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Sail Date: September 2014
The Crystal Serenity (1,000 passengers) offers a luxury river cruise right here in North America. Cruise V4323 (Boston to Quebec City in Sept. 2014) went north along the coast of Maine and maritime Canada, then up the St. Lawrence River ... Read More
The Crystal Serenity (1,000 passengers) offers a luxury river cruise right here in North America. Cruise V4323 (Boston to Quebec City in Sept. 2014) went north along the coast of Maine and maritime Canada, then up the St. Lawrence River through the French heritage of Quebec. My wife and I normally take Crystal’s ocean crossings to maximize our sea days, with those daily doses of onboard happenings or doing nothing. This cruise offered the opposite, with a full series of overnight rides to the next coastal destination. For this one, it’s all about the port stops. PORT STOP: BAR HARBOR, MAINE (Sept. 2014) Instead of purchasing one of Crystal’s shore excursions, we made our own arrangements for the time ashore at Bar Harbor, Maine. One option here is a guided tasting walk to sample the state’s famous cuisine. (See www.mainefoodietours.com ) We hired Della from Maine Foodie Tours to show us the town in a private walking tour. We sampled everything from blue crab, to lobster mac & cheese, to blueberry popcorn, to whoopie pie desserts. She even baked us some of the latter, and briefed us on its history as Maine’s official state “treat.” There are no chain restaurants in Bar Harbor, and we chatted directly with the creators themselves at these niche shops (right down to the culinary science behind that blueberry popcorn). But it’s not just about the tasting. Della’s stories of the locals (both living and dead) were just as much fun as the food. We really made the rounds from the scenic Shore Path, to the Victorian mansions (“summer cottages”), to the sculptures of river otters at a waterfront gallery (remember this review is authored by “cruise-otter”). And, of course, the history side of Della’s tour included the town’s oldest public building, the still very-used Gothic church with its stained glass windows by Louis Tiffany. Given St. Saviour’s status as a national historic site, it’s not surprising that the parish has a priest with a prior career as a church architect. If your image of a “river cruise” includes ornate churches, you can start with a panoramic virtual tour of St. Savior’s at http://stsaviours.me. Once you’re at the church, pick up its visitors booklet for the parishioner stories behind the windows. On Sundays and cruise ship days, the church offers guided tours. (And, if you really want to do old churches, try the big Saint Anne’s Basilica when you get to Quebec. It has 200+ stained glass windows, lots of distinctive chapels, and around a million visitors a year. See www.sanctuairesainteanne.org. Since it’s about 25 miles downriver from Quebec City, the best way to get there will be Crystal’s own shore excursion.) Given the demographics of the Crystal crowd, most of us have a vested interest in cracking the code for age-related diseases. A large genetics lab on the outskirts of Bar Harbor is working on it, and offers two public tours a week. While the answers will be priceless, the tour is free. (See www.jax.org/about/tours.html ) If you really want to study up about Bar Harbor, maps and books for the area are available at Sherman’s Books near the ocean end of Main Street. (See www.shermans.com ) PORT STOP: SAINT JOHN, NEW BRUNSWICK (Sept. 2014) For starters, make sure that you’re correctly identifying your port stop. There’s a “St. John’s” in Newfoundland. And then there’s “Saint John” in New Brunswick. On this cruise, the Crystal Serenity stopped at the latter. Instead of purchasing one of Crystal’s shore excursions, we made our own arrangements for the time ashore at Saint John. One of us is a wee bit Irish, and we’re always interested in learning more about the Irish immigration to North America. During trips to Ireland, we’ve toured the “famine ships” displayed around Dublin and Waterford. (See www.jeaniejohnston.ie and www.dunbrody.com ) Ellis Island is, of course, the landmark of entry into the United States. But for the Irish who immigrated to Canada, that country’s “Ellis Island” is a trio of historic sites: (1) Pier 21 at Halifax, (2) Grosse Ile downriver from Quebec City, and (3) Partridge Island at Saint John. And the accessibility of these Canadian sites varies greatly. Access to the old immigration station at Halifax (Pier 21) is as good as it gets. It’s preserved as a museum right at the cruise ship dock. (See www.pier21.ca ) And, by the way, right down the street is a store with the largest selection of maps and travel books that I’ve seen anywhere. (See www.mapsandmore.ca ) The old quarantine complex at Gross Ile is a national museum. It’s about 30 miles downriver from Quebec City and accessible via a ferry boat. (See www.pc.gc.ca; www.chaudiereappalaches.com; www.croisieresaml.com ) But at Saint John, there is no longer access to Partridge Island. (See www.newirelandnb.ca ) Fortunately, ShoreTrips.com offers a private tour of Saint John that preserves the story of the harbor’s quarantine island -- as well as that of Canada’s first mental hospital, and other sites that tell the hard lessons of history