3 Quebec City Fitness Cruise Reviews

BACKGROUND INFORMATION: I have cruised 42 times on multiple different cruise lines. I travel solo and can’t get enough of cruising – I love being on the ocean. This cruise was in celebration of a milestone birthday. I’m an ... Read More
BACKGROUND INFORMATION: I have cruised 42 times on multiple different cruise lines. I travel solo and can’t get enough of cruising – I love being on the ocean. This cruise was in celebration of a milestone birthday. I’m an adventurous “mature” adult who views every trip and cruise as a unique chance to experience the world and its people. TRAVEL TO EMBARKATION: Limo service from my rural northeast home to Montreal, Quebec. Really excellent train ride from Montreal to Quebec City on VIA Rail Canada, first class, with beautiful restored “Renaissance” class car with a row of single seats and a row of double seats, very good lunch, beverage service, and wines included. Quiet, clean, and wonderful way to begin a cruise, plus great scenery. Once in Quebec City, a 10-minute cab ride from my hotel to the cruise terminal was very inexpensive, in a clean, upscale vehicle with a courteous English-speaking driver. HOTELS: In Montreal, I stayed at the Hilton Montreal Bonaventure, where I’ve had good stays before. In Quebec City, I stayed at the legendary historic landmark Chateau de Frontenac, high atop the cliffs of the city. It was like being in a French chateau in a past century, beautifully restored and preserved, and absolutely gorgeous and full of luxuries. Reasonable prices to begin with, and I received a complimentary upgrade to the high-floor executive level. Great view, plus access to the executive lounge with its lovely service, beverages, and foods. At the end of the cruise, I once again stayed at the Hilton Montreal Bonaventure, who really exceeded all expectations and upgraded me to what appeared to be their presidential suite at the originally booked standard room rate, on my birthday. SHIP: The “Crystal Serenity” appeared clean, perfectly maintained and beautiful outside. The inside was indeed “serene”, with subdued colors, tasteful furnishings, and luxury feel everywhere - decorated with lovely marble, fabrics, style. Even the air smelled luxurious, and everything appeared brand new and/or so well maintained it appeared this 11 year old vessel had just been launched. The ship is 68,870 tons, with a length of 820 feet, beam of 106 feet. Top speed is 22 knots. There are nine passenger decks. A crew of 655 cares superbly for a maximum passenger compliment of 1,070. On my cruise, however, there were approximately 800 people on board. The ship is painted white overall, with beautiful yacht-like lines. There is a marvelous wood-decked completely circular one-level promenade deck, great for walking or jogging. The lifeboats are recessed within the hull. I wondered if the ship were soundproofed throughout, as it was unusually quiet no matter where I was within the ship. This ship does not have the glitzy multilevel atrium many cruise ships feature, but rather a two-level atrium at the ship’s center, with comfortable seating scattered throughout, plenty of windows with cushioned window seats, the reception/concierge desk, future cruise desk, Crystal Society desk, a small bar, a unique clear-crystal piano, and a beautiful two-story wall made of what appeared to be Murano glass of various colors, with a small cascading water fountain. There is a bronze statue of a woman playing a harp, with beautiful detail. A curving staircase descends from the upper level of the atrium down to the marble floor first level, perfect for formal night grand entrances. It is luxurious, serene and peaceful in the atrium, and this feeling was enhanced by a string quartet playing classical music there at various times. It reminded me of a grand foyer entrance to a stately home. Subdued colors are found throughout the ship, very tasteful and rich. There is none of the bright, sparkly, flashing, neon glitz seen over so much of the industry’s shipping afloat today. EMBARKATION: Pure pleasure. Courteous porters took my bag at the curb when I arrived by cab. Next, a quick walk through the small cruise terminal in Quebec City, right on the St. Lawrence River. The usual security screening was done quickly and courteously. Entry to the ship was through an enclosed walkway, which was especially appreciated as the day of embarkation had cold, raw, windy weather with rain. The actual “check-in” process was carried out in the lovely atrium of the ship. There must have been at least 40 agents sitting at tables with linen tablecloths, so there were no lines and no waiting. The agent took my papers, took a photo, gave me the cabin key card and some welcome-aboard information, and that was it – less than five minutes in a very gracious and relaxed setting. Cabin access was not until approximately 3 PM, and as boarding began at 1 PM, I had some time before going to my cabin. The string quartet was playing, the bar was open, waiters circulated with champagne on silver trays, the receptionists were patiently answering questions, lots of material was available to read about future cruises and the current cruise, old friends from previous trips were meeting, and the feeling was more like old friends gathering at a luxury estate for a vacation together than the usual hassles with embarkation many cruise lines seem to have. The wait went quickly with the sociable guests and crew. For those not wishing to haul their hand baggage with them, a secure check-in station had been established, and crew took the bags to the passenger staterooms to await the arrival of the passengers in their cabins later on. CABIN: I had a deck 8 midship deluxe verandah stateroom. It seemed about 30% larger than the usual balcony cabin. Luxury fabrics and quiet colors, subdued and peaceful. Queen-size bed with luxury linens and lots of pillows, but with a slightly tired and soft mattress. Pillow menu made getting just the right pillow very easy – just ask the stewardess and they were brought. Small leather sofa near the balcony glass wall. Desk/vanity and TV above a small refrigerator. Lots of lovely dark wood cabinetry and closet sliding doors. Plenty of mirrors. Closet had substantial and plentiful wood hangers, a safe with touch-pad entry, shoehorn, robe, slippers, huge umbrella, shoe care kit, clothes brush. Rack for shoes on closet floor, and shelves and drawers. There was a phone near the bed but not on the desk. Only one electric outlet at the desk, which could have used more outlets in this day of so many devices requiring charging. Lighting was plentiful, but could have been brighter, especially at the desk area. Nice clean carpet in very good condition for a cruise ship, as were all the furnishings in the room. Refrigerator had complimentary variety of soft drinks, waters, beer. Anything the passenger wishes can be brought quickly to stock or replenish the refrigerator. The verandah wall is all glass with a sliding door. There are sheer drapes against the glass, and then heavier light-blocking drapes which can be pulled over the sheers – the regular drapes are tied back neatly during the day. There were two chairs and a small table on the fairly large verandah, but due to mainly cold and windy and damp weather, I did not get nearly enough use out of this really nice balcony. Good TV channel selection with better than average reception, plus a bow camera view and ships statistics channel. TV had a DVD player built in. The bathroom was incredible, probably three times as large as the usual cruise ship bathroom. There was a gorgeous double-sink granite sink top in warm rust/gold/earth tones. Big mirrored wall above the sink, with shelf. Good bright lighting. Lots of separate shelves on either side of the mirror – lots of good storage space. There was a full-size bathtub with a hand-held shower setup inside a glass and shower-curtain enclosure. Even the toilet was a surprise, as it was a nearly full-size facility compared to the tiny ones on regular ships. Nicely placed towel racks. The towels were luxury thick, fluffy, soft, and looked brand new. You do not see thin, ragged, scratchy towels on this ship! Towels are replaced twice daily if you wish, but the usual eco-friendly practices abound on this ship – hang up the towel and reuse if you wish. Aveda bath products provided in the bathroom. There were shower caps, Q-tips, cotton balls, good-quality bath tissue and Kleenex provided. There was a soft small rug on the bathroom floor – nice touch for bare feet, but it could be very slippery so beware. Everything in the bathroom appeared spotlessly clean. There were several coat hooks on the wall near the door, very convenient. There were cloth laundry and shoe bags in the closet, again an eco-friendly effort, as well as the enormous cloth logo totebag. A large adjustable table was near the sofa for meals in the room. A full-length mirror was on the wall near the hall to the door. There was a small touch-pad system replacing the usual door-hanger signs – one of the best systems I’ve ever seen – to either announce the do not disturb status or request for cabin cleanup and service. One touch of the pad inside the cabin near the door lights the appropriate signal sign on a small pad outside the door. Touch again and the sign light goes out. There is also a real doorbell touch pad on the corridor-side pad so housekeeping can ring the bell rather than barge in and disturb the occupants, or guests can ring the bell when they visit. Very good climate-control system with heating and air conditioning adjustable individually for each cabin – just touch the indicator pad on the small control on the wall. A small bedside alarm clock was provided. I believe the cabin walls were soundproofed, as I never heard the people on either side of me. The cabin was so luxurious and comfortable it was a destination itself, as was the ship. ACTIVITIES: There were activities to suit all ages and interest levels. There is a “University at Sea”, offering computer classes, camera classes, personal enrichment topics, and other learning opportunities. World-class lecturers spoke each day on pertinent and interesting topics, with lectures in the very comfortable small theater on the ship. Fitness fans could work with a personal trainer for a fee, or use the huge array of new equipment and free weights in the fitness center. Joggers, runners, and walkers had plenty of space to do laps around the promenade deck. It is obvious that personal wellness is a popular topic on this ship, and plenty of opportunities are there to stay fit and well. My only wish in this area was for a Zumba class. Small groups met for diverse activities such as bridge, knitting, needlepoint, crafts, and reading. There was a small, elegant and apparently smoke-free casino with the usual games of chance and slots, including penny slots machines. There were plenty of photo opportunities and a nice photo gallery. Many people simply enjoyed socializing and looking out the windows at the ever-changing sea, or strolled with friends within the ship. Activities on this luxury-level ship are aimed at an older, mature passenger demographic for the most part. You will not find the raucous, carnival-type games and noise here. The passengers on my cruise appeared to be on average at least over 60, mostly couples, but plenty of singles (this cruise line offers some very nice price breaks for solo travelers). The passengers on this cruise were mainly from the USA and Canada, but there were other nationalities nicely mixed in as well. Most of the passengers I spoke to were devoted fans of Crystal Cruise Line and belonged to the Crystal Society of past passengers at some astoundingly high cruise number levels. There were a lot of professional people, very well-to-do, as well as ordinary Mr. and Mrs. Anywhere USA couples and singles. Everyone was very quiet, courteous, and interesting to socialize with. I love ballroom dancing, and this ship offers Ambassador Hosts, a small group of gentlemen who are available to dance with single ladies, or attend meals and tours with those wishing company while traveling solo. I danced every night almost until midnight with these courteous, well-traveled and well-spoken gentlemen from various countries, who were all outstanding