Lost in the Amazon by Steven Kirkpatrick ($16.49); (£10.49)
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.
Cruise Ships: The Guide to the Worlds Passenger Fleets by William Mayes ($39.61)
For the true cruise ship buff, Bill Mayes' Cruise Ships should occupy a prominent and easy-to-grab spot on the shelf. For over 500 ships, he provides vital statistics including dimensions, power plant, passenger capacity, former names and company contact details, as well as a short history for every company and ship. By listing every overnight oceangoing ship carrying 30 or more passengers (excluding most ferries), along with an expending list of rivergoing ships, Mayes considers this the most wide-ranging resource available on cruise ships. I'd not only agree with him, but I'd add that it is probably the most accurate compendium as well.
Illustrated with many of Mayes' excellent photographs, as well as those from an impressive collection of friends that forms a "Who's Who" of maritime historians around the world, the book will introduce U.S.-based readers to many ships they have probably never heard of or seen. The last section includes ships that are still afloat, but laid up or in other roles (such as the venerable Independence and United States, currently owned by NCL). Current plans are for the book to be updated every two years -- the second edition is to be released in late July.
--by Ben Lyons, Cruise Critic contributor
Selling the Sea: An Inside Look at the Cruise Industry by Bob Dickinson and Andy Vladimir ($26.40); (£17.15)
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
Cruising on the Queen Elizabeth 2: Around the World in 91 Days by Bernard M. Patten, M.D. ($14.62); (£17.50)
After leaving work Friday night I embarked on a full world cruise -- all three months worth -- aboard Cunard's venerable Queen Elizabeth 2. It was a trip of a lifetime, and I must say: I'm exhausted. My mind's a whirl with a kaleidoscope of images -- from places, like Mombasa, Singapore and Rio de Janeiro, to onboard goings on, such as the food, the lectures, the food.
I experienced this amazing trip from the comfort of the Adirondack chair in my backyard. My voyage, courtesy of Cruising on the Queen Elizabeth 2: Around the World in 91 Days, by Bernard M. Patten, M.D., resulted from a combination of factors -- the writer's real experience and, for me, an unusually commitment-free weekend that permitted the leisure to read the full 539 pages.
I became addicted.
The story, written after a trip Dr. Patten and his wife Ethel took in 1996, chronicles their adventures in a tone that's set aglow by their obvious love of life.
"No other method of transportation involves this kind of navigational insouciance, the absolute inessentiality of the voyage, the pursuit of nothing but pleasure. From now on, I will try to embrace indolence, eschew haste, and laze in the pleasant nautical limbo on this multi-tiered pleasure palace."
Joy and heartfelt appreciation come out of every page even as Patten's sometimes caustic insights about fellow passengers capture their idiosyncrasies (the Rabbi, Herman and the too-scary-to-be-real Miss Red Bikini are unforgettable characters). I never tired of hearing critical reports on, say, the sorbet-of-the-day (flavors never repeated even though served at an estimated 180 different meals), the drink reports (is good wine still so value priced on Cunard?), and recaps of various lectures (most seem to focus on fish and their sex lives).
The biggest challenge in writing a book about a world cruise -- indeed, the toughest part of taking one -- is to make sense and gain insight about some 60 ports of call, experienced one after the other like a massive buffet with way too much richness and variety. If I tended to glaze through Patten's recaps of QE2 shore excursions, what was more intriguing were the adventures he and Ethel, er, enjoyed, when they went off on their own. There's Mombasa, where they rashly hired a local to tour them around and got stuck with a sinister band of thieves. The delights of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore were well chronicled. And Dr. Patten's insights about India were haunting: "For all its faults, India is a real experience, the most important real travel experience you can have. You'll love it. You'll hate it too."
Ultimately, the irony of this long diary, which was only just published last summer, is that it not only offers a great behind-the-curtain-of-Oz glimpse of the world of world cruising. It also serves as a valentine to QE2. That storied ship will sail around the globe just one more time before it's put out to pasture and if it's too late to experience it for yourself -- well, you can cruise on QE2 here.
"I think we are in paradise. Ethel and I agree all the wonders we seek are here on the ship ... we wanted the sea-laden breezes to hit our faces forever ... we wanted to cruise forever."
So did I....
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor
Cruising: A Guide to the Cruise Line Industry by Marc Mancini ($49.82); (U.K. Prices Vary)
This is a textbook, plain and simple. Its author is a travel educator. It is also rather overpriced (get a used copy if you can), and in some parts, more than a little dry and instructional. But, and this is a big "but" ... the book is packed with information, which is incredibly useful and full of professional insight. It'll help you understand what goes on behind the scenes.
Cruising: A Guide to the Cruise Line Industry covers everything involved in selling and marketing cruises from the industry's point of view. It discusses cabins, ships, cruise lines, etc. It talks about geography and itineraries, as well as types of cruises and types of passengers. The author uses articles, graphics, photos and inserts to explain terms and points of reference. If you want, Mancini will even give you homework.
