Thursday, 28 October 2010
Crystal Symphony & Serenity - Barcelona
Peter Ruck, Baldwins Travel
5th June 2010
Those charming people at Crystal, Andy, Elaine and Bob offered agents the chance to win a trip to Barcelona to view their fleet. Being one of the fortunate winners, they accompanied me and four other discerning agents from Gatwick to Barcelona on Saturday to have a look over both the Symphony and Serenity and view the $25m worth of refurbishments on Symphony. Flying into Barcelona Airport we were afforded a great aerial view of the ships berthed nose to nose - almost kissing!
Crystal took 900 workers and over 5 days brought the not really old standard Symphony up to brand new. They have removed one of the pools and converted the area into an open but coverable space with gorgeously designed and coloured seating. Although slightly smaller than its sister, I believe the feeling now is of much more space. The public areas are fabulous on both ships but I think Symphony shines even more now. The meals on board are varied from the Crystal Dining Room or the speciality restaurants, Preggo – Italian, or Silk Road – Oriental Japanese ( from Los Angeles based chef Nobu Matsuhisa) – both available without a supplement. Preggo arguably offers one of the nicest dining at sea experiences. We were treated to an excellent lunch on board Symphony in the Crystal Dining room – main course choice of beef tenderloin or black cod – both delicious! They offer 1st and 2nd sittings but also a new Open Dining By Reservation too, allowing you to dine where, when and with whom you like in the main restaurant. The array of desserts offered in the open seating buffet restaurants are both creatively attractive and mouth-watering. Coffees and a great selection of pastries are on offer at The Bistro. For a more unusual dining experience, guests may pay a supplement and dine in The Vintage Room for up to seven course wine-themed, gourmet dinners. And of course all soft drinks are included throughout in the cost of your cruise.
Lead in cabins on both vessels are of a good size and include choices of bathrobes or kimonos, slippers, his and hers vanity basins and pillow menus.
Rather than being All-inclusive, Crystal offer their All Inclusive As You Wish – a good on board credit is offered with their cruises so that guests may spend it where they wish. Be it on spa treatments, excursions alcoholic beverages. Many guests prefer this system rather than feeling that they are otherwise subsidizing fellow travellers alcoholic beverage requirements.
There are varied entertainment programmes, including the option to learn a language, play the Yamaha keyboard or polish up your golfing skills with a PGA golf pro.
We spent a good a few hours exploring the ships – unfortunately for us, Symphony was sold out – so no cabin viewings.
After lunch and tours of the ships we caught the complimentary shuttle bus into Barcelona and walked the length of the Ramblas before going back to the airport for our flight home. Crystal provide complimentary shuttles in all ports where they are not moored adjacent to the port centre.
A thoroughly enjoyable (albeit whistle-stop) opportunity to view Crystal’s ships in a destination port.
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
Queen Elizabeth Naming Ceremony
Monday October 11th 2010 - Southampton
Adele and I arrived in plenty of time at Southampton train station at 1.20pm both extremely excited to get to the naming ceremony of Cunard's latest ship; Queen Elizabeth. Not only were we desperate to have a nose around this hotly anticipated arrival but we had been told that HRH Queen Elizabeth herself would be in attendance to officially name the ship... after herself.
What we weren't expecting was the attendance of so many celebs at the ceremony, starting with Judith Chalmers (former 'Wish You Were Here?' presenter and UK Cruise Convention 2010 moderator) who we bumped into at the train station! We took the shuttle service to the shiny new Ocean Terminal, handed over our luggage and were directed by friendly marshalls to the check-in desks. Check-in took about 1 minute each and before we knew it we had a glass of champagne and were busily celeb spotting with our agent friends at the reception! We spotted Jimmy Saville, Esther Ranson, Robert Powell, Jenny Bond, Ben Kingsley, Alan Titchmarsh, Vera Duckworth actress from Corrie, Alan Wicker, Terry Waite and I'm sure there were more!!