dancers. It was one of the highlights of the cruise for me, and there was a small live orchestra for dancing in the beautiful lounge with a proper wood dance floor. A small bar is in the lounge area for those wishing drinks. There were just two sea days on this cruise, and I know there were more activities than I’ve listed here. The daily “Reflections” newsletter delivered each night to the staterooms was full of listings for dining, fun, relaxation, etc. There is a very nice spa at the top of the ship, and I splurged with a manicure, pedicure, and massage to get my birthday body some really nice pampering the last day of the cruise. Various societies represented on the ship offered some type of social gathering or cocktail party nearly every day of the cruise at various times. The future cruise consultant was a genial multilingual gentleman who always had somebody at his desk and a few people waiting. Apparently the loyalty to this brand keeps people booking the next cruise right on the ship, with good extras available if you do so. Another unique feature of this ship were four ladies who live on it. I met one of them who had been on the ship for six years straight. Talking to her was incredibly interesting, especially learning about the logistics of extreme downsizing with possessions and property, plus how to deal with the daily temptations of rich cruise ship food. The knitting and needlepoint groups were as much fun for the talk and shipboard gossip as they were for the small complimentary projects available, and often the groups met in the same lounge area where the elegant and elaborate themed traditional high tea events were held, with the classical string quartet playing. The high tea events featured servers in tuxedos, magnificent English and German elaborate china and silver, and very tempting and beautiful food items. There were just a few shops, all of which offered goods at the luxury level. There was a clothing ship, a “logo” articles and clothing shop with a very small selection of necessities and ship souvenirs, a perfume and cosmetics boutique which smelled so divine I wish they could make a perfume from the fragrance inside and sell it with the name “Cruise Ship”, and a very elegant high-end jewelry boutique with some of the most magnificent jeweled creations I’ve seen outside of a museum or world-class jewelry establishment. Everything on sale was tasteful and appeared carefully selected, and displays changed frequently. There weren’t any of the “sidewalk sales” other cruise ships offer. In a sensible change of procedure, the captain and officers do not shake hands at the meet and greet functions, very smart in these times of lots of nasty diseases in closed populations. I saw the Norwegian captain just once while walking through the ship, and he was a big man who appeared very serious and dedicated, but also polite when I said good morning to him as he went about his rounds with his staff. Safety was his priority, and after all, that is his main job. A popular activity on one of the sea days was an “open house” of the various types of staterooms available on the ship. It was a marvelous, clever selling tool for those not familiar with the ship or the actual cabins, as a photo can only demonstrate so much in a flat dimension. The penthouse suites were incredible to actually visit in person, and all categories of staterooms were lovely. Even the lowest-category outside cabins with a big picture window were extremely spacious and had the same nice bathroom as the other categories outside the suites and penthouses. The bottom ledge of the picture window was cushioned, and would make a great place to sit and watch the seas roll by, or just enjoy a cup of tea while reading, assuming one is agile enough to climb up the short distance to settle on the ledge. SERVICE: The best I’ve ever seen on any cruise ship, ever. Nothing was too much to ask for, and anything requested was taken care of incredibly fast. There were no excuses about why something could not be done – it was just quietly and efficiently made to happen, “with our compliments” – “it’s our pleasure”, etc. The staff always remained professional, cool, gracious, polite, composed, and willingly helpful. It felt like being royalty and treated accordingly. As this ship is all-inclusive, tips were included generously, and there were none of the sly, subtle little games played by the crew to get more tips. All the crew apparently had to speak English to work on this ship, and all were multilingual. Very international crew who had some great stories to share, and it was a good chance to meet and interact with people from other cultures. This crew seemed far better educated and sociable than on other ships. Cabin service appeared to be mainly female stewardesses, although I did see male waiters for room service and some room cleaners. I had a lovely lady from India caring for my stateroom, and she was genuinely dedicated to good service and being helpful. A huge plus was not finding service carts blocking the walkways first thing in the morning. The early-morning hallways were silent, clean, and uncluttered. Cabin service was at the guest’s choice of time, but appeared to usually being around midmorning to allow people to breakfast in their cabins undisturbed, or perhaps sleep late without being disturbed. The cabin service took longer than usual, but appeared more thorough as well. Service was complete twice a day, morning and evening turn-down. No pillow chocolates or towel animals on this cruise line, but that’s something I can easily do without. Eve the white orchids in a silver vase which I found on embarkation in my cabin, as well as the flower bouquet in my cabin delivered later on embarkation day from my travel agent were watered regularly by my cabin stewardess! Any shipboard mail, notices, invitations, etc. were placed in a “mail box” type rack just outside the cabin door, and there was a lot of printed information every day to keep passengers well informed without disturbing them. No annoying loud announcements were ever heard, as the ship has a “no-announcements’ policy unless it related to an emergency or port visit status. The captain makes a daily noon broadcast of items of interest, weather, position, etc. and this is heard ship-wide and on the decks. Anything related to safety or disembarkation at ports is also broadcast in the corridors as well as a designated shipboard TV channel in the staterooms. What a relief not to hear some braying carnival-barker style announcements constantly for art auctions while trying to take a guilt-free nap on a cruise! Items like time-change notices appear in printed notices and the daily newsletter. The crew was always willing to take photographs for passengers requesting this, which is a huge improvement for solo travelers trying to get a decent “selfie”. Everybody smiled most of the time, said hello quietly, and were one of the most contented crews I’ve ever encountered. Nobody complained about being tired, and nobody kept talking about how many months, days, weeks, hours they still had to work before their contract ran out. Good teamwork and mutual respect was apparent among the crew members. Dining room service was at the level of what the royals of the world probably receive. Nothing was too much to ask for, and everything was done with grace, style, smiles, courtesy, quiet professional efficiency, and warm concern that the guest was enjoying everything as much as possible. My table had a very compatible and expert team of two male waiters – one from Hungary and one from Croatia. Every night’s entrance into the dining room began with the head waiters and maitre’d at their podium, beaming at the guests, as well as a side line of 10 waiters smiling and offering to escort guests to their tables. Table service was the best I’ve seen in many years of cruising. Service at breakfast and lunch in the buffet restaurant also was extraordinarily good most of the time, with far more than average staffing. There were no trays in the buffet restaurant, but an observant waiter or waitress immediately approaches and offers to hold one’s plates as you progress through the lines, and they patiently wait with you while you choose your meal items, and then take all your plates and bowls or whatever to your table and then proceed to bring the beverage(s) of your choice. They will check up on you during the meal as well and bring seconds of anything and more beverages. The buffet crews feed you love along with your food. It is obvious that this crew knows they are on the ship to cater to very discerning passengers who pay a lot and expect the best for their cruise experience, and service is truly amazing in every department. DINING: Besides the main dining room, there are two pay-per-visit specialty restaurants – Silk Road and Prego. I did not take the opportunity to enjoy Prego, but did eat twice at Silk Road, with the feeling being that I can get Italian cuisine easily where I live, but not Japanese food. Silk Road is small and elegant, with superb service by its staff. There are flexible seating arrangements from a table for one or two, up to groups. There is also a sushi bar. An intricate and very unique menu offers a good variety of Japanese cuisine with some very different combinations of ingredients and seasonings. Chopsticks are provided as well as the usual utensils. Portions are small but adequate, and arranged like works of art. If you desire more of something, you will have it delivered to your table most graciously. There is chicken, seafood, fish, noodle type items, and many other choices. Deserts are wonderful as well. Appropriate complimentary beverages as well as for-pay menu are available to compliment any main entrée. The usual cruise ship buffet restaurants and little places around the lido deck offered grilled items and ice cream, too. I had expected true gourmet and Continental cuisine, with the rich sauces and complex recipes, in the dining room menus, but was rather disappointed to discover American home-cooking and “comfort food” items among the other and often somewhat peculiar food items offered. Salmon seemed to be offered at least twice a day in some form as well. Seeing liver and onions, fried chicken and roast turkey on such an elegant ship just didn’t really fit in with the luxury cruise ambience. Considering the majority of passengers were from the USA, however, perhaps it is the cruise line’s intention to feed these people what they want and get at home. When I cruise, it’s a chance to get away from dull, “healthy”, and boring food at home and enjoy the world’s cuisine and lots of good deserts guilt-free on vacation. The fish items were among bottom-feeder and bait varieties, for the most part, and the one time lobster was served, it was tasteless and mushy. Salad dressings on the buffet line were watery and poor quality. There certainly were enough items in all food groups to create something good, however, and it just took some time and practice. International food theme days were a feature on the buffet food lines, but some items weren’t really that good. There was a huge overabundance of using kernel corn and red and green bell peppers and onions as fillers in too many dishes. Dining room menu desserts had little variety, and seemed to be mainly made of fruit ingredients, with a lot of ice cream served. There were a lot of sugar-free and flourless items, but most were rather dry and tasteless. “Modern” cuisine was on the menu for lunch and dinner, but it appeared to be an overabundance of someone’s ideas of creative food blendings and preparation – different, and usually tasty, but a bit too exotic for my personal taste. Complimentary red and white wines which were very good were available at lunch and dinner, with premium other alcoholic beverages available for purchase. A big problem was the buffet line, where many items had obviously been prepared far ahead of serving times, and were held under ineffective heat lamps which did nothing to keep the items warm. Repeatedly, waffles and pancakes and other hot items were lukewarm or cold, and often dry and stiff. Same for the breakfast pastries first thing in the morning, as they had apparently been sitting out far too long and had become dry and stale. Some of the dining room food was also served below