Since I write historical romance, and am often seeking potential settings for my stories when I travel, I’ve found that the best way to see these settings from a historical standpoint is to take a cruise. It’s become a bit of a controversial position recently, given all the horror stories about sinking ships and passengers stranded amidst nightmarish conditions, but those instances are relatively few and far between.
- My husband and I weren’t sure, before taking our first cruise, if it was for us. We had the mistaken idea that only seniors took cruises and that we’d be bored and restless. But once we’d tried it, we were hooked. It’s the easiest form of travel. You unpack once, all your food and entertainment is included (except alcoholic beverages), and pesky details such as visas are taken care of by the staff. If you book your air through them, they even pick you up from the airport and transport you back. What could be simpler?
We’ve taken many different types of cruises, from a huge floating hotel through the inland passage to Alaska with (what seemed like) more people on it than in the city of Tacoma, to a small intimate yacht-like cruise to the Seychelle Islands. The first is a bit overwhelming, with long lines and crowds in every corner of the ship. The second can be great, but is usually too expensive and so small you’re forced to see the same people day after day, whether you want to or not.
Having said all this, I’ve found the perfect middle ground in my favorite cruise line, Voyages of Discovery Cruises. We’ve taken four separate cruises with them: to Tahiti, from Barcelona to Dover (with stops along the Spanish Riviera, North Africa, Gibraltar, Portugal, France, and the Channel Islands), a long journey across the South Pacific (that included such remote places as Easter Island and the Pitcairn Island of Mutiny on the Bounty fame), and most exotically from South America (Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay) to Antarctica. We loved every one. And just in case you’re wondering, this is a completely unsolicited endorsement. I’m not paid by or associated with them in any way. So here are my top 10 reasons for loving Discovery Cruises:
1. They’re serious. I travel because I really want to see and experience the location I’m visiting, and Discovery gives me exactly what I want. This isn’t a frivolous cruise where the sites you’ve come to see are incidental. Their focus is on the area in which they’re traveling, and everything is geared toward that end. If you came to explore a part of the world you’ve never seen, this is the cruise line for you.
2. Their shore excursions. In keeping with the above, Discovery focuses their shore excursions on the ports of call you’ve come to see, with emphasis on their historical, cultural, and horticultural significance. You can always shop after the tour is finished, but while on the tour, you’ll actually learn something interesting about your stop for the day. And they go to historically interesting sites other cruise lines often skip.
3. Their lecturers. Discovery makes it a point to have on board lecturers who are renowned experts in their field. Where ever you’re going, you can stop in to the talk the day before and listen to historians, explorers, naturalists or diplomats who share insights into the coming destination you rarely find elsewhere. And the lectures are included in the cost of your cruise.
4. The ship itself. It carries no more than 540 passengers, intimate yet ideal if you crave some measure of anonymity. Because the emphasis is on learning and exploration, it’s not loaded down with too many shows, casinos, rock-climbing walls and the like. Instead, you’ll find a well-stocked library with books pertaining to your destinations, a spa and fitness center, a pool and two hot tubs, three restaurants and several lounges. It’s not really the best cruise to take with kids, as there isn’t a lot for them to do onboard, but it’s a great way to get away from them for a romantic holiday, or perhaps a voyage with like-minded girlfriends.
5. The crew. I’ve always found the crew on board to be professional, friendly, and helpful. Once, I wasn’t feeling well and my cabin attendant asked if there was anything she could do, and brought my food to the cabin. A Filipino waiter, on hearing that I love Filipino food, would let me know when the crew was cooking some for themselves and would bring me some whenever I wanted.
6. Their destinations. Discovery sails around the world in a continuous loop, and goes to some of the most exotic and beautiful places on the planet. Because they don’t just sail back and forth between two ports, you can combine cruises to create a Grand Journey. And, because the ship is smaller than the mega-ships, they can visit more out-of-the-way ports the larger ships are forced to miss. They also stay in port for longer periods, so you have more time to explore. They even offer natural wonder and wildlife cruises.
7. The passengers. Because Discovery goes to some of the less-traveled locations, I’ve found the passengers to be extremely well-traveled and interesting. For instance, by the time people decide to go to Antarctica, they’ve usually traveled extensively. Some of my most fascinating conversations have been with fellow travelers about the places they’ve been.
