Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer in the service of Spain, left these shores on August 10, 1519 with the idea of sailing around the world. He had five ships and 270 crew. But just one ship, the Victoria, arrived home safely three years later, and with only 18 men, not including Magellan, who had died en route.
It was not a promising start to world cruising.
Nevertheless, 500 years later, I decided to have a crack at it. Like Magellan, I had been around a bit, and some considering his world was a lot smaller, voyaging on all the great oceans and visiting the Galapagos, Antarctica, sailing up the Amazon, down the Nile, and made fabulous trips on the Ganges and Mekong. But never a world cruise.
It is the holy grail of cruising - expensive, long (up to 244 nights) - and it’s hard to find a vessel going exactly where you want to go.
But I did find a very good ship, the Crystal Serenity, leaving from Los Angeles on an 85-day sort of circumnavigation, pointed in more or less in the right direction, and figured that if I hopped ashore here and there that would work.
I like L.A., particularly Santa Monica. We had four nights at the JW Marriott slap bang on a glorious beach, not far from where Mae West had a house, and in the other direction, Venice, home of The Doors. We spent four days on the wide promenade with its pier and seafood restaurants, and roamed into the hills to see the Getty Museum. It was January and the sun was shining.
Then a limo arrived. When you do a world cruise with Crystal you are a somebody. The limo, about half as long again as the biggest car I have ever owned, took us to the port at nearby San Pedro, and after a minimum of formalities we stepped up the gangway - a day early. Passengers booked for less than the entire voyage would board after our party.
About half the 800 passengers were doing the full cruise, and that first night we had champagne and a splendid dinner, followed by a show and greetings from the captain, then tottered off to bed for the first night of 85.
The route was Hawaii, Samoa and Fiji to New Zealand, and here we jumped ship, renting a car for an easy drive down the North Island to Mangawhai for lunch with friends at this easygoing beach resort. That evening found us near Auckland at the home of other friends, and the next day we dropped off the car in Auckland and boarded the ship.
Sydney [Australia] is always a pleasure but increasingly busy with cruise ships. The itinerary said just one night here, so we got off and checked into a favourite hotel, the Pullman Grand Quay, where the balcony of our one-bedroom suite was a panoramic viewing platform overlooking the harbour and bridge, the latter brilliantly lit up for Chinese New Year.
We spent six nights in Sydney, a highlight being a visit to the state library where I had a private viewing of Tasman’s own map of Australia, at least the parts he found. Otherwise, we just enjoyed being there, taking the ferry to Manly, dining at Mr. Wong’s and sitting on that fabulous balcony watching the little ferries come and go.
On moving day we checked with the port agent at Adelaide that the Serenity was indeed there, and then took an Uber to the airport for the short flight to the south coast city.
Serenity’s comfortable size made for a painless transit of the south coast, after which we stopped in Busselton. I had found a classic Rolls-Royce for charter and we rode in style to a Margaret River winery for lunch.
After that it was Perth, six sea days to Mauritius, Mozambique to Durban in South Africa, when once again we waved goodbye and flew to Cape Town giving us another three nights in this superb city. Serenity duly arrived and we had six nights there in total, enjoying the waterfront, Clarke’s bookshop on Long Street, and the wineries of Stellenbosch.
Namibia was good value, while St. Helena was way beyond expectation. Napoleon, kept captive there by the British after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, probably missed Paris, but you can’t win them all. St. Helena has beautiful, dramatic scenery, friendly people and a good pub. It also has a new airport offering challenging landings.
Cabo Verde and La Palma were also enjoyable, the latter sporting a barbershop here a decent trim was $5, but Dakar was a dud. By now we were almost home, and after an evening having tapas in Malaga and a day gripping our wallets in Barcelona, we made it to Monaco.
The verdict – if you wanted to be spoiled rotten with a variety of restaurants including Nobu, and be pampered by the best service afloat, Serenity will float your boat.
The lectures were very good, and some of the entertainment quite outstanding.
And it was well worth doing. Magellan had the right idea, but timing is everything (crystalcruises.com).