15 REASONS TO CRUISE
What was once the province of daring explorers was co-opted by the less intrepid traveller who only wanted to unpack once. But new trips to far-flung places are putting the art of the voyage and the thrill of discovery back into cruising
With new trips to far-flung places putting the art of the voyage and the thrill of discovery back into cruising, it may just be the best
way to see the world
1 SOME PLACES ARE ALL ABOUT THE WATER
My husband would like you to know that his grandfather was from a tiny town in Norway called Odda. His grandfather immigrated to America a century ago and wound up in Mississippi, where he married, fathered three children and died long before my husband, Karl, was born. Karl believes that he inherited a deep love of boats and a need for large bodies of water from this grandfather he never met. He believes this water/boat thing is wrapped in the double helix of his DNA, which makes it a shame that we now live in landlocked Tennessee. At night, he looks at boats on the internet and falls asleep to dream of fjords.
After 22 years of watching my husband wrestle with his inner Norwegian, I decided to do something about it. I decided to take him to the motherland on a ship. The boatloving, water-loving part of Karl is drawn to a life that is practical and rugged. The kind of boat that should bear him to his ancestral home would not be the sort that features a karaoke bar or spa pedicures. When going to the land of the Vikings, one should not arrive on a ship that twists one’s bath towel into the shape of a goose at bedtime. So I booked our northern passage on Hurtigruten, on the MS Nordkapp.
This is not to say the Hurtigruten ships are anything less than comfortable, but this is not a silly operation. Founded in 1893 to transport passengers and post through intricate waterways, the shipping line was an essential part of rural Norway’s eventual modernity. Thanks to Hurtigruten, a letter written in Bergen (at the bottom of the country) could be delivered in Kirkenes (at the very top) in a week rather than half a year, and the young person hoping to flee Kirkenes would have a way to do so.
It was sunny when we arrived in Bergen, and it stayed sunny for about 20 hours a day. The weather was warmer than anyone had expected, and my husband said he wanted to buy a shirt or two just to have something lighter to wear. He got some trousers, too, and a belt and some socks.
When we were finished, I revelled in the cherry blossoms and the wide swaths of yellow tulips, while Karl stood at the water’s edge and looked at the boats. Then the ship came to harbour and we boarded.
By the standards of cruise ships, this one was small, holding 622 passengers when booked to capacity, but by the standards of the old Viking ships, or Nansen’s noble Fram, the famous Arctic exploration vessel, it was still big. Our cabin was styled with a sturdy Scandinavian sensibility. There was a place for everything, and so we put everything in its place. My husband, that happiest Norwegian, then went out on deck to stare at the fjords and the passing boats.
A Hurtigruten ship leaves Bergen every day of the year, which means 12 vessels passing each other on their way to Kirkenes or back, each ship stopping at a total of 34 ports on the 12-day round-trip. While the mighty Nordkapp no longer delivers the mail, it is still a freighter. Wrapped pallets of carburettors were put into the cargo hold in Molde and taken off in Bodø, kitchenware was loaded in Stamsund and came off in Hammerfest. In some ports the ship stayed for hours, in others it was 20 minutes. And it wasn’t just packages that Hurtigruten picked up and delivered, it was Norwegians. They use the ship as a ferry to the next town or maybe five towns up the line. One day on deck I saw two small blond girls with their mother, the next day it was a group of older men in matching vests. They were on the ship and then they were gone. It made sense, because running a cruise line for passengers up to the top of Norway was one thing in summer and something else entirely in winter. Hurtigruten had found a way to stay afloat year-round.
While the passengers and pallets came and went, we watched the never-ending film of rocky atolls, small islands, little villages and fishing boats that slid past the windows. It was almost impossible to look away because every frame in the ever-changing view was so singular: a little red wooden house perched atop a rocky crag, with no other houses in view. Who were these people, and what were they doing out there?
The Germans we met – as well as the English, the Swedes, the Swiss – had all spent their lives dreaming of exactly this Hurtigruten voyage through the fjords. “My grandfather was from Odda,” my husband told one of the Norwegian passengers beside him at the window.
The man squinted. “Bodø?”
“Odda,” Karl said.
Odda, it turned out, was obscure by even Norwegian standards, and Karl’s pronunciation wasn’t the best. In
Ålesund, we disembarked to walk through town and admire the Art Nouveau flourishes. Here’s the thing about Norway: It has burned to the ground more times than can be counted – blame this on the wooden buildings or the long winter nights that require too many candles. It seemed that every city in the country had been rebuilt at some point. Ålesund was so consistently perfect, it looked like it had been snapped together with Art Nouveau Legos, if such things were to exist. When it started to rain, my husband noted that his raincoat wasn’t up to the job and dashed into a ship supply store, where he found one better suited to Norwegian weather. He got some proper rain shoes as well and a Helly Hansen duffel bag before we headed back to the ship.
Every day, we got off the Nordkapp. In Trondheim we visited the Nidaros Cathedral, which was built by Catholics and later lost to Protestants – meaning that Saint Olaf, the most essential of Catholic Norwegian saint-kings, was buried beneath the stone floor of a Lutheran church. We visited the Ringve Museum of musical instruments, and our guide played the harpsichord and the piano forte, looking like he had just stepped out of an Ibsen play. My husband ducked out to buy a hat and gloves because it had gotten cold. At the next stop he found a warmer jacket.
It wasn’t until a few days later, when I was looking for Karl on deck, that I realised I could no longer find him. He was dressed like all the other Norwegian men. They stood together, backs to the room, admiring the water and boats.
