“It’s like having the whole world at your fingertips.”
Searching for toucans with rainbowlike beaks in Costa Rica’s forests. Snorkeling in a tropical lagoon in Moorea. Marveling at the architecture of the Sydney Opera House. Watching the harbor in Hong Kong light up at night. Feeling like Indiana Jones at Petra in Jordan. Admiring Michelangelo’s Pieta at St. Peter’s in Vatican City. And doing all of it in one trip!
Make that one epic trip: a 115-day world cruise, hitting 40-plus ports on five continents, aboard Holland America’s Amsterdam.
My husband, Humberto, and I were on the 1,380-passenger ship that circled the planet Jan. 4 to April 30 on a round-trip journey from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It marked our third world cruise in five years.
World cruise itineraries vary. Many stay mainly in the Southern Hemisphere. Some sail mostly north or divide their time equally between the two. I prefer a westward course, where hours are gained instead of lost when crossing time zones. Some world cruises, like ours, are true circumnavigations of the planet; others may sail from a U.S. port but end in Europe.
As Capt. Jonathan Mercer of the Amsterdam put it: a true circumnavigation “sails from and returns to the same point, crosses the equator, crosses all longitude lines and covers a minimum of 21,600 nautical miles.”
With an itinerary of this size and scope, changes are inevitable. All of our world cruises have deviated from published routes thanks to weather, political unrest and epidemics like Ebola. As John Steinbeck once wrote, “A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”
In addition to visits to a plethora of places, overnights in some ports allow for more in-depth exploration. Classic experiences offered as options on many world cruises include riding a camel in Dubai (and learning that you have to hang on for dear life as the animal lurches forward and backward to get up from the ground and to sit back down). You might stroll among Easter Island’s moai statues and take an overland tour to visit India’s Taj Mahal, its white marble so luminous that it seems to float in a symphony of domes and minarets.
We’ve enjoyed all of these classic experiences on previous world cruises. Highlights of our latest aquatic adventure included swimming in a lagoon with a mountainous backdrop on the South Pacific island of Moorea, shopping in Hong Kong’s bustling markets and soaring in a cable car over Singapore to the island resort of Sentosa, where Universal Studios Singapore is among the many attractions.
We took in sweeping views of Dubai from the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and visited shrines in Jerusalem’s Old City, where the air seems heavy with prayer. We strolled the ultra-chic, Ferrari-filled streets of Monte Carlo and toured the grounds of the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, opened to the public by Pope Francis.
When not exploring ashore, the Amsterdam was our home. A 16-year-old vessel, it has occasional plumbing problems (we had a leak in a pipe in our cabin) and slow Wi-Fi. But it also has a gracious feel, decked out with flowers and art. Its amenities include several lounges and restaurants, a spa, casino, library and sports deck.
To fill strings of sea days, activities abounded, from meditation, golf putting, dance classes and tai chi to culinary demonstrations, trivia contests, port lectures, themed balls and special events. A poolside “beach party” Down Under featured real sand, a trio of lifeguards from Australia’s famed Bondi Beach, and Aussie-centric cuisine, such as kangaroo, crocodile and emu.
World cruises typically have more entertainment than you’ll find on typical voyages. Performers on our trips have included well-known artists like singer Melissa Manchester, jazz trumpeter Doc Severinsen and comedian Rita Rudner, and distinguished lecturers such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and author Paul Theroux.
Because of these extras, people who prefer shorter voyages might find world cruise “segments” better values than regular cruises.
The full fare for our world cruise was $64,434 for two in an ocean-view cabin. Optional tours came to about $6,000. By paying for the trip several months before our departure, we got some extras, like a 3 percent discount on the fare and free luggage shipment, and gratuities were included.
World cruises take a lot of time and money, so it’s no coincidence that passengers are mostly in their 60s to 80s. Segment passengers tend to skew younger. Many guests are cruising veterans, who can share valuable insight on the experience and the diverse ports.
For any cruise enthusiast who’s taken weeklong or similar sailings, going on a world cruise is like being a literature lover who’s only read short stories and discovers the joys of a novel.
Throughout the long journey, you feel as if you’re turning one page after another in a vividly illustrated book.
As the ship’s port guide Barbara Haenni put it, “It’s like having the whole world at your fingertips.”
World cruises in 2017
Fares listed for world cruises from U.S. ports are per person, based on double occupancy. (These prices were the best found online and are subject to change.) Be sure to ask about specials and perks, such as free air or shipboard credits. Port fees/taxes are extra. Segments may be available.
Holland America (premium): 111-day circumnavigation from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., aboard the Amsterdam. Jan. 4. From $19,999, ocean-view; interior cabins sold out.
Princess Cruises (premium): 111-day round-trip on the Pacific Princess from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Jan. 3. From $16,999, interior cabin. A 111-day round-trip option from Los Angeles departs Jan. 20. From $17,999.
Oceania Cruises (upper-premium): 180-day circumnavigation from Miami. Insignia. Jan. 6. From $39,999.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises (ultra-deluxe): 128-day circumnavigation from Miami. Seven Seas Navigator. Jan. 5. From $55,999. Sailing sold out, but you can be put on a wait list.
Silversea Cruises (ultra-deluxe): 116 days from San Francisco to Monte Carlo. Silver Whisper. Jan. 6. From $61,550.
Two luxury lines, Crystal Cruises and Cunard, that sometimes offer world cruises from U.S. ports aren’t doing so in 2017. However, Crystal features a 94-day circumnavigation of South America from Miami on Jan. 10. Cunard Line is sailing from Southampton, England, for its world cruises in 2017.