Before boarding the "Symphony" October 25 for a 12 night to Bermuda and the Caribbean, a three night New York pre stay was delightful, anchored by a fine hotel "The Setai", newly built from the ground up, staring at the Empire State Building. My wife and I, treating ourselves to a belated 47 year anniversary, watched a top Broadway Show "Going Away" and the the next evening,a Cuban band while dining. We visited The Whitney and New York City museums, Ground Zero Memorial and the protest encampments. We strolled the High Line Park, ingeniously landscaped on top of an abandoned railway trestle. Also we took Greenwich and East Village walking tour in which residents spend millions for historic quarters with tiny AC boxes in the windows.
I boarded the "Symphony" with an incipient cold which manifested itself fully mid cruise. However, the seas were smooth. I managed to attend most ship events and go ashore in which I found the Caribbean Islands less interesting and exotic than Far East Ports and environs, which have more variety than the proliferation of endless tax and duty free stores which envelope the Caribbean ports. However, a satisfying out of town alternative is the fine beaches and water sports. We discovered two gorgeous beaches as the swimming was calm, buttressed by sugary and rock free sand. In contrast, Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach was disturbed by a recent storm.(The beauty of travel is that that one's perceptions can change for better or worse, no matter how many travel books, cruise folders,or weather reports one reads. Nicely, Crystal Cruise Lines was a good cocoon). The Caribbean island taxi rides seemed exorbitant, as in Bermuda, but there I liked the shop keepers best as their manners seemed more refined and street touts were rare.
Antigua was lively and rollicking, with clothes, behavior and cars mimicking inner city youth culture in America, a country and president they admire. The street scene was a relief from the social rigidity and constant activities aboard the "Sympathy". Dining,lectures,card games,table tennis, fitness instruction,dance lessons, just never ending.. The ship, not unlike a wondrous summer camp for retirees, like myself, had luscious dinning and endless activities, but the cramped window only cabins forces couples to escape early elsewhere on the ship. Never mind, Crystal has some event or activity to entertain you to relieve any boredom. My advice is to book a balcony, if affordable, as the wonderful promenade deck has few chairs to escape the pool crowd and really be left alone, not trading stares. The bathroom was compact but the shower water forceful and always hot. The cabin AC was quiet. One could sleep, but the bed was too firm so a crew member brought foam immediately.
I felt as if I was cruising in a ocean retirement estate with nice wealthy passengers, dressed expensively, but if you can mask your true social station, such as mine, and update your clothes, you will be fine. The ship and passengers seemed tolerant as there were gays and handicaps sprinkled about who had good taste, apparently enjoying the space and tolerance. I found all passengers cordial and admired the determination of those in wheel chairs.
However, at the disembarkation breakfast, I went to shake hand and say farewell to a senior dining staff member, who, excluded from ship tip recommendations,(which I innocently followed),was surprisingly rebuking and told me "I did not appreciate his service". Indeed I had tipped the stewardess beyond the recommendation as she was very helpful dealing with my cold. Bitter and feeling ostracized, I felt everything had been a fraud and I was duped.I contacted the line who gave the profuse but standard apology with a small future credit, with conditions. I did not accept this they as they only had one other ship remaining, "The Serenity", and frankly, I need more ship credit to dare splurge again, as middle class financially, I shouldn't extinguish my savings with endless cruises no matter how much I enjoy pampering.
Actually, my top demand was for a direct apology from the ship member who offended me. As of yet, this has not been forthcoming. To deal with the tipping agony, the line is transitioning to " all inclusive". This will prevent such incidents as mine, reducing any temptation for dinning room staff pandering. Nevertheless, I still recommend Crystal, if you can afford a balcony. Overall I remember all the good mornings, the endless pepper offerings, the tea servings by deferential servants in long tails. But my fantasy evaporated at the end. Was everything a fraud, including myself?