The World

From Top (Nearly) To Bottom (Nearly)

By Sharna And Stewart Blumenfeld

Could you be happy “cooped up” on a cruise ship for 3 to 4 months?

You betcha!!

That’s the length of what’s called a “world cruise,” even if it doesn’t actually go all around the globe. It does, however, take you to some of the most exotic and wonderful places you could ever imagine – and to some duds, as well. A world cruise has the time, staff, and passengers to offer much more in the quality of ports, lecturers, entertainment, onboard classes and special events than a shorter cruise can do.

Over the years, we’ve met, and in some cases become friendly with, ambassadors from the US and other countries, US senators and congressmen, renowned journalists, foreign and domestic policy analysts, Broadway and West End actors, producers, and critics. We’ve been offered (and sometimes taken) bridge lessons, language, music, memoir writing, art classes, computer courses, and fitness classes such as pilates, zumba, dancing, etc.

World cruises often have a Rabbi on board the whole time so that you can not only go down a few decks (instead of driving a few miles) for Friday night services and a wonderful Oneg Shabbat, but celebrateon board Purim, Passover or any other Jewish holiday that occurs during the voyage. Best of all, you are in a most glorious hotel with twice-daily maid service, butlers if you want, superb wine and food, and you only unpack and repack once. All of this, along with seeing many old and new friends, add new insights and much joy to the cruising experience.

It’s hard to fathom, but to date we have been on 31 sea cruises (7 of them were world cruises) and 2 river cruises, and we’re still looking forward to next time. During Sharna’s nearly 40 years in the travel business, becoming familiar with the cruising lifestyle became an excuse for lots of sampling. We didn’t start out with 3-month cruises for sure, but that first 4-night cruise on a small Greek ship in the Aegean Sea was certainly one of the most memorable.

Two things stand out. First, the crew was the entertainment, offering Greek dancing every evening that included as many passengers as cared to give it a go. Since the ship was old and didn’t have stabilizers, as the ship rolled from one side to the other, the line of dancers (us) also rolled from wall to wall across the dining room. The other memory is of the mule ride for a frightening 20 minutes on a slippery cobblestone road up a steep mountain on the island of Santorini to one of the most stunning cities in the world. You’ve seen pictures of it, snow-white buildings set against a deep blue sky, your ship floating far below like a toy on an unimaginably blue sea.

Living in Las Vegas makes us think we really know the desert, but there are many other deserts in the world that don’t look much like the Mojave. Take the desert of Jordan, where the ruins of Petra rise majestically, or the Atacama in Chile that makes the Mojave look positively lush, or one of our favorites, the Namibian desert. The Namib is noted for its lack of rain – only ¼ of an inch per year. However, when we were there a few years ago on an ATV tour across the sand dunes, it poured for 6 hours and dropped more rain than any of the locals had ever seen! Almost as soon as we got back to the ship, soaked from head to toe, the rain stopped and a gorgeous triple rainbow appeared. Life doesn’t get more amazing than that.

The Amazon rainforest is the opposite of the desert. It’s green and teeming with plants and wildlife. The river itself is muddy brown and extremely wide in most places. The folks who live in the small villages on its banks get around exclusively in small boats and are eager to sell you fascinating local handicrafts. They often don’t speak much English, so be prepared to bargain (jocularly) with your facial expressions. But be warned, they drive a hard bargain!

Cities are also exciting. It’s hard to say whether Rome, Jerusalem, Monte Carlo, Madrid, Shanghai, St. Petersburg, London, Vancouver, New York, Washington, or San Francisco rate highest. Remote places are fascinating, too, such as Pitcairn Island, Easter Island, Kimodo Island or Devil’s Island. But if you ask our favorite place we always say Sydney. The city’s beautiful, the weather is wonderful, and the Aussies couldn’t be friendlier.

So what’s this about the top of the world and the bottom? Over the years we’ve managed to get to Iceland and Greenland way up north. (Want to see a place where 2% of the country’s population lives in one building? See the apartment building in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland.) And this year, instead of simply rounding Cape Horn as we’ve done several times in the past, we dipped way down south to visit with the staff of the US research station in Antarctica.

We can’t end without commenting on the transcendent beauty of Antarctica. Yes, it was frigid, but having experienced so many other places on the planet where ice and snow and glaciers abound (Norway, Iceland, Chile, New Zealand, Alaska), nothing matches the grandeur of mountains of pristine snow and ice as far as the eye can see. So if you’ve already done Alaska, or Hawaii, or Mexico, it’s time to venture out into our wonderful world and maybe even think about Antarctica for your next adventure.

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