Crystal Symphony: A Look At Our Digs

Welcome, once again, from somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. As I start to write to you, it’s about 6:00 AM and all normal people are probably sleeping. As I’m your faithful correspondent, I woke up just to be able to finish this post (while the internet signal is strong).

Let me begin by saying, once again, that AAC, CPA and I are so lucky to be able to do the things that we do. Sometimes, it’s a mystery to me that we are this fortunate. But there it is.

For this lovely voyage aboard Crystal Symphony, we were able to book 1 of the 2 Crystal Penthouses, the ship’s top accommodation. Located on Deck 10 (the Penthouse Deck), it’s a very spacious cabin, about 982 s.f., and is configured as a 1 bedroom, 1 1/2 bath suite, with private veranda. As Crystal Cruises is “all inclusive”, meaning that your fare includes your gratuities, wine and alcohol, limited internet and  entertainment (but not spa or excursions), booking the Crystal Penthouse also includes (amongst other things) unlimited internet (notwithstanding that internet in the middle of the ocean can be very dodgy), all laundry and pressing, complimentary transfers to and from the ship and, the most decadent benefit of all, a bottle of Cristal for each day you are aboard. As you may surmise, it’s the good life.

I thought you might like to have a little tour of the Crystal Penthouse – we made sure that it was nice and neat, so that you’d think we’re nice and neat, too.

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Welcome to our humble chapeau (with apologies to Lainie Kazan)

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Our very dramatic foyer (with key lighting)

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The powder room

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The living room with dining area in the rear (that’s a Swarovski chandelier)

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The living from as viewed from the dining area

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The aforementioned Swarovski chandelier

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The bar and desk/office area in the rear

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The bedroom

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Walk in closet (for AAC, CPA)

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And the littler one (for your faithful correspondent)

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Master bath, with walk-in shower in foreground, WC in rear

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Master bath from reverse angle and ocean view

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Super duper perk of being in the Crystal Penthouse: 1 of these per day!

Not a bad way to spend a couple of weeks, right?

And it cannot be said nearly enough: the crew aboard the entire Crystal fleet is absolutely superb. The best there is, in fact. I’ve often said that, when you board a Crystal vessel, it’s like going into a rarified bubble, where you are pampered beyond imagination. Oh, and did I mention that it’s a lot of fun, too?

OK, enough for now – time for me to get in some exercise to work off last night’s dinner – more about that later!

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Sailaway and 1st Full Sea Day

Good afternoon and greetings from somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

We sailed from Lisbon late yesterday afternoon following our boat muster. Our departure was delayed for about an hour, as the ship needed some “spare parts” – don’t even know what that means, but OK.

AAC, CPA and I decided to have our own sailaway party on our balcony.

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Sailaway beverage of choice, courtesy of our butler, Sebastian.

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And AAC, CPA enjoying a bit of the bubbly as we depart Lisbon.

As we headed out to sea, there were a couple of notable sights along the way:

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The iconic Christo Rei statue on the southern banks of the River Tagus

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The 25 de Abril Bridge which, to me, is so reminiscent of the SF Golden Gate Bridge

And, finally, before we head out to the open sea:

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The lighthouse.

After a little snooze – good Champagne can make one drowsy, you know – we got cleaned up and dressed for dinner. Here are a couple of the dishes we had last night:

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It’s a hot smoked scallop, with cucumber foam and charred cucumber

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Red beet sherbet, which we used as a palette cleanser.

OOPS! I forgot to photograph my entree: a yummy pink-roasted pancetta pork tenderloin, which I had with mashed potatoes, yellow carrots and olive oil caviar and chives!

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“Chocolate & Banana Harmony”

After dinner, we took a little stroll around deck 6, where all the “action is”. The theme of this crossing is “Big Band” and, true to form, Crystal has engaged the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra to play every night. The band has all the old charts and Great American Songbook standards, so it’s a pleasure to listen to them. We’ve sailed with them on numerous occasions and they are marvelous.

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Great musical evenings with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra

So to atone for my sins yesterday (all that Cristal, all that food!!!), I was up and out by 8:00 AM this morning to do my 12 laps around the Promenade Deck. Both Crystal ships are great in that they have Promenade Decks that extend all the way around the ship. For those of you who count, a mile is equal to 3.7 laps.

