Thursday, June 7, 2012

Day 2 - Cruising the Atlantic Ocean

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

We had a good night's sleep and woke up early. My immediate focus (or at least intention) for the day was to download some photos, check email and work out in the gym. I accomplished two out of three of those. I love having a sea day following the embarkation day. It is our favorite way to start a cruise.

Below is our itinerary for our cruise on Symphony:

V2213 - European Discoveries
  1. Day 1 - Southampton, UK
  2. Day 2 - Cruising the English Channel
  3. Day 3 - La Coruna, Spain
  4. Day 4 - Bilbao, Spain
  5. Day 5 - St. Jean de Luz, France
  6. Day 6 - Cruising the Bay of Biscay
  7. Day 7 - St. Malo, France
  8. Day 8 - Honfleur, France (Overnight)
  9. Day 9 - Honfleur France
  10. Day 10 - Cruising the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean
  11. Day 11 - Hamburg, Germany
As I noted in an earlier post, this voyage is hosted by Crystal President, Gregg Michel who is accompanied by his wife, Adriana.

It was mentioned in the Reflections program that on May 26th which is another sea day, Gregg Michel and Thomas Mazloum (COO) will preside over a presentation covering the Symphony refurb, new marketing campaign and a question and answer session. We definitely plan on attending this event. I imagine it will be similar to one mentioned during the 2012 World Cruise.

I spent some time this morning perusing the Reflections newsletter from Monday and also viewed today's schedule of events. Reflections is a very easy read and is well organized. Reflections does a nice job of providing an overview of the ship (length 781 feet, cruising speed 22 knots) and descriptions of the various public rooms and decks. The Symphony has a 922 guest capacity and a crew of 566. Several months prior to sailing the cruise was sold out, therefore we should be sailing at full capacity (with the exception of those sailing solo).

The Captain is Egil Giske who is from Norway. The Vice Captain is Vladimiro Andruskiewitsch, Hotel Director is Herbert Jager, Food and Beverage Manager is Norbert Tesar and the Cruise Director is Scott Peterson.
I forgot to mention the lifeboat muster which occurred yesterday afternoon at 5:30 pm. It was very well done. We had to wear our lifevests and were assembled outside on deck at the actual muster station. This is in contrast to other ships we have sailed where the muster is in the dining room or other public space. They took a roll call and repeated it for those that did not answer the first time. There were several people who did not attend. After some recent accidents on other lines I think it is imperative to attend the drill. They did not go into detail about how to enter the water in case of an emergency. On Princess last December they instructed passengers to "walk, not jump off the ship". I mentioned this to one of the crew leading the drill and she laughed and said she was familiar with this as she previously worked for Princess. The drill took about 45 minutes to complete.

This morning we had breakfast in the lido which for me consisted of miso soup, Japanese rice, nori, daikon, smoked salmon, prosciutto and a mini pancake. I don't have breakfast like this at home so I was happy to take advantage of this on Crystal. My mother had the Greek yogurt she brought on board and some fruit. It was overcast so we ate inside.

We spent some time this morning touring the rest of the ship. I was surprised that the Fitness Center was so small and the machines so close together. However, I think they are making the best of the small space and the treadmills look new and have TV screens. Yesterday we visited the Computer center with the nice iMac computers on Deck 6. The room is a good size with views of the water. The shops, Galaxy Lounge and Bistro are also located on Deck 6. We walked by the library which looks very nice but we did not go inside. Deck 5 has the reception, concierge and shore excursion desks. The flow and layout of both Decks 5 and 6 make the Symphony feel quite spacious and elegant. It is very relaxing that you don't have too go very far on the ship. The Symphony is also large enough that you would never know there were 900+ passengers aboard.

Staterooms are located on Decks 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10. More than 57% of the penthouses and staterooms feature private verandas. Compared to new builds, this number is actually low. The Symphony will be heading to dry dock immediately at the end of our cruise in Hamburg, Germany. The last time the ship had a refurbishment was in 2009. At that time the staterooms were redesigned and the bathrooms were outfitted with the glass sinks. I especially like the lavender, gold and tan tones on Deck 7. Deck 8 has a light blue design and the other desks are rust and gold.

Crystal Symphony Deck Plan

Our agenda for the day started at 10:00 am with a lecture by General Anthony Zinni. The topic was "The Changing Middle East". We headed to the Galaxy Lounge which has comfy chairs and is an intimate space but not too small either. General Zinni had some interesting points about the difficulties with dealing with the disparate nations and beliefs in the region. General Zinni was a special envoy to the Middle East so has direct experience.

What I took away from his talk was his statement "you cannot negotiate the past". There seems to be a vicious cycle of beliefs and conflicts since biblical times. Some claim the same heritage but have their own significance placed on events they claim as their own and unique to them but actually have a shared past and history in the region. It is not an easy place to figure out or to explain. General Zinni took a few questions but mostly wanted to answer them privately. On a scale of 1 to 10 we thought the talk was an 8.

Immediately following the lecture we went to the Palm Court for our Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle at 11:30 am. We arrived a few minutes late and it was hard to tell if the event was actually sponsored. We usually miss the Cruise Critic meeting as we do not receive the notice in time. The head of shore excursions, Jim O'Connor was at the meeting and I asked him about the location of the train station in La Coruna for tomorrow. He and his assistant said they would have the information for me later today. I am not even on a Crystal excursion so I was very impressed.

