December 9-23, 2002
by Patrick Regan
We took a 14 day cruise on the
Crystal Harmony, Dec 9th through the 23rd, from Fort Lauderdale to LA
through the Panama Canal. There were not many stops in between -- 2
Costa Rican provisioning and refueling (i.e. industrial) ports, Puerto
Limon on the East coast and Puntarenas on the West, bookended by
Cozumel on the third day and Cabo San Lucas on the 12th day. Lots of
tropical days at sea. In effect, a long, lazy cruise to nowhere ending
up 5000 + miles from where we began.
We had had a bad experience 2 months
before this cruise with HAL on an Alaska inside passage cruise. It was
the end of the Alaska cruising season and the crew was exhausted, the
2 year old Zaandam was worn and dirty and the glaciers were fogged in.
You could only see a few feet above the height of the ship. When they
edited the Zaandam cruise video they used footage of the glaciers they
videotaped on a bright sunny day. Then they wore themselves out
showing this video over and over on the ship's TV. It was the cruise
We needed the right cruise soon, we
were still tired and feeling un-vacationed when our travel agent
called us about a discount on Crystal if we could cruise the 2nd &
3rd weeks of December. We booked it.
Left Vancouver BC, Canada for Seattle late Sunday afternoon. Long
wait at the busy border -- forty-five minutes to cross into the U.S.
Keep it simple by having your passports in the front seat with you.
Gassed up the one-way Budget rent-a-car right next to Sea Tac and
refueled ourselves with omelets at a nearby Denny's 'cause Jet Blue
doesn't serve meals (ala Southwest). We were flying with Jet Blue on
the red eye (12:45AM departure) to JFK, where we changed planes for
the Jet Blue FLL leg. Blue was clean & very efficient. Leather
seats and individual TVs ala Virgin Airlines. No wonder their stock
is soaring and they are profitable after only 3 years in existence.
Courteous and helpful from check-in through in-flight service (chips,
energy bar and beverages) and a tight change of planes at JFK. I was
skeptical about being able to depart on the FLL leg 40 minutes after
arriving at JFK but we made it easily as Jet Blue said we would. The
cost of Jet Blue one way for 2 from Seattle to Fort Lauderdale was
$425.00 including tax (purchased on the internet).
We paid $20.00 apiece for transfers
through Crystal Cruises to the ship. Crystal reps met us in the
baggage area, obtained luggage carts and guided us to waiting
transportation where we were driven to an Embassy Suites at the port
for a buffet while we waited for our 4PM boarding time. I remember how
hungry I was the last time, as we waited to board Holland America,
which made no effort to give waiting passengers even water and
The luggage was already in our cabin when we arrived there. We
booked a cabin with a nice sitting area and a veranda - #8015. We like
veranda cruising. We were shocked to find that the reason this cabin
had a bit larger veranda area was because it jutted out forming the
end of a line of veranda cabins -- there was no privacy on the sides
and it wasn't fully roofed; all the cabins aft of this one looked upon
our wide open veranda; somewhat like an audience viewing actors on a
stage. Not very cruisey and no protection from the sun. We were able
to obtain a new cabin through at the Concierge desk with the privacy
we required on the port side of the same deck & corridor.
Our new cabin was an identical
category B mini suite with one of the larger verandas with slipcovers
on sofa and 100% cotton sheets by request. There was an older model
small 13 or 14 inch TV w/VCR and old style remote; the TV was located
on top of a cabinet where it was not easy to watch from the sofa in
the sitting area or from the bed. The hotel desk had it moved for me
to the vanity across from the sofa next to the veranda sliding glass
door. The veranda was large enough for my wife to do some exercises...
2 chairs with cushions that our stewardess put away in the evenings...
nice privacy... love that veranda. My wife says she likes the many
relaxing blues of the never ending waters swirling by and bye as she
sits on her veranda. We won't ever cruise again without one. Our cabin
had a very clean, fresh feeling. Great for a ship launched in
THE ALTERNATIVE DINING ROOMS
First night was open seating at dinner so we decided to reserve a
table at the alternative Restaurant "Kyoto" -- $6.00 per
person charge for the waiter and worth every penny -- and we had a
tasty Japanese dinner.
