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Old May 4th, 2009, 10:44 AM
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Default Crystal Serenity Luxury Cruise through Panama Canal

I will be sailing on Crystal Serenity through the Panana Canal start May 7th from Los Angeles to Miami.

So far, it looks like our stop in Mexico will be cancelled, unfortunately. This will give us SIX days as at sea before we land in Costa Rica.

Still, we are looking forward to a beautiful ship and a very relaxing voyage. I will try to give you regular updates right here.
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Old May 8th, 2009, 10:43 AM
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Default Serenity April 8th

Serenity April 8th


Sometimes I am reminded what a small world the cruise industry can be. We just boarded Crystal Serenity for a luxury cruise from Los Angeles to Miami through the Panama Canal. Last night we met our butler, Papa, who has been working on cruise ships steadily for 27 years. His first cruise line was MY first cruise line, Royal Viking line.

Then we turned on the television to hear a message from our cruise director, and it was Rick Spath, the same cruise director I worked under on Holland America’s Statendam. I have yet to go and say hello to him, but I will later on today. Rick was a very nice guy when I worked with him on the Statendam, one of the few cruise directors I ever got along with personally, which was more about my personal insecurities at that age than it is a comment on cruise directors.

It is painfully clear that these tough economic times have hit everyone, including luxury cruise lines. Not that there is anything wrong with the ship, in fact just the opposite is true. The service on Serenity is incredible. You would never know the ship is only about 60% full. Obviously, there has never been a better time go for the gold with great incentives to book any luxury cruise line now.

Crystal, for example, is promising up to $2000 shipboard credit to be used any way you wish on almost all of its cruises through 2010 if you book now. Onboard they are offering a birthday bonus – sail with Crystal on your birthday in 2010 and get 50% savings on an additional Crystal cruise as long as it is before your next birthday.


Sometimes it is mentioned that Crystal is not as all-inclusive as other luxury cruise lines, but our stateroom is already stocked with an entire bottle of the spirit of our choice. In our fridge we have all the free wine, beer and bottled water we can drink. With that onboard credit Crystal is almost as inclusive as any other cruise line.

Last night we asked Papa (our butler) to serve us dinner in our stateroom. Our room’s cocktail table can be transformed into a dining table by raising the stem. He covered it with a tablecloth, flowers, a breadbasket and cutlery. The soup was served first, followed by salads. The entrees were delectable. There was a salmon salad with large triangles of hot grilled salmon filet and grilled vegetables, pasta, chicken filled with ricotta and mushroom and grilled redfish. We skipped dessert so Papa could go to bed, so he brought us a plate of hot cookies.

Our bathroom is wonderful, with a separate shower and a Jacuzzi tub with a built-in head pillow and water jets to sooth your aching muscles. The bed is king-sized with a thick feather throw. The television has more channels than I have ever seen on a cruise ship. We can actually get CNN and Fox News, as well as ESPN, TNT and several movie channels showing recent movies that would be pay per view on mainstream cruise ships. We also have a DVD player and I hear the library has some 2000 titles.

More tomorrow. Stay tuned.
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Old May 8th, 2009, 06:39 PM
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Default Day 2 - at sea

Today was our first of six days at sea. That’s right – six days, and this is not a crossing. We are steaming all the way down the western coast of Mexico, past all the ports, directly to Costa Rica. Initially we were scheduled to stop in Acapulco but that was cancelled.

The ship is running a little slow, we got a notice telling us one of the pods is working at 100%. Actually, that is all I know, technically speaking. We seem to moving pretty slowly but at least the ride is smooth and between the guest speakers, piano lessons, Spanish, yoga, going to the gym and the amazingly good food there is plenty to do.

Once again, I am so impressed with the TV onboard. We can watch the news channels we would watch at home all day, not just CNN International (which is one of the worst stations ever conceived in my opinion). I remember one cruise where CNN International was the only channel, and I think we had three hours of coverage on Benjamin Tutu in one day. Between that and elections Rwanda it was a filling day (snooze).

They are showing Slumdog Millionaire in the Main Movie Cinema today, which is a treat since we haven’t seen it.

Meal service is amazing. Even at the buffets the waiters are at your table immediately. There was no line to get an omelet this morning, or to get a pizza this afternoon. Bar waiters bring you tea without complaining, and when they ask for your name it isn’t so they can charge you, it is so they can get to know you.

