Crystal Serenity at sea 12/20/07

Oh my, the last day at sea. You know the fat lady is singing when you come back to your cabin after breakfast to find that plastic “tarp” on your bed & your suitcases have been pulled out from under the shadows of the bed skirt. Sorry, I jumped ahead a bit. I woke up a little before 8; but not in any hurry to get up. I opened the heavy drapes & observed the procession of power walkers (I’m on the promenade deck) speeding past my window. The sheers were still closed so I was “invisible”. I laid there & read til 9. Again, the seas are so calm. When the Capt. made his daily announcement he said it would be warm but not hot & that we could expect some intermittent showers throughout the day.

The last few days I’ve given up on my hair. I leave the room & face the new day w/ hair as flat as if I’d just raised it off the pillow. I went first to the Bistro to get my thermal mug filled (to the rim, this last time) w/ cappuccino. Thought I’d look at breakfast at the Lido buffet; spotted a few things I wanted to try. While going through the line, L&L walked up & we took our usual position by the “indoor” pool. From the buffet, I tried a Mexican egg/potato pie (would have been really good had it been HOT). I got a few slices of bacon (mopping the grease off w/ a paper napkin, which are next to impossible to find on this ship). I took a croissant so that I could finish off that half empty jar of chocolate spread that I’d been wagging around in my bag for at least 8 days. I’m gonna miss that choc. spread. I thought about lifting a few jars to bring home; but I never buy croissants or even white bread for that matter. Then from the Tastes café menu, I had to have a half order each of blueberry cheese blintzes & the apricot French toast. You feel sort of compelled to go around & get one more of everything you love & can’t get anywhere else. By then it was time for one last stab at trivia. As if the questions couldn’t get any harder. My team only got 3 out of 15 questions right.

OK, THIS IS WHERE I NEED TO TELL LOLITA TO STOP READING THIS PARAGRAPH & MONICA TO START PAYING ATTENTION!...... I went to Clint Van Zandt’s final talk. Today he focused on unsolved cases he’s worked on. He started w/ O.J.’s murder trail. In his opinion, O.J. did it, no question about it. The Natalie Holloway disappearance….he’s convinced that those 3 men drugged her drink & took her to a secluded beach. He feels that she probably died as a result of too much alcohol, the drug & the stressful situation (accidentally). That they knew exactly where to dump her body so that the current would draw it away from the island (probably through the Panama Canal). Jon Benet Ramsey…..too much evidence points to the mother (Patsy). I somehow had missed the evidence that stated that the ransom note when compared to family members’ handwriting, matched Patsy’s in 51 different points. As for Madeline McCann (the 6 yr. old British girl who disappeared from her hotel bedroom in Portugal)….he says that the parents had a predictable pattern of behavior; going out at the same time every evening for dinner & each one consuming about a bottle of wine each night. His most recent case (2 wks. ago) was in Perugia, Italy w/ the Meredith Kercher murder (who was found in her apartment bedroom w/ her throat cut). Even though it was staged to look like an assault & robbery, enough evidence exists that he believes her American roommate, the Italian boyfriend & Italian drug dealer, stole money from her. When she confronted them, the drug dealer did the deed; & then they all conspired to trash the place & claim that it was a break in. Clint is going to appear on tomorrow night’s (Fri.) Dateline NBC w/ his latest findings on the case. When Clint talked about some of these cases, especially children, he gets choked up & pauses because he, himself, was abducted as a child. Very interesting man.

L&L had already been up on the pool deck & had the deck waiters reposition our lounge chairs & made a nest for the rest of the day. We sat & read for a while, handing out tips & saying goodbye to these fabulous crewmembers. About 1:30 we checked out the Lido buffet. The macadamia nut encrusted chicken fingers w/ orange/ginger dipping sauce caught my eye; as did the herb/garlic roasted pork belly. I know, pork belly? Never had it before. But it was awesome, a little fatty w/ hard crispy skin; but fabulous. Also had a piece of tandori (crisp & nicely spicy) roasted chicken, also wonderful. For one last time, I had a cup of the lobster melon gazpacho.

By the time we got back to our lounge chairs the sky had turned very grey; & you could see rain squalls off in the distance. The temperature was perfect, probably 75. We stayed til about 5:30. When I came back to my cabin, I found a small shopping bag on my bed along w/ a letter. It was from my stewardess, Paula. She had bought a thermal travel coffee mug from the crew shop that said Crystal Cruises on it. Being embarrassed about taking my Oceania Cruise Lines mug around w/ me every day, I had inquired about buying one; but they don’t sell them in the gift shop. I was so touched; I had to run out in the hall & hug her neck. She asked if I had looked in the bathroom (I hadn’t). There on the glass shelf above the countertop were 2 coasters. One had the Crystal logo on it; & she had written “set your C. mug here”. The other she had turned upside down & drawn the Oceania logo on (remember she used to work for O.) & wrote “set your O. mug here”. I got all teary eyed. She is just the sweetest thing. She wanted me to have a souvenir and/or Christmas present from her. It meant so much.

Tonight the 4 of us dined at Prego (Italian). We had 3 orders of bruschetta. They have finally gotten the recipe just right. Tonight’s was as good as what we’ve had in years past. Better late than never. The chef sent out a special appetizer…..a small roll of phyllo pastry stuffed w/ ricotta cheese drizzled w/ a sour cream basil sauce. Presentation was beautiful. I had the cream of Italian mushroom soup (remember it comes in the oregano bread cup). I also asked for an appetizer portion of one of the entrees…..mushroom risotto topped w/ a jumbo shrimp. This risotto is fabulous, 2nd only to the risotto they make w/ the white truffle oil. YUM! For the main course I ordered veal scaloppini served over angel hair pasta & steamed veggies. This was a little disappointing. The lemon/butter sauce was off; but the meat was delectably thin & tender.

We had special ordered a deep dish apple pie for delivery in the D.R. last night. But there was a mix up; so they made it tonight & brought it up to us in Prego. Everyone saw the presentation, asking “what is that?”, “can I have some of that?” Harvey wanted it w/ raisins & plenty of nutmeg. It was good; but too much nutmeg for me. We left it hoping that the Maitre‘d & our waiters could have some later. Stuffed (again, one last time) we had to quickly say our goodbyes.

