It’s Saturday evening. I am on the Seabourn Encore, well fed and soothed by balmy breezes, soaking in a bubble bath and deeply content. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to get here and I am so thankful I am.
We packed up this morning after our second night at the Hotel Metropole in Venice and hopped into a water taxi. I love taking a boat every where I go. Being on the water makes me happy. And in this godforsaken heat, it adds just a little bit of moving, coolish air. It’s a great way to travel.
Seabourn did a hell of a job getting us all on the ship. I’ve seen it done at urban ports when you emerge from a taxi, but this was nowhere near as easy. From our arrival in a bobbing boat tied up at some stone steps at the port, a swarm of helpful people converged to heave five bags to shore, check our documents, sign us in, give us our IDs and send us onto the boat.
We left the hotel around noon and by 1:00 we were having lunch on the ship. At least Jerry was. I was too hot to eat for a while.
Seabourn ships have multiple dining venues: the Colonnade, which has buffets at breakfast and lunch and a set menu at dinner, the Restaurant, which serves all three meals in a more formal way, the Thomas Keller Grill, whose unchanging menu contains an eggplant Parmesan and 7 layer coconut cake that make me super happy, and the Patio Grill — the most casual of them all and the most delightful. They do a terrific job of grilling fish (and steaks, I hear) and making pasta. Even on the Antarctic cruise we managed some meals in the fresh air with a non-stop view in every direction.
On arrival day, we pretty much all get shepherded into the Colonnade. That’s fine, for me, at lunch. It took a bottle of iced water for me to cool down enough to have an appetite, and then it wasn’t much. I had spoons full of various salads with fruit for dessert.
Aa soon as my watch showed 2:00 (check in time), we were on our way to our room. Our room attendant, Natalia, was ready with champagne (for Jerry) and soaps for me. Really — they give you a choice of three soaps. I always choose them all.
Here’s what our suite looks like:
We got ourselves unpacked, did the required lifeboat drill, and went outside to watch Venice slide by. I didn’t realize the channel through the city was deep enough to accommodate hulking cruise ships much, much larger than ours. It was a kick to sail right past our hotel. Bye, again, Metropole!
On the open sea, we took ourselves to the patio. I’d already checked the menu and knew I was starting with an avocado and crab salad, followed by pasta with chiles and garlic and grilled daurade. God, these guys are good at fish! A bowl of fruit salad (okay, two bowls, but they were small and they weren’t ice cream) and I was finished.
I’m out of the bath now, sitting on our balcony with the sound of surf in my ears and velvet air on my skin.
I’ve been thinking about the things I really like about cruising. There was a time when you could not have paid me to get on a cruise, and the one time I ventured onto a Silver Seas cruise it was not a success. In a rotten turn of fate and modern medicine I was seasick for days when we got off the boat.
But more recently, on the principle that if you aren’t going to quit working you should bring as much retirement into your life as possible, I got the bug to try again.
We arranged a Mediterranean cruise that included the Holy Land in 2013 — then Jerry had to have heart surgery, we booted the cruise until later in the summer and lost the Israel opportunity. Still, a cruise from Athens to Barcelona via Turkey, France, and Italy was pretty spectacular. I loved it. (And Israel always needed more time than we could have given it on the cruise anyway, so we went there by land on our own and that was one of the top five trips of my life.)
In the summer of 2014 we did a Mekong River cruise on AmaWaterways that was spectacular. Hanoi to Saigon via Cambodia and Angkor Wat. It blew my mind and heart wide open.
That same fall, in the year of river cruises, we sailed the Danube because the locks were incredible and the Christmas markets were tempting (but cold.)
Christmas of 2015 I lived a long-time dream when we went from Santiago to Buenos Aires via Antarctica. Indescribable deep blue icebergs, crazy, busy penguins and other wildlife and an environment not made to sustain the likes of us. Active excursions included kayaking and hiking in the snow and ice. Hands down Another one of my top five trips.
Last Christmas we cruised from Dubai to Singapore via India and Malaysia. Thanks to traveling companions who insisted on a side trip to New Delhi it was even more amazing than planned. Arabia touched my soul and my genes. India was a mass of splendid and unbearable contradictions, and I just plain love Singapore.
