What makes a world cruise the ultimate journey? Jo Castro takes to the waters for more than a quarter of a year to find out what traversing the planet by sea is really like.
“Are you mad?” some of our friends asked when we told them we were going on a world cruise for 104 nights.
At least our adult children were encouraging. “Just do it! You only live once,” was their verdict.
Nonetheless, the nagging questions persisted. How could I possibly pack enough clothes? What if we didn’t like our fellow travellers? How about illness?
My husband and I are consummate travellers and we love cruising, but this looked like the ultimate test. As we walked up the gangway of Sea Princess – a sister of Sun and Dawn Princess which ply Australian waters – I have to confess to a certain trepidation.
Compared to days gone by, today’s world cruiser is blessed. The internet and a prepaid international travel SIM ensured we could stay in contact with family and friends.
The itinerary was captivating, from the grand cities of Europe and ancient civilisations of the Middle East to drop dead gorgeous tropical islands.
Sea Princess holds close to 2,000 passengers and about 1,300 of us were doing the full world cruise. Quite a few were taking work sabbaticals and there were lots of retirees making the most of their time. We now number several septuagenarians and octogenarians among our friends.
And did we get bored with them? Actually, though we dined, watched shows, played table tennis (and didn’t always win), enjoyed learning arts and crafts and attending enrichment lectures, and sometimes just lazed by the pool with them, we found them excellent company.
On a journey of this duration you make friends upstairs and downstairs, and we feel privileged to count several crew members as lifelong friends, too.
As for packing, I found the clothes that worked the hardest and looked the best were comfortable pieces suitable for layering and which didn’t require ironing.
As for going stir crazy, it honestly didn’t happen. We had six different dining options, four pools, five spas to lounge in and two show lounges in which to enjoy entertainers and productions.
There were regular movies under the stars, duty free shopping, a health centre and spa, sports deck, disco, library, casino and a never-ending choice of clubs, activities and entertainment options during the day.
Come back new? We were more worried about coming back knackered!
But this journey is really about the destinations. I still can’t believe we actually circumnavigated the world, visited 37 destinations in 25 different countries on five continents and travelled more than 50,000 kilometres.
But we did. So here we are, four months later, home on dry land. Still married – indeed closer as a couple than we have ever been.
I’ll never forget the sailaway, standing on the deck of Sea Princess for the first time, cruising out of Sydney under the iconic Harbour Bridge as the sun set behind us.
After 10 days at sea the city of gold didn’t disappoint; bustling souks, mountains of gold, and modern skyscrapers.
I fell in love with the Amalfi Coast and the Island of Capri. We docked at Civitavecchia and visited Rome and the Coliseum, having cruised from Salerno where we took a trip to Pompei.
Lisbon, especially the Alfamo with its colourful winding streets, was tinder for my writerly muse while the tasty Nata Tarts filled my tummy.
From the port of Zeebrugge we travelled to beautiful Bruges where beer, chocolate and moules frites followed by a canal tour were memorable highlights.
We docked at the small town of Nynashamn and coached to beautiful Stockholm where I met up with my friend whom I knew from my backpacking days in Australia in 1983.
We visited St Petersburg and were knocked sideways by the extravagance and opulence of Tsarist rule. Rasputin, Peter the Great, The Winter Palace – legendary names, so much more real to me now.
We tried the 18th Century medicinal drink Black Balsam in Riga. It’s made of 24 herbs and is real medicine but stronger than Vodka. People keep it in their medicine cabinets as a remedy against colds.
Cobh, the last port of call for The Titanic, was bedecked with colourful flowers and all the shop windows sported displays of Australiana. There was music and dancing in the pubs as the town celebrated its annual Australia day. I had tears in my eyes as the townsfolk sang and waved Sea Princess goodbye.
We arrived in Sydney and explored Cape Breton Island including the pretty town of Bedeck (famous for Alexander Bell the inventor) and the beautiful Bredor Lakes. Gaelic is still spoken here – interesting because the culture has remained a legacy of those who emigrated from the Scottish Highlands in search of a new life in the 1700’s.
In Boston, the ship’s foodie tour around Little Italy was a highlight. New York was an assault on the senses and as a newbie visitor I was completely overwhelmed. Best bit for me? A gentle horse-drawn carriage ride through peaceful Central Park.
When we arrived at West End and looked at the blue of Bermuda, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I’ll never forget the pastel coloured houses of Hamilton, the gorgeous Horseshoe Bay and the interesting immersion we had into Bermuda’s darker past when we visited the Museum.
Ringed by thick stone walls that took almost 100 years to complete we found that the old walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is full of Spanish colonial heritage.
In Lima I’ll never forget drinking Pisco Sour at lunchtime. I’ll always remember buying gifts at the Indian Market – my case soon to be heavy with Alpaca jerseys and brightly coloured table cloths. In San Martin we headed out on a small boat to Peru’s Galapagos Islands, the Islas Ballistas, for an exciting boat trip.
In funky Valparaiso we had the most wonderful guide who sang to us as we coached around the city. Leaving Valparaiso at dusk, watching from our balcony as the lights began to twinkle across the 43 Churros (hills), was mesmeric.
Just like paradise and the weather was gorgeous. As tropical holiday destinations go, the ports of call we made in the Society Islands were hard to beat. We enjoyed three idyllic days exploring Moorea, Tahiti and Raiatea.
Auckland was sadly wet and overcast but we manned-up, made good use of the Princess Cruises’ complimentary umbrellas and explored the city by foot.
HIGHS: Being on a luxury floating resort with my every need taken care of while visiting exciting destinations all around the globe. Returning to Sea Princess shattered after a wonderful day’s sightseeing to rejuvenate in a hot tub with a cold cocktail to hand is something everybody should do, at least once in their lifetime!
LOWS: Knowing that I couldn’t eat All The Cakes or I’d come back huge.
BEST SUITED TO: People who have time, energy and a spirit of adventure. It helps if you have an inquisitive nature and the fitness to fully enjoy the fabulous destinations. However, elderly people or those with mobility issues who desire to travel are catered for too.
Is a World Cruise for you?
Ask yourself these questions…
Do you enjoy days at sea? Most itineraries have at least one long stretch when you will be confined to the ship.
Do you like short stopovers? You need to be aware of what one well-known travel writer calls writer calls “yet another port” syndrome
Do you get on with all sorts of people? This is crucial. A cruise of this length can test your skill and diplomacy. Having a positive outlook and a sunny disposition certainly helps.