September 26, 2023

Venice Pulls the Plug on Cruise Ships

Large ships such as NCL’s Jade are no longer allowed inside Venice.

The fabled city of Venice, famous for its romantic canals and graceful gondolas, is facing several challenges. Situated on a cluster of islets within a lagoon in the Gulf Venice, the city that began as a medieval fishing village is slowly sinking. The islets upon which Venice is built consist of sand, silt and hard clay, which tend to compact over time. In winter, when high tides, heavy rain and strong winds all combine to bring exceptionally high water levels into the Venice Lagoon, the canals spill their banks and flood the pedestrian streets and plazas of Venice. Adding to these winter woes is the city’s summer inundation of tourists.

In recent decades, Venice has been struggling with over-tourism and, in an effort to cope with the situation, the city has introduced a fee-paying entry system for day-trippers (people who don’t stay overnight). In addition, new measures have been introduced to divert the majority of cruise ships away from the city centre to other terminals within the Venice Lagoon. Porto Marghera and Fusina Terminal are directly opposite Venice, while the small fishing port of Chioggia is located at the south end of the Venice Lagoon.

Before the ban, large cruise ships transited the Giudecca Canal.

Some cruise lines have chosen to bypass Venice and pull into other ports in the region, such as Trieste (located a two-hour train ride east of Venice on the Adriatic coast) or Porto Corsini near Ravenna (located a two-hour drive south of Venice).

Large and medium-sized ships no longer dock right in Venice (at the Marritima terminals) and instead dock on the mainland side of the Venice Lagoon, near the 4-km causeway that connects the mainland with Venice. However, many of the cruise lines still check in their passengers at a Marritima terminal and they are then taken by bus to their ship. Porto Marghera (part of the industrial port on the mainland) accommodates large ships. Fusina Terminal accommodates the small luxury ships. Train service connects Porto Marghera to Piazzale Roma at the western entrance to the Grand Canal. Passengers at Fusina Terminal are ferried across the lagoon to Venice. Small boutique ships (under 25,000 gross tons) and river vessels can still dock in Venice at the Marittima basin and at the San Basilio pier on the Giudecca Canal.

Venice can still be enjoyed from the water on a variety of water taxis and public water buses.

The thrill of arriving in Venice on a cruise ship, gliding past St. Mark’s Square and the entrance to the Grand Canal, is now a thing of the past. However, for those passengers planning a pre-cruise stay in Venice, a water taxi ride from the airport to your hotel will more than make up for it. This experience is described in a previous blog, posted September 29, 2016, called An Unforgettable Taxi Ride.

The Magic of Monaco

The view of Monaco’s yacht-filled harbor can be seen from the walk to the palace.

The tiny principality of Monaco, on the French Riviera, epitomizes glamour. Nestled in hills overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, this coastal enclave covers less than a square mile but enjoys an international fame far exceeding its size. Attractions range from the royal palace in Monaco-Ville to its famous casino in Monte-Carlo. If this weren’t enough, fans of Formula One can walk the iconic circuit of the Monaco Grand Prix, passing landmarks barely visible on race weekend when the street route is temporarily transformed with crash barriers and corporate signage.

For cruise passengers stepping ashore in Monaco’s yacht-filled harbor for a day of sightseeing, the principality’s highlights are within easy walking distance. Public elevators are strategically situated to help people ascend some of the steep streets and the local buses are an efficient way to get from one side of the principality to the other.

Large cruise ships anchor and tender their passengers into Port Hercule, which is sheltered from easterly swells by a sea wall and breakwater. Rising above this natural bay is a steep headland known as the Rock of Monaco – site of the old town’s medieval fortress and royal palace.

Princess Grace was laid to rest in Monaco’s cathedral.

Avenue de la Porte Neuve leads up to Monaco-Ville where cliff-top gardens provide sweeping views out to sea and narrow, winding streets lead to Place du Palais and its grand Italianate palace in which a reigning prince has resided for over seven centuries. Standing outside is a statue of Francesco Grimaldi, who seized control the fortress in 1297 by disguising himself as a Franciscan monk. A changing of the palace guard takes place every day at five minutes before noon.

