Large Ocean Cruise ship

Our Royal Caribbean ship of 2018

After our fiasco for a 6-week holiday last year, which lasted just 2 weeks, which was most unexpected, we planned another trip to Europe for April and May 2023. What we did gain from the 2022 attempt was a Schengen Visa valid for 2 years until June 2024. This was a total surprise as these visas are normally only issued for the exact dates of travel. This meant that we could travel in 2023 without having to apply for another visa which is both costly and time-consuming.

Applying for a visa

What does have to be paid for, of course, are airfares and all other forms of transportation and, when one has paid to travel from South Africa to almost anywhere in the world, it makes sense to spend more than a week or two overseas, if it is possible. That is one of the great advantages of being retired. One’s time is one’s own and travel can be done outside of high holiday seasons.

We decided that cruising was the best way to travel once a certain age has been reached and all the other forms have been tried, hiring cars, on and off trains and by coach while younger. We have done all of these and found that, the first two are actually quite stressful as it is the traveller who lifts and carries luggage into the car or train and in and out of hotels or boarding houses, meaning being fit. A coach trip is wonderful from the point of view that luggage is not carted around by the travellers, rather by the coach driver. It is also good to have a guide on board to update about the passing scenery and to make all the bookings and other arrangements. Generally, all meals are provided but occasionally, there is an extra charge. For us, and others to whom we have chatted, the big downside is that one spends a lot of time unpacking and repacking as most stops are just 1 or 2 nights.

Our train leaving the Algarve

Our train leaving The Algarve

Outside our coach near Passau

Including the two river cruises that we have just enjoyed, we will have cruised 11 times, four on rivers and seven on the ocean. Three of the river and one of the ocean cruises were all with the Viking Cruise Lines while all seven others were with different cruise lines. Originally, we did not deliberately book with the same group but, we know now that Viking would be the cruise line of choice for future cruises.

Our Viking river boat

Our Viking River Boat

So, the question is asked, what is it about cruising to make it so special? Number one on the list is probably that one unpacks once, at the start of the cruise and only repacks on the day before disembarkation. We have cruised for 7 up to 17 days, and the process is always the same. When one boards the ship you are shown to your state-room (no longer referred to as your cabin), your luggage is delivered by a crew member and you unpack. We have always found enough items such as coat hangars and bathroom facilities for 2 people; there is a TV, a bar fridge and, on some cruise lines, free WiFi; on embarkation day there is lunch available for new passengers and all meals are provided for the trip; optional tours of where the ship docks are offered, usually at an extra cost. Every tour has a local guide who is generally good. One advantage of Viking is that they offer an inclusive walking tour of each city or town, thus making it possible for everyone to have an opportunity to see something of each port of call. Added to this, there is a Leisure Walking Group for the disabled and elderly where steps and steep hills are avoided and the walk is slightly shorter than the regular one. We have not experienced this on other cruise lines.

One other thing about cruising is the number of people one meets, most of whom are friendly and willing to learn from each other. We had some wonderful exchanges with other passengers, mainly from the USA but other countries as well. Not only are the passengers friendly but the staff are well trained and enjoy seeing to one’s every need. Cruising is definitely the best form of travel to see the world.

Vicky & Trevor with friends from the USA & Canada
Vicky (rt) and friend from USA with the 2 best waiters, Rabislav from Rumania & Sergio from SpainVicky (rt) with friend from USA and the 2 best waiters on the Gersemi,

Bravislav from Rumania and Sergio from Spain