I wasn’t sure how to pronounce fjord when I initially came across the word. So, when I set sail on my first cruise - to Norway’s spectacular fjords - three years later, it seemed like a gasp-worthy full-circle moment.
Some might say the Norwegian fjords are, quite simply, the ultimate destination. The first time I encountered them, I stood spellbound on deck - puffer jacket on and a glass of champagne in one hand - as the ship, Balmoral, sailed past the mist-topped peaks, plunging waterfalls and mysterious rock formations of Lysefjord.
In the ensuing months, I would hit the water two more times. First, to explore some of the cities and villages along the enchanting Rhine on a 7-night river cruise with AmaWaterways. Easily navigating through narrow waterways, the luxurious AmaKristina transported us from Basel through the Rhine Valley and up to the canals of Amsterdam, calling into Riquewihr, Strasbourg, Rüdesheim and Cologne along the way. The next cruise was an 11-night solo ocean itinerary that took me to Gibraltar, Casablanca, Cádiz, Lisbon and Porto. Yes, solo cruising! Each cruise was a “first” in its own way, and a tangible experience of the adage, “oceans take you to countries, rivers take you through them.” Three cruises in, the frisson of excitement at the thought of boarding a ship and sailing to lands near and far hasn’t waned.
I’ll be honest with you: the world of cruising was not particularly top of mind. However, as someone with a healthy curiosity toward novel travel experiences, it was one I was open to when the opportunity came. Cruising is arguably at the forefront of affordable and ambitious holidays. How else can you see multiple countries in one trip with everything taken care of? How else can you visit remote destinations that aren’t easily accessible by air? Let’s not forget the allure of unpacking once and not having to switch accommodations or arrange transfers for the pleasure of new horizons each day. Take all these into account and you can see why travellers are increasingly developing appetites for cruising into new adventures.
While each cruise gave me moments to cherish, solo cruising was a standout travel "first". Onboard the ship, I enjoyed the freedom to create the pace I wanted. Days at sea were spent relaxing, socialising and content planning for Wonders of Wanders, my creative travel, food and culture platform. However, it was ashore that I had my most memorable experiences. In Cádiz, there was Fernando, the elderly gaditano in a tavern who regaled me with stories from his past travels before squeezing his card into my hand, warmly promising to host me on a return visit. In Casablanca, it was defying fears I held in the pit of my stomach about Morocco in order to explore the sprawling city with Rachid, a grand taxi driver and tour guide. In Porto, it was serendipitously bumping into - and then having an affirming conversation over lunch with - a fellow solo traveller.
Solo cruising presented new learning experiences and opportunities to challenge notions about the world. Now that I have tackled travel by land, air and water, I know that no matter how you get there, it is always worth digging a little deeper to expand your worldview. This is the gift of travel if you remain open to it.
The world looks different these days. As we reckon with travel in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, size definitely matters. Would I cruise again? Yes. Ocean or river? It depends. Having experienced both, I feel more drawn to the intimate cruising experience that rivers provide. I daresay the trend toward small-group gatherings, as necessitated by the pandemic, is something the river cruise industry has been perfecting for some time now. I remain, as always, open to possibilities. Let's see what 2021 brings, shall we?