Playing board games on the Wellington docks
THE CRUISE TOURIST
IN January I joined the 922-passenger Crystal Symphony in Sydney with my husband, Patrick, for a cruise around New Zealand.
From the moment we stepped on board and Gregor, our shining jewel of a butler, poured a welcome champagne, everything was bliss.
It was only in June last year that this ultra- luxe ship underwent a twoweek multi-million-dollar extreme makeover involving 1100 workers and we were delighted to see that the re- designed public areas are as chic and elegant as ever.
The top deck Palm Court is where we spent most of our time outside of Penthouse 1060. Someone said it evoked the glamour of Hollywood’s legendary Coconut Grove, which was decorated with artificial palm trees from Rudolph Valentino’s 1921 movie The Sheik.
During the day we read and snoozed in majestic wingback chairs that face the ocean for unparalleled panoramic views and at night it was the perfect place for pre-dinner drinks and romantic music.
In the afternoons the Palm Court rivals The Ritz in London for its extravagant teas served by whitegloved stewards.
Not that we could manage another morsel after an overindulgent lunch in the Crystal Dining Room. We came just for the sense of occasion, in agreement with Henry James who said, ‘‘There are few hours in life more agreeable than the ceremony known as afternoon tea.’’
We also ventured from being mollycoddled in Penthouse 1060 to have prelunch drinks by the Living Wall, a world map made up of many different plants, in the Trident Bar & Grill on Deck 11. This beautiful garden at sea has an automated irrigation system and is cared for by the ship’s florist.
Then there were evenings in the alternate restaurants, Prego and Silk Road, where there is no cover charge, in keeping with Crystal Cruises’ allinclusive policy.
Nibbling on a handmade chocolate from the Crystal Collection before lights out, I wished that these sea days could go on forever.
Before long, though, it was time to go ashore and in Wellington I made my usual pilgrimage to Kirkcaldie & Stains. This shopper’s paradise has been New Zealand’s premier department store since it was opened in 1863 by Scotsman John Kirkcaldie and Englishman Robert Stains.
It is at Lambton Quay, the end of the line for the courtesy buses that cruise companies put on to carry passengers between their ships and the city.
Laden with parcels we rushed out of K&S and on to a bus that was about to leave for the wharf. As soon as I see ‘‘my’’ ship in the distance, wherever I am in the world, I have the strangest feeling I am coming home.
And as we rumbled along, there it was, gleaming white and beckoning in the midday sun. Just in time, I thought, for an aperitif before lunch.
The security guard at the entrance to the wharf came on board to check our passports and the bus continued on to take us to the bottom of the gangway. Up the steps we went until we reached the embarkation deck.
We dutifully produced our identification key cards and handed them over to a friendly Filipino crew member to insert into the kiosk to record we were back on board.
He took a very long look, smiled and handed them back, saying, ‘‘Crystal Symphony.’’
‘‘Yes, that’s right,’’ I agreed. ‘‘We passengers on this ship.’’
‘‘No, no,’’ he insisted. ‘‘Crystal Symphony. Keys are for Crystal Symphony.’’
We were totally bewildered. Then we looked around. Crystal Symphony was further along the pier. We had inadvertently caught a Silversea Cruises’ courtesy bus. We were on board Silver Shadow.