Luxury cruising is the best. My wife, who has experienced far more mainstream lines than luxury ones, is in awe of the attention she is getting. After all, we have a butler and two room stewardesses. Even with two of them they spent a full hour on our room this morning, and it is only the second day. Our room looked as good as it did when we first walked in, except that all of our clothes were put away. We even get complimentary pressing and show shines. If we want to do laundry there is a laundry onboard – but the machines and even the soap are free. You would never see that on a mainstream cruise line.

This morning’s lectures were first, an expert in espionage who spoke on the impact spying and state secrets have had on 20th century history. The second gentleman was a retired reporter from the Los Angeles Times who spoke of the dying newspaper business. It really is a big concern how newspapers are dying but he didn’t seem to understand one thing – that conservative media is actually thriving in this age of Obama. It is the most liberal newspapers and television stations that are dying. Example; Rupert Murdoch owns both Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. Both of those media outlets are just about the only media that have grown their audiences in the last year.

The speaker talked about how touched he was on the day Obama was inaugurated that people were lined up around the block to buy newspapers, until I pointed out that indicated most of those people were not subscribers. In other words, politics aside, by appealing to liberals you are targeting the people most likely to have ditched newspapers for the Internet, young and lower income people.

We worked out in the gym and actually spotted what were either dolphins or whales in our wake. We are just off the coast of Baja, after all, which is one of the richest wildlife areas in the world.

Stay tuned for more.
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Old May 9th, 2009, 04:28 PM
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Default Friday Night, Saturday May 10

Friday Night, May 9


We went to our first dinner in the dining room last night, as we were too exhausted the first night and so we decided to dine en cabine. It was a formal night, one of three on this 16-night cruise.
We have discovered we too used to early dining at home yo change now -- we tend to get tired early these days. So we asked the head waiter if we could move to early seating and he said yes.

When we went to dinner we asked the maitre d’ for a table and he was somewhat perplexed, despite that ship only being 60% until we said we do not mind sharing a table with other guests. He had a table with some of the working enrichment speakers onboard, so I explained I had also personally worked on cruise ships so I would love to dine “with the help.”

Our table for eight had the computer class instructors, the music instructor, one of the feature performers (an organist) and his wife, and one passenger who had just completed Serenity’s world cruise. That had officially ended in Los Angeles but many people who live in Florida opted to stay onboard the extra 16 days to sail to Florida.

Dinner was just plain delicious; Maine lobster served with drawn butter and hollandaise atop a small bed of risotto. There was actually enough lobster on the plate that no one ordered seconds. It was entirely shelled, even the claws which were laid our on both sides of the tail.

After dinner we had our first show by the onboard cast of singers and dancers. Crystal is known for its entertainment, rated number one of all cruise lines in many polls although in reality it is hard for a ship that only carries 1000 passengers to compete with the mega-ships from mainstream Carnival and Royal Caribbean ships that carry four times as many passengers.

The entertainment was good, but let’s be honest, Crystal appeals to an average age of just under 70. These people are not exactly up on the hit songs from Sweeney Todd, but they know Sound of Music and Music Man. Julie Andrews is the godmother of this ship, after all.

Saturday May 10

We slept from 9:30 last night to almost 7:30 this morning. We called for coffee and it arrived with five minutes. I checked my email and caught up on the news – not hard to do on this ship. At 9:00 I went to my beginning piano class. This course is taught in conjunction with Yamaha Musical Instruments division. They supply about 25 keyboards and an instructor leads us along on the most basic piano courses. Most people had lessons for a year or two when they were children and have forgotten everything. No matter, the lessons are so simple a beginner could do them. But after eight of these lessons you would have knowledge of complicated concepts like staccato notes, reading bass clef, etc.

Meanwhile, the computer area was holding a beginners guide to Window’s Vista. Frankly, that is how these onboard classes start out – very basic, but they progress to more complicated topics. The idea is to offer a crash course for beginners that will take them to very advanced topics without going so fast that people cannot understand what is going on.

At 11:00 I attended a lecture by world affairs expert Dr. Louis Rene Beres. His topic, very timely for today’s political climate, was “Foreign Affairs and the Changing Shape of World Power.” He didn’t take any obvious sides, unlike the pretty apparent political leanings of the L.A. Times reporter who spoke yesterday, but he did say that while he recognizes the authority of the U.N. to invoke International Law, he does has much confidence in its ability to back up their authority.

