Following the Savvyseafarer’s Symphony Sojourn to Costa Rica

The Crystal Symphony, Sweet 15 and Still Sailing Strong…..

 We flew American Airlines from LAX to Miami a day early just to be safe even though the Crystal Symphony was scheduled to depart the next day at 9 PM.  Just wanted to avoid any flight delays and missing the boat. 

Obviously this entailed an overnight and we found the perfect place to overnight, the EPIC Hotel, a 54-story, 411-room boutique property located in vibrant downtown Miami at the edge of the Miami River and Biscayne Bay just a short hot from the port. They offer a special pre-cruise package that includes room, breakfast and taxi fare to the port. Check it out www.epichotel.com . The hotel had everything we needed, a fully-stocked fitness center, great restaurant and large pool and we took advantage of it all.

 Refreshed from a swim and rooftop breakfast at the hotel, we jumped in a cab ($9 with tip) and headed to the Port of Miami.

This is a view from our balcony at the EPIC, the Crystal Symphony sits due left……

Check-in moved along seamlessly.  We were escorted to our  Penthouse Stateroom 1038—just aft of mid-ship, perfectly centered and endowed with the best cabin staff afloat: Greg our Polish butler and our Hungarian stewardess Brigetta who truly pampered us for the next 11 days and nights. Butler service is one of the perks offered on premium Penthouse decks 9 and 10 along with complimentary clothes pressing, reservations at the alternative dining venues, Prego and Silk Road, one free set-up of adult beverages (two bottles of wine and two bottles of liquor, and unlimited beer). Soda and bottled water is free for all passengers.

We were welcomed with a bottle of the cruise line’s 20th anniversary commemorative champagne a wonderful Billecart-Salmon. We sipped the bubbly and unpacked. The smartly-decorated cabin comes with a flat screen TV, King bed, sofa, lots of storage, walk-in closet, bathroom with twin vanity sinks, shower, Jacuzzi tub, large bottles of Aveda products, Frette robes, slippers, personalized stationery, binoculars (to borrow), big balcony (to enjoy and we did). “Let the party begin,” as said often by butler Greg each time he delivered dinner to our stateroom: Life on board is one big party (or not). You can hole away or join the fun. There are never annoying announcements or interruptions to your day.

Deck space is ample and stunningly appointed like a country club or upscale hotel. Although she’s 15 years old this year, the Symphony looks like a new vessel after several face-lifts and top-notch maintenance. She reaches 12 decks, can hold 922 passengers in 461 stateroom and boasts of passenger to crew ratio of 1.64:1—and it showed.

Head Spinning Activities:

 There were 5 days at seas during this cruise and we used them well hitting the gym, running jogging track, doing laps in the large swimming pool, playing paddle tennis court and ping pong table, going to see movies, hitting the spa (just for a steam), trying my luck in the casino (I actually won on slots), and of course eating and drinking. One of the few cruise lines that doesn’t nickel and dime, Crystal offers complimentary fitness options to keep guests in tip top shape like Pilates, Spinning, Yoga, Nordic Poles walking, water exercises, paddle tennis, golf driving range, jogging track and a nicely-equipped but under-sized fitness center that gets too cramped during workouts. For doubters who think there’s nothing to do on a cruise, here’s a sampling of one day’s activities on the Symphony: Team Trivia, free gaming lessons, lecture on acupuncture, Crystal Vision Enrichment Program with futurist and author Barry Minkin, movie: “Beyond Reasonable Doubt”, Introduction of Computing Using Windows 7, needlepoint, bridge, salsa dance class, golf clinic, art program, skincare seminar, tea time, fitness classes, Berlitz Spanish lesson, entertainment, shows and in-between breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Our ship stopped at  Tortola, Antiqua and  Aruba, before transiting the Panama Canal  and ending up in Caldera, Costa Rica.  We took the ship’s snorkel excursions ($52 each for what I consider a fair outing)  in the first two ports.  Let me explain. The Savvy Seafarer isn’t a fan of tour operated excursions. The Tortola boat ride to various snorkel spots was okay, but not enough time in the water. The Antiqua tour left much to be desired. Way too much time in a bus, little snorkel space, late arrival back at the ship. We ventured off on our on in Aruba ($5 for two roundtrip on the  local bus( white sand beach where we swam in balmy seas, snorkeled and strolled along the water’s edge. Much better.

The worse part of any cruise is the end. We hate to see it finished. It also amounts to a long travel day home when you’re as far away as we were. Which is why we’re grateful we bought first class tickets on American through the cruise line. Because we purchased them directly from the company we got bus transfers to San Jose, Costa Rica Airport, with a nice stop-over for lunch on the way (included in the fare). 

Los Angeles-based Crystal Cruises operates two luxury liners, the Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity defined by elegance, rich touches of Egyptian linens, down pillows, feather beds, Frette robes, English mohair lap blankets, sophisticated service, fine dining on expensive china.

Our cruise was unusally smooth with nary a rough sea and so was the service onboard.  The food had its ups and downs, with more wins than misses, especially in Prego and Silk Road, stylish alternative dining venues which are actually free save for a suggested $14 a couple tip. Many ships charge double or triple for this option.

Like it sounds Prego is Italian based on LA’s primo ristorante Valentino’s.  A veal chop proved exceptional as did every pasta we sampled (all freshly made) and the scaloppine di vitello on angel hair. . Silk Road created by master chef Nobuyuki  Nobu Matsuhisa,  also one of LA’s finest, does Asian-fusin  and does it well.  The black cod with miso was outrageously good, as were the grilled waygu beef rib eye.

The signature Bento Box dessert with chocolate souffle cake and shiso sysrup and seame ice cream provided the perfect ending to a special evening.

We dined in the stateroom a few evening. Greg served our meals in courses, poured our wine and made up feel pretty special. “Voila,” said Greg each time he served our meals, “let the party begin.” And it did for 11 glorious days and nights.

That’s a rack of lamb that Richard enjoyed in our stateroom, perfectly prepared and beautifully served.

Luxury comes with a price and Crystal Cruises’ fares are normally pretty high, however thanks to the current economic situation deals are out there.  Like a special 2 for 1 fare  available through April 30, 2010 with free air, with a variety of amazing perks from shipboard credits to free air– check out www.crystalcruises.com.

Our itinerary, Miami-Costa Rica, was one of Crystal’s global cruises. Get a full schedule at www.crystalcruises.com for 2010 and 2011–there’s some pretty awesome cruises on the horizon.

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About Patti Pietschmann

I'm Patti Covello Pietschmann, a travel diva and proud of it. I've been all over the world. I prefer luxury travel (penthouse suites, fine d
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