Cruise to Alaska

Visiting the 49th state by sea means you're in for scenic grandeur and grand hotel comfort

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Don't forget the Baked Alaska

Near the end of the trip, as the ship moved through quiet waters next to Vancouver Island, the crew conducted a ritual in the dining room that is common to many cruises. With great ceremony, they carried in Baked Alaska desserts festooned with sparklers.

A number of recent news stories about working conditions on some cruise ships have brought controversy to the lower decks. The registration of vessels to "flag of convenience" countries like Liberia and Panama allows cruise companies to avoid both some taxes and laws relating to crew welfare. So crew members recruited from developing nations where pay scales are very low are often asked to work long hours for very little money. However, crews have recently become more organized, and now about 60 percent of the cruise lines have signed agreements with the International Transport Workers Federation, which represents 600,000 sailors and other seafaring workers worldwide. These agreements have improved wages, living conditions and medical coverage, and they let passengers feel better about conditions for the people who serve them. Holland America is one of those companies, which may be one reason why our cabin steward and waiters seemed particularly cheerful in their work.

The Volendam raced at full speed back down the coast of Vancouver Island in order to get through another tight spot called Seymour Narrows at slack water, when there is minimum current. Then, ahead of schedule, the ship coasted the last hundred miles at five knots. It was still sunny. We disembarked in a flurry of bags and good-byes. The next day we took a ferry to Victoria. As we got off the ferry, we saw people we knew. It was the group of six enthusiastic women without their husbands from New York and Florida. They had gone across to Victoria to watch whales.



We had only known them a few days, but we laughed and hugged. "We saw lots of whales," said one of them. Suddenly we were nostalgic, and I realized that the illusion that cruising gives you is not just of comfort and serenity but of community. A cruise ship is like that perfect small town where you wish you had grown up, where the cookie jars were always open, everyone liked you and the authority figures did just what you asked.

In Finland, cold winds swirled the sky with cloud. With Henrik Segercrantz, I went on board today’s pride of the cruising industry. It was the 137,300-ton Explorer of the Seas. Now in service, she carries more than 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew. More than 50 new cruise ships will be launched in the next few years. One of them will be even larger: the Queen Mary 2, scheduled to launch in 2003, will be 150,000 tons, and will be able to cruise at 30 knots—7 knots faster than our Volendam. Though not all cruise ships are big—a whole niche exists for smaller vessels dedicated to adventure trips or local voyages—an end to growth at the large end is not in sight. "There is always something you must have in the back pocket for the next generation," said Kaj Liljestrand. "If you ask me will there be bigger ships, I would say yes. Why should they stop?"


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