Friday, April 27, 2012

On The Road Again - Europe Spring 2012

In May l will be traveling with my mother to Europe for her birthday celebration. We have both traveled extensively to Europe before but each time we visit a few new locations. One of my mother's favorite places is Venice and we have experienced all types of weather conditions in this beautiful city. At times I can certainly verify that Venice is indeed sinking.

St. Marks Square, Venice

Below Venice after Alta Aqua "high water" in December 2009.

Some my of my favorite places are Karlovy Vary, Buenos Aires, and Lake Como.

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic

Alvear Palace Bar, Buenos Aires

Lake Como

This year we are excited to be visiting Reykjavik, Iceland for the very first time. The weather there may be wet and cloudy or wet and sunny. I have been reading reviews and posts about Reykjavik and the mention of "water pants" has me a little worried! After our brief two nights in Iceland we will dry out and fly to the UK for an overnight in advance of boarding the Crystal Symphony in Southampton on May 21, 2012.

This will be my first cruise on Crystal. My "parents" cruised on the Crystal Harmony (refurbished and renamed Asuka II) in the early 1990's. My mother traveled with a gentleman (not my actual father) on the cruise. He worked for the U.S. government and elected not to include his name in the distributed passenger guest book. Once on board he had my mother study it in case there was anyone she knew. He had the crew address them as Mr. and Mrs. X (taking my father's name). I know it all sounds a little odd but for someone who had a barber in every port (he was bald), not so much! They did have a wonderful cruise together from Miami through the Panama Canal and my mother has very fond memories of Crystal. Therefore it is exciting after so many years for my mother to celebrate her birthday on board Crystal but also not to have to scrutinize the guest list!

2012 President's Cruise - Crystal Symphony

Every year Crystal does a President's Cruise and alternates between the two ships, Symphony (built in 1995) and Serenity (built in 2003). Our cruise titled "European Discoveries" is this year's President's Cruise and includes ports in: Southampton, La Coruna, Bilbao, St Jean de Luz, St. Malo, Honfleur and Hamburg.

Gregg Michel, Crystal's president and his wife Adriana will be cruising on this voyage. Crystal will provide some special events during this cruise which will be announced on board. The featured speaker on the cruise is General Anthony Zinni who was head of CENTCOM. My mother does love a man in uniform so hopefully he will be insightful as well as entertaining.

Crystal is known as one of the more formal cruise lines. As my closet is not stocked with YSL and Dior, I wondered after booking this cruise what I had gotten myself into. However, my fear of having to shop for more expensive attire was alleviated by doing research on Cruise Critic and seeing photos of Crystal passengers on board the ships. I am not a fashionista by any stretch. However, I have studied the Crystal dress code carefully and hopefully will not be an eyesore. On this voyage there are 2 formal nights, 2 informal nights and 6 casual nights. I was both delighted and surprised to see the high number of casual nights. Bear in mind this does not mean Jeans and gym clothes. I am more comfortable when all passengers dress appropriately. I have been on cruises during formal night where the sight of shortsleeve shirts, polos and sundresses greatly detracts from our overall enjoyment. My personal preference is for the Country Club Casual dress code on Oceania. It works prefectly. There are no formal nights and you don't have to remember what the dress code is for each evening.

My other main concern about Crystal was the assigned seating. Quite honestly I can't imagine having to subject the same tablemates to our friendly banter every night of the cruise. I am not implying my mother and I are not good conversationalists or entertaining. Others have commented that when my mother and I get together it can resemble a Sitcom. Basically, the thought of assigned seating was a huge turn off as was an early seating at 6:15 pm. I like dining early but do not want to rush to dinner after returning to the ship from a shore excursion. The later seating at 8:30 pm was even less appealing. Thankfully, Crystal recently instituted Open Seating By Reservation. After final payment is processed, you can go online and book the preferred times for the Crystal dining room each night. You can also book online one night in each of the speciality dining venues Prego and Silk Road at no additional charge. If you want to dine more than once in these two restaurants you can request it once on board the ship.


I am very impressed with the Crystal PCPC (Priority Check-in and Planning Center). You can book the dining times each night of the cruise in advance and it also shows what the dress code will be each evening. Brilliant! Shore excursions can be booked from the PCPC at no charge online. It will be billed on the ship. This is a huge advantage to the mass market lines where you have to pay for the excursions and specialty dining when making the booking on the website.

We will be doing a combination of Crystal shore excursions and private ones during this voyage. The price of the Crystal excursions does appear a little higher though than what I am used to. For instance, a bus transfer (no tour) of 50 minutes each way from the ship and back is $91 in one port. For this destination we have elected to take the train instead (5 euros each way per person plus a taxi to and from the train station). I will be posting the full excursion details as we travel to each port.

My final hesitation and greatest detraction about cruising on Crystal is that they still allow smoking in the rooms (but not on the veranda). I do not appreciate smoke and have greatly enjoyed the strict policies on Oceania and Celebrity where smoking is almost prohibited. I have been assured that it is rare to have a problem with smoke on Crystal. In fact Crystal recently announced they will also prohibit smoking in a few more of the public rooms. But as Crystal is a wholly owned subsidiary of NYK, a large Japanese shipping conglomerate, it will most likely be the last line to eliminate smoking in the staterooms. Hopefully everything will turn out as we have anticipated.

Now in only a few more weeks we will be on our way!




Wednesday, April 25, 2012



In all honesty I had some trepidation (okay, a lot!) in attempting to write a blog. Would it be boring? Would anyone want to read it? Would it be too hard and take too much time? However, the technological challenges, stylistic elements and creative opportunities were too intriguing to pass up. So with high hopes and pens poised (figuratively), here goes!!

It is now April but as I live in the South where the seasons are hot and hotter you don't usually get to experience typical spring weather. I often think of places where spring is welcomed with the abundance of new life and the sights and smells of rebirth, like the cherry blossoms you can see below. This is a photo of Himeji Castle which was built in 1333 in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. The castle has over 800 rooms and is also known as Shirasagi-jo (White Heron Castle) because it resembles a bird taking flight. I visited this castle many years ago and highly recommend it. To me this photo epitomizes a wonderful spring day.

As the blog takes shapes (or flight) hopefully it will transport you to places you will find as interesting and inspiring as I do.

This blog will primarily focus on my experiences traveling in the United States and abroad with an emphasis on cruising, cities/towns, hotels and restaurants.

Some of things you will read and see on the blog:
1. Buildings, architectural structures, and interior design elements
2. Historical background and insights on the places we encounter
3. Photos of structures, landscapes, food, and animals

What you will not read or see on the blog:
1. Photos of myself walking, eating, talking, or just posing for the camera
2. Repetition of our daily routine as that may be of little interest to the reader
3. An arrogant or judgemental point of view

Hopefully this blog will be informative, as well as humorous at times and provide a departure from your everyday activities.  The ability to reflect on past and present experiences often takes place during my travels. Having new adventures allows me to gain perspective and the means to be introspective. Of course it is also wonderful just to get the heck away from work too!