It was quarter to 10; & our luggage is supposed to be packed & outside by 11. I haven’t even started packing. They cut off internet service in an hr.; & I still have computer work to do (as well as 2½ hr. of internet time left on my package.) Now what do I do first??? Internet; they can wait on my luggage. It’s been a fabulous cruise. I got the rest I was looking for; & I’m so sick of food. I hoping this lasts until after the holidays. Maybe I can muster up enough will power to diet for the new year. Even though this was not an exciting cruise, like some of mine have been. But I hope y’all had a good time w/ the food portion. Can’t wait to come back to my Crystal Family this time next year. See ya soon.

Crystal Serenity at sea 12/19/07

I woke up before the alarm went off; not enough motion to keep me in that blissful lull. This sea day was partly cloudy, smooth seas (dammit); & the captain said we’d probably sail through a few quick showers (which we did). I still wanted that eggs benedict I didn’t get yesterday; I barely made it into the D.R. before 9:30 closing. I asked for a half order (1); & was glad later because it was not quite as it should have been. The egg was done all the way through, almost to the hard boiled stage. The Hollandaise on top had been baked until it was a sheet of goo. The flavor was good; but it looked like it had been sitting rather than made to order (which is so unlike Crystal).

I was curious about the chocolate chip waffles. I got a half order, which was one waffle about 4” square. A regular waffle w/ several chocolate chips melted on top, served w/ a thick strawberry ragout & fresh whipped cream. It was fabulous. It came w/ a fruit compote; & I had some fresh squeezed grape juice (I think I prefer the bottled kind). After breakfast I went to the Purser’s office to pick up my passport; & stopped by the cruise consultant’s desk & made another “open booking” for 2009. Leslie & Larry have booked the same Costa Rica/Panama Canal/MIA sailing in 2008 & 2009 for this same time in Dec. So, at least for the time being, I’ve booked the same.

They were already in the process of setting up the big Gala Buffet in the atrium lobby. Rather than have a late night buffet, they have an impressive massive feast at noon on one of the last sea days. They open up 30 mins. early & have special lighting so that people can take photographs before the hungry masses converge & destroy it in record time. You should see some of these older people dive into the table w/ all the lobster medallions & huge tiered compotes of jumbo shrimp. I’ll bet if you’re #500 to go through the line, there won’t be any left. I went down later & took a few pics; but chose not eat from it.

I went to the Bistro & had my mug filled w/ cappuccino; & went to look for L&L. They were just sitting down to eat breakfast at the poolside café. She said she had no repercussions from her fall yesterday. Her arm had stopped tingling; & she had nearly full range of motion in her shoulder. That’s good news. When they finished we went to team trivia; another 2nd place. Hoping to change our luck we changed our team name, changed table location & even sat in different positions around the table. Basically, we just stink. It’s not that we’re imbeciles; it’s just the questions are so obscure that I doubt that my winning team from the Oceania cruise could get these right. What book has the longest sentence in it? Le Miserables (800+ words). Unreal, isn’t it?

Then I stepped next door to hear part 2 of Cliff Van Zandt’s lecture (FBI profiler, remember?). He highlighted some quotes from Nostradamus that “sorta” predicted the 9/11 attacks. Then he proceeded to point out that most clairvoyants/seers/mediums are more wrong than they are right. Law enforcement considers them pretty useless; but have to consider their information just for the sake of the media. There wasn’t a lot of “meat & potatoes” to today’s talk; although tomorrow’s sounds more case specific. Afterwards I went up to “our spot” on the pool deck & read w/ Leslie for a while. Larry was off for another golf lesson. Today there was almost no air moving; & I was too hot to stay put long.

About 1:30 we decided to get some lunch. I made a salad from the Lido buffet (lots of hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, pickled beets & mixed greens). I’m getting so sick of eating (did I say that?), I thought I’d just get a burger & hot dog w/ no buns. Well, they had chili, which I had to put on the hot dog w/ some shredded cheese. By the time I finished this, I was stuffed (again). I tried to go back & read by the pool; but was too full & too hot. So, I came down to the cabin & read awhile & was soon fast asleep. Had a nice 90 min. nap.

It’s the Capt’s. Farewell dinner (formal); & that meant the full beauty regimen. Earlier in the cruise I was getting pretty good at getting my hair to do what I wanted it to; but not the last few days. I hope I get an E for effort. I joined L&L in the D.R. For some reason Harvey showed up before we all got there; but left & we don’t know why or where he went. But Harvey’s kinda that way. We had made some special orders tonight. They prepared a large tray of fried calamari & some really delicious (cream) creamy marinara sauce. I also had a bowl of cream of parsnip soup w/ mushroom confit & white truffleoil. Very good. We had also special ordered another chateaubriand which was lusciously rare (I had them cut my piece off before they sent it back to the galley to be cooked some more for L&L).

The veal scallopini caught my eye; & it was outstanding. Two small, thin slices sautéed served w/ angel hair pasta & a creamy porcine mushroom sauce (that part was to die for). It came w/ “young vegetables”. There was one 3” long baby carrot, one white asparagus, one green asparagus, one half a miniature yellow squash, one baby snow pea. They were placed around the perimeter of the plate like a sundial. Gorgeous presentation. I barely had room for the cassis-champagne sherbet; & Leslie talked me into sharing caramel panna cotta w/ sauce Anglaise. I’m glad we did; it was melt in your mouth creamy. A small inverted caramel custard w/ squiggles of raspberry puree in the white sauce Anglaise.

Again, miserably full. L&L went off to see the premier of the new show (which Crystal creates new about once every 18 mos). I knew I couldn’t managed to stay dressed to make it through the show; so I came back “home”. We get to run our clocks back one hr. tonight. So, once I’m finished w/ the computer, I hope to make some serious headway on this book I started 2 days ago; & have only made it about half way through. Oh, almost forgot.... guess I can’t read until I fix my tip envelopes & fill out this 5 (double size) page cruise comments questionnaire. That unpleasant end of the cruise crap…..good thing I have that extra hour!

