WHAT ABOUT A CRUISE?

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May 7, 2011

Today's cruise ships are gigantic floating hotels.  The Titanic, launched in 1912, is dwarfed by comparison to the ships of today.

Brandon and I are currently traversing Central America on the Celebrity Century, which is actually quite old in cruise ship years, having been inaugurated in 1995.  This ship is carrying nearly 1800 paying passengers and 700 crew on fourteen decks.

I've written previously that cruising, in my humble opinion, doesn't qualify as "adventure" travel.

But in all fairness, for those with relatively little travel experience, a cruise can be a very good way of getting your feet wet, so to speak.  And for older travelers whose physical health may be a potential issue, cruising is often the only safe means for visiting exotic venues.

The first time I ever set foot on a cruise ship was in September of 1977, when I was just starting out on an eight-month barebones expedition across Western Europe. 

Except for Freddie Laker's Skytrain, airfares back then were tightly controlled by the Civil Aeronautics Board, so the one-way cruise excursion fare of $850 from New York to Le Havre seemed like a pretty reasonable deal.

The ship was the Mikhail Lermontov, operated by the government of the former Soviet Union.  I suppose it was luxurious by Soviet standards, which isn't saying much considering that the toilet paper in my stateroom had the texture of sandpaper, and most of the crew were not-so-thinly disguised KGB.

The trans-Atlantic voyage lasted only one week but it was one of the worst weeks of my life.  As we sailed out of the harbor in New York I was awed by viewing the Statue of Liberty for the first time, and I marveled at the Manhattan skyline.  However, this was undoubtedly the highlight of the voyage.

For some inexplicable reason, I neither anticipated rough seas nor the possibility of getting seasick.  And I should note that this was a decade before those little round neck patches became available. 

I became vaguely aware during that first night at sea that I was being tossed back and forth in my berth, but it wasn't until the next morning that I truly experienced the number one pitfall of traveling by ocean liner.

When I emerged from my stateroom, strategically located about every five feet along the railings lining the corridor, were small wax-coated brown paper bags, open and wedged against the adjacent walls.

Without too much trouble, I made my way up several decks to my assigned table in the dining room, studiously ignoring the somewhat strange sensation emanating from the pit of my belly.  I noticed but chose to disregard that the dining room was only about half-filled.  Nevertheless I tried to enjoy a light breakfast of Russian pancakes, smoked salmon and coffee. 

I then headed out to the top deck where I expected the fresh sea air to fill my lungs and settle my rumbling stomach.  Much to my dismay, the majority of the ship's passengers (at least those who I presumed had been missing from the dining room) were lined up along, and hanging over the exterior deck rails.

I got to meet the ship's doctor later that first day.  As you may have surmised, he was very diligently administering seasickness shots to green-faced guests.  

Needless to say, it was a very long week. 

But a lot has changed since 1977. 

It was only in the early 1980's that the cruise industry successfully completed the transition from being a primary mode of transportation between points A and B, to being a full-fledged vacation industry specializing in luxury travel to exotic ports-of-call.  In fact, most cruise ships today follow very modest itineraries, generally avoiding open seas when possible and confining themselves to the relatively calm waters of the Caribbean or Mediterranean, or following routes along the Mexico or Alaska coastlines.  Modern cruise liners also utilize advanced stabilization techniques to minimize the swaying and rocking that lead to seasickness.

And the most important change of all, should the worst befall you, is the discreet application of a scopolamine disc behind your ear that will settle your stomach and restore your sea legs, with mild spaciness as the only troublesome side effect.

So all things considered, the cruise experience in 2011 is one that is reliably predictable.

As I've already mentioned, a cruise can be a safe, easy and comfortable means of experiencing exotic locales, particularly for those with physical limitations or who cannot otherwise tolerate the stress of foreign travel.

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My travel companion on this trip is Brandon (my son) who chose this particular itinerary -- a Panama Canal repositioning cruise.  A repositioning cruise is one where the ship is moved from one cruise locale (in this case, the Caribbean) to an alternative locale (coastal Alaska) due to changes in seasonal demand.

The bonus with a repositioning cruise is that the itinerary may be irregular, i.e., the ship stops at unusual ports.  These cruises are relatively unique and are available only infrequently.  The downside is that the ports of departure and arrival may be quite far apart, thereby necessitating the purchase of a one-way airfare.

I have never traversed the Panama Canal, the so-called eighth wonder of the world, and I must admit that it's been a genuinely educational (if not adventurous) experience.  Traveling aboard a huge cruise ship as it navigates from the Atlantic Ocean through several locks while being elevated eighty-five feet above sea level, traverses a man-made lake across the Continental Divide, then drops back down into the Pacific Ocean, is both dramatic and amazing!

Having left Miami a week ago, with stops along the way in Cartagena, Columbia, and Colon, Panama, we are now sailing toward San Diego with planned stops in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico. 

I've spent the better part of this trip sprawled on a chaise lounge beside the swimming pool on the top deck while frequenting the buffet with shocking regularity!

Clearly the number one hazard related to cruising is gaining weight!

And the number one challenge when we get home will be getting rid of the extra ten pounds I'm sure I will have gained!

 

4 wheeling in Los Cabos -- this is one of the shore excursions offered by cruise ships in Cabo San Lucas -- click here to watch!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQGNBH509mg