Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 22, 2022
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Doctors Review Sail into the Sunset

From European landmarks to exotic cultures, this year's cruises are charting new waters

What's new in cruising? Plenty. From ships to services to itineraries that run the gamut from Canada's coastal doorsteps to far-flung locales. The newest ships abound with stunning aesthetics and amenities. But even ships that have plied the same horizons season after season have undergone notable changes, at least in their dining and program options.

Attribute this universal sea change to increased competition, but cruise lines have made the experience, both on board and off, more individualized and more enticing, giving credence to the idea that if a holiday at sea exceeds your expectations, it will inevitably lure you back. As a case in point, doctors with rigid schedules can take advantage of Silversea Cruises' flexible Personalized Voyages program, which allows guests to customize their trip by choosing the ports and dates of embarkation.

Whether you're a seasoned sailor eager to climb the gangplank or a novice who's considering testing the waters, these details will help you navigate in the right direction.

It may be US passengers' hesitation to fly after 9/11 and the war in Iraq that prompted cruise lines to offer more itineraries departing from ports close to home, but for Canadians, this translates into some wonderful chances to experience more of our great country.

In fact, with the new Maritime and Eastern Seaboard itineraries -- many dubbed "fall foliage" cruises -- sampling the pleasures of our eastern provinces is easier than ever. Now, without flying, or packing and unpacking, nature lovers can revel in Canada's and New England's brilliant autumn hues while exploring quaint historic sites, enjoying the charms of the local culture and tasting regional dishes, like fresh lobster and clam chowder, along the way.

Ships for these five- to 12-day itineraries typically depart from Montreal, Quebec City, New York, Boston or Baltimore. Ports of call may include Sydney and Halifax, Nova Scotia; Corner Brook, Newfoundland; Saint John, New Brunswick plus a scenic sailing along the Saguenay River, as well as US stops including Portland, Maine.

Among the lines scheduled for 2004 and 2005 are Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, Seabourn Cruise Line and Silversea Cruises.

Ships have long plied waters along the rugged West Coast, but never have there been such exhilarating ways to explore both mainland Alaska and Western Canada, all the way to the Canadian Rockies. From spring to fall, Vancouver and Seattle are lively gateways to view Alaska's Inside Passage and participate in activities like whale watching, kayaking, glacier walking and heli-hiking -- all accessible from the historic cities of the Last Frontier.

Today, many cruise lines extend their itineraries with outstanding land excursions, typically lasting a week to 10 days. For example, as far north as Seward, near Anchorage, offshoot trips may take in Dawson City and Denali National Park on Alaska's Mount McKinley. And just about every luxury and premium cruise line will connect to extensive trips that venture to Yukon's Kluane National Park and the gems of the Canadian Rockies: Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise.

Among the lines visiting Alaska are Carnival Cruise Lines, Crystal Cruises, Holland America Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Silversea Cruises.

Also, new North American embarkations points have made year-round sunshine cruises accessible. Ports in Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Port Canaveral, Galveston and New Orleans are nifty gateways for a host of ships visiting the eastern and western Caribbean islands, as well as shorter jaunts to the Bahamas, which are perfect for weekend getaways.

From early spring to fall, Bermuda's pink and white sand beaches, emerald golf courses and recently acclaimed UNESCO World Heritage Site of St. George's are easily accessible from New York; Bayonne, New Jersey; Boston; Philadelphia; Baltimore; Norfolk, Virgina; and Fort Lauderdale. Cruise lines visiting Bermuda's historic shores include Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises and Royal Caribbean International.

Come summer, European itineraries appeal to culture vultures, adventurers and families alike. As the strong Euro makes land vacations pricey for Canadians, cruising around Europe, the British Isles and the Baltic Sea is a comparatively economical way to explore the romantic history, architecture and culture of these regions.

Aside from the celebrated capitals, the most intriguing ports of call these days are places that were previously difficult to visit or that have undergone dramatic transitions as a result of political changes. These include cities like Croatia's seaside jewel of Dubrovnik; Kusadasi, Turkey, the gateway to the magnificent ruins of Ephesus; Rostock, Germany, the gateway to Berlin; and historic St. Petersburg, Russia, which has access to flights to Moscow.