proper temperature for hot items, and not chilled properly for cold items. This was mentioned to the proper authorities several times, but I did not see much improvement in the seven days of this cruise. This situation is not unique to Crystal, however, as I’ve seen it on all 42 cruises I’ve enjoyed. Buffet items all had their little individual tags in front of them, identifying what each item was. Beverage selection was outstanding all over the ship, be it in the bars, dining rooms, or buffet restaurant. It was nice to have a whole can of soda brought to the table to enjoy, and many varieties of bottled water were also there for those wishing it. Sometimes cold beverages arrived without ice, which seemed to be the norm in Quebec restaurants and in Europe, too, but it was simple to remember to just ask for ice, please, and it was provided. The buffet restaurant tables were nicely set with china and silver, but a small plastic place mat was on the tables, and I did not see it cleaned between diners – and silverware was placed unwrapped on this plastic mat. This seems to be a serious breach of good health practices, as other diners put their used utensils on the mat during the meal. This was a rather tacky procedure in an otherwise beautifully set table. The dining room tables were masterpieces of flower arrangements and magnificent china, silver and glassware. The line uses Villeroy and Boch china, and has a series of four unique old-world map design charger plates on the tables. These plates were designed specifically for the cruise line, and I bought one of them for a souvenir of the trip. There were two seatings in the main dining room – main and late, as well as dining by reservation, and the buffet offered walk-in convenient service all during the day for the appropriate meals. A handy and appreciated electronic, large menu display is on the wall just outside both buffet entrances, and it changes screens to show all the food items available at each meal. I was delightfully surprised by the maitre’d and his staff when they brought a lovely chocolate birthday cake with candle to my table in the dining room – a very nice way to celebrate my milestone birthday and to be able to share it with the two very nice couples at my table that evening. Room service had a good menu available 24 hours a day, and although I did not try it, apparently the menu in the dining rooms is also available for service in the staterooms, with more items available to the elite penthouse accommodation passengers. PORTS AND SHORE EXCURSIONS: The ship provides a printed information sheet on each place visited. This cruise departed from Quebec City in Canada, and sailed up the St. Lawrence River, making a scenic cruise for a few hours in the Saguenay River fjord. Lots of beautiful fall foliage was visible, as well as quaint tiny villages along the riverbanks. There was a respectful and peaceful short stop below the beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary high on a cliff above the Saguenay River. The first port visited was Sept Isles, a small town on the St. Lawrence River. There were organized tours, but I chose to explore and walk on my own. An old historic trading post has been restored and preserved, and was an interesting place to see at the edge of town. There is an Innu Native “reserve” as part of the town, and a new marina with a scenic walkway along the riverfront. There were bus tours offered on local school buses, but I believe I saw most of what they did during my hours-long walk. The main highway at the inland edge of town leads to Quebec City, 10 hours away. There are the usual big-box stores and fast-food places along the highway. Effort has been put into upgrading the town, roads, cruise terminal (which had lively local music, foods, crafts on sale and nice helpful tourism people). The people I met while walking were helpful and friendly, and some did speak enough English to get directions and just interact sociably. The next port was the Isle de Madeleine, but due to very high winds and rough seas the tender shuttle service was not possible safely. A short stop in view of the scenic cliffs was about all we were able to do. The tiny islands of St. Pierre et Miquelon were next for the cruise, with tender shuttle service to the town pier. There were still very high winds and rough seas, and the tender ride was very rough. The local tourism board had a welcome committee bravely standing in the cold wind to greet the ship’s tenders as they arrived, and the music and smiles were lovely. This island is a territory of France, located just south of Newfoundland, with the French language and flag and traditions. Narrow hilly streets with cobblestones, stone architecture, lace curtains in windows, a few flowers still visible in window boxes. Some stores were open, but not many, and the bakery displays of French pastries looked wonderful. I did not tour in this port with the ship tours, but again chose to walk and explore on my own. There is small old stone cathedral in the center of town, and many historic monuments. The waterfront is full of various types of businesses, souvenir shops, tourism office, and different kinds of boats. It reminded me a lot of San Francisco. After a few hours exploring on foot, the icy wind and dampness convinced me to return to the ship for lunch, after seeing all I could of importance. The tender ride back to the ship was just as rough as the one to the land, with an additional 45 minutes of waiting for conditions safe enough to be able to actually dock the tender at the ship and escape the rough ride. The ship left that afternoon to return to Quebec, sailing back through the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with beluga whale sightings to everyone’s delight, and then into the large, peaceful St. Lawrence River once again. The ship arrived in the morning at Quebec City, where it remained overnight to allow maximum touring of this beautiful old historic city. There were multiple city tours offered by vehicles, horse carriage, and on foot, as well as dining tours and explorations of the local area outside the city. I’ve been to Quebec numerous times, and chose to explore again on foot, this time visiting the huge Citadel high atop the cliffs next to the old walled city. I did not have enough time to enter and explore all the Citadel, but did enjoy walking the scenic grounds with the fall foliage and wonderful views of new Quebec as well as the old city below. The boardwalk on the top of the cliffs is worth walking just to people-watch and enjoy the music played by local musicians. Some of the views along the boardwalk of the buildings and people come right from French impressionist paintings. The French language of Quebec is heard everywhere. There are numerous restaurants offering all kinds of good food in Quebec, as well as multiple shopping opportunities and art exhibits. No matter how many times I’ve visited Quebec, there is always something new to find, eat, explore, see, or just enjoy by visiting with the local people and trying to improve my amateur French-speaking ability. The last night of the cruise was spent enjoying the many amenities of the beautiful ship, and getting a good night’s sleep before heading home. The night view of the old city from my verandah was spectacular. ENTERTAINMENT: There was the usual variety of cruise-ship entertainment on this cruise. Several very professionally-produced production shows were performed in a comfortable theater-type lounge with plenty of seating for everybody at two separate times. A really good live orchestra enhanced each performance. The dancers and singers seemed far more professional and skilled than average compared to other cruise lines. Costumes were spectacular, especially in one show which highlighted Broadway hit shows. The ship’s cruise director (from the USA) was a clever ventriloquist who performed one evening. There was a professional ballroom dance duo, and wonderful singers – something for everybody and every taste. There were also lounge singers in several venues throughout the ship in the evening. A favorite was the classical string quartet of European ladies who played at various places and times during the cruise. There was also a very skilled and entertaining magician aboard. Movies were offered in a real movie theater onboard throughout the cruise. If all this was not enough, there was a good selection of DVDs available for checkout from the library for private viewing in the staterooms. Many people seemed to be entertained quite nicely just by reading books, working on personal IT devices, small craft projects, attending the various lectures and educational offerings aboard ship, shopping, socializing, and enjoying the shuffleboard and other deck sports available despite the weather being somewhat inclement at times. CHILDREN: I only saw one small child and several teens on board. I observed a small room which was a playroom of some sort, but overall, this is a cruise line catering to adults. With the obvious service and quality of this cruise line, however, I’m sure if a large number of children were onboard, they would enjoy themselves as much as the adults while being well cared for. DISEMBARKATION: Extremely quiet, organized, and convenient. The ship was in port from the day before the end of the cruise, and this allowed people who had extremely early flights to disembark as early as 2:30 or 3:00 AM. Luggage was set out and collected silently during the night at the passenger’s convenience, most of it by 11 PM. There was the usual colored tag system indicating when disembarkation would take place. If one had an early flight or needed special arrangements, it was quick and easy to arrange an appropriate time. If an assigned time wasn’t convenient, a simple call to guest services provided a convenient time and a new tag. A really nice feature of disembarkation was allowing passengers to stay in their cabins much later than usual on other cruise lines. No cabin service people barged in and started tearing the cabin apart and cleaning while the guests were enjoying privacy to the last minute. I never heard a sound from the baggage collectors or early departing passengers. No announcements were made, as very detailed instructions about how to leave the ship, where to meet, what to do with final details, etc. were given to guests well in advance of the actual day of disembarkation. I had a late train from Quebec back to Montreal, and was able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, do final packing in my carry-on bag, and leave the ship at my convenience without any noticeable crowds or confusion. The ship was so organized that I was able to leave the ship 45 minutes earlier than my requested time. The cruise terminal at the pier in Quebec City is small but well organized, and my bag was waiting for me in a clean, neat area. Plentiful inexpensive cabs were right outside the terminal, and I rode comfortably to the train station after leaving the ship with plenty of leisure time and no stress. SUMMARY: Crystal Cruise Lines is nearly perfect, or at least this cruise was. It is a product which appears to be aimed mainly at mature adults. Most of the people I interacted with among the passengers were sociable, well-traveled, and well-to-do people who lived to cruise and loved to cruise. Many had the means and time to take multiple back to back cruises, and as one passenger commented to me, “This is what we do – this is our lifestyle”. Another remark overheard was “The passengers on this cruise line who take the world cruises repeatedly are a cult. There is nothing like it with any other cruise line”. Being well-traveled and sociable, but certainly not “well-to-do” compared to my fellow passengers, I considered this birthday celebration cruise a privilege and a splurge, and really appreciated it. I can’t imagine taking this level of luxury and quality for granted as some people seemed to do on the ship. Most of the passengers appeared to be traveling as couples, or family members together in small groups, with a preponderance of single older women. One large group of travelers was from Asia, and other international countries were represented. This definitely was a more sociable passenger contingent than I’ve noted on multiple other cruise lines. Many people