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Cruise Books

Editor's note: This story is from the Cruise Critic Archives. Content was up to date at time of publication.

The very fact that participating on Cruise Critic's member boards and perusing the site's myriad features, reviews and port profiles requires lots of reading means that most of you, like most of us here, probably like to pick up a book now and then. Especially when it concerns cruising.

Here, we take a look at books that are sent to us by hopeful publishers as well as tomes that we've discovered along the way. Some of them we've loved, others, well not so much, but either way we'll call attention to cruise-related books you may just want to check out (or give as gifts). Books are reviewed by a range of staffers and contributors and so will reflect varying tastes and lifestyles.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief

Cruise Confidential A Hit Below the Waterline: Where the Crew Lives, Eats, Wars, and Parties One Crazy Year Working on Cruise Ships
by Brian David Bruns

If you've ever wondered what it's like to work below decks on a cruise ship, Brian David Bruns' Cruise Confidential: A Hit Below the Waterline offers a riveting look at his life as a waiter onboard a series of Carnival cruise ships. His experience is clearly not all pretty -- 80-plus hour work weeks; wild crew parties; mental breakdowns; and having to protect his dining room cutlery from packs of waiter-robbers. But the tales are fascinating, his experiences colored by the melting pot world of mega-ships, a multi-cultural mix of crew and officers. For his part, Bruns is the only American waiter onboard -- and he claims the only American to finish a contract in Carnival's restaurants. This is a backstairs scene that passengers never really see.

Cruise Confidential reads more like a novel than a tell-all and along the way you'll find yourself rooting for Bruns' real-life characters, from his Romanian girlfriend Bianca to his work station partner Ramona, and even for the author himself. But if you've ever hankered a notion for tossing land-lubbing life away for a romantic seabound career, Cruise Confidential will make you think thrice.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief

Ocean Liners: Crossing and Cruising the Seven Seas
by Karl Zimmermann

As a child, I used to browse my local public libraries, looking for any books that I could find on cruise ships and ocean-liner history. I quickly found that very few books about ships were written for kids.

In his series of books on transportation -- aimed at children, ages 9 and older -- maritime historian and author Karl Zimmermann has written Ocean Liners: Crossing and Cruising the Seven Seas, which tells the story of ocean travel in 48 pages, starting with sail-powered vessels in the 1840's and working up to Queen Mary 2. He also relates how the cruise era began and includes a chapter about life onboard past liners, versus today's cruise ships.

Through mutual friends and our shared passion for ocean liners, I've known Zimmermann since I was in college, and when I worked as an officer for Cunard, I sailed with him many times onboard QM2. Zimmermann writes with the same friendly tone that he uses in natural conversation, as he mixes shipboard history with tales of life onboard.

Perhaps the best parts of Zimmermann's book are the numerous, original photographs, taken by the author. From engineers, working in the steam engine room of the S.S. Independence, to Disney Magic, sailing out of a Caribbean port, his pictures present complete images of great ships that will, hopefully, spark interest in young children perusing their local libraries. There's even a photo of yours truly, sitting in the Chart Room onboard QM2.

--by Ben Lyons, Cruise Critic contributor

Ocean Liner Twilight: Steaming to Adventure 1968-1979
by Theodore W. Scull

In 1968, Theodore Scull set out on an around-the-world voyage done almost entirely by ship. Then, liners still crisscrossed the world's sea-lanes, and it was possible to travel economically to virtually anywhere in the world by sea. Scull, a regular Cruise Critic contributor, shares the detailed notes he took of a way of life that would shortly disappear in his book, Ocean Liner Twilight: Steaming to Adventure 1968-1979. For the next 11 years, Scull spent most summer holidays as a teacher hopping ships in exotic ports on classic sea journeys, going from Singapore to India, Durban to the United Kingdom or Yokohama to Hong Kong. While Scull managed to travel on some luxurious vessels, including the QE2 at the start of its career and the superliner France, he also experienced migrant and passenger cargo ships, assigned roommates, and both tourist and first-class accommodations.

