By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
I never dreamt that I could have traveled to over 40 countries, as my demanding career allows only short vacations. I credit that to cruises.
My stepfather was the one who encouraged me to take a cruise to relax. But I didn’t take his advice until decades later. I took my first cruise with my kids to the Caribbean in 1990. It wasn’t until 2000, during our second cruise to west Mediterranean, that I got hooked on cruises. It took us to nine exciting cities, including Rome, Pisa, Florence, Nice, Cannes, Morocco, Monaco, Lisbon, and Seville in 10 days. Traveling by plane to six countries in 10 days would be impossible and exhausting.
The cruise itinerary made us feel satisfied because we were able to see a lot more, while feeling relaxed at the end of the voyage. While we sleep, the ship is moving at night to get us to new destinations when we wake up the next day. It does not waste my time at all.
“It is so nice not to have to pack, move, and unpack every day,” said my friend Bill Franklin.
Plus, we actually save money in transportation and hotels.
Why I dislike land tours
The land tour in Europe that we joined in 1998 was the opposite of cruise travel. I was so exhausted, I thought about canceling the tour after a few days. We spent more time on the bus than actual sightseeing.
One time, we had to leave at 6 a.m. to take a bus from London to Amsterdam. It meant we had to wake up at 5 a.m. This wasn’t the worst part. By the time we arrived in Amsterdam, it was 5:30 p.m. I lamented that we wasted the sunny part of the day on the bus.
After checking into the hotel, we ventured outside. “Where is the Anne Frank Museum?” I asked a tall stranger.
His answer surprised me.
“It’s nearby, you can get there in 10 minutes,” he replied. “But it will be closed at 6 p.m.”
My watch said it was 5:45 p.m. My husband and I practically ran to the museum and we got there in 5 minutes.
The museum staff told us to come back the next day. Unfortunately, the bus would leave for Paris in the morning.
We didn’t mind paying the entrance fee even though we knew we didn’t have time to see everything.
The museum staff let us in. In elation, we got the chance to imagine Anne’s terror under Hitler in 12 minutes.
Yes, we saw the hidden door to the hidden attic and all the other details.
The tour guide told us nothing about Amsterdam because it was not a part of the itinerary. In fact, he encouraged us to join an Indonesian Chinese dinner on a canal, which cost an additional $50 U.S. per person. We were the only two quitting the group that night.
That’s a rip-off. Why would I pay $100 for two, traveling thousands of miles to Amsterdam for a Chinese dinner?
Instead, we ventured into a French restaurant and had one of the most exquisite meals. Later, we joined a canal boat tour. The dinner, taxi, and canal tour cost us less than $100. From then on, land tours became our least desirable choice of travel. Our group members told us how average the Chinese dinner was, and regretted that they didn’t know that they could go out on their own.
Cruise or no cruise
Cruising is not for everyone. Some people feel too confined on a boat. For singles, the verdict is mixed. One friend told me that she was so miserable that she was counting the days to get off the boat. Another friend said he enjoyed traveling on his own because he met so many people. Every night, new acquaintances would invite him to join their dinner table. Had he gone with someone, people might not feel that they need to keep him company.
For my husband and me, working seven days a week during the year, a cruise gives us our reward — no work, no cooking and washing dishes (all meals included), no cleaning (the maid cleans the room twice a day), and all the pampering I want whenever I want.
So far, the longest cruise we’ve been on was 12 days. I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed a longer cruise.
Cruises are ideal for family and class reunions, and for big groups of people traveling together. The cruise will take care of all the meals and lodging.
“I took my 15 family members on a Norwegian cruise to Alaska,” said Franklin. “The experience was very interesting, family togetherness, and seeing the beauty of Alaska.”
Did we pick the wrong cruise?
My definition of a good cruise is as many cities ports of call as possible and waking up every day in a new place.
Of the 13 cruises we took, the worst was going from New Orleans to Mexico and Central America in 2006. There was not much to see in the ports where we stopped, such as Belize. Even Mexico’s ruins were not impressive. The best part was before the cruise, when we spent three days in New Orleans. It was wonderful to see New Orleans recover from Hurricane Katrina and its impact on the city, and we learned about how the Vietnamese community survived Katrina.
The best cruises included the Yangtze River cruise, Hong Kong to Vietnam to China, Eastern Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Baltics, Hawaii’s four islands, England, and Japan.
My ideal ship
Some of my friends who love to dance pick ships with a nice ballroom. If that’s your criteria, you should find out which ones feature ballroom dancing performances and lessons, and provide partners as well. You can dance your heart out every night.
For me, I prefer big ships over river cruise ships. I like to walk from one end of the ship to another several times a day for exercise. That’s why I never gain weight on cruises.
A small river cruise makes me feel locked up. A big ship provides opportunities to meet lots of people from all cultures and different parts of the world. I meet and share meals with Europeans, South Americans, Asians, and Australians on big ships. A small boat usually doesn’t have much entertainment at night. I like to go to shows every night, even though some of them are not of high quality.
People often ask me which cruise company is my favorite. I don’t really have one. If the ship schedule fits mine, and the ports of call interest me, that’s my criteria.
It’s time for you to try cruising if you have not done it.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.