DREAMSCAPES SPRING/SUMMER 2019
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SYDNEY, THE SLOW WAY
 
(2019 - Spring Issue)

Writer: J0HN & SANDRA NOWLAN



It all started with a bang. Literally.

The elegant atrium of the Crystal Serenity was covered with nets holding hundreds of balloons ready to drop and be punctured or stomped on as we left Los Angeles. It was a joyful and noisy send-off for the 900 guests on the first leg of a 112-day world cruise. We were only staying for the initial segment, a 24-day journey to Australia with stops in Hawaii and several South Pacific islands. But many guests were world-cruise veterans with a half dozen or more under their belts. It’s easy to see the appeal.

THE PERFECT CHOICE

Crystal Serenity is an ideal size for cruising—much smaller than the impersonal mega-ships yet large enough to provide a wide variety of dining, entertainment and education options. And meals, wine, spirits and gratuities are included in the fare. The crew is particularly well-trained and we experienced a level of service uncommon on other cruise lines.

Our balcony room was 25 square metres, a bit small perhaps for a three-week voyage but well-equipped with luxury touches such as great lighting, high-def TV with many channel choices, free Wi-Fi, special cleaning and filters to avoid allergies, a comfortable king bed with top-quality linens and a bathroom equipped with twin sinks and both a shower and tub (rare on cruise ships).

On some cruise ships, many days at sea can be boring. Not on board Crystal. We discovered so many interesting things to do on sea days that books we brought remained unread (there’s an excellent on-board library). For sports enthusiasts, there was shuffleboard, paddle tennis, golf, swimming, yoga, tai chi, Pilates, Zumba and a well-equipped gym. Other activities included bridge, art classes, choral singing, Yamaha keyboard classes, computer skills workshops (Windows 10, iCloud, PowerPoint, iPhone and iPad Moviemaking) plus current films in the Hollywood Theatre and daily team trivia. There was also a non-smoking casino and an elegant daily tea (including Crystal’s signature Mozart Tea).  A teak promenade deck encouraged brisk morning walks.

Outstanding guest speakers have always been a key strength of Crystal Cruises (only Cunard, on its Queen Mary 2 trans-Atlantic crossings, comes close). In 45-minute illustrated lectures we learned about the ports on our itinerary, the fascinating history of the South Pacific including explorations by James Cook, Southern Hemisphere astronomy and Pacific Marine Biology as well as topics like Broadway Musicals, Olympic History, Social Networking and How to Avoid Pickpockets.

Every evening, the Galaxy Lounge (the main theatre) featured a performance by individual artists (comedian, West End singer, concert pianist, violinist) or a spectacular production show by the resident band and 10 very talented singers and dancers (the Russian Dance Captain was mesmerizing). The lively shows were always entertaining and colourful but, as on many cruise ships, the sound was often very loud (we noticed several guests used earplugs). 

Cuisine is always important on board a cruise and, in our experience, no one does it better than Crystal. On Serenity, 96 chefs (all of whom had at least two years’ experience in a land-based fine restaurant or hotel) prepared every meal with imagination and flair. The excellent wait staff were also hospitality veterans, many of whom came from Eastern Europe and South Africa. On a typical night in the main dining room, guests could choose dishes from the Crystal Classics or Modern Cuisine side of the menu that included sturgeon caviar, beef tartar with quail egg, grouper, sea bass, rack of lamb, lobster thermidor and beef Wellington with vegetarian options. Seafood dishes were especially tasty. One guest from Winnipeg told us he couldn’t believe the quality of the lobster. “It makes us think we’re in Halifax,” he said. Special meal requests are routine for the executive chef who commented that his answer is always “yes” for a special dish. “If we have it, we can do it.”

We also dined at the three optional restaurants (no extra cost), which set Michelin standards for fine dining. Silk Road and the Sushi Bar (Asian cuisine by Nobu Matsuhisa where the black cod is remarkably good) and Prego (Italian) made us forget we were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Prego’s mushroom soup in a bread bowl was an iconic cruise ship masterpiece. Tastes, on the Lido deck, offered small tapas that were as tasty as they were beautiful. In all restaurants a knowledgeable sommelier poured an excellent selection of complimentary fine wines.

A REMARKABLE ITINERARY

Our route to Australia included some remarkable ports. Our two stops in Hawaii (Maui and Honolulu) were followed by another five days at sea and a crossing of the equator (“sorry about the bump,” the captain joked). We then landed in American Samoa, the only inhabited U.S. territory south of the equator. Then it was on to the Republic of Fiji where we visited a spice farm, saw a demonstration of ancient cooking practices and were entertained by traditional songs and dances and men walking on hot stones. In Vanuatu, a country we’d frankly never heard of, we stopped at uninhabited Mystery Island for a few hours of sun and swimming in crystal-clear waters. 

We missed a couple of stops because of stormy weather; however, we enjoyed our last port of Noumea in New Caledonia. It’s a French Overseas Territory that reminded us of St. Pierre et Miquelon off the Newfoundland coast. Called “The Paris of the Pacific,” it had many fine restaurants and an extensive French wine selection in grocery stores. Unlike St. Pierre et Miquelon, however, the local currency is the franc, not the euro. 

Sailing into Sydney Harbour on a brilliant morning was a treat we’ll always remember. Champagne and mimosas were served to all guests on deck as we approached the twin symbols of Sydney—the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. A perfect ending to a remarkable Pacific crossing—and with no jet lag!

Travel Planner:

More information on Crystal Cruises can be found at crystalcruises.com.

 
 
 
 
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