Scull illustrates the book with 200 pictures, including deck passengers sailing to India, dhows carrying baggage and disembarking passengers, and wonderful shots of the ships themselves. Scull manages to weave in stories from his trips overland on trains, including visits to the Seychelles before the airport and a fortunate meeting with his brother, stationed in Vietnam, for a week of R&R in Bangkok just after the Tet Offensive. For those for who love ships, and for whom names like the Rajah Brooke, British India Line, the State of Madras or the Union Castle Line stir nostalgic memories, you'll enjoy sailing along with Scull on a trip down memory lane.

--by Ben Lyons, Cruise Critic contributor

The Tragic History of the Sea: Shipwrecks from the Bible to Titanic
by Anthony Brandt

The Tragic History of the Sea is a well organized and documented book on fires, mysteries disappearances and tragedies at sea of famous -- and not so famous -- incidents that span the centuries between the Bible and the Titanic. I was riveted.

Finding an article written by Mark Twain was a pleasant surprise; I loved his story in the Sacramento Daily in 1866 about the burning of Hornet, a clipper ship. This story launched Twain's career in the literary arts. From the shipwreck of "the Acts of the Apostles" in the New Testament, through the 1700's to the mysteries of the Mary Celeste, to the 1912 tragic sinking of Titanic, the first-hand accounts of those who witnessed and survived harrowing stories essentially forced me to appreciate the influential strength of the sea and the courage it takes to battle the strife she can cause. When reading these stories, the old Portuguese proverb stated in the book comes to mind: "If you want to learn how to pray, go to sea."

--by Joyce Gleeson-Adamidis, Cruise Critic contributor

The Alaska Cruise Companion
by Joe Upton

Author and mapmaker Joe Upton has designed a terrific concept for a cruise guide: a mile-by-mile travel guide and map from Seattle to Whittier, Alaska that's meant to deliver "the true magic" of the North.

A Princess Cruises exclusive, the book and map are tied together with a navigation system that allows passengers to easily detect their position on the map while referencing tales, photographs and points of interest in the guide. Princess makes it seamless by promoting The Alaska Cruise Companion -- and the relevant page numbers and route information -- on the front of its daily newsletter, Princess Patter, and in shipboard announcements.

It's a neat way to follow a route and Upton, a former commercial fisherman in Alaska, offers some interesting personal insights about a land he obviously cares very much about. "Alaska in capital letters," as he puts it. Of particular appeal: journal entries Upton made when he fished there in the 1960's and 1970's. If you're a Princess passenger, this is a guide you'll want to consider.

--by Ellen Uzelac, Cruise Critic contributor

Steam Lion
by John Langley

Despite being one of the most important merchants of the 20th century, and the founder of the most famous shipping line in history, very little had been written about Samuel Cunard himself until John Langley's biography Steam Lion. Langley, himself a tireless supporter of both his native city of Halifax and Cunard Line, and a frequent lecturer onboard QE2 and QM2, charts Cunard's career from his birth as the son of a carpenter in Nova Scotia to eventually being bestowed the title of baronet by Queen Victoria. We watch the company grow after its service carrying troops and horses in the Crimean war, and see how the massive immigration to the US began to outgrow the lucrative Royal Mail contract in importance to the company. (Mounting debt in 1842 almost caused him ruin, though, and he fled England to escape his creditors by joining one of his ships after it had left the harbor. He soon repaid all his debts, however.)

Langley stresses above all else, however, that it was Cunard's honesty, energy and determination along with his conservative approach insisting on safety that created the company's stellar reputation that still holds to this day. Few, if any, companies can match Cunard's 167-year heritage, and the next time you're sitting on a deck chair crossing the Atlantic on Queen Mary 2, pull out a copy of Steam Lion and read about how the company, and the grand tradition of crossings, started.

--by Ben Lyons, Cruise Critic contributor

Murder on the... [Multiple series titles]
by Conrad Allen

The author of this series of mystery novels has taken the time-honored tradition of "manor house" murders and set it afloat. The books have an excellent sense of period and interesting plots, all set on ocean liners and ships in the era prior to World War I. Beginning with the initial episode, Murder on the Lusitania, and continuing through six (soon to be seven) individual sequels, Allen develops not just each story separately, but also links them through his characters George Porter Dillman and Genevieve Masefield, ship detectives of growing repute.

The stories themselves move from ship to ship, line to line, and occur in a range of locales and situations. All involve a complicated murder (and other assorted crimes) and a range of characters from the traditional to the unique and even the famous. Each book ends not only with the resolution of the crime(s) involved, but a postscript recounts the ship's subsequent history and eventual demise. They are an excellent choice for shipboard reading, or at-home enjoyment. The only suggestion is to read them in sequence as they were written, since later books refer to the earlier ones and the detectives' relationship adjusts, changes and develops as time passes.

Start with Murder on the Lusitania (1999). This first book in the series introduces the "hero," American George Porter Dillman, born to a family of yacht-builders. He later becomes an actor and then Pinkerton agent who serves as Cunard's detective while passing as a passenger. Along with several lesser crimes on this inaugural crossing to New York, George must deal with the murder of journalist Henry Barcroft, a man with secrets whose passing was not universally regretted by others. The background is set with details of the ship and its passengers (from fashions to foibles) in a pattern that will continue in subsequent books. He is assisted by another passenger, Englishwoman Genevieve Masefield, herself on her way to a new life in America after a disastrous relationship, who discovers a new purpose in life while aiding George.

Note: Conrad Allen, whose real name is Edward Marston, is a Welsh-born and Oxford-educated history graduate and former lecturer who now has forty "crime" novels to his credit, each group of books set in a different period, though only the Conrad Allen pieces are oceangoing. See for more information.

--by Glenn Tucker, Cruise Critic contributor

Tricky Business
by Dave Barry

Extravaganza of the Seas – Now how could you resist any book set on a ship with a name like that? As one of America's best-known writer-humorists, Barry has also branched out into writing what might be called "caper" novels. This is his second, and revolves around a casino cruise that sails nightly from Miami, gets caught in a violent storm, and more importantly, is involved with dueling gangs, drug smuggling and money laundering, as well as an attempted heist.

The story is peopled with a range of characters, some funny and some not so, the language gets very strong in places, and the violence is certainly excessive, even if it does fit in with the story and some of the people in it. On the other hand, the description of the buffet alone is enough to make you laugh until you can't stand it, and some of the passengers and crew are classic Barry images that you'll remember long after you reach the bizarre ending

--by Glenn Tucker, Cruise Critic contributor

125 Years of Holland America Line
by Captain Albert Schoonderbeek and Guus Dalkmann

Few companies can boast a history as rich as Holland America Line, and as few people are as qualified to tell its story as Captain Albert Schoonderbeek. Schoonderbeek is not only a passionate student of maritime history but also a captain of one of HAL's ships; in 1998 he helped co-author with Guus Dalkmann 125 Years of Holland America Line. While not meant to be an easy-to-read page turner, the book devotes a few chapters to the company's history, including its origins in the Atlantic crossing trade, its roll in World War I and World War II when its ships were requisitioned as troop carriers, and its successful transition from crossings to full-time cruising.

Most of today's readers will find the chapter "Under the Carnival Umbrella" the most interesting, which details the company acquisition by Carnival and its subsequent expansion. Approximately three-quarters of the book, however, is a comprehensive fleet biography, with specifications, photographs and a history of every vessel that has sailed in the fleet. Schoonderbeek and Dalkmann take this to an extraordinary level of detail, including the riverboats, cargo ships and even day excursion boats in Alaska that the company has owned.

While the book may be too technical and detailed for casual, first-time cruisers, the serious cruise ship history buff or loyal Holland America passenger will enjoy this accurate and complete compendium. Schoonderbeek and Dalkmann are justifiably proud of the line, and their efforts should give its passengers a new appreciation for the diverse and varied interests of the company over the years.

--by Ben Lyons, Cruise Critic contributor

Welcome Aboard! Traveling on an Ocean Liner
by Barbara A. Huff

Specifically written for young people, this slender volume is interesting on several levels and a very enjoyable and informative way to introduce children to ocean travel. Using a Queen Elizabeth 2 trans-Atlantic crossing as both setting and demonstration, the book also intersperses chapters covering the history of ocean travel, aspects of shipboard life, and the changes in ships and journeys. It addresses possible problems and questions in an intelligent, well-informed and careful fashion. As an added feature, there is an excellent bibliography, a small selection of liner-focused movies, and a list of maritime museums and groups. It even ends with a section on "Land Cruising" -- ideas on how to extend the shipboard experience (or how to prepare for it). Good job!

--by Glenn Tucker, Cruise Critic contributor

Lost in the Amazon
by Steven Kirkpatrick

There are numerous unchartered territories, undocumented tribes and unknown tales that make up the restless life of the Amazon River -- and an Amazon journey by cruise ship is one way to experience them. And yet, while it's one thing to sit in a deck chair and envision what mysteries are hidden within the jungle vines, it's quite another to actually venture into them.

As such, Lost in the Amazon, which dares to expose this more hidden view, is an extraordinary account of undertaking and fulfilling the vivid imaginations of those (like me) who have sailed the Amazon many times. I have taken adventurous excursions to local villages; embarked on risky canoe trips; and slept in a hammock during a creepy, misty night. Yet still, this book gave me what I could not touch. It goes beyond comprehension of what a human can endure outside his own natural habitat.

In essence, "Lost in the Amazon" is the true story of a group of guides who travel down the Amazon with Kirkpatrick, a man determined to snap just one photograph that will make it into the fabled National Geographic magazine. Along the way, the author's thrown into a multi-directional adventure of self doubt, longing for his children, learning who he is and trying to stay alive through the depths of unforgiving rain, endless greenery, jungle food, and mysteriously sounding and poisonous creatures.

The last page took my breath away by pinning this harrowing tale of survival against the luxury of my cruise.

--by Joyce Gleeson-Adamidis, Cruise Critic contributor

Selling the Sea: An Inside Look at the Cruise Industry
by Bob Dickinson and Andy Vladimir

Selling the Sea's subtitle promises an inside look at the cruise industry, and that's exactly what it provides. General-interest reading this is not, but while it's targeted mostly at the travel industry, this book will interest anyone -- cruise enthusiasts included -- who want to know more about how the business works.

Far more than just a book about selling cruises, Selling the Sea examines every aspect of the cruise industry from travel agents to entertainment to food and beverage and beyond. One of the most interesting sections asks the CEO's of various cruise lines to describe what makes their company special, a fascinating insight into just which cruise lines want you as a passenger!

The authors, legendary former Carnival Cruise Lines CEO Bob Dickinson and tourism guru Andy Vladimir don't mince words when it comes to ways they think the cruise industry can improve. At the same time, this book is sure to give you a new appreciation for how great a job cruise lines do at keeping us happy -- and will give you candid insight on just how they do it.

Only two caveats: First, the book is surprisingly poorly edited, with spelling and grammar errors you don't expect from a title from a major publisher. Second, make sure you buy the second edition, a paperback published in 2007. There seems to be a lot of stock of the first edition -- a hardcover from 1996 -- floating around, and booksellers don't always make the distinction clear. Avoid that one unless you want a nostalgic look at what the cruise industry was like 11 years ago!

--by Douglas Newman, Cruise Critic contributor

Peter the Cruise Ship
by Captain Hans Mateboer

A fun story for younger kids, Peter the Cruise Ship -- written by the captain of Holland America's Noordam -- follows Peter's adventures as he sails all over the world. It's chock full of tales of derring-do -- Peter rescues Rusty, a cargo ship; sails through a wild sea; and, oops, hits a whale on the head with his anchor when he calls at a tropical port. The picture book also depicts Peter as he merely cruises along, carrying happy passengers from port to port. Reports Cruise Critic's Caitlin Tucker, a special youth contributor, "Peter the Cruise Ship would be good for little kids, maybe 4 or 5 years old. It would be good because Peter is a cruise ship that can talk, and he has a lot of friends. It teaches little kids how you can make friends onboard. The pictures were good. The map, which shows where Peter sails, is educational; it shows Africa, Europe, Asia, the world!"

This is the first in a series of picture books aimed at cruising's younger set; Mateboer's next story will feature a voyage to Alaska.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor

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