Crystal Symphony passengers: All grace, no airs

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Bojan, our waiter, presented the basket with a flourish. Roll, madam?

Yes, that would be lovely, I said in my newly cultivated voice, mindful that I was about to enjoy a presail luncheon in the main dining room of the most elegant ship I had sailed to date.

Distracted by a group at a nearby table -- clearly some were cruise execs whose conversation I felt obliged to overhear -- I broke the first rule of genteel dining. I stuck my hand in the basket and pulled out a roll.

Bojan emitted a barely audible, Oh, as there I sat, looking from the bread basket in his left hand, to the official roll-picking tool in his right, to the evidence in plain view on my plate.

Im sorry; I thought for a minute I was at home, I said.

Without hesitation, the waiter replied, But, madam, you are at home. You are on the Crystal Symphony.

No snobs here, but one

Id been using the voice that wasnt mine since we passed through three layers of security for boarding the 940-passenger Crystal Symphony in New York for a seven-day Colonial Celebration cruise to Nova Scotia and back.

It was at one of the checkpoints that they confiscated my husbands Swiss Army knife, leading me to decide I needed a new persona (and perhaps a new first mate). 

How would I handle seven days on a ship known for its sophisticated clientele when my party of two was capable of violating two rules of decorum in less than 20 minutes?

As it turned out, our fellow passengers were sophisticated and well-traveled, but not snobbish -- just people who were willing to pay a little more for the kind of service theyd be hard-pressed to find on a megaship.

As expected, those in the 50-plus age bracket outnumbered younger people. I did see some couples with young kids, but the small size of Fantasia (the play area for little ones) and the two lone PlayStation2 consoles in Waves (the hangout for teens) told me that agents would be wise to book people with children on a larger ship.

However, Crystals attention to service does not exclude children. When a mother arrived at the Neptune pool with her little girl, only to find it closed, a staff member showed up within minutes to open the pool for them.

Aboard ship I met a travel agent who works for Navigant in Houston. She told me some of her best clients are mature single or widowed women who love to dance.

Each evening, the Starlite Lounge offers live music and male dancing partners called ambassador hosts. My husband and I swung by after the stage show one night. Clearly, the unattached women were having a great time.

The ship was not full on this cruise, which contributed to a feeling of spaciousness in its public areas. With 818 guests, it was sailing at 87% of capacity. Of those, 35% were repeat Crystal line cruisers.

And heres the thing about Crystal Cruises repeaters; theyre vociferous in their praise and ferocious in their defense of the line. 

A view of the Crystal Symphonys atrium deck and its focal point, a waterfall and a ballet sculpture.At dinner one night, I related a story about a woman we had met in the Caesars Palace casino the first night of the cruise. She was past middle age and traveling alone. Her first words to us were, I am so bored; Im sorry I came. Theres nothing to do.

Our companions began naming the myriad activities offered: golf instruction, bridge, tennis, lectures and foreign-language and computer classes.

Then I struck a vital nerve: And she hated the food.

Well, then, theres definitely something wrong with her, they agreed. End of story.

The truth about dining out

My husband and I ate at all three dining venues. The quality and presentation were amazing, and as my Navigant friend put it, the service was exemplary without being overbearing.

The Crystal Dining Room, the main venue, was redesigned as part of a $12 million ship enhancement in April. Couples who prefer to dine alone will be happy to know that the dining room now offers tables for two. 

And heres a tip: If you cant make it to dinner for a good reason, bypass room service. Send someone to the dining room and ask that your dinner be brought to your room. Youll be able to enjoy dinner from the same menu as you would if you were able to go to the dining room.

Everyone I spoke with had praise for the alternative restaurants: Prego, which serves northern Italian cuisine, and Jade Garden, which has an Asian menu.

Prego, the result of an association between Crystal Cruises and the acclaimed Valentino restaurants of Santa Monica, Calif., and Las Vegas, offers a tasting menu of Valentino specialties along with suggested wine pairings.

