First Posted: 4/18/2012 10:05:10 AM | Last Updated: 4/18/2012 10:05:11 AM
I rarely hear of anyone who’s been on a cruise and not liked it. Even those who have doubts going into it, are won over by the sense of “getting away from it all” on the open seas, the wide variety of activities, and, of course, the continuous array of fantastic food.
I’ve been on a few sea voyages over the years, and can’t say that I’ve ever had a bad experience. My most recent cruise was one I’d been dreaming of for a long time. Two friends and I finally decided to treat ourselves to a real extravagance and take a 12-day voyage to Russia and Scandinavia. None of us had ever cruised for longer than seven days at a time, and didn’t know how things would work out for this longer trip, but we were eager to take a chance. You see, one of our ways to save on cruises is to go three to a stateroom, and, believe me, it’s pretty close quarters. If you didn’t know everything there was to know about your travelling companions before, you will by the end of the trip. Just remember that if you do go on a cruise with two or three friends staying in a single stateroom, everybody has to be flexible, upbeat, and, most of all, neat. It’s our rule that we “roll with the punches”, meaning that if something unexpected happens, we just go with it and don’t let it spoil the trip.
We made our own way to Amsterdam, the starting point of the cruise. This is another way to cut costs. The cruise line is ready and willing to give you assistance in making your airline reservations, but you can generally save money by shopping around and doing this yourself. Hey, if you’re lucky and make your plans far enough in advance, you might even be able to score a Frequent Flyer ticket to your destination.
We stayed two nights in Amsterdam before we embarked on the cruise, and were glad we did. This beautiful little country has lots to offer, and we packed as much in as we could. Just walking around the busy city was an adventure. Canals meander through the town, and a sightseeing cruise on one of them is a good way to acquaint yourself with the city. (And it’s easier than trying to avoid the throngs of bicyclists navigating the city streets on your first day). Many of the principal tourist sites are within walking distance of one another, so if your hotel is centrally located in the Downtown Area, and your legs and feet are up to it, getting around is pretty easy. Most of the residents speak English, and they don’t seem to mind questions from lost tourists.
A trip to the Ann Frank House was one of the highlights for us. It’s hard to imagine that this ordinary house on a busy street was once the hiding place of Jewish school girl Ann Frank, along with her family and several others during WW II until you begin the tour and see the conditions where they and many like them were forced to hide from the Nazis. Even though there were long lines to enter, the wait was not too bad, and it was definitely worth seeing.
For the art-lovers, there are a number of fine museums in the city, among them the Rijksmuseum (The Dutch National Museum) featuring works by Rembrandt and Vermeer among others, and the Van Gogh Museum.
You can also arrange a visit to the Royal Palace on Dam Square, a busy, open air meeting place, which is very picturesque.
We wanted to see the sights outside the city, too. You know, the touristy things like windmills and wooden shoes, so we took a tour of the countryside. There are many of these offered at the hotels. This bus ride through the peaceful, rural areas was interesting, informative and fun, and included visits to a cheese factory, a wooden shoe factory, and, of course, the famous windmills.
When you tire out, and believe me, you will, have a seat at one of the many outdoor cafes and restaurants and enjoy the people-watching. That’s always a great activity!
After two short (and incredibly tiring) days in Amsterdam, we made our way to the nearby cruise ship terminal to board what was to be our floating home for the next ten days. Tip: Try to arrive at the ship early, but not just as they are opening the doors. If boarding begins at Noon, try to wait until about 1 PM to avoid the early crowds. But don’t wait too long. You’ll want to get that first-day lunch buffet. After all, it’s included in the price of your passage.
The first few hours aboard are hectic to say the least. The ships are large, and everyone is trying to find their stateroom, the dining room, the buffet, the bar, etc. You’ll also be waiting for your luggage to be delivered to your stateroom. Try not to let it worry you. Just go out and explore the ship and have fun! Hey, you’ve made it on board, and even though you may get lost, they won’t leave without you! If you’ve done your homework, you’re probably already signed up for a dinner seating, or maybe you have open seating where you can eat whenever you please. We generally pick a time, either late or early, and stick with it for the whole cruise. That way, you have a designated waiter and busboy who get to know you and your tastes throughout the course of the trip, but if you prefer to be more flexible, most cruise lines offer open seating, as well. The cruise personnel will also be trying to sell you drinks packages (which you can also buy on-line before you leave home), spa treatments, tours, etc. If you want these things, great. If not, a polite no will suffice. Generally, you will not be bothered further.
You will also have received your Boarding Card when you checked in. This is a little card that looks like a credit card. Each person will receive one, and it will have your cabin number and probably also information about your dinner arrangements. You are encouraged to carry this card with you at all times, as it is your lifeline to the ship. Most of the ships are on a “cashless” system. This little card will allow you to sign for anything, be it a drink at one of the many bars, a souvenir in one of the ship’s shops, a Bingo card, a photo taken by one of the many ship’s photographers, or just about anything else that you can imagine. You also need this card to leave the ship when it is in port, and, more importantly, to get back on to go to your next destination. The card is also your door key, so don’t leave your room without it.
Now, get yourself out on deck, with a drink in one hand and a slice of pizza (free, of course) in the other, and relax. Wave good-by to the strangers on shore, or look at the skyline, or just veg out in a deck chair. You’re officially on vacation!!
I’ve gotten a little off-track, I think, and a little long-winded, so I’ll just say Bon Voyage for now, and continue with my voyage next time. First stop, Berlin, Germany!