We were called in groups to go through security to a marquee set-up for the ceremony alongside the ship. Luckily the sun was shining as everybody filed in and were handed their programmes by cute uniformed page boys and girls.
The ceremony kicked off with Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, followed by the Band and Pipers of the Coldstream Guards, then bagpipers before we were all told to turn our phones off and be upstanding for The Queen! She kept us waiting as she visited the ship, but we got to see her on the big screen, pressing the horn button, viewing her portrait and being clapped by all the ships crew as she came down the stairs looking beautiful in blue, before getting into her Rolls Royce and gracing us with her presence. Lesley Garrett came on stage (looking gorgeous) and we all joined in for 'God Save The Queen'.
Peter Shanks, MD of Cunard, made a lovely speech about the traditional nature of the Cunard brand, its links with Royalty and its wonderful new addition and how delighted he was that HRH had attended in person. Then we had a rousing rendition of Amazing Grace from Lesley Garrett and the prayers of blessing by the Lord Bishop of Winchester before finally HRH got to the stage and said the words we had all been waiting for: 'I name this ship Queen Elizabeth. May God bless her and all who sail in her'. The bottle was smashed at the side of the ship, loads of streamers were unleashed and everybody clapped!
We were then allowed to board the ship, Adele and I rushed immediately to our cabin to discover we had an outside balcony which was a lovely surprise! We then ran around taking photos before heading back, getting changed and rushing off to the champagne reception in the Queens Room where we quickly got separated as we chatted to the wonderful industry colleagues all sipping champers and claiming it was the best naming ceremony they had ever been to!
Then it was off to dinner in the Britannia restaurant where we had a delightful 5-course menu including the best soup I've ever eaten (artichoke and truffle mushrooms) before heading off to the bar for more chatting and drinking. We also took in the theatre production 'a slice of saturday night' then headed to our extremely comfortable beds.
Morning brekkie was delicious and not a little surreal as I was waiting at the buffet alongside Jimmy Saville and Jenny Bond!
All in all, a once-in-a-lifetime event which was clearly painstakingly organised with military precision, a beautifully elegant, comfortable and grand cruise ship some fantastic food, lovely company and a great night had by all!
Well done to Cunard and all their colleagues who helped pull this together and thank you for the invite!
Flo Powell, Director, ACE
Crystal Serenity, Voyage 0319 – Gaudi to Gondolas
12th – 24th August 2010.
I won our Crystal Cruise at an event hosted by Andy Harmer and his team in October 2009. We chose voyage 0319 as I had not been to quite a few of the ports on the itinerary and so we began our trip in style from Barcelona ending up in Venice.
After our very early flight from Belfast Intl on the 11th August we arrived at The Hotel Arts in Barcelona. We were only staying for 1 night and had an awful experience at this hotel, the room and service was deplorable for a 5 Star Property.
Prior to flying, I visited and completed Crystals’ “Priority Check-in & Planning Center” (PCPC), your clients will love you when you tell them what night you can get them a table in the speciality restaurants, Spa Appointments, Shore Excursions and much more.
Day 1 – Embarkation Day
When I say it took us 2 minutes to check-in, I mean it really did. We arrived at Barcelona Port at 12 noon and we were both onboard by 12:10, cruise cards in hand with our pretty pictures on the front! We were greeted by a friendly line of crew members wearing white gloves and asked to take a seat in The Bistro on deck 6. Before we knew it Champagne was thrusted towards us (and it would’ve been rude to refuse!). We were informed that our rooms would be ready at 3pm and to enjoy the public areas and lunch.
We moved up to The Trident Grill on deck 12 for lunch and after this we proceeded to our Stateroom 109 – AA Grade on Penthouse Deck 10. Our luggage was placed on our bed, it was a good size stateroom measuring 269 square foot with private verandah. Our Stewardess greeted us, her name was Maiza, a lovely lady, very pleasant and eager to assist with any wee issue we may have throughout our voyage.
