Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 20, 2017
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Meet the Fleet

With our pick of great cruises, all you have to do is pack your bags and choose a destination

Cruising has changed phenomenally in the last five years. The variety of ships is staggering as cruises now cater to every type of vacationer. Competition within the industry is fierce and new ships offer incredible diversions: alternate restaurants, lavish spas, Internet cafés, en-suite Internet access and well-organized kids' programs. Some even feature mini-golf courses, ice-skating rinks and rock-climbing walls -- not to mention on-board lectures and theme programs, from cooking lessons to music festivals to diving accreditation courses.

So how's a doctor to choose from such a debilitating selection? You first have to know what type of vacation you want, how much you'd like to spend, where and when you'd like to go and what you'd like included with your cruise. It helps to understand a little about the different cruise lines and types of experiences they offer. Your best bet is to work with a travel agent who knows the cruising industry, as he or she can get you the best value for your money. On top of that, if you want a discount or a complimentary upgrade, work with an agent the cruise line recognizes for the business he or she brings them.

Don't overlook air-sea programs that bundle air transportation and ground transfers into one price. They can not only save you a lot but also simplify logistics. Make sure, however, that your agent books you the most direct route to avoid time-consuming transfers on a circuitous flight path. You can find great deals in brochures (Air Canada Vacations, Encore Cruises and Encore's Tiffany Collection, to name a few) or by surfing the net. You'll find reliable information on every ship, from service to hygiene standards, at the Cruise Lines International Association's (CLIA) official site (www.cruising.org).

While browsing through cruises to recommend, I've deliberately omitted some popular lines, including the following: Carnival -- which is rousing fun for active types spurred on by glaring razzmatazz -- may be too energetic for doctors long due for a relaxing break. Princess has also been left out because, with the exception of the "dazzling" Grand Princess and the new Golden Princess, the rest of the ships in the line are inconsistent in amenities and services offered. Norwegian Cruise Line has been skipped, though it is affordable and recommended for budget escapes. Windstar, which provides a thrilling mast-and-sail experience and Disney, which is delightful for its whimsy and wholesome ambience, are two lines that suit specific travellers.

I'm often asked my choice for best cruise. There is no such thing -- it all depends on your style, finances and what your idea of a great vacation is. The following are some of my picks for great cruises.

Best ship for a family vacation with the kids
Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas
Imagine an 11-storey mega-liner -- taller than Niagara Falls, twice as wide as the London Bridge and as long as the Eiffel Tower is high -- buzzing with 'round-the-clock excitement like Vegas at sea. Launched in 1998, the 2000-passenger Vision of the Seas appeals to active travellers looking for a fun and cost-effective vacation. It wows passengers with a soaring atrium lobby, glass-enclosed elevators, Broadway-style theatre and speciality bars (champagne and martini), plus a huge conference centre and lavish spa. The larger pool, cornered by whirlpools on the sun deck, has a wide mesh "fence" marking off the shallow end so you can safely swim with your tots. The solarium -- an indoor/outdoor pool area -- has a retractable canopy to ensure that inclement weather won't ruin your good time. The sports deck has a basketball court and golf driving-range. As the "official cruise line" for the Professional Golfer's Association, Royal Caribbean International (RCI) offers a "Golf Ahoy!" program in most of its ports of call. Accommodations range from compact inside cabins to wheelchair-accessible cabins and spacious balcony suites. Guests choose between two dinner sittings, but there is also a variety of restaurants. Best of all, on the Vision and her twin ship, Rhapsody, parents can rely on excellent youth programs geared to three age groups and conducted by qualified counselors.

RCI's newest ship, the 2000-passenger Radiance of the Seas, with its ice-skating rink and rock-climbing wall, is pricier but "spectacular," according to Dr and Mrs. Gordon Weisbrod, who just returned from a one-week Alaska fling.

RCI often combines a cruise with a stay in a Hyatt Hotel in many ports around the world. Take the kids on a culture cruise to Mexico, Europe, Alaska, Hawaii or Panama. In the Caribbean, the Vision of the Seas visits the company's private beach.

Contact: Royal Caribbean International (1050 Caribbean Way, Miami, FL 33132; tel: 305-539-6000/800-659-7225; fax: 800-722-5329; www.royalcaribbean.com).

