Travel Trails By Martin B. Deutsch



December 1, 1965 -- Let's say you've got a week or two of vacation coming during the Christmas-New Year period. How do you plan to use it? Do a little work around the house, loaf, visit a sick relative, or maybe go on a skiing trip? We've got another alternative for your consideration--exciting, different, not overly expensive, and thoroughly delightful. Take a short cruise! By "short" we mean anything from a three-day round-trip between Miami and Nassau to fourteen days from Los Angeles to Mazatlan, Manzanillo, Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco. Or maybe a six- or seven-day sailing from New York City to Bermuda or Nassau, using the ship as a hotel while you spend several days swimming, sun-bathing, golfing, sight-seeing, shopping or just plain relaxing at one of these beguiling ports. The possibilities are many. Cruise ships attract several hundred thousand Americans every year, insuring variety in terms of luxury, costs, ports of call and duration of trip.

And it doesn't matter what part of the country you're from, since a short flight, or drive, will bring you to such major gateways as New York, Miami-Port Everglades, Los Angeles and other embarkation cities. Nearly half the passengers cruising down to the Caribbean these days hail from either the Midwest, Southwest or the West Coast. Chicago for example, is within just a few hours from Miami by nonstop jet.

In view of the fact that your average available time for a year-end vacation is nine days (a full week, plus the extra weekend, or at the most, two weeks, we're going to confine our cruise information chiefly to sailings with a maximum of fifteen days. And we're going to concentrate on the shorter ones. Also keep in mind that, in addition to a cruise (which by definition means a round-trip pleasure voyage by sea, usually starting and ending at the same port), you might have several days to get acquainted with one of those fascinating gateways towns, such as Los Angeles, Port Everglades, For Lauderdale, Miami and New York.

The first thing to remember about a cruise is that it's a way of life which is synonymous with being pampered. You'll come home feeling you've never had it so good. There's only one class on a cruise liner--luxury class. Just the food which comes with the deal poses a serious frontal threat to the waistline. The breakfast menu will offer everything from pancakes, waffles, hot and cold cereals and eggs to kippered herring, cheese and fresh fruits. At eleven, they usually track you down for hot bouillon (because you're slightly run down from several hours in a deck chair), with little sandwich tidbits. Lunch is a full-course affair, from soup to nuts. In mid-afternoon, worried that you're been wearied by a nap or a few trying hands of gin rummy, they serve tea with cake (or crumpets). Dinner is too extravagant to describe. Then, shortly before midnight, where you're exhausted from a movie or dancing, there's normally a buffet so you can make it down to your cabin. Should you feel a spell of weakness coming on during one of those infrequent periods when you're not eating, call the steward and he'll fetch something to tide you over the hump. It's a rough experience!

Of course, there are several little bars open for fifteen or sixteen hours a day, including one at the pool, where you can stock up on calories via the liquid nourishment, nibble on pretzels or cashew nuts, or demand some fresh potato chips. The drinks, incidentally, coast less than half (sometimes a third) of what you're accustomed to laying out in the neighborhood bistro. This can be deceptive, and often leads to sizeable booze bills. First, stunned by twenty-five cents for a gin and tonic, you'll drink three times more than you normally do. You have to, in order to face those meals. Second, you may suddenly become the last of the big-time spenders, frequently buying for everybody in the vicinity of the swimming pool. It's okay, as long as it doesn't become a habit. Third, that salt air is invigorating--and thirst-making.

You may also spend a good part of the day ducking the well-meaning attentions of the cruise director and his happy helpers. It is the function of this special staff to see that, when you are not eating, imbibing or snoozing in the sun, you are kept constructively occupied. This includes activities such as gymnastics and calisthenics, dance lessons (free), bridge and golf lessons, charades, match-making, ping-pong and other deck sports, horse races and passenger talent shows, at which you're even money to embarrass yourself and humiliate the rest of the family. But seriously, I exaggerate. It's all good, clean fun. Most ships also have special playrooms and activities for the kiddies, so you can enjoy a real vacation.

What to wear and what to bring along really presents no problem in this informal day and age. For the type of short cruises we're talking about, one suitcase (medium-sized) for each member of the family will suffice. Once you get out of the nasty winter weather of a port like New York, you'll enter sub-tropical waters, which means late spring and summer wear--slacks and sports shirts for the men, cottons for the gals. One word of caution to the women: many of the islands in the Atlantic and Caribbean frown on slacks for women in public. So play it safe. Wear a comfortable lightweight dress ashore. In the evenings, tie and suit for the men and a simple dress for the wives will suffice almost anywhere.

