We jogged, swam, worked out in the gym, took private Pilates classes, had massages, facials and assorted body treatments, attended riveting lectures, learned Spanish, saw late run movies, dined in fine restaurants, read several books, checked our email daily, made new friends, went to musical and comedy shows, sunned, relaxed and visited five countries.
Who says there’s nothing to do on a cruise? Well lots of people. But they are wrong. Very wrong.
My husband and I have not only been on several cruises but on at least half dozen voyages of 21 days or more. When we tell friends and family that we’re taking such a long voyage they invariably raise an eyebrow and comment, “Won’t you be bored? Whatever will you do?”
Plenty folks. Contrary to popular belief, days on board a ship can be as chuck full as you’d like. Especially today, and of course if you select he right ship and stateroom.
We prefer small luxury liners with suites. The bigger the quarters the better for longer voyages. However folks who really want non-stop activities should lean toward mega ships such as Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance, Radiance and other ships Of-the-Sea, Princess’ Grand and Coral class ships, Celebrity’s behemoth fleet and Holland America’s newest vessels. On some of them you’ll find rock climbing walls, huge fitness centers, generous spas, basketball courts, paddle tennis, golf, an assortment of dining venues, Vegas-like casinos, lavish showrooms and productions and more. Now tell me who could be bored. Sure there was a time when a seafarer did get weary dining in the same spot night and day. But many ships now feature a choice of restaurants, some for an additional charge that rival landside operations (such as on Carnival’s Legend, Celebrity’s Constellation and Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Sea et al), 24 hour cafes, diners, pizza parlors and even ice cream shops. I must admit that this wasn’t the case when we first started cruising about 20 years ago. And that yes, there were days at sea that ennui overwhelmed us. But that was then and this is now.
Silversea is one special cruise line. They just get it right. Our most recent long journey was aboard Silversea Cruises sweet little Whisper. Although any of Silverseas’ four ships: Cloud, Wind, Shadow or Whisper provide all the right offerings to make any long cruise special. We sailed from Los Angeles to Auckland with stops in Ensenada, the Hawaiian Islands, Tonga, Samoa and New Zealand. There were glorious days during which we did all those aforementioned activities. We also watched movies on the plasma screen television in our site while room service waiters served us multi course dinners. We tried our luck in the tiny casino (but didn’t win), took afternoon tea with yummy pastries. We worked off our indulgences in exercise classes led by Gabor, a Rumanian fitness instructor who worked our abs, butts, upper and lower bodies and taught us Pilates and Yoga.
Silversea boasts an astonishing 65,000 repeat passengers who receive assorted perks as Venetian Society member that increase with number of days spent on board. On our cruise passengers were rewarded with sapphire, ruby or diamond pins and free cruises for having spent from 100 to 300 days cruising with the line.
What keeps them going back is the compact luxury, excellent personalized service, fine dining, open seating, all-encompassing tab that includes complimentary wines, booze and soft drinks, tips, shuttle service in most ports and in top suites, laundry service. Guest mingle easily at the bars and in the lounges. Many become fast friends meeting same time next year for another cruise. The crew on these ships is some of friendliest afloat. This time there was Ricky, from Manila, a deck steward and sometimes barkeep who went out of his way to service passengers. Nick, the regular pool bartender, an outgoing Kiwi who kept folks happy with powerful pours of their favorite brands. Spellbinding lectures were provided by Dr. Dieter Arnulf Galler, a rather opinionated but fascinating speaker who kept his audience rapt with tales of Tonga, New Zealand and the south Pacific. At night there was Michael heading The Bar (it’s called just that) where he knows everybody’s name and drink preference.
Beloved, omnipotent veteran cruise director Ray Solaire kept passengers content with fun and games. Amiable Anne the social director taught Spanish and accompanied shore excursions. She and Ray also acted on stage in a short play written by the latter.
On Silversea ships everybody becomes one big happy family. Stewardesses not only keep suites in tip top shape but they lay out your bed clothes, hang your laundry and stock your fridge with water and supplies. It is always sad disembarking a Silversea ship.
While we never wonted for activities on sea days, the ports of calls were welcome sights. The ship sailed from LA with stops in Ensenada, Mexico and the Hawaiian Islands—where we stopped in Hilo, Hawaii, Kauai, Maui and Honolulu before heading on to more exotic ports of call, like Apia, Western Samoa. There we took a shore excursion led by a savvy guide named Julie who told us that the natives eat only two meals a day but “snack frequently.” Sounded like a being on a cruise. We went by van to a local beach where Beverly Hills attorneys run the restaurant. Go figure. We swam in the crystal clear, but rather shallow sea and sunned until heading back to the ship. We made an unscheduled substitute stop in Nuku’Alofa, Tonga due to inclement weather where we were supposed to dock in Figi. Who among you have been there? Even though Silversea pax are well traveled this was new for most of us and fascinating. We booked a tour to an island. But before we were able to board the little boat, we were given a mandatory excursion to see the sites and markets of the city. The pristine island was worth the wait with its warm, transparent waters and friendly natives who entertained us with local dance routines.
From there we steamed to New Zealand. It was our first visit to this retro 1950s scene where locals go at a slow pace enjoying life to the fullest at the beach, in sailboats, sitting in cafes or restaurants and taking time to smell the roses. In Tauranga we hiked around a The Mount and went to the beach; in the Bay of Islands we walked around the cute, picture postcard town and walked about 2 miles to the nearest beach. Guess you get the point that we like the beach a lot. A whole lot.
The days flew by—all 24 of them. We even lost a day, we will never see January 20, 2003 as it was the day we passed through the International Date Line. I missed it, it would have been an added 24 hours. We were sad to disembark in Auckland. In fact we wished we could have stayed on the extra 9 days to Sidney. But alas all good things must come to an end. And we had several hours to spend before catching the long, 12-hour flight home. A very long, bumpy ride.
Not every ship conforms to long voyages. You can’t go wrong with Crystal Cruises luxurious Harmony or Symphony—we’ve been on both for three weeks at a throw.
Crystal’s only drawbacks are the fare is not all-inclusive—there are many extra charges including tips which are automatically added to shipboard accounts, spirits, wines, bottled water and soft drinks—and assigned tables in two seatings in the dining room (Silversea allows passengers to dine whenever and with whomever they want at open seating meals). Crystal does offer two alternative dining venues: an Italian and Asian restaurant–along with room service.
If you book a suite or mini suite on any of Princess Cruises’ Grand or Coral Class ships you can’t go wrong, ditto for Celebrity and Royal Caribbean. But never ever try this in a regular stateroom and always book a balcony. Some 75% of Silversea ships (Wind, Cloud, Shadow and Whisper) have private balconies, while Crystal offers 50% or more and Celebrity and Royal Caribbean are well endowed with verandas.
Just remember cruising means only having to pack and unpack once; eliminating of flying—which concerns most of us during these trying times. (Our LA to Auckland cruise entailed only one flight, back to LA from Auckland). You can visit several countries or islands effortlessly, have all your meals and activities at your beck and call usually for no extra charge save for shore excursions and spa treatments.
I recently attended a press conference where they said only a small percentage of travelers go by sea. And for the life of me I can’t understand this. Cruising is one of the most therapeutic, exciting ways to vacation. And with more modern ships providing contemporary and high tech comforts and amenities it’s better than ever.
FYI: it takes most passengers at least a week to get their sea legs and routine in rock motion, which is why the Savvy Seafarer recommends cruises of at least two weeks, but try a world cruise or an 18 dayer and you’ll never go back to short hops again.