|Saucy South America|
|Crystal Cruises sparkles on voyage|
|Published: Nov/Dec 2002
|By Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein|
I began getting the picture when we embarked on our 17-night sailing from Fort Lauderdale to Buenos Aires aboard Crystal Harmony. The welcoming staff greeted nearly every passenger by name. It seems that up to 70 percent of Harmonys guests are repeaters.
Its the personal service and the staff that keep us coming back, said Richard Pluschau of New York who along with his wife, Suzanne, has taken 30 voyages on Crystal. You cant find better.
We encountered this response throughout the ship. Critics also applaud the fleet. National travel magazine surveys list Harmony as best in its class. It doesnt all happen by accident.
Our personnel gets special training on the ship, Hotel Director Per Egil Nilsen said. Everything is service-friendly. Ive never seen a member of the ships staff who didnt love what he/she was doing. It shows in their attitudes. It shows on their smiling, friendly faces.
Reminiscent of the fabled Three Bears, Crystal is not too big, not too small. With a capacity of 940 passengers, its just right. Big enough to support top-notch entertainers, lecturers and programming. Big enough to have large facilities for sports, spa, casino and entertainment venues. Not so big as to preclude personalized service. The courteous staff made every passenger feel important and spoiled.
When Im aboard a luxury liner, I enjoy days at sea. Our 17-day South American Sojourn only visited four ports allowing sufficient time to dig into the Harmonys diverse activities
The ship had all the things cruisers have grown to love: exercise classes, bridge lessons with the competent Barbara and Bev Estes, golf clinics led by pro Tom Shannon, dance classes and more. Shopping fans satisfied their desires at The Avenue of the Stars upscale boutiques.
Crystals Computer University@Sea, led by Dean George Spatz, offered hands-on personal classes that covered everything from basics to Web sites.
I joined other passengers for Odyssey Arts at Sea classes taught by dynamic T-Bu Grieve, who encouraged us to feel uninhibited as we discovered watercolor.
To stimulate our minds, we attended lectures by former Ambassador Bob Goodwin and his wife, Sydney, who enlightened us about presidential politics and Washingtons social scene. Vivacious Deborah Lundin, a gemologist specializing in gem fraud, imparted invaluable tips. Scholar Dr. Daniel Mugan increased our understanding of Latin America.
To chill out, we escaped to our deluxe stateroom and lounged on the private verandah. Our well-designed quarters contained a queen-size bed, seating area, desk, TV/VCR, refrigerator, safe and full bathtub/shower.
Fine dining with flair
Under the auspices of Executive Chef Günter Lorenz, dining aboard Crystal Harmony became a culinary adventure. Fine wines enhanced French-influenced gourmet dinners served in the luxurious Crystal Dining Room.
We enjoyed the elegant alternative dining room, Prego, for inspired Italian delicacies. For Japanese dishes, gourmands visited the Kyoto Restaurant. (Reserve both early in your voyage before reservations are filled.) On port days, casual dinners were available in the Trident Grill.
Breakfast and luncheon buffets were served in the Lido Café. Late risers gathered for cappuccino in the cozy Bistro. Some sipped afternoon tea in the Palm Court. Late night snacks were served but we were always too sated.
hemed buffetsfeaturing Asian, Mexican and Italian farewere exquisitely presented and served by costumed waiters. The piêce de résistance was the munificent grand gala buffet held in the Crystal Plaza.
It doesnt get any better than the production shows presented in the Galaxy Lounge. Talent, choreography and musical arrangements rivaled Broadway and Las Vegas. Accolades go to the staff for the staging, performances and exceptional costumes.
Guests also enjoyed classical concerts, comedians and musical soloists. Many danced away the nights at Club 2100. Pianist Jeff Deutsch played nightly in the Avenue Saloon. First-run movies ran in the Hollywood Theatre. Many flirted with lady luck at the lively Caesars Palace at Sea Casino.
Our first port was the popular shopping retreat, St. Thomas. See the spectacular views from Government Hill in the capital, Charlotte Amalie. Nearby Coral World Underwater Observatory and the Marine Gardens deserve a visit. A shore excursion made a champagne catamaran trip to scenic St. John.
In Fortaleza, Brazil, we took the ships complimentary shuttle to the typical municipal market where some bought native lace and leather gifts. Fortaleza has become an international resort where sun worshippers flock to white sand beaches.
Salvador sits on a bluff above the bay. The picturesque port boasts 365 ornate churches. From the bus drop off point in the Lower City, take the cable railway to the upper city for startling views and visits to the Governors Palace and nearby cathedral. Meander through the market where hundreds of merchants displayed local wares. Best buys were leather, lace and semi-precious stones.
The itinerary allowed us two full days to enjoy the spectacular port, Rio de Janeiro. Passengers visited Sugar Loaf Mountain, the most famous of the towering cone-shaped mountains. We took the tour to its twin peak, Corcovado, to view the famed statue of Christ the Redeemer. Rios eight white-sand beaches, including Copacabana and Ipanema, attracted crowds of sunbathers. There are three kinds of bikinis, guide Barik explained, Regular, string and dental floss.
The highlight was Carnival. The ship arranged for transportation and seats. A cast of thousands gathers annually for this pre-Lenten celebration. Samba schools work all year to create magnificent costumes and floats for parades that wend through the Sambadromean open-air facility where the audience views the paradefor two wildly entertaining nights.
Some schools are so large that it takes them up to two hours to pass by the 85,000 ticket holders. Floats get more dazzling as the evening continues. Under the spell of the music, spectators jumped up to dance. Cameras flashed as ornate floats and glittering performers danced down the street. Everyone caught samba fever. The rhythms played in our heads long after we departed.
After 17 memorable days it was difficult to say goodbye to new friends and the warm, nurturing staff as we disembarked in Buenos Aires. When we boarded, Cruise Director Paul McFarland proclaimed, At the end of the cruise, I hope your favorite destination is the ship. It was.
|Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.|