Best ship for an inter-generational family reunion
Holland America Maasdam
Holland America (HAL) is know for its traditional style, comfort, consistently gracious service and leisurely pace of activities that suit every age. While the 1250-passenger Maasdam, launched in 1994, is not HAL's newest or most opulent ship, it has a great youth program for kids aged five to 17 (a boon for parents, grandparents and great-grandparents), handicapped-accessible suites and excellent medical facilities, which even offer dialysis treatments. Cabins run from budget-priced interiors to spacious cabins and deluxe balcony suites. The Maasdam's upper decks have practice tennis courts and a jogging track.

There are two swimming pools: the indoor-outdoor pool has a hydraulic magrodome cover for inclement weather. There's a well-equipped gym and full-service spa (beware of therapists hustling products). Many cruisers love the splendid afternoon teas accompanied by classical music.

With varied activities from ballroom dancing to bingo to bridge instruction, HAL is best known for its University at Sea Lectures and eco-programs, particularly on Alaskan itineraries. The Maasdam's sister ships, the Ryndam, Veendam and Statendam, offer similar services and amenities, as do HAL's newer and larger ships, the Volendam and Zaandam.

HAL sails the world. For a relaxing family reunion, cruise Alaska's Inside Passage or sail the Caribbean and visit HAL's private Bahamian island.

Contact: Holland America Line (300 Elliott Avenue West, Seattle, WA 98119; tel: 206-281-3535/877-932-4259; fax: 206-281-7110; www.hollandamerica.com).

 

Best big ship for affordable luxury
Celebrity Millennium
The 1950-passenger Millennium is a contemporary ship that evokes the stylish grandeur of traditional ocean liners with its elegant interior, Broadway-style theatre and host of intimate lounges and bars (coffee, martini, champagne and caviar) where you can avoid the masses. My favourite is a cozy two-storey library and music room. Moderately priced for its deluxe category, the Millennium's classic cruising format is enhanced by delicious meals inspired by Michelin-award-winning chef Michel Roux. The Olympic Restaurant -- decorated with wood panels and memorabilia from the Titanic's sister ship, the Olympic -- even offers table-side flambés. The cabins are comfortable: 80 percent are outside and most have balconies. The resort deck has a big pool and four whirlpools. The 2323-square-metre AquaSpa -- dubbed "the largest, most extensive spa at sea" -- features a well-equipped gym and treatment rooms (including a handicapped-accessible full-body treatment room) that offer exotic therapies and baths. Shore excursions are intelligently planned. The outstanding kids program, run by enthusiastic and qualified youth counsellors, offers kids excursions at special prices.

Celebrity recently launched the Infinity and the Summit, the Millennium's sister ships. Albeit slightly smaller and older, the Galaxy ('96) and the Mercury ('97) also offer good value for similar service.

Sail the Millennium to the Baltic, Europe and South America, the Caribbean, Alaska, Bermuda and the Panama Canal. Take the Infinity and golf the islands of Hawaii.

Contact: Celebrity Cruises (1050 Caribbean Way, Miami FL 33132-2096; tel: 800-646-1456 / 305-539-6000; fax: 800-437-5111; www.celebrity-cruises.com).

Best small ship for an affordable, around-the-world, glamorous adventure
Radisson Seven Seas Navigator
The streamlined 490-passenger Seven Seas Navigator, launched in 1999, caters to savvy travellers with a penchant for luxury, fine cuisine and preferential service. The plush suites have complimentary, well-stocked mini-bars and marble-clad bathrooms with a separate tub and shower. With a golf-driving net, a good gym, the renowned Judith Jackson Spa, a broad teak deck with a pool flanked by whirlpools, a sumptuous tiered theatre, a homey Italian trattoria and a main, single-seating restaurant sparkling with crystal and silver, the Navigator is a joy on sea days. The ship attracts an adventurous clientele (mid-30s to seniors) who appreciate culture and in-depth itineraries (one cruise explores four Vietnamese ports). As small luxurious ships go, the Navigator is affordable. Radisson Seven Seas' fleet, which includes the Diamond, Paul Gauguin, Seven Seas Mariner and Song of Flower, offers deferential style and service. The Navigator's twin Voyager will debut in 2002.

Seven Seas Navigator sails around the world.