Around 9:00 AM, the Captain made an announcement that rocked my world: On every westbound crossing we’ve made from Lisbon, the first port of call is always either the Azores or the Canary Islands. As we’ve made this crossing so many times, we’ve been to those places more than we really need to be. So, when the Captain announced that, due to the remnants of a hurricane somewhere, he decided to cancel our call at the Azores and proceed directly to our only remaining port: St. Thomas, I was extremely happy. What this means for me is 8 consecutive sea days – WOO HOO!

Then it was time for breakfast. As it was such a lovely day, here’s AAC, CPA having an alfresco breakfast, a lovely start to the day:

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(According to dear friends Lynne and Garry, who know all that one needs to know about what’s happening on board, a couple in an adjacent cabin to their’s had booked the crossing for the sole purpose of visiting the Azores, so I suppose these folks having a bad day.)

I, for one, am not upset. With no disrespect intended, once you’ve seen the Azores, you’ve seen the Azores, if you receive my meaning. And you can quote me.

So, it’s just about 6:00 PM and Sebastian is about to drop by with some evening canapes at our request. That’s one of the joys of sailing on Crystal. I think we requested pigs-in-blankets (I never said we were highbrows, after all), crudite (but NO cauliflower) and potato chips. I’m already chilling the glasses for the Negronis which I’m about to make.

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The absolutely indispensable Sebastian, “the best in the West”.

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AAC, CPA with Negronis and all the rest.

After our leisurely cocktail “hour”, we’ll get cleaned up and, as it’s our first formal night, we’ll have dinner tonight at one of the specialty restaurants: Prego.

Buona sera a tutti – a domani!!

Crystal Symphony – 1st Full Day on Board

Well, after almost 22 hours door to door, we finally arrived on board Crystal Symphony last night. As you may recall, we had that lousy 7 1/2 layover in London, and then boarded our BA flight for Lisbon. There was a little bit of excitement at baggage claim where we thought our luggage was missing but, fortunately, it appeared at the very end.

We were met by Crystal representatives who transferred us to the ship and by 8:00 PM we were ensconced in our beautiful cabin #1022. It was like seeing a dear old friend again. Of all the times we’ve sailed on Symphony, we’ve only had 4 cabins, all on deck 10. It’s always wonderful to return. And the cherry on top of our sundae is that Sebastian is our butler. We’ve sailed with him before and it’s great to see him again. He’s the best (to which he will reply: “The best in the west”). And there it is.

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So great to be back in our favorite cabin, 1022.

(I’ll give you a tour a little later in the cruise.)

We were just in time for dinner, and it was great to see old friends in the Crystal Dining Room, starting with Remi, who runs the show down there and our headwaiter, Roland, who always takes such good care of us and tolerates our multiple requests for food which isn’t on the menu. As always, we have a lovely window table, midship on the starboard side. At the next table, we ran into Lynne and Garry, two dear friends with whom we’ve sailed many times. Looking forward to spending some quality time with them.

We had a delicious dinner last night. Food is always a big highlight when you’re on a ship. The pix are a bit on the dark side, sorry about that:

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AAC, CPA anticipating a delicious first dinner on board

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Seared Ahi Tuna w/Wasabi

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Wisconsin Veal Ribeye w/Potatoes Dauphinoise

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Apple Tart a-la-Mode

After dinner, we took a stroll on deck 7 – the promenade deck – one of our favorite places on the ship. For some reason, it doesn’t get much use and we love it for strolling or jogging. Here is our AAC, CPA last night – yes, that’s an almost full moon above him:

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1st night on board – lovely, right?

Then it was time to return to the cabin to unpack and get some zzzzzz’s. After all, we’d only slept about 4 hours on the redeye to London and, with the time difference, we were a bit sleep-deprived. 

So we got into bed and, literally, passed out for about 8 hours – it was sensational!!

Got up a bit after 8:00 AM, pulled ourselves together and came up to Lido Deck for some breakfast. It’s wonderful to see so many familiar faces amongst the crew, all of whom came up to say “Welcome Back”. Not only that, but they remember us by name, which is a typical Crystal habit.

In the meantime, here I am on Lido Deck, soaking up the warm sunny weather, as I write to you.

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Up on Deck 11 – Lido Deck

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My MacAir – where all the magic happens!

