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June 5, 2018 – Published in Design & Decor Summer 2018 issue

Sailing to bite-sized bits of the world

Words Jim Dunn

The reaction from friends was mixed. ‘You are what?’ they asked incredulously. ‘You cannot be serious’ was another and one simply said ‘you are mad’. The general feeling was that we would be ‘bored out of our minds’

The topic was a ‘holiday’ decision.

We had chosen to celebrate a special milestone in our relationship and special Birthdays by completely spoiling ourselves and literally pushing the boat out and reserving a suite on a 5 star ship and sailing around the world from Los Angeles to Rome. And oh yes, forgot to say it will take 4 months.

So what’s not to like about that? Four months bobbing around the world in a small, floating 5-star hotel. There would only be a maximum of 350 passengers with about 250 staff, a small ship by current cruise ship standards and during most of the journey the number of people on the ship would be much less than these numbers.

We are talking about small luxury liners not those mega floating ‘office blocks’ we regularly see arriving and departing in the Grand Harbour.

And that is precisely what we did.

Most people were not surprised that the two of us, who seem to spend our time hopping on aircraft and passing through airports and then popping up in all four corners of the world, should decide to embark on a ship this time and take a break from airports and leisurely look at bite size bits of the world. That really was par for the course for us.

Well, as I write I have about 6 weeks of the tour to go. We began in Los Angeles and we are currently in Vietnam.  I’m gazing from the deck at dusk settling in on the stunning islands of Halong Bay, those ancient rock edifices, now a World Heritage Site that soar out of the Saigon Sea.

There are 2000 limestone and wind sculpted formations here that jut out from foggy lagoons. Tomorrow morning we will jump aboard a local junk and leisurely sail around these magnificent islands.

This is just one of the 60 ports we are visiting over the 121 days of the tour from LA across the Pacific to the French Polynesian Islands, up to a number of ports in New Zealand, Tasmania and then across to Australia from Sydney up to Cairns and Darwin then across to The Philippines, Bali, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City and Singapore… and so on to our destination still weeks’ away in Rome.

The voyage to date has given us 4 days in Hawaii including a false missile strike on the island which made worldwide news, a week in the exotic Society Islands… Tahiti, Raiatea, Moorea and the glamorous Bora Bora, holiday destination for the well heeled who just want to wear flip flops for a few weeks.

Then there was 10 days in New Zealand, north and south islands and almost three weeks cruising a whole series of ports on Australia’s east coast from Sydney up to Darwin. There then followed 10 days in Vietnam visiting the spectacular Ha Long Bay and Ho Chi Minh City, now increasingly being referred to by its original name Saigon with all its history of the more recent Vietnam War. Also included will be visits to the four great cities of Asia, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Cruising is certainly one part of the travel industry which is booming. Almost every week somewhere there is a ship launched to cater for the growing number of people who have decided that a leisurely tour on a luxury ship… and here I use luxury relatively… it really depends on the shipping line you choose which determines the level of ‘luxury’. This beats airports any day.

And while this world tour will take 4 months you can purchase a period for much less but usually it’s in 2 week segments. So another plus is that while the core world cruisers remain, new faces turn up regularly.

The ever increasing ‘grey panther’ market who want every comfort and are prepared to pay for it and want to avoid the catastrophe of today’s airports as much as possible seems to be the main sector which is filling the ships. Further afield the new and prosperous Chinese and Asian middle class is one other group which is attracted to the new cruise ships in the Asian region.

So popular has cruising become that on this ship I am meeting people who spend at least four months of the year sailing the world… often on itineraries they have visited before. Some guests are on their 10th World Cruise. There is now an international travellers club of world cruisers. The itinerary in many ways is irrelevant. If a passenger has been to a port before they just stay on board in considerable comfort.

Life on board is anything but boring. Apart from the sun decks which keeps the majority of us occupied, a typical day can be spent being extremely active. Destination lectures… we currently have a superb lecturer on board in British born Jon Fleming www.jonflemingcruising… his expertise of world destinations is fully comprehensive and intricately researched… then there are guest lecturers coming and going on a wide variety of topics such as books from Australian author Tom Keneally, he of Schindler’s List fame, top US political commentators and Sky News Royal Correspondent Alistair Bruce on meeting and working with The Royals, Royal Wedding plans and Heraldry.

There are of course all the other facilities you would expect to find on a ship, shops, spa, swimming pool, restaurants, a small theatre for lectures and a regularly changing nightly cabaret show of an extremely high standard are to be found.

It is indeed a beautiful world and this voyage has been casting a spotlight on all its riches, mesmerizing landscapes like the blue lagoons of Polynesia, ancient wonders from Angkor Wat, Butan, the mystical Taj Mahal to Petra and the Temples of Luxor and Karnak.

The modern world is not forgotten. Sydney’s Opera House, the Petronas Towers of Kuala Lumpur and the soaring skylines of Singapore and Hong Kong.

The cruising industry has accomplished a great deal in recent years to overcome the negative perception of this form of holiday, created it has to be said, in the 70s by its US arm. Gone are midnight buffets, heaped fatty foods, pre-assigned seating at meals etc. Now we have gourmet chefs, free seating at meals, healthy menu options, small portions and an overall emphasis on healthy living.

If you are considering a cruise as a vacation go for smaller ships, that would be my advice.
Finally, a word on the World having just toured a chunk of it.

As someone once said rather obviously, ‘the world continues to change’ It strikes me that more and more the steamy ‘originality’ of many countries is disappearing and skyscrapers and shopping malls are taking over. ‘Label’ shops such as LV, Gucci and Chanel can now be found everywhere and are no longer special.

Even remote islands in French Polynesia cling on to whatever local traditions they have for the tourist revenue while the locals drive around in SUVs and live in air-conditioned comfort… and quite right too.

Countries are however beginning to realise that they need to protect their historic areas, customs and past in the interest of their tourism revenue.

Grand old hotels for such as those in Penang, Malaysia and Raffles in Singapore and Shanghai, China which once played host to some of the greatest writers and travellers of the 19th Century, such as Noel Coward and Somerset Maugham are now streamlined, airconditioned edifices and very nice they are but the old rickety charm has gone… such is progress and comfort.

Singapore famously knocked down many years’ ago one of its characteristic old streets in the Red Light area but has now rebuilt the street in the interests of tourism although it no longer houses notorious brothels but souvenir shops…

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