That’s my cruise history. I am not an experienced cruiser by any means (there are folks here on their billionth trip) but I’ve done it enough to know why I like it, and why I don’t.
Keep in mind I am talking about lines like Seabourn here — small (600 passengers, tops), almost completely all inclusive except for excursions, spa treatments, and very high end wine. And all the rooms face the sea — this claustrophobe couldn’t do it any other way — and most have balconies. Make no mistake — you pay for this. I think it’s worth it. Your mileage may totally vary.
Barbour’s Top Eleven Reasons to Cruise
(I meant to have an even 10 but apparently I cannot count)
1. You can go places you can’t get to any way else (Antarctica) or that are unfamiliar and you want to feel your way before jumping into land travel (India.)
2. You unpack once. You move in, make yourself at home, see the world, and sleep in your “own” bed every night. Do not underestimate the value of this in giving you the stamina to have new adventures every day.
3. You get to keep your routine while seeing the world. One of the most disruptive things about traveling, for me, especially as I get older, is losing the grounding of my everyday routine. I like to get up early, I work out, I meditate, I have breakfast, and I am ready to face the day. Often, I work for several hours on projects (including blogging) before the world around me starts to wake up. At night, I take a bath and go to bed before 10:00. I am boring and I like to be boring, even on vacation. On a cruise, I can be.
Conversely, if you like to party late and sleep in, you can do that too. The point is, you set your own routine on a cruise. They work around you.
4. It’s nice to be pampered. They really do try to make your wish their command. Our bar is filled to Jerry’s specifications, the fridge has all my preferred sodas and juices. The room is cleaned twice a day, flowers and little gifts appear in the room at night (with chocolate, always) and on Seabourn you even pick out your own soap.
5. There is always stuff to do. Fun stuff — dancing, lectures (often first rate), excursions during the day (as active as you want to be), spa treatments, acupuncture sessions, group workouts (or personal training), or just sitting in one of the hot tubs or swimming in a pool. And the beauty of a cruise is, you don’t have to do any of it. You can ignore it all and no one cares.
6. You get to get gussied up good and proper. There are not too many occasions for tuxes and evening gowns in our boring academic lives and we like to put on the dog once in a while. Dressing up and going dancing are just plain romantic fun for us.
7. Other people. We have made great dear friends on cruises, and we have been on cruises where we might as well be alone for all the socializing we do. It’s up to us and I like it that way.
8. I’ve been known to get sick. There is a doctor downstairs. It’s a comfort.
9. On all inclusive cruises, you take a vacation from money. It’s true you spend a great deal at the start and it’s also true there are on board shops and spas where you can drop a chunk of change, and of course there is always the temptation to do something crazy like buy a huge wooden elephant in India (it wasn’t us!), or a fragile piece of art glass (okay, that was us) and ship it home. But, the point is, on the ship, once you’ve paid, you are done. You leave the Keller Grill and say good night and that’s it. Line up at the barista, get your latte, leave. Fancy an ice cream, order it, walk away. Want another bottle of single malt for your room, order it. It appears. No paying, no tipping, no money. It’s enormously liberating even if you do usually end up tipping your room stewardess because she has essentially been your mother, picking up after you and making your bed for two weeks, you lazy, relaxed thing, you.
10. Room service. Any time of the day, 24/7. We have friends who always have breakfast in their rooms. We don’t do that, but there is nothing more romantic than ordering off the formal restaurant menu and having a polite young man arrive at your door, set the table on your balcony (or in your room if you happen to be in Antarctica) with cloth and crystal, and serve you dinner course by course. Or, if you have had an exhausting day and can’t bear to go out, they will bring your favorite comfort food — spaghetti with marinara sauce in my case. You don’t even have to get dressed. I mean, of course you have to be dressed, but even a negligee will suffice.
11. Breadsticks. Crispy, flavorful, unlimited breadsticks. This one is Seabourn-specific and unless you have tasted them you won’t know what the fuss is about. So, taste them. That’s all. 😊
Are there downsides to cruising. Of course. It’s less immersive, more isolating, and it can be uber expensive. We don’t always travel this way but sometimes, it’s just what we need.