back to the 1600s. The hours unfolded as one of the top tours that we’ve taken anywhere. Carnage and epidemics, along with hope and heroics, were the realities of the day in old Saint John. When ShoreTrips.com listed this tour among its offerings, the fine print at the bottom was an understatement rather than a tease: “This tour is not suitable for those that find stories of death and tragedy disturbing.” In fact, this tour would probably be a hit with the traveler niche that appreciates medical history walks (such as those offered over in Britain). (See discovermedicallondon.com and www.alnwickgarden.com ) But rest assured that this tour doesn’t neglect the usual sites expected of a history tour in Saint John. We saw the Reversing Falls, Fort Howe, Fort LaTour, the Loyalist House, the Martello Tower, Barrack Green Armoury, the Imperial Theatre, and, of course, several graveyards. ShoreTrips.com pulled out all the stops for our time in Saint John. For the total price of US $301 (not per person), we got four seats in a van and two guides (Diana Grant, David Goss). Both are serious historical researchers, though from contrasting disciplines and perspectives. But they’re also quite the entertainers, and quite deserving of our label of honor as “certified local characters.” The price of $301 certainly compares quite favorably to Crystal’s offer of a “private half-day van & English-speaking guide” for $949. Crystal’s offer (its shore excursion # SJB-3) noted that “[t]his service does not include a tour program” and that only its cruisers could get in the van. In contrast, ShoreTrips.com didn’t restrict who we brought along for our four seats. One of our guides (David Goss) is a long-time newspaper columnist and prolific author. And his tours of history’s nooks and crannies have been a fixture of Saint John summers for over 30 years. I simply had to follow up by reading a few of his books in the weeks after the tour. But David went even further and connected me with the work of Harold Wright, the area’s authority on Partridge Island and its immigrants from Ireland. CBC News recently reported that the government is taking another look at the island’s potential for tourism, and there may once again be public access by the time you have a port stop there. (See www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick ) ShoreTrips.com understandably markets this as a “private haunted history tour,” rather than something more arcane and academic. And there is indeed a goodly dose of unsolved mysteries. But it’s a far more serious effort than scary tales for the campfire. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2013
While the Crystal Symphony is perfectly nice and the service outstanding, the overall experience left many of us who were not travelling as a couple or with a group feeling bored and left out. Mixers and other informal get-togethers were ... Read More
While the Crystal Symphony is perfectly nice and the service outstanding, the overall experience left many of us who were not travelling as a couple or with a group feeling bored and left out. Mixers and other informal get-togethers were not organized; there was little to do other than sit in a lounge and drink/listen to music or on deck and read. Other than the one day at sea, the lack of programming options and communication designed to bring people together was a great disappointment. Yes, there were classes, but unless you wanted to focus on iPad skills or dancing, not much else. The lecturer offered little in the way of insights not widely available in basic media, and he misrepresented himself by claiming a non-partisan outlook. The excursion staff, the few hours that they were available at the desk, were misinformed about several aspects of the (costly) excursions; for example, in Saguenay, the zodiac tour did NOT include the likelihood of finding beluga whales, or even seeing much in the way of fjords, and they did NOT provide any kind of protective outerwear as the excursion staff indicated. The talented musicians were mostly limited to nightly show presentations; most other cruise lines employ them elsewhere to entertain in different formats at other parts of the ship at different times of the day. Staterooms are TINY, even compared to other less high-end cruise lines. While smoking was restricted, it was allowed in the worst possible place: in the bar right at the only central place to congregate in the main lobby outside the dining room. Many of these issues would be very simple to overcome, if Crystal wants to earn a continued reputation as a leader in this industry rather than complacent reliance on past perceptions. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2012
We are experienced cruisers but relatively new to the all-inclusive lines. This was our first time on Crystal and we had a fabulous time. In fact, after about 15 cruises, the Symphony is our favorite ship to date. Because we are ... Read More
