Sushi, Sunsets and Sailing on Symphony…

Having never been on a cruise before, the thought of embarking a 51,000 tonne vessel bobbing around in the middle of the ocean has always made me slightly nervous. Will I get sea sick? Will there be enough for me to do onboard? Will the entertainment be cheesy and typical ‘cruise ship’ shows? I was certainly proved wrong with all of my concerns because I discovered just why Crystal Cruises really is the World’s Best Cruise Line…

Day 1 – Dublin

As soon as my taxi pulled up to the end of the gangway in Dublin, my Crystal experience started. There was a friendly bellboy waiting to take my luggage, and as my ticket was scanned off the bell boy went with my bags. I was then greeted by the reception desk staff who gave me a very warm welcome onboard the Crystal Symphony.

When I arrived at my stateroom (deluxe stateroom with picture window – cabin 8100), the bellboy had left my suitcases on my bed ready for unpacking.

After a morning of travelling, I had certainly worked up an appetite. I just wanted to eat somewhere nice and relaxed and nothing too fancy. Trident Grill was perfect. From steak sandwiches to sweet potato fries, the menu was full of delicious grilled options. Now I just had to choose one! I went for the hotdog with fries and was not disappointed.

With the retractable roof for sunny days (unfortunately not Dublin) and the ‘living wall’ which is a world map made from live plants, the Trident area provides a comfortable place to sit with a relaxed atmosphere to match – perfection.

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Although it was a little chilly, we decided to sit out on the pool deck. There were plenty of blankets available to cocoon yourself in. Just minutes after we’d chosen where to sit (there are so many different types of chairs so it did take a while), we were approached by a very friendly waiter who asked if we wanted anything to drink. I went for a strawberry daiquiri which was lovely. I could tell it contained premium spirits and what made it even better is that it was at no extra cost!
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Enough relaxing – it was time to explore the ship and being a runner, I had been really looking forward to running around the Promenade Deck (deck 7). People had pre-warned me how much you eat on cruises so I thought I’d start as I mean to go on. It was great to find my bearings outside the ship and I even came across an outdoor gym area! I also found my lifeboat for my muster drill at 6pm that evening, which was very easy to find as I had been given all the information at check in.

Delivery of the ‘Reflections’ newsletter to my stateroom each evening had a large impact on my time onboard. It was a simple yet vital tool which alerted me to all of the great activities happening both onboard and ashore the next day so I didn’t miss a thing.  From Beginners Bridge sessions to Golf clinics held by a PGA golf teaching professional my hardest decision onboard was what to do next!

We had a reservation for dinner in the Crystal Dining Room at 8:30pm (late dining sitting) and therefore went to see the 7:00pm showing of tonight’s show – Imagine. The Galaxy Lounge is a beautiful show lounge with glass drinks tables, plush red seats, tasteful golden curtains and a sloped floor so you have an excellent view of the stage from wherever you choose to sit. Imagine is a show by iLuminate which took place in a pitch black room and all you can see is the 30 minute magical love story told through dance and light up costumes. With a variety of music and dance performed throughout, the show really is something everyone can enjoy. There was even a meet and greet opportunity after the show where you could meet the dancers and get a close up look at their light up suits!

After the show we headed to the Crystal Cove to watch the Galaxy Orchestra. We arrived slightly early so we took at seat and were promptly greeted by a member of staff offering us a drink. Before long the orchestra began their ‘Dixieland in the Cove’ performance and WOW.  I found myself absolutely immersed in the performance and as I looked around everyone had a foot tapping or head bobbing along to the music as it echoed through the beautiful acoustics of the atrium.

Blog pic 3Sadly the band finished and it was time for dinner.  Our waiter introduced himself to us and handed us a menu. I felt completely spoilt for choice as there were two menu options – modern or classic cuisine. I ordered from the classics menu. I chose the Beetroot Cured Salmon from the Appetisers menu, as a main course I had Steak Mermaid which was grilled fillet Mignon and Sauteed Prawns (the biggest, juiciest and tastiest prawns I have ever had!) and for dessert some chocolate ice cream. The dishes were simply fantastic and like nothing I have ever eaten before. The exquisite flavours and excellent service blended together to create the ultimate dining experience.