Not far from the palace is the cathedral in which Princess Grace, who died in a tragic automobile accident in 1982, is buried. Monaco gained a layer of Hollywood glitter when film actress Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier in 1956 to become Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco. Her son Albert has been Monaco’s constitutional monarch since the death of Prince Rainier in 2005.

After a few hours spent strolling around Monaco-Ville, it’s time to head to the other side of the harbor to enjoy the famous sights of Monte-Carlo, including those associated with the Monaco Grand Prix. This is the most historic and famous race on the Formula One calendar and its route is shown on Monaco’s visitor map. It starts on Boulevard Albert I, which runs past the La Condamine quarter of boutiques and traditional open-air markets before heading up to Place du Casino in Monte-Carlo, then circling back down the hillside and through a tunnel to emerge along the harbor.

The famous Monte-Carlo casino anchors the annual Formula 1 race.

Monte-Carlo’s famous casino overlooks the fountain-filled gardens in Place du Casino, where other attractions are the luxury Hotel de Paris and the historic Café de Paris – the perfect place to pause for lunch before visiting the casino, its interior a dazzling display of gold-leaf and gilt. Afterwards take a stroll through Place du Casino’s gardens to the seaward side of the casino complex to view the ornate façade of the opera house, then head down the hillside to the harborfront. From there it’s a pleasant walk along the marina promenade back to the cruise tender dock or you can instead hop on the bus boat for a five-minute crossing of the harbor.

Cafe de Paris is a good spot to have lunch near the casino.

Cruising to Paradise – Part Two

The lush islands of Polynesia are the stuff of legend. They hold a seductive sway over anyone who has visited their shores. They have lured sailors to commit mutiny, inspired artists to create great works, and prompted mainland city dwellers to abandon lucrative careers in favor of barefoot days at the beach.

Is it any wonder we dream of visiting these storied islands to see for ourselves their bewitching beauty?

Travelling by cruise ship is the best way to visit the far flung islands of Polynesia, which lie scattered across a vast area of the Pacific Ocean. The Hawaiian Islands are the northernmost group and are the easiest to reach from North America, either on round-trip or one-way cruises from the port cities of Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. Another option is to fly to Honolulu and embark on an NCL round-trip cruise of the islands.

Reaching Tahiti entails a longer journey, prompting many a traveller to book a flight to Pape‘ete, and from there embark on a round-trip cruise of the islands of French Polynesia.

There is, however, a third option – and one that appeals to the wanderlust in all of us. That option is to travel throughout Polynesia by ship, cruising from a West Coast port to the Hawaiian Islands and from there proceeding south across the Equator to make landfall at various islands stretching across the South Pacific. Relaxing days at sea are punctuated by days when the ship is docked at a tropical island or anchored off an atoll while passengers are tendered ashore.

Polynesia means ‘many islands’ and they range from the American state of Hawai‘i to the Kingdom of Tonga to the nation of New Zealand. Isolated from one another by hundreds of miles of ocean, the inhabitants of Polynesia nonetheless share cultural traits. Their languages are similar and their traditional mode of transit is the outrigger canoe.

When the Polynesian people of ancient times were migrating across the open waters of the Pacific, they travelled in double-hulled ocean-going canoes carved from large logs that were lashed together with massive crossbeams. Skilled navigators, these ancient mariners steered by the Sun, Moon and stars, and rode the prevailing winds and currents to their next landfall. Over time, the isolated archipelagoes of the South Pacific were discovered, one by one, and a vibrant culture took root in palm-treed villages overlooking fish-filled lagoons. Song and dance were the favored form of storytelling, and performers adorned themselves with shell jewelry and flower headdresses.

The natural beauty of these tropical islands is undisputed but it’s the Polynesians’ joyful approach to life that charms many a visitor.

Cruising to Paradise – Part One

South Pacific Cruises almost always make their first stop at the Hawaiian Islands.

