For us this was somewhat of a repeat of 2014 Crystal Cruise vacation on the Symphony up the eastern U.S. coats with stops in Canada and then to Iceland. This year we added the Ireland and U.K. component making our trip 16 days.
Last year we wrote that we found the all-inclusive Crystal Cruise lines was the clearly the cruise line for wealthy alcoholics. That opinion has not changed. There were changes from 2014 to 2015. Some were good and some were clearly the home office squeezing nickels. But let's start with the three funniest comments or actions during our trip.
1) A very nice waiter from Eastern Europe at a crowded Lido lunch buffet and a woman passenger:
BAR HARBOR: Just like the last three years, Enterprise was at the dock and the ride to airport to get our car was very pleasant.
We did our usual exploring down roads not on the map and had a fine time. We stopped in Southwest Harbor at Charlotte's Legendary Lobster Pound for lunch. It was a walk up drive-in with picnic tables. We found it a little overpriced and not very good. The first clue should have been that we were the first customers of the day.
After returning our car at the Airport, Ashley at the Enterprise office was nice enough to go out of her way to drop off my wife downtown and me at the dock.
The rental car was far cheaper than any tour offered on the ship.
GETTING THERE AND GETTING HOME: It used to be living in the Midwest a trip from St. Louis to New York or the West Coast was considered a major flight. Not any more, unless you are flying Southwest. The 1100 miles from St. Louis to New York is now handled by commuter planes under contract to the major carriers. The disadvantage is you are in a crowded smaller airplane. The advantage is that flying first class on Delta-Light is a lot cheaper than flying first class on Big Delta.
We flew to New York the day before the cruise. On the way there we decided to go first class and booked a suite at the Waldorf Astoria towers. Okay it was $612 for the one night. We were unaware that the Waldorf had been sold to a group of Chinese investors and the entire hotel was to close in 2017 for four years. The tower suites are supposed to be made into condos with only a portion of the original hotel returning as a hotel in 2021.
Getting to the Waldorf was a bit of a challenge. We normally use Arecibo Car Service (855-428-0222). Once outside of the baggage claim at LaGuardia I called for a car and one was there in 15 minutes, which actually is a little long for Arecibo. The driver was pleasant for not speaking any English and he had an excellent ability to drive on traffic choked highways and Manhattan streets. The problem was that he had no idea where the Waldorf Astoria Hotel was. It may as well have been in Atlanta.
An hour later we arrived and the fare was only $45.
A NIGHT AT THE WALDORF: Check in was confusing. The staff at the garage drop off sent us to the wrong desk for check in. The hotel looked great including our small suite. However a closer look showed the chairs in the room and the lobby well worn and frayed and other furniture scratched, chipped and nicked. The view from the room was great.
That night we ate at a restaurant five blocks away. We got back to the hotel a little before 9 o'clock sat in the lobby having decided to "people watch." 45 minutes later as we were about to leave Emilee Floor showed up and started to play the piano in the lobby café. This meant another hour plus a bill for drinks. Emilee was a treat, but the volume on her mic and amp made it impossible to hear her unless you were at a nearby table. She also plays at the Plaza.
The free breakfast on the 16th floor was very nice with one exception. Our room key was suppose to allow us entry. It didn't, forcing us to knock loudly to get in. We had a late checkout of 1 o'clock which allowed my wife to do some shopping and for us to return to sandwiches and sweets.
TO THE SHIP: We called Arecibo Car Service and they had no one who could pick up up. The doorman found a black car owned by Alex Lara. He knew exactly where he was going and got us there quickly for a price that was twice as high at what Arecibo would charge. I was happy to pay. Alex assured us he would be happy to pick us up in 17 days at JFK and drop us at our hotel near LaGuardia. He took our Icelandair flight information. He was a no show.
HALIFAX: For years we have avoided going to Peggy's Cove the top tourist spot south of Halifax. My wife decided she wanted to see why the cruise ship sells seats on a tour bus there. We would advise you to skip this in the height of the summer season. On June 15 with many schools still in session the parking lots were 80% full. I have a feeling this would be a nightmare in July.
Once again we rented an Enterprise car. The rental office was across the street from the cruise ship terminal in the railroad station. The best part was they had a return lot that was even closer to the ship.
After Peggy's Cove that feature a collision between two tour buses on a narrow road on the day of our visit, we headed south along the coast road to Lunenburg one of the prettiest coastal towns anywhere. We stopped at a local seasonal market and bought some local preserves and jellies as gifts.
ST. JOHN'S STATE OF MIND: We were really looking forward to visiting St. John's Newfoundland. We were there in 2010 and had a great time with a rental car meeting people and enjoying coastal towns. In 2014 Symphony was supposed to stop in St. John's but cancelled due to icebergs and fog. This year they cancelled again. The ship could safely get into the harbor, but forecasted high winds meant the ship would have to stay in harbor overnight and delay its arrival to Reykjavik. So we ended up with five sea days.
GREENOCK/GLASGOW: We have driven Scotland before and decided to skip taking a 45-minute train ride to Glasgow. My wife walked the downtown area of Greenock and had a fine time.
DUBLIN: Here is an example why you should always get along with your tablemates on cruises. On a 2011 Celebrity Cruise on the old Century from Vancouver to Alaska and then to San Diego we were at a table of six, with a couple from England and a couple from Dublin.
In 2014 the couple from outside of London decided to fly to Chicago, rent a car for 30 days and follow the lyrics of the Bobby Troupe song "Route Sixty-Six." They stayed three nights with us outside of St. Louis as they did the 2,000 miles along the way.
2015 it was the turn of Ronan and Katherine in Dublin. They met us at the ship at 10 am. A four or five hour tour would have been great. Instead we apparently held them hostage all day. We got an insider's view of the Dublin region, including lunch at a country club and dinner at their home. 12 1/2 hours later we were dropped off back at the ship. While we would have liked to have paid for something, we couldn't. An all day tour plus meals…total cost ZERO. Lesson learned…make friends at the cruise ship dinner table.
REYKJAVIK, ICELAND: Rather than renting a car, we did a four hour taxi tour. Keep in mind that since the 2009 banking collapse, everything still costs a lot more in Iceland. Last year a 45-minute taxi ride from the dock to the airport cost $175. So $325 for four hours seemed reasonable.
Our driver/guide was Gundmundur Birgir Stefansson, who does four hour and four day tours of Iceland. He was excellent. I told him we had seen most tourist locations on past trips and asked to see subdivisions, seaside areas away from tourist and places where the locals like to go. This resulted in the good natured trip to the prison, which was actually in front a pretty village with a different Smurf cutout in yards throughout the village. Of course this is not too unusual in a country where a large percentage of the populations believe in elves.
We had a fun time with Birgir and would recommend him. His email address is email@example.com