Travel: Surprises at Sea

  • Tara Aronson

Tomas, properly attired in a waiter’s white jacket and black tie, pauses graciously at his dinner guest’s left side and extends a silver platter of fresh-baked breads. The hungry diner’s response is somewhat less genteel: He grabs a warm wheat roll in his chubby fist and stuffs it in its entirety into his mouth.  

Fortunately, Tomas, the affably efficient cruise ship waiter, isn’t the least dismayed by his guest’s mealtime manners. Nor does he mind that this diner—whose food is being served on polished Elkington silver and Villeroy & Boch china atop fine Frette linens—is just 18 months old. The fair-haired toddler is waited on just as promptly and properly as the half-dozen adult guests accompanying him.  

Aboard the 940-passenger Crystal Harmony—renowned for its European hospitality and white-glove service—Tomas and the other staff members treat junior cruisers like princes and princesses, but in a deliciously grown-up fashion.  

The fact that Harmony, one of the world’s most well-appointed ships, is child-friendly is one of the best-kept secrets in the cruise industry. The toddler is among a half-dozen pampered tiny tykes and 46 junior cruisers (ages 3 to 17) aboard a recent 12-day Alaskan cruise. Yet there’s nary a word about the Junior Cruisers program in Crystal Cruises’ brochure.  

Why all the secrecy when the ship provides four youth counselors, all of whom are credentialed teachers or future teachers on summer break? “In the past, the company didn’t want to say anything about kids, though the ship was built with a kids’ room and we’ve always welcomed them,” says Harmony’s hotel director Per Nilsen, whose 3-year-old son has 40 cruises under his small but worldly belt. “Things have changed. We’re getting a younger and younger clientele, [especially] compared to five years ago.”

The 790-foot ship was built in 1990—before family travel exploded onto the luxury getaway scene—with only a small children’s room called Fantasia. The line has turned that liabil-ity, however, into an asset. Instead of having just one room filled with toys to entertain children, the entire ship has become their playground. Crystal kids enjoy such royal treats at sea as backstage show tours, a children’s-only ventriloquist performance, cookie baking and marzipan frog making with the pastry chef, and a bridge tour with Capt. Egil Giske. Port days—in Victoria, Vancouver, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, and Ketchikan on the Alaskan Majesty cruise—usually begin with a family-friendly adventure such as white-water rafting, mountain biking in the rain forest, or salmon and halibut fishing.  

At night, Harmony’s entertainment appeals to both the young and young-at-heart. The playful parrot of veteran ventriloquist Gary Hunter and the flawless performance of gifted Chinese dulcimer musician Xu Pingxin exemplify the caliber of entertainer aboard a Crystal cruise. In fact, only the nightly family gatherings amid the rich wood, brass, crystal chandeliers, and floor-to-ceiling windows in the Crystal Dining Room are more pleasurable. Tomas assures this by discovering the adventurous toddler’s food favorites early on: Cognac-dill marinated Norwegian Gravlax and assorted fresh fruits on ice, which await his arrival each evening.  

Crystal Cruises, 800.820.6663, www.crystalcruises.com

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