Why this Cruise?
We greatly enjoyed our two prior cruises on Crystal Serenity. My wife was fascinated by the prospect of visiting the three Gulf of St. Lawrence stops, especially St. Pierre and Miquelon which is actually part of France. I had enjoyed a solo trip to Montreal a year earlier, and thought the cruise presented a good opportunity to combine a short visit with this short cruise.
We had spent four nights in Montreal at a hotel very near the port, so it was a five minute cab trip. It would take 30-45 minutes from the airport depending on traffic, and cost $40.00 Canadian. We arrived at noon and were led into a portside waiting room which then held about 100 other early arrivals. Within about 10 minutes we started the embarkation process. The Canadian Security phase was a little slow with only two screening stations, but not bad. We actually checked in on board and Crystal had provided so many check in stations that there was no waiting there. As usual we were told that the cabins would not be ready until 3:00 P. M. We went to the library first, and it was manned, so we could check out some books. Food was being served in the main dining room, so we had a light lunch, and went to our cabin shortly after 2:00 to find it full prepared and with our luggage delivered. There we met Krystina, our stewardess, who was most pleasant. She has been with Crystal 10 years and has a four year old daughter at home in Hungary, who she gets to visit about every six months. All in all, it was a fast and easy embarkation, with Crystal, as usual, getting things right.
We had a standard verandah stateroom, somewhat aft, on Deck 8. They are not large, about 200 square feet, but pretty well laid out and attractive. The walls are textured white and the wood blond. There is a full length mirror, a small sofa and coffee table, and a desk with arm chair. The balcony was pretty large, with two armchairs and a table on a teak deck with a solid balcony railing. The lighting is very good, with two small "snake” lights protruding from the wall at each side of the bed, with a directed halogen light system for in-bed reading. The temperature control system seemed to work well. The only minor problem is that the closet is very close to the bed, necessitating some negotiation as to who is going to get to use the closet to obtain that day’s clothing. The bathroom was efficiently designed with two sinks, actually nice sink vessels; plenty of storage space, a tub/shower (although it was not really a full sized tub) and marble/porcelain walls, sinks and flooring. Crystal supplies three pillows per bed, of differing material, and this seemed to work out pretty well. As usual on board ship, there was ample drawer space for clothing.
The Ship Layout
It is not a huge ship approximately 51,000 gross tonnage, but since it carries fewer than 1000 passengers the space ratio is about 52 very spacious indeed, since most cruise lines have ratios from 29 to 35. As usual, the activities are forward and the food aft. Deck 4 has a few small window cabins as well as tender access. Deck 5 has the "lobby” with the concierge and shore excursion desks, the Crystal Cove, a small seating area with a piano, and access to the main dining room. Deck 6 has the main show lounge forward, the casino, which can be avoided entirely, the Luxe Lounge, a very small room off the casino and boutique, a limited boutique shopping area, The Bistro, the library, the Starlight club, which is a pretty large show/lounge area, the computer center, the small Avenue Saloon, the Bridge (game) Lounge and the two specialty restaurants, Prego and the Silk Road. Decks 7, 8, 9 and 10 are staterooms with a self- service complimentary laundry on each deck. Deck 11 has the Palm Court Lounge and forward observation area, the pool, a covered area with table and chairs and a snack bar and ice cream station, and the Lido Buffet aft. A small aft Deck 12 area has the golf nets, tennis and basketball areas outside. A walkway leads forward to the spa and exercise area forward.
The decoration scheme is low key muted tones, with stainless steel and cream predominating.
There is little public art, none in the corridors or elevator lobbies or stair wells. There are three elevator banks, and usually they were accessed easily, without delay. Everything was meticulously maintained. There were small open deck areas aft of each of the four passenger decks with lounge chairs. It was a little chilly, but these quiet spots got some use. The library was well stocked for a ship this size. Deck seven, beneath the lifeboats, has a teak deck which goes completely around the ship in the old style, and makes for nice walking. Crystal does not strive for razz-a-ma-tazz, but quiet elegance, and achieves that nicely. It is a very comfortable, easily navigated and uncrowded vessel.
After the usual muster drill at 5:00 we set sail for Sept Îles down the river. We sailed past Quebec at night, and the next day was a "sea” day on the St. Lawrence river. On the way we deviated from a straight route, and went up the Saguenay River for a short view of this attractive area with its famous statue of Our Lady (Notre Dame) set high up on a hill overlooking the water.