The Italian alternative restaurant
Prego is next door. Yum, yum! We had some delicious dinners there
later in the cruise. Same $6.00 per person charge. Maitre d' Paolo
takes reservations for both venues at a fixed time morning and late
afternoon. You get a reservation card and a voice mail reminder when
you have a reservation in one of the alternative dining rooms.
We didn't want to get our first
impression of the Crystal dining room on open seating night. I think I
mean that we wouldn't have a chance to meet our wait staff. And I
won't know if it is Hell to eat at our assigned location because we
won't be at that location, so why bother?
Crystal doesn't have a wine package
ala Holland American or Royal Caribbean but the single glass
selections are good wines very sensibly priced.
Early in the cruise we ordered room service breakfast and were
surprised to have it served by our cabin stewardess, Jennifer from
Sweden. They have a pantry down the hall where the trays are set up
and the hot breakfast items are sent up from the kitchen, where the
stewardess arranges them with the coffee, yogurt, rolls etc.
Crystal provides and requires
passengers to use sanitizing hand wipes before boarding the ship or a
tender, and the Captain's policy, explained in the daily bulletin, is
to not shake hands anymore. These I think are good ideas in these
Norwalk virus times, so why is housekeeping handling food in between
cleaning individual cabins? Of course the stewardesses are told to
wash their hands before handling food. but someone who's busy changing
beds & scrubbing toilets shouldn't be serving your morning
croissants and setting up your tray. By the way, there is only one
non-positive food comment we can make about our experience on the
Harmony -- the croissants served on the Crystal Harmony were more like
dinner rolls than croissants. Club Med and Holland America have better
croissants -- but not better anything else. We decided that was our
last breakfast room service. No disrespect intended in the direction
of our truly hard working stewardess who kept our cabin beautifully.
Why take chances? In the evening room service actually does the
deliveries. Our stewardess, Jennifer, also had the title role in
"Santa Lucia," a candle-lit mini pageant performed by the
(mostly) Swedish members of the crew in the Galaxy Theatre for the
THE CRYSTAL DINING ROOM
We had our second seating, table for 2, 8:30PM dinner in the
dining room and met our waiter, Felix from Rumania, and his assistant,
Josip from Croatia. Victor from Portugal was the wait staff Captain in
our dining section and he was very helpful in the middle of a busy
night (lobster) at our assigned table in the Crystal dining room. The rumors
are true. The food is good here on Crystal Harmony. The
suspense is killing me. Can they keep it up for 14 days? Yes they can.
The dining room under the smooth direction of Maitre d' Jacques is a
pleasant place to have a tasty, relaxing meal. Dining captain Victor
made Bananas Foster & Crepe Suzettes for us to break up the usual
dessert menu on a couple of different nights. Victor was very helpful
in suggesting dinner and dessert items.
My wife says if you cruise Crystal
and a dessert calls out to you like a lonely kitten from a cage, don't
pass it by. You will never see it again. She will never forget the
carrot cake, the mousse, and something divinely frothy in a glass that
had a stem on it that we walked away from in the cafeteria in favor of
the alternative dining venue on the first night. They don't repeat
many entrees, tea sandwiches or desserts. The variety is
MASTER CRUISE SCHEDULE
We recommend cutting out and saving the master schedule published
in the first day edition of "Reflections," the ship's daily
paper. The schedule lists dates, the dinner theme, dress code, the
shows, the movies and the port times and the casual dining buffets. I
kept it with me folded in my shirt pocket so I could easily choose the
days I would prefer to dine at alternative and casual restaurants and
write them on to the list for easy reference.
MORE DINING OPTIONS
We especially liked the 2 nights that they had a poolside buffet
and barbecue at the Trident Grill. Head Chef Markus Nufer himself was
hovering at the grill turning out some steaks and seafood. The Trident
grill was always open during the day but usually closed before
We loved dining around the pool under
the open sky on a balmy tropical night and being able to have food at
the dinner hour without having to dress in long pants or order room
service. Now that's cruising.