On the longer cruises, there may be some formal evenings, but you can fake it with a dark suit and a cocktail ensemble for the gal in your life. The trend is to informality, and you needn't be put out if your neighbor at the next table sports a tuxedo every night, to provide a contrast for his wife's sable. Just relax and enjoy yourself. If there should be a masquerade ball, just borrow one of the steward's jackets and as for the ship's captain. And don't forget to take bathing suits.

Tipping is quite simple for a short voyage. Give the steward a dollar per day per person; the same for the waiter. Naturally, if they do something special for you an extra tip is optional. Give the wine steward a dollar or so per bottle. The dinning-room captain who seats you and calls you by name should also be remembered with three to four dollars. The bartender's remuneration is left to your discretion. I'd say about the same as at home. You do not have to tip the porters who handle baggage. If in doubt, ask the cruise director. The latter, incidentally, will arrange your shore excursions and sight-seeing trips, for which you pay, in addition to the cost of the cruise. He'll also recommend restaurants and things to do when you're ashore. If it's your first time at a specific port, it is always a good idea to take an escorted tour to make sure you touch on the highlights.

Shopping in Bermuda, the Bahamas or the West Indies can be rewarding, but keep in mind the new duty-free limits now in effect: $100 based on the retail price, per person; and only a single bottle of liquor each. There is one exception. The Virgin Islands have special limits of $200 (retail) and five bottles of liquor apiece. Except for liquor where it doesn't pay, you can exceed the $100 ceiling for the other goods, pay the duty and still come out ahead. The U.S. Customs officers, at the same time of boarding, or the chief steward aboard ship, can give you a list of exact duties imposed on various goods. They are generally quite low. Among the roster of good buys, you'll find cameras, French perfumes, china, silks, British woolens, local pottery, ceramics and other artifacts, straw goods, a wide range of wearing apparel, leather goods, watches and other jewelry. Stick to the shops recommended by the cruise staff. They'll also tell you on which of the islands it's considered good form to bargain with shopkeepers, and on which ones it isn't.

Also keep in mind that you require no passport for the Caribbean, only proof of citizenship. The same goes for Mexico. In all cases, you must carry a vaccination certificate which has been validated within three years.

And now it's time for a rundown of what's actually available over the Christmas-New Year's period coming up, with departure details, number of days, ports of call and minimum rates. So grab your luggage and prepare to board that air-conditioned floating resort!

Two lines offer a continuing series of three- and four-day cruises from downtown Miami to Nassau. These short, inexpensive sailings will give you a good indication whether the cruise life is for you. Eastern Steamship Lines' Bahama Star leaves every Friday afternoon at Pier 3 from Nassau, minimum rate $59, and every Monday afternoon, for four days, from $74. Yarmouth Cruise Lines, with two liners, the Yarmouth and Yarmouth Castle, offers departures from Pier 1 for three and four days to Nassau and Freeport, every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Minimum rate is also $59.

On December seventeenth, Eastern Steamship's Ariadne, sailing from Port Everglades, will cruise for eleven days to St. Croix, Virgin Islands, Antigua, Barbados, Curacao and Haiti, from $275. Atlantic Cruise Line's Franca C takes off December nineteenth for fifteen days to San Juan, St. Thomas, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, Trinidad, Grenada, LaGuaira, Curacao, Haiti and Nassau, from $405. On January third the Franca C goes to Nassau and Freeport for four days, from $95. Cunard Line's Carmania sails December twenty-second for eleven days to Nassau, Haiti, Curacao, St. Thomas and San Juan, from $315. The same ship leaves January third for six days to Nassau and San Juan, from $140. Moore-McCormack's sleep white Argentina leaves from Port Everglades on December twenty-third for thirteen days to Nassau, San Juan, St. Thomas, Guadeloupe, Barbados, Curacao, Cristobal, from $470. The ship also sails January sixth for a six-day cruise to Jamaica, Haiti and Nassau from $215.

From Miami, Flagship Line's luxurious Viking Princess sets sail December twenty-third for eleven days to Curacao, Barbados, Martinique, San Juan, St. Thomas, from $335. She also sails January third for seven days to San Juan, St. Thomas, from $195. Ports of call are often dated so that you can stay aboard for a second week if you with without seeing the same place over again.

There's one departure during the holiday season from a city we haven't mentioned: New Orleans. Clipper Line's Stella Polaris leaves December twentieth for seventeen days to Nassau, San Juan, St. Croix, Guadeloupe, Aruba, Jamaica and Grand Cayman, from $595.

