Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Archive for the ‘Cruising’ Category

Cruising for Bargains

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By Cecil Scaglione

A recent conversation with a travel agent revealed cruise packages can be had for as little as $75 a day.

But hold on before you pounce on the phone or crouch by your computer to nab the first bargain you can find. Taking a cruise takes a bit of thought.

First of all, where do you want to go? If you can’t answer that, ask yourself where don’t you want to go. If you aren’t comfortable in cold climates, booking a voyage to Antarctica isn’t going to be enjoyable even if it costs only $1 a day.

Once you’ve settled on some sailing sites, check on what you’ll need to pack. You won’t be getting a bargain if you have to stretch your plastic to the limits to acquire the proper cruise costumes.

You also have to ponder what you want to see. If you choose a Mediterranean package, do you want to see the pyramids in Egypt, Vatican in Italy, or castles in Spain? The on-board bargain price does not necessarily translate into inexpensive excursions. On-shore outings can be brutal, both physically and fiscally.

Choices range widely from line to line. Is your interest archeology or architecture, churches or
cuisine? If you pick a Caribbean cruise, do you want to splash in the surf or go shopping?
Do you want to grab photographs of such renowned icons as the leaning tower in Pisa
or Parthenon in Athens, or would you rather pick out spots not pictured on postcards?

There are some caveats.

You could wind up in port with one or two other liners, which means hordes of hundreds of cruise customers milling around the community competing for cafe tables and native crafts at the same time. Check schedules while you’re hunting down bargains.

In major cities, end-running the tours touted by the cruise line’s excursion director can be
rewarding. You can probably get your own ground transportation to an attraction without having to be packed into a tourist-packed van or bus. This will also give you freedom to investigate on your own rather than being locked into the schedule directed by the guides.

On our first cruise several years ago, we found a few couples who shared our interests so we arranged to share cabs and other group costs when we left the liner. This was not only cheaper than the ship-sponsored tours but we avoided the lines of the debarking crowd and had more time to experience and explore on our own.

Doing some homework can save you dollars at the docks but, if all you want is to enjoy being catered to, booking a cruise can be worth the experience at any price.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2010

Written by Cecil Scaglione

September 6, 2015 at 10:52 am

Flexibility Key to Freighter Cruising

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November 2007


Reprinted with permission
of the author, Cecil Scaglione,
a San Diego writer

“Weather had sealed our 51,000-ton roll on-roll off freighter, the Grimaldi Line’s Grande Ellade, in port overnight. We were behind schedule and uncertain what our next stop would be. We were never sure of what, when and how long any stop would be during our 10,000-mile roundtrip voyage out of southern England’s bustling port of Southampton.
When we boarded the vessel to begin our five-week journey, we learned that our first stop, Rome, was cancelled. We were told the next morning that our first landfall would be Valencia, on Spain’s Costa Blanca. That drove home the primary rule of our freighter trip: Be flexible.
We spent several hours in each of the 16 cities and towns where temperatures varied from 100° Fahrenheit (38° C) to below freezing.
Our first test on our second day out. The ship and its cargo of some 4,500 vehicles, a couple of dozen officers and crewman, and eight passengers bounced around the edge of an Atlantic tempest as we crossed the Bay of Biscay. ‘We hit bottom several times’ complained my wife, Bev. ‘I didn’t know there were so many potholes in the sea.’