We are experienced cruisers but relatively new to the all-inclusive lines. This was our first time on Crystal and we had a fabulous time. In fact, after about 15 cruises, the Symphony is our favorite ship to date. Because we are still employed, we prefer the 7 day itineraries. This cruise was from Boston to Montreal with stops in Bar Harbor, Halifax, Quebec City and Montreal. We arrived in Boston one day early and spent our pre-cruise night at the Hilton in the financial district. The Hilton is in a very good location so we were able to spend quite a bit of time exploring the area. The following day around noon, we too a cab to the pier and, after maybe 3 minutes in the security screening line, we were on board. We completed registration on board where there was no line at all. We are in our early 50's and most passengers were older than us (most were retired)and there were only three children on board. We had a good time meeting and getting to know our fellow passengers and found that the Symphony was very conducive to this. Our cabin had no veranda, just a large window. I've stayed in cabins without verandas but my husband had not. He was perfectly fine with just the window and, given the weather, I doubt a veranda would have gotten much use. We found the bed to be very comfortable and our stewardess made sure we had pillows to our liking. There was absolutely no trace of lingering cigarette smoke (to which I am very sensitive) which I read could be an issue. In fact, we never even smelled smoke in the hallways so I doubt many, if any, actually smoke in the staterooms. We were on Deck 5 which turned out to be a great choice. It seemed like we were close to everything. But then, on this ship, it seems so well laid out, perhaps everyone felt the same way. Admittedly, this was the smallest ship we've sailed on so I'm sure that was a factor. The cabin was on the small side which we knew would be the case. Maneuvering around the bed was a challenge when we were both getting dressed/packing/unpacking. However, I was pleased to find two hairdryers - one in the bathroom and one in the closet. The fridge was stocked with an assortment of sodas and beer but we didn't find ourselves reaching for a beverage while in the cabin. Also in the closet was an umbrella for use in ports. Our stewardess, Claudia, was relatively new. However, she did a fantastic job. She was pleasant and efficient and went out of her way to make sure our stay was pleasant. Completely on her own, when she suspected the rough water was bothering me, she arranged to have candied ginger delivered to the cabin. What a thoughtful gesture! The ship itself is beautifully laid out and very efficient. The public spaces manage to be intimate and spacious at the same time. We enjoyed afternoon tea most days and on the days we missed, we found similar offerings in The Bistro. We were surprised by the size of the casino. It is quite large and never seemed crowded. We did play Bingo one afternoon and my husband won $351. We don't normally play Bingo so we chalked it up to beginner's luck! We arranged for dining by reservation and that worked out just fine. We were at different tables each night but in the same general location. Even though we had reservations, there seemed to be a great deal of flexibility. The last night, when we showed up with another couple, we were easily accommodated. We found the food to be very good and really didn't have a meal we didn't enjoy. I appreciated that the portions were on the small side so that I could partake in multiple courses. We had pre-booked reservations at Silk Rose and Prego for four people. Our traveling companions had to cancel and we never changed the reservations. As luck would have it, within minutes of boarding, we met a great couple that had been unable to make reservations. So, they joined us for our two dinners. We found the all-inclusive wines to be perfectly fine and felt no need to deviate. We didn't realize The Bistro didn't have a full bar and a few times we ordered cocktails. Apparently, the server, instead of telling us that it wasn't a full service bar, was going down to deck 5 and getting the drinks from another bar. Once we realized it, we only ordered what was available but this is an example of the level of service we received. We didn't use the fitness center because the cruise was port intensive but we were surprised by how large and well equipped it was given the size of the ship. I did take a yoga class (no extra charge) that I enjoyed. We loved the menu set that we received the last night. What a great memento of our trip. We also appreciated the guest list. We booked excursions through Crystal and were surprised and pleased to see that a staff member accompanies each tour. From what I understand, the staff members volunteer for certain tours and really seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was a pleasure to get to know a few of the staff members in this more relaxed setting. Our first port was Bar Harbor and we booked the bike tour in Acadia National Park. It was a great tour and there were some challenging hills so it really wasn't appropriate for someone that isn't used to biking. The next day, in Halifax, we did the "Coastal Bicycle Adventure" and it was fabulous! The scenery was breathtaking and we saw great fall colors. This ride is about 12 miles in length but was an easy, relatively flat, ride with plenty of opportunity to stop and rest or take photos. In fact, if the 12 miles was too much, you could ride for a portion and arrange to be picked up early. I highly recommend this tour. The first "cruising" day was pretty uneventful and there was no view other than