I just returned from cruising the second segment of the World Cruise on board the Crystal Symphony. We embarked in Hong Kong and cruised to Vietnam, Singapore, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Cochin India, Mumbai (Bombay) India, and Dubai UAE. With this cruise, Crystal proves why they are constantly awarded the "World's Best" by many major cruise and travel publications.
Food and service were consistently above average, as was the entertainment and enrichment lecturers. Crystal does an excellent job with finding guest lecturers that fit the area in which they are cruising. Middle East experts Christopher Ogden and Peter Arnett gave some of the most interesting lectures on the history of the Middle East, and their own personal experiences in that region.
In Vietnam we stopped in Hong Gai and Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam is a country that is going through some incredible changes. It's not at all what I expected. I guess I expected to see a run down third world country, but what I did see was a country striving to become a leader in tourism and trade. The people were friendly and helpful. There still seems to be some aftereffects of the war, but the younger generation is striving to overcome these problems.
Hong Kong and Singapore and booming cities with huge skyscrapers and a mix of cultures. They are very clean and safe cities to tour, and the shopping is fantastic.
I was a little concerned about going into Myanmar (formerly Burma) because of the recent political unrest, but my fears were quickly put to rest as we were welcomed like long-lost family. The Symphony made history by becoming the largest cruise ship to dock at the port outside of Yangon (formerly Rangoon). As we walked off the ship, we were greeted by masses of cameras and TV reporters who were on hand to capture the moment. As many of the passengers walked the streets of Yangon, they were approached by the locals and asked if they were from the big ship. I guess the Symphony made the local TV news reports. We had many choices for shore excursions, but the best by far was the trip to the Shwedegon Pagoda at Night. This is the largest pagoda in the world, and to see it at night is truly an experience. The building is gold leaf with a huge diamond at the top. It's a mystical place that does not fail to capture the imagination.
Sri Lanka is another port that has had political troubles in the recent past. I heard that Crystal had scheduled this port many times in the past, but because of the problems, they have had to skip this stop. Not so on this cruise, and thank goodness for that. We had the experience of a lifetime in seeing the Pinewalla Elephant Orphanage. This organization takes in orphaned or injured elephants and rehabilitates them. Every afternoon the elephants come down the hill to the river to bathe. We had the opportunity to get up close and personal with these gentle giants. The babies are just about the cutest creatures I've ever seen.
Mumbai (Bombay), was by far the best stop of the entire trip. 120 of us woke up early to catch a flight to Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal. On the way to the airport we were able to experience Mumbai waking up to a very hot and humid day. The city is teeming with people, sounds and exotic smells. The poverty is overwhelming as we saw hundreds of people sleeping against the curbs. Shanties coexist next to million dollar apartments. Children in school uniforms wave to our bus, and women in colorful saris were walking to work. It definitely is a city of contrasts. Our 90 minute flight took us to the city where many of us have had lifelong dreams of seeing. We boarded our buses and within minutes we were within sight of the Taj. After a careful security search, we entered the vast enclave of the Taj. We walked through the surrounding gate and got the first glimpse of this magnificent building. When you consider that this was built in the 1600s you cannot help but stand in awe. The Taj is a perfectly symmetrical structure constructed of white marble and inlaid with precious stones. Although many of the stones are missing as a result of years of looting, the Indian government now takes great care to protect this important monument. Even though the area is very crowded, there is a serenity to the place, almost a reverence. It is a place that no picture can do justice to. All too soon we had to return to Mumbai, and our home away from home.
by far, this cruise was the best of the previous 19 I have cruised. Crystal does the very best job in all areas that concern passengers like food, service, accommodations, and shore excursions. They provide the best service for women traveling alone, and they have some of the best single supplements in the industry. I, for one, cannot wait until my next Crystal voyage.Darcin5261@aol.com