12:00 noon; poolside lunch buffet was Asian. The most delicious Orange Chicken, crab filled avocados, mango and ginger soup and chicken cashew salad were just some of dozens of choices. One of the nicest things About Crystal is the service. There is almost no waiting for anything ever. Waiters will carry your tray, and after lunch come up to offer you coffee, poolside!

They will give you espresso, cappuccino, latte, anything you want. The Hagen Daas ice cream station is always open as well, but I opted for the dessert buffet with miniature crème brulet in tiny ramekins.

1:30 – I now have to choose between my second beginning piano class or beginning ballroom. My wife went to ballroom and I said I was going to piano, but I think I might surprise her. So far, I can’t find a thing not to like about Crystal.

Oh, did I mention our butler, Papa, has been bringing me a caviar hors d’ oeuvres every afternoon. Three big dollops of roe with all the accouterment. It is actually too much – so I (incredibly) told him he had better skip us this afternoon. I turned caviar; My favorite food.
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Old May 9th, 2009, 04:32 PM
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Default Pictures



Papa, our butler



Our stateroom



Our bathroom, 2 sinks, separate shower and jacuzzi tub
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Old May 11th, 2009, 12:53 PM
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Default Monday, May 11.

Monday, May 11.

We spent an hour working out yesterday, circumnavigating the promenade deck 3 ½ times (one mile) and then heading to the gym for weight lifting and yoga. After burning so many calories we didn’t feel too guilty about an afternoon nap.

For dinner we could have dined in the dining room, but our wonderful butler Papa called and suggested he bring us a menu from the onboard specialty restaurant Prego and serve it to us on our verandah. What could we say?

So, he brought a portable table and set up the tablecloth with flowers and breadbasket. The ship is sailing rather slowly and the weather is amazing – hardly any wind at all. My wife pointed out that if you close your eyes the sound of the water breaking against the hull sounded exactly like waves breaking on a beach.

The temperature, wind and humidity were perfect.

Our opening appetizer was fois gras, a slip of lobster tail and mozzarella in a pastry shell. I have never had better fois gras (goose liver). Instead of the usual macerated slice suspended in aspic, this was freshly chopped (not ground) and served warm. It was sweet and succulent. The lobster tail had a hint of lime and ginger.

Our second course was Caesar salad and sweet potato gnocchi. Keep in mind we were enjoying this on our private verandah wearing just our jammies. Papa brought each course individually. My main entrée was rack of lamb, with mint jelly of course and freshly sautéed mushrooms. It is the mark of a gourmet restaurant when a familiar dish makes you think, “I have never had it taste quite this good before.” The mushrooms were not slippery, watery and tasteless, they were full of earthy goodness that melded with the tender taste-ture of the four medium rare lamb chops. Dessert was tiramisu, of course.

Dinner took two hours, with no distractions but the sound of the surf below our balcony. This is luxury cruising, at its finest.

If you have never tried luxury cruising this is your year. All luxury cruise lines are giving significant discounts this year. Crystal is offering as much as $2000 shipboard credit per stateroom.

In the penthouse suites, where we are, Crystal also includes all beverages; champagne, wine, beer and the spirit of your choice. We also get all the bottled water we want at no extra charge.

The Crystal cuisine is phenomenal. I was on another luxury cruise line a few years ago and I admit I was a little disappointed by the food. I felt it was bland. I was also underwhelmed by the service on that ship because they neglected to give me sufficient guidance on what was available. For example, we were not told until the last day that we could have Eggs Benedict (one of our favorites) any time we wanted. There were no menus and no one brought it up.

On Crystal, the service people are everywhere. They show up immediately and ask you if there is anything you want, from iced tea to eggs of your choice.

What this boils down to is creating a better cruise experience by suggestion. We never would have decided to eat a Prego dinner on our verandah if our butler, Papa, had not insisted that we try it. We did and we will never forget it. The same is true of certain dishes in the restaurant. Proactive luxury, it makes a difference.

We have two room stewardesses. The assistant accidentally broke my wife’s glass nail file. She was so upset she was afraid to tell us, poor thing! We assured her it is no problem, and we really were not that worried about it, but they insisted we fill out an accidental loss report and they will reimburse us.

