This is the season for vacations and probably a goodly number of Dave’s Travel Corner readers will take a cruise. Today’s cruises-unless they are aboard a river raft on the Amazon-offer our grandest dreams of indulgence. These are floating luxury resorts, dedicated to recreation, education, cultural enrichment-and SHOPPING.
I’ve chalked up my sixth cruise by now on the world’s seas, rivers, and through locks and fiords. (I’m not counting the forbidden inner tube adventures on irrigation canals when I was young.) In addition to gaining pounds on cruises, I’ve gained some insights that may be of interest to other adventurers. The most-gratifying aspect of any cruise is that, suitcases, once unpacked, are out of sight and mind until debarking. My bed was made so fast after I vacated it in the mornings, I suspect that the attendant slept under my bed all night.
Other “perks”? Let me count them: Multiple restaurants with diverse menus throughout the day, plus formal candlelit dining, according to ethnic preferences. Java bars and snack stations on every deck. Gymnasiums for fitness fanatics; dance floors with live orchestras, movie theatres, libraries, tables for bridge or cribbage; gambling (black jack or slots). Swimming, water sports. Pitch and putt golf. The pitched ball was aimed for a floating inner tube in the middle of the swimming pool. A lissome mermaid happily retrieved your ball from the bottom of the pool. Sunbathing, of course.
Art and sculptures were on display for viewing or purchase throughout the hallways. A Dali painting was available at auction. We were guaranteed 24-hour medical service. Elevators are available for those who prefer to be carried from deck to deck, and all passengers (including stowaways) are required to take the course in how to board lifeboats in case of a Titanic-repeat. No excuses. The course is complete-including instructions on how to inflate a life vest.
For casual exercise, there are multiple opportunities to circumvent the deck: bow to stern or reverse for variety. The scenery of the sea can be viewed from the promenade deck as one leans on the rail or sits in a deck chair. Occasionally in the far distance looms another cruise ship and its passengers enjoying exactly the same accommodations as are available to you. (Vast stretches of sea between.) By the way, only on promotional brochures is the Caribbean or the Mediterranean really blue. Most of the time it is gray with white splashes from time to time. During 13 days of my most recent Caribbean Cruise, less than half the time was spent in ports and island exploring. Most of the time the horizon offered only more sea to see.
Give me the Inside Passage to Alaska where we made port every day and could choose different adventures ashore: glaciers, totem poles, hand-carved canoes, fish hatcheries, museums.
Then there was the trip aboard the Mail Boat that sails the Norway fiords. It docked each day. Passengers could leave the ship noting the chalked-in hour of departure on the signboard hung beside the ramp: “Ship sails at exactly (that day’s time chalked in). If you don’t board on time, we will see you here a week from today.” Making sure our watches were set for Norway time, we strolled among the natives, enjoying cordial greeters and shop window displays. We shared village streets with roaming reindeer who have the right-of-way. They were not disturbed by the honking horns of auto drivers.
Throughout both the Inside Passage and the Norway fiords cruises, camera-worthy mountain peaks, canyons, and glaciers are visible daily one side or the other of the ship. And, at the farthest northern reach of the Norway cruise, we were allowed to debark and look across the international border into Russia where uniformed soldiers stood guard to assure no subversive elements crept into their country.
The river cruises, likewise, left little time for shopping or gambling aboard. Traveling the Yangtze a dozen years ago included daily docking for adventures into ancient villages that are now drowned by the damming of that great river. The ship went through various locks, and a money prize was awarded for the closest guess as to the time the lock would open for our ship to enter. I won $20 for my guess (pure luck) that was within two minutes of the actual time.
The Nile River journey brought a sense of living in two worlds. We viewed lifestyles along the shore that have been in practice for centuries. Ancient ruins were the backdrop for riverbank trails where trotting burros carried papyrus reed bundles so large they dwarfed the little animals and the human sitting atop. Aboard the Nile River boat, darkness eliminated views of the banks of the river so, for entertainment, a contest was held for the most original costume. The winner had circled his head with a crown of leaves (a la Julius Caesar) plucked from the floral decoration on the prior evening’s dinner table. His toga was fashioned from a bed sheet. The clasp at the shoulder of the toga was a dinner fork, borrowed from the prior evening’s dining.
I have taken my last tour on a luxury liner that spends most of its time on the open sea. Any of the resort offerings aboard ship can be had in a couple of days in Las Vegas–at far less cost.