This is an intriguing place. The name Seven Islands comes from the seven small islands at the mouth of a bay. The bay is on what really is the St. Lawrence estuary, almost 70 miles across from the Gaspe Peninsula. The main town is on the north side of the bay, a small city of about 25,000 inhabitants. It serves as a port for iron ore shipments from a huge mine about 350 miles north in the interior of Eastern Quebec. Across the bay is an aluminum plant. We took a ship’s complimentary bus to the local Walmart, and visited a few stores. We then found a path through the woods along the north side of the city overlooking the water. It was a sunny and reasonably warm day, and a delightful walk. We ended up at a small Indian museum where, for a very reasonable entry fee, we were treated to a most interesting talk about the trading history of the area, with demonstrations of the types of items traded between the original French settlers and the local tribes. We then took the bus back to the ship. The northern section of the town is what Canadians call a "reserve” and we call a reservation. It was controlled by Inuit tribe members, with their own small local government, including a police force! We felt that we had done a lot better than we would have on a ship’s tour. There was another Indian museum, but it was not open to the public that day because of a public hearing on some issue which were important to the tribe.
These are three islands connected by causeways. They are about 285 miles southeast of Sept Îles, and look from the air like a fish hook, running northeast to southwest, about 40 miles from the top to the base of the hook. They are in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, about 65 miles northwest of Cape Breton Island and 100 miles west of Newfoundland. We took a ship’s tour, and our guide, Robert was excellent. He noted that the "season” was over on the islands. Apparently they are a very popular summer vacation spot, particularly if one wants to eat great "Maine” lobsters. The population increases from 12,000 in the winter to 36,000 in the summer. Our trip took us to the shore where we walked along a lovely beach with red sandstone small cliffs. The island have low lying hills, very few trees, and the homes are small, brightly colored and very pretty. We then went to a glass factory to observe a glass blower make a delightful art piece. Apparently this was one of several class blowing sites. After this we visited a herring smokehouse followed by a visit to a cheese makers shop. All these sites were open only because of the ship’s visit, and they were no doubt pleased to make some sales to our fellow passengers. (Well, glass and cheese sales; - no smoked herring.) Robert was also part owner of a restaurant, and one or two couples went there to eat after we returned to the ship. Again, the weather was sunny and fairly warm, and we greatly enjoyed this stop.
St. Pierre & Miquelon
These island are part of France, and are a French Overseas Territory, with representatives in the French Parliament. The cars have the same license plates, complete with the European Union circle of stars on a blue field, that you would see on the streets of Paris. We understand that the French spoken here is much closer to the language spoken in France than French-Canadian French. The stores and café’s are typically French. Actually, only St. Pierre is visited much. It has about 6000 inhabitants, but Miquelon far less than a thousand. Our visit was highlighted by a zodiac tour into the surrounding waters. It was windy, but not really cold. We had good views of seals on small nearby islands, and an excellent view of a bald eagle on his own small island, as well as sightings of cormorants. Our guide was a young lady who handled the Zodiac with consummate ease, and spoke fairly good English.
After another sea day, we visited Quebec. We had been there before and decided to do our own tour. The way off the ship involves a bit of a hike, and you are led to a port building. A guide there told us about a place to get a good view of the city. We first walked up, through the Vieux Port (Old Port) area to the plaza near the Chateau Frontenac. From there we went to a government building behind the very ornate, late 19th century Parliament. The government building has a viewing floor about 42 stories up. There you can walk around the whole floor and get a spectacular view of all sides of the city. There are many signs and interactive screens near the windows, and a set of 6 "egg” chairs with surround sound providing "talks” by representatives of inhabitants of the city area from the original natives to a 20th century poet.
The weather was beautiful, and the colors of the trees changing to their fall glory made this a wonderful experience. We returned to the Old City and wandered through the shops, leaving me with enough time to enjoy some ice cream. Edith found a Jade Museum which had a wonderful and extraordinarily complete collection of jade. It is down the stairs next to the Geomania Gem store in Place Royale on Rue Notre Dame, directly opposite the church.
Again, we had a delightful day on our own.
The next day we were back in Montreal. Crystal provided an excellent bus transportation ride to the airport, including load and unloading our suitcases.