8. The food. In my experience, the food onboard has always been varied and delicious, often featuring fresh specialties of the region. Once on a shore excursion the crew found some fabulous fresh mussels and harvested them on the spot for dinner that evening. Since they don’t have extra pay-on-your-own restaurants, all food is included. You can choose to dine inside in the restaurants, or al fresco on deck watching the spectacular views. Early and late seatings are available, and with free-style dining, you can sit with whomever you choose.
9. The relaxed atmosphere. Again, because the emphasis is on the places you’ve come to see without a lot of distracting on-board festivities, the atmosphere is relaxed and casual. You can choose to participate in the formal evenings if you enjoy dressing up, or skip them and eat out on deck instead. The mood is calmer than the larger ships, without the frenetic rushing around. An elegant and comfortable environment. But for those who enjoy onboard activities, they often offer art classes, craft workshops, and Zumba sessions. On some cruises, they even have a choir that you can join.
10. Book ahead. All shore excursions can be booked before you travel, so by the time you step on board, all your decisions have been taken care of.
My four cruises with them have all been on the now retired MV Discovery ship, a tastefully refurbished version of the Princess Cruises vessel that was used in the TV series “The Love Boat.” They’ve since replaced her with MV Voyager. Granted, things may have changed since my days with the Discovery. But I’ll be sailing on the Voyager in September for the first time and will let you know. I plan to blog about the cruise along the way. So stay tuned for updates and pictures, and maybe even videos!
If you’d like more information about their multiple award-winning cruises, you can visit voyagesofdiscovery.com. Sign up for emails from them and look out for saver fares. It’s a great way to save 50% or more!
The year 2013 marks my 20th anniversary as a published writer. There were many years in the beginning when I despaired of ever being able to say that. So to celebrate this milestone anniversary, I decided to get the rights back to my first seven books (originally published by Bantam) and turn them into ebooks. It’s been a grueling year-and-a-half process, but they’re finally available. And because of the help of JW Manus, they’re gorgeous, with dazzling graphics as chapter headings. I was lucky to find Jaye, who is without a doubt a leader in the field of ebook creation. She believes ebooks should be as beautiful and respected as print books, and has proven that with her designs for mine. I can’t wait for you to see them!
I also, in this anniversary year, decided to–finally!—create a website. I resisted doing so for a long time, as I was too busy writing, but with Jaye’s help, I think we’ve come up with something stunning and a little different.
The main difference is that I’d like to share with you some of the stories behind the writing of my books, and some of the many places I’ve gone to research them. I grew up with an international background in a family of travelers, and this is reflected in my work. In the past 20 years, I’ve been to every place I’ve written about, and then some. I’ve journeyed to all seven continents, including Antarctica.
Writers are as different as any other group of people. I have great respect for an author who can sit in a room and imagine a world he/she has never seen. After all, Stephen Crane never experienced a Civil War battlefield, but he managed to write THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE.
But setting is so essential to my work that I need to go there myself, to absorb the spirit of the place, to meld with it and channel that energy. I know, for instance, that I can never describe Paris as brilliantly as the great authors have. What I can do for my readers, though, is depict the city through the unique eyes of my characters, to see everything from their points of view, to notice things only they would notice. An artist would see that world through color, light and shadow, while an actress might imagine the epic stage scenes that had transpired there. Therefore, no two descriptions of the same city in different books would be the same.
My mode of travel through the years has been different, but I found early on that, since I write historical novels, taking cruises is an ideal way to see places as my characters would. A cruise ship usually docks in the older part of town and, as my characters often arrive by ship, I can put myself in their shoes from the first sighting of land.
I’m not a backpacker. My characters are glamorous so my travels are glamorous and romantic. I stay in some of the best hotels because they do. When I write, I create a fantasy that could only happen in that particular place. But I’ve learned tricks along the way of how to travel like a jetsetter on a budget. I’ll include some of those tips in later blogs. I’ll share with you cruises I’ve loved, hotels to die for, and some practical information along the way.
So please join me on an adventure of travel and amour around the world. Whether you’re a reader of romance, an inveterate traveler, or just want to experience these wonderful places from the safety of your armchair, I hope you’ll find these blogs to be interesting, informative, and most of all entertaining.