CRUISE THE PLANET
Traveling internationally on a regular basis, I’m concerned about being safe abroad. Reports of terrorist activity signal caution every step of the way. Still, many travelers from North America can and do fly to Europe without incident every day. They fulfill lifelong dreams, return to favorite places they have been before and explore new destinations safely. But some don’t. Some travelers play it safe, put those plans on hold or choose a destination closer to home. The big question here: Who is right? Are we who travel internationally being careless by doing so? Is it wise to stay home and stay safe? I asked a number of passengers aboard Viking Sea those questions and the answers may surprise you.
“I’m more concerned about the wildfires back home”, said Robert from Vancouver, a mature traveler onboard with his wife Joy. When asked if terrorist activity caused them to rethink travel plans, Robert and Joy both agreed with most others I talked to, adding “you can get in trouble anywhere. You don’t have to travel far for that to happen.”
I talked to Robert and Joy at the Pool Bar of Viking Sea, just before they went off to dinner on the last night of their cruise. The main thought on Robert’s mind the day before travel back home: he was sad to be leaving the ship. Still, they looked forward to being home. It is planting season and they were already too late to plant Strawberries. We chatted about their favorite ports on this journey and their experience on Viking River Cruises as well. They too happened to have sailed on the Elbe river in Germany as Lisa and I did last year. They too were well aware that the life clock is ticking and there are only so many opportunities to go places in the world. Typical of other conversations I had with other passengers on Viking Sea, all universally agreed “We have our health now but you never know when that won’t be the case”, presenting one great big reason not to put off travel for another day.
After they left, the bartender told me they stopped by every night before dinner. Robert had one beer and Joy had her glass of wine. It was part of the day’s routine that they really enjoyed. Getting off the ship tomorrow: not so much enjoyment.
During an interesting conversation with George and James from New York City, I found some quite different reasons for their international travel. George and James are international event planners who travel the globe on business. They might do a special party in Monte Carlo during the Grand Prix car race. Mardi Gras always takes them out of the country as they plan insanely over the top events for people and organizations.
“You’d be stupid not to travel now,” said George, speaking to the reduced price of airfare caused mainly by the implied threat of danger. It was probably that thought that had our flight from Cincinnati to Paris half-full on the way to sail with Viking for the christening of Viking Sea. “You can get in trouble anywhere,” said James, shaking off the thought that international travel was not safe. “That Viking is practically giving away the airfare (they paid $100 per person) is crazy. Even Mr Cheapskate (said George, referring to James) couldn’t pass up that deal”
I have to agree with all of the above, for a number of reasons.
I had never been to Turkey in my life until a bit more than a year ago. As itineraries had it on a number of cruise lines, Istanbul was a turnaround port to get on or off cruise ships. Then the Syrian element came into play, the Paris attacks happened and much of the world of travel began to shut down a bit. Airline flight schedules and routes planned far in advance continued to fly, but with fewer passengers than in the past. A couple bad reports of something happening, somewhere in the world can have a devastating effect on tourism. Before the maiden voyage of Viking Sea not long ago, Whitney and I visited Istanbul, briefly. Our itinerary had called for us to embark the ship in Istanbul then stay overnight, allowing time to explore the city rather than sail away from it immediately. That changed when some tourists were attacked in a popular Istanbul bazaar.
In Security Concerns vs. Travel-Thwarting Fear I talked about the actual situation on the ground in Istanbul and how it was so much different than what was depicted in the news. We felt safe and would not doubt be safe staying in perhaps over-policed tourist areas.
But that’s nothing new. This song has a very familiar melody to me.
It’s been five years since I traveled to Mazatlan, Mexico. The occasion was to see first hand just what danger lurked in wait of cruise travelers to come along. Attacks on passengers and crew caused Disney Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line to send their ships elsewhere in an abundance of caution. What I found was a friendly city with warm, caring people like I might have met anywhere else in the world. In a 2011 Gadling article, Mazatlan Is Safe, Just Ask The Dead People, I explored the issue of crime in Mexico as it relates to tourists.
Safety confirmed, I walked the streets of Mazatlan during the Day of the Dead stroll and festivities like thousand of others who joined in the annual event. Held in Mazatlan’s old historic district, the centuries-old tradition honors those who have died with a walking procession through town in a Mardi Gras sort of way, celebrating life.
In Santorini, Greece not long ago, we were warned that ATM machines may not have cash to dispense. It was said that there were long lines to deal with as the government had limited daily cash withdrawals. That made the warning to watch for would-be criminals hanging around the area seem quite plausible. Once there, we found plenty of ATM machines dispensing cash, no lines or lurking hoodlums and the best Baklava on the planet.
Had I not made those trips, I would never have experienced one of the most interesting festivals in the world, found magnificent Baklava or brought a number of lifelong dreams to life. Had Robert and Joy stayed home to plant Strawberries, they would have never enjoyed their one beer and one glass of wine before going to dinner on Viking Sea. George and James would still have traveled on business but not been able to leave their cell phones turned off and in their stateroom safe aboard the ship.
All of the above works as reason to travel internationally for most mature travelers…and by mature I don’t mean ‘old people’. As I write this, our friend Mike Faust who just turned the bullet proof age of 20 is sailing on a Viking River Cruise, doing the Grand European Tour. It’s a 15 day sailing from Budapest to Amsterdam packed full of ports, history and cultural immersion up one side and down the other along over more than 1000 miles. I asked Mike how it was going via Facebook last night
“Oh if we could all share Mike’s wide-eyed kids view of the world”, one might say. One would be wrong though. We can.