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Day 2 – Belfast

It was a great feeling waking up in a new city when I hadn’t even left my bed (with 100% Egyptian cotton sheets it was hard to leave). I love that I unpacked once for the duration of the cruise. No packing to move hotels to experience a new city – that’s the beauty of cruising!

My first breakfast onboard was in the Lido Café which is one of the more casual dining options onboard. The counters were bursting with glorious food presented with such detail some of it didn’t even look real! From croissants to doughnuts and Frosties to fresh omelettes – the choice is completely yours.

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After a hearty breakfast and some great speciality coffee we took the shuttle bus into Belfast and has a look around some of the shops and saw Belfast City Hall. We navigated around Belfast using the complimentary local map from the Shore Excursions Desk onboard. The shuttle bus then picked us up and dropped us back to the ship.

We noticed in Reflections that Lido Café were holding a casual dining sitting and after a long day walking around in Belfast this was appealing. The atmosphere in Lido Café in the evening was very different to the busy morning breakfast. With only a small number of guests and candle lit tables while sailing out to sea, it was tranquil. To start I had prawns, for main I had a bolognese dish with tomato and mushroom topped with garlic bread and a fruit salad for dessert.

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Full from dinner we headed for the Galaxy Lounge to watch ‘Route 66’ which is a Motown show jam packed with singing and dancing. It was fabulous! It was prominent just how hard the singers and dancers onboard work to ensure an excellent show for all guests to enjoy. They make the singing and dancing look totally effortless and there wasn’t a foot out of line! We were served cocktails at our seats by the waiters which was great too. The waiters would often remember your name and what your favourite drink is, which creates a very special, personal cruise experience.
Whilst sailing on this beautiful evening I saw my first sunset at sea. It is something I have dreamed of since I first started working in the cruise industry. Seeing the sunset reflecting onto the calm seas is something you can’t get anywhere else in the world other than from a cruise ship – and what better one to experience it on than the Crystal Symphony?
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After the show we headed for Avenue Saloon as I was keen to experience the lounge everyone expresses so much love for. It did not disappoint! We found some seats at the bar and ordered some cocktails which were ready in seconds. The pianist – Daniel Davies – was playing fantastic cocktail music. The atmosphere was just right. Guests were up on their feet enjoying the beautiful music in the Avenue Saloon which boasts character and charm.

Crystal Symphony has a great atmosphere in the evening. It’s is not busy or crowded, but it’s just a vibe that fills the ship. You can tell on everyone’s faces how relaxed they are and how much they are enjoying their cruise.

We then decided to take a wander to Palm Court as we had not yet been here. The Ruby Bamboo Trio were playing. They are made up of one pianist, a vocal singer and a guitarist. The songs were brilliant and created such a relaxing vibe for easy listening. The Ambassador Hosts were dancing with guests as they all enjoyed the music. The large windows meant you could get comfy in one of the beautiful white chairs and watch as we sailed through the North Sea.

Day 3 – Portree – Isle of Skye

We woke up to a beautiful view as I opened the curtains. It was clear we were in a quiet and unique area of Scotland and I couldn’t wait to explore it. After breakfast in the Lido Café we went down to Deck 4 to catch a tender to land. The experience was great as there was no waiting around. The tender was there waiting for us.

We disembarked the tender and had a wander around Portree. There were some beautiful pastel coloured houses as we walked away from the gangway. We grabbed some lunch and even found a cinema where we watched a film. I loved all of the Scottish shops selling tartan and shortbread!

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In the evening we went to the Galaxy Lounge to watch Kai McKenzie – the UK’s most authentic Michael Bublé representation. It was his first performance onboard Crystal and the audience loved him. We were all singing and clapping along to the music and it really felt like we were watching Michael!! He had Michael’s mannerisms down to a T. What a great first performance – we didn’t want it to end! Of course we enjoyed the performance with the cocktail…

We were tired after a long day ashore so decided to take advantage of the 24 hour room service facilities. We had a browse of the menu, ordered and the food arrived within half an hour. All condiments were delivered and the food was still fresh and hot. We then watched a film which we rented from the library. There is a great selection of both modern and classic films to choose from, along with thousands of books.

