Sunday, June 24, 2012

Day 6 - Cruising the Bay of Biscay

May 26, 2012

I love sea days and so far the seas are "friendly" and we are cruising smoothly at 18 knots on the way to Brittany. I slept like a baby again. I find the bed very comfortable and the pillows are great too. I checked email and downloaded some photos to the iPad this morning before going to the Lido for breakfast.

I continue to enjoy the Japanese rice, daikon and salmon. However, I am puzzled that they have run out of chopped nori. My mother is sticking with her yogurt and fresh fruit. We received a note from the shore excursions desk that they have revised the tour we selected in Hamburg. They will still operate the buses on the excursion for the departure but there will be no boat trip on the return portion. We were looking forward to the boat trip across the lake so we decided to cancel it. This means our last Crystal shore excursion will be tomorrow in St. Malo, France.

Lobby and Decks 5 & 6
I walked down to the lobby and the reception desk and handed in our tour tickets for Hamburg. I was told that the charge would immediately be taken off our bill.

A little before 10:00 am we went to the Galaxy Lounge for the second lecture from General Anthony Zinni. It was titled "The New World Disorder". He got off to a good start speaking about his personal experiences in Berlin in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the wall. His descriptions were quite funny about his and five other high ranking military officers and their escort by an American lieutenant into East Berlin. Apparently they were some of the earliest officials to arrive unannounced. When General Zinni's group asked about the procedure to gain entry to East Berlin, the lieutenant responded, "nobody knows, but lets go". This response "nobody knows" was repeated throughout his visit to Berlin and what was soon to become a reunified Germany.

General Zinni was much better with his own personal anecdotes than describing the state of the World's political, economic and environmental issues. Once the presentation focused on all the perils currently facing mankind it became very tedious. I think he covered every possible calamity known to man except he left out a global Ebola outbreak or aliens attacking the planet from outer space. To be fair, I think he was trying his best to provide some engaging issues for us to ponder. However, starting the day with a litany of impending challenges from climate change, tsunamis, the global financial crisis, volatility in world financial markets, world famine and water shortages was a bit too much. I guess it is anyone's guess what keeps the General up at night!

There were no solutions offered or recommendations on how these challenges might be met. The message I heard was, "the world is a mess and nobody knows what to do" just like his visit to East Berlin in 1989. He took a couple of questions but I don't remember them or the answers.

Now that we were feeling sorry for ourselves and the planet's bleak future we had another event in the Galaxy Lounge to take our minds off of it.

At 11:00 am there was a special presentation from Gregg Michel, President of Crystal Cruises and Thomas Mazloum, Senior Vice President of Operations. Scott Peterson, the Cruise Director provided a nice introduction. I think he does such a good job. He is energetic, genuine and witty. Think I may have a little bit of a crush on him!

Gregg Michel seemed a little under the weather. I imagine besides the 2012 World Cruise on Serenity and up to now, he has had to give this talk more times than he would like. He began with the new marketing campaign which was very interesting. Crystal hired a new PR company to enhance their image and breakaway from the monotonous fodder of other luxury lines. He did not say this exactly but that was my interpretation. The theme of the marketing campaign is "Begin A New Story". I think it is catchy. However, this to me had two meanings. 1) that Crystal is changing course and trying to reinvigorate its brand and 2) they are relying increasingly on their customers to promote the brand through new media like Facebook, photo sharing websites, blogs, and word of mouth.

As a newbie to Crystal the past marketing efforts are mostly an unknown to me. My mother and I found several aspects of the new campaign hilarious. I doubt that was their intent. Perhaps we just required some levity after the General's dire assessment of the world.

The graphics for the campaign were very creative. Lots of bright colors and line drawings like the one's you might see in a Lord and Taylor ad. One of the first graphics had images of an expensive car, jewelry, and a glamorous woman. It was explained that these things were not rational and that you don't need them. It is only if you want them. I was surprised that Crystal would admit that booking a $8K cruise would be irrational, but okay if you need it. My mother could relate to this theory. She has a high end store and always tells customers that there is nothing that you need. It is only if you want it. The economic downturn has proved challenging with this mentality but she is hanging in there. I do "get it" from what Crystal is trying to imply and I am in agreement. I was just amazed they would be so honest about expressing it.

There were a series of slides on the screen including Tastes which added Chinese comfort food and a rendering of the proposed Palm Court. Looks quite smashing. This is one of the public rooms which will get a redo during the dry dock in Hamburg. The current decor of the Palm Court with the white rattan furniture and south seas paintings looks like a retirement home. The sketch looks hip and very promising. Might add the "wow" factor Crystal is lacking.

Rendering of new Palm Court
I wish they could add Tastes to the Symphony but I guess there isn't any space. It would be a fabulous addition.

Information on the Chinese cuisine added to Tastes on Serenity
There are a lot of Asian passengers on board for our cruise. I think they would be drawn to booking Symphony with the addition of Chinese dumplings, noodles, etc. I have noticed that the congee station on the Lido at breakfast is quite busy.

There were a few more slides including the proposed changes to the Galaxy Lounge and the Hollywood Theater. It was also mentioned that Composer Marvin Hamlisch would be aboard Serenity for the President's Cruise next year.

Greg Michel seemed relieved when he could stop talking. A question and answer session followed. Thomas Mazloum joined him on the stage for this part.