Our stateroom could not have been better positioned, we were near the elevators, laundry room with ironing board (both complimentary), the Lido Café was two decks up and above it on the next deck was the fitness center & Spa, we were truly at home!
We unpacked and walked around this marvellous ship before showering and changing for dinner. We stopped off at the Crystal Cove Bar on deck 5 (every night) and had a cocktail there before we joined our 2nd seating table in the Crystal Dining Room for Bon Voyage Dinner (casual night). At our table were two U.S. Ladies (both travel agents), a Mother & Daughter from the U.S. a Single Lady from Canada (Julie – we loved her) and a single gentleman from the U.S.
Day 2 – Day at Sea
After breakfast in the Lido we got two sunbeds on Lido deck 12, I went for my body Composition Analysis treatment, we had lunch and then lay in the sun all day. We took advantage of Crystal’s complimentary bottled water and speciality coffees throughout the day and this really does save you a lot of money over the course of your cruise. It was formal night tonight so we got suited and booted and met the Captain prior to his Gala Dinner. Waiting for us in our stateroom was a complimentary bottle of wine from Andy and the Team at Cruise Portfolio in London – Thank you for that.
The Captain’s name was Glenn Edvardsen and he has been Master of the Serenity since August 2003. After a fantastic dinner we visited the Avenue Saloon for drinks. Colin Salter was playing the piano and we all sang along!
Day 3 – Monaco, “Where Fairy Tales Really Do Come True”
It was a dull day (weather wise) to begin with and the forecast was for rain, however we never got any! We took the short tender boat ride from the ship to the shore and walked around the famous Casino Square, stopping to have a coffee along the way. Crystal provided a complimentary coach to take passengers from the pier to the town square. We went back for lunch and lounged by the pool for the rest of the afternoon. It was Casual night tonight and we arranged with our fellow diners to meet with us at the Crystal Cove for Cocktails. After dinner we went to see West End Singing Star Petrina Johnson, she was excellent.
Day 4 – Livorno, “Gateway to Florence”
After our Lido breakfast Gerry decided to get off the ship and walk into the town centre. It was a Sunday and most if not all of the shops were closed. I chose to have a Spa day availing of Crystals complimentary Sauna, Steam Rooms and hot tub. Feeling refreshed and relaxed I had lunch in the lido with the adorable Asian Servers who never forgot our names, amazing when you think they meet so many people of a fortnightly basis! They just want to do everything for you, make your tea, carry your tray, and find you a table. We had confirmed reservations at Silk Road this evening and some of the other diners decided they wanted to join us, it was no problem for the Head Waiter he changed the table for us on arrival at the dining room. The dining experience here was simply amazing.
Day 5 – Porto Venere, (Italy) “The Gulf of Poets”
The Crystal Serenity dropped anchor at 8am, I had never heard of this port and it was most exquisite and charming. After our Lido Breakfast we took the tender over to the port and walked through the maize of tiny street that meandered up the cliff, spectacular views from high up. It was very hot and after 4 hours of walking we ventured back to the ship for lunch. The ship sailed at 5pm, however a family of 4 were not onboard and the Captain made announcements for them. It was lucky for them that the pilot was able to bring them out to sea to join the ship some 15 minutes after sailing. After cocktails in the Crystal Cove we had dinner and made our way to the Galaxy Lounge to enjoy legendary arranger, musical director, performer and composer – Marvin Hamlisch. He was quite comical and told tales of working with the likes of Barbara Streisand.
Day 6 – Civitavecchia, Rome “The Eternal City & Italy’s Masterpiece”
After a comfortable night’s sleep it was Lido Breakfast and then the complimentary shuttle from the ship to the port entrance and the short walk to the train station at Civitavecchia. We were heading to Termini Station and the short walk from there to the 5 Star Westin Excelsior Hotel where I was surprising a client of mine (celebrating her 60th birthday) who was staying there prior to her Holland America Cruise. We entered the massive, grand lobby of this fantastic hotel, the couple treated us to lunch and guided us around this amazing hotel. It was in the 30 degree temperatures and we walked back to termini which resembled Spaghetti Junction! We were never so glad to see the ship on our return and as it was casual night we chilled with a few scoops (cocktails), had dinner and went to bed.