Few would argue that French Polynesia is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. These farflung islands have fired the imagination of anyone who has read or watched the screen version of Mutiny on the Bounty or gazed at the Tahitian paintings of Paul Gauguin.

They range from verdant volcanic islands to palm-fringed atolls. Stretching for hundreds of miles across the South Pacific, they were once connected only by seafaring vessels. Modern visitors can travel by jet plane to Pape‘ete on the island of Tahiti, but the ultimate for many is to cruise these waters and recapture the aura of making landfall at a lush tropical island encircled by a turquoise lagoon.

Whether lounging on the beach or exploring with an inland excursion, Polynesia is one of the world’s most exotic destinations.

Several small-ship lines, such as Windstar and Paul Gauguin Cruise Line, offer round-trip cruises out of Pape‘ete and these are dedicated to French Polynesia. However, for travelers preferring to cross the Pacific Ocean by ship, there are various itineraries offered by Princess Cruises and Holland America Line. These extended voyages depart from the West Coast ports of Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, and their itineraries include Hawai’i, which is the northernmost island group of Polynesia. After making a port call at Honolulu and some of the other Hawaiian islands, such as Maui and the Big Island, the ship will head south to the Polynesian islands lying south of the Equator.

Pape‘ete, a former whaling port on the island of Tahiti, is the administrative capital of French Polynesia and a major port of call. It was still a primitive paradise when the French painter Gauguin arrived in the late 1800s to “live on fish and fruit” while pursuing his art. The modern world descended on Tahiti in the 1960s when planeloads of tourists began arriving. Fortunately for cruise aficionados, ships also call at the less-developed islands, such as Moorea and Bora Bora, where passengers are tendered ashore.

What better way to experience the languid pace and pristine beauty of these islands than by slowly cruising among them. Days are spent on shore, visiting cultural sites and snorkeling in reef-protected lagoons. Nights are spent on board the ship, travelling beneath a star-filled sky.

The Good Deeds of Cruise Lines

The captain on the bridge of a cruise ship scans the horizon with hi-powered binoculars.

Bad news sells, but the good deeds performed by cruise ships are just as newsworthy. Top of this list are rescues at sea.

It’s an age-old tradition to help fellow mariners in distress. Hence, whenever officers on the bridge of a cruise ship receive a distress call, they promptly respond. In one month alone three Holland America Line ships performed rescue operations.

The first was conducted by the ms Zuiderdam after departing from Fort Lauderdale on a round-trip Panama Canal cruise. In the middle of its first night at sea, the ship answered a distress call from a Bahamian inter-island vessel with eight crewmembers aboard. The vessel was sinking and ms Zuiderdam, about 15 miles away, promptly altered course. Less than an hour later the stranded mariners were safely aboard the cruise ship and disembarked a day later when the ship pulled into Oranjestad, Aruba.

Meanwhile, a sailing yacht ran aground in Antarctica and its stranded crewmembers, from the Arctowski Polish research station on King George Island, radioed for help. Holland America’s ms Zaandam came to their aid and took them to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The bridge of a modern cruise ship contains high-tech equipment, but the act of aiding fellow mariners is as ancient as seafaring itself.

The third rescue took place approximately 250 miles off the coast of Maui when the pilot of a single-engine Cirrus SR22 ditched his disabled aircraft into the ocean. He was at the midway point of a solo flight from California to Maui when he realized a malfunctioning fuel system was preventing the transfer of fuel into his aircraft’s main tanks. This meant he would lose engine power before reaching Kahului Airport on Maui and out of range of Coast Guard rescue helicopters. Fortunately ms Veendam was in the area. So, with 20 minutes of fuel left, the pilot headed toward the cruise ship’s position.

Dramatic video footage taken from a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 shows the small plane deploying its airframe parachute system upon reaching the cruise ship. The aircraft initially pitched nose-down toward the water before leveling off and landing on its belly. As ocean swells swamped the aircraft’s right wing, the uninjured pilot quickly scrambled out the other side into an inflatable life raft. He paddled away from the sinking aircraft as it flipped over in the waves. Within minutes he was picked up by a lifeboat launched from ms Veendam. The ship was on a round-trip Hawaiian Islands cruise from San Diego and it proceeded to Lahaina, where the grateful pilot disembarked.

In addition to rescues at sea, cruise ships perform other roles, such as collecting weather data. The weather reports of meteorologists, based on data from satellites and ground stations, are greatly enhanced by the first-hand weather observations provided by cruise ships as they travel the world’s oceans. These observations also contribute to climatological data collected by the World Weather Information Service.

There is much to keep guests entertained on a cruise ship, but the observant passenger will appreciate that the highly trained officers on the bridge are always keeping a close watch on the horizon.

Travel’s Comeback Kid

Friendly and professional service is a welcome feature of shipboard dining.

Cruise ships have always been the gold standard for cleanliness, so it was ironic they should gain such negative prominence at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The cruise industry has faced public health challenges in the past, such as the SARS outbreak in 2003. However, past infectious outbreaks pale in comparison to the current global crisis.

The response from the cruise lines has been thorough and science driven as they strive to make their ships as safe as possible. Working closely with the Center for Disease Control, the major cruise companies have upgraded their ships’ ventilation and air filtration systems, and introduced an array of new health and safety measures. These include robust testing and tracking of cases, vaccinating all crewmembers, and the pre-boarding screening of all passengers.

Another welcome development, designed to lessen congestion and accommodate physical distancing at the cruise terminals, is the assigning of staggered boarding times. Once on board, guests are encouraged to practice frequent hand washing and make use of hand sanitizers installed throughout the public areas. All areas of the ship, including staterooms, are regularly cleaned with disinfectants proven to kill the coronavirus.


Ship waiters mug with young passenger.

The ship’s medical center, staffed with doctors and nurses, is equipped with COVID-19 tests and treatments. No other segment of the travel industry is required to conduct the same level of testing and tracking of cases as do the cruise lines. And because this detailed information is diligently reported to the CDC and other public health administrations, the cruise industry is an easy target for media covering the pandemic.

Negative publicity aside, shipboard life offers us the human contact that is so often missing in our land-locked lives. The level of personal service provided by your stateroom steward, whom you promptly know by name, is what makes guests feel very much at home – but a home that is free of chores.

The biggest decision to be made during a day at sea on a cruise ship is whether to have dinner in the main dining room or book a table at one of the specialty restaurants. It’s nice to have options, but I still like traditional seating. I enjoy being served by the same dining room stewards each evening. To be greeted by name and a warm smile, and to learn a bit about the personal lives of the people serving you dinner, is just one of cruising’s many pleasures.

I also enjoy the spontaneity of shipboard life, such as taking an after-dinner stroll around the ship, pausing at various lounges to enjoy some live music or perhaps heading to the show lounge to take in whatever extravaganza is being staged that night.

It’s the congenial atmosphere found on a cruise ship that’s hard to replicate on land and is what many people have missed. Fortunately, cruising is staging a comeback. And like many a comeback act, the post-pandemic experience of traveling by cruise ship may be even better than ever.

The Unsinkable Cruise Advisor

Cruise agents are one of the best ways to start a vacation.

By Anne Vipond – It has always made sense to consult a cruise specialist when booking a cruise, especially for first-time cruisers. There is no extra cost for using the services of a cruise advisor because their fee is covered by the cruise line, and their firsthand knowledge is invaluable when navigating the array of choices. To choose the right fit from the range of itineraries and variety of ships has always been daunting. And now travellers must navigate the complex and confusing regulations dealing with the pandemic.

Much has changed since COVID-19 quickly spread around the world and brought cruise travel to a grinding halt. Cruisers became land-bound and empty ships lay at anchor, maintained by quarantined crew, while executives scrambled to keep their companies’ finances afloat. The last bulwark in this worldwide crisis was the cruise travel advisor, tirelessly dealing with cancellations, cruise credits and re-bookings on behalf of their clients.

Celebrity Summit – a mid-sized premium ship – awaits returning passengers in Barbados.

