I have never been on an ocean cruise. I have set foot on cruise ships - twice - but neither of them have moved while I was on board. The first was the Queen Mary II, on a port call to San Francisco. The second was the Crystal Symphony, a handsome, 922-passenger vessel operated by the luxury line Crystal Cruises (www.crystalcruise.com).
My wife and I attended a media event on the ship last night, entering through the woebegone, drab Pier 35 facility that serves as a dreary gateway to a glittering city. San Francisco has been talking about building a new cruiseship terminal for years; better hurry.
The Crystal Symphony is well-appointed, with a guy tickling the ivories - that's piano-playing - while passengers and guests boarded near a waterwall in the hotel-like lobby and reception area. From there, a small knot of journos, spouses and partners set off on a tour. Built in 1995 and extensively redone in 2009, the ship has eight decks and seven restaurants. There are several appealingly snug bars, a library, a relatively large and unappealing (to this non-gambler) casino and a very large and beautifully appointed business center with dozens of Macs that is open 24/7. The ship is an upmarket offering for sure - pricey but with lots of options, including a cinema.
For me, the highlight of the evening was dining at The Silk Road, the onboard sushi bar and Japanese-cum-Peruvian restaurant run by Japan-born celebrity chef Nobuyuki "Nobu'' Matsuhisa. Appetizers were imaginative and savory, three kinds of fruit-flavored creme brules at the end were just sweet enough and not heavy, and the main courses in-between worked wonderfully. Our server was pushing a Nobu bento box, to encourage diners to sample a wide range of Nobu creations. I saw no need to go past his signature dish: succulent black cod with miso. It's no exaggeration to say it melts in the mouth.
Nobu is nothing if not widespread in his business interests - his Web site lists 23 restaurants, arrayed around the world. The Silk Road is his only restaurant on a cruise ship. Crystal Cruises definitely wins bragging rights for that coup.