Day 7 – Serene Sorrento “Jewel of the Amalfi Coast”
We took our breakfast outside on the lido, as there is so much choice on Crystal I have to say we were pretty good, me with my freshly made omelette and 1 slice of toast, Gerry with the fresh fruit and bagel. It is so easy to over eat with the delicious spread they lay out every morning. We had visited Sorrento before (onboard the Symphony) and after the short tender to the pier we took the complimentary shuttle bus up to the top of Piazza Tasso. It is a very steep climb and we kept thinking we were going to go over the cliff after every nail biting turn! It was so lovely to sit in the square, have a beer and watch the crowds going about their day, shopping and enjoying each other’s company.
Dinner this evening was on Lido Deck “Italian Dinner Buffet" and it was simply amazing.
Day 8 – Serene Sorrento “Jewel of the Amalfi Coast”
We were staying overnight in Sorrento and Crystal Cruises laid on a continuous tender service from 8am to 3 am and this resumed at 7.30 am on day 8 until we departed at 6pm. Gerry and I just enjoyed the ship, he visited the gym and slept in the Sun most of the time and I wandered around taking photos of the public areas which was great to do when most people were ashore. It was also great to have the pool area almost to ourselves and we chatted with passengers from as far as Australia, New Zealand and the usual European’s. I think I was the only passenger onboard with an Irish passport, apart from the Lady Golf Pro who was regarded as crew. I never tried the golf, all that swinging! At 6pm, the Captain sounded that it was time to leave. “What a wonderful world” instrumental was played on the Lido Deck and you could hear people mumbling the words and trying to remember them, it was so very romantic!
We were in Prego tonight – it was great! For those of you who have ever experienced this fantastic dining option (only $7.00 per person) and have had the mushroom soup in the soup bowl made from bread – OMG it’s better than sex, really!
Day 9 – Day at Sea
Another glorious day in the sun, so after breakfast we secured the best sun loungers and just relaxed by the pool. I went for an Elemis Spa Shave & Facial Treatment which was glorious, this was not a normal facial, it was a collagen treatment and I needed all the collagen I could get! We took lunch in Tastes by the Neptune Pool, the sweet potato fries were fantastic but not an everyday occurrence. Dinner in the evening was informal so we suited up and met up with our gang for cocktails and indulged in our French Dinner. It was up to the Avenue Saloon for drinks and Colin Salter playing the tunes on the piano. We loved most of the Crystal Crew, they really do make the cruise for you. Jon in the Avenue Saloon is from Scotland and had a very dry sense of humour!
Day 10 – Trogir (Croatia) “Pirates of the Adriatic”
I had never heard of this port before so I was most intrigued. Trogir is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and after our breakfast we took the tender ashore to the centre of town. Crystal had arranged for cold drinks for passengers getting on and off at the pier, a nice touch. It took us 5 minutes to walk into the Old Town and we stopped for a coffee paying in Euros but receiving the change in Croatian Kuna? We headed back to the Serenity for Lunch and lay by the pool for a few hours before the Cocktail Sail-Away Party began. The servers kept coming by with cocktails as the Captain played the instrumental of wonderful world and everyone started to sing – it must have been what was in those cocktails? It was casual dinner this evening.
Day 11 – Trieste, (Italy) “Cultural Crossroads”
The ship docked right in the heart of the City. The pointy end looked as if it was half way across the street! It was Sunday and almost everywhere was closed bar one or two coffee shops. We had an excursion booked “Discover Trieste by Foot” but we cancelled this and did our own discovery. It was amazingly hot and the streets were crowded owing to Silversea also having a ship in port. It was Formal night tonight so we headed back, had some lunch and pressed our suits for our Gala Farewell dinner.