For those intent on broadening their experiences in perennially chic spots like Rome, Florence, Monaco or Stockholm, for example, cruise lines are offering options for pre- and post-cruise experiences that are better than ever. Most major lines boast a ship calling into Europe. In 2005, the newest of the Mediterranean fleet will be the brand new Carnival Liberty, sailing eight 12-day cruises looping from Rome.

Come fall and winter, exotic voyages that take in Hawaii, Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania, Australia, New Zealand, South America or Africa are more enticing than ever. Your preferences and date choices will inevitably influence your selection among the unique itineraries to cultural and natural wonders. Among my personal favourites are Silversea's comprehensive tours of New Zealand and Australia; Radisson Seven Seas' delightful routes to Tahiti and Asian ports including Japan; Crystal Cruises' leisurely and luxurious journeys that take in Asia from Japan to the South Pacific; and Princess Cruises' Antarctic itinerary running between South Africa's Cape Town and Santiago, Chile.

In the spirit of tempting adventurers -- and to debunk the myth that cruising is boring -- today's ships offer amazing, once-in-a-lifetime thrills, under the watchful eyes of trained guides. And to minimize disappointments, most lines now let guests prebook shore excursions.

In Alaska alone, Crystal Cruises offers fly-fishing expeditions, Holland America Line features touring on new Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Royal Caribbean International includes rock climbing and rappelling the walls of the White Pass.

In other corners of the globe, Princess Cruises' passengers can explore Iceland on a four-by-four safari. Carnival Cruise Lines' guests can glide above Mexico's Puerto Vallarta rainforest on horizontal traverse cables. In Antarctica, Celebrity Cruises' adventurers board an icebreaker to scale glaciers. Radisson Seven Seas Cruises offers PADI scuba diving as well as feeding sharks and rays. Windstar Cruises allows certified divers to light up the underwater world on a magical night dive in Bora Bora. In New Zealand, Silversea Cruises offers jet-boating through the heart of the South Island and deep-sea fishing off the rugged coast. Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 offers a tubing adventure on Dominica's longest river. And as an excursion from St. Petersburg, Russia, Seabourn Cruise Line invites guests to be a "Top Gun" and attend flight school at a Russian military base near Moscow, where a professional pilot briefs them and accompanies them on a real jet fighter that climbs to 6100 metres in seconds, at more than twice the speed of sound.

Aside from the innovative physical features of the newest vessels and the abundance of astonishing shore excursions, my view as a seasoned cruise critic is that the trips that would appeal most to Canadian physicians combine delectable dining options and intelligently themed programming.

Sure, if you're inclined to live in your bathing suit for a week, munch pizza and deli sandwiches every day and do little more strenuous than flip the pages of a novel while lounging on deck, there's no shortage of opportunities either. In fact, aboard one of the luxury all-suite Seabourn vessels you need never even rise to check your email on your laptop or PDA -- they've been upgraded with continuously accessible wireless Internet access throughout the ship.

But if your penchant is for delightful evenings focused around exquisitely presented culinary concoctions paired with appropriate wines, and sea days sprinkled with provocative lectures or useful tech sessions -- such as those offered by Crystal Cruises' Computer University at Sea, or Cunard's programs affiliated with Oxford University on the Queen Mary 2, which also boasts the world's first planetarium at sea -- a cruise may be just your ticket to an all-round perfect holiday. So before booking, check out the brochures or consult your travel agent regarding themed cruises that can be focused on the arts, geography and nature, or food and wine.

While the premium cruise lines have set dining times and the luxury level cruise lines offer completely open seating (except for Crystal Cruises, which has set seating) most offer enough alternate options as well as a fine-dining restaurant (generally requiring an added fee) that there's no need to feel locked into a schedule. Incidentally, for those requiring Kosher or Hallal dining, Crystal Cruises offer a complete selection of certified Kosher meats every day.

Perhaps it's the baby boom phenomenon that sees hardworking parents reluctant to suffer a minute of vacation time away from their kids, or simply the joy of bonding away from the hectic schedules of home, but there's a growing trend for families to cruise together, often with grandparents in tow. Family friendly cruise lines offer a host of well-supervised, age-specific programs, all geared to increase the relaxation quotient for parents. The best programs are to be found on Carnival Cruise Lines, Crystal Cruises, Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International.

With so many options at sea, you can be sure there's a cruise for you. Bon voyage!


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