Nothing can prepare a first time cruiser for that moment of awe when they step on board a luxury liner. I had heard that nobody does luxury better than Crystal. Maybe that's why I chose the Harmony for my first cruise experience. I felt like I deserved a rewarding and relaxing path to life's new adventures and a cruise on the Crystal Line seemed an ideal way to begin.
Embarkation was hassle-free and quick, thanks to the staff of the Harmony. San Francisco's Pier 35 looks like an old steel mill warehouse and nowadays a gangplank is just an indoor ramp that winds around a bit, so it is not very romantic, but once you pass by the hand washing station, you suddenly emerge on board to a gracious welcome that treats all the senses. Of course, your baggage is immediately taken care of so you are free to roam amidships, grab a bite to eat, or even do a little shopping in the splendid concourse. I chose to wander a bit and take in the spa and pools before heading to my stateroom.
Because this cruise marked my sixtieth birthday and was such a special occasion for me, I had booked a Penthouse Suite. As soon as I entered my room I knew I had done the right thing. Whether this was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience or simply the first of many trips, I felt sure I would never forget this stateroom. It was much more like a beautiful hotel room at a four-star hotel than accomodations at sea. The view out to the ocean through the sliding glass doors dominated the atmosphere, which was calm and open. Seating inside the room was cozy and comfortable. And the bathroom. Well, let's just say that after a cool weather day of sightseeing in Alaska, I knew that Jacuzzi whirlpool bathtub was going to be put to delicious use. And butler service! Now that was something I could get used to in a hurry.
Dressed for dinner, I strolled past the musicians in the atrium and took the elevator up to the Lido deck to Kyoto Restaurant. Styled after intimate Japanese establishments, the tables for two and four were set with gray and black tones against the crisp white linens. Every single table had a spectacular view and the menu was sensational. I chose the Tuna Sashimi Salad followed by the Kyoto Signature Obon Tray. The grilled cold water lobster was simple and sweet and provided a pleasant foil to the steak teriyaki. Dessert was an easy choice: Kyoto Green Tea ice cream with Midori liqueur. Because many of the menu items include low-carb choices, you can really enjoy a wonderful meal without feeling as though you are seated at the proverbial groaning board. So, with plenty of energy to spare, I set out for the rest of my evening. But before I did, I thought I would have one last look at San Francisco in the twilight. I headed forward to the Vista Lounge where I discovered a respectable selection of single malt whiskies. Choosing the Macallan 18-year-old, I settled down to watch the skyline drift away in the distance. As I sipped my scotch I reflected that, like the drink I held in my hand, some things improve with age. I certainly had. And although we are often told that improvement and merit holds its own rewards, there are times when we all deserve a little more. This was that moment in time for me. I had recognized my own worth and chosen a trip out of the ordinary.