except for addition of balconies on Decks 8 and 9. If offered a similar upgrade on a future crossing I would be tempted to say, "Thanks but no thanks."
We sailed on schedule, Captain Giske having warned us that it might be a bit rough when we got into the Atlantic. It was, but not so bad as to curtail first-night activities.
At the end of my February Amazon cruise I had mentioned to Maitre d' Remi Szutikiewicz that I'd like to be at the Chief Engineer's table sometime, and sure enough I found myself assigned to the table hosted by Chief Engineer Torbjoern Mathisen and his charming wife Penny. One nice touch is that on formal, officer-hosted nights, place cards are used so everybody has a turn to sit near enough to the hosts to converse.
We had a good group at the table - eight most nights, but expanded to 10 on nights the Chief was hosting. No need to comment again on food and service - it is still tops. I'm told that even on Crystal's full world cruises, no menu is ever repeated. On several nights our waiter informed us that a special dessert, in addition to those on the menu, was being offered. Thankfully, the tacky baked Alaska parades are long gone from Crystal.
Overnight the swell got progressively larger, around 30 feet, so by morning the ship was pitching quite a bit. The stabilizers do a good job in preventing any appreciable roll. Showering and shaving before dinner was quite a challenge. By afternoon it was obvious that it would be foolish to try to put on a production show, so pianist Naki Ataman agreed to do his show a day early. As usual, his "Around the World" program was terrific. Due to the relative shortness of this cruse, there wasn't time for him to do his second program.
The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra went on as scheduled in the Palm Court, although some band members were obviously a bit under the weather. Unfortunately, Buddy Morrow, who normally leads the band, had been ill so did not make the trip. Direction was ably taken over by Daryl "Flea" Campbell, another old time big band musician who played with the Dorsey Brothers after Tommy and Jimmy put aside their feud and got back together, in the early '50s, I think. Only one or two couples attempted to dance, as the Palm Court really moves in rough seas because of its high-up, forward location. However, the seas calmed day-by-day as we headed east, so there was lots of good music and dancing for the rest of the crossing.
Speaking of dancing, dance team Tony and Margaret Long returned from leave and re-boarded in Miami, and as usual held very well-attended dance classes every day. I also took a few private lessons with Margaret, who continued to try to teach me the Tango. Sadly for Crystal, the Longs will be leaving the company at the end of their current contract in July to join a studio in Arizona. I'm sure it is a good career move for them, but they will be missed on Crystal.
Lecturers were up to Crystal's usual standard and I particularly enjoyed those by big band theme lecturer Loren Schoenberg. He could easily have drawn a crowd for several more sessions, but there weren't any more openings in the busy daily schedules. Loren is also an accomplished tenor sax player and sat in with the band and the jazz combo on several occasions.
As mentioned by Cruise Director Paul McFarland, this cruise draws people who like the shipboard life, rather than lots of port calls. I would guess that between 75% and 80% of the passengers were repeaters. I ran into a number of people I had met on previous cruises, although this was only my 4th time on Crystal.
Even with the couple of days of rough seas, a good time was had by all. Liveliest late-night venue continues to be the Avenue Saloon, especially on Karaoke nights. No way I would get up there and sing, but lots of fun to watch. Performers range from quite professional to some who shouldn't even be allowed near a microphone, sort of like the early rounds of American Idol.
Arrival clearance in Lisbon was painless and quick, once they solved a mechanical problem with one of the baggage conveyors. One recommendation for Lisbon arrivals. I had bought the ship's airport transfer at a cost of $46; I learned when we arrived that taxis to the airport only cost 16 Euros, about $20.
The spring eastbound crossing by Symphony is not on the 2007 schedule, as the ship will reposition from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean via the Far East. However, the November 2007 Lisbon - Miami crossing by the Serenity will have a big band theme, so I've already booked it. My next Crystal cruise will probably be the February 2007 Miami to Los Angeles Panama Canal transit. Perhaps one of these days I'll run into some of my fellow "Cruise Critics."