For us, a cruise ship is a home away from home, a hotel, somewhere to hang our clothes – while we explore new places and take in new experiences. Earlier this month we arrived home from a holiday that included both a land-based portion and an 18-day cruise aboard the new Silversea flagship, the Silver Muse. A few weeks from now you can expect our complete review of this 596-passenger ship, but in the meantime, we’ve prepared two brief videos.
The first video is a tour of our “deluxe veranda suite.” Silversea cruises, as you likely know, offers only suite-style accommodation. This means that even the cheapest “stateroom” on the ship is actually a suite. In fact, on this ship apart from the “premium” suites, the rest are all the same. The only difference between a standard veranda, a superior veranda and a deluxe is the location – the deluxe suites are in preferred mid-ships areas. Oh, there is also one other difference: the deluxe are the most expensive of the three, but on a ship this small, it is well worth the extra money.
Here it is…
Now that you know where we hung our hats, here’s a little tour of the rest of the ship. If you can make it all the way to the end of the video, you’ll get a little taste of what it was like on a few of the rougher days in the Pacific off the west coast of Peru.
Sometimes you get in the car and hit the open road to discover new and exciting places and experiences. Other times you hop a train. There are also times when you can only see the places you want to see by flying (try driving between Tahiti and Fiji in the South Pacific!). In recent years, however, we’ve discovered that a cruise ship might just be one of our favourite ways to move between specific destinations.
Unlike others who love cruises, we are probably not what is truly meant by the term “cruisers.” Or at least that is only a small part of how you could describe us. When we embarked on our first cruise so many years ago, we were traveling with a young child, and we didn’t really know what to expect beyond our plan to have a great vacation. And we did. But we have learned over the years – and 15 cruises later – that we are not those people who believe that the ship is the destination. For us it has become a very comfortable conveyance for getting us from one interesting destination to another.
The truth is that we avoid like the plague those mega-cruise ships that offer everything from wave surfing to rock-wall climbing with wall-to-wall food in between. These days we confine ourselves to a small number of cruise lines and choose our trips by itinerary. And as for loyalty to one line? Like airline loyalty programs, they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. So we decide where we want to go and search among the cruises on offer from the lines we love: Cunard, Oceania, Seabourn, Regent and Silversea mainly. And now we’ll return to Silversea which captured our attention for our upcoming cruise to check a few things off our bucket list: The Panama Canal, Peru and Chile. In fact, we leave on Tuesday.
The first time we realized that a cruise ship was a wonderful way to discover new places to which we might like to return for a longer visit was our first Mediterranean cruise some ten years ago. The cruise left from Barcelona, so we planned a few days there in advance of the cruise. This is a key feature of a destination-rich cruise; the embarkation and disembarkation points. If all of your cruise experiences leave from the same port (e.g. Port Everglades or Miami), you’ll never be able to have that land-based adventure of a new city. This was the first lesson we learned: even if it’s a Caribbean cruise, if it leaves from, say Saint Martin (so sorry for their recent hurricane issues) or even Barbados, that provides a great opportunity for an add-on.
And the disembarkation point is also important: leaving and arriving at two different places is the best since you have two chances to spend time in new cities. On one cruise we left from Monte Carlo and ended in Venice. On another we sailed from Rome and ended in Istanbul.
That first Med cruise introduced us to cities to which we have returned – sometimes again and again. For example, while we were anchored off Monaco, we visited Eze, a place we thought we might never have a chance to visit again. It turns out we’ve been back several times! On that same cruise, we visited Rome for the first time and have since returned twice to get to know it better.
A few years ago we had another of those “bucket list” places that we had wanted to visit for some time: The South Pacific. But as we began considering how to arrange a tour of the islands, it became clear that flying in and out of those tiny islands would only eat up valuable time with at least a half a day each time devoted to airports and flying – and that’s if there are no delays. A small boat didn’t seem like a good idea at all since the distances are too great. So, what about a cruise ship?
