Crystal Cruises – Magical Mediterranean voyage
Valletta – Monte Carlo on 31st October – 6th November 2015
Day 1 – embarkation, Valletta
After an early start but a short flight over to Malta, we arrived at around midday. A night pre-cruise would have been great in order to fully explore this historical city but alas, we had to make do with the glimpses from the taxi window. The transfer was arranged independently but it was a short journey and we were greeted from the taxi by Crystal representatives. The shore side staff were great, providing umbrellas for us on the short walk as we happened to get caught in a downpour, typical! Upon embarking, several members of staff were ready to greet the guests and accompany us through check in and to our staterooms – a lovely touch which ensured no confusion! We quickly had an excitable explore of the room, met our stewardess and then headed down to lunch at Tastes which had a selection of dishes in a more casual setting than the main dining room – between us we chose the classic cheeseburger and fries, oriental chicken salad, and noodle stir fry. We spent the afternoon exploring the ship as you do, until welcome cocktails with our wonderful agents, everyone was so excited and their first impressions of the ship and crew were outstanding. We were lucky enough to then go to the Captain’s Quarters for a welcome reception hosted by the man himself plus his senior officers – I understand this is done every cruise to welcome the embarking guests – but as we joined the cruise half way through there were a lot less of us (I think about 50 who embarked that day) so it was held in a more intimate setting. Dinner this evening was in the main dining room and I took the opportunity to try out the new modern menu – both menus were listed side by side so you could mix and match from either one but I ended up choosing three courses from the modern side just because I fancied the dishes! The main dining room for me, and as several of our agent companions commented, is somehow a formal yet relaxed dining experience. The cuisine and service is evidently ‘fine dining’ but the staff are so warm and affable that there is not an air of stuffiness or pretentiousness about it. Post dinner we made our way to the Crystal Cove which is one of the bars located just outside the dining room in the centre of the ship, generally here you will find a pianist or the string quartet playing, and often people dancing. Tonight, however, was Halloween and they had decorated this area lavishly with pumpkins and cobwebs, not to mention the band dressed in their spookiest costumes. The dance floor was packed with guests, many of them in full Halloween outfits and several spectators lined the stairs and balcony to watch the action – a fab evening!
Day 2 – at sea
After yesterday’s early start and late night, this day at sea was a welcome break and in fact we were very lucky to get a sea day on this short cruise – on the full 12 day cruise this was the only sea day so I’m glad we got it on our portion! We started the day with breakfast in the Lido cafe, this was our favourite breakfast venue as it is a relaxed buffet set-up with panoramic windows so really gives you the holiday vibe especially with the terrace area at the back. On offer here was everything you could think of: cereals, fresh fruit, cooked breakfast, omelettes, pancakes, pastries as well as teas, coffees and freshly squeezed juices. After a short sales meeting with our agents we had a relaxed morning by the pool, soaking up the sun and listening to the band (this was only for an hour so didn’t feel too intrusive). Even by lunchtime I was surprised how quiet the deck area was considering the weather and the fact everyone was onboard – perhaps this is down to the sheer choice of activities on offer. After lunch back at the Lido cafe, a Mediterranean themed buffet, we spent the afternoon testing out some of the onboard activities. Firstly there was a slot tournament in the casino, I didn’t take part in this myself but by all accounts it was a frenzy of rapid button pressing in order to try and get the most points in 5 minutes… An eye-opening experience dominated by the serious casino-goers! Next up, we tried our hand at watercolour scenes in the art class. The instructor took us though step by step using the different tools available to us and at the end of the cruise they had a little art display showcasing everyone’s work. The last activity we attended was the galley tour which was a brief overview of the kitchen preparation and cooking areas, I think this kind of ‘behind the scenes’ activity is really interesting to lots of guests onboard. This evening was the ‘optional black tie’ dress code and everyone made an effort, lots of people dined in the main dining room this evening and there were several photographers for formal shots. Attire was quite mixed, the majority of men wore a suit and tie but you would not feel out of place in a full dinner suit either. For ladies again there was a real mixture of cocktail dresses and full length dresses and the ambience onboard felt elevated with the formal theme.