All in all, I have to say I am very impressed with Crystal. One thing I learned a long time ago is that the quality of service on a cruise ship is often the result of the effectiveness of onboard management. On Crystal, each dining service has a manager keeping an eagle eye on everything and everyone. You never see a table in need of cleaning, or a waiter staring off into space. If you ask where something is they not only tell you, but they also get it for you.

I love our stateroom. It isn’t especially big but it has so many nice touches. The lighting controls are all intuitive. There isn’t a single light switch I cannot find, and they are all available from my bedside. Not only are there more television stations than I have ever seen on a cruise line, there is a speaker control in the bathroom so I can listen to the news while in the shower or the Jacuzzi tub.

More later – just remember, this is the year for a Crystal cruise with booking incentives like I have never seen before; it just doesn’t get any better than this.
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Old May 11th, 2009, 05:41 PM
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Paul, it's great reading your daily review. My boss and his partner sail Crystal and your posts, sound very similar to their experiences.

We are traveling in September (=X=) on a 16-day Panama. While our service won't be quite as upscale as Crystal's, it's fun to read about your adventures and sea days. Will be looking forward to hearing about your land excursions / tours.
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Old May 11th, 2009, 07:47 PM
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Thanks. I have to say it is nice here. It is very relaxing but definitely not boring.
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Old May 12th, 2009, 08:57 AM
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After reading what you've written so far, I know that I absolutely have to try a luxury cruise one of these days.

I love the service on Holland America (my cruise line of choice), but this sounds absolutely over the top!

Keep enjoying!

Blue skies ...

--rita
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Old May 12th, 2009, 11:54 AM
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Default Tuesday May 12

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I got an email from one of my staff telling me my updates so far are great, but have been too positive. So, I guess I have to tone it down today or risk losing my credibility as a critic. Seriously, though, if you found yourself on a cruise where there is almost nothing to complain about wouldn’t you want to bask in that feeling, too? Why nit-pick just to have something to complain about?

Okay, I do recall being on a cruise that everyone beside myself thought was perfect, so I have to consider the possibility someone else could see this cruise differently. Hence I have been challenged to find something to complain about, so here it is.

When we boarded we got the news that the ship has a hobbled pod, which prohibits it from reaching top speed. Because of this problem we were forced to skip our first scheduled port of call, Acapulco. Well, we all know what happened, all cruise ships have canceled all stops in Mexico due to swine flu so it was a moot point. Still, it is always bad news to find out that your itinerary has changed after you board the ship.

This ship just finished a world cruise on the previous voyage and I understand the line wanting to keep a world cruise on schedule. But I hope the pod will be fixed soon or else the same thing will happen on future cruises. I will ask the staff today and let you know in my next update.

I personally like cruise itineraries with more port stops and having seven days at sea in a row is a lot for me. But the onboard experience here is so full I am not sure I would have had a better time in Acapulco. Still, if I had to miss Rio D’ Janeiro or Amsterdam because of this pod problem I would have been more upset, but that is only a hypothetical.



Now, to the next drawback with this cruise, it was booked as a “health and wellness” cruise. In truth, there is hardly anything onboard that qualifies it to be such a cruise other than a guest speaker who specializes in Eastern Medicine, and a special yoga teacher in the fitness area in addition to the regular trainers. We expected almost daily seminars on the topics of health and that isn’t really happening. So be it.

In all honesty I don’t believe many if any passengers booked this cruise it because it was billed as a “health and wellness” cruise. Everyone we have asked, passengers and crew alike were not even aware that it was billed that way. Yes, it makes you wonder if there isn’t a knowledge gap between headquarters and the staff onboard where marketing is concerned, but that is actually not unusual in the cruise business.

These are both temporary setbacks that will be fixed. I did not go into them because I try to report on the overall experience of a ship should you plan to take it in the future. If I spent all of my time focusing on my cruise only much of what I have to say might not apply to you.

Today we have yet another speaker, so that brings the total (so far) of lecturers onboard up to six. The lecturer today is an NFL Referee. That is a pretty cool topic for us sports fans.