Contact: Radisson Seven Seas Cruises (600 Corporate Drive, Suite 410, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33334; tel: 954-776-6123/800-477-7500; fax: 954-772-3763; www.rssc.com). Best luxury super-liner
Crystal Symphony

Launched in 1995, the spacious, 940-passenger Crystal Symphony was instantly acclaimed by sophisticated travellers for its excellent service and big-ship amenities, including its vast pool deck and arguably the best entertainment at sea. The meals are consistently delicious in the continental-style dining room as well as at the Japanese and Italian restaurants. Passengers can even order a personalized diet. Spacious cabins (more than half with verandas) have comfortable sitting areas. Swimming is a pleasure in any climate: one of the two outdoor pools has a retractable roof.

Crystal is known for its array of programs, including the Computer University at Sea and the Crystal Vision Enrichment lectures hosted by celebrated personalities and diplomats. The line's excellent shore excursions often include privileged access (one itinerary includes an off-hours visit to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg). Babysitting is available, but youth programs only come into play when they're expecting a lot of children.

The Crystal Symphony's twin-sister ship, the Crystal Harmony, offers similar style and service.
Crystal Symphony sails around the globe.

Contact: Crystal Cruises (2049 Century Park East, Suite 1400, Los Angeles, CA 90067; tel: 310-785-9300; fax: 310-785-3891; www.crystalcruises.com).

Best small ship for a luxury retreat
Seabourn Pride, Spirit and Legend
In a sea of luxury vessels, the Seabourn triplets -- Pride, Spirit and Legend -- have achieved icon status among the most discriminating of travellers. The intimate 204-passenger "yachts" provide unwaveringly impeccable service, consistently delicious meals and an exclusive excursion in certain exotic ports, including a concert at a Greek ruin. The understated ships offer extras galore: personalized stationery in your suite, a mini-bar stocked with liquor and wine with dinner. Built in the 1990s and refurbished in 2000, the Pride, Spirit and Legend all have comfortable suites with marble-clad baths, twin sinks (Legend's bathrooms have only one sink) and separate shower and bath.

Seabourn's vessels are more like floating private country clubs than cruise ships: relaxed but not boisterous, subdued but not stuffy. The ships are known for their worthwhile lectures, nightly entertainment, cooking demonstrations and computer lessons. A flip-out marina drops a swimming cage into the ocean full of water toys such as banana boats, kayaks and water skis. In conjunction with the Wide World of Golf, Seabourn offers golf lessons at sea followed by play at prestigious private clubs around the world.

Seabourn covers worldwide destinations. The all-inclusive cruises include port charges and gratuities, wine with dinner and most drinks.

Contact: Seabourn Cruise Line (6100 Blue Lagoon Drive, Suite 400, Miami FL 33126; tel: 305-463-3000/800-929-9391; fax: 305-463-3010; www.seabourn.com).

Best small ship for luxury adventure and all-inclusive value Silversea Silver Cloud
The luxurious 296-passenger Silver Cloud and her twin Silver Wind offer the exclusive cultural and visual advantages of a small "yacht" at comparatively reasonable, all-inclusive rates. Typically well-travelled, adventuresome guests thrill to witness the sleek ship as it manoeuvres through narrow canals to ancient ports -- one of the many pleasures of sailing the Baltic Sea. Itineraries often coincide with overnight port stays to enjoy an extra day in, say, Bangkok or Sydney, or to visit arts and music festivals. Guests value the intelligent lectures supplemented by National Geographic films, as well the sophisticated on-board entertainment. Silver Cloud's accommodations and service are often rated near perfect by veteran cruisers. Re-embarking after an outing in a far corner of the world, you feel right at home as the indulgent staff greets you while hors d'oeuvres wait in your suite (75 percent have balconies). All public spaces, from the show lounge to the bar to the open-seating dining room, are intimate. The cuisine is consistently excellent and features cordon bleu recipes and light dishes. Of all the cruising "yachts," Silversea's ships boast the biggest gym, biggest pools and greatest deck space.

Silversea twins the Silver Cloud's and Silver Wind's itineraries include airfare, transfers, port charges, pre-cruise hotel, gratuities, drinks and a Silversea Experience (like a fishing expedition north of the Arctic Circle in the Norwegian fjords or a ballet performance in St. Petersburg).

Silversea's recently launched 388-passenger Silver Shadow will be joined by the twin ship Silver Whisper in 2002.

Silversea sails around the globe.

Contact: Silversea Cruises (110 East Broward Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301; tel: 954-522-4477/800-722-6655; fax: 954-522-4499; www.silversea.com).

Best ship for a sybaritic one-week escape
Radisson Seven Seas Paul Gauguin
Inspired by the post-Impressionist painter who fled France in the 1890s for a blissful life in Tahiti, the gleaming Paul Gauguin is crafted like a luxurious large yacht.