knew other travelers from prior cruises, and the Crystal Society members were very numerous and enjoyed reconnection with people they had met on other cruises. A premium company representing quality travel agencies had a representative on board as well, and there were social gatherings and on-board perks for passengers who had used a travel agency belonging to this company. There is enough to do without ever feeling bored or ignored on this gracious ship. It all depends on what your interests are and your desired level of involvement. Premium shore excursions are available if you have the desire and means to purchase something out of the ordinary. Pre- and post-cruise quality packages of hotels and private or group transfers begin the luxury experience well before the cruise ever begins for those who choose to purchase them. Service is exceptional overall, absolutely the best I’ve ever experienced. No wish is impossible, and everything is done with courtesy, class and amazing speed. Dining was a bit of a disappointment in some areas, and apparently satisfied the majority of diners - but this cruise line apparently has achieved the impossible by taking calories out of the food. I lost two pounds while eating five or six desserts per day – and I normally come home from even a short cruise with several extra pounds as unwanted souvenirs of enthusiastic dining. Nobody can starve on this ship, even if the cuisine offered is at times a bit unique or unusual. With the two specialty restaurants offering complimentary dining for one time in each, be sure to give them a try. Despite some rather exotic food offerings, it was all mostly very good and a great chance to experiment and try things most of us never get at home. Activities offered were age-appropriate and had something for every interest, fitness level, or age. There were very popular offerings involving computers on this particular cruise, as well as photography. Had the weather been better, I’m sure more people would have enjoyed the wide, wrap-around promenade deck for walks and whale-watching, as well as the lovely pool deck area with its inviting large lounge chairs and clamshell “cuddle couches”. A daily newsletter is well-written and full of useful and interesting facts about each day of the cruise. Weather and the daily dress code are included in detail. One does not need to wear formal attire every night, either, despite the elegance of the cruise – nice resort casual clothing is the norm most of the time, and there was just one truly formal night on my 7 night cruise – and this had a nice showing of tuxedos and formal gowns, but also dressy tops and pants for women and suits for men. People dressed appropriately for the weather, ports and onboard ambience, but with a welcome lack of the usual torn shorts, undershirts, tired flip-flops, and worn-out baseball caps seen on the more casual cruises no matter what the dress code. Fares for Crystal run a bit higher than average, but you get what you pay for. There are specials, “deals”, early booking rates, Crystal Society discounts, early full-payment discounts, and very enticing solo traveler fares. It’s worth every penny, considering the quality of service, beautifully maintained and designed vessel, far above average cabins and interior appointments in the cabins and baths, and attention to detail in every aspect of the cruise experience. Crystal travels the world with its two lovely medium-sized ships, with varying lengths of itineraries, and offers the usual pre- and post-cruise services of airline flights, transfers, land tours, and hotels, all at a higher level of luxury than ordinary cruise lines. While the cruises can be booked online, I was assigned a travel agent when first contacting the cruise line by phone for information, and the agency admirably handled all the details for me to my complete satisfaction plus treating me to flowers on board and two generous on-board credit packages. I usually do my own cruise bookings, but was glad for the professional assistance with this Crystal booking. If you want extraordinary service on a meticulously run and elegant medium-sized cruise ship, with multiple dining and activity options, plus a passenger contingent of sociable, mature, well-traveled adults, Crystal offers cruises which will far exceed your expectations all over the world. This is not a “stuffy” or “snob” cruise line, but rather a nearly-perfect cruise experience on two ships which travel the world. Such is the popularity of its cruises and dedication of loyal repeat passengers that some 2016 cruises are already nearly fully booked, and the historic Northwest Passage month-long cruise in 2016 is already sold out with hundreds on a waiting list. I had expected my trip to be a one-time splurge, but it was so wonderful that I’m booked on the “Crystal Symphony” in the future. Having experienced this level of quality in cruising, it will be very difficult to go back to the usual and ordinary cruise experience. Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
Went for the 10 day cruise with my Father to see the East coast of this great country of ours and wasn't disappointed. Itinerary was great except for the inclusion of Corner Brook, Nfld. This totally god-forsaken town provoked more ... Read More
Went for the 10 day cruise with my Father to see the East coast of this great country of ours and wasn't disappointed. Itinerary was great except for the inclusion of Corner Brook, Nfld. This totally god-forsaken town provoked more comical insults than I thought possible & made us regret even getting off the ship. The average age of the passengers had to be northwards of 75 so booking excursions where you were more than likely to be waiting for people to catch up wasn't too appealing. Our rooms were kept nice & clean by our steward who made the bizarre move of exchanging my Swiss Army knife with a different one. I'm not complaining because I ended up with a better knife. The food was above average & as a Chef, I can really appreciate that. People can't be expecting Prime Rib & Lobster every night. I had Johnny Rockets all to myself a couple of nights & they even let me pick the music the entire time I was in there. This is a chance to try & explore new kinds of food, so why am I watching people in the Windjammer scarfing down reheated burgers, pizza & nachos? The bartenders on the ship were friendly & courteous as were our wait staff in the main dining room. The jazz lounge at the top of the ship was excellent & the live band was awesome. I did however, find the rest of the onboard entertainment lacking. The woman hosting the trivia could barley speak English & it was almost painful to listen to. Nothing to watch on your in-room television either. The sports bar wasn't even able to show MNF. Boarding & leaving the ship was done with clockwork efficiency which surprised us because of all the stupidity the crew had to put up with. For instance: the elderly woman who brought her 4 large suitcases & demanded a porter to carry them to her stateroom or the couple who didn't find it necessary to attend the US Customs registration because they were already American. Even after they were paged 4 times!!! Yes, we were behind them when disembarking in Bar Harbour. For fun one night, my Dad & I sat in the bar beside the customer service desk listening to the stupid questions being asked. The winner being "What makes the ship go?" Not a cruise you want to be mingling on. It would be interesting to see what the ship would be like in a warm climate as most of the outdoor bars & activities couldn't be opened. Overall, an above average vacation that just needed a little tweaking. Read Less
Sail Date September 2013
Holland America Line Veendam Canada/New England Cruise 5 July - 13 July 2013 Cast: Me (Eve aka Momma, 43) and Amina (DD, 16) Seth (hubby) and Rhys (son) were taking a Boy Scout Northern Tier canoe expedition for 2 weeks and ... Read More
Holland America Line Veendam Canada/New England Cruise 5 July - 13 July 2013 Cast: Me (Eve aka Momma, 43) and Amina (DD, 16) Seth (hubby) and Rhys (son) were taking a Boy Scout Northern Tier canoe expedition for 2 weeks and were not going to accompany us on this trip - it was our first "Girls Only" trip. This report along with pictures are located on my blog: kidoctr.blogspot.com (that's why there are a bunch of lines between paragraphs). We are major FOODIES and there are a ton of food pictures on my blog and why there's such a focus on our meals during this trip. I'm used to writing Disney trip reports so that's the format of this review. Thursday, 4 July 2013 and Friday, 5 July 2013 Dallas, Quebec City The trip to Quebec City via Dallas was straight-forward enough. We actually left Enid on the 4th of July to drive to Dallas but only after I spent about half an hour checking us in on Delta online. Even though I had requested seats when I bought the tickets, we were seated apart on the flight from Dallas to JFK. I had our boarding passes sent to our phones but then went back and looked at getting us re-seated. $25 per bag to check in and then another $39 per person to upgrade to economy plus so we could be seated together. It was all kinda fishy to me - pretty scam-like, really. Amina drove us down to Dallas, observing the speed limit EXACTLY all the way down. It took over 5 hours including a navigation mishap just a few miles from the exit to get to my sister's house. The problem in Dallas is when you miss an exit, you have to drive at least 10 more miles to try and get back to where you need to go. We finally arrived at my sister's house around 5 pm. I only had to say something about her driving maybe half a dozen times. That was the most highway driving she had ever done and there were still a good number of issues that came up simply because she didn't have the experience yet. We went out to dinner a little bit early to Chuy's which wasn't crowded at all given the holiday. The Southwest enchiladas were great but I could only finish half of it and saved the rest for tomorrow's breakfast. We returned back to Dee and Jason's house and hung out until around 9. The girls got in Amina's Prius and drove to Lake Dallas - mostly because the twins wanted to be in the car with Amina driving - and vice versa. At just after 9, we piled into the car and drove just across I-35E to watch the fireworks from one of the subdivisions. It was a pretty good fireworks show, the evening was cool enough, and we weren't eaten up by bugs while sitting in the parking lot of a closed shop. The girls spent a good chunk of the night trying to learn the "cup song" from the movie "Pitch Perfect" - what a racket they made. The next morning, we ate leftovers for breakfast and were out the door at 8 am to head for the airport. Jason dropped us off after telling me about the total solar eclipse in 2017 and how I needed to plan our trip to enjoy it. The eclipse will last for 20 minutes and will occur around 12:30 pm CST in the northern states. It sounds like the makings of a fun trip. On the way to JFK, I purchased each of us a wifi pass on the airplane - $14 each for a one day pass. It was kinda fun having internet access while on the flight. The speed was pretty darned good. The flight left Dallas a little late. We were just getting our boarding passes scanned when they sent passengers back from the boarding ramp because of a "maintenance issue". We waited about half an hour before getting to board. We arrived into JFK at around 4 pm and were disappointed to see that we had arrived into terminal 2 - not terminal E as I had looked up online. I had scoped out a place for us to eat in terminal E called the Shake Shack but the restaurants in terminal 2 were beyond pitiful. We were told by a security guard that we were on a "domestic" flight to Canada and not an "international" flight which I thought was really funny. So, we left terminal 2 to go and look for something to eat since we had about 2.5 hours - found terminal 5 where the best rated restaurants (sushi, italian, and tapas) were located but were turned away because we weren't Jet Blue passengers. What?? The only decent places to eat in JFK and we couldn't get in? That's crazy. So we made our way back to terminal 2 and settled for Wendy's. The good thing about terminal 2, though, is the abundance of seating that had outlets