Ironically, they have chosen today’s topic to actually acknowledge this is a health and wellness cruise, so the lecture is billed as “The Mind, Body and Spirit of the Referee.” A bit of a stretch, perhaps, but no harm done. This is still a great cruise.
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Old May 12th, 2009, 01:38 PM
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First, off all I'm so jealous.. wish I were with you... Second, did you say the average age was about 70? Now are they young 70s or old 70's...lol We are I think "young 70's:.. but wouldn't enjoy the gym but one of the hghlights of our "retirement" is having a day or two,... or three around the pool. away from the hectic life of "retirement"
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Old May 12th, 2009, 01:49 PM
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Paul Quote: "the lecture is billed as “The Mind, Body and Spirit of the Referee.” A bit of a stretch, perhaps, but no harm done. This is still a great cruise." end quote-

...bringing Zen and Eastern'ism to the NFL Referee. I love it! But why not?

When you mention the cruise was billed as "health and wellness", does that mean it was their "theme"? I was on Crystal's website last night looking at their 2010 cruises (BTW the World cruise is a total bargain, rather than piece-cruising!) I noticed that most of their cruises had specific themes, like "Big Band Theme", "Film and Theater", "Ballroom Dancing", etc. I guess what I am curious to know is, do these these themes prevail on the ship? Do the venues support the themes, such as a masquerade ball, dining options appropriate to the theme, etc.? Or is it simply a guest speaker or lecturer who supports that particular billing?

Another question, you mentioned that Julie Andrews was the ship's adopted mom. Does Crystal's other ship have an adopted mom too? I think that's a cool concept.
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Old May 12th, 2009, 03:38 PM
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Julie Andrews is the Godmother - she named the ship (Christened, they sometimes say, but not in Britain).

The "Body Mind % Spirit" is the themwe of this cruise, but honestly it is not very descriptive of the overall experience. I just realized they have FOUR pro-footballers onboard including Din Shula, another coach, a player and a referee. I am not a big football fan or I would know who these folks are.

But this cruise is more sports & politics than it is body, mind & spirit. and that is OK. I am not complaining, the speakers are great. It is just a little confusing.

Still a great cruise, though. And fantastic food & service. Cheers!
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Old May 13th, 2009, 12:07 PM
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Ummmm ... mind, body and spirit, huh? My feeling would be that butler is all I would need to have all the mind and spiritual peace I'd need!

As long as the food is good, the body will be very happy too.

I frankly could never understand people who go on a cruise to "be healthy." Do that at home! Sort of like the Richard Simmons exercise cruises. Give me a break. I want to sweat with him, I don't have to pay for a cruise to do it. I can't help but wonder how many of those Richard Simmons cruisers get caught in the buffet line eating everything that's a no-no on his diet plan.

When I cruise, I want to be anything but healthy. I'll worry about the "mind, body and spiritual" issues when I get home.

Blue skies ...

--rita
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Old May 13th, 2009, 06:16 PM
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I LOVE reading your day by day blog!

What are your fellow passengers like? I don't want to get into the whole age issue... more activity level... interests etc... I know that Crystal offers all their computer and photgraphy classes at no cost... but what else is offered?

I have a couple who sails Silver Seas and Oceania but wants to take their 17 year old grandson with them in the Med and I am hoping that Crystal has more for him to do than Oceania (at least that is what I have indicated ...lol)
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Old May 14th, 2009, 02:54 PM
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Canadian...

I think Crsytal would be your best choice for a child on a lux cruise. Oceania has almost nothing for kids.

Crsytal has a lot of childs programs ON cruises where there are kids. I see NONE on this cruise, whoever, if they book during a vacatiob period there should be many more.

There are kid's facilities, including a room with free X-box. I sneak in there and play it myself.

I think it is a good choice for the lux category, just make sure there will be other kids and youth couselors onboard first.
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Old May 14th, 2009, 02:55 PM
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Default Wednesday, May 13

We made our first port of the cruise yesterday, after six days at sea. The good news is that it didn’t feel like six days at sea, the onboard enrichment is more than enough to keep you entertained. The bad news is that our port of call in Costa Rica turned out to be far less exciting than I had hoped.

I have been to Puerto Caldera before on a princess cruise. On my Princess shore excursion I saw mccaw parrots nearly five feet tall, sloths, and a to-die-for-cute pack of a dozen cappucine monkeys navigating through the rainforest canopy. They jumped from tree to tree with wild abandon, sometimes catching a limb too small to hold them and falling 50 feet to the ground as a result. They would just roll over and shake it off, scramble to the nearest tree trunk and ascend it foot over hand to catch up with their brood once again.

