If you are like me, you enjoy thinking and talking about favorite vacations you have taken in the past. My favorite type of vacation — cruises. A cruise is completely relaxing, you don’t have to drive, and the ship does the cooking, housekeeping and provides the entertainment many of us enjoy on vacation. The downside is that you cannot see as much of the countries visited as when you are on tour or driving yourself. Sometimes cruise lines provide cruise tours that encompass more land sightseeing.
Anyway, in today’s column I will relate some of my favorite cruises. I have had the good fortune of experiencing more than 100 and always look forward to the next one.
One of the top cruises on my list of favorites is the Baltic area. Last year we sailed out of England to visit Copenhagen, Denmark, Stockholm, Sweden, Tallinn, Estonia, and St. Petersburg, Russia. In St. Petersburg we had three usable days to explore one of the most interesting cities in the world with all its museums containing more art than you can imagine, plus wonderful music and dance in 200-year-old theaters. Then, the ship cruised on to Gdynia, Poland where we witnessed a big change that the Polish people have made after being oppressed with Communism for 65 years. They have been free for more than 11 years now.
Then it was on to Warnemunde, Germany, which is a lovely seaport resort town visited mainly by Berliners, who most often come by high-speed train, which takes only two hours between the cities. From here we made the seven-hour transit of the famous Kiel Canal and that took us out to sea again to return to England.
Another standout cruise itinerary is the Mediterranean area. We have cruised from the port of Rome, Italy, which is Civitavecchia and visited the lovely towns of Portofino, Cannes, Barcelona, La Goulette and Palermo before returning to Italy. The Mediterranean never disappoints and you can almost always be assured of a wonderful vacation. Europe is always interesting, no matter where you visit as far as I am concerned. We plan to travel this part of the world again this summer sometime.
Two years ago we cruised through the Norwegian fjords. These are the most exciting fjords I have yet seen and even more beautiful than Alaska as far as I am concerned. On this cruise we also visited some of the beautiful ports along the Norwegian coast as well as some other Scandinavian cities. What I appreciate about the Nordic countries is that these people are educated, clean and offer great dining experiences. Personally I am tired of dirty locations with poor sidewalks to stumble on and chancy food. I also don’t want to visit a place that you may be robbed walking through town.
We have cruised through the Tahitian group of islands twice and if you have not yet visited these South Pacific Islands, try and do so if at all possible. Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea and the sister islands are never to be forgotten. They are not yet overrun with tourism and remain pristine, beautiful and very photographic. I feel a cruise of one week or more is the best way to travel between the islands and to sightsee. I look forward to doing this one more time in the near future, also.
Speaking of the South Pacific we have enjoyed cruising to New Zealand and Australia with time there to see the interesting sights these countries offer. New Zealand is two islands separated by 12 miles of sea. The North Island is farms and mountains with Auckland its main city and the South Island looks much like Switzerland with Alps and scenic bays and beautiful farms. The fishing is great here too.
Australia is completely different from New Zealand with beautiful coastal areas, a desert outback and several fascinating cities, such as Melbourne and Sydney. It is fun to cross the country on the Indian-Pacific railroad from Sydney, on the east, to Perth, on the west coast. Perth is much like San Diego. The northern portion of Australia is tropical and warm and humid.
With the South Pacific cruise we also visited Fiji and some of the other islands in the neighborhood.
Some years ago I was between jobs and booked an around South America cruise departing Los Angeles on an American flagged passenger/cargo ship. It carried 104 passengers and lasted 64 days. This was one of the most relaxing, carefree periods of my life. I had been directing news on network television for a few years and the 64 days at sea was the right medicine. From Los Angeles the ship cruised down the Pacific Coast to the Panama Canal then through the locks into the Caribbean and traveled the South Atlantic, visiting Venezuela, several ports in Brazil including fantastic Rio de Janeiro, on to Montevideo, Uruguay, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. One nice thing about a passenger freighter some years ago is that often the ship would spend more time in port to take care of the cargo than do cruise ships. That is not necessarily the case today with more modern container shipments. We had time to do more extensive sightseeing while the ship was in port. In Buenos Aires alone we had three days to explore.
From Buenos Aires we continued to cruise south around the tip of South America and through the Strait of Magellan passing the Chilean fjords and then up the Pacific coast to Puerto Montt and Valparaiso, Chile. Continuing then to the port for Lima, Peru and Manta, Ecuador and Panama, then up the coast of Central America and Mexico with a few stops and finally, Los Angeles. The passengers were mostly senior and all in good spirits and enjoying every day of the experience.
The cabins on the ship were all large; there were two lounges, bars, swimming pool, movie theater and glassed-in dining room. When we hit the tropics the crew often served lunch outside around the pool. The ship was American flagged with an all American crew. The Santa Mercedes was one of four sister ships of the Delta Line, which no longer exists.
Since I am writing about South America, 10 years ago we cruised from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. through the Caribbean, visiting six islands on the way down to Devils Island and then entered the Amazon River and cruised 1,000 miles upstream to Manaus in Brazil. After two days sightseeing the jungle area and city of more than a million people we turned downstream for two more calls at small villages and finally out into the Atlantic again to return to Florida.
Back in the 1960s Matson Lines was still cruising their white ships from Los Angeles to Hawaii and back. For one vacation I boarded the wonderful American ship Lurline and spent four-and-a-half days at sea before docking in Honolulu. I walked around the downtown area, had lunch at a club with a friend, then late that afternoon boarded the Lurline again and sailed back to Los Angeles. The seas were calm all the way and I found the Hawaiian entertainment onboard very pleasing. American food at sea was great. Steaks, prime ribs of beef, fish of all kinds, crab and on and on.
It’s too bad Matson Lines on longer operate passenger ships in the Pacific. American crews are too expensive in today’s cruise business. The unions are very strong.
We have cruised the Caribbean many times. It is another area that rarely disappoints. The islands are tropical, the pace is slow and the beaches are fantastic. All the islands are grouped close together and on one of these cruises you can call at three or four islands in just one week. Norma and I are taking a two-week Caribbean cruise the last two weeks of January. It’s warm, calm seas and the little towns are always interesting.
One cruise I have not yet enjoyed is an around the world — perhaps some day. This is my goal and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it comes to pass.