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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

For a relaxing holiday, 10 reasons to try a cruise

I’ve made mention of the cruise that my wife and I took between Dec. 6-24 from Sydney, Australia, around the islands of New Zealand and back. Now I want to list to the top 10 things about going on a cruise, especially when you stop in exotic ports of call.

1. You can eat pretty much 24-7. But, of course, you won't. If only because you'd end up vomiting all over the poop deck. Anyway, I pretty much got mugged by 80-year-olds who kept muscling past me to the serving troughs. Still, if you show some judiciousness, you can eat gourmet meals day and night. Complete, if you choose, with a bottle of wine or two.

2. You can be as social as you want. Cruise ships schedule activities that begin as early as 6 a.m. and continue well past midnight. And since no one polices what you do in the privacy of your own cabin, you can keep going until your body gives out.

3. You can be as antisocial as you want. We upgraded to something called Aqua Class, which didn’t get us all that much except access to lunch at the “healthy food” café and a table for two at one of the ship’s premium restaurants (we could have eaten, including the deck grills and room service, at 17 different places). And, yeah, when you’re on a ship that houses 2,800 people, a table for two is worth the extra cash.

4. You can see lots of cool things. Let’s begin with the Sydney Opera House, which is enough of a draw in itself. But we also saw the fjord-like sounds on the western coast of New Zealand’s southern island. We saw the “world’s steepest street” (in Dunedin, NZ). We saw yellow-eyed penguins. We saw the filming site for “The Hobbit” (the shire scenes). We saw fascinating museums in Sydney, in Auckland and in Bay of Islands, NZ. And, at night on the open ocean, we looked up into the sky and saw the Southern Cross.

5. You can see movies. Recent releases, such as “The Avengers” and “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” played twice (and sometimes three times) nightly in one of the ship’s theaters. But also on demand in our stateroom.

6. You can work out every day. The well-equipped gym got a bit crowded during peak hours, but I’d go when most other people were at lunch or at dinner and get free use of the treadmills, the bicycles, weight machines (and free weights) and pretty much anything else I wanted. Or needed.

7. You can forget doing the other kind of work. Oh, if you want, you can get online. But even when we bought a “discount” package, we ended up paying some $.55 a minute for non-Broadband access. Which was spotty and slow. This may sound like a negative. It wasn’t. I’ve never relaxed this much since I left grad school in 1978.

8. You can see all kinds of shows. On the night of the solstice, for example, we took in a kind of Cirque du Soleil show, which featured acrobats and jugglers and gymnasts performing on a stage that was moving with the waves. We skipped karaoke night and we dropped a single 20-dollar bill in the ship’s casino and we never showed up for trivia (even though might have won) and we avoided the many art show/sales that were held daily.

9. You can learn stuff. Forget the decently stocked ship’s library. One of the most enjoyable series of activities I took advantage of were the various lectures on astronomy, geography, cosmology and most things scientific that were offered virtually every day. On our next-to-last night, I stood on the open deck as a knowledgeable guy used a laser to point out the various star clusters and planets and explain the basics of space travel. Jupiter was so bright that night, it looked like a moon of the moon.

10. You can meet people from all over the world. Our cruise was peopled mostly by Australians, who were nice enough. But the ship’s workers came from such places as Russia, Serbia, Indonesia, Romania, Croatia and the Philippines. And our captain hailed from Greece. All were friendly and willing to talk about their homelands, their careers and what they liked to do when they got a chance to get off the ship in port.

I’m sure I could list 10 more reasons. Maybe even 20. Let me just say here that cruises can’t substitute from actually staying in, say, a specific city (our three and a half days in Sydney gave us a far better idea of what that city has to offer than our seven-hour stay did for our knowledge of Auckland). And I can’t say that we actually got a chance to see the interior of New Zealand, the place of high mountains and evergreen forests (but I have been to Montana’s Glacier Park anyway).

So I’ll finish by saying that for a relaxing time, and for a chance to at least get an idea of what a country is like, nothing beats a cruise. I’d do it again.

Always with that table-for-two dining option, of course.

Above photo: The Sydney Opera House is even more impressive when seen in person.