Stephen Imbeau

I was firmly determined to never go on a cruise; all my life, determined. I am a creature of the land.

I like to explore, pursue city side streets and dive down rabbit holes. I love the smell of earth, of grass and flowers, of cities and towns. And I like to watch people all around, as in a market square, or observe a macro economy. But the ocean? No.

After all, the water is over my head with no nearby bank; there is no end to the sea. And a ship? No streets to explore, no lanes, no inns, no gardens or meadows or mountains. What do you do on board? Watch the water go by?

So … imagine my surprise finding myself boarding a small ship, the Windstar Star Legend, in Vancouver, British Columbia, for a 10-day tour down the west coast to San Diego with about 210 happy folks. But blame my wife, married now for 40 years, plus her upcoming milestone birthday and … our dear friends, the traveling Florentines.

They must have drugged me, for there I was in a foreign country getting ready to board a machine for a boring trip south, or so I thought. Not that I mind boring machines, as I fly all the time, but plane trips are hours, not days, and I sleep.

But you know? I liked the cruise; maybe every five years, liked it, time at sea notwithstanding. An obvious plus for me was that the Windstar Fleet emphasized the destinations, not the cruise itself.

The Windstar Star Legend is 443 feet of small ship elegance carrying 212 passengers and 153 crew with 106 staterooms for guests, all with ocean views. Six decks are available to the passengers with multiple restaurants, a small pool and swimming platform, several reception and entrainment lounges and a mini theatre.

The Star Legend was German built in 1991 as the Royal Viking Queen, then the Queen Odyssey and then the Seabourn Legend. She entered the Windstar Fleet in 2015 as the Star Legend. She is featured in the 1997 film “Speed 2: Cruise Control.”

Typically, she sails the summer in the Alaska routes, then to the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. We took her along the west coast of North America from Vancouver to San Diego as she was enroute to Italy via the Panama Canal for upfits to include a major enlargement, adding to the mid-section about 100 more staterooms. A close friend from New York was soon to board her for the Panama Canal passage and Caribbean tour, I found out a couple of weeks later.

Passengers on long voyages is a modern phenomenon. The Greeks, the Phoenicians and the Vikings have been sailing the seas for millennia, but for trade, exploration and conquest, not for pleasure; and usually no passengers were allowed who were not either sailors or warriors or scientists or priests.

The first paying passengers climbed board an ocean bound ship in 1818 for transit from England to the United States in comfort. The English led the way with at first the P and O Line running excursions across the English Channel and to the Mediterranean. The Cunard Line, first called the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Co., next offered passenger service in high style across the Atlantic beginning in 1840 with the sailing of the Britannia, from Liverpool to New York; fresh milk and beef was provided by cows on board.

By 1844 entertainment was added. “Innocents Abroad,” a novel by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), charts his six-month trip, including a three-month tour of Continental Europe, and back on “The Quaker City.” The book was a smash success, his biggest seller ever, even with later, more famous novels.

The social classes then were strictly divided; the rich atop and the average below in steerage, often having to provide their own food and help run the ship.

By 1910, Germany and Ireland began building huge passenger liners, in particular the Olympic and the Titanic. The Germans began cruises as early as 1910. The new ships had elegant staterooms and dining rooms for the rich with ballrooms, swimming pools and bowling alleys. Unfortunately, the Titanic sank in 1912 on its maiden voyage, ruining J.P. Morgan’s White Star Line, forcing its sale to Cunard.

The World Wars put a temporary end to pleasure cruising as the ships were all converted to carry troops and material. But between the wars was a bit of a cruising golden age. Most of the travel was between the United States and Europe, and it was designed for the rich emphasizing shipboard activity and fabulous foods.

Revived post war, European trips hit a wall in the 1950s due to high ticket prices and the ease of the new airplane travel, and most cruise lines collapsed.

But then there was a sharp reversal in fortune built around Caribbean vacations for families and average folks starting in the late 1960s, eventually expanding to include the Mediterranean, river crusies and the Alaska shoreline. Some river cruises designed barges to bind down motor campers. The big ships became Fun Ships and designed shipboard activity and entertainment for the whole family. The vacation was the cruise itself, rather than the destination, except for the river cruises.

The new success of the cruise industry spawned the long running TV show, the “Love Boat” (11 years on ABC from 1977 to 1987). The new industry began to build mega passenger ships holding thousands, some ships up to 10,000 people. Some ports rejected these new, huge ships, but their economic success was undeniable. The older P and O, Cunard Luxury Cruises and Holland American Lines continue; the new lines include Princess Cruises (1965), Norwegian Line (1966), Royal Caribbean (1968), Carnival Cruises (1972), Windstar Cruises (1984), Disney Cruises (1996), Viking Cruises (1997) and Virgin Holidays Cruises (2000).

Cruise line revenues soared to approximately $40 billion dollars per year in 2018 with decent profit margins. Problems along the way included ship overcrowding, human illness particularly due to viruses, port problems including space and depth, resistance from some port populations, fuel costs, general economic conditions and terrorist threats.

No mega ships for me, but the Windstar size was just right for this Little Bear. For your next cruise, consider calling here in Forest Lake Travel Service, Florence the Cross Travel Agency, Unlimited Travel and Cruises, World Travel and Cruises, Cruise One Specialist, Pathfinder Travel, Mitchells Unique Travel Service or Kaleidoscope Travel. And, of course, there is the Internet, including the major cruise lines’ proprietary web pages.

Cruise On.

Dr. Stephen Imbeau and his wife, Shirley, have been in Florence for more than 30 years and raised their three children here. He and Dr. Joseph Moyer started the Allergy Center about 21 years ago, and it is now one of the largest in South Carolina. Contact him at citizencolumnist@florencenews.com.

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