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Cruise Ship Review
Crystal Cruises

Crystal Harmony

by Debbie Clausen

July 7, 1996

Today is the day we board the Crystal Harmony for an eleven day trip up the Inland Passage to Alaska. The weather in Vancouver is wonderful sunny, and dry . Leaving the harbor was beautiful in the late afternoon. The sun was shining on the cruise terminal. We boarded the ship at 3:00 PM and the ship did not sail until 6 PM. There is lots to do the first afternoon: unpack, find your way around the ship, leave your credit card imprint at the front desk and decide what excursions to go on throughout your trip. This needs to be done as soon as possible to assure that you get your pick of each excursion. We took a tour of the Spa which is very complete - all kinds of massages and spa treatments are available. Also the exercise room has 6 treadmills, 4 exercise bicycles, weights and various other machines. There is a small floor area for exercise classes.

Dinner the first night was casual and the food was excellent. There is something for every diet. I had halibut and fresh vegetables with fresh berries for dessert. We also went to the introduction show where they tell you all about everything to do on the ship and introduce you to the senior staff. There is bridge, golf , dancing lessons, lectures so much to do and not enough time. I have the feeling that this will be a very active vacation.


We are on the Crystal Harmony - a very pretty cruise ship - we left Vancouver, B. C. Canada sailing out through Lion's Gate into the afternoon sun. Soon we will be turning toward the north on the way through the inside passage to Alaska. The scenery is beautiful beyond description. Lots of water, if that isn't obvious since we are at sea surrounded by heavily forested mountainous islands. We are traveling at over 20 knots to make a narrow passage at slack tide at around midnight. This is to avoid the otherwise strong currents and make controlling the ship and the passage smoother. We have selected a few excursions which we will describe as they come along.

What an opening dinner! Since it is sailing day, this is a casual evening and open seating. The menu was outstanding and my selections were very good. The rack of veal was as good as I have ever tasted. I had a Crab and Brie Bisque which was really special too. Everyone commented on the wonderful meal.

The scenery was spectacular when we walked on deck at midnight after the orientation show to entice and inform us with a bit of pizzazz. The night was not as dark as we southerners seem to be used to and will be lighter longer as we move further north since its still early July and that's what you get up here.

Monday... Its been quite a sightseeing day! We have been passing among hundreds of islands small and large. All are covered with lush evergreen forests. Many fall from high looking mountains directly into the sea and the trees overhang the water at the high tide mark. Streams and small rivers cascade down the mountainsides into the sea at many gravel bars. We have cruised wide waterways and are now in a long narrow channel where I could throw a stone ashore on each side of the ship. If you like wild forest mountain landscape this is it!

The day opened with intermittent fog and low clouds which have kept most of the higher mountain tops hidden. Since we are moving along at about 20 knots there is quite a breeze outside, definitely windbreaker weather. Looking out the stateroom windows or from the beautiful lounges fore and aft reveal spectacular scenic vistas so different from a Caribbean or any other cruise.

We have tried not to overeat but the waiters seem to have taken to heart the challenge of getting you to partake of the food at every turn and are almost disappointed if you decline anything. The whole crew and staff are very warm in their manner and also very helpful with every need or request.

The evening program was a tribute to Cole Porter with the singers and dancers doing a spectacular job. We also slipped back to the 2100 lounge and danced a couple of times before wandering into the Avenue Lounge and listening to the piano player/singer. We also stopped at the Stars lounge to share the houmor of Kareoke performances before calling it a night.

I thought I would describe my day. 7:30 AM waiting in line at the Spa for a treadmill. Even though there are six treadmills and four bicycles, it is a very busy place. 8:30AM breakfast; 9:45AM lifeboat drill; 11:30 AM a cocktail party for travel agents on the ship.

We learn that the Penthouses sell out first; the ship is about two-thirds full and the passenger crew ratio is 2-1. We also meet other travel agents from around the US plus one from Australia. The crew and the passengers have come from around the world to be on this ship

12:30 its now time to eat again. The food is wonderful and it's very easy to get a wide variety of good fresh food. I had a wonderful shrimp cocktail and fresh vegetable plate. After lunch we saw a lecture on Russia which was very illuminating. The professor has been to Russia over 60 times.

 

In the afternoon I returned to the gym for a personal trainer workout on lifting weights and after that it was time to get ready for the evening's entertainment. This is the first of three formal evenings and even though it said only long dresses, there were quite a few short dresses and several formal pants outfits. The majority of the gentlemen wore tuxedos but many also just wore dark suits. The food was marvelous especially the lobster. The ship also has an extensive wine list and you can open a bottle and if you don't finish it you can save it for the next evening. After dinner the show started at 10:30PM and was about an hour long with singing and dancing of Cole Porter songs very well performed. Then its on to dancing, or a piano bar or Kareoke and of course you can also spend time in the gambling casino which is run by Ceasar's Palace of Las Vegas. A truly full day for the first day of our cruise.