open sea (which we enjoy). The second cruising day however was down the Saguenay River and it was spectacular. We stopped at Our Lady of the Fjords and Ava Maria was played on the intercom. We were on deck 11, aft, behind the Lido Cafe and for most of the trip down the river we were the only passengers on deck so we had a private tour. It was a bit chilly but we brought blankets and coffee (with Baileys of course) so we were well prepared. Next stop was Quebec City. We participated in the Old Quebec by Foot and Horse Drawn Carriage. Unfortunately, it rained heavily and had turned quite cold by the time of our excursion. We had already explored on our own so we felt we had seen enough of the city to know we would like to return. If you haven't been to Quebec City, it is a quaint, beautiful town. In Montreal, we just explored on our own which turned out to be a great choice. We took our time exploring the sites and purchased a painting by a local artist who allowed us to photograph him signing the painting. Because the painting was of a local Montreal cafe, we went to the cafe, had lunch and had a picture taken of us outside the building. This whole process was a wonderful experience. We were able to explore the lower part of town by foot and took the complimentary shuttle to visit the upper part of town. We really appreciated the shuttle service and it appeared that there four 4 buses in service so there was never a wait for a bus. Marlin Fitzwater spoke twice and we attended and enjoyed both discussions. The shows were generally good but we really liked "Diva" and the comedy shows. We did take a group dance lesson and found the classes to be informative and easy to follow. The crew and staff seemed very relaxed and comfortable interacting with passengers, but not in an intrusive way. It almost seemed like they were "hosts" of sorts and it was a nice change from our previous cruises. Most of the passengers were older than us, however, we had a great time meeting and getting to know them. We made some great friends that we will definitely see again. I think the all-inclusive aspect facilitates meeting other passengers. Instead of arranging for transfers through Crystal, we opted to just take a taxi from the pier to the airport. The flat rate was $40 plus tip and it was very easy. In fact, it seemed easier (and less expensive) than arranging through Crystal. If you are considering a New England Canada cruise, several people told us that the leaves were the most colorful during our week of October 14-21. Of course this will vary from year to year but you can use it as an indicator when planning. I really want to find fault with something so this appears to be an objective review. Outside of the cabins being on the small side (which was no surprise) I just can't come up with anything. Oh yes, one day my Bloody Mary was too strong...does that count? Read Less
Sail Date: October 2012
My partner, her mom, and three of her mom's friends sailed from Boston to Montreal. This was our second cruise on the Symphony and their first. SHIP: The ship was in fantastic shape. Even as we were sailing, the carpet was being ... Read More
My partner, her mom, and three of her mom's friends sailed from Boston to Montreal. This was our second cruise on the Symphony and their first. SHIP: The ship was in fantastic shape. Even as we were sailing, the carpet was being replaced as they continue to update the ship. We found our rooms to be comfortable and updated, and the public areas were beautiful. The only crowding was at the lunch buffet, were we had difficulty finding a seat...especially for 6. But I believe this was due to the cold weather, as passengers could not comfortably sit in the Trident area and were all forced into the Lido. FOOD: We found that the quality of food was again fantastic! As proven by the 5, yes 5 pounds that I gained! One thing I love to do on the Symphony is try new things, such as the Asian breakfast. I know that the quality of the food will be good so I'm not afraid of what I might get! We have been reading that service may be lacking since going all-inclusive and I can say that we found it to be the exact opposite! In particular, folks have been saying that the wine/cocktail service in dinner is slow, and I can tell you that for us it was not. And not only were drinks served fast, but our waiters remembered our drink preferences and had them almost immediately after we sat for dinner. Both speciality restaurants were fantastic, though I have a preference for Silk Road. CREW: The service from top to bottom was fantastic. Several of the crew remembered my partner and I from 2 years ago...we had to help them with our names, but they definitely remembered us! Our travel companions had never cruised with Crystal and they now say that they will not ever cruise with another line...and these people are well traveled! ENTERTAINMENT: We typically do not go to the shows, but did this time, as our travel companions wanted to go. I have to say the they were really good. The orchestra needs a little work, but the shows were good. We also loved Colin Salter in the Avenue Saloon and the pianist in The Cove. Really talented people. EMBARK/DISEMBARK: Perfectly done. Quickly onto the ship and quietly off. Read Less
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