Sunday, September 9, 2018

Back-To-Back Cruises: Because Sometimes Once Is Not Enough

By Georgina Cruz

Whenever my husband Humberto and I go on a week-long or shorter cruise, we always feel that just when we are getting to know our way around our beautiful ship, it’s time to disembark! We recently came up with a solution: book back-to-back cruises! We had this eureka moment while we were sailing in the Southern Caribbean on Holland America’s Koningsdam this past winter. The ship’s cruise director, Christina Purcell, asked her afternoon team trivia participants on the last day of the voyage how many of them were staying on for another run. To our amazement, about a dozen hands shot up!

One guest who raised her hand said she and her husband just liked longer cruises and making a long voyage out of two shorter ones suited them well. Another one told us she booked back-to-back cruises because it was still too cold back home in New York to return. Every winter, the New Yorker added, they leave their home, spend a few days pre- and post-cruise in Florida and book back-to-back cruises for 20-plus days. When they return home, spring is just around the corner. “It’s a great feeling!” she said.

Made sense! Since we are Floridians, we do not need to escape winter, but we figured we could use a break from Florida’s heat and threat of hurricanes in the summer. As we live on a barrier island where there is mandatory evacuation during hurricanes, we would have to leave our home anyway. So, why not go cruising? We booked two 14-day back-to-back cruises on Holland America’s Veendam, calling on New England and Canada ports from Boston. During those 28 days we enjoyed temperatures in the 70s instead of in the 90s and we had to unpack only once and incur travel expenses to meet the ship (flights, transportation to the airport, baggage fees and porter tips) only once—as opposed to two or more times if we took two or more cruises at different times during the year instead of back-to-back.

In the case of those guests on the Koningsdam who were on back-to-back cruises, their two itineraries featured some different ports (many ships do vary their itineraries to encourage passengers to book back-to-back voyages to be able to explore more ports and thus get to know a region more in depth). In our case, on the Veendam, we were visiting the same ports twice, which we also like as we were able to explore more at each stop. For example, on a typical call in Bar Harbour, Maine, most guests on a single cruise would be able to visit Acadia National Park only and not have time to go whale-watching or seal-watching, to go on a lobster fishing coat, or to explore the quaint town in a leisurely manner as well taking the time to enjoy such local delights as a cone of lobster ice cream (it’s vanilla-flavored with bits of the crustacean) like we were able to do! In addition to tasting the local treat, we explored Acadia National Park with Oli’s Trolley; took a Nature & Sightseeing Tour with Acadian Boat Tours (and spotted porpoises, eagles and seals), visited the Abbe Museum with displays about the history of the area and took a Seal Watch & Lobster Fishing Tour with the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company to learn more about the delicious crustacean.

In Halifax, Nova Scotia, we could opt for a full-day tour to the pretty fishing village of Peggy’s Cove with arguably the most photographed lighthouse in North America on one of our days there and we could also take in the sights in Halifax itself, including its quaint waterfront with its Drunken Lampposts, its Citadel fortress with its impressive guards and noon-day gun, and the city’s wonderful museums and Titanic connections on another day.

In Quebec City, one day we could take a walking tour to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old Cityso lovely and like a bit of France with shopkeepers greeting you with a “bounjour!”—and lots of public art including a street, La Rue du Cul de Sac, filled with colorful umbrellas overhead. We could also go on the hop-on/hop-off bus to see more sights and enjoy the tea ceremony at the elegant Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac with its many delights including homemade jams, warm scones and Devonshire cream, and on another day take a tour to beautiful Montmorency Falls. We had often said while on a cruise that we would love the chance to return some time to a port we had really liked—well now we were returning to the ports on our itinerary, and soon!

And in addition to having to unpack only once and having extra time on ports or visiting more ports, we had more time to spend on the ship and enjoy her amenities like the Greenhouse Spa with its thermal suite, and alternative restaurants including the Pinnacle Grill (Pacific Northwest gourmet cuisine) and Canaletto (Italian fare). And there are yet other advantagesperhaps less obvious, but nonetheless realto booking two back-to-back cruises. Things like having some of the same trivia questions in team trivia contests on the second runand dazzling your newly arrived teammates with your prowess! And being able to buy port t-shirts and wearing them ahead of the ports in the second run (this is an instant ice breaker as people want to ask you what you thought of the port and what you recommend they should see). Also, when passengers find out you are on your second cruise on the same ship, they want to ask you about things such as if you liked the food at the alternative restaurants. And not to mention the comfort you enjoy of familiarity with your cabin and stewards (we were in the same cabin for both sailings) and your surroundings and knowing your way around the ship from day one on the second voyage.

Another thing to keep in mind and to check with your travel agent is if there are any discounts on the fare for booking two cruises back-to-back or if there are any special perks, like free air tickets, for the time when you wish to sail on your two-in-one voyage. One special feature we thoroughly enjoyed on turnaround day was a sumptuous complimentary Indonesian Rijstaffel Luncheon at the Pinnacle Grill on the turn-around day in Montreal for passengers on back-to-back voyages. The meal included such delectable dishes as Gado Gado (a green salad with steamed green beans, hard-boiled egg and creamy peanut dressing), Soto Ayam (lemongrass and lime leaf flavored chicken soup with glass noodles and coconut milk), and a combination plate with Ayam Kecap (sweet and spicy chicken), chicken sate with peanut sauce, beef Sumatra, pork in sweet soy sauce, crispy shrimp and Java-style fried rice. Delicious! Wine was complimentary and the restaurant’s entrance was beautifully decorated for the Indonesian Luncheona festive and memorable occasion!

Our experience was such that we have decided to do it again and have booked back-to-back 14-day Caribbean cruises on the Nieuw Statendam next year. And maybe we will expanding on the idea—we think that the only thing better than back-to-back cruises is back-to-back-to-back voyages!