Farewell to a Friend 12-16-2005

The Harmony leaves Crystal’s fleet

By: Harry Basch

Boarding the Crystal Harmony in Los Angeles and seeing Mary Tyler Moore in the lobby was “deja vu, all over again.” I had been on the inaugural cruise in 1990 from Los Angeles when Moore performed her Godmother duties at the ship’s naming ceremony. In those days it was called a christening ... remember?
I remember I had first heard of Crystal Cruises back in 1988 at a press conference in Los Angeles at which a few Japanese representatives of Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK), the parent owner of the new line, announced the formation of this venture. There was no ship at that time, just a painting of what was to come. Most of the journalists nodded politely and came away with an attitude of “show me the ship.”

A year later, I joined a group of journalists invited to see the new ship under construction in Nagasaki, Japan. The shipyard was in stark contrast to European shipyards. Everything was neat and organized. We wore white jumpsuits, metal construction hats and white canvas booties over our shoes. The interior of the ship was still unadorned steel, gray and cold, and did not give off any indication of what the final result would look like. As we toured the ship we were instructed to stay on the plastic runners that snaked through the corridors and public areas. When I stepped off to get a better angle for a photo, I was politely lifted back onto the plastic.

The ship had no name in those early days and a contest among travel agents produced the winning entry: Crystal Harmony. The winner was awarded a cruise and a Rolex watch.

The first gala sailing took place in 1990, a northward cruise from Los Angeles to the waters of Alaska. That inaugural journey raised the standards of large-ship luxury cruising to a new level that would always be identified with Crystal with attractively appointed cabins with balconies, more deck space per passenger than any other ship, quality food presentation and service earning the highest ratings from cruise writers around the world. This all came to be known as the “Crystal Attitude” which was the result of intensive training and motivational tapes and videos comparable to the world’s top hotel schools.

Through the years, Crystal became known for its attention to passengers’ desires. The stories of the line catering to the whims of its clientele are endless, and it all started with Crystal Harmony.

The Harmony was the first cruise ship to offer more than one alternative dining venue. Prego, an intimate dining area on a top deck overlooking the sea, and Kyoto, with its excellent Japanese menu of sushi, sashimi, fish and beef, soon became passenger favorites. Contrary to today’s trend, there was no surcharge at the restaurants, only a nominal gratuity.

From the beginning, Crystal Harmony was a dressy ship with two formal nights on a seven-day cruise and more on longer cruises. I for one will always remember the lobby with the golden statues that I called Fred and Ginger, waltzing before the crystal fountain to the music of the crystal piano. Crystal Harmony had a style all her own, and that’s why I was filled with nostalgia as I boarded the ship in Los Angeles this past fall, some 15 years after that inaugural sailing.

This time, she was beginning a series of farewell cruises to the Mexican Riviera. The ship is leaving the Crystal fleet and joining that of her Japanese sister company, Asuka Cruises, in 2006. After

a multi-million-dollar renovation, Crystal Harmony will emerge as the Asuka 2, marketed primarily to the Japanese.

“It was a bittersweet decision for us,” said Crystal Cruises spokeswoman Mimi Weisband. “You have to remember that in 2006, the ship will be 16 years old, and we have to stay contemporary.”

Weisband added that Crystal has been inundated with letters from travel agents and passengers, especially those on the West Coast, who were distressed to hear that the Crystal Harmony is “moving on.”

“People have such fond memories of that ship, and they’re sorry to see her go,” said Weisband.

I share the sentiment.


2006 Season: Crystal Cruises is gearing up for an exciting 2006 with its two ships, the Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity calling at many new ports. A record number of passengers have already booked full passage on the line’s 11th annual world cruise. And Crystal a leader in theme cruises will offer a total of 34 different theme cruises in 2006. Theme topics will range from food and wine to golf.