Now, as we cautiously emerge from this worldwide pandemic, it is to those indispensable travel advisors many of us will turn for updates and advice. Most professional cruise advisors are affiliated with Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) – an independent marketing and educational organization. CLIA’s training courses provide travel agents the opportunity to earn professional certification and a high level of expertise in cruise travel.

Cruise ships come in a range of sizes and styles, from megaships designed for families seeking a fun-filled vacation to more sophisticated ships appealing to mature cruisers who appreciate the traditional aspects of shipboard life, such as fine dining and personalized service. Certified cruise agents can explain the differences and similarities between cruise lines, including their onboard atmosphere and activities. They can guide their clients through the maze of ship choices, cabin considerations and itineraries. Their expertise and insight is invaluable.

As the cruise lines roll out their itineraries for 2022 and 2023, bookings are strong due to pent-up demand. Cruisers have been deprived of their favorite form of travel and are eagerly looking forward to boarding a ship and enjoying the cruising life again. Meanwhile, those steadfast cruise advisors will keep us informed, updated and believing in brighter days ahead.

A couple enjoys the traditional promenade deck on Holland America Line’s Westerdam.

Windsor Castle, The Queen’s Weekend Retreat

The Long Walk in Windsor Great Park leads to Windsor Castle.

If you’re flying to London to embark on a cruise, consider taking a quick side-trip to Windsor Castle. Located just 10 miles west of Heathrow Airport, the historic market town of Windsor is famous for the fortress-like castle overshadowing its narrow, winding streets. Built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, with additions and renovations carried out by successive royal rulers, Windsor Castle is the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world. It is also where the Queen likes to spend her weekends.

A chap in morning dress strolls a street near Windsor Castle.

Windsor Castle’s Great Park was for centuries the private hunting ground of the monarch. Today, its thousands of acres of sweeping parkland, woodlands and gardens are open to the public, but those of adjacent Home Park are private. They contain the royal gardens of Frogmore Estate and it is here that Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle have made secluded Frogmore Cottage their home – by permission of the Queen. The estate’s larger Frogmore House is where the couple’s official engagement photographs were taken. The unusual name of this royal country estate derives from the frogs that live in the area’s low-lying marshland.

Prince Harry and Meghan, a.k.a. the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, were wed within the walls of Windsor Castle at St. George’s Chapel – a stunning example of 14th-century Gothic architecture with its large windows and soaring pillars. St. George’s Chapel is open to the public (except Sundays, when services are held) as are the state apartments in Windsor Castle; tickets for admission to the castle and chapel can be purchased on-line at the Royal Collection Trust website ( Changing the Guard takes place at 11:00 a.m. most days except Sundays.

Inviting sidestreets wind through the historic market town of Windsor.

Travelling to Windsor Castle by train from London takes about an hour from Paddington Station, via Slough, and passengers disembark at Windsor & Eton Central Station, which is a short walk up to the castle.

Many of England’s past monarchs have been laid to rest on the grounds of Windsor Castle. St. George’s Chapel contains the tombs of 10 monarchs, including Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour. Queen Victoria and her beloved husband Prince Albert are entombed in the Royal Mausoleum on Frogmore Estate. Outside in the Royal Burial Grounds is the gravesite of the Duke of Windsor, who famously relinquished the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, whose grave is beside her husband’s. Scandal has often swirled around the British monarchy and the kerfuffle caused by Prince Harry’s desire to modify his royal role is the latest in a long legacy.

Seabourn’s Alaska Experience

Exploring the Inian Islands by Zodiac.

Expedition cruising has long been popular in Alaska. The intricate waterways of this vast coastal wilderness invite exploration by small ships and is a voyage that can really awaken your awareness of the natural world.

Dining is casual in the Colonnade on the Sojourn.

Should you be looking for both luxury and expedition-style cruising, Seabourn’s 450-passenger Sojourn offers the relaxed ambience of a private club and an expedition team of seasoned guides ready to take you wildlife viewing in Zodiacs and kayaks. The Sojourn follows a route less travelled, tracing narrow channels avoided by the larger ships and anchoring at remote wilderness locations. An excellent example is the Inian Islands in Icy Strait where we climbed into Zodiacs to take a close look at a sea lion rookery and a kelp-filled cove where sea otters congregate.