The Ellade’s cruising speed of 20 knots/hour got us to Valencia on our fourth day out of England. Several crewmen gave the Spanish city, home to what is believed to be the chalice Jesus and the Apostles used at the Last Supper, their highest praise: ‘Nice City.’
We split up into two parties. Lou and Jean, my brother and his wife from Toronto, joined us in one cab. Jack and Sally Beaton and Bob and Lynne Blount, all from Canada, took another. We agreed to meet our drivers at a prearranged place and time, a practice we pursued in most ports, to return to the ship. After a quick tour of the sights, smells and sounds around the main plaza dominated by the cathedral’s octagonal bell tower, we relaxed over brunch in a small cafe nestled in a nearby market.
Our confidence soared at our next stop when we walked from the docks into Salerno, the largest city on the Amalfi coast.
With a second visit scheduled for this city, once a major Allied stepping stone during the World War II invasion of Europe, and reservations at a seaside restaurant cell-phoned by the ship’s cook, Salvatore Punzo, we made notes over lunch of what we intended to do when we return in 10 days.
That evening, we sipped espresso on the Ellade’s bridge with the master, Captain Michele Siniscalchi, as we skimmed atop the silky sea into the two-mile wide mouth of the Strait of Messina separating Sicily from Italy’s mainland.
It took the better part of the next day to slip through the 400 Greek Islands – actually, 100 of them are Turkish – before docking at the Athenian port of Piraeus.
We walked to a nearby bus stop, got directions to the central agora (marketplace) and clambered aboard a bus headed that way. After our cameras captured some of the local customs and culture, we took a taxi for 3.5 euros – cabs are very inexpensive in Greece – to the Athen’s abutting Microlimano neighborhood. We climbed a small hill for a panoramic view of the Acropolis and Parthenon before picking out a waterfront bistro for lunch.
Conversation centered on the benefits of this boat trip. The low cost – our fare for five weeks was 1,551 euros each – topped the list. The facilities ranked almost as highly. Fellow passenger, British Columbian Bob, said: ‘This is the biggest cabin we have ever had, and that includes several cruise ships.’ Next was the ease of getting off and on the ship in each port without having to battle passels of other passengers.
The following day we were in Izmir, near Turkey’s ancient archeological city of Ephesus. We opted to look and loiter around the modern center of the town.



With only a few hours in Alexandria, we climbed into two taxis for a quick tour of some sites we never got to see because the two drivers extemporised and took us to other sites. The hair-raising drive itself was worth the money for even the most avid carnival-ride junky. The white lines on the roads seem to be for decorative purposes only.
Our visit to Limasol on the Greek’s south coast of Cyprus was an acute contrast. We hopped a bus for an 80-cent, 15-minute ride into town and had all day to meander around the market, mosque and medieval museum in the Byzantine castle where, according to tradition, Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre and crowned her Queen of England in 1191.
We were awakened the following morning by the rumbling anchor chain and spent the day rolling gently among a dozen or so other ships awaiting the Israeli port of Ashdod to reopen at sundown. We arrived on the Sabbath, when the whole country shuts down. ‘It’s just like Sunday in Italy’, said chief engineer Antonino Esposito.
It gave us the day to do laundry, trim hair, manicure hands and/or feet, and lounge in the sun on deck chairs. Other shipboard pastimes included writing Christmas cards or knitting afghans while listening to the music from CDs, watching movies or checking the Milky Way and counting the shooting stars. And we raided the kitchen for tidbits and sipped libations purchased from the cook. Wine was served with lunch and dinner. Meals were served at 7:30am, 11am and 6pm. Those hours and the periods in ports became the only important markers as time lost all meaning.



