August 30, 2013

To Cruise or Not To Cruise? Depends on Where and When

Travel is one of my addictions . . . but I prefer INDEPENDENT travel. Even if I'm vacationing with a friend, I usually go off on my own during the day, then we reunite for dinner. Group travel has never appealed. I'd rather stay home than spend a holiday in a crowd traipsing after a guide with an umbrella.

But given my age (84) and health (Parkinson's), I realize I may have to adapt. This year, I decided to experiment with cruise ships. I'd taken short river cruises in Egypt and China. But I had no experience on ocean-going vessels. Now I have. I've been on two cruises this summer.

Alaska vs. The Mediterranean
Anyone who's read my recent posts knows I became increasingly disenchanted with this recent Mediterranean cruise. But I did enjoy the Vancouver-to-Anchorage cruise in June on the same line -- Regent.

I like Regent. They carry only about 500 passengers, not 2000+ like many other lines. Just about everything -- except the specialized health/beauty spa services -- is included in the price, so you don't feel "nickel-and-dime'd" every time you turn around. There's a no-tipping policy, and I like not wondering if I should and how much. Employees are professional and pleasant. Cabins are spacious; most have balconies. Regent seems pricey at first, but not when you consider all that's included.

The Alaska adventure was a seven-night cruise from Vancouver through the Inside Passage, then on to Anchorage with a stop at the Hubbard Glacier. The highlight was viewing the jaw-dropping scenery of the Alaskan wilderness with its snow-capped mountains and immense glaciers. The shore excursions I picked included flightseeing by floatplane or helicopter and journeying out by small boat to see otters and whales and an island bird sanctuary. The port towns were mostly jumping-off places, not sightseeing objectives. I thoroughly enjoyed the cruise, and it helped that we had the best weather in years.

The 11-day Mediterranean cruise featured stops at cities on the Adriatic and Mediterranean coasts. Most of the places I'd visited before, spending days (and nights) getting to know them. This time, it felt obscene to "do" Rome or Florence on a quick, crowded tour in the middle of a day. My earlier trips to these places had occurred in spring or fall, so I was shocked on this August cruise by the hordes of summer tourists on shore. 

I was also looking forward to escaping the swamp-like summer heat and humidity of Washington. Ironically, DC has had a remarkably mild summer, with temperatures lower than those in most of our European destinations.

Our final stop -- Barcelona -- was the last straw. I've visited Barcelona, a favorite city, several times. I always loved wandering around the Gothic Quarter, then rambling up and down Las Ramblas. This time, I took the cable car up to the castle that overlooks the harbor and city. The view was great and the place wasn't crowded. But then, I went down to my old favorites. the Gothic Quarter and Ramblas. The streets were so jam-packed with tourists that after a half hour I hailed a cab and headed back to the ship. My driver told me he'd just been in Washington on a day that set a new record LOW temperature!

The best part of my Barcelona three hours was running into three generations of Schappi's on a crowded street near Las Ramblas. They started debating where to head next. I said "I'm splitting" and off I went.

The most enjoyable parts of the Mediterranean cruise? The two days my son, his gal and I left the ship and drove to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence . . . and the day in Taormina, Sicily, when our family toured together.

Will I Go On A Cruise Again?
Definitely not, if the focus is on land tours of towns and cities. Before the Mediterranean cruise, I'd been looking at a Regent tour around the coast of South America from Lima, Peru to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I've never been further south than Costa Rica in the Americas. Now, that idea doesn't appeal. I'd rather stay for a week in Lima, or perhaps a city in Chile . . . then spend a week in Buenos Aires and another in Rio. I'd gladly subsidize a traveling companion. But I have no interest in "doing" Lima or Buenos Aires in an abbreviated day.

I still might consider other cruise options. A cruise along the fjords of Norway might be more like the Alaska cruise. And some who know me have suggested a riverboat cruise in France. And what about Johannesburg and an African safari?

We'll see.

No comments: