(Inspired by a presentation by Arthur and Pauline Frommer)
by Lisa Plotnick
In February, I had the privilege of attending a presentation by renowned travel writers
Arthur and Pauline Frommer titled, “Getting Out of Your Vacation Rut: New Types of
Vacations and Destinations to Consider.” The first part of the presentation focused
on vacation options that allow the traveler to interact with local residents, inspiring
last month’s NauticalNotebook.com article Off the Beaten Path—Seeing Ports of Call
Like a Local. In the second part of the session, Ms. Frommer discussed the idea of
opting for a new or unusual destination. She spoke of China (which leads the list
and is relatively inexpensive), Cuba (provided one is going with a group representing
a religious or cultural organization), Central America, and Spain, among others.
I realized that this also has some applicability to cruises. Like many, our early
cruises were to the Bahamas and Caribbean, and our port time was spent mainly at
a beach. I recall an early ground rule we set when seeking the next cruise—at least
one port will be new to us. Later on, as we had covered most of the Caribbean cruise
ports, we began to turn our attention to other destinations. If all else failed,
we knew we would immediately enjoy the cruise. And, this turned out to be of no concern,
Although the new destinations we explored by cruise ship were not as exotic, for
the most part, as those described by Ms. Frommer, I immediately recalled our own
“New Destinations,” which I share below.
Bermuda. My favorite aspect of a cruise to Bermuda is that it is essentially two
mini-crossings with a long port call in between. Our first cruise to Bermuda was
in 1994, a six-nighter from Boston, on the now-defunct Royal Majesty Cruise Line.
Since then, we have returned three more times—1995, 2005, and 2006. Although Bermuda
boasts a warm climate and beautiful beaches, there are significant differences from
a Caribbean cruise. First, the destination is far less casual. (For example, swimwear
must be covered up in public when not on the beach). Second, spending two or three
nights in one port is a luxury not typically offered on a mainstream cruise to the
Caribbean. Although those of us in the northeast U.S. might experience a Bermuda
cruise as a first cruise, given that these cruises generally depart from Boston,
New York, or Baltimore, others may be reluctant due to the big-city embarkation port
and the need to fly or endure a long drive. (I know of at least one person who has
taken more than 50 cruises, yet still has Bermuda on her bucket list.) In short,
consider Bermuda—its natural beauty, history, and extremely friendly residents will
make any pre- or post-cruise hassles fade instantly.
British Isles. When Holland America Line announced its 2009 Celtic Kingdoms sailing
on Prinsendam, we were immediately drawn to this 14-night voyage. The cruise started
in London, ended in Dover, and circumnavigated the island that is home to England,
Scotland, and Wales, with stops across the Irish Sea in Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Other than London, this was all new territory for us. It was also very port-intensive
(eleven ports of call, not including the separate embarkation and disembarkation
points, and only one scheduled sea day). Yet, the variety was astounding. Among the
highlights were an impressive natural rock formation outside of Belfast, the seemingly
never-ending rolling green hills in Ireland, a visit to an 11th century castle in
Wales, and a tour of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland. And, London makes for a wonderful
place to spend a few days pre- or post-cruise.
Canada/New England. I hesitated to include Canada/New England in this list as we
have been there so many times. Yet, despite these ports being so close to our home,
we did not discover them until our tenth year of cruising. There are a variety of
Canada/New England cruises, each with their own flavor. Some are quick getaways from
New York to Halifax, Nova Scotia, while others exceed ten to twelve nights and go
as far as Montreal, Quebec. In my opinion, the best of the Canada/New England cruises
spend time in the provinces of Quebec and Prince Edward Island, in addition to the
beautiful maritime city of Halifax. Quebec provides a flavor of France in North America,
while Prince Edward Island is the birthplace of the Confederation of Canada. And,
don’t necessarily limit yourself to an autumn sailing. Peak foliage season is unpredictable,
and you’ll need to go inland to see the most vibrant colors. Most of our Canada/New
England cruises took place in the summer months, and we were welcomed with warm weather,
clear skies (usually, but not always), and many outdoor activities. Many ports have
lovely boardwalks from which you can enjoy the city and harbor. And, don’t forget
about the fresh, North Atlantic lobster.