The Jade Garden has a relationship with Wolfgang Puck, and some of the specialties from his formal Chinois on Main restaurant in Santa Monica appear on the Jade Garden menu marked with the Chinois logo.

I ordered the seared Shanghai lobster with ginger-curry sauce, and for dessert, the Chinois dim sum, which included a roasted pineapple macadamia tart with vanilla ice cream, a chocolate crunch cake and a caramelized lemon tart. Delicious.

Soda and water are free onboard, but alcoholic beverages are not. A glass of Crystals Reserve Chardonnay, for example, costs about $8.

The Lido Garden, open for breakfast and lunch buffet, opens onto the Neptune pool deck. This area, which surrounds the smaller of two Lido-deck pools, has a retractable dome.

Next to the Neptune pool is the Trident Bar and Grill, which is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and again from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. for hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream and the like.

The Bistro on Deck 6 looks down onto the atrium, where the focal point is an artificial waterfall and a golden sculpture of a ballerina and her partner -- she locked in a perpetual leap, he in an immutable assist.

At the Bistro, guests can order from the bar or linger over their choice of a variety of coffee and tea options while nibbling on cheese and crackers and finger cakes anytime from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Deck 6 is also home to a jewelry shop and two clothing boutiques. I checked out the prices and they werent bad. A Nautica jacket, for example, was tagged at $139, about the price I paid for the same winter jacket in Macys.

Tuxedos are sold in the Apropos shop, but there are no tuxedo rentals on the ship. However, I found very few diners in tuxedos, and among repeat passengers, few wore the obligatory black suit and tie on the two formal nights. A suit and tie, not necessarily dark, and for the women, a dressy dress with perhaps a shawl seemed to be the choices. The dress style of the night carries over into the alternative dining venues.

The Palm Court on the atrium deck serves high tea from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. We tried not to miss this. The room has surround-windows, and the finger sandwiches, cakes and live music were a big draw.

Also as part of the April renovation, the Symphony re-created the new Crystal Serenitys Vintage Room, a classic boardroom-style venue with access to the ships wine cellar, in a newly constructed space on Deck 6.

The Vintage Room, which accommodates up to 12 people, comes with a $150 per person price tag, or $1,500 for a group of 12. The cost includes food, reserve wines and gratuities.

Changing spaces

Those who hadnt sailed on the Crystal Symphony since it came out of drydock in April said they were surprised to find that the spa had been expanded and that the library and photo shop had been moved to make room for an expanded Computer [email protected]

This facility, nearly double its former size, has a separate room called the Studio, a 25-seat classroom for free instructions in computers, foreign languages and arts and crafts.

Computer [email protected] offers 24-hour e-mail and Internet service for a fee. Access to the Internet costs $15 for 30 minutes and $25 for an hour. All staterooms now have Internet access, as well, billed at 75 cents a minute. Laptop rental is $5 a day, not including connection.

Our room, a 367-square-foot penthouse with veranda, had as much walking area as a luxury hotel room. The bathroom was large, with a Jacuzzi tub, a separate stall shower and double sinks with granite countertops.

Plus -- and this is a big plus -- we had the services of a personal butler. Need your clothes pressed, call the butler. Need to learn how to work the Jacuzzi, call the butler.

The penthouses were upgraded as part of the renovation, and all of the staterooms are marked for refits.

The focus of the renovation was the new Feng Shui spa, which has eight new treatment rooms and an updated salon, all part of a fleetwide spa expansion. 

The spas enlarged fitness center has a separate room for free yoga, Pilates, aerobics and personal training instruction as well as an expanded gym.

New in the entertainment arena is the production Curtain Call, which presents vignettes from such Broadway hits as Les Miserables, Evita, Mamma Mia and Chicago.

To contact Destinations Editor Margaret Myre, send e-mail to [email protected].

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