I cruised the third leg of the Symphony's world cruise which started in Sydney and ended 24 days later in Hong Kong. Embarkation was quick and easy and in less than 10 minutes I was sipping champagne in my cabin on deck 9. The room was spotless and my stewardess introduced herself and asked if there was anything I needed. I spent the next hour unpacking my luggage and waiting to be on the balcony to experience the sail away from Sydney Harbor. (As an aside, I shipped by bags via FedEx and they arrived at the ship in plenty of time.) Our first stop was Cairns, for a two day overnight. I participated in a tour of the Rainforestation, and an amphibious duck ride along with a train trip from Kuranda to Cairns. This was the best trip to experience Australia's wildlife---I got to hold a koala and pet a wallaby. Our next stop was Darwin, which is an interesting city and much smaller than I expected. We went on a tour of the jumping crocodiles. An OK tour, but seeing the crocs up close was quite interesting. Crystal decided to cancel our two stops in Indonesia due to the international situation, which meant we had additional time in Singapore. What a great place to shop. It's a very metropolitian city, and impecibly clean. Next we had two stops in Vietnam, one for Ho Chi Minh City and three days later in Ha Long Bay, for Hanoi. These are two places I've always wanted to see and to say it was an education is an understatement. Both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are culturally exciting, highly populated, polluted, dusty, dirty, friendly, noisy, in need of repair, and wonderful all in one big package. Believe it or not, there is still propaganda about the Vietnam war in many places, but Americans are very welcomed. Since they've only recently opened their doors to tourism, I can suspect that things will only improve for the tourists. Hong Kong was our final stop on this segment, and unfortunately, I had to return home.
As for the ship, Crystal, as always, was fantastic and they continue to amaze with their 6 star food and service. I opted for late seating, which is the smart thing to do if you're planning on doing a lot of port tours. My dining companions were fun and interesting and we never lacked for stimulating conversation. My waiter and assistant waiter were fabulous, and the wine steward was extremely knowledgable. Food selections were varied with a choice of four appetizers, four soups, two salads, four main courses, a pasta course, and four desserts. You could also opt for their vegetarian selections, or order off the menu. Some nights I just wanted a salad and grilled salmon, and this was taken care of with no problem. If you wanted caviar every night, you got it. One of my tablemates wanted mashed potatoes every night, and raspberries for dessert, and he had them without asking. I know people dislike Crystal because of their assigned seating at dinner, but as a single woman traveler, I much prefer assigned seating as it allows me to meet people early on in the cruise. For breakfast and lunch you could chose between the formal dining room, the Lido buffet or the Trident grill for burgers and things like that. (Boy, do they make a great chicken caesar wrap) Then of course, there's the alternate restaurants, Prego and Jade Garden, which I visited more than once each. The Jade Garden was taken over for 10 days by Chinois, Wolfgang Puck's restaurant in Santa Monica. It was the absolute highlight of the cruise. Their Asian delights were so popular that they were booked every night to capacity. It's nice to have choices when cruising.
Crystal has so many options for days at sea. There are dance lessons with the gentlemen hosts, computer classes, bridge lessons, wine tasting, cooking lessons, and lectures by some very well known individuals such as Garrick Utley, and Harm de Blij. Evening entertainment continues to be a Crystal stong point with everything from their Broadway-style shows to classical artists, comics and their new Repertory at Sea group who stage well-known one act plays.
Crystal continues to offer their loyal customers what can only be regarded as one of the finest experiences in cruising. When the new Serenity comes on line in 2003, it will only add to the great food and service that had become a trademark of Crystal Cruise Lines.