Mediterranean. The Mediterranean is a huge region that offers a lot of choices. Western
Mediterranean cruises typically visit the east coast of Spain, south coast of France,
Monaco, and/or the west coast of Italy. Eastern Mediterranean cruises typically call
on ports in Greece, Turkey, the east coast of Italy and, occasionally, Egypt and
Israel. We took just one cruise here—a 7-night cruise in the Western Mediterranean
that visited Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Florence, Rome, Naples, and Palma (Majorca).
Cruises to Europe are gaining in popularity, and several mainstream lines have repositioned
ships to this part of the world for some or most of the year. Before embarking on
a Mediterranean cruise, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, these are
very port-intensive cruises with little down time. Shore excursions, whether done
through the cruise line or independently, are often lengthy and costly. Airfare is
expensive—occasionally, it can come close to the cost of the cruise itself. Finally,
summer temperatures in this region can soar, so be prepared. Yet, the upside more
than compensates—cruisers are able to see a lot of history in a short time without
having to pack and unpack every couple of days.
Norway and Arctic Circle. One of the aspects of cruising I enjoy is to get away from
everything for a several days—and this itinerary takes you about as far away as one
can get. This cruise was perhaps our most exotic in terms of itinerary, and also
became a quick favorite. There are a variety of Norwegian Fjord cruises, almost all
of which include calls on Honningsvåg (gateway to North Cape), Bergen (population
250,000), and the beautiful fjords of Geiranger (or nearby Ålesund). Our cruise also
took us to many locations that I had not heard of previously, including Alta, Tromsø,
and Molde. And, there is still so much we haven’t seen, even in the ports we visited!
The scenery on this cruise was magnificent, and the 20-24 hour days enabled us to
enjoy it even longer. Most nights, I even slept with the curtains open so that I
wouldn’t miss any of the beautiful scenery through the window as I drifted off to
sleep. Taking this cruise, however, requires a good deal of research on your ports
prior to the cruise to fully appreciate the wondrous sights you’ll experience. Even
so, some ports are so remote that research will uncover relatively little, adding
to the adventure.
Southern Caribbean. For those who love the beaches of the Caribbean yet are looking
for something different from the typical Eastern or Western Cruises, consider a cruise
in the Southern Caribbean. Many of these start in San Juan, while some slightly longer
cruises will originate in Southern Florida. Given the large number of islands in
this region, there are a variety of itineraries from which to choose. We’ve done
three Southern Caribbean cruises and have repeated just two ports out of the 12 on
which we called. St. Thomas is a staple (just as on Eastern Caribbean cruises), yet
there is a lot to see and do there—including side trips to the beautiful island of
St. John—that repeat visits can provide some variation. Other popular islands on
these itineraries include Tortola, Virgin Gorda, St. Maarten/Sint Martin, Antigua,
St. Lucia, Barbados, and Aruba. One consideration is that airfare to San Juan can
be much more costly than to ports on the mainland U.S.—yet this also enables you
to enjoy the history and beauty of San Juan for several days, if your schedule permits.
Transatlantic. Admittedly, our selection of a transatlantic crossing was more for
the ship at the time, Queen Elizabeth 2, although a transatlantic seemed like the
best itinerary given her history and that I wanted to experience a liner functioning
as a liner. Our westbound crossing—Southampton to New York—consisted of six days
at sea with no port stops. As QE2 has now been retired, the routes have been picked
up by Queen Mary 2. A classic transatlantic crossing is much different from a cruise.
As is to be expected, there are many more activities (both in number and variety),
several renowned lecturers, and the feeling, and realization, that one is many miles
away from civilization. Most, especially on Cunard, also feature a touch of elegance
in a nod to the transatlantic route’s past. Another option—albeit one we have not
yet done, is a repositioning cruise from Europe. These are typically run in the spring
(eastbound) and autumn (westbound), and often make port stops in Europe before or
after the crossing. One important consideration on these itineraries is airfare,
yet competitive rates are generally offered through the cruise lines. We loved our
2003 transatlantic crossing on QE2, and look forward to taking another of Cunard’s
ships on the same route within the next few years.
Exploring new itineraries was one way we added variety to our cruises. Yet, it’s
not always necessary to go to this extreme—our most recent cruise was an itinerary
we had done several times, yet we made new discoveries onshore, or tried flexible
time dining instead of fixed seating. Still, we look forward to new destinations.
Our next cruise will take us to the rarely visited Homer and Kodiak Island in Alaska.
And there are still itineraries on the to-do list, such as the Baltic, Western Mediterranean,
South America, the Panama Canal, Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, and Hawai’i. Rotating the
familiar with the new is a great way to keep cruising interesting.