TRAVEL Shipboard Romances

Slow boats to China and other fantastic voyages

Writer Michael Arlen once said “All I want of the world is very little. I only want the best of everything and there is so little of that.” Those who share that sentiment will be cheered by the renaissance of the long cruise.

Indeed, the mere words “long cruise” conjure up a very special world of personalized service and refined cuisine and a return to that sorely missed, highly civilized lifestyle once taken for granted on glamorous transatlantic liners – Caronia, Mauretania, Queen Mary, Nor-mandie, Queen Elizabeth, the France, the Liberté – in more languorous days. Today’s noble luxury liners sail to famous as well as offbeat destinations – Surabaya, Bora Bora, Christmas Island, the Galapagos, Rarotonga, Suva, Port Moresby, Mormugao, Trebizond.

Last year more than a million people opted for a cruise – and many of them chose a long voyage. Once a vacation favorite of retired persons, the long cruise now attracts many younger travelers as well. In fact, the demand is becoming so great that many long cruises are sold out down to the last inside stateroom months in advance.

The long cruise usually lasts a month or longer and, unlike the trendy shorter cruise, is unhurried and hassle-free: no frenzied tour of five ports in seven days; nothing, in fact, more strenuous than reclining under a lap rug on a breezy deck drinking cups of hot bouillon. The only thing to consider is which clothes to wear (formal dress is no longer de rigueur, though it’s a wonderful throwback to elegance just the same) and what foods to eat (fresh caviar from the Caspian Sea, smoked Scotch salmon, filet of Dover sole amandine or savory beef Wellington, cherries Jubilee).

The long cruise is a floating refuge where countries and islands come to you, and several weeks of grand idleness, even a brush with boredom, can work wonders in dispelling winter gloom. The toughest choice you have to make is which long cruise to take. Your decision will depend on the status of your bank account, how much time you have for the trip, and where you wish to visit. Here are some forthcoming long cruise options that offer destinations difficult to reach by any other means – or in such comfort.

MEDITERRANEAN. Norwegian America Line’s Sagafjord will sail from Fort Lauderdale April 19, 1980, visiting Hamilton (Bermuda), Ponta Delgada (Azores), and Lisbon, Cadiz, and Cartegena before arriving in Genoa on May 4. Then on to calls at Stomboli, Herakleion, Rhodes, Alexandria, Haifa, Kusadasi, Piraeus (for Athens), Delos, Mykonos, and Messina, returning to Genoa on May 18. Price per person, double occupancy, for the 30-night itinerary ranges from $3450 to $6650 with economy class air transportation from Milan to New York included.

TRANS-PANAMA. On Sit-mar Line’s Fairsea cruise, passengers board at Los Angeles March 1 and call at Cabo San Lucas and Acapulco, Mexico before passing through the Panama Canal to Curacao, La Guaira (Caracas), and St. Thomas, with termination in San Juan, Puerto Rico 14 days later. The ship works a similar course on its return to Los Angeles. Trans-Panama Canal cruises include round-trip air transportation to Los Angeles from any of Sitmar’s 129 Air/Sea cities. Double occupancy per person ranges from $ 1785 to $3000.

ORIENT/ALASKA TRANSPACIFIC. Holland America Cruises has two real spellbinders scheduled in 1980 for its Prin-sendam between Singapore and Vancouver, British Columbia (and vice versa) with rates from $3625 per person. Passengers who book on either of these cruises fly free from the U.S. West Coast or Singapore. On April 28, the ship leaves Singapore for 29 days with calls scheduled at Manila, Hong Kong, Shanghai in the People’s Republic of China, Yokohama, and Sitka, Juneau, and Ketchikan, Alaska before arriving in Vancouver on May 27. It departs Vancouver September 30 and arrives in Singapore on October 27, making the same stops along the way. In addition to the call at Shanghai, a feature attraction of each Prinsendam voyage is the opportunity to take a tour of Peking, as well as Soochow (one of China’s ancient cities south of the Yangtze River) or Wusih, a favorite Chinese resort. Both trips also feature daytime cruising through spectacular Glacier BayNational Monument in southeastern Alaska.

There’s an optional “Indonesian Adventure Cruise” offered in connection with each trans-Pacific jaunt, departing Singapore and calling at Penang, Malaysia; Sibo-loga and Belawan, North Sumatra; Jakarta, West Java; Bali; and Surabaya, East Java. Passengers taking the combined sailings receive round-trip air fare to and from their cruise from many major cities in the United States, Canada, or Mexico or a $200 travel allowance in addition to the trans-Pacific flight between the U.S. West Coast and Singapore. Rates for the combined cruises begin at $5430 per person.

AROUND SOUTH AMERICA. Delta Steamship Lines has almost singlehandedly transformed South America into a viable tourist destination with cruises year-round on four luxury 100-passenger ships – San-la Maria, Santa Mercedes, Santa Mariana and Santa Magdalena – currently the only U.S.-registered ocean-going passenger liners. With sailings every two weeks from the U.S. West Coast, the 1980 schedule includes departures from San Francisco on February 8, February 22, and March 4, with return trips on April 5, April 19, and May 3, respectively. Although the Strait of Magellan, some 625 miles north of Antarctica, is considered the high point of the route, Delta has scheduled a series of air/sea programs with a variety of other scenic and cultural attractions found in the Southern Hemisphere: notably, an optional excursion to Macchu Pichu while docked at Lima, Peru; and a visit to the Andes mountain city of Quito, Ecuador, for a ride on the “Devil’s Nose” railroad, which drops sharply 11,000 feet to the seaport city of Guayaquil. Rates for the full 52-day cruise are $6330 to $12,270 each, double occupancy, in an outside cabin. An air-tour program is also available for those who wish to join or leave the ship at any of the 14 points on the itinerary from Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Valparaiso, or Guayaquil.

SCANDINAVIAN-BALTIC/RUSSIA. Passengers boarding Norwegian America’s Vistafjord in Fort Lauderdale on May 24 or New York on May 26 will call at Le Havre and London before voyaging to Hamburg, through the Kiel Canal to Visby, Stockholm, Helsinki, Leningrad, Rostock, Flaam, Gudvangen, Ulvik, Eidefjord, and London with a return to Hamburg on June 21. Sea lovers choosing this itinerary receive free transfers and economy class air fare from Hamburg to New York. Price per person, double occupancy, ranges from $3410 to $6800.

EAST AFRICA. Departing Genoa on November 2, Norwegian America’s Saga-fjord’s 40-day East Africa/Indian Ocean itinerary is a brand new addition to long cruises, a real landmark journey: 21 ports of call whose names alone evoke the mystery of Africa’s east coast: Port Said, Djibouti, Mogadishu, Mombassa, Zanzibar, Mutsumadu, Madagascar, the Seychelles, Maldive Islands, Sri Lanka, Goa and Bombay, Aden, Haifa – quite a mind-boggling adventure. Price per person, double occupancy, ranges from $5340 to $ 10,320 including round-trip economy class air fare between New York and Genoa.

GREAT WORLD CRUISE. For those with the time and resources, there is of course the lavishly appointed around-the-world cruise stopping at all the perfumed ports you’ve heard about and some you haven’t.

These cruises offer extra-cost land tours that allow adventuresome passengers to leave the ship, often for a week at a time, and pick it up at the next stop. Don’t bypass such opportunities as putting ashore at Rio and trekking northward to Brasilia or southward to the incomparable Iguassu Falls, surpassing even Niagara’s grandeur; or a safari into Kenya’s major game parks, spending the night in a tree-top hotel over a salt lick rife with elephants and water buffalo; or, the best gambit of all, venturing into the People’s Republic of China (one way to beat the visa wait) for a glimpse of Canton, Shanghai, Peking, and the Great Wall. The four ships now making round-the-world voyages, Queen Elizabeth 2, Royal Viking Sea, Rotterdam, and Saga-fjord, all sail each January for about three months and offer such optional excursions.