Crystal Serenity in Road Town, Tortola 12/18/07

After so much sleep last night; I feel like I’m in a fog. Good thing I had no real plans today. It’s another gorgeous day, this time in Tortola. Opened the drapes to find my view blocked off by a huge ship, the Aida “Vita” (a European promoted cruise line). I’m so used to seeing these ships in the Med. w/ the brightly colored murals painted on the sides of the ships; but not normally in the Carib. This morning I’m staring at this great big eyeball on the face of a mermaid like creature. Unless, like “Dorothy”, I woke up in & I’m not in Kansas (Caribb.) any more.

I was thinking about Eggs Benedict; so I rushed so as to get to the D.R. before 9:30. I make in time only to find out they are closed (9 am on port days). That’s what I get for falling asleep before reading today’s Reflections, or else I would have known this. So, next option would be the Lido café, which I have not eaten in yet. So, I choose a made to order ham/mushroom/cheese omelet (very good), sausage links & Maplewood bacon (way too greasy). I had stopped in the Bistro to fill my cappuccino mug. I’m sitting there digesting the grease when I see Larry walk by. He asked me to join he & Leslie by the pool café while they ate breakfast. They wanted to walk into town; but not before staking out a place close to the pool for some shady afternoon reading. So, we asked the deck stewards, “which way will the sun set”. We got 3 different answers. So we had them move lounge chairs to what we thought was a good spot.

They went off; & I came down to the cabin to type the diary & check e-mail. (I didn’t check yesterday; & I had 67 pieces in my spam folder.) I took so long & half expected them to be sitting there when I went up; but they weren’t back yet. I settled in; & pretty soon the sun starts creeping over into “our space”. So I had the steward move everything. It wasn’t long after they came up that we had to move again. This went on all afternoon. I had a massage appt. scheduled for 3; & didn’t want to eat a big lunch. So, we had a cup of the gazpacho (better today than it has been the whole cruise); & off I went.

My massage was great. I had him do deep tissue (lots of elbows) on the back; & Swedish on the rest of me. It hurt so good. When I came back upstairs the Aida ship was gone. We heard that they were going to have to give up their berth, anchor & tender in the rest of the day to make room for another arriving ship. Pretty soon Holland America’s Zuiderdam comes pulling in next to us. She looks so massive next to this mid size ship. They made an announcement that they were going to close off the pier to us for 15 mins. while they disengorged their passenger load. And before you knew it, it was almost time to sail. They had a “sailaway party” from 4:45-5:30. One of the bands came up & played “elevator style” Carrib. music; & the complimentary drinks flowed freely.

I’m so glad they had the courtesy to stop playing when Crystal’s sailaway music came on the PA system. One last chance to hear “A Wonderful World” & the classical piece “Out to sea”. Being our last sailaway, I found the music more moving than ever. Tears rolling down my cheek; people thought I was crazy. L & L jump out of their lounge chairs to go to the top deck as we pulled away; & Leslie proceeds to fall off the chair while reaching for her shoes. She hit her shoulder; & later said she had a tingling sensation down that arm. She’s going to wait til tomorrow to see if it’s any better before paying a doctor’s fee.

We decided on a casual dinner at the poolside café at 7. I had a great mixed green salad tossed w/ caramelized pecans & walnut vinaigrette. Around the edge of the plate was slices of fresh pear fanned out w/ little balls of goat cheese rolled in chopped chives. An interesting mix of flavors & presented beautifully. My main course was a half lemon maple basted rotisserie (baby sized) chicken w/ a fabulous thick maple sauce. I had sides of sautéed baby leaf spinach w/ garlic & rosemary roasted potatoes. I traded Larry my white meat for his dark; & we were both tickled w/ our selection. For chicken, it was divine. Even though my quantity of food was less, I was just as stuffed as ever (what a sin). I had a single scoop of banana sorbet (a first for me) for dessert.

L & L told me I HAD to go to the show tonight because they had enjoyed these same entertainers earlier in the cruise. A wonderful magician/comedian opened the show. Then the Cruise Director/ Ventriloquist closed it. Gary Hunter has the heaviest Georgia accent I've ever heard; & he managed a 3-way conversation w/ 2 puppets. Made it look so easy. I laughed so hard; was glad I went after all.

When I got back to the cabin, there is the dreaded disembarkation packet. How sad. But I hope to have 2 quiet, relaxing days at sea. We’re expecting force 4 winds (half of what they were in the beginning) & only a slight chop. I’m sure that’ll make a lot of people happy. Tonight I’ll have to use my imagination to be rocked to sleep.

Crystal Serenity in Bassterre, St. Kitts 12/17/07

Although I slept very well, there is not much rocking going on anymore. Now our ports are all so close together that we just sort of drift between them during the night. I awoke to a beautifully sunny morning docked in St. Kitts. I had no desire to go ashore today; just wanted to start w/ a late breakfast & call this a pool day. Leslie called while I was attempting to make my hair presentable; she wanted me to meet them up in Tastes (pool café) for breakfast. It’s such a joy to spend time w/ them off & on during the day. Larry has a quick wit & has me in stitches most of the time. Leslie has that inbred New York sarcastic sense of humor; together they are something else. I wish they lived closer to Naples so I could see them more often. But then again, maybe these annual rendezvous’ wouldn’t be quite as special?

Back to breakfast…..I had that delicious western omelet again; & we shared an order of blueberry blintzes. I had already been to the Bistro to get my big travel mug filled w/ cappuccino. Now that we’ve figured out how to “manipulate” the machine to produce my perfect recipe, I can’t get enough. I’m probably consuming the equivalent of 3-4 large cups; & I speed through the day (until I eat a big meal in the evening & then just crash). I already had my bathing suit on; so I found a shady, quiet spot close to the pool & had the stewards bring over lounge chairs & set up a spot for the 3 of us.

L & L went ashore just to walk around; & I got in the sun for a while. But there was little breeze; & it was just too hot. I only lasted an hr; & I was seeking the shade. When they weren’t back by 2, I went ahead to Tastes to have lunch. If I waited any longer, it would almost be time for dinner. I decided to give the lobster/melon gazpacho another try (this time in the small cup). It was a lot better; but still not up to their standards (maybe too much onion, if that’s possible?). I was feeling like a reuben sandwich, which hit the spot nicely. Of course, the waiters there all know about my love of cherry coke. So someone always runs over w/ a glass of cherry juice (from the ice cream bar), a can of coke & an huge glass of ice. Man, I love these guys!

