Anna Selby shares her experience
Silver Travellers may have spotted some of the stories I wrote on a recent cruise around South America with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines:
This was, to say the least, a journey of epic proportions. Sailing out of Portsmouth the first week of January we had a pretty bumpy crossing of the Atlantic but by the time we reached Bermuda it was sunny, calm and everyone knew exactly why we had left the British winter far behind.
A long cruise such as this one – and in its entirety, it was three months – is an ideal way to escape the worst months of our own climate and have an adventure at the same time. There were many highlights – the Panama Canal, the off-ship tour to the Atacama Desert, the Chilean fjords, rounding Cape Horn (strangely, the sea was as a millpond), Antarctica and the Falklands. I actually left the ship after six weeks in Buenos Aires where I spent a few days before flying home. The rest of the passengers remained, visiting much of the Brazilian coast before venturing onto a somewhat calmer Atlantic stopping at the Canaries and Cape Verde on the way home.
So, this was not a World Cruise – Fred. Olsen calls it a Grand Voyage – but it was a long time on board. So, did we all get cabin fever? Not really. For one thing, you don’t actually spend that much time in your cabin on this kind of cruise as there are so many things to do: chess or drama, art and lectures, shows every night, quizzes and choirs – not to mention an “enrichment programme” of lectures and an onboard wildlife team pointing out a wealth of creatures in the air and the water (plus a few snoozing crocodiles on the banks of the Panama Canal).
Obviously, there are plenty of days ashore but one of Fred.’s ideas was to extend this with much longer overland trips. These included the Galapagos, the Iguazu Falls and, for me the Atacama Desert for five days. It’s a complete break from the ship, a change of pace and a proper visit to a place that’s otherwise difficult to get to. An extra cost but worth every penny.
People do make friends on board, too, especially during such a long voyage. This happens when you share a table in the restaurant, join in an activity or go on a tour ashore. There were plenty of single travellers and they soon seemed to form new friendships – there was, to everyone’s delight, even a full-blown passenger romance on board!
I did at one point wonder whether I would become institutionalised after six weeks of my bed being made and my food presented to me quite literally on a plate – would I remember how to boil an egg? Sadly, that comes back to you pretty much instantly. And, speaking of food, there is an awful lot of it. If you want to avoid the normal cruise weight gain of around half a stone a fortnight, I would strongly recommend you forgo all the extras. I decided on no bread or puddings and tried to skip one meal a day (usually breakfast) but you do need a fairly steely determination to stick to that.
There are many days at sea on this kind of cruise and it’s definitely worth having a plan for your time – going to the gym, whale watching, joining a club – so you have some kind of structure. If the sea days are rough, make sure you have sea sickness pills if you think there’s any chance you’re going to suffer. You will probably be warned of anything bumpy by the captain in his daily reports but I do recommend www.windy.com – a website all about weather at sea. It tells you everything from the swell to the wind, visibility and the likelihood of snow and it’s utterly addictive.
A long voyage in the winter? Maybe it’s not all about sipping cocktails round the pool (we were in Antarctica at one point, remember). But from my experience, I wouldn’t hesitate.
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