and complimentary ipad stations. We ate our dinner while playing hangman on the ipad. The flight out of JFK was also delayed. I'm not sure how long we sat at the gate and then on the tarmac because I fell asleep - it was at least an hour and a half - we didn't leave until around 7:30. The explanation we were given: there was some mix-up which resulted in a "missing passenger" and it took them a really long time to sort it out. It was past 9:30 pm when we finally arrived into Quebec City. Customs was a breeze - very fast and we collected our bags, caught a taxi and paid the flat $34.25 to get to the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. Our taxi driver, from Morrocco, was very pleasant and had never been in the U.S. He told us his impression of the U.S. was of people who didn't work and had fun all the time. Ha! My initial impression of Quebec City at night was a little surprising as we had been to Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto before. Quebec City is very different - the closest to being to a real foreign country while in Canada. As Toronto is like watching an English movie with French subtitles, Quebec City is like watching a French movie with English subtitles. There wasn't a single person we met who didn't speak at least some English but all of the stores, ads, signs, etc, were in French with very little English around. People were mostly friendly but there's definitely that distinct "snooty" French feel to the city. We were dropped off in front of our hotel passing a ton of pedestrians along the way - apparently there was some sort of art festival going on right now and even though it was 10 pm, it was very crowded and alive with activity. We decided that even though it was late, we had to go out and walk around some after we checked in. Compared to the airport and customs, check-in at the world famous Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac was a different story. Our suitcases were immediately taken by a bell man and we walked into the lobby and found what looked like the front desk just off to the right. There were 2 queues - one that had a small sign for the Fairmont President's Club and another that was unmarked. We naturally got into the unmarked queue. There was a check-in desk on the left and the President's Club desk on the right. The check-in desk to the left was empty. There were 2 gentlemen at the President's Club desk busy with patrons who seemed to alternate between speaking English and French. We waited patiently for someone to show up at the unmarked check-in desk while the people in the other queue were helped by the gentlemen at the President's Club desk. After about 5 minutes, another couple joined us in our queue and I asked them to make sure they were also trying to check in. I understand that it's a little late but nobody showed up to check us in. I finally asked the staff member who had come over to the check-in desk and was busily emptying the garbage bins when someone would be by to check us in. 10 minutes had passed. He directed us to the other desk to check in but there was a constant stream of people in the other "President's Club" queue. It was really weird. Finally, Amina hopped the rope and stood in the other queue while I stayed in my queue. The couple behind us did the same. We were tired of being passed by people in the other queue. Finally, it was our turn and we were checked in. The staff member, of course, never questioned whether we were club members. When I had booked the hotel, it was really by accident. I was tossing around the idea of staying at this beautiful hotel but it was very exensive and we were getting in so late and would have to check out the following morning to embark. I was looking at a package and entered my CC information to see what the total would be and - VOILA - I was booked. Oops. So we collected our "free" gift which was a cute stuffed animal wearing a jacket that said Aquarium du Quebec and branded on the back with the Fairmont logo. Our room had 2 beds and was a typical European type room. We were greeted with a plate that had pieces of delicious nougat and dried orange peels along with a small bottle of locally made honey. We snacked while waiting for our bags to arrive. The room wasn't really special but the bathroom had a lot of marble and, though small, was very nice. Internet via wifi was an additional $15 for 24 hours. We got our luggage some 15 minutes or so later and decided to go out for a quick walk maybe find something to snack on. We strolled by the large statue where a guy was doing a show in French and went over to the railing by the funicular to peek at the cruise terminal and were pleasantly surprised to see the Veendam was already docked. I had no idea that it was arriving the day before. We then walked around the block and had stopped at a restaurant serving some nice pizza but we were told that they didn't do to go so we abandoned that idea. I guess they didn't really want our business. We ended up getting some gelato at a small shop a block over from the hotel and made our way back to the hotel to turn in. I played some mafia wars for a little while and went to sleep. Amina skyped with Bryce until about 3 in the morning. Saturday, 6 July, 2013 Quebec City I was probably still on central time because, like clockwork, I woke up at 6 am and tried to go back to sleep for the next hour finally getting out of bed at 7. I showered and packed up my things, got on the internet for a little while to do my Mafia Wars chores, and then went out to walk around. My first stop was the railing by the funicular because I wanted to get a picture of the Veendam. I picked up a coffee at Starbucks (which was the one and only time I saw a business give a 1% discount for the exchange rate with USD) and then walked around the block in the other direction. The closest restaurant to the hotel was a crepe place and I was shocked to see some crepes priced as much as $24. I walked for about half an hour and then headed back to the hotel. The weather was pretty nice not hot at all. I think by later in the afternoon it probably reached the mid-80's. I went back to our hotel but stopped by the front desk to ask about our aquarium passes that we were supposed to get as a part of our package. We hadn't received them with the stuffed animal and it wasn't in our room so the hotel staff guy gave me a voucher for the 2 of us to get into the aquarium. I asked about transportation and found out our options at the concierge desk the green line shuttle that would pick up near the hotel at 10:30 am and return from the aquarium at 2:25 pm for $5 round trip per person. I went back to the room and uploaded a bunch of pictures to our photo site, kidoctr.smugmug.com. I had gotten a little behind in uploading pictures so I got caught up again. At around 11:30, I woke Amina up so we could get packed up, checked out and make our way to the cruise terminal. My original plan was to just walk to the terminal because it was so close but because the hotel was in the upper part of town with steep streets, stairs or the funicular (like a tram on tracks where we had seen them squeeze people in like sardines), I thought it was just easier to take a taxi with our luggage. We checked out via the television in the room and then made arrangements to visit the aquarium on Sunday through concierge but I was a little worried about how late the shuttle picked us up from the aquarium. The Veendam was to leave at 4 pm so I was thinking all aboard was probably going to be 3 or 3:30. Being picked up at the aquarium at 2:25, returning to the Fairmont, and then making our way back to the terminal was going to be tight. We took a taxi to the cruise terminal and spent more on the wait to get into the terminal in the taxi than we did the actual ride from the hotel total was $15. Our taxi driver was pretty grumpy too. I had attached baggage tags to our suitcases that morning it was very interesting the way HAL was doing it now. We never received our docs in the mail as we had for every other cruise we've ever been on. I pre-registered us online and printed out our embarkation information as well as the luggage tags. The tags were just folded up and wrapped around the suitcase handle and was to be either taped or stapled. Since we didn't have a stapler, I had borrowed some tape from Dee and Jason's house putting a couple strips of tape inside my file folder and then a couple of shorter pieces over those strips so I could peel them off to use. I filled out the tags with our cabin number and taped them on it was very low tech, but it worked just fine. The bell men whisked our suitcases away and we entered the terminal. Up the escalator to the 2nd floor where we made a right turn and went around a couple of corners to the table where we filled out the typical health questionnaire: are you sick; have you been vomiting or having diarrhea; etc etc. We went through security check and didn't wait long at all before we were in front of an agent who checked our passports, my credit card, and issued us our key cards. It was a very quick process. We walked past the rows of chairs where there were a bunch of people sitting and using their various electronic gadgets taking advantage of the free wifi in the terminal. After the obligatory embarkation photos, we walked the long passageways leading to the ship. Our cabin was #588, large oceanview we had been upgraded so our cabin was on the same deck as embarkation Main deck, 5. Unfortunately, we had to go all the way to the back of the ship and make a U-turn to reach our cabin because the doorway was blocked during embarkation. I was so happy that our cabin was ready but when we entered, I saw right away that they hadn't arranged our room correctly even though I had called them a few days before we left. I had noticed on our embarkation papers that we had requested a single queen bed. When I called to have this changed, the gentleman informed me that when we were upgraded, the default choice was for the single queen and that he would change it to 2 separate beds. Amina's a kicker while she sleeps so I definitely didn't want to share a bed with her. Our stateroom attendant was nowhere to be found so we went up to the dining room for some lunch. One of the luggage porters gave us directions to the Lido deck for the buffet but I knew that the Mariners had an embarkation lunch in the main dining room (MDR) so we headed there instead and were seated right away. We met Donna from Florida who was doing the back-to-back trip with her husband who was out in the city taking pictures (one-way from Boston to QC and then stay aboard for the return trip). She was a former English teacher and we had a wonderful conversation with her over lunch. I had made the decision to really try and avoid gaining the usual 5-8 pounds on this cruise so I just had water and a fruit plate (and a bit of Amina's hamburger and cole slaw). Later, I had a special K protein bar too. We had reservations at a really nice restaurant for dinner and I definitely didn't want to spoil my appetite. I was very excited to have gotten this reservation and it was going to be Amina's first time at a AAA 5 diamond restaurant. By the time that we got back to our cabin, our luggage had arrived placed inside the cabin instead of outside the door which was very nice. We spent some time unpacking and our room steward dropped by so I asked him to change our sleeping arrangements. I called 88 on our phone to make dinner reservations. We were open dining but I had heard that on HAL, this really didn't mean come by anytime to eat dining as it was on our other cruises. I had read that if you showed up without a reservation, it wasn't unusual to have to wait for a bit. I was told that we could only make dinner reservations up to 3 days in advance so I only made reservations for 7 pm on Sunday night and then 6:45 pm on Monday evening (our day at sea the first formal night). On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, we had reservations at the 3 specialty restaurants. I would have to call back on Tuesday to make dinner reservations for Friday night. I was a little disappointed to find out that the 2nd formal night was on Thursday instead of Friday the night that we had reservations at the Pinnacle Grill. Oh well. I didn't try to change