Just having a lazy day – our great friends, Lynne and Garry found us here on Lido Deck and we hung out, got caught up and had a bite of lunch. I have to remember to pace myself, gentle readers, as there is so much food all around me all the time. And it’s a 13 day voyage.

Along around 2:15, it was time for the muster drill. That’s the point at which all of the passengers make horse’s asses out of themselves and parade around in their life jackets. I supposed it’s a good idea that we know what to do it we hit an iceberg or something. In any event, here are a couple of candid shots of those near and dear to us:

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AAC, CPA – clothes horse – models his stylish life jacket

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The suddenly camera-shy Lynne and the debonair Garry

So that’s it for now, mes amis. We sail at about 4:00 this afternoon, or in a little over an hour. The captain has already advised that we’ll be passing through some “weather” this evening, so we’re off to a fun start.

Stay tuned for further adventures.

Until then  . . . . . . .

 

Tuesday: LHR Layover

Good morning from an overcast and cool London. We arrived about 2 hours ago following our transatlantic flight from New York. Due to unfortunate scheduling, we have a 7 hour layover here until we can board our flight for Lisbon and, from there, to the beautiful Crystal Symphony, where we will board in about 9 hours – not a minute too soon.

Backing up 12 hours:

Our car and driver picked us up right on time and swept us out to JFK. Considering it was rush hour, Sammy made excellent time and we were checked in, whisked through security and seated in British Airways’ Concorde Room within minutes of our arrival at the airport.

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AAC, CPA enters the Concorde Room at JFK

We are very fortunate to be able to avail ourselves of the facilities of the Concorde Room, as it has a very nice restaurant with table service. Here’s the dinner menu from last night:

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And the wine and cocktail list, which is on an iPad:

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AAC, CPA makes a bon voyage toast

We’ve dined in the Concorde Room before and the great advantage is that you can eat on the ground and then sleep on the plane (unless you’re a certain couple who have a second dinner on the plane – no names, please). And the food you get in the Concorde Room is likely to be better than the food on the plane.

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First up: Roasted baby beets and charred goat cheese

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Followed by a delicious rack of lamb

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Our waiter insisted that we have this pumpkin mousse

By the time we had finished eating, it was almost time to board.

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AAC, CPA waits for the boarding announcement

Then, a 5-minute walk to the gate and – voila! – we board our 747 chariot bound for LHR.

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AAC, CPA gets settled in for the night

As I mentioned, we could have had another dinner but I just wanted to put on the pajamas that were provided for us and get into bed. So, I opted for this:

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White chocolate cookies and some hot cocoa (with a drop of Bailey’s!!)

Following my little meal, I popped some Sudafed, aspirin and an Ambien and I was off to the races for the next 4 1/2 hours. 

By the time I woke up, we were about an hour from London, so I took care of some business, made sure that AAC, CPA was awake and just relaxed.

When we had landed at LHR, we knew we had to change terminals for our flight to Lisbon. However, we had been under the assumption that we’d be able to spend most of our layover in the Concorde Room over in Terminal 5, which turned out not to be true. That’s a shame, as the Concorde Room here is perhaps even nicer than the one at JFK. Not only that, but we had requested a complimentary private “cabana” for a few hours so that we would have been able to get some more sleep. No such luck.

So we traipsed from Terminal 5 over to Terminal 3 and here we are in the first class lounge. Not bad, not great. They also have a sit-down restaurant, and we’ll probably go over for some lunch a little later.

As a friend of ours’ says, “These are champagne problems”; ie., I’ll get over it.

So here’s a little look at the Terminal 3 lounge – it’s not terrible 🙂 

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One of several bars here – all complimentary, of course

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Another bar – what, no Campari??

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It’s the champagne bar – too early in the day, perhaps?

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AAC, CPA chows down on a light breakfast

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The departure board – see how far down the list our Lisbon flight is?

So, that’s where it’s at, kids. I’ll update you tomorrow when we’re ensconced in our digs about Symphony.

Have a good one!!

 

 

Hips and Ships

A Farce in Three Parts

Part One: AAC, CPA Goes Hippie

Hola, amigos!! Did you miss us? It’s been a really long time, I know, since TheCulturedTraveler took pen to paper (as it were) to fill you in on what’s going on with us.