The major gateway for cruises is still New York, and the most popular variety in the "short" category are six- or seven-day sailings to Bermuda or Nassau, offered by several carriers. The most famous to the Bahamas is a weekly service, with week-end departures, provided by Home Lines, either on the sparkling new Oceanic or the popular Homeric. The seven-day sailings, with several days in Nassau, start at $175. Specifically, the Homeric leaves for six days both December eighteenth and twenty-fourth, and for eight days December thirtieth. The Oceanic is scheduled during this period for a sixteen-day special, leaving December eighteenth for Nassau, San Juan, St. Thomas, Martinique, Barbados, LaGuaira, Curacao and Jamaica, from $585.

If you're bound for Bermuda, the Furness Line features weekly service with six-day "Liv-Abroad" cruises, including two-and-a-half days on the island, either on the Queen of Bermuda or the Ocean Monarch. Rates start at $150. The Ocean Monarch also departs December twenty-fourth on a thirteen-day cruise to St. Thomas, Barbados, Martinique and Bermuda ($375 up).

Also at holiday time from New York, you can take one of these fine ships to-warm weather waters. American Export Line's Atlantic will sail December thirty-first for seven days to Nassau, $130, and January seventh for eight days to St. Thomas, $200. American Export's Constitution will sail December twenty-third for twelve days to Curacao, Trinidad, Barbados, Martinique, San Juan and St. Thomas, from $345. Canadian Pacific Line's Empress of Canada sets sail on December twenty-second for twelve days to Nassau, St Thomas, Barbados and Martinique, from #325. Cunard Line's Franconia leaves December twenty-second fro eleven days to Jamaica, St. Thomas and San Juan, from $315; and January third for ten days to St. Martin, St. Thomas and San Juan, $230.

Grace Line's Santa Paula sails December seventeenth and thirty-first for thirteen days, to Curacao, La Guaira, Aruba, Jamaica, Haiti and Port Everglades, both from $595. Grace's Santa Rosa leaves December twenty-third for fourteen days to Curacao, La Guaira, Aruba, Cristobal, Jamaica and Haiti, from $655. Greek Line's Olympia moves out December twenty-third for eleven days to San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Martin, Martinique and Barbados, from $290, and January third for ten days, to Jamaica, Haiti and Nassau, from $250.

Holland-America Line's Nieuw Amsterdam sails December twentieth for fourteen days to Nassau, Curacao, Barbados, Martinique and St. Thomas, from $425, and January fourth for eleven days to Guadeloupe, Barbados, Martinique and St. Thomas, from $305. The Rotterdam has a sixteen-day sailing December eighteenth to Nassau, Jamaica, Curacao, la Guaira, Trinidad, Martinique, San Juan, from $495. Incres Line's Victoria weighs anchor December eighteenth for fifteen days to San Juan, St. Croix, Martinique, Trinidad, Barbados, Antigua, St. Thomas, St. Martin, $585, and January third for six days to Freeport and Nassau, from $155.

Norwegian American Line's Oslofjord leaves for twelve days, December twenty-second, to Santo Domingo, Curacao, Jamaica and Nassau, from $300. The same company's brand-new Sagafjord sails December twentieth for seventeen days to Jamaica, Aruba, St. Vincent, Martinique, St. Kitts, Nevis, St. Thomas, Santo Domingo, San Juan, from $500. The United States of United States Line embarks December twenty-third for eleven days to St. Thomas, Martinique, Trinidad and Curacao, from $425. Zim Line's Shalom sails December seventeenth for sixteen days to Haiti, Cristobal, Curacao, Martinique, St. Thomas and San Juan, $555, and January third for ten days to St. Croix, Martinique, San Juan, from $320.

Still on the East Coast, if you happen to be in San Juan, you can board Bergen Line's Meteor December eighteenth for seventeen days, to St. Croix, St. Kitts, Nevis, Martinique, St. Vincent, The Grenadines, Isla de Margarita, Trinidad, Venezuela, Grenada, St. Lucia, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Tortola, Peter Island, St. Thomas, San Juan, from $485.

Out on the West Coast, Matson Line's Lurline sails December twentieth for fifteen days to four ports in Hawaii, including Honolulu, Nawiliwili, Lahaina and Hilo, from $590.

A company called Princess Cruises will operate Canadian Pacific's Princess Patricia on December seventeenth to thirty-first to Mazatlan, Manzanillo, Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco. Prices start at $429.

The vast majority of the cuisses from the Coast run four weeks and longer. We will not deal with them in this article. Not will we cover the many interesting freighter sailings, which normally last several weeks.

If you do plan to take a cruise over Christmas or New Year's, we advise you to contact your travel agent immediately. He'll know which ships still have space, and he'll also advise you on which cruises are best for the time and money you have to spend. In any case, we at "Travel Trails" with you a wonderful Christmas, the best for the New Year, and bon voyage!

This column originally appeared in Argosy magazine.

Copyright 1962-2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.