Tessa!

Luxury at sea–even without leaving one’s cabin!

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MYRNA Casas, Bobby Roxas, Tissa Tan, Frankie Barandiaran, Rebecca Garcia, Ma. Isabel Barandiaran, Tessa Prieto-Valdes, Juan Miguel Laurel, Chatty Roxas, Queenie Laurel

Luxury at sea is best defined by Crystal Cruises. And with good reason. They’ve been voted “world’s best” by readers of Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler more than any other cruise line, hotel or resort.

So it was with great anticipation that I flew on Singapore Airlines with Tatler editor Anton San Diego to board the Crystal Symphony, the 922-guest behemoth of the Crystal fleet. Anton and I were excited to find out that the port was just a few blocks away from the Marina Bay Sands Resort, where we managed to squeeze in a few hours of shopping before the start of the cruise.

Once in our stateroom, Penthouse No. 1027, we met our private butler, Teodor Patrascu, who explained the amenities of our 36-sq-m cabin. Our balcony was on Deck 10, giving us a superb view of the horizon.

RANJAN Jha and Rita Dy of Singapore Airlines, Lara Santos, Donna Perez, Susielou Dela Rama, Carlo Severino of the American Express Transnational team

The stateroom was exquisitely appointed with warm, wood furnishings and soothing silk, neutral shades. The upholstery and drapery were amazing as well.

Soon enough, I had unpacked my feathered hats, shiny gowns and numerous accessories, and completely covered up the queen bed with its Egyptian linens, the desk, the sofa and sitting area as well. Into the roomy bathroom, with a full-size Jacuzzi tub, went my various vials and tubes and toiletries, right alongside the ship’s Aveda toiletries.

Luckily the bathroom had a double sink, so I dutifully left one untouched so that Anton could have his own part of the room.

CRUISE mates Anton San Diego, Sea Princess, Amex Travel GM Lara Santos, Ian Evasco and Anthonette Manuel at the Galaxy Lounge

The room had some nifty design elements. Somehow the bathroom mirrors never fogged up, thanks to some excellent ventilation design. Even the walk-in closet was adequately lit and had a safe for valuables.

Every morning, Cruise director Paul McFarland would host “The Morning Show” on TV to feature the ship’s activities and land tours. And outside our door was a posting, “Reflections,” the daily listings of events and a printout of news from our home country.

If we had stayed longer, we could even have requested for personalized stationery. With flowing bottles of champagne and room-service snacks, we were totally pampered—and that’s without even leaving our cabin!

HIGH-SPEED Internet at the Computer Room

Higher plane

After the informative safety drill with our life vests on and all, we were ready to start our cruise adventure. Like kids in a park, we tried all the activities, from paddle tennis to golf lessons to art classes to working out in the gym to swimming to Latin dancing—and that was just the first day!

There was also a daily Catholic Mass celebrated by Fr. Ralph Kleiter at the ship’s Hollywood Theater. Mass followed by the movies, so to speak.

SAFETY drill with Anton San Diego

I’ve been on many cruises, but Crystal Symphony was a higher plane of luxury. And to think that in the Crystal Cruise fleet, the Symphony is “mid-size.” I found it was large enough to offer a host of dining and entertainment options, but small enough to offer individualized service and the feeling of a boutique hotel.

The Crystal Symphony is newly renovated and the $65 million spent has created a floating marvel, with updated staterooms, public spaces and many dedicated areas for children.

As with most cruises, food is the problem. There is just too much good food to avoid gaining weight. Among the restos were the Japanese Silk Road, with Peruvian and European-inspired menus and a sushi bar designed by Nobu-trained chefs; and Prego, with classic Italian fare. In the Crystal Dining Room, the delicious recipes are honed to the nearby port of call.

SPACIOUS casino for the lucky travelers

At the Avenue Saloon, Anton and I met pianist Mark Farris, and at the Luxe Club, Anton regaled us all with his singing prowess. Amex Travel GM Lara Santos and my traveling cousin Sunshine de Leon showed the other guests that all Pinoys can sing.

Anton had a lucky streak that evening, winning at Black Jack in the ship’s Casino.

During the day at sea, my cruising aunt Maribeth de Leon and I attended two Chinese art lessons. Of course, these were mercifully short and still gave me time to wander around the ship and do some shopping.

Spectacular shows

LATE breakfast at the outdoor Lido Cafe with Sea Princess and Anton San Diego

Crystal Cruises always have spectacular production shows aboard, and Symphony’s did not disappoint. At the newly expanded Galaxy Lounge, we saw “Standing Room Only,” featuring the Crystal Ensemble of Singers and Dancers doing excerpts from Broadway musicals.

Crystal is truly a six-star cruise line. Interestingly, there is even a Crystal Society Members in the Philippines, an exclusive club for travelers who have sailed on Crystal Cruises. Their first cocktail was just last month at the Shangri-La Makati.

JAPANESE sushi chef at Silk Road, the Nobucuisine restaurant

Marnie Whipple, regional sales manager for Crystal Cruises, flew in especially for the event to personally greet Crystal’s loyal patrons and to provide updates on the refurbishing of its luxury fleet, and give information on new sailings and offerings. With her was Carlo Severino, president for American Express Transnational Travel, who serves as the representative for Crystal Cruises in the Philippines.

Carlo noted that American Express Transnational Travel has developed a Fly-Cruise Program with Singapore Airlines. The Fly-Cruise packages promise savings of more than 60 percent for each passenger, apart from value-adds like Ship Board credits of up to $200 and Changi Dollar Vouchers of up to S$40.

The Fly-Cruise packages include Business class airfare on Singapore Airlines and/or SilkAir and the Crystal Cruises fare. For info, email leisuresales@amextdg.com or visit www.singaporeair.com and www.silkair.com.

Visit www.tessaprietovaldes.com or follow @tessavaldes on Twitter.

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