We arranged, through the Grimaldi agent, for a 10-passenger bus and guide to take all of us for a tour of Jerusalem. It was a bit difficult to feel the spirit in the Holy City because of our haste, the clamor and commercialism, and the packs of pilgrims pushing and prodding their way through the narrow streets and archways.
A side trip to Bethlehem on a nearby hill was scrapped by the lack of time and the need to change vehicles, guide and driver because our Israeli team was not allowed into the West Bank city that is controlled by Christian Palestinians. Besides, dinner on board, prepared a la Napolitano by Salvatore, sounded just as appealing as any we would have found ashore. Pasta in all its modes, calamari, thinly sliced beef, assorted cheeses, gelato, roast chicken, fresh fish and pizza were only a few of entrees. Steward Milen Slavov capped every meal with a steaming espresso or cappuccino.
With all day in Salerno the second time, we got to see more of the town, including the cathedral that houses the bones of St. Matthew and the Norman castle straddling a rocky outcropping 900 feet atop the town.
Amalfi coast offers some of the most beautiful village and ocean views in all of Europe, but the views from the town of Ravello – perched above the gulf of Salerno – feel like a shortcut to paradise.
We sailed by the candy-like lights of the Amalfi coast that mellow Mediterranean evening before pointing north to Savona. It was late afternoon when we slid into an Italian Riviera town to berth overnight.
Two days after coasting by the French Riviera, we sailed by the Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar) and on to Setubal, our last warm-weather stop. We strolled along tailored terra streets in this Portuguese town and picked up some pharmacy needs for Salvatore. Mr. Jack got a haircut. Lou tracked down an automated teller machine for more funds. And we had a beer in a MacDonald’s with third officer Antonio Auceli and cadet Michele Cesaro.
  The next night we squeezed our way through the lock that protects the British port of Bristol from one of the highest tides in the world, second only to the Bay of Fundy. The lock is 18 meters high to seal off the harbor from the 14-meter tide.
Alan, our cab driver, said a local activity involves ‘surfing the Severn’. Youngsters head to the nearby Severn River to catch the tidal bore that rolls upriver when the sea surges.
A little-known historical attraction is a replica of the Matthew, the square-rigged caravel John Cabot sailed to Newfoundland in 1497. There is also a life-size bronze statue downtown of Cary Grant, who was named Archie Leech when he was born here.
It was a brief overnight trip from Cork in southern Ireland, where Bev remarked ‘The Emerald Isle is really emerald.’ Our driver John Carroll explained it’s because ‘we get rain seven days a week.’
The Ellade’s foghorn awakened us the next day, which was when we learned the North Sea deserves the bad rap everyone gives it. We bounced around like a chip on its shoulder as force-10 winds, killer waves and freezing temperatures trampled the region. We zigzagged and circled for two days awaiting the storm’s departure and, while we accepted weather as our dictator, time was becoming our nemesis. The delays were pushing some of us critically close to our flight departures.
The seas softened and temperatures tumbled as we cleared the northern tip of Denmark. The only warmth we ran into in Stenungsund, a 30-minute drive from the port of Wallhamn, was the people’s friendliness.
We walked into the Danish town of Esbjerg the next morning, where shore leave was from 9am to 1pm, and spent most of it in a computer café rearranging our flights.
Our next night was a six-hour run through a sci-fi Marscape as we glided through the massive industrial complex surrounding Antwerp. Lighted towers lining both sides of the inlet marched off endlessly in all directions.
Lou and Jean left us in the morning and took trains to Brussels and then through the Chunnel to London to catch their Toronto flight the following day.
The rest of us passed on the hour-long trip into town, and another hour back, because our scheduled stay was only a few hours as the Ellade loaded 1,400 cubic meters of fuel before returning to Southampton and starting the five-week tour all over again.
We opted to pack and prepare for our airport runs and flights home two days away. We wound up spending more than 12 hours tied up because United Nations divers closed the only exit lock to inspect it for security breaches.
Reminding us to the end: Be flexible.”

Written by Cecil Scaglione

October 15, 2011 at 12:05 am

Ship Shape for Photos

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By Igor Lobanov

Mature Life Features

So you like to take pictures of all those places you visit on a cruise. What about the ship? “Not interesting enough,” you say?

You may want to re-think that.

Life aboard a cruise vessel, which is really a floating city, presents a panoply of picture possibilities: deck areas, lounges, and hidden nooks you’ll find on any ship worth its salt. To capture these scenes effectively, you’ll want a wide-angle lens. One with a 20- to 25-millimeter focal length will do to shoot interiors, spacious open decks, and dramatic white superstructure against the blue sky. You may want to include a railing, deck chairs, portholes or other elements of the vessel to add interest to your composition.

The upper decks are built-in vantage points for photographs of the shorelines, harbor activity, and other watercraft. You might look for a zoom lense to zero on these scenes. The general range of zoom lenses you should consider are 24 to 85 mm, 70 to 200 mm, and 200 to 400 mm. Many current cameras have built-in wide-angle and zoom lenses.

For shots of the ship taken from shore, put a person in the scene — your companion, a new-found friend, a crew member, or even a dockside vendor or local resident — to provide a sense of scale.

If you’re in the tropics, where the sun is unusually bright, you may want to use a polarizing or neutral-density filter to darken a blue sky and reduce the sun’s reflection off the water. The polarizing filter is fitted with a ring that lets you rotate it to see if you’re getting the sky too dark or eliminating all the reflections on the water.

At mid-day, when the sun in directly overhead, scenes will seem to be flat, with colors mostly washed out. Colors are more vibrant and shadows more dramatic before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.

To photograph friends and family on board, try to catch them in some activity, such as around the pool, or sunning themselves on the upper deck.