our reservations. What a weird and sort of messed up open dining system. We gathered our things and decided to do a quick tour of the ship so we went up to the top and made our way down. Our first stop was the Loft (teen club) which was deserted. There were activities that evening until very late in the Loft but we had 8 pm dinner reservations so Amina wasn't going to be able to make it. She wasn't really worried about trying to meet up with the other teens on board. We took a spa tour and signed up for the drawings, walked through the lido buffet, found the hamburger station as well as the pizza station, walked by the ample number of bars, and made it back to our cabin to pick up a few things before we headed out to the city. We found out that it was all aboard on Sunday at 3:30 so I thought we would have time to make it out to the aquarium and back. I had planned for us to take the walking tour described in the Tom's Port Guides that I had downloaded but it proved to be too much of a hassle with my ipad and trying to figure out directions so we just wandered for the next couple of hours, found the touristy streets, the entrance to the funicular, the wall paintings, and wandered into a few interesting looking stores. We sampled maple water which was really good low calorie with just a hint of maple taste and bought some. We had also walked into a store selling nougat and sampled the maple one and bought a bar. We picked up some chocolates from a chocolate shop that reminded me a great deal of the chocolate shop we were taken to during a tour of Paris. We also followed the sign to a small shop where we decided to try the beaver tail which was essentially like funnel cake, deep fried into the shape of a beaver's tail and you could choose from one of 9 toppings. We chose maple and it was quite good but the little shop was terribly hot even though we were able to pick up wifi in there. We also wandered into a bakery and picked up a few macaroons. A note on wifi and connectivity. Prior to leaving, I had purchased 50 international text messages on AT&T for each of our iphones as a precautionary measure ($10 per phone). International calling minutes weren't going to be worthwhile unless we planned to talk for more than 30 minutes. I also added data to my phone to use while in the Canadian ports ($120). Interestingly, in Quebec City, we were picking up free wifi right and left EXCEPT in the hotel. It was getting really hot and we had been out for a couple of hours so we headed back to the terminal at around 4:30 pm and hung out there to get our internet fix. I even went back to our cabin to get my laptop and was pleasantly surprised at how fast the wifi was (after all, I had more Mafia Wars chores to do). The terminal was freezing too and by the time we left, I was a popsicle. I was kinda kicking myself for not noticing that we had an extra day in port at QC we could have saved the $399 that I spent to stay at the Fairmont and arrived on the day of embarkation but I'm glad we didn't because we would have been arriving very late that night missing a day in the city and I noticed later that afternoon, the luggage porters were gone and people were embarking with all of their suitcases in tow. We snacked on our macaroons and drank our maple water while surfing the net. It was funny that after walking around in Quebec City, the only thing that we bought was food. I headed back to our cabin at around 7 to get ready for dinner rinsed off in the shower and changed clothes. Amina was already wearing a skirt that she planned on wearing to dinner. I went back to the terminal to get her and we walked the 1.5 blocks to Restaurant L'Initiale which we had passed a couple of times on our way to and from the terminal. After just a bit of a language issue (my reservation was written as Stewart instead of Switzer) we were taken to our table in the corner. The restaurant was nice enough nothing really fancy and it wasn't terribly crowded. We both ordered the Grand Menu ($129 pp) and I also got the wine pairing ($79). I've been to a good number of AAA five diamond restaurants it's on my bucket list to visit every single one in the world (there's around 50 of them in the US, Canada, Mexico, and a few other international destinations) we've knocked about half a dozen off the list so far in Las Vegas (3), Florida (1), and Oahu (1). Our most favorite AAA five diamond restaurant so far is at Disneyworld in Florida (Victoria and Alberts) but the one in Oahu is a very close second (La Mer) in my opinion. This one in Quebec City was good but there were a few things about the restaurant that I was a little surprised at given the five diamond rating. After an okay amuse bouche of tomatoes and cucumber with an arugula sauce that was really strong, the flounder was delicious but after I had taken a few bites, I realized that I hadn't been served the wine pairing. Come to find out that they did not do a pairing with this appetizer. Odd. The roasted Cepes mushrooms with Jerusalem artichoke, nougatine, and chicken broth was very good although the nougat pieces were just a little too sweet in my opinion and the dish would have stood well just on its own without the candy. The wine pairing was good. The red tuna with eggplant and pepper was actually a 2-in-1 with some gently seared pieces of tuna as well as a tuna tartare. It was also very good and paired well with the white wine but I was surprised that they poured the same wine with the next course, the lobster with fennel. It did not pair as well with the lobster. At this point I had to use the bathroom and went downstairs briefly and returned to find that our next course, the seared foie gras, had already been served. Also odd. The foie gras was absolutely wonderful and, of course, my favorite paired with a sweet wine that went well. Amina commented that she was getting pretty full by now and I had to agree. The next course was the main course: veal loin with sweetbreads. We joked a lot about the sweetbreads and the fact that Amina had recently dissected a sheep's brain in her University of Georgia brain, intelligence, and creativity summer studies class. The veal was ok definitely not my favorite and neither were the sweetbreads. I had to take a 2nd picture of the sweetbreads because it was easy to see the sulci and gyri at this angle. I can't remember the wine pairing it was probably also just ok. The cheese course was next and the hard cheese (I forgot what kind it was) was very good but the soft cheese sitting on top of the rhubarb wasn't as good. The rhubarb was just too tart. For dessert, we have chocolate flan with a cocoa bread, cherries topped with raw almonds and a side of caramel ice cream. I'm not a fan of chocolate nor of mousse this dessert more closely resembled a mousse than a flan. I also can't remember the wine except that I liked it because it was sweet. Our last course were strawberries with parfait cormier it was good but there was no pairing with this last course. The final odd thing of the night. We finished at just short of 11 pm and were given some Madelines to take home with us. Overall, I like this restaurant, the service was attentive, the food good not a ton of creativity points. Maybe just a smidge disappointed given the price because 2 courses were not paired with wine, 2 were paired with the same wine, and being served a course while I wasn't at the table is a bit of a faux pas. (Yes, I'm that picky). We walked back to the ship and went immediately to bed. Sunday, 7 July 2013 Quebec City I got up early again, stopped at the Lido buffet to get coffee (I had brought my own travel mug) and took my laptop back out to the terminal to do my Mafia Wars chores, upload pictures, and update my Facebook. I was going to miss the wifi in the terminal - it was more than decently fast. When I returned to the cabin, I had forgotten that Amina had ordered room service for breakfast to be delivered between 8 and 8:30. She had finished her breakfast of cereal and yogurt and had gotten back in bed again we didn't have to leave until around 9:45 to be back at the Fairmont by 10:15. I ate some fruit and put the box of granola cereal into my backpack to take with us to the aquarium. We walked back into QC and found the funicular, paid the $5 per person and boarded immediately. It must have been relatively early because the funicular wasn't nearly as crowded as we had seen it before. After the brief ride up to the top, we went into the Fairmont to the tour desk and paid the $5 per person fee for the green line shuttle to the Aquarium that we had reserved the day before we were given green wristbands for the ride. After a bathroom stop and buying a drink at Starbuck's for Amina, we sat outside of Starbuck's for a little bit until the green line shuttle arrived. When the passengers got off the shuttle, the driver told us it would be a little bit before he left (10:30 am) so we had a seat on the bench and Amina noticed that the red double decker tour bus in front of our shuttle had free wifi so we both connected and I was actually able to upload some photos to Facebook while we waited. The shuttle took an AWFULLY long time to get to the aquarium I was watching the clock because I was a little worried about making it back to the Fairmont in time to walk back and re-embark before sail away at 4. When we finally arrived at the aquarium (after stopping at one hotel twice and dropping some women off at the shopping mall), it had been almost 45 minutes! I asked the shuttle driver what time he thought the next shuttle (2:25 pm) would arrive back at the Fairmont. 3:10 pm he said. I really didn't think that was going to work for us we would have to find alternate transportation back to the ship. We waited in a pretty long line at the aquarium only 2 windows of 7 were open. It was also getting pretty warm standing in the sun. When it was finally our turn, we presented our voucher and had our hands stamped and went into the aquarium. I was looking for the information center to make transportation arrangements but the door signage was confusing. It probably would've helped if we had spoken French. The gift shop/guest services door said exit on them and I took that to mean that we needed to find the entrance so we went around to the other side of the building and walked in but it turned out to be the jelly fish and sea horse exhibit. This exhibit was VERY interesting and the highlight of our aquarium trip, in my opinion. They had so many different types of jelly fish in very cool tall displays some reminiscent of Finding Nemo and some with tentacles longer than I was tall. Jellyfish have no brains and are, well, beautiful but just plain creepy. One display was particularly interesting comparing how poisonous a type of jellyfish was compared to the cobra and other poisonous animals. The jellyfish won handily. The last part of the jellyfish exhibit was a huge wall of jellyfish with alternating colored lights it was just gorgeous and, well, creepy. The sea horse exhibit was fun with some of the most beautiful sea horses that I've ever seen. I learned that it's the male sea horses that carry the babies. We made our way to the other large building which held the fish and sharks. I stopped at the information booth to ask about alternate transportation arrangements and was told to have the guest service center just call for a taxi. The highlights of this building included a very close up look at an octopus (they just look nothing like how they are depicted in cartoons and stuffed animals), a particularly pesky sting ray that seemed to beg to be touched, a blue lobster, and an underwater fish viewing tunnel. We left that building and went outside for a little bit it was probably in the mid 80's by now not too bad in the shade but just a bit uncomfortable in the sun. We hopped (ok, walked) some lily pads in the small garden pond and then made our way over to see the seals, walruses and polar bears. At the conclusion of this portion of the aquarium, we were pretty much done and it was around 1 pm. We went back to the fish building to check out the cafe but nothing really appealed to us so we decided to call a cab and go back to the ship to have something to eat. We went back to the gift shop/guest services center and went in the door that said exit, asked the lady at the register to call a