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Copyright 1995-2005 
Linda Coffman

 

A Crystal Clear Alaska Cruise
"Glacier Discovery" Diary

A Farewell Dance 
Aboard Crystal Harmony
Feng shui... for years I wondered if the eastern art of arranging your surroundings to attract positive energy (your "chi") was for real. 

I can definitely confirm that there's plenty of "sha"--or hard energy--connected with air travel. After three flights, including two layovers, and a lengthy immigration process in Vancouver, my pre-cruise room at the Four Seasons was a soothing retreat. It didn't hurt that they offer a great snack menu for late-night television watching and a sumptuous breakfast buffet the next morning. The Four Seasons Vancouver is only minutes from Robson Street and Gastown, but it was drizzling outside. To shop for a few last minute items, I didn't have to get my feet wet, though. The hotel is conveniently connected to the Pacific Shopping Centre.

Departing Vancouver--Canada Place

The Four Seasons is also only minutes from Canada Place and my cruise ship, Crystal Harmony, awaited. For future passengers utilizing cruise lines' air and sea arrangements with transfers, the entire immigration and customs process at both the airport and cruise pier will be streamlined. Their luggage will be held in a "clean" environment for transport directly between airport and pier allowing passengers to bypass lengthy Customs Border Protection lines. In my case, lines weren't long when I arrived and I was on board in short order.

About that "chi"... bear with me a moment. I was a skeptic and I'm not making this up. Immediately upon boarding Crystal Harmony I felt a feeling of calm. It was something I've never experienced before and it was somewhat eerie at first. It grew on me, though, and will always be a significant memory of my first Crystal cruise. 

The feeling continued as I was shown to my accommodations on Penthouse Deck. While unpacking my carry on, my butler stopped by to be certain everything was in order. I couldn't imagine anything being more perfect until he suggested I might be hungry. I intended to make my way to the Trident Grill for a simple snack, but his idea sounded better--I should just relax and he'd be back shortly with something. A few minutes later he spread a crisp linen tablecloth on the combination coffee/dining table and asked what I wanted to drink with my soup and sandwich. My "chi" was definitely flowing along nicely as he poured a soft drink from the stocked refrigerator.

The next order of business was the safety drill and then a complimentary Champagne Sail-Away as we bid farewell to Vancouver and sailed north to Alaska and the highlight of our cruise--Glacier Bay.

Crystal Harmony
Most fifteen-year old ships appear stuck in the 1980s, the decade during which they were designed. Not Crystal Harmony. A relatively 'large' ship by luxury standards, she doesn't feel big, nor do her interiors hint that she was introduced in 1990. Stylish and quietly elegant, her decor is a timeless mixture of earth and sea-toned fabrics accented by Impressionist-style artwork. 

A favorite of most passengers--and it certainly became mine--is the Palm Court. Bathed in sunshine from the floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides and strategically placed overhead skylights, potted plants flourish amid comfortable wicker settees and chairs. It's the most popular spot on the ship during afternoon tea or just to curl up with a book. Equally airy, just forward of the Palm Court is the Vista Lounge with its expansive outside teak deck. I discovered it was the ideal place for spotting eagles and whales and a first glimpse of shocking blue glaciers. 

Serene and tastefully decorated public rooms don't shout for attention. Instead, their focus is the entertainment, enrichment, and events that take place in them. The Stars disco is a chic setting for dancing and karaoke fun; Crystal Cove an upscale before-dinner reception are; Avenue Saloon an intimate spot for late-night drinks and piano sounds; Club 2100 is a sophisticated nightclub. For brandy and cigars, the Connoisseur Club is warm and inviting (and well ventilated). To achieve complete inner harmony, the feng sui-inspired Crystal Spa offers an extensive menu of treatments to sooth the soul as well as the body.

At Sea
With a day at ease before our first port, there was a lot of time to explore Crystal Harmony and much more to do to fill the hours than I could possibly squeeze in. Crystal Cruises was an innovator in onboard programs and they have grown to be a large part of the total experience. Partnerships with such prestigious institutions as Berlitz, Yamaha, and the Cleveland Institute assure they are totally worthwhile as well as interesting. While I couldn't participate in everything, I peeked in as fellow passengers attended Berlitz Spanish classes, learned keyboard basics in the Yamaha Passport to Music program, and polished their computer and photo skills in the Computer University@Sea.

In addition to TaylorMade golf clinics, Walk On Water (walk-a-thons on the 360 promenade deck), dance classes, and fitness classes, there were enrichment lectures featuring an archaeologist and a geologist/glaciologist, and even more learning opportunities--bridge, paddle tennis, and shuffleboard lessons. For just chilling out, popcorn and a movie in a proper theater is always a sure bet. As a first-time Crystal passenger, I brought my own reading materials. Repeat guests know it isn't necessary to haul along heavy books with such a well-stocked library at hand.

There were only a handful of children on our sailing and, since there was no supervised programming for them, they participated in appropriate activities and took the keyboard lessons and art classes just as seriously as the adult students. The Crystal Harmony staff kept up the pace every day. Although activities were curtailed somewhat while we were in port, there was no stopping them. 

Crystal Dining
My first dinner on board was planned in Kyoto, Crystal Harmony's acclaimed Asian restaurant. Shoji screens divide intimate dining spaces in this popular alternative and I quickly realized why reservations go fast. I'm not a huge fan of sushi, but it, along with every other course, was delicious. Don't be shy about asking for "western chop sticks." While everyone else was adept with the wooden kind, I knew my meal would end up on the floor (or worse--on the ceiling) if I attempted to use them. My request for a fork was met with a smile and one was presented with a flourish. The chocolate cake and green tea ice cream dessert was so inviting that I didn't even notice whether it was being consumed via chopsticks by my tablemates.

Prego, the alternative Italian restaurant required a hearty appetite, but no special utensils. With such an extensive menu, including specialties of the Valentino restaurants of Santa Monica and Las Vegas, I could have happily dined there every night. But then I'd have missed the delightful meals in the Crystal Dining Room where each night was a feast. My scale would surely mock me later, so I tried some of the lighter and vegetarian dishes. All were simply wonderful, including sugar-free desserts. Vegetarians are in for a real treat. With a multi-course menu thoughtfully prepared just for them, they don't have to settle for bland veggies and greens.

To celebrate sailing to Alaska, Crystal Harmony's covered pool area was transformed into a floating "Red Dog Saloon" complete with upright piano, miners, dance hall girls, sawdust on the floors, and Alaskan Amber beer to accompany a lavish buffet. Similar to the events staged on Crystal world cruises, it was rollicking good fun and an impressive display of what lengths the crew goes through to make every cruise a memorable one.

Casual fare is available almost all day long--buffet breakfast and lunch in the Lido Cafe, burgers and wraps at Trident Grill, and frozen treats at the Ice Cream Bar. The spot that captured my heart was The Bistro. I'm something of a coffee snob and it's no stretch to proclaim The Bistro's custom roast is the best coffee at sea. To go along with the long list of complimentary coffee specialties is an ever changing selection of pastries, snacks, and Crystal's out-of-sight chocolate chip cookies.

Part Two -- > Crystal Harmony Alaska Ports-of-Call


Cruise Line Profile: Crystal Cruises

Crystal Cruises - Cruise  Reviews

Crystal Cruises Web Site

Sights to See & Things to Do in Alaska Ports of Call

Cool Cruising - Get ready to go north to Alaska & other cold climates.

Alaska Packing Suggestions - Special requirements for Alaska cruises.

Photographs Copyright Crystal Cruises & Linda Coffman