Keep in mind that salt water can harm cameras and video equipment by eating away at the electronic circuits and metallic gears. You’re pretty safe using the camera high up on the ship’s decks during calm seas. But remember that winds carry bits of salt that leave an oily film on equipment. When you go ashore in one of the ship’s tenders, where salt spray is almost inevitable, protect your camera in a water-repellent plastic bag. Clean all the exposed metal surfaces with denatured alcohol at regular intervals during the cruise. Use lens cleaner and lens tissues to clean glass surfaces.

If you want to take long-exposure photos, use a tripod because a ship is always in some sort of motion, even when docked. You can cut down on movement by setting your camera on a pillow. Of course, the longer the cruise, the more photo opportunities there are bound to be.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2002

Written by Cecil Scaglione

August 10, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Seminars at Sea

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By Igor Lobanov,

Mature Life Features

Elderhostel has taken its wide-ranging education programs for older adults onto the world’s waterways. The Boston-based company’s catalogue, Adventures Afloat, details cruises through December 2009, listing more than 130 itineraries designed for people 55 and older.

While land-based offerings last from one to four weeks, focus on educational and cultural sites, and often involve stays on college campuses, shipboard programs cover wider areas and are tailored to the length of the selected cruise line’s itinerary, plus time for exploration ashore during port calls.

The catalogue lists cruises on large ocean-going vessels, small ships that are mostly coastal cruisers, and riverboats. They range from North American waters including the Hawaiian Islands, Alaska, and the Mississippi and St. Lawrence rivers to farther-away venues such as Antarctica, New Zealand, and the Rhine, Yangtze and Nile rivers.

Here are a few examples.

A voyage through the bays and inlets along Washington State and adjoining British Columbia aboard the 90-passenger Spirit of Endeavor in mid-October includes two nights in Seattle followed by seven nights onboard touching on Vancouver, the hauntingly peaceful Princess Louisa Inlet, Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands, Victoria and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, and Port Townsend on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Shipboard lecturers focus on the natural and cultural history of the region as well its marine life.

On the other side of the continent, the 60-passenger river steamer Canadian Empress offers an 11-night cruise on one of the world’s largest rivers, the St. Lawrence, between Quebec City and Ottawa Oct. 17-29. The route involves intricate channels, seven locks, and the Thousand Islands region, where European and New World cultures intersect. The educational program will trace the country’s history from its origins in the 1600s as a fur-trading post. The itinerary includes two nights in Quebec City and in Kingston, Ont., six nights aboard ship, and a guided walk through the old port of Montreal.

If you’ve been hankering to explore the two great waterways of the American Midwest, the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, consider the 188-passenger River Explorer on its Oct. 29- Nov. 6 sailing out of Cincinnati. You’ll visit the city’s landmarks as well as the confluence of the Ohio and Licking rivers before boarding the vessel for seven nights cruising down river to Aurora, Ind., then to Paducah and Louisville, Ky., where you encounter the Mississippi and turn upstream to Cape Girardeau, Mo., and the Gateway to the West, St. Louis. Passengers debark at Cape Girardeau and travel back to Cincinnati by coach..

Another choice could be a cruise on the Danube from Prague to Vienna aboard the 200-passenger Mozart. A 16-day itinerary begins at the bohemian capital of the Czech Republic and includes stops at two other imperial capitals, Budapest and Bratislava. Along the way, the vessel passes abbeys, castles, towns and villages. Walking field trips illustrate Prague’s history and treasures that include its castle, Old Town and other areas. An example of one of the sea cruises is the March 30-April 20 voyage from Santiago, Chile, up the west coast of the Americas to San Diego, Calif., aboard the 1,380-passenger Amsterdam.

The itinerary emphasizes the culture and natural history of Panama and Costa Rica. The 18 ports of call include Coquimbo and Arica in Chile, Callao in Peru, Manta in Ecuador, Fuerte Amador in Panama, the Panama Canal, Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica, and Puerto Caldera, Puerto Chiapas, Huatulco, Acapulco and Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. Excursions include pre-Incan settlements in Chile, Lima’s classic museums of Peruvian treasures, and a crocodile safari. There are also visits to an historic church and coffee farm in Guatemala and the renowned cliff divers of Acapulco.

For more information about Elderhostel’s cruises, call 877-426-8056 or visit on-line.

September 03, 2008

Written by Cecil Scaglione

July 19, 2011 at 6:28 am

Posted in Cruising

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