Seabourn Sojourn docked near Sitka.

After a few hours exposed to the elements, I was happy to return to the pampered warmth of the ship. Everywhere on board the staff were friendly and attentive, whether offering to carry my plate to a table during the buffet-style lunch in the Colonnade or escorting the ladies to their tables in the elegant Restaurant at dinnertime. Our room stewardess, a young woman from South Africa, was as cheerful as she was efficient, and the level of service throughout the ship lived up to Seabourn’s well-deserved reputation.

A couple shares a quiet moment near the bow of the Sojourn.

With one of the highest passenger space ratios in the cruise industry, the Sojourn had a wonderful sense of spaciousness, both in our balcony suite and throughout the public areas. One of our favorite spots was the Seabourn Square with its floor-to-ceiling windows, cappuccino bar, shelves of library books and overstuffed sofas where we could sip our coffee and have our pick of several daily newspapers from around the world.

The last afternoon of the cruise all guests were invited to the show lounge to watch a brief film shot during the course of our 12-day cruise. We relived the remarkable moments of our cruise, then applauded not only the expedition team gathered on the stage, but all of the ship’s crew – representing 52 nations – as they squeezed onto the stage. Conviviality is what sets cruising apart from other forms of travel and the friendliness on board the Sojourn made it hard to disembark when the ship docked in Vancouver the next morning.

SEABOURN SOJOURN: 32,000 tons, 450 passengers, 330 crew. Launched 2010.
For information on Alaska cruises or other destinations visit: Seabourn Alaska

Rain or Shine, Alaska is Spectacular

Seabourn Sojourn anchored in Endicott Arm.

Rain can spoil most vacations, but not a cruise to Alaska. The weather on my recent trip aboard Seabourn’s Sojourn was, in a word, wet – yet this didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the ship’s expedition staff. Embracing the elements, they guided small groups into the wilderness to experience firsthand the raw beauty of Alaska that no amount of rain can wash away.

With rain pelting down, the young woman piloting our Zodiac past sapphire-blue icebergs at the head of Endicott Arm gazed with happiness at the cascades of white water plunging down the sheer granite slopes of the fjord. “I know you probably don’t want to hear this,” she said, drawing our attention to the subtle colors and patterns of the glistening rock faces, “but it was such a dry summer, we really needed this rain.”

Sunset in Misty Fjords.

Our 12-day September cruise aboard the Sojourn was an opportunity to visit remote fjords and forested islands bypassed by the large ships, and to do so while enjoying the country-club conviviality of a 450-passenger luxury ship. The service was attentive but not stuffy and the atmosphere was friendly. One evening guests were encouraged to join a pre-dinner block party at which we mingled in the corridor outside our suites. It helped that the ship’s stewards served cocktails and the captain came along with a smile and handshakes.

Sea lion rookery near Alert Bay, British Columbia.

We called at an interesting array of ports, from attraction-filled Juneau and Ketchikan to less-visited ports such as Sitka, Wrangell and Prince Rupert. The ship’s route was similar to an expedition cruise, tracing narrow channels and anchoring in remote wilderness locations at which excursions by Zodiac, kayak and tour boat were offered to get a close look at sea lion rookeries and tidewater glaciers. While anchored in the pristine solitude of Rudyerd Bay, the ship became a base for waterborne excursions and floatplane rides over the scenic Misty Fjords.

The Seabourn Sojourn is a 30,000 ton luxury class ship.

Sea mammals and bird life abound along the Inside Passage and one of our best Zodiac excursions was to view humpback and killer whales in the waters near Alert Bay in British Columbia. Few things in life are more exhilarating than watching a whale surface as you drift nearby in an inflatable boat. And few things are more pleasurable than returning to the warm ambience of a luxury ship like the Sojourn to soak in a hot bath or ponder the dinner menu while sipping a glass of champagne. The weather can do what it wants.