cab, looked around a bit then went outside to snack on granola cereal and wait for the taxi. It wasn't but 10 minutes when the taxi arrived and took us back to the ship the fare was about $25. The taxi driver was very friendly pointing out a large pile of salt that they use on the roads when it snows and told us that the record was in 2008 when they received 17 FEET of snow. We don't even get 17 inches in Oklahoma let alone 17 feet. We arrived back to the cruise terminal and after enjoying the free wifi for the last time briefly, we got back on the ship and decided to try the grill on the lido deck where they offered different types of burgers (beef, lamb, turkey, vegetarian) as well as hot dogs (beef and turkey). The line moved very slowly with just one cook in the grill filling orders and cooking the food. While we were waiting in line, we met Tatiana and her family she recognized us and introduced herself and her daughter Alex as well as her 2 younger children. We had met on Cruise Critic and had texted each other prior to the cruise having a lot in common. We enjoyed our food (beef hotdog for me and turkey burger for Amina) and then went our separate ways for the life boat drill. I think this was the first drill that I've been to where they didn't make us bring our life jackets from the cabin. Eons ago, they used to make everyone wear the life jackets and then more recently, they just had you bring them with you and now they just have you report in for the drill. It was a little disorganized. I think part of the problem was that deck 6 really isn't wide enough to accommodate everyone along with the fact that there were a bunch of people who arrived late. The life boat drill captain repeated missing cabin numbers several times and eventually, everyone was accounted for in our group. They gave the usual speech about using the life jackets, etc and then made a final announcement daring the missing passengers to report in for a "special drill" later. We then headed to the Crow's Nest for the Cruise Critic meet and greet. We weren't there very long but did meet up with John and Leslie who would be with us on a couple of our privately booked shore excursions. We left the party a little bit early to go to the spa and attend the drawing for free services but we didn't win anything. I had some time before dinner at 7 so I went back to the cabin and put on my workout clothes, returned to the gym, and got on the treadmill to run 3 miles. After showering and changing, we headed to the Main Dining Room (MDR) for our first dinner on the ship. There were 2 lines at the MDR on deck 7 (people with assigned seating were on deck 8): one for those with reservations and one for those without. There was a pretty good group of people loitering around waiting for their pagers to go off. The selection was really good we actually had trouble deciding on what to get and agreed to order different things and split so we could try a few things. I ordered the goat cheese with red onion jam and Amina got the salt cod and lobster cake. Both were very good. Amina then had the chilled cranberry soup which she described as melted ice cream I had to agree. I got the New England clam chowder which was good but a little too much like soup than a chowder for Amina. As we were enjoying our soup, the older couple seated next to us raved about the lemon turkey spinach barley soup so we asked the waiter to bring us an additional cup of soup. Amina ordered the bay scallops and clams over noodles while I got the Seafood Pot Pie. Both were good as was the turkey spinach barley soup. For dessert, we tried the banana chocolate tart and whoopie pie. When we returned to the cabin, there was a stingray waiting for us on my bed. Amina went to meet some of the other kids at the Loft so I went to see the comedian by myself. He was really good and did a lot of improv and audience heckling. I was so tired after the show that I went straight to bed and Amina followed not too soon afterward. Monday, 8 July 2013 Sea Day We both slept in this morning but had received an invitation the night before to the Mariners' Brunch in the dining room at 11 am. Our clocks also went forward an hour. I got Amina up and we went to the brunch where I had the most delicious warm salmon on a salad. The braised beef short ribs were very good. After brunch, Amina went off to meet some friends and I went to do a longer workout in the gym before my appointment for a deep tissue massage. I ran 5 miles on the treadmill but it took a really long time because I was trying to observe the 20 minute rule and kept taking breaks to make sure nobody was waiting to use the treadmills. I watched Zero Dark Thirty on my iPad as the tv monitor on several of the treadmills were broken, including mine. When I finally got done with my workout, it was about 1 pm and my massage appointment was at 2 so I checked in at the spa, was given a locker with a robe and slippers and went to take a shower. Unfortunately, there was no hair dryer or other bathroom products in the spa (eg lotion). I went to the relaxation area and almost finished watching my movie when my massage therapist a gentleman from Yugoslavia came to get me for my deep tissue massage. He was pleasant enough and had what sounded like a Russian accent. We talked for a bit before, during, and after my massage he had previously worked on Carnival and found HAL to be a bit boring because of the older passengers on board. He did get a day off a week and had been on board for about 3 months. He was looking forward to the next cruise because they were changing their itinerary the Veendam was also going to Hawaii soon. He did a reasonably good job with my massage but was mostly fairly light pressure for being a deep tissue massage. I passed him up on the product sales portion of the treatment and thanked him then returned to the cabin to get ready for dinner. We had a reservation at 6:45 in the MDR it was our first formal night. For dinner we had the prosciutto, genoa salami, melon and figs as an appetizer, the chicken and corn soup, and the filet of beef wellington. It was all pretty good but I did have to send my beef wellington back because the pastry was undercooked and there was still batter/dough on the inside even though the beef was well done. The 2nd plate I received was much better and I particularly enjoyed the duck foie gras that was sandwiched between the pastry and the beef. For dessert, the black forest cake was very good because I really love cherries. I was so tired that night I decided to skip the show (some broadway like musical) and the movie (Safe Haven) to turn in a little bit early. This evening , we had a squid waiting in our cabin. Tuesday, 9 July 2013 Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island We arrived into Charlottetown a bit after 8 am and were among some of the first to disembark from deck 3. We were to meet our tour guide from Duncan's Island Tours at 8:30 so we stopped off in the terminal building to take advantage of the wifi for a few minutes. I had received a few phone calls and had a couple of voicemails someone from Topor Boston tours had called to ask if I was still interested in the Chinatown market tour they had another couple that were interested, and if we still wanted to go, they would open the tour up for Saturday. I called them back and left a voicemail that we were still interested. We walked to the far end of the terminal building and easily found our tour guide, Terry, who walked us across the parking lot to his very nice mercedes benz SUV. He showed us a map of PEI about 150 miles from tip to tip of the island. We were at the southern part of the middle of the island and would be going north up to see the Anne of Green Gables house then around towards the east and back down south to Charlottetown. Now, neither Amina nor I have read the Anne of Green Gables series of books and really didn't know a thing about her or the author. I had booked this private tour but after speaking with Terry for a bit on our drive, we let him know that we were probably more interested in doing a culinary tour of PEI moreso than about Anne of Green Gables or Lucy Montgomery. Our first stop was a beautiful lookout to a typical fishing village across one of the many small lakes in the area. We did make a stop at Silver Bush where Lucy Maud Montgomery lived with her aunt and uncle and wrote her stories about Anne. We walked into the house and looked around briefly but there was a tour bus there and the house was crowded. We decided to forego the tour of the house, walked around a bit then got back in the car to get some ice cream the best ice cream in the world per Terry. Terry was full of great information and pointed out all sorts of things to us and answered my questions about PEI. He spent 4 months of the year at his house in Florida and grew up near Halifax before moving to PEI. He also managed a semi-pro football team in PEI. We stopped at Cow's Ice Cream and had a scoop of their Gooey Mooey ice cream on sprinkle cones. The ice cream really was very good but I'm no expert. According to Reader's Digest, though, it was the best ice cream in Canada and according to Tauck World Discovery Tours, it was rated the world's best ice cream. The Cavendish beach was nearby and Amina had mentioned to Terry that she really wanted to visit a beach so we headed over. We walked for a while on the beach - there were a lot of families there but nobody was in the water - it was too cold. We enjoyed a walk along the beach out to the rocky end and back then put our shoes back on and headed back to the car. At this point, Terry gave us the option of going to a seafood place or to a preserve store. I had mentioned to him that HAL recommended Lobster on the Wharf for lunch but Terry told us there were definitely better places that he recommended which is what I had suspected. We elected to go for lunch at the seafood place that he recommended. Before we got to the beach, Terry had mentioned that the largest native animal on PEI was the fox and just after we left the beach parking lot, he spotted one by the side of the road and pulled over. As if on cue, the fox crossed in front of the car and came over to our side as we rolled our windows down. It seemed to check us out briefly and since we weren't offering it any food, it moved on. Terry made one additional stop along the way to take a closer look at a lobster trap. I really knew nothing at all about lobster fishing. Terry had told us earlier that lobster used to be the "poor man's" food. If a child was sent to school with a lobster sandwich, they were considered to be poor and that lobsters were so abundant that they were oftentimes tossed into the garden to act as fertilizer. A typical native of PEI could go to a grocery store and buy a 1 pound lobster for around $7. He highly recommended the lobster dinners that were offered throughout PEI but we weren't staying overnight in Charlottetown this evening. For about $36, you got a 1 pound lobster and all-you-can-eat mussels, clams, etc. The lobster fishing season had just ended a couple of weeks ago A typical lobster trap had 2 parts. On one side, there were holes that a lobster could "walk" into which means that they backed up into the hole to get food (usually some type of fish) and dropped down a few inches into what was called the "kitchen". The lobsters couldn't back out of the trap. On the other end of the trap was a net that allowed the lobster to "walk" again and drop again into another section called the "parlor" where the lobster could hang out (leaving room for more lobsters to enter the "kitchen") until the trap was pulled up. The design was simple and clever. Our next stop was Richard's eatery - a definite local hangout. We placed our order: a lobster roll and chips (fries) for Amina, a scallop burger for me, and an order of steamed mussels for us to share. We got our pager and made our way upstairs to sit on the rooftop and watch the local kids jump off the bridge into the river. Amina decided there to add "jumping off bridge into river" to her bucket list. Our food was absolutely amazing. Amina's lobster roll was delicious with HUGE chunks of lobster. My scallop burger was actually half a dozen medium sized scallops that were coated in a panko-like crust and then deep fried and placed on a