My affinity for Crystal Cruises began in 1990, about four days before the first ship, Crystal Harmony, made its maiden call in Los Angeles.
Honolulu was the Harmony’s first stop after leaving Japan, where it was built. I hurried to Pier 9 beside the Aloha Tower and talked my way on board. After scoring a nice lunch in the dining room, I managed an exclusive interview with the ship’s cruise director, who spoke enthusiastically about the modern facilities on his brand-new ship.
My article based on this experience was carried a couple of days later in several newspapers, including those in San Diego and Los Angeles, scooping news of the actual arrival of the ship to its new West Coast headquarters.
The most surprising fact about the Crystal Harmony at the time was that it was a Japanese-owned and Japanese-built ship which did not in the slightest seem Japanese. This vessel, and the ships that followed — Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity — were designed and built in the European maritime tradition, but designed to attract the American market. The official ship’s language was English, although as on most cruise ships, the crew came from all over the world.
Crystal ships are not superliners. Generally speaking, they carry around 1,000 passengers, considerably fewer than today’s leviathans that accommodate two or three times that number. I find these medium-sized ships sizable enough to be luxurious; small enough to never feel crowded.
Over 20 years I have traveled five times on the three Crystal ships. This includes the Harmony from London to Norway and later from Honolulu to New Zealand. Then I was on the Symphony to the Baltic Sea, and the Serenity in the Mediterranean. Today there are only two ships in the fleet, the Harmony having been sent home in 2005 to be renamed and reconfigured for the Japanese market.
In fall 2010, my wife and I sailed on the Symphony again, this time from Dover, England, to Dublin, Ireland; Reykjavik, Iceland; Nuuk, Greenland; Halifax, Nova Scotia; then disembarking in Brooklyn, N.Y.
We were happy to see that the things we always liked about Crystal had remained in place: glamor without glitz, dignity without stuffiness, efficiency without regimentation. And, of course, really top-notch dining in three restaurants — the main dining room, plus two specialty restaurants, Prego, for Italian food, and Silk Road, specializing in Asian fare. There is also a casual Lido deck café for all three meals.
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