Tuesday - We have traversed the Misty Fiord and are now on our way to Ketchikan scheduled to arrive around 1:00 pm. We have been walking and using the stairways in order to burn a few calories as we continue to answer the many calls to eat while aboard. There seems to be a popular program for young people. There also is golf lessons, bridge, duplicate bridge and games. Lots to do if you get bored. And, if you get really bored you can watch a fist run movie in your room or in the theater. The scenery is pretty much what you would expect for an evergreen rainforest except for the rugged mountainous terrain and the backdrop of snow covered mountains in mid July yet!

Ketchikan - we walked all over the town in the rain. Saw a roaring stream where the salmon come to spawn. A lady from the forest service says this is the very best season ever for fishing salmon. We went to Dolly's house - a former Madam on Creek Street which overlooks and overhangs the roaring creek. Her house is full of her every-day possessions. Very interesting to see such a complete household over fifty years old. We also saw a museum with 5 very old (160 years) wooden totem poles. Also, rode the tram to the Westmark hotel in town. We shopped on Main Street. Lots of tourist shops and several familiar names for shops in the Caribbean. The Jet boat tour was reported to be spectacular.

The evening opened with the Capitan's formal reception and then was spent dining on wonderful food; and listening to piano music. We skipped the show but understand the comedian was very funny. He also plays harmonica and joined us in the piano bar. We had a lot of fun talking to people from all over, dancing a little and laughing alot.

Wednesday - Wrangell - More rain and cool. You really need a good light weight rain coat (water proof) and a hat or hood as there is fog and drizzle everywhere. It's not too cold and the natives never use umbrellas. Today we spent the morning walking to the Petrocliff beach to see 700 year old carvings on the rocks. There are only 12 to look at but several are quite complete drawings of a killer whale, a bird and a fish. Then it was back through the small town of Wrangell on Wrangell Island to see the local museum, the totem pole park and the Indian Long House on Shakes Island. It appears that ony recently have the Alaskans really decided to preserve their ancestry, for their collections of artifacts and totem poles are very small. The weather does not help preserve the artifacts and many are made of wood or other biodegradable material.

After lunch it was time for some rest and relaxation before the evening party begins tonight. Tonight is informal night. The Vista Lounge is forward on Deck 11 and has floor to ceiling sloped windows providing a panorama out forward. Just behind is the Palm Court where we participated in the Tuesday evening Capitan's Cocktail reception where the ship's senior officers were presented.

A few words about service etc. In most cases it is excellent but there seems to be some communication problems. They published the wrong dress code yesterday and caused major confusion with people having to change their clothes. And, we have had good and almost good waiters. And the food service in the restaurant is sometimes very slow or leisurely if you want it that way.


Thursday - Today is our tour of Glacier Bay. The Forest Service Rangers boarded the ship around 6 AM to guide us and give us a tour of the glaciers. They were quite amazing. Two miles wide at the base 200 feet above the shore and four hundred feet below sea. You lose all perspective and don't realize how really huge they are. The visibility was very good and we were sooo close to the glaciers. It is very cold and many people ended up purchasing coats, hats, sweaters, sweatshirts and gloves. Even though it is July it is necessary to bring layers of clothes. As we sailed out of Glaicer Bay we passed a point where Humpback whales are frequently spotted feeding and perhaps playing. We came upon a pod of 6 of them and spent about an hour watching them. We were told that it is unusual to find more than two or three swimming together and that this is a real treat to see so many at once. We were told that a couple of Orca Killer Whales had been seen in the area before the Humpbacks were seen and since the Orcas will attack Humpbacks this may have been a defensive posture.

Friday - Skagway in the morning and Haines in the afternoon. This is our day to be athletic and it was a challenge. In Skagway, we took a combination hiking and float trip up the Chilacot trail and down the adjacent river. This is the trail the gold miners took to the Yukon Gold Rush. They packed 2000 lbs of gear over 33 miles of very rough terrain. We hiked up the first section of the trail which was very steep. We then hiked to the river and boarded a rubber raft for a fast float down the river. The three guides were very knowledgeable and made the trip very enjoyable. Skagway is an old mining town that is nearly all devoted to tourism today. There is a great railway trip that also gives people a feel for the trip the gold miners made to get inland. So many of the Southeastern Alaskan cities are only reachable by plane or boat. Only Skagway and Haines of the coastal towns in Southeast are connected to the Alaskan Highway and even though they are only 13 miles apart over water it's a drive of over a hundred miles from one to the other.