About 4 pm RCCL’s “Legend of the Seas” came in (we heard they were hrs. late because bad weather had slowed them down). We spent the rest of the afternoon reading in the shade. Larry went for a golf lesson; & Leslie & I stayed on deck for the sailaway. I’ve said it many times…….there’s nothing quite like hearing Louis Armstrong’s “What a wonderful world” on the PA system as the ship moves away from the dock. It reminds me how lucky we all are to share this beautiful day in this beautiful place. With less than an hr. to be ready for dinner, I had to scramble.

Harvey joined us in the D.R. where we had again made special requests again for dinner. It’s French night; & the appetizers are always good; but the entrees get a little limiting. Off the menu I had escargot bourguignonne & vichyssoise w/ red bell pepper coulis (very, very good). Then a salad called “panache” (in other words, mixed) of red/green leaf & endive lettuce w/ chopped eggs, French dressing & tiny brie fritters. The fritters were so good, we asked if they would bring a platter of them to share. I had preordered penne a la vodka. We kept telling the head waiter that we expected the sauce to be thick w/ cream & should come out looking pink. Unbeknownst to us, he didn’t make it tableside, he had the chef do it. To quote Leslie, it was marina w/ a shot of vodka. She wouldn’t eat it; but I thought it was pretty good (just not what I asked for). They had garlic-herb crusted baby lamb chops on the menu; & I asked for 2 of them on a side plate. They were absolutely delicious.

I barely had room for the chocolate soufflé I had special ordered. It was perfect w/ the most dreamy creamy chocolate sauce. I couldn’t pass up the burgundy kir sorbet on the menu. I was disgustingly full; & all of a sudden very tired (I think the hot sun got to me). I begged out of the show (again); & came back to the cabin w/ every intention of typing this diary entry & reading. I got undressed, laid on the bed w/ the tv on at 9:40. Next thing I knew it was 12:30 am; I got up went to the bathroom, turned the tv off & I was out til after 9 am (this morning). So, here it is Tues.; & I’m lucky I can even remember what I did/had yesterday. And maybe I did do this or not……..

Crystal Serenity in St. John's, Antigua 12/16/07

Another dreamy night’s sleep. If only I had my new mattress from home onboard, I’d never get out of the bed. I must really burrow my head into that pillow cause every morning I wake up looking like a scarecrow. This, of course, means that I have to spend about 20 mins. w/ the flat iron to get presentable enough to set foot out of the door. So, it’s very late morning before my day gets started. We arrived in St. John’s, Antigua before 8 am. I had no great intentions of getting off ship. It was another misty, cloudy morning anyway. And the day alternated between partly cloudy & intermittent showers.

I went up to the pool cafe & had the apricot French toast again. I went searching for a quiet spot to read. Started in the observation lounge way up top; & in a short while they started music for private dance lessons. So, I went down to the bar off the lobby (which wasn’t even open yet); but soon large masses of people started to come back onboard (since it had started to rain again). I went over to the onboard cruise consultant’s desk to inquire about a possible future cruise (if you book another one while onboard, they double the past pax. discount). L & L already booked the Serenity next Dec.; & I am considering it if I can work it into my budget.

The 3 of us had made special requests for lunch in the D.R.; so we gathered there at 1. I had spotted 2 things from last night’s menu that sounded good. I had an appetizer of warm asparagus, prosciutto & thin slices of brie drizzled w/ truffle honey (can you say YUM?). I had an appetizer portion of one of last night’s entrees, pan seared sea scallops & tiger prawns on citrus/champagne risotto w/ a burgundy beurre blanc sauce. To die for! L & L had requested spaghetti carbonarra. It was very good, much better when cooked tableside. I had pink grapefruit sorbet for dessert.

The Oceania Regatta was docked right next to us today. I went off the ship only long enough to take a note over to their gangway tobe given to the cruise director, David Cook. When I sailed transatlantic in March, he & I ate quite a few dinners together at the buffet restaurant. I just wanted to say hello & send holiday wishes. I then went to the movie theatre at 2:30. Saw the Bourne Ultimatum. Was a little too much action on such a full stomach; but I enjoyed it just the same. Went out for sailaway at 5 pm. My cabin stewardess, Paula, was out there. We had a long chat. Such a darling young woman w/ interesting stories about her life growing up in Romania. The rush to get ready for 6:15 dinner is unpleasant; but it’s the sacrifice I was willing to make in order to dine w/ L&L.

We had made special requests for dinner since the D.R. was a little weak. I had a mixed green salad; Leslie & I split one of those delicious king crab cakes w/ a spicy sauce. Larry had requested “T’giving” dinner; so they cooked him a small turkey breast w/ dressing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce & steamed veggies. Leslie & Harvey had ordered baked dover sole. And they both shared some of my (huge pile) of king crab legs & lobsters. I added a baked potato. We had requested a chocolate layer cake w/ cream cheese frosting; & it didn’t come out quite like we expected. It had thin layers of white cake w/ layers of chocolate mousse, topped w/ lemon flavored cream cheese frosting. We didn’t say a thing; just tried to eat it even though it didn’t satisfy the hunger we had for chocolate. In keeping w/ the sorbet tradition, I had “tequila sunrise” sorbet off the menu (which tasted just like the cocktail). The head waiter had other special requests at other tables, so he sent over a sampling of each to us. One was strudel w/ a rum sauce (delish) & the other was a bread pudding w/ rum cherry on top (divine). There was a little king crab left; so I asked our waiter to take it out of the shell for me & wrap it up for my breakfast. (Yes, I know my breakfasts are a little unorthodox.)

We’ve nicknamed ourselves “trouble”. The maitre d’ in the alternative restaurants & the poor head waiter in the D.R think we are…….we’ve made arrangements, changed our minds, asked for extra reservations; & they do it w/o even flinching. That’s part of the Crystal touch. To them nothing is impossible, as long as you ask nicely. And that’s why I love it so much here. I was back in my cabin early 8:30 with the desire to do my computer stuff, get in bed & read & sleep til my heart’s content. The only thing that could make this better would be if you all could be here too. Til next time…….

