Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Day 1 - Southampton, UK

Monday, May 21, 2012

Today we woke to the bright sunshine with temps are in the high 50's. The weather is continuing to work in our favor. The hotel had a limited assortment of breakfast items to take to our table. Compared with dinner last night it was a little disappointing. I ordered scrambled eggs with smoked salmon. It was a piece of toast piled with eggs and them the salmon on top. It looked ridiculous.

Consort Restaurant

Hotel entry

After breakfast we decided to take a 10 minute walk to the pharmacy and Waitrose supermarket to get a few things for the cruise. The walk was nice and relaxing. I purchased lavender hand soap, shower gel, shampoo and some throat lozenges. My mother purchased Greek yogurt at Waitrose. They had a great selection. Below is a funny plaque we spotted on the way to the market about someone who was caught speeding in 1899.

Back at the hotel and with check out at 10:30 am (seems a tad early) we requested a late check out at 12:00 noon which was accommodated.

At 10:15 am we took the 15 minute walk to Osborne House. It is located through the back of the hotel but as no one is allowed to pass through the Princess gate except royalty, we walked along the street. Osborne House is the former summer residence of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The Prince was instrumental in the design and building of the residence which was completed in 1851 and resembles an Italian Villa. Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their nine children spent many summers at Osborne House and it was here that she died in her bedroom in 1901.

Osborne House

During this time of the year they do not have organized tours of the house. They do have docents in each room to answer questions. They do not allow photos of the interior but there is an inexpensive guide book for purchase. The photos below are from the guide book or free online. Photos of the exterior are of course allowed.

A young Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with five of their nine children

Dunbar Room

One of the more impressive features of the house is the Dunbar Room. In 1876, Queen Victoria became the Empress of India (though she never visited) and Rudyard Kipling's father, Lockwood designed what would become the banquet room with an Indian Sikh influence. With a conferred ceiling and elaborate embellishments including plaster moldings, the room was completed in 1893. The Peacock above the fireplace was said to take over 500 hours to create.

The entire room required 26 workers who had 10 hour shifts over 2 years. The original Agra carpet (not shown in the photo) is now at Sandringham and the one in the Dunbar room is a replica.

Dunbar Room

Prince Albert's Drawing Room

The Dining Room

The private apartments upstairs are where the family quarters are located. They are elaborately furnished and quite interesting. Due to Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee they had a genealogy display in one room. It showed how Queen Victoria was "the Grandmother of Europe" having married off her progeny to princes and princesses in Spain, Germany, Greece, Russia, Sweden and several other places.

Queen Victoria also resided at Windsor Castle but spent considerable, mostly during the summertime at Osborne House. When Prince Albert died from typhoid in 1861 she instructed that the home should stay just as it was without any modifications. While I am not a Royal watcher, I do enjoy thinking about what it must have been like to work in this home with the Queen and her children running about. There were several children's groups touring the house today and it was a little bit of a challenge to stay well ahead of them. A few of them had colds and were coughing so we were determined not to get too close.

Occasionally I would ask questions to the docents who were very helpful. We did overhear two of the docents conversing privately. One gentleman remarked to another that he was married for 23 years and suffered in silence the entire time. We found that to be a bit funny. It is a stark contrast to Queen Victoria's relationship with Prince Albert, who she adored.

We walked around the grounds for about 20 minutes and then took the walk around the front to return to the hotel. We decided not to take the horse drawn carriage to the Swiss Cottage where the children had a working kitchen and learned how to sew and cook! There is also Queen Victoria's bathing machine nearby.

Terrace restaurant outside area

While walking around I looked hard for red squirrels which are common on the Isle of Wight but quite rare and almost extinct in other parts of England. I was disappointed not to see any.

We returned to the hotel and took a taxi to the Red Funnel car ferry in East Cowes. This ferry takes an hour to reach Southampton. We arrived just as the ferry was ready for boarding. The ferry is very large and has free wifi. We stored our luggage downstairs and then went up one flight of stairs. They have a full service cafe with hot food (lasagna, sausage rolls, salads). It was a very smooth trip across to Southampton. There were a lot of cars on the ferry and several people were walking their dogs on the forward deck below.

We had a nice snack and used the wifi. Even though there were several children aboard they were well behaved. I decided not to go to Boots or other shops on Harbour Parade as we found what we needed in Cowes. We disembarked near Mayflower Park and walked with our bags the 12 minutes to the City Terminal (on the Western Docks) where the Crystal Symphony was berthed. We could have cut through the parking lot but I couldn't tell if that was the best way and didn't want to back track so we took what turned out to be the longer walk along the road. We proceeded through security and boarded the ship about 4:00 pm. We didn't find the check in procedure very efficient. We had to pull out our passports at least 3 times before embarking on the ship. Perhaps some of the other embarkation ports are better. After a 5 minute check in at the Crystal Cove we made our way to our stateroom on Deck 7 AFT.