The laundry service is excellent on both Crystal Ships, they have 4 washing machines twinned with dryers and 2 ironing boards with iron, and there is a room on every deck. We sailed from Trieste at 4 pm, but our main highlight of this day was the Mozart Afternoon Tea in the Palm Court. We took lots of photos of this special hour and the costumed servers were tortured by each passenger for a photo with them. The buffet was a breathtaking display and the Crystal String Quartet played beautifully in the background.
Gala dinner was a fine dining experience (as was every evening); with all this food you wonder how you are still hungry at 8.30 pm? It was an early night for us as we wanted to be on deck at 6am for the scenic sail in to Venice the next morning.
Day 12 – Venice, “You’re The Tops”
We were up on deck at 6am for the fantastic sail in to Venice. Crystal had arranged for Tea & Coffee along with Danish Pastries in the Palm Court. The sun rise was spectacular as we meandered up the Grand Canal and docked at berth 18. After many photos and breakfast we caught the 1st Complimentary shuttle boat from the pier to Monumento (in front of the Londra Palace Hotel) and we did our own tour around Venice. There really is so much I can say about Venice and so I will just mention St. Marks Square, the Rialto Bridge and Palazzo Ducale. The main square was packed as there were 5 or 6 ships in port and the weather temperature was 29 degrees centigrade. We walked everywhere, ducking and diving for shade where we could. We were going to try the Gondolas but it really looked like wacky races so we opted for coffee and cakes along the canal and with the heat getting to us we decided to walk no more and headed back to the ship. We collected our passports from the Pursers Desk and locked these away in our safe.
There is always so much taking place on a Crystal Cruise and the Daytime Activities Sheet enclosed in the daily copy of reflections keeps you in the know! As we were disembarking tomorrow it was that dreaded time to start packing so we had a few hours on deck before dinner and bid our farewells to our fellow diners, the waiting team who did a wonderful job and our favourite people in the Crystal Cove.
Day 13 – Disembarkation
After breakfast we said our goodbye’s to Maiza (we wanted to take her home but they would not let us) and the fabulous Asian waiters in the Lido Café. We swiped our card and collected our luggage from the holding area, jumped into a taxi and made our way to Marco Polo Airport. It was all very smooth and operated very well by the Ground Handlers. The taxi journey cost us €46.00 and took only 20 minutes.
There were three negatives to our Crystal Cruise:
• The TV. was the old boxed TV and the remote control was antiquated (I am sure this will all change with the Serenity due to have a major refit in May 2011.
• The glass shelving in the bathroom above the wash hand basin was very low, Gerry kept hitting his head on it (hopefully this will also change with the refit)
• We found the Pursers on the front desk unapproachable, unhappy and “stuffy”
A few plus points (there are lots!) of cruising with Crystal Cruises are:
• The best dining options at sea (10 in total and much more than most cruise lines)
• The best speciality restaurant’s at sea – and for such a very low supplement
• The service from the crew is second to none.
• The cleanliness standard is extremely high
• The Port information “At a Glance” that was available each morning at the front desk
• Crystals’ Priority Check-in & Planning Center (PCPC), Amazing – your clients will be very impressed.
• Crystal Cruises are returning to Alaska in 2011 with the Symphony offering 9 sailings from San Francisco, I would dearly love to do this cruise.
Monday, 4 October 2010
Flo Powell (Director at ACE) greeted me onboard the Norwegian Sun at 09:45 am. Accompanied by Flo were a small team from Norwegian Cruise Lines who would later give us a guided tour of the ship.
We were taken into The Atrium (Atlantic Deck 5) and had to wait a short time before our Conference Room was free (Promenade Deck 5). Waiting for us there was Debbee Dale (Debbee Dale Development, and has compiled Training and Development for ACE) who outlined what our session would entail.