Day 3 – Palma de Mallorca
After yesterday’s glorious sunshine, this morning we were met with a grey and drizzly Palma. As we had visited this port before we decided to stay onboard and try and squeeze in some more food in a couple of different dining venues. We revisited the Lido cafe for breakfast and afterwards sat on the pool deck again but this time tucked up in blankets! To try and warm up we visited the Jacuzzi and also the sauna. Even if you do not purchase a treatment in the spa, the sauna and steam room are available to guests to use as they wish as well as the fitness centre which is well equipped with machines plus exercise classes are offered on a regular basis. We had an early lunch this time in the Bistro which is probably my favourite area onboard. It has a cafe feel to it and here you can get your speciality teas and coffees to drink in or take away, plus a selection of treats to nibble on. It is open from 9am til 11pm but the food on offer changes throughout the day, so its hosts a continental breakfast buffet in the morning, changing into cold meats, cheeses, breads, cakes and more for the majority of the day, and then in the evening a chocolate fountain and decadent mini desserts take pride of place for those that still have room after dinner. This afternoon we got the opportunity to meet with the onboard sales consultant who kindly took some time out to show us a couple of alternative staterooms. On every cruise, availability allowing, they try to open a couple of different stateroom grades for guests to visit which is a great way for guests to see what else is on offer to them when they come to book again. We visited a Pure room, a Penthouse and Penthouse Suite. We also got to meet the cruise director, hotel director, and food & beverage manager who answered some of our questions which was so informative and helpful. Another dining option that we tested today was the afternoon tea which is held daily in Palm Court. This venue is perfect for tea with the panoramic views and the wicker chairs giving it a sort of conservatory feel. The tiny sandwiches and cakes were a perfect snack to keep us going until dinner which this evening was Tastes. I had been eager to try Tastes which is the casual dining option onboard as far as dinner goes, and it did not disappoint. The menu is a selection of global tapas style dishes, inspired by the Malibu restaurant Sapphire and our waiter was so friendly and knowledgeable that it was an overall amazing experience. Dishes included Singapore noodles, Cajun spiced swordfish, lamb kebabs, Californian street tacos and chimichurri steak all enjoyed under the soft lighting and foliage of the redesigned midship lido deck area.
Day 4 – Barcelona
Today was our first day in Barcelona and although we had two full days here, I wanted to make the most of it so we got the first shuttle bus from the port which dropped us a few blocks from the famous Las Ramblas street. Crystal try to provide shuttle buses in most ports of call where the town is not within reasonable walking distance and maps are also provided at the concierge onboard for guests who would like them. We chose to take a sightseeing bus tour which I think is the easiest way to see a lot of key sights of this city as they are not all within walking distance. On the tour we visited the famous Sagrada familia cathedral, the Parc Guell which has examples of Gaudi architecture set in extensive gardens as well as the magnificent museum of Catalan art. This evening we had quite an early dinner so we had to keep an eye on the time but as the ship was in overnight it was possible for guests to have dinner ashore and explore Barcelona at night if they wished. Our dining venue tonight was Prego, the Italian speciality restaurant onboard. Of course this is much smaller than the main dining room and it had a cosy ambience with low lighting and soft music. The staff were extremely attentive and explained the dishes and accompanying wines in great detail – I chose the beef carpaccio, caprese salad, and gnocchi with sausage ragout. I didn’t even have room for dessert but managed to squeeze in a couple of the petit fours which are delivered to the table at the end of each meal. Following dinner we enjoyed a local flamenco show which had come onboard from Barcelona. Unlike some of the other shows which are often performed twice so people can fit them around dinner, this was only performed once at 7.45pm between early and late dinner so the theatre was filled to capacity. We finished the evening by attending a show by the pianist and singer Mark Farris who is a common fixture aboard both Crystal ships and who will be entertaining the guests of our new yacht Crystal Esprit in December.
