Cruise Ships: Where Smaller Is Better

Cruising always promised glamour and excitement for me. My grandmother, tired of being married and with an empty nest, ran away, not to join the circus, but to sign on with a cruise line. I have yellowed postcards from her from points around the world. Even that old ’70s TV show The Love Boat promised sex and intrigue. I was a little disappointed when the Youthful Adventurer, his father, and I vacationed on the Big Red Boat back in the 1990s, especially after my two-year-old son managed to escape from the play center and later when he was returned to us for “playing too aggressively” (as, apparently, the four-year-olds were too intimidated when someone half their age and just learning about sharing showed no qualms about taking their toy trucks if he liked them).  What I really loved was touring the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador aboard the Eric, partly solar- and wind-powered, with about 20 other journalists on a press trip. There was no assigned dinner seating, hokey on-board activities (like playing pirate, an activity far too many in the 50-plus crowd engaged in as I cruised on the MS Russ from St. Petersburg to Moscow), or long waits while 100-plus, sometimes lazy travelers meandered down to the bus. Instead, two groups could board two pangas quickly to embark on their day.

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The MS Russ at night. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

I’ve taken two riverboat cruises, one on the Seine floating north from Paris, and one in Russia; one more upscale (the Uniworld France trip), one less so (Gate1 to Russia).  I still don’t like dining with the same set of strangers night after night, or forced fun like scavenger hunts. From my survey sample of two, I’ve learned that I prefer good service (I was asked to bus my cocktail glasses back down to the bar aboard the Russ; a server came and took my drink order—and cleared its remnants—aboard the River Baroness), good food (informed I was a vegetarian, the Russ kitchen one day opted to serve me two boiled potatoes as my main course), and good service. More importantly, though, I’ve learned to scrutinize cruising itineraries and to ask for daily schedules. I had far too much down time as we meandered from St. Peterburg to Moscow coupled with far too many hours dedicated to shopping for souvenirs. I thought I saw far more of France on my Uniworld tour than I did of Russia on the Gate1 jaunt.

I was most active, though, on the Eric via Ecoventura, where we typically took two major jaunts per day but had plenty of time to gaze at the stars on the rooftop at night.

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Boarding a panga from the Eric

© by Lori Tripoli

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