The first question was the inevitable, "will there be a new ship". Gregg Michel answered and said emphatically, "yes, there are sketches but there is no estimated date". He said it would be similar in size to Serenity and probably have a few extra restaurants. However, he offered that bookings are currently not what the parent company would like so that will determine when a new build is added.

Another question was about having better Crystal coverage by travel agents in the UK. They said they were working on it. The third question was about attracting more GenX passengers to Crystal. I found it interesting that this question was asked. I saw many GenX people on board. Perhaps they meant GenY? The answer was that the Crystal passengers were shifting to a slightly younger demographic and individuals who are still working. The introduction of 12, 9 and 7 night cruises in 2013 is targeted specifically at these customers. Thomas Mazloum took a question regarding a customer service issue. The question and the answer both escape me. but I do recall that his manner in addressing the individual was impressive and he seemed genuinely concerned.

Thomas Mazloum seemed to be a "people person" and is a great ambassador for Crystal. The President didn't seem very warm or engaging. He was very serious and didn't show much personality. However, he must be very good at his job as he has been President for quite a while. Overall the presentation was very successful and we certainly learned a lot.

It was now time for lunch and the "Asia Cafe" buffet was taking place inside the Lido. Of all cuisines, Asian is my favorite so I was eagerly looking forward to it. The Lido was very crowded. We could not find anywhere to sit. Even the area near the Trident Grill was completely swarming with people. We decided to take a look at the buffet and then decide what to do. The food did not look tasty or reminiscent of any of the Asia Cafe photos recently taken on Serenity during the World Cruise. I was a trouper though and made the most of it by loading my plate with several items.

Various items from the Asia Buffet
I had a spring roll, a few pieces of sushi, dumpling, Filipino noddle, tandori duck, rice and some meatballs. The food was "average" but not terrible. My expectations were much higher though.

It was blustery outside but warm enough to sit and enjoy the wake while eating lunch. We were joined by another couple who also needed a place to sit. The wife was very preoccupied with a hair appointment she had in an hour or so and her husband seemed thrilled to be rid of her for a little while. She liked to talk a lot and she was very opinionated. He was very cordial with his wife but you could sense he needed a break. He even sat with us and chatted for a good 45 minutes following his wife's departure to the salon. He was in the liquor business which is the same vocation as my mother's family. We talked about the All Inclusive wine progam. He was very nice and we enjoyed our conversation with him.

Guest lecturer Fred Levine was giving a talk on "Exploring Honfleur and the Normandy Coast through the Eyes of Claude Monet" at 1:30 pm. If we had not already attended two other lecturers today we may have attended this one too.

Following lunch we went to the Computer Center and checked email. It is much faster than using my iPod Touch. I worked on the blog a little too and met up with my mother back in the room. Prior to this I stopped by the front desk to pickup the Crystal Guest list. I had forgotten to get one earlier in the cruise. I did not make my mother read it cover to cover.

We rested in the room a bit and watched a little TV. We also skipped the Thomas Lippman lecture "Saudi Arabia Faces the Future" at 3:30 pm. I am disappointed there are no lectures about WWII and D-Day. They could also provide lectures about Proust and the Coast Fleuri. I guess the one earlier about Monet and the Normandy Coast is the only one that related directly to this portion of the cruise.

My mother took a nap while I worked on photo editing. It was soon time for dinner in the Crystal Dining Room. Tonight is French night so perhaps I will have better luck with the food this time. We were seated at our usual area in row 17 and the sommelier is getting better about taking my mother's wine order more quickly. The inclusive wine program is a bit confusing because they do not have a printed list. This would make it much easier to select something suitable. My mother finds the 3 whites and 3 reds listed on the menus too limiting.

My first course was the escargot which were excellent. It was a great start to the meal.

For my next course I had the fish soup which was about a 6 out of 10. The flavor was good but there was not much fish. Perhaps it was supposed to be a bisque.

For my main course I had the sea bream which was okay but a little dry. The vegetables were just ok.

The best part was the Pinot Noir sorbet. The desserts on the Symphony continue to impress. It was delicious.

Delicious Pinot Noir Sorbet

Following dinner we went to the Galaxy Lounge to watch tonight's show. The title was "I Write the Songs". It was produced by Marvin Hamlisch, the famous composer from "The Way We Were" fame, "The Sting" and other classic favorites. He also wrote the music for Ice Castles. That was the sappy but heartfelt movie with Robbie Benson romancing a blind skater. It was a bit of a tear jerker.

The introduction to show was a short video piece by Mr. Hamlisch himself.

Marvin Hamlisch
"I Write the Songs" is a new show for Crystal and after seeing it I think it requires a little more tweaking. Some of the numbers had no continuity to the rest of the show. Some were lacking in vocal performance and only lasted perhaps 90 seconds. The Little Shop of Horrors bit was the worst part. It was actually painful to watch. We spoke with some other passengers later who also thought it was not very good. I think they used stronger words but let's leave it at that.

When we returned to our room we each had a nice box of See's Candies waiting for us. It was a thank you from the President.

We had a nice relaxing day and are excited to arrive in Brittany early tomorrow morning. We have been notified that due to the tides that the tender process will be delayed one hour. That is fine with us so that we can relax on board in the morning and not have to depart at 8:00 am.

1 comment:

  1. I love your interpretation of the General's talk. That is kinda heavy for first thing in the morning.