By Ian Keown
“This was a wonderful opportunity to get up to speed with my computer skills,” exclaims Boston-based lawyer Jay Grayson, enthusing about his private software lessons — aboard a cruise ship, of all places.
For Robert Jayson and Lynne Grayson, having access to computer lessons was an important consideration in whether or not to take a cruise. Grayson heads up his own law offices but considers himself “a dinosaur” when it comes to technology. “I plan to take a private lesson every day — and surprise my team when I get back home,” he tells me on the second day of an 11-day cruise aboard the sumptuous Crystal Symphony, “Christine is a genius.”
The genius in question is one of a cadre of three dozen computer instructors on call for Crystal Cruises Computer University@Sea. This 14-year-old program is available on each of the line’s two ships, the 940-passenger Crystal Symphony and the 1,070-passenger Crystal Serenity; in the case of the Symphony, which my wife Susan and I boarded for a Caribbean/Panama Canal cruise, it consists of a dedicated classroom with 25 Dell 27-inch monitors for students. Each cruise offers a selection of free and private courses during days at sea and on this Canal cruise the courses included Introduction to Computing, Digital Photography, Basic Excel Spreadsheets, Perfecting People in Pictures and How to Research Stocks.
Being something of a dinosaur myself, I had planned to tackle a few of these free courses to brush up my own sketchy skills and had assumed (like many others, I suspect) that since no one goes on a cruise to take computer lessons I could wait until I boarded to choose my topics and hours. Wrong. By the time I had checked into my stateroom every class had a waiting list.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people seem to sneak off here to learn computing skills,” Christine tells me. “We get a mixed group all the time. Some have lots of experience with a particular program but want to try out new software; others have only basic skills and just want to be able to communicate with their children and grandchildren.”
Looking around the group gathering for a lecture on Working with Files and Folders, I could understand her point – these eager students included singles, couples, clusters of ladies traveling together, at least one family of four with teenagers and others who looked like brokers, doctors or lawyers (passengers with high public profiles often have their lessons in the privacy of their suites – room service tuition).
The Crystal Computer University@Sea complex also incorporates a 15-station cyber room with internet access round-the-clock (and savvy – but oh-so-patient! — attendants, on duty from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.). Most parts of the ship are Wi-Fi zones, staterooms have Internet access, passengers can set up a direct shipboard e-mail address, receive messages by Blackberry and, once the ship is beyond the 12-mile limit, receive telephone calls on the ship’s state-of-the-art satcom systems.
A FLOATING BOARDROOM
There are times, in fact, when the Crystal Symphony seems like a glorified executive suite at sea, with a few extra perks you probably don’t find at head office. The ship’s team of concierges (full-fledged members of the international Clef d’Or society) becomes surrogate personal assistants and the 491-square-foot Penthouse Suites come with personalized stationery and butlers who can be godsends when inviting newfound friends (or newfound potential clients) over for cocktails. There’s even a seagoing version of the executive dining room, the elegant, wine-lined oasis called the Vintage Room, where executives can host private evenings of wine tastings with matching cuisine. And how often do executives get to travel with a private medical center on call around the clock? One of Symphony’s briskly professional registered nurses told me: “On our last weekly drill I made it from the hospital to the Lido Deck in three minutes 92 seconds – lugging all my emergency response gear.” Five floors in under four minutes – ‘way faster than midtown traffic! Crystal Symphony’s medical team attends mostly to the minor aches and pains among the 545 members of the crew but it’s also reassuring for passengers to learn that the ship’s up-to-the-minute equipment can also cope with deep vein thrombosis and advanced cardiac life support.
Passengers without pressing health concerns can keep themselves in shape in “the executive gym” (adjoining the Crystal Spa’s saunas and steam rooms) or by striding around the capacious promenade deck with WOW, or Walking on Water, a program in which passengers don special vests with pockets for adjustable weights.
The battery of diversions on Crystal Symphony goes well beyond those traditional ocean-going pastimes like paddle tennis and shuffleboard to include keyboard lessons by Yamaha, language lessons by Berlitz and lectures on wellness and heart care by specialists from the Cleveland Clinic. Two practice nets on the Lido Deck invite passengers to walk up, grab the latest TaylorMade clubs (the ship carries six sets, including lefties’ and ladies’ clubs) and whack away to their hearts’ content. A PGA pro (on our cruise John Clark, a veteran of 50 cruises) offers free clinics and private lessons to keep swings grooved, a fine opportunity for competitive executive golfers to put in a few hours of stealth instruction in preparation for their upcoming pro-am tournaments. “Good cruise,” Clark told me at the end of the trip, “we had an average of 30 people at the clinics and no fewer than 22 private lessons.”
Diversion is, of course, the primary goal of today’s cruise ships — and there’s the rub. Were it not for all the distractions, I might have become an accomplished techie. Like Jay Grayson, I ended up taking computer lessons (private, at $75 a pop), hoping to learn how to put together a basic website; but I was persuaded that there were not enough days at sea on this cruise, so I settled for a quickie course in Power Point Presentations. I acquired the basics but, more important, I ended up with a newfound confidence in what I could achieve on my own, if only I would set aside the time to learn.
Lawyer Grayson summed it up best: “I feel I’m not just taking a cruise, I’m accomplishing something.”
(For more information on Crystals Cruises worldwide itineraries, log on to www.crystalcruises.com.
Ian Keown is currently a contributing writer for Caribbean Travel & Life over the past 30-odd years his byline has appeared in Travel & Leisure (8 as a contributing editor), Gourmet (5 as contributing editor), Diversion (5 as contributing columnist), Departures, ForbesFYI, San Francisco Examiner, Worth and Opera.
His guidebooks include his own series of lovers’ guides: Guide to France for Loving Couples, Very Special Places: A Lover’s Guide to America, European Hideaways and Caribbean Hideaways (which the Miami Herald called “the bible.”. He is the recipient of the first Marcia Vickery Award for Travel Writing and the first Anguilla 40 Award for in Recognition of Outstanding Contributions to Anguilla Tourism.