I remember well the Union Castle Line mail ships that ploughed South African waters in the sixties. A short trip to Port Elizabeth or Durban was a regular event in those days. Today the gargantuan liners of 70 000 tons and often much more, seem almost futuristic compared to the tiny, but elegant 15-20 000 tonne ships of the past.
In the early seventies when the airplane became the hip form of transport, I watched sadly as many large liners disappeared from the horizon. Everyone wanted to fly; no one had time anymore. I am so thankful that this silly sentiment has changed! Back are the liners, bigger than before; more spectacular and opulent than one could ever imagine - for the first time the 3 queens will grace our seas; Queen Mary, Victoria and Elizabeth from December 2007.
People often cite their fear of sea sickness as a reason for not cruising, but unless you're determined to sail the choppy and petulant waters off the South African east coast at certain times of the year or down in the Roaring Forties, you will hardly notice you're at sea while cruising. In some ways, for old sea-dogs like me, this is a pity - there is nothing like a rough night at sea! The modern liner is a goliath, some with more than a dozen restaurants on board, mini golf courses, live theatre and movie houses. You might be forgiven for thinking you were in a small city or giant shopping mall. Running a few times around the 600 meter deck on one of Holland America's ships is enough exercise before a jacuzzi, and then drinks in the high observation lounge, with 270 degree views.
Only older people go on luxury liner holidays, is another excuse. This might be the case with specific cruises designed for more senior people, but other ships rock from the time you set foot on board. Some even cater exclusively for kids. Whatever cruise, if you do have kids, make sure they can read, have an electronic cabin card around their neck, then say goodbye for 7 days; trust me, you won't see them if you don't want to! Find out the cruise profile first before you book. And surprisingly, you are not necessarily limited to kids’ ships - we sailed to Alaska on an “old" cruise - average age of around 50. There was also a family with at least 7 kids, and guess what - they had the entire program to themselves with a full-time child minder. Perhaps not the variety and facilities of a full-blown kids’ cruise, but after all it was also about being with their parents and going somewhere magical. And quite frankly I think more of the seniors dived into the burgers and hot dogs on the pool deck than they did!
For the price of a week at a cheap resort, you can get 5 or even 6 star luxury, 24 hour room service, facilities second to none, and food seldom equaled anywhere in the world. I have eaten around the world, and have never had to be in a position to expect less than the best on any cruise. On Holland America's Vollendam, while my wife enjoyed the full course meal each night, I always enticed my taste buds with three small main courses, reveling in the chef's superb craftsmanship. And, then, added to this they're actually taking you somewhere! My best friend recently took his family to France for two weeks. Their daily budget for food alone for the four of them came to more than the daily price of my entire cruise on a luxury liner and a trip to enticing Alaska!
It is easy to remain speechless while sailing quietly up to the edge of a glacier; such a place is hallowed, and the primeval and seemingly untouched environment leaves one with hauntingly beautiful memories.
What about the mystical and breathtaking islands of the Mediterranean? Greece is a perfect place for a peaceful cruise. Don't even think about excluding Santorini, it has the world's most beautiful sunsets. Imagine sailing into one of them, having just visited the birthplace of mankind.
I envy those who live in the northern hemisphere; but for long distances and expensive air travel from the tip of Africa, I would be looking for cruises in 2008 and every year!
Michael Klerck is a freelance writer and winner of the coveted Mondi Paper Magazine Writer's Award for work in Men's Health. Visit his website for tips, tricks, articles and advice on cruises in 2008 .