I went to the shore excursion desk the day before yesterday and grilled the shorex manager thoroughly to try to get myself on a tour that would give my wife the same great experience I had myself in this same port years ago.

We ended up on a “sky-tour” of the rain forest canopy which sounded very promising in its description. I hoped we would see at least some of the birds, small mammals, maybe even a snake, like I had seen on my previous visit, but we didn’t. Our guide was a botanist who spent his entire time talking about the trees. We discussed ants for quite awhile as well. Sadly, everything he said was in a booming voice bound to scare away any wildlife within 100 yards.

I can’t fault a tour guide for doing his job. I was told by the shore excursion manager that seeing any wildlife was a bonus, and the guide told us the same thing. But I can tell you that when I was in this port before the guide only spoke to us in a whisper and he kept his eyes open for wildlife the entire time. When we didn’t see any he put us back on the bus and took us to a different location where he knew wildlife had been sighted. That is what good shore tour guides do – they communicate with their network of sighters during your tour and they take you to the action.

I was bored on this tour, and so were the other guests. Plus, I felt as if I had spent six days sailing to Costa Rica hoping to repeat a lifelong memory I had of monkeys in the wild, and it just didn’t work out that way. Just so you know, that is a consequence and difference between taking a cruise ship that sails to a new destination every day, such as this Cystal ship does, and taking a ship on a cruise line that visits the same port on a regular basis. The truth is the cruise line that has ships in a particular port several times a year is more likely to give you a better tour than the cruise line with a ship that only visits once every few years. The things Crystal does on a regular basis it does extremely well, but on this one-time chance to deliver what I hoped to see it didn’t work out. Unfortunately, I talked to another couple who took a different tour and they did see mccaw parrots and at least one or two monkeys in the wild. That was all I wanted am I made it clear to the shore excursion manager. I realize nothing is guaranteed, but I have a feeling that with six days to prepare for this one port of call they could have done a little more research.

I have been catching up on my movies. Onboard they are showing all of the recent Emmy nominees. We have seen Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader and Milk. I also just found out there are four different speakers onboard just from the National Footbal League. I have never seen a ship with more guest speakers.

We ate dinner with cruise director Rick Spath last night. Rick has been with Crystal for five years now, but I met Rick when I was working for Holland America in the early 1990s. He was cruise director on the inaugural year of the Statendam in Europe.

Rick has had quite a career, also including Celebrity and Disney before Crystal Cruises. There may be more but that is all we discussed. Of all the lines I am sure Crystal suits Rick the best, but his experience with Disney Cruises has to qualify as the most interesting.

Rick was the first cruise director on the first Disney ship, Disney Magic. Now, you know that is a decision Disney did not make lightly. When Disney Cruise Lines first started they planned to do things differently. For example, they chose not to have the usual cruise ship staff structure of a cruise director at the top, hostesses, assistant cruise directors, hotel managers, etc. As the cruise director, Rick was in charge of many jobs onboard a cruise director usually wouldn’t touch.

As Rick describes it, Disney has a way of working that involves a lot of “tweaking,” or improving the product as they go. I already knew that, but I didn’t know that when Disney needs to refer to an intangible element a product may need it is called adding a little “pixie dust” to the situation.

I also didn’t know this….

WARNING: if you didn’t know Mickey Mouse is an actor in costume read no further!

Every new employee of Disney, including captains of their cruise ships (!), were required (they still may be, I do not know) to experience being inside a Disney character costume. Now, Disney wouldn’t say it that way, they would call it having a “character experience.”

Disney Cruise Lines begged Rick to be their first cruise director, persuading him to drop a commitment to do a world cruise on the brand new flagship for Holland America. But before he got the job, Rick had to get Goofy at Disney World, wearing the costume at the park and interacting wth the guests. Why Goofy? According to Rick the character experience you get is based on what costume fits you best.