After lunch and a leisurely trip to Haines, we departed for our bike trip. There are some good hills around Haines and we found them. We also went down by the River and rode along the river bank. It took a while to get used to the bike , but the scenery was magnificent . After the bike trip, we wandered around Ft Seward and talked to several artists and the former mayor about their lives and how they survive in Alaska. There are over 40 working artists in this community and some very interesting art.

Saturday - Juneau - This may be one of the real highlights of our trip. Juneau is the capital of Alaska. A little town built on a hillside that cannot be reached except by boat or plane. This is a town of 30,000 people and very easy to walk around. Many people also have cars even though the roads only go about 30 miles on either side of the city. We went on a wild life boat cruise which turned out to be spectacular. We saw eagles, Sea Lions, Seals and Whales. There were 9-12 Humpback whales bubble feeding for fish. They would all jump up at once and circle around. It was magnificent. The tour guide said it was the best sighting all year. Other people on the boat raved about the Helicopter rides to the Glaciers and the whitewater rafting. It is really true that the excursions make the trip. Juneau is a nice little city. we walked around went by the Russian Orthodox Church, the oldest in Alaska and of course couldn't miss the Red Dog Saloon. Another great day in Alaska.

Sunday - Today we are in Sitka. We anchored in the harbor and took a tender to the pier. There is evidence of the great Russian influence in the city. We started off by seeing a group of native Indian dancers. They were very good Then we walked around the town, into some of the shops and a visit to the Russian Orthodox church. Sitka is where the purchase of Alaska by then Secretary of State Seward was completed. We walked through the national park to the Raptor Center. This is where they take birds injured in the wild and rehabilitate them to release them to the wild again and where they care for those who cannot be rehabilitated. We saw several birds including an eagle up very, very close. A great place for taking pictures. A leasurely walk back to the dock and back to the ship for dinner.

There are two special restaurants on the ship, a Japanese restaurant, Kyoto and an Italian restaurant, Prego. We have now tried them both and they are excellent. They have a fixed menu and several specials every day. You need to make reservations early to get the dates and times you want.

We have been to the shows almost every night and they are all excellent. Some nights we have closed down the piano bar and one night we went to Kareoke too. There is literally something for people of all ages. There are people on the ship from one to 92. Families, singles couples, handicapped, very elderly, young, young at heart and every one seems to be having a great time There are escorts called Ambassador Hosts for the single women who eat with them in the dining room and dance with them in the evening.

Monday - We are in Hubbard Glacier this morning and it is much much bigger than Glacier Bay . It is a very active glacier and the calving is continual. You feel like you are hearing a cannon go off. It is over 6 miles wide and 600 feet high and pieces as big as a large building keep breaking off and floating in the water. We will be at sea all day long. As we depart the glacier we see Mt. Elias which is 18008 feet above sea level and seems to raise up out of the glaicer ice field.

This was the first evening and night where the midnite sun was really evident. To the west the sky seemed to be showing sunset colors as we were closing the Piano bar at 12:30 in the morning. The sky to the east was as black as midnite ever gets. We steamed overnite to the famous seaport of Valdez.

Tuesday and we arrive in the early day at Valdez where we are planning an excursion up over Thompson Pass to the foot of Thompson Glacier. We passed the put-in point where a number of our fellow cruisers started a whitewater raft trip. We experienced more beautiful scenery and pretty waterfalls where people come from all over the world to do ice climbing in the winter. A quick spin around the town of Valdez and back to the ship.

We were treated to a gala seafood luncheon buffet with mountains of shrimp, crab and lobster as well as many other forms of fish and salad. An overabundance to say the least. This was our last formal evening and the farewell reception with the captain in the Palm Court. More dancing and a cabaret show in the 2100 lounge aft.

Wednesday - We arrive at Homer Alaska and anchor in the bay and take a boat to the Homer Spit to catch the free courtesy school busses for the 7 mile ride into Homer which is not a tourist town but is a fishing village and does some shipping into the pacific rim countries. Homer does not host any Cruise Ships other than the two Crystal ships and therefore only has 9 cruise ship visits a year. The Pratt museum is as good as most in Alaska and has the exhibit of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and is very inertesting.

The afternoon was spent cruising up the Cook Inlet to our destination port of Anchorage. It is a short trip and we actually tied up about 1:00 in the morning in a late twilight. Seeing the lights of a real city from the water through the windows of the piano bar with cruise friends seemed a fitting way to wrap up the cruise. We were packed up shortly before dinner which was casual and taken at a window seat.

We never had a bad meal even though we might have preferred smaller portions and we did pass up many courses due to the excessive quantity of high quality food. Too many wonderful choices for each meal with four entrees and five courses for each dinner and three entrees and four courses for each lunch.

Breakfast is in the Crystal Dining room for the last meal aboard the ship and then we disembark where we were shuttled into downtown Anchorage for further transfers to hotels or the airport.

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