Day 4 – Kirkwall – Orkney Islands

I decided to go to the Nordic walking on water class at 7:30am on Promenade Deck 7. The fitness instructor showed me how to use the poles in the correct way and off I went doing laps of the deck! You can walk 360 degrees of the deck with no interruptions. I was also on deck just as we were pulling into Kirkwall which was great to see.

Breakfast was in the Lido Café today – can you tell this was my favourite breakfast venue yet?

We were docked so there were no tenders in Kirkwall, there were shuttles into the town centre instead. There were some small boutique shops dotted around the small town square. We had a walk around the Cathedral, museum and some ruins. For a small town there was surprisingly a lot to see! It was great to learn about some of the history of Kirkwall too.

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Once back onboard I went on a Galley Tour. It so interesting to see what goes on behind those delicately presented dishes and pastries you can see in various venues around the ship. They galley was spotless and very organised – which is key to delivering the excellent cuisine onboard.

Tonight’s reservation was in Silk Road, which I was most excited about and had exceedingly high expectations for simply because everyone had told me just how amazing it is. Having never had sushi before I asked the waiter what he would recommend, and seeing as all of the staff are Nobu trained, I knew he would know best. He recommended the spicy tuna roll and it was great. Presented so well in front of me it looked too good to eat!

Next I had the wagu beef steak. I don’t think anything will ever compare to how this tasted. It was like nothing I had ever eaten before and I ate it slowly to savour every last bite of flavour. Wanting to try a bit of everything, I had been recommended to try the Nobu Box on my first visit to Silk Road. This was made up of rock shrimp, blackened cod and yet more wagu beef steak (not that I minded) and a side of white Jasmine rice. Finally, for dessert I chose the chocolate soufflé cake with sesame ice cream. It was small and perfectly formed!

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Showtime! Tonight’s production was called 5, 6, 7, 8 which was performed by the singers and dancers onboard. From street dancing to contemporary dance – there was a huge variety of music and dancing that contributed to the performance. Each evening I was blown away by the entertainment and the extent of practise and dedication that drives each performance.

Day 5 – Edinburgh

After a hearty breakfast in the Lido Café we left the ship to explore Edinburgh. Docked in Rosyth, there were two shuttle busses available – one going into Edinburgh and one for Rosyth town centre. Having never been to Edinburgh before I was desperate to explore. As we disembarked the ship and walked down the gangway we were greeted by a lady playing the bagpipes which was great – what a wonderful and traditional welcome into Edinburgh.

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t on our side because it was raining, but this didn’t stop us going to see Edinburgh Castle and the Hollyrood Palace! What beautiful buildings – full of character and attached with so much history. With the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on the horizon, the city was very busy and had a great atmosphere.

We caught the last shuttle from Edinburgh back to the ship and decided it was time for a DVD from the library and a takeaway hot chocolate from The Bistro before bed.

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Day 6 – Edinburgh

After breakfast I decided to sit out on deck with a blanket and relax for a couple of hours. The majority of guests were off exploring Edinburgh so the ship was even more quiet than usual. I enjoyed some time tucked away getting lost in my book while enjoying some fresh air.

Although I was on this fabulous six-star world class ship – unfortunately washing doesn’t wash itself. So it was time to make use of the self-service laundry rooms. No need to bring your own detergent – it’s all there for you and there is no extra cost to use the laundry facilities. There was a number of washing machines and tumble driers vacant for use so I didn’t have to wait. There were also ironing facilities available too.

Dinner was in the Crystal Dining Room and as we had dined in here a few times by now our waiters had begun to get to know us. They would ask us how our day was and what we got up to, and were brilliant when you asked questions about the dishes on the menu. I chose a chilled seafood cocktail (if you haven’t gathered by now – I love prawns…) to start and for my main course I went for the pasta speciality from the Crystal Classics menu – Linguine Pasta served with forest mushroom creamy sauce and parmesan cheese. For dessert I had strawberry cheesecake ice cream – delicious!