Norwegian America Line has already announced a 1981 Great World Cruise for the Sagafjord, highlighted by a three-day stop in Shanghai en route to the Far East. (The line’s 1979 and 1980 Great World Cruises were rapid sell-outs, as were the other companies’, with passengers now waitlisted for the 1980 voyages.) Departing Fort Lauder-dale on January 10, 1981, the Sagafjord will carry 400 passengers to 30 ports that read like an atlas index: Hilo, Honolulu, Nagasaki, Pusan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Colombo, Karachis, Muscat, Aden, Port Sudan, Suez, Port Said, Tangier, and Madiera, among others, before returning to Fort Lauderdale on April 11 via Hamilton, Bermuda. Cruise prices range from $12,280 to $40,600 per person, double occupancy. But you could go all out and opt for the Queen Elizabeth 2’s duplex Queen Anne or Trafalgar suite on its circumnavigation for a cool $150,000, or the Queen Mary Suite – two bedrooms, silk-paneled walls, marble bath fixtures in gold-plated ratings, fresh flowers daily, a private staircase and elevator – for a mere $11,310 per person on a five-day transatlantic crossing.

A long round-the-world cruise adds up to a 24-carat indulgence in the opulence of a bygone era: the foghorn blasting out the noon hour, deck railings tasting of salt, starlit nights, balmy breezes, the ritual of high tea observed at four in the afternoon, a dinner menu of at least eight courses.

The price of any long cruise ultimately depends, of course, on the location and size of the cabin you choose. In the days before air conditioning, it was desirable to have a cabin with a porthole to let in fresh air, but their only value now is to let in sunlight and give you a view of the water. Do avoid, if possible, cabins far aft as they get the vibration and noise of the engine room and propeller shafts. The most stable section of the ship is close to the waterline amidships, the least costly cabins, surprisingly enough, while the most expensive ones are usually on the higher decks.

Now for that bugaboo for any passenger, long or short cruiser: tipping. At some time during the voyage, the cruise director will explain the ship’s policy regarding gratuities and will suggest appropriate amounts. On Greek ships, a law of the maritime union requires that tips be pooled and distributed by a committee chosen by the crew. Holland America Lines and the Russian cruise ships have a no-tipping policy (though tipping isn’t prohibited) which leaves passengers tipping about half what they would on other vessels. But remember: Never tip ship’s officers.

On long cruises, it is better to tip at two-week intervals rather than at the end of the voyage, as is traditional on shorter cruises. Many experienced travelers, accustomed to attentive service and special arrangements, give part of the total tip to their cabin and dining room stewards at the outset. It might sound gauche, but waiters smile and wave for weeks afterwards, and while you will be assured that service doesn’t diminish if you don’t tip lavishly, no one claims it doesn’t improve if you do. Indeed, a little something at the start seems to smooth the way for late arrivals at meals, picnic lunches for shore trips, and sudden dietary whims.

A current rule of thumb: Inflation and the high cost of service have affected tipping practices. The once-acceptable $1.50 per person in the dining room and in the cabin is now passe, and it’s a rare vessel that is not suggesting gratuities of at least $2 per person in the dining room and the same amount to the cabin steward. The Queen Elizabeth 2 recommends $3 per day to both parties.

A word to the wise: Book early for a desirable cabin. Many cruise lines report average occupancy of 95 percent and encourage passengers to book at least six months in advance, although some bookings are available on shorter notice. Cruise rates will never be lower than today, even with 1980’s prices reflecting a 20 to 30 percent increase over last year’s in the cost of fuel and shore excursions.

But even so, sea travel is thriving as neverbefore in an age dominated by the jet, andthe long cruise remains the best all-inclusivepackage in the travel marketplace. Whatever the future holds, the long cruise remains a fantasy world of superlatives, admittedly expensive, but a beguiling voyagefilled with memorable occasions and unforgettable people. Cole Porter and MossHart discovered as much while working onthe 1935 musical comedy Jubilee during a34,000-mile world cruise on the Franconia.As the Cunarder headed toward the FijiIslands, Porter sat down at the uprightpiano in his First-class cabin and tried out anew tune on his collaborator. Its title:”Begin the Beguine.” Not everyone returnshome from a long cruise with a smash hit,but it’s hard not to return with a sense ofwonder.

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