Well, the answer is – in a word – PLENTY!

The intrepid star of our blog – AAC, CPA – has had an exciting few months (with an assist from yours truly). You see, he’s had this hip that’s been giving him a pain-in-the – well – hip. He has a truly excellent surgeon and support team and we knew a hip replacement was in his future. In fact, we visited the surgeon this past July to set up the procedure for this November. But, while we were there, the doc wanted to take some new film of the old hip so that he’d have a revised benchmark when it came time for the surgery.

So, we were in his office manager’s office mapping things out, schedule-wise, when said doc popped his head into the office and said: “When you’re done in here, come see me.” We didn’t particularly think anything of it, so we were a bit surprised when we were told that there was essentially no cartilage remaining in the hip and he had fast-tracked AAC, CPA for surgery 10 days later. Yes, sports fans, you read that correctly.

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AAC CPA on his way to the hospital – 5:05 AM 

In a way, it was a good thing, since AAC, CPA was really suffering with his bum hip. So, better to get it over with and put it behind us. And, in fact, he was SO READY for the operation that he was grateful not to have to wait another few months.

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New York City street scene – 5:07 AM

Without going into a lot of gory details, the operation was an incredible success. After a brief hospital stay, AAC, CPA returned home with his new and improved hip and, for the first couple of weeks, had a visiting nurse and physical therapist dropping in to check on him and to put him through his paces. We are now 10+ weeks since the surgery and our AAC, CPA is good as new, perhaps even better.

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The view from AAC, CPA’s hospital room – Triborough Bridge in the distance.

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AAC, CPA the day after surgery – in a very good mood.

So, a huge debt of thanks, kudos and a shout-out to Daniel Nawabi (AAC, CPA’s surgeon), the Hospital for Special Surgery, their fantastic staff and the visiting nurses and physical therapists who got AAC, CPA back on his feet! If you ever have an orthopedic issue, HSS is the place you want to be.

Part Two: The Travel Challenge

Well, you might ask, what does a hip replacement have to do with TheCulturedTraveler? Aside from being a witness to the whole thing – and it was a very interesting experience – we were both affected travel-wise, and I’ll tell you how:

First: His surgery was on August 4th. We had been scheduled to fly to Amsterdam for Labor Day Weekend – 4 weeks later – didn’t happen.

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Amsterdam – Nee

Note: To any of you contemplating this kind of surgery, please allow sufficient time after surgery to travel;

Second: In early October, we had planned to fly to London and then to Paris and, finally, to Lisbon to board the beautiful Crystal Symphony and sail back to the states – see below;

Third: We had planned to fly to Hong Kong for the holidays (on Cathay Pacific using American Airlines miles) – uh-uh, as you’ll see below.

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Hong Kong – 没有

Why all the travel drama? Here’s why: AAC, CPA’s surgeon wouldn’t clear him for travel until 12 weeks following his operation which, actually, would take us to October 27th. Therefore: no London and no Paris!!! Because we had already paid our fare for the Symphony voyage (and were into the penalty cancellation period), we negotiated with the surgeon to shave 1½ weeks off of the 12 week travel embargo (which is how we lost London and Paris), and he agreed. (Whew.)

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London – No!

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Paris – Non!

So why in the world did we have to cancel Hong Kong, which was certainly outside of the 12-week period? Well, when we had to cancel Amsterdam, we had to figure out a way not to forfeit our airfare to and from. We had gotten “the deal of the century” on British Airways (one of their famous “flash sales”) which, unfortunately, was non-refundable. When I contacted BA, I was told that, if we produced a letter from our surgeon that (a) AAC CPA was unable to fly on our original itinerary; but (b) would be cleared to fly after a certain date, then (c) the airline would allow us to change our itinerary without penalty. However, there might be an up-charge for the new itinerary. Are you with me so far?

Because of our travel commitments (we’re actually booked through August, 2018!!), and because the BA fare we originally paid was good only until May of next year, we had to jettison Hong Kong (Boo-Hoo) and, instead, go somewhere else for the holidays. Well, as a “consolation prize”, why not Paris? Turns out that OpenSkies, a subsidiary of BA, has non-stop flights from JFK to Paris. We’ve used them a couple of times and, while they’re not Air France, their flights are more than adequate. So, for a slight upcharge, we’ll spend Christmas week in Paris.