We're having trouble understanding the logic of the dress code we were
saddled with over 14 cruising days... 3 formal nights, 5 informal
nights, 6 casual, meaning no jeans or shorts. That's a lot of clothing
in these days of having to leave your hold baggage unlocked and
unstrapped. It's almost like kids playing dress up. We've been trying
to cruise with just one hold bag, 2 carry-ons and a laptop, and we
can't pack that tightly with this kind of dress code... it's the
tropics for goodness sakes.
OH, YEAH -- MORE FOOD
The day before we landed in LA they served Crystal's American
Classic Buffet on the Lido deck... something akin to a huge 4th of
July picnic... chicken, ribs, burgers etc. There was also an Asian
buffet poolside one afternoon -- top notch -- and a huge seafood
buffet served in the atrium area at the entrance to the main dining
room. I had the privilege of being a long time member of a lovely
private downtown club and beach facility when I lived in LA, and the
Crystal Harmony comes the closest we've seen to the amenity level and
quality of service and excellent food that was offered by the club.
We also enjoyed the tour of the main
kitchen areas. I work on a film crew, most of the time on locations
that have included institutional kitchens, hotel kitchens, etc., and
the kitchen on the Crystal Harmony is the cleanest I have ever seen or
-- not -- smelled.
THE CABIN BATHROOMS
This is starting to sound like a love letter about the Crystal
Harmony but... YES in the midst of all of this food and service is a
serious complaint. The bathrooms. They are small and awful in every
category of cabin but the penthouses; it wasn't just my mini suite.
The bathrooms all have a shower in the tub -- you have to climb into
the narrow tub to shower. There are 2 actual grab bars you can hold on
to and one bar that the shower head goes up and down on that you had
better not grab. It is a bar but it is just for the shower head. We
had some rough seas and I grabbed it and thought it might come out of
the wall. Don't try to use it to steady yourself in the shower. The
toilets are small in circumference and crammed into a corner next to a
wall, in the mini suite cabins. The only way this mini toilet is
comfortable is if you can sit on the toilet with the bathroom door
open. Not very cruisey.
Crystal held a Stateroom open house
on 2 different days where we could see every category of cabin on the
ship. The non-veranda cabins had a decent toilet location with leg
room but still the same bad shower arrangement. The bathrooms in the
penthouses were much better, some with separate tub and shower. The
standard penthouse seems not much bigger in square footage than my
mini suite but with a truly large square footage bathroom and butler
service. The bathrooms really show the Crystal Harmony's age. She went
into service in 1990, which means design and planning from the mid
We thank Crystal for providing
fluffy, thick towels and robes. These were very comfortable.
THE FITNESS CENTER
The other minor cavil is about the fitness center... it's very
small and the treadmills and machines are crowded together, but they
do have windows. The exercise bikes are even closer together located
in a stuffy, windowless corner of the fitness area. When the 3 bikes
are being used the riders are only about 18 inches apart. I solved the
problem of closeness by going to the gym at 6AM or during special
events or dinners that most everyone was attending so I would have the
bicycle area to myself.
The first Galaxy Lounge production show was a tribute to Gershwin
entitled "Fascinatin' Rhythm." Talented leads, singers and
dancers, well rehearsed & energetic, with a great band and
costumes. Best musical show we've ever seen on a cruise ship. Broadway
road company level talent.
The male comedian, Jimmy Travis, had
a funny show. Opened with a Western swing song playing guitar
accompanied by the excellent Galaxy orchestra (which also played each
night before the show for dancing). Stand-up comedy, with song
parodies and some sharp observational humor. He sang a great song
riffing on Puerto Limon, Costa Rica the industrial port where we
provisioned, dumped and fueled on the East coast. He oughta have a
sitcom. He's funny. I wish I could say the same for the female
comedian who shall and should remain anonymous.
There were more production shows,
great piano bars, lectures about interesting subjects, and art
classes. It was all comfortably available.