We have a C category stateroom designation which is a Deluxe Stateroom with a picture window. This is my first cruise after a dozen without a balcony. Although I will miss the fresh air, the $1000 savings per person on the cruise fare seemed a balanced trade off. The room is 202 sq feet and is similar in size to some of the other rooms we have had on other cruise lines. The picture window is large and the tinted glass provides privacy on the Promenade Deck. The room is elevated several feet above the deck so it would not be easy to look in but very easy to look out.

As has been said by others numerous times, the size of the "regular" rooms on Crystal are much smaller in comparison than what you will find on other luxury lines. However, the room is adequate for our needs and has plenty of storage (25 drawers). The closet has a sliding door that activates the overhead light. This is a great feature. The bathroom has glass sinks which take up most of the counter space. The tub/shower combo has a curtain. A glass panel door would be a welcome addition. One of the great features of the room is that you can keep the bathroom door open. The cabin door is the same way. On many other ships we have been on this not possible and the doors are heavy and slam shut.

We like the use of murano style glass in the room on the side lamps and on either side of the mirror. The sofa is a decent size. We have one of the rooms with a third birth. The sofa opens to a twin bed. I haven't tried it but it looks comfortable.

It took us about 1 hour to unpacked. I brought way too much stuff. I guess that is my reward for completing my packing after midnight before flying to Europe. However, on the brighter I do have enough clothing so as not to be an object of ridicule. We were greeted by our stewardess, Sunja. She was very pleasant and gave us a warm welcome and introduction to our room. We went to the Computer center to configure the iPad and iPod and purchase our Internet minutes. The staff in the computer center are excellent! I love the iMac computers on the ship. They are only about two years old and work great!

We returned to the room, showered and changed for dinner. The shower gets very steamy! I didn't have to send anything out for pressing and just used the shower instead. However, the entire bathroom turns into a sauna and all the surfaces get very wet. At 7:11 pm we headed to the Crystal Dining room where we were seated at a table for 2. The menu had some good selections.

I had the prosciutto and the pasta for dinner. While we were eating the Red Funnel car ferry passed by!

Birthday cake for dessert
It was my mother's birthday and the waiters sang "Happy Birthday" and brought a cake. It was nice that this worked without me having to say a word in advance. The waiters have great voices! They took the cake away and brought back two small slices with some ice cream on the side.

After dinner we walked around the ship and I took some photos. Symphony will be going into dry dock immediately at the end of our cruise. Some of the public areas will be refurbished and reconfigured. Sadly, the staterooms which are adequate (and very nice) but not as stylish as those on Serenity which got a redo last year, will not be "refreshed". Symphony staterooms will be getting the electronic door signage and the lighting. So I guess it is something.

From a purely aesthetic point of view, the ship appears in very good condition. I would not say it is "beautiful" but it does have an certain elegance. I know I haven't even been on board for more than 5 hours but my favorite part of the ship is the spacious layout on decks 5 and 6. On many cruise ships the public areas can feel crowded. However, on Crystal the use of the public space is wonderful and makes it feel very welcoming. I thought I would like the outdoor AFT area on deck 7 of the ship but I am honestly not impressed. It seems like wasted space. It is great for photographs and tai chi early in the morning but there is so much space aft that is not is being fully utilized.

The Symphony decor is nice but it does not have a "wow" factor which probably most passengers prefer. I have sailed on Celebrity Solstice twice which has a modern vibe. Yet it is still elegant and does not feel crowded. We sail in Aqua class on the Solstice class which has its own private restaurant. Both the Solstice and Symphony have different styles and both are well thought out. It will be intereresting to see if Crystal has a new build what the ship interiors may look like.

We returned to our room and watched some TV. My mother thinks the TV is too small and would be better on the wall across from the beds. However, I remember reading something about it being difficult to move the the wires. The lights on the prommenade deck are very bright at night and it is necessary to keep the drapes pulled. Usually we sail with the drapes open. Also due to the bright lights it is impossible to see the water at night from the window. The C category is adequate in every way except not being able to see the water at night. In rough seas I like being able to see the horizon.

So far it looks like we are going to have a great cruise!

1 comment:

  1. Excellant entry. I really enjoyed reading about the Isle of Wight. You are quite adventurous in your travels - taking ferries and all. So glad it all worked out.

    The ship looks nice - hope you enjoy your cruise. I am REALLY enjoying your blog!

    Regards ~