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Panama Birthday Special

Author: nadge
Date of Trip: January 2008



A great place.

Travel to Costa Rica

We'd originally planned to go on this same cruise in November 2007 disembarking in Costa Rica. That would have meant an even longer journey home as it's another 5 ½ hour flight. Taking the advice of many CC members I'd arranged to arrive in Costa Rica the night before embarkation, just in case. We again Supershuttled from Manhattan to the airport, Newark this time, definitely even more of a bargain this time as the price was the same $133 including tip. No problems with the journey on Continental, arriving about 9:40pm. Costa Rica airport is very quiet and organized, immigration very quick with about 8 lines open at once to process everyone. Once outside however it's pandemonium. Lots of people scurrying around and shouting. I hadn't been worried about being met because I'd ordered two taxis through the hotel ($20 each) we were staying at (making sure that there'd be enough room) but with all the commotion outside I was glad when we saw a little fellow jumping up and down and waving a sheet of paper with my name on.

In the end one van sufficed, with lots of luggage on the roof rack. We drove off into the night and after about 5 minutes turned off the main highway onto dark, twisting, narrow, bumpy roads. We hadn't a clue where we were but the driver seemed to know what he was doing, and after about 25 minutes we arrived at the Hotel Casa Alegre in Santa Ana which is a small suburb about 10 minutes from San Jose. It's a hacienda type hotel with about 7 rooms ranged around a central swimming pool, and a very cosy lounge with a super-comfy couch. It's very reasonable at about $300 for 4 very nice double rooms including breakfast.

Now, I don't know about you, but I wouldn't expect ex-pat Brits living in Israel to know anybody in Costa Rica! Well, at about 12 midnight there's non-stop ringing at the gate of the hotel, and it's our cousin come to visit us. He'd just moved to Costa Rica for work about a month and a half previously from England, and his wife and kids had just come out 2 weeks ago. If we'd have known when we made the arrangements we'd have arranged for a longer stay in Costa Rica. It was surreal meeting him there like that. We chatted till about 2 in the morning. They all joined us for breakfast the next day before we left for the ship so that was a really nice way to start off embarkation day. For them it was quite sad because they don't know when they'll see anyone from the family next.

Like a child who has been waiting all year round for his birthday to come round again, I've been involved in this trip - planning, organizing, logistics, but mostly waiting impatiently for over a year and a half. Cruise Critic has kept me going during that time, with everyone's advice and experience, and cruising vicariously with you all. My turn had finally arrived. Has anyone ever been Crystallized before sailing on Crystal? I expect I'm the first!

Our taxi came back for us bang on the dot at 9:30 and by 10:00 we were all packed up and ready to go, our van bursting at the seams with the never-ending mound of luggage that we apparently need for 2 and a half weeks of travel.

The trip is very scenic and uses the Pan American Highway which officially stretches all the way from Monterrey all the way down to Buenos Aires. The road is very busy, full of cars and buses and an even larger quantity of huge trucks that haul Costa Rica's goods all over a country with no railroad. This means that we never make it over 80 kph the whole way with an average of about 60kph. (This is torture for someone who fancies himself as the new Nigel Mansell.) After what seems like an age we eventually see a sign pointing the way to Caldera. We're nearly there!

Check In

Suddenly we get our first glimpse of the ocean, and then the Symphony comes into view sitting proudly in port. Seeing the ship for the first time as we rounded a bend in the road was amazing. My camera is now working overtime of course. It was like when we were kids driving to Blackpool and the first to see the Tower would get sixpence (you Brits out there will understand). So much excitement after so much anticipation.

10 minutes later we're out of the van being handed yet more immigration forms to fill in by grumpy Costa Rican officials, who are flanked by helpful, smiling Crystal employees. Check in consisted of presenting your passport to another grumpy immigration man for stamping, on one side of a low hangar type building, whilst set up on the other side were stands with computers all emblazoned with the Crystal logo, staffed by smiling crew in sparkling white uniforms. Formalities took just 5 minutes, credit card details were passed over, passports were given in (quite a strange feeling but I had read that this is what happens), pictures taken for the room key, signatures signed and room key-card received, and the seven of us are having our picture taken for posterity in front of the Crystal Symphony posters.

From reading these boards for so long I was expecting the warm and genuine welcome we received, help with our bags, would we like to check in hand luggage whilst luncheon is served? But to be truthful, I was also wary of expecting too much. Perhaps everyone was exaggerating as to the completeness of the Crystal experience? Thankfully no. More than once over the cruise one of our little group would suddenly murmur "how did he remember that?" when a crew member would suddenly appear with a favorite treat.

We headed off to the dining room for lunch, with champagne of course. Just after we'd been seated a young lady comes up and asks which one of us is Nigel, so yours truly duly owns up. It turns out to be EitherOar who very graciously introduced herself and welcomed us on board. We got together later on in the cruise but I really appreciated that welcome. Thank you. Everyone else in our party was looking on in curious admiration - only 5 minutes on board and already being greeted!!

Anyway, this conveniently brings me on to a subject very dear to my heart - food.

Kosher Food and Crystal

N.B. I won't go into the ins and outs and definitions of kosher food here, but if anyone is interested feel free to reply or e-mail me and I'll go into it with pleasure.

A long while back, when researching this whole trip, I sent off a whole load of questions about cruises with kosher food. This is how I found out about Crystal's kosher-style dining. After a series of clarification e-mails with On Board Guest Services I was satisfied that this met with our requirements. I assumed that this definition of kosher-style was standard. When we arrived however, the ship had not been informed of the things we were expecting, but I am happy to report that after outlining our requirements they did their utmost to fulfill them. I would suggest to anyone wanting this option to be in touch with your TA to make sure that your requirements have been transmitted to the ship.

We had been expecting some sort of kosher menu - obviously much more limited than the normal one, but we just basically chose something suitable off the regular menu and had it done kosher. To make things easier we were shown the next day's menus during dinner and we made our choices then. That way the chef knew what was expected and what needed to be taken out of the freezer. Once things had been clarified our head waiter Miguel and senior waiter Alan took great care of us. We could only have kosher food in the main dining room, which is a shame because the other venues looked wonderful too, especially the breakfast buffet up on the Lido deck. My sisters said that Jade Garden was very good, but Prego was probably about the best meal they'd ever had.



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