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Cruise Views

Service Is Harmony's Song in Alaska

July 01, 2001|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH

The 940-passenger Crystal Harmony makes going to Alaska so easy that it's no surprise it has numerous repeat passengers every summer.

First of all, the ship sails round trip from San Francisco, making it ideal for Californians who want little or no flying time to get to and from the port.

Second, with 11 years of cruise experience in Alaska, the line offers a pleasing 12-day itinerary, from a full day in Glacier Bay to the popular ports of Sitka, Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan.

And third, most important, its luxury and style is unmatched by any other large cruise ship sailing in Alaska.

Crystal's staff delivers what is arguably the very best service at sea. The professional service and teamwork are the result of ongoing training and a pocket-size card for each member of the crew that lists 30 basic rules of behavior. Any cruise passenger would appreciate them, especially Rule 5, "Never say 'It is not my job,"' and Rule 7, which says that anyone who receives a guest complaint "owns" the complaint until it is resolved.

We first heard about this "Crystal attitude" from Joseph A. Watters, president of the line since 1994, who recently announced he would be stepping down. On his watch, Watters saw the line consistently achieve cruising's top ratings and awards, and he was instrumental in paving the way for a third Crystal ship, which will join the fleet in June 2003.

The still-unnamed new ship will be slightly larger than the Crystal Harmony and the Crystal Symphony, carrying 1,080 passengers in its 68,000 tons.

During the Treasures of Alaska sailing in early June, Crystal Harmony passengers were treated to informative food and wine lectures by chef Alan Wong, owner of the award-winning Alan Wong's in Honolulu, and master sommelier Elizabeth Schweitzer, director of wine and spirits at the Beverly Hills Hotel & Bungalows.

Wong weaves flavors and techniques from his Japanese, Chinese and Hawaiian ancestry to create contemporary East-West cuisine. Schweitzer, a former chanteuse who has been voted best sommelier in California, has a refreshing way of dealing with novice tasters, encouraging them to talk about wines in their own terms, which makes them enthusiastic rather than intimidated.

Another well-known American restaurateur associated closely with Crystal is Piero Selvaggio of Valentino's in Los Angeles, who has created special menus for Crystal in the Valentino at Prego restaurant. We enjoyed pumpkin ravioli with browned butter and sage, a porcini-crusted fresh Alaskan halibut fillet, Italian cheeses with truffle honey and fig-nut bread and white chocolate espresso cheesecake on raspberry sauce. Valentino at Prego is open nightly by reservation on Crystal Harmony; there is no extra charge for the dinner, but there is a $6 per person surcharge for service.

Food is celebrated all around the ship. Special themed midday buffets--an American Feast, the Mediterranean-flavored Cuisine of the Sun and the Grand Gala Buffet--are set up in special venues with stage settings and costumed servers like a culinary Broadway show, while a special afternoon Mozart teatime is enhanced by a classical string trio and waiters in wigs, silk knee socks and tapestry frock coats.

An extensive refurbishment last year left the Crystal Harmony looking better than ever, with the four top accommodations aboard, the 948-square-foot Crystal penthouses, lavishly redecorated in rich tapestry upholstery.

Each has a long private veranda, separate living room with dining area and a bedroom with king-size bed. A round whirlpool tub is only one feature of the marble bathroom, which also has double sinks, toilet and bidet, walk-in closet and a separate half-bath for guests.

All suites on Deck 10 provide butler service throughout the day and evening. They include a 492-square-foot penthouse suite with veranda and spacious living room, and a 360-square-foot penthouse with veranda and sitting area. All cabins on Deck 9 and most on Deck 8 also have private verandas, while the remaining deluxe outside cabins have picture windows or large portholes.

The least expensive cabins aboard are the 19 inside cabins on Deck 5, which have twin or queen-size beds, tub and shower combination, mini-refrigerator, desk/dresser and sofa with coffee table.

Crystal's entertainment is always well received by passengers who dote on lavishly costumed, well-performed shows like "Million Dollar Musicals," "Rock Around the Clock" and "Cole," a musical salute to Cole Porter. The newest production on the agenda is "Excalibur," the musical centerpiece of a Camelot-themed evening that begins with a medieval dinner served by pageboys and a few of Robin Hood's merry men, backed up by dinner music from a trio in monks' robes.

The remaining Alaska cruises for this season depart July 8 and 20 and Aug. 1 and 13. On Aug. 25 the Crystal Harmony leaves from San Francisco for a seven-day sailing south to Acapulco, calling in Los Angeles on Aug. 26. This is followed by a cruise from Acapulco to New York that transits the Panama Canal, then an autumn itinerary in Canada and New England.

Fares for the seven-day San Francisco-to-Acapulco sailing begin at $2,355 per person, double occupancy, with an advance booking discount. Alaska sailings are priced from $4,720 per person, double occupancy.

To get more information or a free color brochure, see a travel agent, call Crystal at (800) 820-6663, or visit the Web site at http://www.crystalcruises.com.

Shirley Slater and Harry Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears twice a month.

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