Crystal Serenity; Gustavia, St. Barts 12/15/07

Another blissful night’s sleep.  When I woke up a little before 10 there were dark clouds in the sky w/ light rain.  No sense in rushing to go ashore in St. Barts.  I had my leftover osso bucco & risotto for breakfast.  Microwave would have been nice; there was a greasy buildup on the veal.  I ate it anyway; it was too good to waste.

At 11, I could tell the rain was over for the day.  Still very windy which made walking in the little “fishbowl” harbour of Gustavia more tolerable.  The only reason I went ashore was in search of some hair styling gel.  Another one of those things I somehow left home w/o; & the ship’s stores don’t carry any.  I couldn’t have picked a more expensive island to be shopping for such things.  I first tried in a small grocery store; but everything was in French.  I couldn’t tell the difference between shampoo, conditioner or volumizer.  But it’s always fun rooting around in a foreign market.  I found the pharmacy all the way at the other end of the main street where they spoke some English.  Lots of choices; came out w/ the cheapest €14/$19 US.  A brand I never heard of.  The streets were crammed w/ people & traffic.  And it was hot in that "fishbowl".

Came back on the next tender & went around looking for Leslie & Larry to have lunch.  They were nowhere to be found; so I decided to finally get some lobster/melon gazpacho from the poolside restaurant (“Tastes”).  I ordered the big bowl; the anticipation was killing me.  It looked the same; but this was not the same.  I tried a few more bites.  It was very thick, salty & no hint of melon.  I suppose it was close to what normal gazpacho is like; but not their recipe.  I called the head waiter over & apologized for wasting this huge bowl of soup; but I found it inedible.  He went back & tasted it & agreed it was too salty; & in his opinion, they had failed to put in the melon & juice.

I ordered a small cup of the soup du jour, black bean w/ sour cream & scallions.  It was fabulous.  Wanting something more, I went to the salad bar & made a small salad & grabbed a cheeseburger w/o a bun at the grill.  Not anything like I was hoping for lunch; but at least I wasn’t going to starve!  I did a walk about again looking for L & L.  So, I planted myself on the shady side of the pool where we sat yesterday to read, hoping they’d find me.  I started getting sleepy; so I got up to come up & ran into them at the elevator.  They said they had been looking for me, hmmmmm.  Nonetheless, I chose to come down for a nap.

Tonight the 4 of us had reservations in Silk Road (Asian restaurant).  Harvey being the sushi expert usually orders a variety platter for us.  Larry & Leslie are kinda picky eaters; but H & I eat just about everything.  They bring out this huge sq. blue ceramic platter that takes up more than half the sq. table.  We had California rolls, spicy shrimp rolls, tuna/asparagus rolls, king crab/asparagus rolls, huge cornucopia maki rolls w/ tempura tiger prawns & spicy sauce.  We also had yellowfin tuna & salmon shashimi.  This was followed by a platter of shrimp & assorted vegetable tempura w/ a spicy dipping sauce.  My individual order was for an appetizer of broiled king crab meat w/ scallions topped w/ the spicy dip sauce (again).

For my main course I had (what had been a previous favorite) stir fried lobster w/ garlic, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, snap peas w/ a truffle yuzu sauce.  Harvey & I both agreed that there was something “off” w/ the recipe & that it wasn’t nearly as good as it has been in the past.  With the disappointment in the gazpacho this afternoon & the entrée tonight, I’m quite puzzled as to what is going on here.  We were told it’s the same chef as last year.  At least the meal ended on a high note for me…..2 servings of lychee sorbet.  I am stuffed.

Leslie wanted to make some special requests for tomorrow in the D.R., both lunch & dinner.  So, we went down to the D.R. & talked to our head waiter.  I noticed a few things that were on the D.R. menu tonight that would have been good.  So, I asked if he could get them to make it again for me tomorrow at lunch.  No problem.  It gets to be a game trying to come up w/ the wildest special requests just to see if they can do it.  You almost never hear “no”.  I had wanted to go to the movie (Bourne Ultimatum) at 10:30; but I just can’t stay dressed that long.  It’s 10 til 11; & they’ve just pulled up the last of the tenders.  We sail at 11 pm.  Even sleeping so late & having a short nap, it’s just such hard work eating & reading & talking…..I must get back to bed.   Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Crystal Serenity at sea 12/14/07

I had the most amazing night’s sleep; didn’t want to get up. And now a relaxing day at sea. Seas are about 6-7’; so it’s just the right amount of rocking. I rushed to the D.R. to get breakfast before they closed. I have been craving eggs benedict; but somehow forgot that when I ordered. On my very first cruise in 1968, I had kadota figs for breakfast. Coming from small town TN, that was just the most exotic thing I’d ever heard of. Well, it is a cruising ritual ever since; I must have figs at least once during every cruise. They’re still the same old canned figs in heavy syrup you can buy at home; but you gotta have ‘em. The asparagus omelette topped w/ creamy morel mushrooms caught my eye; it was delicious. Then I had to try Leslie’s favorite Crystal breakfast, peanut butter & jelly French toast. True, I don’t eat peanut butter; but these have the tiniest bit of PB spread on the bread before it’s fried. Served w/ some strawberry puree & a dollop of chocolate sauce. Divine!

Almost time for team trivia (10:30); so I made a stop at the Bistro to get my triple cappuccino (brain food). Everyone from our previous team showed up; & we came in 2nd. Where, oh where, do they get these trivia questions. What is the largest animal w/o a backbone? Giant squid. Who placed the first phone call to the moon? President Nixon (that was the easy one). The prizes are pitiful; we would want to win for the prestige only


Came back to the cabin to read until time for lunch (God forbid, I should miss a meal). I joined L & L who had started w/o me. Since it was a sea day, there was another themed buffet lunch around the “indoor” pool. It was Latin; & I was really wanting tamales. They had none. Bummer. So I had a big helping of hearts of palm (can’t get enough of that) & tried the purple potato & seafood (squid & baby shrimp) salad w/ apple Serrano chile vinaigrette. Believe me, the color was prettier than the salad tasted. I then had a small chicken enchilada & small beef fajita (both yummy). They usually have flan on this buffet; but for some reason today it was crème brulee (?) Never can pass up one of those; & this one had the thickest layer of crystallized sugar I’ve ever encountered. I tried to be good, only eating the crunchy part.