We talked to a few people at the Meet & Mingle but as many were engaged in conversation we decided that 20 minutes was enough. I noticed the Amex Platinum sign at the other end of the Palm Court and wandered over there. We have booked other cruises through Amex Platinum but this time we went with Virtuoso. I was wondering how the two programs are different. We stood outside the roped area and spoke with two nice ladies attending the event. Most of the people were already gone and it seemed the event was winding down. From what they said, it sounds like Virtuoso and Amex were very similar. Amex may provide more generous on board credit but I am not certain. We were about to walk to away when one of the ladies were were speaking with said, "you both are too interesting to leave please join us". Their event was over by now so we didn't "crash the party". We had a great chat with them. Elise (from California) and Linda (from Idaho) were very interesting. They have known each other since the second grade. One is a widow and the other a recent divorcee. They were so much fun and invited us to join them at late seating. However,  we prefer our open seating at 7:15 pm so I am not sure we can make it. We are going to try though, they are very nice ladies.

The Palm Court will be getting a redesign during dry dock. It looks like it really needs it. The white rattan furniture and south seas paintings make it look like a retirement home. A more modern design would liven up  the place.

It was now time for lunch so we headed to the Lido. It was busy so we found a table and took turns getting food. Lunch was good. I had a salad and some hot items.

There were two more lectures today which we did not attend. One was at 1:30 pm by Fred Levine who would be discussing "Art and Tapas: The Guggenheim Bilbao and Tastes of Spain". I found the title strange since in the Basque country they don't use the term tapas. Instead they use the word Pinxtos. Tapas are small plates you can share, while a Pinxtos is a  serving for one person. We would not be touring the museum so we decided to enjoy lunch and skip the lecture.

The other lecture for the day was at 3:30 pm by Thomas Lippman. The title was "After the Arab Spring". It probably was interesting but we felt one lecture on the Middle East per day was our limit. It is unfortunate that Crystal could not provide a discussion during the cruise on the D-Day Landings or the events of World War II leading up to the invasion on the Normandy Beaches. On our Celebrity Solstice cruise last year, Nigel West gave several lectures during our transatlantic to Spain. He was fascinating and covered topics on espionage, Ian Flemings influences in creating James Bond and how the Germans were fooled by spy's as the allies planned the liberation of Europe. Nigel was aboard the Symphony a few weeks earlier for a cruise to Istanbul. He would have added so much to our understanding of the events of WWII as well as our enjoyment from his excellent presentation and stellar skill of memory recall. A pity.

We returned to our stateroom to relax for bit. I spoke with our stewardess, Sajna about the list of alcohol we are allocated in the room. I am more of a teetotaler than a drinker but since we are allowed 2 bottles I selected Famous Grouse (scotch) and a bottle of wine for mother. I also asked for papaya juice to be placed in the frig. Sajna is very professional and attentive. We feel very lucky.

I decided to do some laundry and get rid of any residue from my Icelandic horse Freiya. I probably should be too embarrassed to mention this but I had some trouble figuring out the detergent dispenser. You are supposed to press/pull a knob on the machine to add the detergent. Well, on the first try I didn't see anything inside so I did it again. Still no detergent. So on the third try I heard a sound and noticed that this contraption on the wall spins and adds the detergent but you cannot see it. Well, I decided not to use the machine with 3x the amount of detergent. I tried to run it empty but nothing happened. There was a woman in the room ironing what looked like a kimono. I asked her if she knew how to start it but she didn't know. I probably should have searched for one of the stateroom attendants but didn't see anyone when I looked outside the door.

I ended up using another machine, added the detergent and came back a few times to check on it. The woman with kimono seemed to be there for hours with her kimono! I hope whomever used the machine with all the detergent didn't have any problems.

We decided to go to the Computer center to check email. The wifi signal in the room is ok but it is much faster using the Crystal computers. I understand during the refurb they will be working to extend the signal so that is is stronger in the rooms. I purchased 10 hours of Internet usage and am quickly using it up on the iPad. It takes a while to add the photos the blog page and its eating my minutes.

Tonight is one of two formal nights during the cruise. They are holding a Captain's welcome reception in the Starlite Club twice tonight. I think this room is one of the most unappealing on the entire ship. It is a sea of chairs in different colors that are spread out all over the place. They are also heavy and very hard to move. This room is unfortunately not getting refreshed during the dry dock. There must be a way to make it look better without spending $$$ though?

We opted not to attend the welcome reception and just relax in the room, dress and get ready for dinner. We went to the Crystal Dining room for our 7:15 pm reservation. We were seated in the same section as last night, row 17, which is a set of 4 separate tables for 2. We prefer this to a large table. You have people nearby that you can chat with or not. It makes for a much more enjoyable and relaxing dining experience.

My mother likes having a glass of wine before ordering the meal. As the sommelier was very busy with other tables, my mother was getting annoyed. Finally he appeared and offered the wine selection. Since Crystal went All Inclusive there are several wines offered free of charge listed on the menu each night. I am not picky but my mother has a more sophisticated pallate. She likes bold, dry reds, and whites that are not acidic but also not too sweet. She is having some difficulty finding a wine she likes. Since it is formal night there is lobster on the menu. I ordered that as my main and also caviar to start with a side course in between of the pasta with pesto. Everything was very good. The service is very fast, sometimes a little too fast. I guess they have to get us out for those who have open seating at 8:15 pm or later.

Crystal Dining Room


Linguine with pesto


After dinner we attended the production show, "The Envelope Please" in the Galaxy 8:30 pm. The Cruise Director, Scott Peterson did the intro and seems very competent. He is easy to listen to and glad we have him on Symphony. The show was entertaining with well known Oscar numbers and entertaining. It is amazing they can do these shows twice each night. The singers and dancers put a lot of effort into their performance.
We returned to our stateroom and are looking forward to arriving in La Coruna, Spain tomorrow.

Bed Time

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