If I had to define the best aspect of a World Cruise or other Grand Voyages, I would say it would be the opportunity to visit, in just one single trip, many of “those faraway places with strange sounding names, far away over the sea…” as Bing Crosby sang in, “Far Away Places.”
Imagine seeing Pitcairn Island of Mutiny on the Bounty fame on the horizon, shopping for the precious molas in San Blas, coming face to Big Face of moai on Easter Island, donning a sarong to visit a Hindu temple in Bali, browsing in an Arabic souk in Oman—all of it and much more. Also imagine unpacking just once and being pampered, fed and entertained all the while the ship whisks you from one destination to the next as if on a magic carpet.
During our previous four World Cruises on Holland America Line’s Amsterdam, my husband Humberto and I have visited such tantalizing locales as Antarctica with its icebergs in shades of blue and green and shapes, in some cases, reminiscent of castles. We also saw the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, a mausoleum which resembles a type of glorious “ice castle” with white marble so pure and luminous it seems to float over the ground. Though we visited the Taj and Antarctica during our first World Cruise in 2012 their images are still oh, so vivid in my mind!
Far away, off-the-beaten-path locales never disappoint, and they often make for the most memorable visits of an extended cruise itinerary. During the Amsterdam’s current 2019 Grand World Voyage, our fifth World Cruise, we have already visited our share of exotic locations. Among some of them, the San Blas Islands of Panama where the Guna Indian locals create the precious, colorful craft of molas—several layers of reverse appliqué cloths with designs depicting lizards, fish, turtles and other local fauna as well as abstract designs. Another off-the-beaten-path destination for us was Chile’s Atacama Desert, the driest on the planet, which has given the world its oldest mummies and thought-provoking statues. While here, Cruise Specialists treated its guests to a special folkloric show in the marvelous setting of the desert sands.
During a call in Peru, a stop in Salaverry allowed us to visit the pretty colonial town of Trujillo. We’d never before heard of it, but the town turned out to be thoroughly charming with excellent examples of Spanish Colonial architecture including the Cathedral and Apostolic Palace and buildings with hand-carved wooden balconies. Other exotic locations included scenic sailing at Pitcairn Island where Fletcher Christian and other Bounty Mutineers settled, a stop at mystical Rapa Nui/Easter Island where mysterious Polynesian-style moai are an irresistible lure to travelers, and Bali where the magnificent Hindu Temple of Lempuyang Luhur, just one of an estimated 20,000 temples and shrines on the island, beckons on impressive Mount Lempuyang.
Another faraway destination was Muscat, Oman, which the Amsterdam visited in early April. This capital of the Sultanate of Oman has a privileged position in a sheltered port in the Arabian Sea. Its popular sights include its 16th century Portuguese Al Jalali Fort and Fort Al-Mirani overlooking the harbor; the Al Alam Palace, the ceremonial palace of Sultan Qaboos in Old Muscat; and the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, marble-clad and with a 165-foot-high dome, four flanking minarets and an interior adorned with a gold chandelier and a prodigious prayer carpet that could house 20,000 worshippers at a time.
After taking in some of these sights, enjoying local color at Muscat’s Muttrah Corniche and Souk is the perfect activity for a complete day in the Omani capital. Passengers could take advantage of a complimentary shuttle to the Muttrah Corniche and Souk or enjoy a walk on the seaside promenade, adorned with sculptures before venturing into the souk. It’s a labyrinth filled with shops featuring lots of Omani and Indian goods: silver, textiles, spices, antiques, jewelry, perfumed oils, frankincense and other merchandise including lamps that looked like they could harbor a genie! Haggling was expected.
Speaking of genies and Arabian fantasies, for those who wished to borrow a page from Scheherazade, the legendary storyteller of “One Thousand and One Nights” and live out an Arabian dream, an option is a visit to the Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Located between the Gulf of Oman and the Al Hajar Mountains, Al Bustan Palace, a former royal residence, is nestled within 200 acres of landscaped, palm-filled gardens on Quran Beach, and has opulent appointments accented with a crystal chandelier, hand-carved wood panels, Islamic fretwork adorning the walls, and sumptuous décor in gold, cream, maroon and bronze. The hotel offers a day pass for visitors and its afternoon tea with local specialties and treats is offered as an optional tour on the Amsterdam.
Having enjoyed these exotic locales, we felt we could not wait until the next faraway place on our World Cruise itinerary!