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Open Skies from JFK to Paris Orly

It’s a good thing that I’m a type-A obsessed travel person, as that little transaction somehow took over a month to complete, due to a certain amount of incompetence on the BA side. There, I said it.

The great news is that I got another “deal of the century” on digs in Paris, as the Peninsula Hotel was running an insane sale that, if you blinked, you almost missed it. (Woo-Hoo!)

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Entrance to the Peninsula Hotel – Paris

So, that took care of the Amsterdam cancellation.

Then, I had to change our flight itinerary for Lisbon. Originally, we would have flown to London, then Paris and, finally, Lisbon, all on miles. Now we just needed to get to Lisbon. So, I had to contact American Airline, British Airways and Air France to make changes. We were very lucky to be able to return the miles to our accounts with very few penalties and, most especially, we able to get award flights to Lisbon – through London. We’ll be traveling in style all the way – lucky us!

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Lisbon – Sim!!!

I know you’re concerned that we aren’t able to spend the holidays in Hong Kong, a place we’ve never been. Never fear, we’ve now slotted it for December, 2018. (I TOLD you: I’m a type-A travel obsessed travel person.)

Part Three: Anchors Away!

Are you still with me? Here comes the good part.

After all of the travails of the past few months, isn’t it time for us to have some fun? Well, I think so, too.

Of course, it’s no secret that we plan our trips well in advance. How else can we be certain that we’ll get that certain flight on miles in a premium cabin or, speaking of cabins, the stateroom that we want on our next ocean voyage?

To that end, we planned (back in 2014) to be in Lisbon this coming Tuesday to board Symphony for a leisurely 13-day crossing back to the States. Fortunately, as posted above, our surgeon cleared AAC, CPA for travel so that, on Monday evening, we’ll take the redeye to London, with a connecting flight to Lisbon. If all goes well, we’ll be in time for dinner at our usual starboard midship window table. (If we’re running late, we sent an emergency e-mail to Remi, Symphony’s superb Maître ‘d to keep a plate in the oven for us.)

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Redeye to from JFK to London LHR aboard a BA 747

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7½ hour layover in the Concorde Room – LHR

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The beautiful Crystal Symphony – our home for the remainder of the month.

Life is good.

PS. Stay tuned for further tales of our adventures on the road!

 

 

 

P.S. Crystal Symphony Gala Buffet

For those of you who are not intrepid sailors, you may have gotten the idea that cruising around the world by ship is a never-ending feast where the food never stops. When we took our first cruise – when I was about 14 years old – passengers would stay up late so as to take advantage of the midnight buffet, which would start about 3 hours after you got up from the dinner table.

Too much? Ya think?!!?

On Crystal Cruises, there is no midnight buffet, although you may see waiters roving the common areas with trays of small snacks: pizza, mini-sandwiches, fruit skewers, whatever happens to be passed around that evening. It’s nice and all that, but most passengers have had enough by that time and prefer to concentrate on – if anything – their nightcaps.

No judgments, please!!

However, Crystal is also famed for its Gala Buffets, which are presented on just about every voyage. These are lunchtime events and are set up in the Crystal Cove on Deck 5. If you care about such things, there’s a photo call for passengers who may want to Instagram the glories of the buffet. It’s a bit of a big deal, you see.

So, as a postscript to our recent Crystal Symphony cruise to Antarctica, I thought you might enjoy seeing some my photos taken at the buffet. If you catch some of the food still wrapped in Saran, then you know I was there for the passenger photo op before the masses arrived.

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Salads Asparagus

Smoked Salmon

Eggs

Penguin Eggs

Sushi Station

Big Lobster

Chicken Carved

Salmon Wellington

Fruits SmoothiesPasta Station

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Dessert - 02

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The buffet in full swing

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The chefs take a well-deserved bow

Waiter Lineup
When you’ve filled your plate, waiters are lined up outside the Crystal Dining Room waiting to carry it (and you) to your table.

There you have it – the Gala Buffet. I do believe that I’ve gained about 5 pounds by posting this blog entry.

Enjoy!

Recap: Antarctica and South America

I hope you didn’t think that I’d forgotten about you – after all, it’s been almost 2 weeks since my last blog entry. The truth is: after being away for 3 weeks, it took me awhile to return to normal (whatever that is) life.

