Fran Golden’s Three Favorite Cruises

As a veteran cruiser who has been on about 150 ships it is challenging to pick favorites. These three sailings were particularly memorable – and for very different reasons.

Romance in the Caribbean

It was winter and my husband and I decided to take a romantic break from the cold and head to the sunny Caribbean. We wanted a small ship, a little pampering, stops at dreamy small ports – places like St. Barts, Anguilla and Nevis. We landed on SeaDream Yacht Club’s 112-passenger SeaDream 1. It was a great choice, intimate, relaxed, and well-staffed.

Photo courtesy of SeaDream Yacht Club

As we discovered, yacht-style cruising with SeaDream is delivered with aplomb. Cocktails are expertly prepared by friendly bartenders; cuisine is overseen by chefs who know their way around fresh seafood and also get creative with optional vegetarian, vegan and even raw food options; six therapists deliver excellent Thai massages; and the 95-person crew makes you feel special. Plus, most passengers are fun types who will dance around the pool to classic rock tunes.

Many meals are served outdoors under a canopy, the setting sun, and sea as the backdrop. If you want a private tête-à-tête for two you can request a table be set up in a remote spot on the deck. The same goes if you want to set up a private dinner party – a table for six please. If you get a craving for a drink or snack while in the hot tub, the crew will deliver that, too.

By day, we borrowed kayaks from the assortment of water toys available at the ship’s drop-down marina (there are sailboats too) for some private exploration, when we weren’t lolling on pristine beaches. There’s the option, too, of jumping right off the back of the ship into the sea. Or you can stay onboard and lounge on the cushy Balinese Dream Beds for two. At night, those beds are transformed with luxury linens and duvets for those who want to spend the night outdoors, under the stars. It’s one of many ahhh moments.

Intrigue in the Middle East

Cruisers who book Middle East sailings are likely the inquisitive sort looking for new cultural experiences, and that was certainly the case on our sailing from Rome to Dubai on the 600-passenger ultraluxury ship Seabourn Encore. We explored both the traditional and modern sides of Arabia.

Photo courtesy of Seabourn

Passing through the sands of Egypt on the Suez Canal we heard the sounds of the Islamic call to prayer and local fishermen banging on their boats in greeting and saw cargo ships stretching as far as the eye could see. In Oman, we mingled with traditionally garbed locals in fish markets and amidst gold and frankincense in the labyrinths of traditional souks. In Israel, there were biblical sights. Jordan afforded opportunity to hang out with the Bedouins in Wadi Rum, enjoying scenes straight out of “Lawrence of Arabia.” In Abu Dhabi, we went to the top of a very tall and stylish skyscraper for afternoon tea.

A surprising highlight was when burly armed guards arrived under the cover of darkness, their job to protect our ship during passage in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia, where pirates occasionally target cargo ships. Guests, some in tuxes and ballgowns (though these are not required) broke away from a formal reception featuring martinis and opera to gasp at the guards’ arrival on a small boat. Of course, we experienced no pirates, but we felt like we were in a James Bond movie, nonetheless.

During the cruise we dined on rib-eye and lobster thermidor in the retro 1960s Thomas Keller steakhouse (the noted American chef also advises on dishes in the main restaurant and casual eatery) and luxuriated in our fancy suite and around the resort-style pool deck, all the while pampered by a caring crew that remembers that you like your martini shaken not stirred.

Into the Wild

On this favorite cruise I ditched my husband for an adventurous girlfriend (my regular walking buddy) and sailed with UnCruise Adventures on a September itinerary completely in the wild. Between Sitka and Juneau the only signs of civilization we saw were some remote cabins and buildings belonging to the National Park Service in Glacier Bay National Park.

Photo courtesy of UnCruise

Bushwhacking through temperate rainforest and across squishy muskeg, paddling kayaks past the huge ice walls of the glaciers in Glacier Bay, and observing grizzly bears, eagles and other wildlife from inflatable skiffs were the order of the day. One day, the Captain of the 74-passenger Wilderness Explorer lingered at sea where we could watch 19 humpback whales bubble-net feeding, working together to create a net of bubbles to trap fish.

My fashionable friend, Denise, had splurged on designer adventure gear and wore red lipstick every day but really it was anything goes in the casual environment of the ship (for those who did not bring their own equipment, rain gear and boots were provided). We stayed in a small cabin with two fixed beds and a tiny bathroom and hung out in the lounge with open bar, the restaurant and out on deck – as those were the only public areas. The talk of the day was what you observed that day, with the help of the resident expedition guides.

One day I put on a wetsuit to go snorkeling in the icy waters, spotting an octopus among other sea creatures. But most of the time Denise and I stuck together, girlfriend bonding whether working on paddling in unison or up in the middle of the night looking for the Northern Lights (which we found, twice). Perhaps the best thing is the ship had no WIFI and we only had sporadic cellphone service, so even though we may have wanted to check in at home we had an excuse not to. The experience was summer camp with craft cocktails. What fun.

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