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Post dinner cocktails were in order so we went to the Starlight Lounge while we waited for our show time to creep up on us. I loved that there was so much choice when deciding where to spend the evening. There was no need to stay in one place as there are so many lounges all with different music to discover.

I was really excited about tonight’s entertainment as I am a big fan of the West End show – The Lion King. When reading Roger Wright’s profile in ‘Reflections’ I discovered he was the first ever adult Simba in the West End Show. He had then progressed through his career in music and was runner up on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ITV show ‘Superstar’. I had high expectations for his performance as I knew he would have an exceptional voice. As soon as he came on stage the whole audience was singing and clapping along to his variety of songs. His brilliant stage presence and audience participation made the performance intimate and personal. He spoke about his career and time working on a West End smash hit musical which was fascinating. As expected – he sang ‘Circle of Life’ from the Lion King and it was truly magical.

Feeling elated and having thoroughly enjoyed tonight’s performance, we finished the evening in the Cove listening to Gordon Porth playing the piano with a glass of champagne.

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Day 7 – Sea Day

I was excited about spending the day at sea because it meant I could truly immerse myself in the ship and all of the activities on offer – of which there were many. The sun was out when I peered out of my window, but unfortunately by the time I got to the pool deck with my book it was long gone. Although I still sat for a while enjoying the gentle movement of the ship.

I decided to go to a lecture on the Tower of London which I found very informative for guests especially as the next stop was Tilbury, and many guests were heading into London for the day. The lecturer was enthusiastic and clear, with a great presentation full of images. This took place in the starlight lounge.

I’ve always been a terrible dancer and definitely have two left feet but nevertheless I wanted to go to a dance lesson. It was with Leighton and Jo who were dancers onboard. They made the dance very simple and I danced with an Ambassador Host as I didn’t have a partner. I had great fun and felt really comfortable.

As I was already in the sporty mood I went for a run around the promenade deck. I didn’t realise just how windy it would be out at sea which made it a bit of a battle, so I spent most of the time stood at the aft of the ship just watching the water ripple from the engines.

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This evening was black tie optional and with this came a fabulous atmosphere onboard. The entertainment for the evening was an Elton John tribute act by singer/songwriter Elio Pace. Just when I thought the entertainment couldn’t get any better – it did. He sang some Elton John classics such as ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘Bennie & the Jets’ which had everybody singing along. His musical talent and breath-taking voice had the entire lounge on their feet as he bought the room alive with his infectious smile and passion for the music. His performance had such an effect on us and we enjoyed it so much we visited his website and purchased tickets see him in concert at Leicester Square Theatre, London, this September!

Our penultimate meal was in Silk Road and I was only too happy to dine in here again. We decided to have a number of sushi and sashimi platters to try a variety of dishes. We had spicy tuna rolls, California rolls, salmon sashimi, eel, and yet more tuna sashimi. I could just about eat a main course after the hearty platter but I was desperate to try some lobster. It was beautiful!

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Day 8 – Tilbury

Hooray…the sun was finally shining! After my pancakes and maple syrup in Lido Café we headed straight down to the pool to make the most of our last day onboard, and the sunshine we had missed all week. Although it was a lovely day the pool deck wasn’t busy. I went for a dip in the pool and simply relaxed. For lunch I had a burger from the Trident Grill which was bought over to my sunbed by the lovely staff and, well it would have been rude not to have a cocktail on our last day…

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Once packed, it was time for our final dose of Crystal entertainment. To our delight – it was Roger Wright and Elio Pace performing together! Having been friends for years, they decided to collaborate and perform as one. What a performance! Every guest in the Galaxy Lounge was smiling and you couldn’t help but bob your head and sing along to the wonderful live music being played in front of you. The Galaxy Orchestra simply amazed me at each performance, but especially this one as we discovered they could sing too – is there anything they can’t do?!
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