Crystal has an interesting selection of activities, most of which are part of the ships' Creative Learning Institute. The extensive program features an array of expert speakers, plus alliances with well-known organizations, schools, and brands -- Yamaha for music classes, Berlitz for language classes, the Cleveland Clinic for health topics, and the Tai Chi Cultural Center, to name a few -- to provide an even greater authority to the classes. You can count on several enrichment lectures throughout each cruise, such as a historian presenting a slide show and speaking about the Panama Canal and how it was built, a former ambassador or two speaking about regional politics, or a scientist talking about conservation. Most speakers are not celebrities, but well-known personalities do occasionally show up. Guests have included political commentators James Carville and Mary Matalin, songwriter Neil Sedaka, business consultant Ken Blanchard, former press secretary Marlin Fitzwater, medical expert Dr. Art Ulene, biographer Chris Ogden, publisher Steve Forbes, chef Andre Soltner, TV personality Monty Hall, journalist Jane Bryant Quinn, and singer Clint Holmes.
In addition to each cruise's guest lecturers, some of Crystal's sailings have Experiences of Discovery, themed programs with activities built around them. More than a dozen annual Wine & Food Festival cruises feature a respected wine expert who conducts at least two complimentary tastings, plus guest chefs conducting cooking demonstrations for guests and then presenting the results of those lessons at dinner. There are also music-themed cruises from time to time, featuring big bands, ballroom dancing, jazz singers, and film and theater presentations. Other cruises have experts conducting seminars on finance issues, language, and art appreciation, the latter with speakers from the famous auction house Sotheby's. Mind, Body & Spirit cruises focus on health and wellness, while golf cruises allow guests to play at some of the world's most exclusive courses.
Guest teachers give swing, tango, and jive dance lessons on some cruises. Group lessons are complimentary, and private lessons can sometimes be arranged with the instructors for about $50 per hour per couple. Other activities include bridge and paddle-tennis competitions; game-show-style contests; trivia games; midafternoon dance music with the resident dance trio or quartet; interesting arts and crafts such as glass etching; and even guest fashion shows. Commonly, a golf expert sails on board, too, conducting complimentary group golf lessons by the driving nets several times per cruise (again, private lessons can be arranged; prices start at $50 per hr.). A variety of free aerobics classes are held in the fitness center, along with Pilates and yoga (private personal trainers are available for a fee).
The line's Computer University @ Sea gives some free courses on all cruises, with topics such as basic computing, understanding the Internet, website design, and creating spreadsheets using Excel. Private lessons are also available for $50 an hour. Internet centers, which have the best support staffs of any cruise liner we've been on, have about 30 workstations apiece, featuring Dell PCs; however, you must buy Internet time in 2-hour $50 installments -- not convenient if you just need a few minutes to send e-mail toward the end of the cruise. There are now Wi-Fi hot spots for those who want to work on their own laptops, along with onboard cellphone service via a satellite link, at prices in the same range as your provider's regular roaming charges.
With all this activity, on past sailings we've always run out of days before actually getting to do everything.
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