We discovered an Oceania cruise that left from Papeete, Tahiti (a chance to spend a week in Tahiti? Yes, please), visited a range of islands between which it cruised during the night giving each day over to an island, and ending in Sydney, Australia. Perfect!
Next week we begin our cruise with a few days in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It’s not exciting, but it will be fun. After three days of unwinding, we embark the Silver Muse, Silversea’s newest ship which launched earlier this year. We’ll cruise to Key West then onto Costa Rica. Only one day here is fine with us since we spent a wonderful two weeks touring the country some years ago. Then we’ll transit the Panama Canal before making our way down the west coast of South America stopping into Ecuador, Peru, northern Chile ending in the port city of Valparaiso. Once there, we’ll pick up our Tours-by-Locals private guide who has four days of cultural and wine country touring for us while we get to know Santiago. And all because we will use a cruise ship for transportation.
We love to tell stories about our travels – that’s what this blog has always been about. This time, however, we’re going to also do some live blogging and post short pieces and photos along the way. I hope you’ll come along with us. We’ll save the longer stories until we get back home in Toronto.
Travel for us is about experiences. Sometimes it’s the places we visit; sometimes the people we meet. Other times it’s the food we eat or the wine we drink. All of these form the experiences of the discerning traveler. But sometimes, experiences are unexpected and not related at all to where you’re visiting. A few months ago, while aboard the Oceania cruise ship Nautica, we witnessed a helicopter medevac as we sailed the Mediterranean off the coast of Greece. And our thought was this: It could have been anyone of us.
It all started a few hours earlier as we sailed peacefully on our way from Malta toward Crete. We had noted only peripherally (as you do when you’re enjoying the only day at sea in an itinerary-rich cruise) that the ship seemed to have sped up. The onscreen information that continually streamed on a television channel from the bridge confirmed this suspicion, and we had also slightly altered our course. We thought little of it.
Half an hour later the Captain took to the public address system to tell us that we had indeed altered our course so that we could get closer to mainland Greece in an effort to meet a helicopter from the Greek Coast Guard that would effect an evacuation at sea of a passenger who had fallen ill. As we all know, cruise ships have well-equipped infirmaries, but there are some illnesses that require more than can be provided by these facilities, and by the single physician and nurse aboard. This was evidently one of those occasions. And wouldn’t you know it? It happened on the only day we weren’t in a port!
Evidently these kinds of thing happen more often than we might think – although in some fourteen cruises, we had never observed one.
An hour or so after the Captain’s address, we saw the helicopter approaching the ship. The Captain had requested that everyone stay off the open decks for safety reasons – and we can only imagine that it would be an extra burden to the passenger and his wife to have onlookers curiously peering at them close-up. Although some of the newer and much larger cruise ships these days have helipads, most don’t, requiring the helicopter to hover for a half an hour or more – as long as it takes to send down an emergency medical technician, secure the patient to the stretcher, hoist the patient up to the chopper, then hoist the technician and the passenger’s wife into the hovering beast.
Those of us with verandahs in the aft of ship had a view of the entire operation from beginning to end. We were impressed with the efficiency of it all, and the coordination it took to get such an international rescue underway so quickly. We were just happy that it wasn’t one of us.
Several days later, we happened upon the ship’s doctor on an elevator and Art, who in his past has actually done a stint as a ship’s doctor, enquired about the outcome of the medevac. The doctor said that the patient had evidently had a stroke and the medevac was successful.
Consumer Reports covered the subject of medical care at sea in a blog post last year. Among the seven things they suggest you need to know are the following:
The medical facilities at sea are not the same as your local hospital with respect to either equipment or staff.
Medical care at sea is expensive. Be prepared for sticker shock, as they say.
If a ship is 500 or more miles away from shore, “it’s unlikely the Coast Guard will respond.”
As discerning travelers, we are always aware that these kinds of things can happen. We try to minimize it by being healthy when we leave, and taking a few precautions while we’re away (such as hand-washing, staying away from buffets etc.). Unexpected things do happen, though. We never leave home without travel medical insurance. And we are always sure to read the fine print!
We’d like to share with you the video we took of the medevac. Travel often and stay well!