So I hope you didn’t miss me too much (actually, I hope you missed me and my posts a lot), but now it’s time for TheCulturedTraveler to get off his – ahem – backside and get to work.

Therefore, I thought that today’s post should be a “highlights” replay. After all, I’d have to say that we had an amazing time on this latest adventure. If you were following me throughout Buenos Aires and aboard Crystal Symphony, you’ll most likely be familiar with what you’re about to see. But what the heck, right? 

Enjoy!!

Luggage for 3 Weeks
It took this much baggage to get us from “here” to “there”.

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The fabulous Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Hotel

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2nd favorite meal in Buenos Aires, and a 5-minute walk from the hotel

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Quiz: What song did Evita sing from this balcony?

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Favorite and most elegant meal in Buenos Aires

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Seeing Buenos Aires with Pedro, one of the best tour guides ever

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Visiting La Boca (in the rain)

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Teatro Colon: one of the world’s most beautiful opera houses

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Crystal Symphony in port as seen from the Park Hyatt Hotel 

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Repacked and ready to embark Symphony

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AAC CPA on deck for the 1st sunset

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Gorgeous sky 1st evening at sea

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Breakfast al fresco 1st full day at sea

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Family Negronis on the 1st formal night

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Formal Shoes

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The Virginia Gentlemen – Bar none, best entertainment on the voyage

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Invited to have a cocktail with the Captain in his quarters

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The beauty of Tierra del Fuego National Park

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AAC CPA at the end of Route 3 – 11,090 miles from Canada – the lowest piece of land in the world

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More yummy food on Crystal Symphony

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First look at Antarctica from our balcony

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AAC CPA appreciates the view

Antarctica - Penguins & Seals
Penguins and sea lions (photo courtesy of Nancy Shafran)

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A delegation from Palmer Station arrives for a visit

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More sea lions just hanging around

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Cruising around Antarctica at about 8:30 PM

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And about 3 hours later! It’s still light out!!

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AAC CPA welcomes you to the Falkland Islands (and its lovely weather)

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But we enjoyed another amazing sunset at sea

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And AAC CPA conjured up a full moon for your viewing pleasure

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Back by popular demand: The Virginia Gentlemen entertain in the Crystal Cove

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Welcome to Puerto Madryn

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This product is sold in the local market

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Late night at sea: full moon on a deserted Promenade Deck

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And another gorgeous day at sea as seen from our balcony

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Approaching Montevideo, Uruguay

Juanico Building - 01
A private field trip to Juanicó

Touring the Grounds - 01

Lunch Table
Enjoying a private lunch at the vineyard

Wine Tasting
The wines we tasted at lunch

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Disembarking Symphony for the last time (those smiles are FAKE)

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AAC CPA back at the Park Hyatt for 9 hours before the flight home

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AAC CPA hunkers down for the 10+ hour flight home

Postlude:

All-in-all, we had a fabulous trip. Visiting Buenos Aires for the first time was a total delight. As a dear friend of ours’ puts it: “BA is beautiful – a bit shabby but, like some aging countess, still elegant”. So true. We learned that Argentina is a country that, in all things, is in a perpetual pendulum swing. We had the benefit of an outstanding tour guide, enjoyed several memorable meals, accompanied by some amazing Argentine wines (let’s hear it for the Malbec!), and just marveled as we walked through the city.

Then we had the great pleasure of returning to Crystal Symphony for 2 weeks. Having sailed on Crystal many times, it’s like returning home. The Crystal fleet is elegant, beautiful and has a crew that has but one goal in mind: to insure that you have the best time imaginable. 

The days we spent in Antarctica were so memorable for the things we saw and which are hard to capture on camera. You’ll just have to take my word for it: you must see it for yourself.

Finally – and I know I’ve said it before – we live to travel and we travel to live. It’s a truism that we must get outside of our shells (and, sometimes, our comfort zones) and go exploring. Whether it’s on land, sea or air, there is so much to see out there and we diminish ourselves if we don’t take the opportunity to visit new places, whether it’s the town next door, the state across the border, the other coast, or another continent. 

Give in to your own personal wanderlust and go a-traveling!

PS. Here’s how we know we’re back in NYC and the vacation is over:

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