I must confess: I am not much into cruise ships. Don’t get me wrong, as a child I was addicted to the celebrity-studded Love Boat as it sailed each week to exotic-sounding ports of call like Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. Everyone dressed for dinner, had all their problems sorted in under an hour, and nobody ever seemed to wait in line for anything. It seemed like such a civilized way to vacation. Of course that show was the ruination of cruising as I had always imagined it, too. Suddenly everybody in America wanted to jump ship and welcome aboard love. Cruise lines started tripping over themselves to build bigger, bolder ships, with substantial passenger capacities. The era of the mega ship followed not too far behind. The trick was to make travelers believe that quantity equated with quality. (In retrospect, the 1990’s were a big buffet – perfectly tailored to meet America’s growing obesity epidemic.) In the year 2000, Celebrity launched the ship Millenium: its main selling point was comfortably holding 5,000 passengers. I spent a tortured, claustrophobic night on that boat when it docked in New York and I knew then and there that cruising would never be for me.
So I found it amusing that I was invited on board the Crystal Symphony for lunch last week while it docked in New York for the day. My friends who have been known to indulge in a cruise or two spoke of Crystal’s ships in reverent tones of adoration, however, making me think it might be about time for me to reevaluate my decade-old prejudice. What I discovered surprised even me.
There’s a reason Crystal is consistently ranked as the “World’s Best Cruise Line” – this ship is really a floating five-star hotel. Spacious rooms with Murano glass sinks and Frette linens instead of the standard miniscule bathroom and scratchy blankets; a guest-to-crew ratio of less than 2:1, gourmet dining options like Nobu and Selvaggio; a Feng Shui-inspired Elemis spa; the driving range, putting green, and on-hand PGA pro; and a grand staircase that wouldn’t look out of place on the Pacific Princess. The difference between this new reality and my preconceived notions was, pardon the pun, crystal-clear. This was how I always imagined life on board a ship could and should be: tranquil.
Come 2011 I wouldn’t be so surprised to find myself at sea. And happily so.