hamburger bun. Even though the scallops had been deep fried and the coating was light and crispy, the inside of the scallops were PERFECT - not overcooked and stringy. The steamed mussels were just amazing - delicious and I think Seth (the shell-fish hater) would have even liked it. The day was perfect sitting on that rooftop with a nice breeze and enjoying the sun. Terry drove us back to the ship terminal after pointing out a few more interesting historical sites and other places to eat. One thing that I wanted to try but we didn't have time to were "Malpeque oysters". Terry pointed out a couple of oyster bars not too far from the terminal where we could probably get those. I went to the ship to get my laptop and went back to the terminal to use the wifi but it was VERY slow bogged down by a ton of other passengers getting their internet fixes too. We shopped briefly in the terminal and then re-boarded the ship. I had just enough time for a couple of miles on the treadmill before dinner. Our reservation this evening was at Canaletto's. This restaurant was a bit interesting. When we boarded the ship, we were given 2 "invitations" in our stateroom - one for Pinnacle Grill and one for Evening at Le Cirque. We didn't get one for Canaletto which I thought was weird because we were paying the extra surcharge to eat there. We had walked by Canaletto a bunch of times but never realized it was there because it's tucked away in one corner of the lido deck right next to the buffet. You have to walk right by it to get to the buffet if you are coming from one side of the ship (aft or forward, can't remember which). When we got up to the lido buffet, we walked around a bit because I couldn't quite remember where I had seen it and finally asked for directions from a nice ship's officer who just happened to ask us if we needed help finding something. LOL. We were seated promptly and examined the menu and placed our order. We started with the antipasto service which was delicious - a choice of different meats, olives, roasted veggies, fresh mozzarella. Amina also noticed that the balsalmic vinegar on the table that we could use to dip our bread in was the thick, syrupy kind - it was also delicious and the kind of balsalmic that you would pour over ice cream - high grade. None of the first courses on the menu had appealed to me so I opted for the Edigiana Maccioni special which was the Italian herb sausage and Canelloni beans with creamy polenta. This was VERY good. The sausage wasn't very strong or spicy and the polenta was creamy and delicious. For the 2nd course, I wanted to try the veal osso bucco with potato gnocchi which is normally one of my favorites. The veal shank was HUGE and, unfortunately, pretty tough. Now, we'd had a very large lunch and I was getting really full anyways so I barely ate 1/2 of the osso bucco. I do have to compliment the wait staff on the Veendam - they are well trained to observe whether or not you cleaned your plate. If you left much food on your plate, they always asked to make sure that you were happy with your food. For dessert, I had the trio of tiramisu which included espresso, lemon, and amaretto flavored tiramisu in small glasses. Again, if I hadn't been so full, I would have finished all of it - this dessert was very good. I really liked the way that none of the flavors were overpowering in each of the tiramisu. That evening, we went to the 10 pm movie and saw Mud with Matthew McConaghey. I liked the movie even though it was a little slow paced. There was a towel lobster on the bed when we made it back to the cabin that night. Wednesday, 10 July 2013 Sydney, Nova Scotia We got to sleep in just a bit this morning as we weren't meeting until 10 for our tour with Tartan to Fortress Louisbourg. We went up to the Lido buffet for breakfast for the first time and then made our way off the ship to the terminal. There was also wifi in the terminal but it seemed a little slow. I had gone into the terminal earlier this morning just after 8 am when Amina was still sleeping to check it out and had run into Tatiana and Alex who were going on the tour with us. They thought we were meeting at 8 instead of 10. I walked briefly around the little shopping area and then went back to wake Amina up. When we came back down to the terminal, Amina found some earrings that she wanted to go back and buy after our tour was over. Our tour guide actually arrived a bit early. We all gathered in the terminal (Me, Amina, Tatiana, Alex, John, and Leslie) and then went out to meet our tour guide. The van that we climbed into seemed nice from the outside but as soon as I climbed into the back seat, I was not happy. The van reeked of cigarette smoke. The ladies had a nice conversation on the way to the fortress and we soon arrived at the visitors' center. Our driver told us to meet back at 2 pm. It was just before 11 am. At first, I thought it was a little chilly in Sydney but by the time we arrived at the fortress, it had warmed up a good deal and was probably in the 70's and sunny while we were there. There was a decent sized line in the visitors' center and we waited to purchase our tickets. There was also decent wifi in the visitors' center. We had just missed the bus so we went downstairs and took a few pictures before boarding the next bus. You ride the bus to the actual entrance to the fortress. While on the bus - you should sit on the left side to get a view of the fortress beyond the water. We walked through a small building with a few park interpreters and then walked the dirt road to the entrance of the fortress. We were stopped just in front of the bridge and given instructions such as park closure, not climbing on the walls, etc and then made our way across the bridge and into the fort. Tatiana had been told by her ticket agent that there was a cannon demonstration at 11:45 so we made our way in that general direction making a few stops along the way to see a blacksmith and bakery where we bought a small loaf of "soldiers' bread" for $2.50 just to get a taste of what the soldiers ate. Not surprisingly, the bread was heavy and not terribly tasty. We climbed the hill towards the building where the cannon demonstration was going to be and saw a good sized crowd headed the same way. To the immediate left there was a church and the park interpreter stopped us to ask where we were from and then proceeded to explain about the church and the various objects in the room. He obviously really enjoyed his job and did a great job telling us what he knew about the church. I asked him where the bathroom was and he was very sweet to walk us to the where the bathrooms were. When we were done it was getting close to 11:45 so we found an open space in the grass and sat down. The same park interpreter came back, found us, and told us that we were not sitting in the best spot and proceeded to take us to a much better location to see the cannon fire. He then explained to us what to expect....the soldiers and band would march out to the lower grass courtyard, do a short demonstration and then fire their muskets. Then they would march up towards the cannon and the muskets would fire in turn followed by the cannon. He was so helpful and we thanked him for the information. The demonstration was interesting - the soldiers actually loaded their muskets with gunpowder and fired them. When they marched up towards the cannon - 2 of the muskets misfired which one of the interpeters standing near us commented that this happened from time to time. She said that it wasn't unusual for the cannon to misfire as well. We explored the governor's compound for a bit and then made our way down into the "village" and stopped to see a few exhibits including a very interesting demonstration of lace weaving. Weaving lace by hand is extremely tedious but the result was beautiful. The woman interpeter told us that it took about an hour to weave one inch of lace. We eventually made it down to the 2 restaurants that were available to dine in. I had read that one was for the "upper class" (officers, etc) and the other was for the "lower class" (soldiers, workers, etc). The wait of the upper class dining was 15 minutes and they served a 3 course meal. We examined the menu of the "lower class" restaurant and decided to eat there. We were squeezed in between 2 other couples at what looked like a picnic table and were told that sharing 8 to a table was required. The guy on one end of the table grumbled about having to share the table with us. We were each given a very large piece of cloth to use as a napkin and a spoon. Amina ordered fish soup and we shared the mussels as well as some canadian white cheddar cheese. We chatted with the couple at the other end of the table who were from British Columbia and were visiting all of the maritime islands. The man sitting next to me ordered the French Toast and when he asked the waitress for something to eat it with, she directed him to use his spoon. It was really funny and he took it all in good spirit. The food was really pretty good and not too heavy. When we finished, it was almost 1:30 so we decided to take the bus back to the visitors' center. As we were leaving the fortress, the same park interpreter who had talked to us before, found us again and pointed out that the draw bridge entrance to the fort was a weighted lever so that just one soldier could draw the bridge up himself. Back at the visitors' center, we peeked into the gift shop where I bought a little something for Rhys (a candy stick that you could tear open with your teeth like a packet of musket gun powder and pour the "powder" and gum ball into your mouth to enjoy). We met up with our driver and got back into the smoke-laden van and he took us to a vantage point with a lighthouse where we got out and took some pictures and the girls found some jellyfish. We seemed to take a different route back to the cruise terminal and our driver really never said a thing to us. I had already made a decision back at the fortress that this "tour" was definitely not worthy of any sort of tip. We paid the exact tour fare and went back into the terminal. We stopped first for Amina to get the earrings that she had looked at but wanted to make the 3 pm Indonesian tea service and we were a bit late so we headed straight for the dining room where they did accommodate us at a table for 8. Amina got a spiced tea and I got a jasmine - hers smelled better than mine. We were offered several savory and sweet items including some smoked salmon on toast, steamed cake, and rice balls. They were all good and we enjoyed talking with our table mates. One couple was from Grove, OK - just northeast of where we lived. I went to the gym and did a really quick couple of miles then returned to the cabin to shower and get ready for our dinner at the Pinnacle Grill for their "Evening at Le Cirque" dinner. Seth and I love to eat at the Le Cirque in Las Vegas at the Bellagio hotel. It's probably in our top 10 favorite restaurants of all time - we've eaten there at least half a dozen times. The amuse bouche was a creamy foie gras pate on top of a mildly fruity jam. I liked it but Amina didn't care much for it. Amina ordered the caesar salad which was very interesting in the way it was prepared/presented. I had the trio of salmon, caviar, and foie gras pate which was pretty good but I did notice how sloppy the presentation was - something you would NEVER see at the real Le Cirque. Our next course was the butternut squash soup with huckleberries which was very good - I liked the contrast of the smooth sweet soup and the tart huckleberries. For the main course, I had the seared alaskan black cod which was absolutely delicious and my favorite part of the meal. The cod was very nicely cooked but I was a little surprised that there were bones in it. It was a very generously sized piece of cod. I had the famous Le Cirque creme brulee for dessert and was happy to find the recipe for the dessert printed at the bottom of the ramekin so I simply had to finish all of the dessert so I could take a picture of the recipe. I wasn't interested in the show or the movie this evening so I went back to the cabin to catch up on my blog post for a bit then went to bed. There was a towel crab on my bed this evening. Read Less
Sail Date July 2013

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