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- The Avid Cruiser
A friend of mine always likes to rib me about cruising and asked me if I ever get tired of travelling – and my answer is always the same: absolutely not!
I’ve been travelling – really travelling – since 1998, when my parents took me on my first cruise: a weeklong voyage to Alaska aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Wind, which now sails for Star Cruises as their Superstar Aquarius, doing short sailings from Taiwan after years of operating overnight gambling runs out of Hong Kong.
But the real travel bug didn’t bite me until I went to Europe for the first time, as part of a high-school travel club. I’d never been on an airplane for longer than an hour, and suddenly there I was, speeding towards Montreal, London and finally, Athens. I discovered the joys and pains of layovers, language barriers, connecting flights and – most memorably – the fact that you could still smoke aboard Olympic Airways flights at that time. We took off from Heathrow, both little overhead lights went ding!, and the entire plane took a trip to Flavour Country.
I coughed and sputtered all the way to Athens. The service was horrible, the food was mysterious, and the plane smelled like Marlon Brando’s dressing room (which, I can only assume, was probably unpleasant). And as I poked and prodded at the inflight meal, trying to make out what was actually edible, I realized I was completely and utterly hooked on the entire experience.
So why do we travel?
I’d like to say I travel to experience the enriching differences this world has to offer, from the greenest hills of Ireland to the gritty, dust-strewn streets of Morocco. But the truth is that I’ve never really had a good answer to the question; the former just sounds more profound.
In truth, I travel because it has an inescapable hold on me. Every time I visit somewhere, I want to see and do more. I push myself harder and farther when I travel than in any other situation, rising early in the morning and going to sleep late at night. I’m a miserable person to take to an all-inclusive, because I want to get out and see everything.
For me, cruising only enhances the sensory overload that is travel, because the ship becomes an important – even crucial – part of that decision. Sure, you can rent a car and drive around Norway, but to see its coastline from the deck of a ship, as you sip champagne in the warmth of the setting sun is a painfully beautiful moment.
Big ships are special for the sheer amount of entertainment choices they offer; some of the happiest passengers I’ve ever seen were this past March onboard the Norwegian Epic – and why not? A few trips to the Svedka Ice Bar had me feeling pretty happy as well, though I never did screw up the courage to go down the waterslides. What can I say? I hate heights.
But small ships have their own unique kind of fun. It’s a more traditional kind of fun; the one that comes from meeting new people from around the world and realizing, regardless of age, race or income, that you have an astonishing amount in common with them.
Sure, there are aspects of travel that annoy me. I’ve been on flights that have been delayed, cancelled, grounded, and have had luggage doors freeze open. The TSA has enough x-ray, body-scan images of me to fill an adult magazine and they always seem to select me for the supposedly random search that leaves my carry-on in disarray. I’ve been in taxis where I thought I was going to die, and in hotels where I figured sleeping on top of the sheets was the safer bet. My frequent flier mileage now outpaces my bank account by a wide margin, and I was just crazy enough to switch careers from a somewhat successful television editor to a somewhat successful freelance travel writer, trading talking ponies for cruise ships and airplanes.
And, like that first overseas flight, I am still completely hooked.
I think, in some respect, we all travel to learn more about ourselves. Over the years and the trips, I’ve learned to speak different languages and appreciate different foods. The best lunch I ever had was actually a traditional Danish open-faced sandwich eaten outdoors in Gammeltorv square in Copenhagen. The best drink: Aquavit in Amsterdam. The best food I thought I’d hate: squid cooked in its own ink. The food I thought I’d love, but hated: Kippers – regardless of the time of day.
Over the years, I learned I don’t get seasick, even in rough seas, but I experienced motion-sickness in the locks on the Main-Danube Canal. Go figure. I learned I can speak a passable amount of German, but will never master the rolling rrrrrr’s of Italian. I learned I love how Europeans dress and feel my own North American clothes look positively homeless in comparison. The Swedish make socks that are to die for, and the Austrians know how to make a damn good scarf. You don’t need either in Grenada, where they make a mean rum punch.
To me, travel and cruising are bottomless wells of information, filled with experiences as profound as love and fear. And they’re there, yours for the taking. All you have to do is reach in and grab hold.
Personally, my biggest fear isn’t that I won’t be able to see all the amazing places and gorgeous cruise ships the world has to offer.
My fear is that I may never truly find myself.
From the Deck Chair will return tomorrow with more exciting cruise coverage!
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