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Cruising

U-M alum Howard Thomas recounts 50 years of cruising.
By Howard Thomas, ’65

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My wife, Ingrid, and I have been cruising for 50 years — some 22 journeys on eight of the major lines. Friends and family have joined us on several of these cruises. We have enjoyed great food and great entertainment! The size, stability tech, and luxury of the ships have noticeably increased over the years. It is a fine way to see the world and meet interesting people.

In the past, there was always a Gala Buffet, typically served in the late evening toward the end of the voyage. For me, these were not only a gastronomic experience, but a visual one as well, showcasing the talent of the chefs:

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Repositioning cruises are both relaxing and relatively inexpensive. Traversing the Atlantic, they travel eastbound in the spring and westbound in the fall. So-called “sea days” are typically very relaxing. Often the ships have nice libraries, but I recommend visiting them early in your voyage to have more choices and to not have to rush to finish your books by the end! (Read Simon Winchester’s excellent 2010 book “Atlantic” for background before you go.)

With family there, Denmark has been a popular destination for us. This happens to be an authentic windmill on the island of Bornholm:

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We like the “Old Town” in Aarhus:

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And the Hjerl Hede Open Air Museum:

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And the Nyhavn district, in the heart of “Wonderful Copenhagen:”

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The Mediterranean offers many fascinating ports of call. We visited Istanbul in January 2013. The large city was chilly but uncrowded at that time of year. This is the amazing Hagia Sophia Holy Grand Mosque that we saw there:

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Ingrid and I lived and worked in Alaska for nearly 30 years, where we saw whales spouting and diving:

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Several cruise lines sail to Alaska via the protected waters of the Inside Passage. We have taken the trip six times (two northbound and four southbound) since we moved south from there and have never had a rough passage. Glacier Bay is an amazing U.S. National Park that we always enjoyed:

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Check out Mark Adams’ 2018 book “Tip of the Iceberg.”

During a stop in the city of Skagway, you should head up the mountain on the historic narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Route Railway. You might just be lucky to be pulled by an authentic steam locomotive!

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Cruising tips: Our favorite cruise lines are Princess and Norwegian (which isn’t actually based in Norway!). However, depending on your ages, interests, tastes, and budgets, many choices are available. Our friends speak highly of river cruises, but they do tend to be more expensive. If you are a bargain hunter, my wife swears by the travel-agency website “Vacations to Go.” It helps if you can sail on short notice. Prices tend to come down approaching the sailing date but may go up again within the last 30 days as the vessel fills up. In addition, remember you will have fewer staterooms to choose from then.

My wife and I enjoy outside staterooms with balconies for longer voyages. However, bargain hunters should ask about inside staterooms. You may discover that, with shore excursions and all of the fine available onboard venues and activities, you may not spend much time in your stateroom. Review the cruise line’s recommended shore excursions before you sail, and bring local street maps for the ports of call. However, you may find local tours that are less expensive. A low-cost alternative to excursions at your ports of call, particularly if the weather is iffy or you have been there before, is to remain on board the ship to enjoy the peace and quiet and its continuing activities.

Kudos to the wait staff that we have met on our cruises. Often from the Philippines, they are very service-oriented, friendly, and attentive.

One last suggestion, don’t sit on your email during the voyage! Bandwidth may be limited such that costs will be high and connectivity may be unreliable. If you must check your email, do it instead in a coffee shop during one of your shore stops.

To all of you future as well as veteran cruisers, Ingrid says “Bon Voyage!”

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