Sail with us into the second chapter of our world cruise series as we cross both a vast ocean and the international dateline to explore the romantic and secluded islands of the South Pacific.
It was Thursday night when I turned in after having a nightcap in the lounge. When I woke up, it was Saturday morning. Whoa! Did I have that much to drink?
This remarkable feat of time traveling was thanks to the fact that Regent Seven Seas Voyager crossed the International Date Line overnight on a recent grand voyage across the Pacific from Los Angeles to Auckland. The line that marks the edge of time zig-zags between islands in the South Pacific and during a previous journey on an Azamara Club Cruises ship, I’d discovered I could actually skip full days and relive them again. This time, we’d moved a full day ahead sailing from Hawaii to Kiribati (the Gilbert Islands) and then gone back to the previous day en route to the next stop in the Cook Islands.
On an island-hopping journey across the Pacific, time itself seems irrelevant. The South Seas islands are isolated enough from the bustle of modern life that they’ve seen relatively little change for generations and have been able to retain strong cultural traditions. Our ports on this voyage were mostly little more than villages on islands where nature still rules.
The only exception was Honolulu, our first port of call, which provided a lesson in what can happen in short order when the modern world decides to move in and cars and high rises replace kahunas and thatched houses. Fortunately, there’s still a lot of nature and the character of old Hawaii on other parts of Oahu and Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii, which we’d also visit on this voyage.
Of course the sea is a big part of the story. Just getting to Hawaii from Los Angeles is a lesson in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean – this first leg of the cruise was five days without a stop.
I’m often asked what exactly you do on a ship for the better part of a week without getting off? I never find it confining – in fact it’s liberating. What other experience can you have in modern life during which you can truly say you’ve gotten away from it all? With nothing in all directions but water and fresh air, every day is yours to plan as you choose.
Bora Bora, French Polynesia-Siegfried Tauqueur/eStock PhotoUnlike the bygone days of ocean crossings where the whole goal was getting there and guests had the choice of shuffleboard or reading War and Peace while snuggled into a deck chair, today’s cruise ships offer a vast menu of activities and leisure choices for almost every hour of the day.
To ensure that ship mates get acquainted, Regent Seven Seas Cruises organized a “block party” the first night out during which guests were encouraged to come out of their suites into the corridors, where bars were set up to lubricate the meeting and greeting process. Soon, new acquaintances were planning cocktails and dinners together and reviewing the daily program for activities they had in common.
On extended sea journeys, I tend to get into an enjoyable routine of sleeping in and having breakfast from room service rather than heading to a dining room. Relatively reliable Wi-Fi access has become a standard feature of cruise ships, so I never feel out of touch, and the daily program invariably offers multiple intriguing choices for the morning and afternoon.
Several cruise lines including Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Silversea Cruises and Seabourn Cruise Line have extensive guest lecturer series, with as many as three presentations a day from experts including historians, politicians, military officers, naturalists, authors and show business celebrities. Daily cooking classes arranged by chefs of Relais & Chateaux member restaurants are features of longer voyages of Silversea Cruises this year and Holland America and Oceania Cruises also have cuisine schools with daily lessons. Bridge tournaments are a forte of Crystal Cruises on days at sea, as are ongoing contests like golf tournaments and water volleyball championships. Crystal’s complimentary wine tastings will get you in the mood for an afternoon dance class that will in turn make you confident enough to get out on the floor and boogie the night away.
Spa days take on a whole new meaning when you can get a private cabana and private massages and catering as you can on Seabourn’s ships. Whenever I have a stretch of more than two sea days on any ship I always reserve at least one massage and take time for the sauna and whirlpools. It’s amazing how mellow the experience of low-stress days at sea can be after releasing accumulated stress from your mind and muscles.
A unique highlight on a Pacific adventure to the southern hemisphere is the silliness that accompanies crossing the equator. It’s a ritual to be enjoyed—or at least watched from a safe distance—that harkens back to the era of sailing ships. Newbies crossing the imaginary line that separates the northern hemisphere from the southern are known as pollywogs. Veterans of the crossing are shellbacks and you’ve really got to experience the antics to believe what happens during the hazing and revenge of the pollywogs. The ceremonies include elaborate scripts, costumes, copious amounts of shaving cream, maybe some mustard, and the chance to kiss a fish. When the captain arrives dressed as King Neptune, general mayhem ensues around the swimming pool. Bathing suits that can be easily cleaned are definitely recommended.
Time stands still the further across the Pacific you sail, to exotic Tahiti and Bora Bora, Raratonga and on to Fiji. The further west you go, the closer the islands are together, so there are fewer sea days and more opportunities to explore on land and experience markets, crafts and cultures and landscapes you may have imagined only existed in fantasies.
I know all voyages eventually come to an end and there must always be a reluctant return to the modern world, but as long as I can, let me enjoy my time travel.
Photo Credits: 2nd photo-Bora Bora, French Polynesia-Siegfried Tauqueur/eStock Photo
Written by Wallace Immen
First Published in Cruise and Travel Lifestyles Spring/Summer 2014