Run by Caesar's Palace from Vegas. Mini columns ala Caesar's decor
flanked the entrance to the casino. Professionally run table games and
slots in a pleasant atmosphere. The best cruise ship casino we've
played in, but couldn't get a pro football bet down though. You would
think in this modern internet world they could send it to the main
sports book computer.
Every day from 3:30PM to 4:30PM in the scenic Palm Court. A true
cream tea with proper scones with clotted cream, finger sandwiches
& mini pastries and of course many choices of tea served by
friendly waiters in swallow tailed coats and boiled shirts, with music
by the hard working Manila Trio. Rather grand. It was a daily
pleasure, one of the many on this cruise. Whenever the Palm Court got
too crowded they extended the tea into the next room, Vista lounge, by
quietly setting more tables if the crowd increased. Everything about
this cruise was well managed and well organized. Hats off to hotel
director Herbert Doppler, Maitre d' Jacques Martin, and Chef Markus
The tea on our last HAL cruise 2
months ago was just tea & a few pastries every day. HAL had a huge
opening tea & then just tea & pastries, served in a crowded
venue by an undermanned, grumpy serving staff.
CRUISE DIRECTOR-RON GOODMAN
We saw him some of the time on TV making various announcements and
introducing the shows in the Galaxy Lounge. We don't much go for
organized cruise activities, so we can't offer an opinion of Mr.
Goodman other than he wore his uniform a lot and didn't give off that
frenetic cruise director aura that some of them give off. We've never
seen a cruise director before in his ship's officer uniform.
LIBRARY & COMPUTER UNIVERSITY
The library was exceptional... great selection of all kinds of
books; someone knowledgeable worked hard organizing this library.
Thank you! I managed to read 9 books during our lazy cruise days at
sea. It was great to catch up on our reading. The library is a quiet
oasis with all kinds of books and long hours, open from 8:30AM to 11PM
with a lunch and dinner break when most of us are also eating. It is
presided over by librarian Ronnie Espina with help from some of the
singers and dancers from the showroom. Nice video selection too, but
it's now a DVD world. I watched some DVD's I brought on our laptop,
which brings us to the subject of computers... they have plenty on
board in a good sized classroom called the Computer University at Sea.
They have classes teaching basic, actually rudimentary computer stuff,
e-mail, word processing, etc., and very expensive internet
connections; $1.25 per minute with a minimum. No thank you. There was
a nearby internet cafe in every port filled with my fellow cruisers.
PORTS OF CALL
COZUMEL - We were forced to
tender in Cozumel; 11 cruise ships were there the day we were. You
can't cross the street from the pier without going up an escalator to
the 2nd floor of a new shopping mall on the other side. The
alternative is to walk a long way down the street and double back.
Shame on them. The Cozumel restaurants had nosebleed prices similar to
those in the U.S. No thank you.
PUERTO LIMON - Very
industrial with vending stalls and shops nearby. People took off on
excursions in packed vans for long drives. There is nothing to see
PANAMA CANAL - Our second
trip. Everyone should experience this at least once. A true wonder of
the world. Relaxing on deck snacking and having a real cruise. We
enjoyed this passage more than our first, because of having an idea of
what to expect. The mechanical workings were more interesting this
time, and the huge lake in the middle was more beautiful. The history
of the Canal's creation seemed much more real.
PUNTARENAS - A long, long
pier... there's a cute jitney style mini train like they have at
amusement parks to take you to the craft venues at the end of the
pier. Freddy, a courteous English speaking cab driver, took us to get
bottled water at the supermarket and to the internet cafe for a few
bucks. He waited for us and was surprised when I tipped him over the
agreed upon price. A nice change from the venality & greed at
some of the ports where we have docked.
CABO SAN LUCAS - A short stay
& a tendering stop; back on the ship by 2:30 PM in time for tea.
Just another tourist area. Very different from 1965 when it was just a
beautiful fishing village and starting to build posh hotels. I
discovered that the bars of Cabo had satellite sports & news
coverage... yet when we left the Crystal Harmony at Cabo we were told
we were not yet in satellite range... older equipment on the Crystal
Harmony needs to be upgraded.