Day 5 – Barcelona
We woke up to an even hotter day in Barcelona than yesterday so again wanted to make the most of the good weather. However we did both of the main bus routes yesterday so I wanted to have a change of scenery. After a brief breakfast in the Bistro we took the shuttle bus to the drop off point and wandered in the opposite direction than yesterday, towards the coast. We spent about half an hour walking around the marina area, past the aquarium and eventually ending up at the beach where we soaked up the sun for a while before heading back. We had a late lunch at the Trident Grill which serves quick meals of burgers, fries, toasties and hot dogs and later in the afternoon I treated myself to an ice cream from Scoops ice cream bar – serving a vast array of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream with various toppings. I have to admit mine was probably more topping than ice cream! This evening we went to the final speciality restaurant onboard, Silk Road. This is the Japanese restaurant which also contains a sushi bar where guests can enjoy the delicacies while watching the Nobu-trained chefs at work. Our table was treated to a giant platter of expertly prepared sushi and sashimi – each piece explained by our waiter. We then ordered individual mains and desserts, I went for wagyu beef followed by a trio of crème brûlées which were exquisite and played to my love of all things miniature! This evening’s show was a great production called Across the Pond showcasing songs from British and American musicians which was a real singalong fest with everyone getting involved and costumes and choreography that wouldn’t look out of place on a West End stage. We left the show on a real high and it was great to be at sea again on the way to a different port of call after two days in Barcelona. We whiled away the final part of the evening in the casino on the slot machines as it is only open when the ship is at sea, and after losing our money we headed to bed!
Day 6 – Toulon
This was our final full day and I was up early watching our approach into Toulon which was nestled right within an enclosed bay of mountainous terrain. The journey in was great and this is my favourite part of the cruise – standing on the balcony watching the coast go by as we get to our berthing location. As we came into the bay, there were several naval ships dotted all along the coast which was quite intriguing and I kept my eyes peeled for a giant aircraft carrier called Charles de Gaulle which I had read about in the Reflections magazine the night before, but unfortunately there was no sign of it. We decided to have room service this morning and we used the provided request cards on which you mark what you’d like for breakfast and hang it outside the door by 3am. We ate on the balcony as it was quite warm again although by this time we had docked and our view was of a high rise block of flats so not quite as pretty as the views as we approached! After breakfast we headed ashore and this time as the town was within walking distance, there was no shuttle bus provided. The town is very small and easily walkable, we strolled along the main street through a bustling market and then round towards the naval base, through the old parade ground and had a quick nose through the fence of the base itself. Alongside, we visited the maritime museum which had a special concession price for people onboard Crystal Serenity, and although the museum was pretty small, it had a great selection of scale models of many of the ships that used to sail from this port as well as artefacts and artwork all accompanied by an audio guide. On our way back to the ship we walked along the marina which was filled with both tiny fishing boats and gleaming yachts with many cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops running alongside. Once onboard again, we had another late lunch in the trident grill – a chicken wrap and fries – followed by another trip to the ice cream bar… This evening we had our farewell cocktails in Palm Court which really is a lovely venue in the evening although always rather quiet; the band is usually playing and people ballroom dance here but perhaps not many people come as it is so far from the dining room! Our final dinner was in the main dining room and again I chose predominantly from the modern side of the menu with roast quail, pork with a bread crust, and lime trifle.
Day 7 – Monte Carlo, disembarkation
The previous evening we had packed our cases and left them outside the room so this morning was pretty stress free. I spent the morning taking a few snaps of Monte Carlo as it is a great port to be docked in and it was yet again a glorious day. We had been given instructions on which disembarkation group we were in and what time to meet in the Galaxy Lounge to leave the ship. Everyone was divided into groups relating to their post cruise plans, whether that be going to the airport on an early flight, a late flight, making their own way, staying in a hotel etc so everyone knew what they were doing. We had breakfast in the Lido cafe for one last time and our disembarkation time was 9.40am. After we got off the ship, we collected our luggage which was grouped on the quayside and were directed to our coach. We opted into the Crystal transfer which takes you to Nice airport, but as we were on a flight after 4pm, we were treated to a sightseeing tour as well so we didn’t get dropped at the airport too early. Our guide was amazing and spoke about the history of Monte Carlo as well as points of interest along the journey. We stopped at the tiny village of Eze and had an hour here to wander its steep cobbled streets then carried on through Nice, arriving at the airport at about 1pm. Coming back to reality was certainly a shock to the system, and although I don’t have much to compare it to, Crystal leaves a lasting impression in every aspect – cuisine, service, onboard activities, evening entertainment, and attention to detail. I’ve been well and truly Crystallised!