We kayaked with two English guides who had come to Norway to visit and never went home. In our kayak I understood that decision, because the light on the water and the high, snow-capped mountains were more beautiful than anything I’d ever seen.
The guide who took us to the Northern Cape had left Zimbabwe for Norway. Karl told each of them that his grandfather was from Odda, and each asked him to repeat the name.
The farther north we went, the shorter the trees, until there were no trees, only reindeer. The endless rocks that popped out of the water like unexpected wisdom teeth were furred with nothing more than moss. Once we passed into the Arctic Circle, there were fewer villages, fewer lonely houses, fewer birds. Karl paced the deck, leaning into the bitter wind. “We should live here,” he said, looking out at the rocks and the cold grey sea, no doubt thinking that Odda must be a place very much like this.
Have you ever given someone the moon, only to discover he wanted the sun and the stars? I aimed to show my husband how much I loved him by taking him to Norway, which was very different from showing him how much I loved him by agreeing to move to Norway. He was right, of course – it’s a spectacular country, even when the freezing rain blows sideways over the barren land. When I told him we weren’t moving, he looked across the fjords and nodded stoically. Maybe if I’d said yes he would have laughed, but I don’t think he was bluffing. There were sirens in those rocky waters singing love songs to the men in their passing boats. They wanted their Norwegians to come home. - Ann Patchett
2. You can spend days on end doing what you love
– in amazing places
Drink a Burgundy in Burgundy, no designated driver required. Belmond’s four- to 12-person canal barges sail the region, with daily stops for tastings at vineyards like the almost-300-year-old Château de Pommard. And last year, SeaDream Yacht Club’s 112-guest vessels launched Wine Voyages in the Mediterranean, with ports in Italy, France, Greece and Spain – plus on-board tastings from the likes of Taittinger and Maison Louis Jadot. Cook with a top chef. Jacques Pépin is hosting classes on an Oceania Cruises trip from Amsterdam to Lisbon in September, and Windstar Cruises is bringing James Beard Foundation chefs (like Pittsburgh’s Jamilka Borges) on ship for demos. If you’re more into eating a celebrity chef’s food than cooking it, try The Grill by Thomas Keller aboard Seabourn’s ships, which sail all over the world.
Golf France’s classic courses (without lugging your clubs). Hop Uniworld’s SS
Joie de Vivre, which started sailing the Seine last year. They’ll lend you clubs and arrange tee times at Normandy’s Golf de Rouen Mont-Saint-Aignan and Golf d’Étretat, which overlooks the English Channel. Soak up knowledge from brilliant profs. Relive your junior year abroad on Smithsonian Journeys’ expert-led cruises, like next year’s trip around Japan with a lecturer from the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria specialising in Asian Studies, who will accompany passengers on visits to Kyoto’s temples and the Adachi Museum of Art in Matsue.
Fill your Insta feed with exotic wildlife. UnCruise Adventures’ supersmall boats are doubling down on marine biology (with new routes to Panama and an updated Galápagos itinerary) and bird-watching (along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast). And this summer, Holland America’s MS
Prinsendam, known as the “Elegant Explorer”, will embark on its final voyage, sailing for two weeks along the coast of Norway to the Arctic Circle where passengers can sight polar bears, seals and whales.
Let world-class musicians give you a semi-private concert. Look for Ponant’s “Musical Odysseys at Sea”, like their autumn sailing in the Mediterranean, which has a quartet on board who will play in Sicily’s medieval Cathedral of Taormina.
From tricked-out ships to
life-changing meals, further proof you’ll want to
get on board
3. You can get VIP treatment – even on a massive boat
“Ship within a ship” programmes offer the perks of a smaller line (from private butlers and first dibs on spa appointments to access to exclusive shore excursions) aboard huge vessels like the Norwegian Breakaway, the Celebrity Reflection or the MSC Divina.
4. Rivers are the new oceans
Drifting past castles on the Rhine (or vineyards on the Rhône) is lovely. But now that river cruising – which once automatically meant visiting Europe – has gone global, itineraries have gotten much more interesting. You can hop a small ship to sail the Amazon or the Mekong (with Aqua Expeditions), the Irrawaddy (on the Belmond Road to Mandalay), the Ganges (on Uniworld’s Ganges Voyager II) or Africa’s Chobe River (spot elephants from the deck of AmaWaterways’ 14-suite Zambezi Queen).
5. YOU’LL FALL ASLEEP IN
THE SAME BED AT NIGHT – BUT WAKE UP IN A DIFFERENT CITY EACH MORNING 6. You’ll check off a bunch of far-flung places in one trip
The Indian Ocean The Seabourn Encore stops in India, Indonesia and Singapore – a single-trip itinerary you could otherwise comfortably accomplish only on a private jet or yacht.
The Baltic Sea Viking Ocean Cruises is dominating northern Europe, recently adding the Viking Sky to sail to the historic towns of Estonia, the design hubs of Finland, the fjords of Norway and the islands of Sweden. The Polar regions In August,
Ponant’s L’Austral will transit the Northwest Passage, with a 23-day trip from Greenland to Alaska. In the Southern Hemisphere, Silversea’s Silver Explorer sails the Antarctic Peninsula for visits to glaciers and penguin colonies.
The South Pacific On Paul Gauguin Cruises’ 166-cabin Paul Gauguin you can visit five islands in a week.
The Caribbean In a week-long cruise, Windstar’s 106-suite Star Breeze sails to seven or eight islands – including Montserrat, which got its first cruise ship in 20 years when the line first arrived just a few years ago. Southeast Asia You could hopscotch flights to hit Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Sihanoukville in one go. Or sail into each aboard Oceania’s Nautica.
See the Polar regions and transit the Northwest Passage