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Of curry and Columbus, and a good way to get to America

March 13, 2013

Crossing the Atlantic Ocean used to be such an ordeal. Christopher Columbus, for example, took 70 days to get to the other side.

My recent cruise from Barcelona to Miami was on a similar track, steaming fairly close to Palos, the tiny Spanish port Columbus set sail from in 1492, but for me it was 12 days, and all calm seas and sunshine.

While I enjoyed retracing Columbus’s epic voyage, most of the 800 others on the Crystal Serenity probably didn’t care. One man told me he hated flying, his wife wanted to avoid jetlag, and a throng was there, it seemed, just for the bridge.

There was no doubt everyone enjoyed the discounted fares for what was a positioning cruise — in this case we were one of an armada of ships sailing west — mostly to Miami and Ft Lauderdale — every autumn, and the reverse in the spring. If you prefer northern latitudes, Cunard also does Southampton to New York, but that’s its flagship itinerary.

These cruises are lean on ports — just Tenerife and St Martin in our case — so the cruise lines bulk up on entertainment. Crystal Serenity themed the trip Big Band cruise and brought aboard the 17-strong Artie Shaw Orchestra. There were also half a dozen gentlemen hosts to dance with the ladies.

So no lonely nights then. But what to do in those sea days?

You’d be surprised, but just in case, load your ebook reader with favourites or classics you have been putting off. If you are doing this to please your partner and think this might be a cruise too far, bring War and Peace. On the other hand, Crystal Serenity has a splendid library including shelves of films for playing in cabins. You won’t find Titanic though.

Nearby is the computer room, once the orphan of the storm but now the busiest place on the ship after the self-service laundry. For that thank the iPad, as ubiquitous on board as sequins in the bar. Going on line at sea is not cheap, but nor is any satellite service, and the computer staff is efficient and friendly with both geeks and grannies.

Personally I like days at sea, when a ship can get into its stride and is freed from disruptions of docking.  I go to Lido deck aft for breakfast outside, and if my luck is in, sit at a table right at the stern with just a whisker between me and the ocean churning below as we spank along at 19 knots. If you love the sea and ships, this is a special place.

The breakfast buffet is amazing. It beats me that swanky hotels often seem to struggle with the idea of providing fresh fruit yet every morning Crystal Serenity serves up mango and strawberries, and never runs out.

Ten o’clock and time for the golf lesson. Fortunately Joe Herbert’s nets are just below. Joe, the golf pro on board, has a great setup with two nets and excellent clubs for free use. He is an accomplished teacher and his twice- daily classes were well attended.

An hour later I am in the Spanish class, where Nelson has an equally enthusiastic following. As that ends, the room quickly fills with passengers learning the keyboard. Are we having fun yet?

After all this we are ready for lunch, then a siesta.

My alarm gets me up for Lee Ellis’s lecture. You hear some good speakers at sea, and Lee is one of the best. Shot down over Vietnam, he spent five years in the prison known as the Hanoi Hilton and is now a motivator. We spent some time together on the cruise, as he did with others, and that is another benefit of a voyage like this (and a real voyage it is) you can really get to know people and make friends. Most are veteran cruises who have done the Med, Caribbean, Alaska and more.

Then I headed to the gym before sliding across to the spa for a massage.

As the sun goes down I take the cue and sink into the bath, something not found on an average cruise ship. The butler has pressed my white dinner jacket (it is a formal night). He is not without humour, saying his duties could include going to the gym for me.

We meet new friends for cocktails, a novel experience as Crystal now includes all drinks and wines. I like the two-sitting arrangement as we have the same window table and waiter every night. There’s also a willing head waiter who whips up a curry on request. And cherries jubilee.

In addition, Crystal has two bijou restos, the Italian Prego, and Silk Road, a work of art by Japan’s Nobu. Both were outstanding, and amazingly, offered at no extra charge.

Later, there is a proper cinema, a casino, shopping and of course Artie Shaw.

And so to bed, ready to do the same thing every day the whole way over.


Some guys ran all the way

Yes, there were two ports of call, but the ship is the thing, and the voyage, and thinking about Christopher Columbus whose heart was set on arriving in India. He never got the curry we had, but he found America.

From → Luxury Cruises

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