There were some good recent movies
shown on board in the comfortable Hollywood Theatre and designer
coffee was available nearby at The Bistro where in the morning there
were pastries and in the afternoon snacks, yogurt, cold cuts,
Regular coffee and the snacks were
free of charge, but the designer coffees had a $1.75 charge, only at
the Bistro. Cappuccino & lattes were free in the dining rooms and
at the Lido cafeteria.
The Lido was open for breakfast &
lunch, and early morning coffee & light snacks were available from
5AM until the breakfast buffet opened at 7:30 AM. We're not big fans
of cafeterias, even those as good and clean as the Lido always was, so
we ate in the dining room and at the outdoor special buffets.
We are not excursion people; we prefer to just cruise. Our 14 day
cruise on the Crystal Harmony was the best vacation we've ever had.
The food taste & quality, the service, most of the entertainment
was top notch. Our fellow passengers were a courteous, quiet
bunch...nobody pushing or shoving in buffet lines or when trying to
board a tender...or braying loudly in the public areas -- a very well
behaved crowd. Everything was low key...no blaring PA announcements,
just the Captain's 9AM daily report and the lifeboat drill.
We can't say enough about the
professional serving staff and their great attitude... the waiters
& waitresses were wonderful. They had many costume changes for
work in various dining and snack areas and for theme meals and
buffets. We ended up tipping a bit more on this cruise because of all
the extra services... whenever we were served tea or snacks at the
casual snacks & meals we always gave the server a buck or two...
we were truly grateful for the service.
It's hard to review everything that
was available on the Crystal Harmony... Jacuzzi, Pool, Sunbathing,
Yoga, Pilates, golf lessons, dancing lessons, piano bars, lectures,
classes, 2 piano bars, late night activities, and dancing. A
tremendous variety of things to do & see.
Captain Egil Giske sailed us through
it all on schedule and with a smile and a sparkle in his eye. He's the
youngest large cruise ship captain we have seen. His ship's officers,
security staff, and tender crews were very efficient and organized.
We really prize cleanliness, and the
ship was clean...all the public areas were clean, not just
"picked up" but really clean. The buffets and casual food
areas were clean too. Tables were bussed and properly wiped
immediately. There was a night time cleaning staff always working
during a couple of nocturnal strolls I took because I was wide awake.
That's the penalty for too many afternoon naps taken with a full
We really enjoyed our cruise on the
Crystal Harmony. Hats off to the Hotel Director Doppler. It is indeed
a grand hotel; with a propeller!
The crew works 7 days a week. It's too bad they can't close the
dining room 1 day a week and fill in with the other dining places or a
poolside buffet with less serving staff... they could also close the
buffet and the alternative restaurants occasionally. The troops work
so hard... I know they signed up for it but that doesn't make it right
and the cabin stewardesses should get off some too. They put out a
superhuman effort... big hotels give the maids a day off. I spoke to
some in management and my sources say the cruise lines are afraid not
to offer every dining venue every day plus they fear they might end up
having to hire extra help reducing their bottom line.
Everything was done quietly on this
cruise right down to the disembarkation where there was no PA system
blaring. No PA at all is the Crystal policy. We were requested to come
to the Galaxy lounge 15 minutes before our appointed time based on our
tag # and were quietly called to disembark in short order. Most
efficient, quiet & pleasant disembarkation we've ever had.
We took the Crystal transfer to LAX
for the flight home to Vancouver. We waited at the Westin hotel near
the airport where we had a buffet lunch included in the transfer. We
shuttled to the airport at the appointed time. Much better than
waiting at the airport. This was on Dec. 23rd and LAX was a zoo.
We're looking forward to cruising on
an internet and interactively wired, newer ship, the Celebrity
Infinity, with veranda, on May 20th from Hawaii to Vancouver. We want
to go online at will in our cabin and we like being able to review our
cruising bill and doing the final checkout on the in-room TV.
We thank the folks who run the
various cruise sites on the net and the many cruisers who have taken
the time to write thoughtful reviews and let the rest of us know
what's up on the various cruise lines.