Passion Points: Escape
In my first two years as the travel editor of Town & Country, I logged more than a month sleeping on cruise ships. My conclusion: they are not for serious travelers and since I was an avid explorer, they were not for me. But last summer, I tried again and discovered that not only have my circumstances changed but so have cruise ships.
In fact, after a week with my two children aboard the Seabourn Spirit, sailing in Greece and the Dalmatian isles, I, the former anti-cruiser, wished that I could sail for another week or more. I also came to believe that if you choose the right itinerary—and most important, the right ship—a cruise can be a perfect solution for parents or grandparents who want to minimize travel stress without sacrificing an appetite for discovery.
One reason for my turnaround is that as a curious mom (traveling without my husband) and with two children in tow —aged 10 and 12—I could cover a lot of interesting destinations with minimal travel stress. When we arrived at the ship in Athens, we were met by a smiling team who whisked our bags to our cabins and welcomed us at customs with Champagne and orange juice. We were to visit four countries that week and only once did I present our passports or unpack our bags. Our itinerary included gems like the island of Corfu and the fortified coastal towns of Kotor and Dubrovnik, which would have required multiple flights and road trips to reach independently. Instead, we found on our pillows each night a write-up of the destination, and then, we would wake up already in port or sail in as we ate breakfast on our balcony. (One of the many thoughtful daily touches: Room-service would call after delivery to see if my son would like more pancakes.)
My kids who have complained about our trips to Europe involving too much “walking and learning” loved that they could opt out of the excursions to ancient churches or monasteries that I might wake up early to do and instead go into town for a “lighter” version of exploring to walk the fortress walls or just get ice cream. Seabourn offers a range of excursions so on Corfu, for instance, you could choose an ATV exploration, an island tour (with churches) or do as we did and get a private guide so we could combine a visit to the town that is known as Greece’s Capri and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Corfu town with a few hours at Aqualand, Europe’s biggest water park. My favorite stop was Dubrovnik, where I explored almost every corner in the walled city and got to scout the beautiful new Villa Dubrovnik hotel, while my children opted to spend part of the day in the kids’ club with a handful of other kids their age under the supervision of two adorable teachers from England. Lucy and Pippa were like pied pipers coming up with T-shirt contests, fashion shows, games and movies to appeal to a gang of 10 to 14 year olds from Texas, South Carolina, New York and Geneva.
Their favorite day of the cruise was the one ‘at sea’, when we dropped anchor off of a remote cove in Croatia and the water sports deck was set up. A mini saltwater pool appeared off the back of the ship. And while we waited for our names to be called for rides on the banana boat or to water ski or go tubing, the kids floated in the pool. The more adventurous adults took off in kayaks or sailboats. Even though there were 400 some people on the eight-story ship, we never waited more than a few minutes to get on or off the ship or to get a table at any of the five restaurants on board. And unlike in many hotels, the gym and business center were never crowded and spa appointments were available with little notice. The entire crew from the sweet stewardess who left surprise animals on the kids’ beds to the guys who manned the counter at the café, where we went for mid-morning coffee and hot chocolate, was wonderfully cheery. Many of them were young and came from countries as far-flung as Brazil and Estonia, and their good humor and enthusiasm was infectious.
The greatest treat, for me, though was how easy it was to keep everyone happy. For instance, meal time, which when traveling with different ages and different appetites can be a daily dilemma, never was one. Room service was an option twenty-four hours a day. A number of restaurants were always open, ranging from a casual poolside grill to fancier dining rooms. So if one child didn’t feel like going to dinner, they could order pizza in the cabin. If another wanted to invite friends to the restaurant, they could do so. Additionally, the cabin price includes all meals, wine and many activities, as well as tips, so you pay once and don’t think about costs or cash the rest of the vacation.
THE BASICS: Seabourn has six ships, all of which have a similar level of service and all suite accommodations. (The Pride, Legend and Spirit ships carry only 208 travelers; the newer Odyssey, Quest and Sojourn carry 450.)
WHO SHOULD GO: People who like to be very well looked after and expect excellent service and food and large groups consisting of people of varied ages and interests can particularly benefit from the variety onboard.
WHO SHOULD NOT GO: Anyone who feels trapped by being on a boat and people who get completely creeped out by larger groups. You don’t have to mingle or sit at group tables, but you will be in closer proximity to lots of people at the pool or at disembarkation times than you would be in most hotel situations.
HOW TO PICK THE RIGHT ITINERARY: The best way to pick your cruise is to focus on the destinations of interest and your dates, as ships move around. Since you never have more than a day or two in each port, I think the ideal itineraries are not the ones that visit cities like Rome or resort areas like Capri or Amalfi, where you will undoubtedly want more time, but instead stop in hard-to-reach locales or regions that are best explored by sea anyway such as the Baltics, the Greek islands, parts of southeast Asia, or South America.
HOW TO PICK THE RIGHT SHIP: It’s a fact that some cruise companies are more thoughtful than others, and to avoid ending up on a massive ship that spills thousands of passengers into too-small port towns, it pays to do some homework on the cruise companies you’re considering, the size of the ships and the ports of call. There are only three high-end cruise companies that Indagare would recommend and of those, there are specific boats that are better (most of the time smaller) than others.
INDAGARE PLUS: We receive substantially lower fares for cruises than those published on their web site and often secure special benefits, ranging from free round-trip airline tickets to upgrades and on-board ship credits, so be sure to call our advisory team if you are interested in booking a cruise.
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