The weather was so perfect today; & we were able to find a nice spot in the shade where it was quiet. The 3 of us piled up in deck chairs engrossed in a book. The wind started to feel cool about 4:30 so it was time to come in. Leslie & I left Larry sound asleep in his chair. Here it is day 3 & I finally ran into my all time favorite crew member; deck waiter, Benjamin. He like everyone else here calls me “M’am Becky”. He is the best; & finally after 10 yrs. w/ this company, he was voted 2007’s Crystal employee of the year. Richly deserved. Each time I come onboard, he never forgets my name or that I like for him to mix a cherry coke out of the maraschino cherry juice jar they use at the ice cream parlor.

I laid down for a little while before getting ready for dinner. Tonight we (L&L, Harvey & I) had 7:30 reservations at Prego (Italian). There are so many fabulous things on the menu, you can eat there 3-4 times per cruise in order to get around to everything. We had them make a large plate of bruschetta. The 3 times we’ve ordered it, there has been a little something that’s just not right. One time it was almost like they’d topped it w/ a sweet relish; 2nd time they used shaved cheese on top (shouldn’t have any cheese). Tonight’s was very salty; but nice a garlicky. So we called the Head Waiter over & told him they just don’t make it like they used to. He said there are Filipinos back in the (Italian) kitchen! So, he went back & personally made an outstanding batch.

The chef sent out (as an apology) an appetizer of sliced morel mushrooms marinated & sautéed w/ a little cube of mozzarella & half a grape tomato garnish when little swirls of a thick balsamic vinegar reduction. Divine! I ordered 2 large seared sea scallops that were wrapped with strips of zucchini over a bed of pureed pumpkin. Followed by their signature cream of Italian mushroom soup which is served in a “cup” made from oregano flavored bread. Leslie shared some of her entrée w/ me which was the evening’s special; a thick grilled swordfish steak w/ a chunky salsa made from eggplant, tomatoes, papaya, capers & olives. I could have eaten a bowl of the salsa as a soup. My main course was the osso buco “Cremolata”, a huge veal shank braised w/ a ragout of mixed vegetables, tomato, porcini mushrooms & fresh herbs. It was served w/ risotto Milanese, which in essence was risotto in a mushroomy, cheesy sauce. Both were outstanding. I was so stuffed; & didn’t want to waste any of it. So, I had them wrap it up; & I’ve brought it “home” so I can have it (cold) for breakfast. For dessert, I had traditional favorite, crema di cappa (a small pot of coffee cream flavored custard w/ a little dollop of whipped cream & a chocolate covered coffee bean for garnish). It’s served in this beautiful demitasse cup, just the right amount to put a sweet taste in your mouth. I’m stuffed.

None of us had any energy to do anything but go to our cabins at 9:45. It takes a while to get undressed & unmade up, put your clothes away, read tomorrow’s activities, type this travel diary & finally going online to read my e-mail, read the Naples Daily News, & see what happened on The Young & the Restless today. The ship has been gently rocking all day long; should be good sleeping. Tomorrow morning we arrive in St. Barts for a 15 hr. stay. Until next time…..

Crystal Serenity in Grand Turk 12/13/07

Just as I laid down last night, the winds picked up & the seas were 15-18’. I could lie on my back & front but not on my side (without toppling over). I did manage to go to sleep; & amazingly woke up at 4:30 am when it began to calm down. Laid there for another 2 hrs. before I could go back to sleep. When the Capt. made his announcement at 9 am, he said we were going to be delayed further arriving in Grand Turk (probably 11:30). The skies had cleared up, seas were a little choppy; but the winds were still very strong.

I got e-mail from Dorn saying that it was too windy for the little puddle jumper planes to fly into Grand Turk; so he would not be coming onboard to visit. So I dressed; & went to the Bistro w/ my big thermal mug & had them fill it w/ cappuccino. Carried that up to Tastes (my favorite little restaurant by the “indoor” pool). They serve a late “order from the menu” breakfast. I had a delicious western omelet to which they added cubed potatoes & green olives (nice touch). Then I tried a half order of apricot French toast. French toast spread w/ apricot jam & served w/ cinnamon whipped cream & maple syrup. Awesome. Sat & read until our arrival in GRT.

Since I hadn’t on my previous visits been able to explore their new cruise terminal, I disembarked about noon to walk around. Thankful for the high winds since it tempered the scorching temperatures. The whole complex is made up of new buildings painted every pastel color you can imagine. Of course, there is the obligatory Little Switzerland store & several other lesser known duty free shops. There is a large (Jimmy Buffet’s) Margaritaville restaurant; & a beautiful stretch of beach w/ cabanas. Behind the restaurant is a huge free form pool for cruise ship passengers.

The Sea Princess pulled in right after we arrived; so the beach saw good use from the two ships’ load of Pax. I found a shady spot to sit & make quick (& expensive) phone calls to Dorn & then Michael. An hour later I went back onboard. Although it had been barely 3 hrs. since I’d had breakfast, I decided to have lunch in the D.R. before they closed at 1:30.

For starters I had a small salad that was made of tiny slices of grilled zucchini, baby eggplant & red peppers fanned out around the plate w/ little dollops of finely diced red onion/mint relish. The plate was beautiful; & whatever they marinated it in before grilling made it full of flavor. A big hit w/ me. I followed this w/ (believe it or not) cream of green bean soup w/ garlic croutons & a splash of dill flavored cream. Yummy. My main course wasn’t such a hit, however. Spaghetti Carbonara. It wasn’t bad; just not great. The big attraction was the use of real julienne strips of pancetta rather than crispy “American” bacon. But the meal was topped off by delicious cantaloupe/honeydew melon sherbet. True to form, Crystal still makes the most fabulous cream soups & homemade sorbet/sherbet (yes, I said the very same thing about Oceania Cruise Lines).

Stuffed & feeling like a nap, I held off & went to read in the Coffee Bar for a while in hopes of running into Leslie & Larry. No luck; so by 3, I laid down & took an hr. nap. I never ran into L & L. The last plans we’d made was to eat at the poolside café tonight for dinner. Since we were so late arriving today, the ship stayed in port an hr. later. So I lollygagged around til 6 to watch sailaway & listening to Satchmo sing “What a wonderful World” before going back to my cabin. I was stinky from the day’s heat, hair plastered flat to my head. I get back to find that L & L had left a message on my phone saying that instead of going up later to the café, they wanted to eat in the main D.R. 10 mins. from now. I had no choice but to cover up this morning’s makeup w/ more; pile on the perfume & go w/ flat hair (embarrassing).

I fussed at them for not giving me more notice; but all was soon forgiven when they said they had put in a special order for chateaubriand. I started off w/ a fabulous appetizer of a seafood enchilada w/ cheese, lime crème fraiche & heart of palm salad. Thought I’d give the Caesar salad another try, unfortunately it wasn’t any better than it had been 2 nights ago in Prego. I couldn’t pass up the bow tie pasta w/ tomatoes, roasted sweet peppers, zucchini, eggplant, garlic & fontina cheese; so I had an appetizer portion to go along w/ the beef. They were preparing cherries jubilee in our section; but since I’m not a fan, I passed on it. Instead I had orange-Compari sorbet; & Leslie & I shared something called a banana ice parfait. It was a banana flavored cross between mousse & ice cream shaped in a dome w/ little squiggles of caramel sauce. It had a strange consistency like whipped butter; I’m still trying to decide if I liked it.

Tonight was the Christmas tree lighting ceremony for the big 2 deck high tree in the atrium. The Captain was dressed like Father Christmas. And since Dec. 13th is the annual festival of lights in Scandinavia, there was a procession of costumed singers (snow ice angels) that paraded through the dining room singing a Scandinavian song. I don’t quite get the Scandinavian connection. Crystal Cruise Lines is owned by NYK, a Japanese shipping company. We run our clocks forward one hr. tonight; so I felt compelled to come on back & get all squeaky clean before climbing into bed to finish a book (that I started this morning). The seas have been manageable since we left GRT; so maybe the worst is over. I may not get rocked to sleep again for the rest of the cruise. Until next time…….

Crystal Serenity at sea 12/12/07

I was awakened to the sound of the Capt. over the PA system advising us about the weather.  Gale force 8 winds, 10-12’ seas.  He was closing off the open decks on the port side.  Because of “Olga” we were taking a different route on the northern side of the Bahamas in order to cut down on the strong wind blowing across the bow of the ship.  I was tickled that my little midship cabin was bouncing around quite nicely, thank you very much.  I made myself get up at 9:30.  Went to the Bistro (coffee shop)  for cappuccino.  They have a light breakfast buffet from which I had smoked salmon, croissants, tomatoes/cottage cheese & some fruit.  Quite healthy, don’t you think?  They have these tiny jars of jellies, amongst which I found “chocolate spread”.  Thought it was worth a try.  Put some butter & this spread on a croissant, divine!

I then rushed off to team trivia.  Only 3 teams participated; & we came in last.  Pretty sad.  From there I attended a lecture by former FBI criminal profiler/hostage negotiator, Clint Van Zandt.  Very interesting.  After that there was an informal get together of fellow passengers that hang out on the Cruise Critic message boards.  This was up in the observation lounge, top deck all the way forward.  I think a lot of people are a little sea sick because only 5 out of the 22 of us showed up.  We chatted for a while listening to a few bottles fall off the bar & crash on the floor.  It was really rough up there.  Except for a few brief showers the skies were partly cloudy.

A bunch of my C.C. friends & Leslie & Larry had lunch together in the D.R.  (There was an Asian buffet out on the pool deck & it leaves a little to be desired.)  I had a fabulous crispy vegetable spring roll w/ spicy chili sauce to dip it in, followed by some delicious cream of broccoli soup topped w/ toasted almond slivers.  For my main course I had hot pastrami sandwich (which I was craving) w/ a side of coleslaw.  It was a little disappointing.  A simply divine coconut sherbet for dessert.  The good thing about having early sitting dinner, is if you have a disappointing lunch, it’s not long til you eat again!

I spent the afternoon in the cabin on the computer (internet as always is quite slow) & started a trashy chick novel.  I laid down for a while; but the rough sea was keeping me from falling asleep.

Tonight was formal night; & Leslie decided that we would cancel our reservations in the Asian restaurant & go the main D.R. instead.  So, I start primping about 5 (dinner at 6:15).  In a little while Leslie calls to say she didn’t want to eat a big meal w/ the seas so rough; so they were going to order room service.  We are assigned a table for 8 w/ only the 3 of us sitting there.  So, I went to the D.R. looking for a table to join.  I asked if my friend, Harvey’s table had an empty seat; & it did.  So, I go sit w/ 7 really strange people.  Harvey didn’t show up for dinner.  Oh, well.  But I did have an interesting meal.  I started out w/ wild forest mushroom soup “cappuccino style” (which means they had a cream fraise froth on the top) followed by the Capt’s salad (exotic greens w/ mushrooms, bean sprouts & potato straws w/ a raspberry vinaigrette).  Also on the menu, but not of interest to me, was Claire oysters, which I’m told is the crème de la crème of oysters.  My entrée was the lobster tails (I asked for 2) w/ steamed asparagus (which are too thick & too crisp), champagne-honey braised cabbage (awesome) & the most divine truffle oil/leek risotto.  Dessert was passion fruit/champagne sherbet (another winner).  I was full; but not stuffed.  It feels weird leaving the D.R. at 8 pm.

But what I wanted to do most was come back to the cabin & read.  My stewardess, Paula, a darling young lady from Romania stopped me in the hall & wanted to chat.  She saw my (Oceania Cruise Lines) travel coffee mug on my desk; & she wanted to tell me that she used to work for Oceania.  We stood there & talked for at least half an hour, until such time as my evening clothes were becoming cumbersome.  So, here it is 9:25; & I’m ready to tuck myself in bed, read & rock myself to sleep. 