Debbee covered the vast cruise statistics (1.65 million ex UK Cruisers, the fact that 59% of cruisers come from America and 28% from Europe – to name just a few). Debbee also “touched” upon National Cruise Week and Flo informed us of a few facts like, Fred. Olsen said that this was their best National Cruise week, CCS also fared well and details about the cruise offers that all the cruise lines promoted during that week.
Debbee then captivated us with the various ways of selling, be it rational or emotional! We also covered ideosensory trancing, the 4 P’s (Product, People, Process and Physical) and Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats Analysis. We all whispered to each other how wonderful Debbee is, and she really is.
As Martin (our NCL Rep) was unable to make the visit we were played a DVD from him welcoming us onboard, we just could not figure out if he was on the right or the left in the video?
Jude was our guide for our ship tour, we came out of the conference area and we took a right towards the Stardust Lounge, passing the Photo Gallery on the way. We then made our way to Pool Deck 11 and viewed the Great Outdoors Café, Garden Café, Pacific Heights Restaurant (and we were all starving just looking at all the food), then on to the Sun Deck, the Beauty Salon, Gym, Spa, Sports Bar and Video Zone. Then up to Sports Deck 12 to see the speciality restaurants, (we were advised of their cover charges) and then down to International Deck 7 to see the Casino, the Shopping Arcade, various Bars and into the Stardust Lounge (Balcony) to see and entertainer practising for that evenings’ show.
Some facts and figures about NCL and the Norwegian Sun:
• The Ship was built in 2001
• It is one of two Sun Class Ships (the Norwegian Sky being the other) and the first ships ever designed and built for Freestyle Cruising.
• At double occupancy this ship can carry 1936 passengers
• It has 13 Decks
• It has 12 Dining Options
• 10 Bars & Lounges
• Norwegian Cruise Lines sail to over 150 ports of call on five continents. You will find cruises to the Caribbean, Alaska, Europe, South America, Bermuda and Hawaii. With 11 cruise ships and over 50 itineraries to choose from, it's easy to find a cruise that's right for everyone.
• The NCL Youth Programme will certainly keep kids of all ages entertained. There are four complimentary programmes: Juniors (Ages 2-5), First Mates (Ages 6-9), Navigators (Ages 10-12), and Teens (Ages 13-17)
• Mandara Spa operate the Spas on all NCL Ships, there is jogging and walking tracks, basketball courts and a fitness center that is open 24 hours with televisions, treadmills, and elliptical, free weights, special classes, and more.
• NCL have a fantastic online training programme called NCLU (U=University) for more information on this cruise line or if you would like to increase your knowledge register today at www.nclu.co.uk
• The Sun sails from Belfast to Dublin (where ACE have another Cruise Expo) then back to Dover. From there the ship will reposition to Port Canaveral for its 14 night Eastern and Western Caribbean Cruises.
• In 2011 this ship will remain in the Caribbean based out of Port Canaveral until April 2011.
Jude finally stopped at the Four Seasons Restaurant at 1pm where we were wined and dined and I was quite lucky to be sat beside Flo and Debbee. I had the Salmon for my main course, it was excellent. The crew were very friendly and attentive.
After lunch it was time to kiss and say goodbye to all the lovely people onboard the Norwegian Sun and once we had our passports we left the ship.
I have to say I really liked this ship, and the only negative on the day was not being able to view any staterooms.
To be honest, I think I prefer this ship to the Epic or the Jewel Class Ships.
NCL have recently informed us of the direct flight from Belfast Intl (BFS) to Reus to coincide with the Epic’s sailings’ from Barcelona in 2011, however, I feel their prices are not competitive (more expensive) than with their competitors offering like-for-like!
A very big thank-you to Natalie at ACE for confirming my place and especially to Flo for hosting the day.
Travelmax Worldwide, Belfast - Tele: 02890 799 775 or 07817 406 234.