Now, it sounds a bit silly, so I don’t want to make too much light of it. Rick says it was actually a very satisfying experience and a great illuminationon on how to do his job. As cruise director he knew how to change any child’s day just by arranging a special visit from Peter Pan, for example. But what would you say if you were asked to be Goofy for a day before you could the captain of a cruise ship?
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Old May 15th, 2009, 08:47 AM
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Default Panama Canal - entering first lock

[img]/gallery/galleries/5080/81941.jpg[/img]

from the Pacific side - this web site is www.pancanal.com. Here you see us entering the canal.
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Old May 16th, 2009, 01:38 PM
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Default Saturday May 16…

Yesterday was Panama Canal day. It is always a great experience to see the canal in action. I have been through eight times now. But I had forgotten how beautiful it is in the Gatun Lake in the middle of the country. Watching the lock system is facinating, especially when you consider this entire canal was built and still operates as it was first created almost 100 years ago.

The onboard canal expert, Richard Morgan, had a follow-up discussion today about the upgrade to the canal currently underway. The era of Post-Panamax will begin in 2014 with the opening of newer, longer, wider and deeper locks and a widened channel.

Even with the current limitations the canal can accommodate most cruise ships built before 2000, but not all. The current “Panamax” limitations are about 965 feet long, 106 feet wide and less that 40 feet deep.

The new “Post Panamax” ships can be 180 feet wide and have length of 1400 feet (the length of the lock may be 1600 to 2000 feet, this is is still being discussed, but few cruise ships are longer than 1000 feet). The allowable draft will be 50 feet.

The new locks will recycle up to 65% of the water in the locks by using holding basins and pumps. The canal currently fills the locks from Gatun Lake usinbg nothing but gravity. There is plenty of rainfall in Panama so it is not a problem. But the new locks will work in tangent with the old ones, so the amount of water being used will increase significantly. Today, the Panama Canal carries about 5% of all of the sea-going content in the world.

The news locks will be made with Chinese steel. That is one of the few pre-determined facts. Interesting. It is also known there will bo no locomotive mules, just tugboats and the ships’ own propulsion systems.

Following the Post Panamax discussion we were treated to a talk by Don Shula. Don isn’t just an NFL coach, he is THE NFL coach, having won more games than any coach in history, 325. His stories were entertaining and inspirational. He has a humble sense of humor that reminds you that the most accomplished athletes in the world never act overly macho.

Don went to the Superbowl six times and won twice. His ring was impossible to miss. His best story had to do with a couple of missed calls by a referee named Jim Tunney, who also happens to be a speaker on this cruise.

Here is the important thing about Crystal. While this cruise is 16 days and onlu has four ports, the days at sea are never boring. We have at least three enrichment speakers every day. In addition, I have my music classes, dance classes, reflexology, computer seminars, language, painting…

And did I mention food. Truly, the food here has been consistently excellent. Especially the beef which is incredibly tender. We had “surf & turf” one night with Maine Lobster and Filet Mignon, and both were equally tender and melted in your mouth. More later from Crystal Serenity…
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Old May 17th, 2009, 12:04 AM
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Thanks for the news on the Canal passage. I'll be "doing my first" in September, and wasn't sure if I should stay on board and watch the lockes from our veranda (starboard), of if we should do a tour in Panama with a portion devoted to the locke observation. I think we'll stay on board now.

By the way, did you ever surprise your wife at dance class the other day? Guessing you did.
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Old May 18th, 2009, 04:04 PM
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Yesterday we landed in Aruba. It was Sunday and almost everything was closed, except for a few hours in the morning. It doesn’t make much sense to shop in Aruba when you are going to St Martin next. I have to say this cruise has far more days at sea than I prefer. 11 days into this cruise with nine days at sea and only two ports of call so far, both of them somewhat disappointing, I have to say this cruise line is more for people who are not as destination oriented as I am, but I am more than most people.

This morning we had the NFL panel with Don Shula, referee Jim Tunney, another NFL coach Marty Shottenheimer (San Diego Chargers) and former quarterback Earl Morrall. This is a good thing about Crystal – they have a lot of influential friends. I had a chance to talk to Cruise Director Rick Spath at dinner a few nights ago (more on him later), and he told me Crystal spares no expense when it comes to onoard lectureres and destination experts. He said that all he has to do is pick up the phone and Crystal will fly an expert to him anytime he feels they need one.

That is a very good thing. But what is odd on this particular cruise is that the strong support for the destiunations is not exactly reflected in the shore tours. As I said, I was pretty disappointed with my Costa Rica tour, and I never heard back from shorex about my complaint. The Panama Canal expert was very good, however.

