Cruising is a very popular pastime and has become even more so with time.
It is also very big business. In 2011 the cruise industry generated more than $29.5 billion and carried 19 million holidaymakers. It is a very capitaloriented industry. A large modern cruise ship of the Oasis class can cost as much as $1.4 billion.
Cruising has been a tourism option for more than 100 years. At the end of the 19th century, some British ship owners, among them Cunard, pioneered winter cruising. They were soon followed by their German counterparts.
Cruising was a very convenient way of making full use of their assets – i.e., their ships.
They were North Atlantic operators, with their passenger ships making regular trans-Atlantic crossings. But the North Atlantic is an angry stretch of water during the winter months, thus trade dropped during the cold months, and some of the ships were laid off for the winter. The only way to have them bring in revenue was to use them as cruise ships in more temperate waters.
The concept of passenger ships doubling as cruise liners continued until the mid-1960s. During that period, only a few bona fide cruise ships were constructed, such as the German Prinzessin Victoria Luise ship completed in 1901 and the Norwegian Stella Solaris completed in 1928.
These ships displaced less than 5,000 tons and carried less than 250 passengers. They were a far cry from the immense luxury liners of today.
The Royal Caribbean Oasis class, the world’s largest up to now, displaces 225,000 tons and carries up to 6,296 passengers.
Cruises offer, among other things, relaxation, which is one of the reasons I chose to spend some of my well-deserved annual vacation on a Mediterranean cruise.
The cruise industry in the first 65 years of the last century was very relaxed compared to the hectic, cabaret style entertainment atmosphere aboard current cruise ships. I personally prefer the old relaxed style, which is one of the reasons I chose to take my cruise on a ship operated by Israeli cruise company Mano Cruises. They have two ships, the Golden Iris and the Royal Iris, of 17,000 and 15,000 tons, respectively. Their food is Kosher and the entertainment is varied cabaret style for those who so wish, relaxation for those who want to enjoy the silence of the sea.
I chose the Golden Iris for a 14-day Mediterranean cruise, which sailed on June 3.
The advantage of an early June sailing is that it is late spring, so the weather is less hot and humid. The Mediterranean coastline of Greece, Italy and the French Riviera can be very hot in the summer. From my experience, I think the best time to cruise the Mediterranean is in the spring or the autumn.
We boarded ship on a lovely Sunday afternoon. The ship set sail at 4:30 p.m., and by 5 p.m. we had cleared Haifa harbor. What was left of our first day out at sea was spent settling in and exploring the ship.
Settling in meant arranging our things in the cabin, reserving a table in the dining room and choosing a first or second sitting. This last is a very important task, and one should choose one’s table with care.
On this cruise ship, meals are served in closed and open sittings. The dining room is not large enough to accommodate all the passengers in one go.
Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style on deck or in the dining room, but dinner is a more formal affair. It is served in the dining room in two sittings. The first is at 7 p.m. and the second is at 9. Dinner lasts from an hour to 90 minutes, so one should try to choose a table with interesting tablemates.
On a long cruise, the second day out is one of relaxation. The Golden Iris has a large outdoor pool. The sky was slightly overcast, but the weather was pleasant and the pool inviting On the third day, we arrived at our first our first port of call, which was Chania on the Greek island of Crete. The Venetians ruled Crete from the 13th to the 17th century, and Chania was their seat of government. It remained the capital of Crete during the Ottoman period and during the brief period of Crete’s semi-independence. The city boasts many fine buildings, such as the former embassies and consulates built by the great powers during the period of semi-independence.
Our second port of call was Catania on the fifth day of the cruise, the fourth being an open sea day with no ports of call. Catania is a city with a long and checkered history. It was founded in the 8th century BCE. By the 14th century, Catania was one of Italy's most important cultural, artistic and political centers. In 1434 it became the seat of the first university in Sicily.
Today, Catania is one of the centers of the Italian hi-tech industry. A thriving economic, tourist and educational center on the island, it is a major hub of industry.
Our next stop was Naples, which is 15 hours’ sailing time from Catania.
Entering the bay of Naples at mid-morning was one of the highlights of the cruise because the view with Mount Vesuvius in the background was stunning.
Naples is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
Founded by the Greeks in the 9th century BCE, it was called Nea Polis, or “new city.”
It became the capital of the Kingdom of Naples between 1286 and 1816 and the capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies between 1816 and the unification of Italy in 1861. Its historic city center is the largest in Europe and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sights to see in Naples include the Royal Palace, the Naples Cathedral, the San Carlo Theatre, the Galleria Umberto and the Castel Nuovo. On the outskirts of the city are the Royal Palace of Caserta and the ruins of Pompeii.
Next on our itinerary was Civitavecchia, a seaport in the Tyrrhenian Sea, 80 kilometers from Rome. It has served as the port of Rome since the 2nd century. Currently it serves as the cruise destination for the Italian capital.
The city itself has some interesting sights, such as the massive Forte Michelangelo, commissioned by Pope Julius ll to defend the port of Rome.
It was completed in 1535.
Rome itself, the Eternal City, has an abundance of sites of historical interest, such as the Coliseum, the Arch of Constantine, the Forum, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, the Vatican, the monument in honor of King Victor Emmanuel and the Tempio Maggiore (the Great Synagogue). The itinerary allows for a stay in Rome of eight to nine hours. Those hours should be planned carefully, as there is so much to see Next on the list were Nice and Monte Carlo and from there to Olbia in Sardinia. The island has become a major tourist destination, and the seaside resort of Porto Cervo has become the domain of the very rich and famous.
Palermo was our penultimate port of call. The capital of Sicily, it has a wealth of monuments built during the Norman Kingdom of Sicily. Those worth a visit are the Royal Palace, the Monreale Cathedral and the royal tombs.
Heraklion, the capital of Crete, was our last port of call. It is less historic and less picturesque than Chania, but the city is close to the ruins of the Palace of Knossos, which in Minoan times was the largest center of population on Crete.
As we sailed off from Heraklion, the sun was setting below the horizon, and Haifa was one day’s cruising away.