We’ve been advised that due to the winds, rough seas & change in our routing; we will be 2 hrs. late getting into Grand Turk in the morning.  My friend, Dorn, is going to fly over from Providenciales (weather permitting).  I must e-mail & tell him we’re going to be late.  Also heard that it’s supposed to be raining in the morning; but clearing up a bit by afternoon.  So, another day ends in the Crystal world.  More tomorrow.

Crystal Serenity Embarkation Day 12/11/07

Back by popular demand...

This story should start with my ride over to MIA. I was picked up at 9:30 by my Pakistani driver. A very nice man, who loves to talk. First thing I noticed was the strange route he was taking out of N. Naples. He traveled east on Immokalee Rd.; south on Livingston, west on Pine Ridge; south on Airport & then east on 41. Low & behold, he was going to take the E. Trail to MIA! What’s up with this??? He said, “Oh, it’s the most scenic & direct way to go.” Not necessarily that it was the most direct way to get out of Naples. Anyway, we’re trucking along & he mentions that he is, of course, Muslim. I proceed to tell of my travels to Istanbul; & my fascination with his religion. We get into a long discussion about Islamic extremists & how Osama Bin Laden is obviously dead (his opinion) & the US Government doesn’t want to admit this because then there would be no reason to continue the war on terrorism. Through the Everglades we go & then turn on 829 & 826 (or was it the other way around?). I told him I had never had someone take me on this routing. After 3 hrs. I had to say to him that if we had gone the way everybody else goes we would have long been at our destination. At least he got me here safely; if not late for my planned rendezvous with my friends, Leslie & Larry from Boca.

Had no wait lines; went right onboard & headed to the D.R. And as if I wasn’t having another deja vu moment, there sat L & L w/ our old friend, Harvey from Toronto. The circle was complete. We had a lovely lunch which consisted of an asst. seafood appetizer plate. There was baby shrimp cocktail, smoked salmon rosettes w/ chopped onion & capers & a small dollop of crab salad. For my main course I had (dark meat) chicken tenderloins, breaded & fried w/ rosemary sauce on the side, garlic mashed potatoes & asparagus. We're off to a good start!

We rushed through the meal in order to get upstairs to make extra reservations at the alternative D.R. There is always a long line to do this. We’re now holding reservations in both restaurants (Italian & Asian) for 8 of the 10 nights. That’s Leslie’s idea so we can decide at the last min. what type of cuisine we’re in the mood for; & can cancel the other one. Works for me. Since she has a long history with Crystal, they will let her get away w/ making more than the “allowed” 2 reservations per cabin. The rest of the afternoon was spend just sitting by the pool area catching up on stuff. I had my first cappuccino of the cruise; & much to my surprise it was not as good as it normally is. Remember last cruise when the capp. machine was broken most of the time? Well, they replaced it w/ a new fancier version that has a computer that takes the guess work out of the brewing process. It’s strong; & that’s about all I can say. Gonna work on this tomorrow & maybe get them to override the program & see if they can produce a good “human made” cup of joe.

We had reservations in Prego (Italian alt. rest.) for 8pm (which unknown to us was the exact time lifeboat drill was to take place). We stopped in & asked if we could come earlier; & they said no problem. So L & L, Harvey & I went at 7:15. As usual, we wanted everything on the menu. We had them whip up their special recipe of bruschetta; & then asked for an assortmentt of all the appetizers on the menu. They brought it out on this huge blue square ceramic platter mounted on a pedestal (similar to a cake plate). On this platter was lemon oil poached lobster tail medallions, Kobe beef & foie gras on white truffle flavored celeriac (a sort of celery puree), strips of grilled eggplant wrapped around roasted red peppers, zucchini wrapped sea scallops on pumpkin puree & prosciutto over catelope & figs. All fabulously delicious. I had a less than outstanding Caesar salad. We all sampled the ravioli filled with pumpkin, dried apricot sprinkled w/ a light dusting of nutmeg (interesting).

For my main course, as usual, I succumbed to the herb encrusted baby lamb chops w/ rosemary gravy served w/ garlic mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli & asparagus & sautéed spinach w/ garlic. Need I say more??? For dessert I had Bellini sherbet (just like having a frozen Bellini in Venice). Almost forgot, halfway through the meal, the announcement was made for lifeboat drill. We all looked at each other & looked around the restaurant & nobody was getting up to go. So, we were bad! We chose to ignore safety for the sake of our appetites. Hope we don’t get in trouble. By the time we finished the meal we had pulled away from the pier. I came back to the cabin about 9:30 & started my unpacking. Pretty soon we were crossing the Gulf Stream & the bouncing began. I crashed, hard. Was awakened about 3 am by the tossing. I knew it was going to be an interesting “ride”.

My new home & remodel from "HELL"! Part 2

While I was creating my "dream home" (albeit from hell), I thought I might as well replace as many things as my budget would allow.

I was dying for one of those French door type/freezer on the botton refridgerators.  Taking it one step further I replaced the washer & dryer w/ the new LG large capacity, high efficiency front loaders.  They are HUGE.  When I washed the first load, I thought it was defective.  There would be this little tiny shot of water, the tub would spin, another shot of water.  I couldn't even see that the clothes were getting wet.  But lo & behold, they clean perfectly w/ just the smallest amount of water.

Quite a lot of my existing furniture made the move w/ me.  I did need a new La-Z-Boy (moving the old one to the office/den).  I got rid of the old sofa, replacing it w/ a solid color linen w/ multi color pillows.

I replaced my mattress w/ the new ultra comfy Prana sleep system.

And I bought a new streamline designed entertainment system for the flat panel TV I bought 2 years ago.  Makes much better use of the L.R. space than the corner unit I had.  I'm still have a few blank spaces on the wall.  But for the most part, everything's done.  Everybody that's seen it seems to love it; so I must have done something right.  Was it worth all the sleepless nights, headaches & tears.  Jury's still out on that one.

I have the greatest painter/handy man in the world.  He's spent the past 5 months (off & on) working on projects for me.  He's repainted everything, using colors that are quite uncharacteristic for me.  He's installed a lot of organizational components for me.  He put in a retractable screen door between the garage & the laundry room so fresh air can flow through the house when it's cooler.  He scrutinized everything & gave advice on things I might want to fix/change while I was updating things.

Will I ever be finished?  Maybe when I'm dead & gone.