Anyway – we have four NFL pros onboard, and my gut tells me they got a good deal on this cruise in exchange for speaking onboard. Rick introduced Don Shula as a “good friend of Crystal.” There is nothing wrong with that, in fact it is a great thing for the guests onboard.

Today we had a fantastic lunch buffet. We had all the lobster tails we could eat. There were towers of shrimp, prime rib, amazing desserts, salads, breads. Just sparing no expense. Today we have invited some new friends over to our stateroom for appetizers. We plan on servinf more caviar (I love caviar), red wine, chocolate covered strawberries, etc.

We ate in Nobu a few nights ago. Crystal is owned by Japanese shipping goliath NYK shipping. They generally have a few Asians on most cruises, and Nobu is one of the most renowned Japanese chefs in the world. Onboard, the restaurant has a sushi bar that I heard is next to impossible to get into when there are a number of Asians onboard. Such is the quality that those who really know good sushi love Nobu.

I had the best black cod and absolutely some of the most tender beef I have ever had in my life. No, it isn’t certified Kobe beef (but neither is much of what is sold as Kobe beef in the U.S.) but it is very good, even excellent, beef. We also had terriyaki, tempura and special sashimi with unique sauces created by Nobu himself. It os said the chef comes aboard the ship at least a few times every year.

The other specialty restaurant is Prego, an Italian restaurant. We will be trying that tomorrow.
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Old May 18th, 2009, 05:16 PM
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Okay I hate you. I had dried noodles for lunch. I love sushi, lobster, and beef. This cruise sounds heavenly. I have never cruised the Panama canal. Thanks for the information on the canal. Have a wonderful cruise and Fedex me a Lobster tail when you get the chance.
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Old May 18th, 2009, 06:50 PM
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I hate me, too. Its almost too much. if I thought I actually deserved all this I would have a real problem.
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Old May 18th, 2009, 11:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Motter
I hate me, too. Its almost too much. if I thought I actually deserved all this I would have a real problem.
No, you deserve it. You work hard.

Blue skies ...

--rita
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Old May 19th, 2009, 10:11 AM
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Just think of the poor souls here in Canada... it'supposed to snow again today... any shore excursion, good, bad... leftover lobster shells, ribs bones... I'll take anything at this point ...

JUST GET ME ON A CRUISE... there... I feel much better...

Hope I made you smile while you are having such a 'rough' cruise with too many days at sea.
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Old May 19th, 2009, 10:41 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CanadianCruiseBooker
Just think of the poor souls here in Canada... it'supposed to snow again today... any shore excursion, good, bad... leftover lobster shells, ribs bones... I'll take anything at this point ...

JUST GET ME ON A CRUISE... there... I feel much better...

Hope I made you smile while you are having such a 'rough' cruise with too many days at sea.
Oh see you made me feel better. I live in California today's high is 86 F or 30 C. I still want to trade places with Paul. Paul you do a great job on this site. Plus you are sharing your vacation time with us all. You are making me think with the discounts maybe I can afford a Crystal cruise We appreicate it. But seriously when can I expect the Fedex delivery of my lobster tail?
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Old May 19th, 2009, 01:38 PM
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did you say

LOBSTER?



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Old May 19th, 2009, 02:00 PM
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Now that's just MEAN

looks like a typical Portugese wedding buffet! lol
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Old May 19th, 2009, 02:20 PM
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I have to say, both th steak and the lobster were the best I have had on a cruise ship. The steak literally melted in your mouth, and the lobster was not rubbery at all, it had the flaky texture you get with the best lobster where it flakes apart on your tongue. mmmm....

Im going to go eat.

Last night we invited one of the guest lecturers over for cheese, caviar and chocolate strawberries. Notice the several ounces of caviar and all the accoutrement.



this is after the party

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Old May 19th, 2009, 10:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Motter
did you say

LOBSTER?

[img]/gallery/galleries/5080/81990.jpg[/img]

[img]/gallery/galleries/5080/81991.jpg[/img]
Did I mention that I hate you. Okay Fedex me two lobster tails you have enough there. Filet Mignon smothered in Lobster that is my kind of meal. You really know how to make a person jealous. Hey CanadianCruiseBooker are you Portuguese to? My dad is from Madeira Island.
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