Everyone wants to know about shipboard food. We believe that Crystal provides the overall best dining experience of any cruise line, although Oceania’s new ships, Marina and Riviera with their four no-charge specialty restaurants, are mighty close. We ate twice the Silk Road, also without additional charge; and enjoyed both occasions very much. The first was booked online prior to departure, and was on the first night. The second was a few days later, and although we were on a wait list at first, we were called during the day, and given an excellent time. Breakfast as usual, was excellent, with many choices. The pancake, waffle, French toast set up had warm plates, soft butter and real maple syrup. Now that is how it should be! The lunches in the buffet were also marked with a wide selection. We even had fresh oysters one day. Dinners were also fine, although Edith thought that some of the vegetarian portions were small, and left her still hungry. The appetizers, soups and desserts were all excellent.
The dining set-up was a little confusing at first. We did not want to choose a set, early or late dinner time, since we understood that this meant we would be at the same table with the same people. So we would go to the dining room when it opened, or shortly thereafter, and request a table with other people from the maître d’. He would consult his list, wave a waiter over, and instruct him what table to take us to. It turned out that we often ate with the same people because that table was not regularly filled. In any event, it worked out pretty well.
Of special mention is the Bistro Café on Deck 6. It has a small buffet set-up, with the food items changed frequently during the day. Coffee, latte, cappuccino etc. is available all the time. It is open from 9:00 A.M. until 11:00 P.M. There is no charge for anything, and it became one of our favorite places.
Edith attended some art classes, and enjoyed them. I participated in many, but not all, of the golf lessons. These were taught by a golf pro, with hands on evaluations. The classes were attended by around 20 people, and were very instructive. At the end, we were taped making swings, and then our tapes were evaluated in a final viewing session. Since this was all without charge, we were very pleased.
We were less pleased with the Enrichment series, which did not live up to similar series on prior Crystal cruises. We think it was due to the fact that the lecturers were a tad past their sell by date, to put it kindly, and less than informative or enlightening. There were many other activities in which we did not participate, or which conflicted with things we wanted to do, but this is typical of any cruise. You simply cannot do all the things offered. Edith wanted to attend one event at one of the jewelry boutiques, but nobody showed up, leaving several prospective viewers annoyed. Since the stores are not staffed by Crystal personnel, we can’t blame the ship for this lapse.
This was a cruise that featured presentations sponsored by a group called "Jazzdagen”. This group presented various jazz programs at different times of day, in different locations, with a varying group of performers. They were not part of the formal Crystal entertainment program, but when I managed to get to see and hear some of the performances, they were pretty good.
The production group, with two lead vocalists and eight dancers was excellent. Crystal always seems to get very good performers for their production companies, and they far outshone the usual group of singers and dancers on other cruise line. This group did present a different special show called Imagine, using a technology called "iLumine”. In this the dancers wore lights on their arm and legs and essentially danced in the dark, so one only saw the lights, and not their bodies. A short sequence of this might well have been enjoyable, but it went on far too long and was unduly repetitious. An entertainer described as a "raconteur” Marthy Henne, did two other shows, and was very enjoyable, both as to his talk portion, and the selection of songs he played and sang. There also was a magician, and I am a sucker for magicians, so I enkoyed it greatly. Finally, there was a vocalist, Karen Grainger, whose forte was imitating famous singers. She was pretty good, but a little loud.
This was perhaps the first cruise we have taken which did not have a classical trio or quartet; and we missed that. I believe this was due to the fact that the jazz groups were playing at many different times and different venues.
There was one occasion when I went to the Avenue Saloon to hear one of the jazz singers, but the other patrons in the saloon kept up such loud conversations that there was no way we could enjoy the music.
As always, the crew was great. The waiters were uniformly good, especially an assistant headwaiter, Willy Capule, who was everywhere, taking care of everyone with a cheerful smile all the time. The front desk was cheerful and helpful; not always true of some ships we have sailed on.
We have always enjoyed Crystal Cruises. Their attention to detail, quality of service, entertainment food and general helpfulness are the gold standard of large ship cruising. This was an all-inclusive cruise, with all food and drinks included; as well as gratuities. The only things we paid for separately were laundry (especially after four days in Montreal to start), internet usage, and two excursions. The pre-paid shipboard credits from our travel agency reduced our final bill to less than $100.00.
We enjoy the fact that the only P.A. announcements are a mid-day report from the Captain.
As noted, embarkation and debarkation are as painless as possible. The very high space ratio is much appreciated, as are the many venues around the ship. Crystal is a super-professional company, with as close to an ideal operation as one can get, given a certain omnipresent level of human fallibility. We were extremely fortunate with the weather, which was sunny and almost warm every day. I wore my Aran Island wool sweater only once. We were told that the same cruise the in 2012 was marked by clouds and fog for the entire trip. We were very lucky, and enjoyed one of our finest cruises ever.