The 320-passenger ship sails one-week loops from Tahiti to other Society Islands in French Polynesia: Raiatea, Tahaa, Bora Bora, Moorea and the coral atoll of Tetiaroa (Marlon Brando's private retreat). Cleverly designed, the compact ship evokes island decadence with traditional art and etchings that depict Tahiti's natural beauty. The staterooms, half of which have verandas, are embellished with native woods and mirrors that reflect the golden sunsets and sapphire seas.

Casual style is in (no jackets!) but the service is formal. Sumptuous meals are matched with fantastic wines. Dine al fresco in the signature dining room or in a separate restaurant where chef Jean-Pierre Vigato, whose Paris restaurant rates two Michelin stars, creates a dazzling feast. All-inclusive cruises include airfare, gratuities, wine with meals, a fully-stocked en suite bar and a guidebook to French Polynesia.

On the Paul Gauguin you can easily succumb to Tahiti's haere maru -- take it easy -- mantra. Besides exotic excursions and a lavish spa, the program roster includes Tahitian dancers and marine lectures. When the ship drops anchor in tranquil lagoons, it lowers a marina brimming with windsurfers, kayaks and outriggers.

Arrive in Tahiti before the cruise and stay in a thatched roof cottage perched on stilts in the sea.

Contact: Radisson Seven Seas Cruises (600 Corporate Drive, Suite 410, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33334; tel: 954-776-6123/800-477-7500; fax: 954-772- 3763; www.rssc.com).

Best ship for the wonders of the world in one week
Royal Olympic Voyager
The Olympic Voyager actually visits three continents in seven days. Imagine a quick Friday to Friday getaway that whisks you from Athens to the Greek islands of Santorini, Mykonos and Rhodes, on to Turkey's Istanbul and Ephesus, to the port of Ashdod for a tour to Jerusalem and Alexandria for a tour to Cairo and the pyramids of Giza. More exhilarating than relaxing, this whirlwind itinerary is possible on the Olympic Voyager. Its speedy mono-hull construction, capable of 29 knots, makes it and her twin sister, Olympic Explorer, the most time-efficient cruise ships afloat. Designed to evoke seafaring tradition with a modern edge, the 840-passenger Olympic Voyager has port-intensive itineraries and decidedly value-conscious programs. The standard cabins are comfortable; some of the forward cabins, with floor-to-ceiling windows, allow stunning views of the ship cutting through the sea. Gourmet travellers may frown at the meals (abundant and hearty) and the folksy entertainment, but hey -- with such port-intensive itineraries, friendly Greek hospitality and a good night's sleep is the best way to gear up for another day of touring. The Olympic Voyager is popular with experienced travellers who don't mind crowding around a small pool.

Royal Olympic Cruises owns other, older ships, but only the Olympic Voyager and twin Olympic Explorer (2001) are recommended.

Royal Olympic Cruises cover the Mediterranean, circumnavigate South America, transit the Panama Canal and visit Mayan ruins in Mexico during the equinox.

Contact: Royal Olympic Cruises (805 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022-7513; tel: 212-688-7555/800-368-3888; fax: 212-688-2304; www.royalolympiccruises.com).

Best ship for a medical conference
Radisson Seven Seas Mariner
Anticipation for the new Seven Seas Mariner -- the world's first all-suite, all-balcony ship -- ran so high that meeting planners booked a string of groups and charters long before its March 2001 launch.

Holding meetings aboard the ship proves convenient and economical, as there is no extra charge for the use of meeting rooms, theatre and lecture halls, speciality menus and coffee breaks. And then there's the entertainment and typical programming offered with every cruise. Besides the amenities, which include identical ocean-view suites and special executive suites, four dining venues, spacious lounges and boardrooms, an elaborate pool deck and full-service spa, the ship's knack for privacy is second to none. Meeting planners found that their clients (among them technology, financial and pharmaceutical companies) appreciated the ship's insular security from reporters and corporate spies. To boot, Radisson Seven Seas willingly negotiates "economical" chartered itineraries to suit the clients' time spans and embarkation points.

The Mariner sails Bermuda, Caribbean, Panama, Alaska and Mediterranean itineraries.

Contact: Radisson Seven Seas Cruises (600 Corporate Drive, Suite 410, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33334; tel: 954-776-6123/800-477-7500; fax: 954-772- 3763; www.rssc.com).

 

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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