The book is often used as a study guide by people in the travel industry, and it can't hurt a serious cruiser to understand what's happening on the other side of the transaction.
--by Glenn Tucker, Cruise Critic contributor
Mediterranean Summer by David Shalleck ($16.29); (£10.23)
Mediterranean Summer chronicles the last chapter, so to speak, in a critically acclaimed U.S. chef's five-year life (and cooking) journey to Italy and France. He saves the best for this book because it's here where he focuses on, as the subtitle tells us, "a season on France's Cote d'Azur and Italy's Costa Bella." There, he works as a private chef on the sailing yacht of a wealthy Italian couple.
For me, the food-related stories were as mesmerizing as the travelogues he provides, as he and his shipmates trawl around some of the Mediterranean's glitziest places -- the kind of places where the big ships don't go; Ischia, Ponza, Porto Cervo, St. Tropez, Portofino and Antibes among them.
But the smaller ones sure do -- I'm headed out next week on a seven-night cruise on Windstar's Wind Surf, and we're calling at a couple of them. I've made notes of Shalleck's discoveries and plan to check them out myself.
Ultimately, what's so much fun about Mediterranean Summer is the voyeuristic look at life aboard those yachts we've all seen, from a distance, in Monaco and points nearby. Funny thing is, there's small -- and then there's a little too small, and the world aboard these yachts fits into the latter category. I think I'll stick with my favorite "small" cruise ships, like Windstar, Star Clipper and SeaDream, where there's just a bit more variety. But I enjoyed going along on Shalleck's journey, just the same.
And p.s. Shalleck doesn't just tease with all his descriptions of the Mediterranean fare he cooks up -- there are recipes in the back.
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor
Cruise Ship Squeeze:
The New Pirates of the Seven Seas by Ross A. Klein ($14.00); (£11.99)
I actively disliked Cruise Ship Squeeze:
The New Pirates of the Seven Seas. What purports to be an honest and critical look at the actions and effects of cruise lines is nothing more than a sensationalist expose of the worst order. The book's a basher and creates stories and images out of highly unreliable bits and pieces; there is little attempt at being objective, and the author's judgments suffer greatly because of it. Don't bother.
Truly a sumptuous and beautiful book, this "coffee table" tome combines gorgeous photography with well-written articles. A prefatory article by Jay Clarke (former Travel Editor of the Miami Herald) on examining and rating the ports of the world is followed by two excellent pieces on cruising by noted authors John Maxtone-Graham and William Miller. From there, the book sets off around the world, in sections each profiled by different travel writers, discussing ports and places and choosing different qualities and factors in judgments rendered by a diverse group of experts in the field, from Peter Greenberg of NBC to Wendy Perrin of Conde Nast.
From beginning to end and everywhere in between are the beautiful color pictures, including drenched scenes of ships and seascapes, ports and places from Turku to Tasmania to Tahiti. Voyages: The Romance of Cruising is great memory of cruises past and a tantalizing wish book for future ones.
--by Glenn Tucker, Cruise Critic contributor
Love Boats by Jeraldine Saunders ($23.58); (£10.00)
Credit Jeraldine Saunders as the "mother" of contemporary cruising because it was her autobiography, Love Boats -- about working onboard a cruise ship -- that was transformed into a long-running television series that inspired millions to take a voyage. And she's a character. I could write thousands of words just on the adventures of this woman.
When I was working onboard the Stella Solaris some years ago, I became a fan of Ms. Saunders. She was lecturing onboard while ABC's "Love Boat" was actually filming a series of episodes about a cruise around Greece. She fit in so well with staffers that within two days she'd figured out who was sleeping with, well, whom.
Saunders was the first female cruise director, and this book about her trials, joys and tribulations is a delight. I enjoyed every word of it, but let me tell you my favorite places: her painfully straightforward admissions in chapter six ("With Only Myself to Blame"); her humor in chapter 34 ("Beer Bottles and Burials"); and her stories of romance in chapter 35 ("Men on the Prowl") and chapter 40 ("I Never Thought I Would Kiss a Sailor"). I can relate. I did kiss a sailor -- and I married him.
Cruise Ship Blues is exactly that -- blue. Disappointingly, the writer has nothing positive to say about cruising and the cruise industry. Though we all know that cruise companies are not angels (these companies are growing by leaps and bounds) there's much about what they do that's good. Very good.
I certainly feel it's a good thing in many ways for Klein to bring up important issues -- whether they be sewage waste, sexual harassment, environmental issues, wages or what not; but if he's going to mention the bad, he needs to be honest about the good, too. For every negative he mentions I can offer a positive -- and these are being addressed by the industry.
Having spent 25 years (and my husband has tallied 43!) in the industry, I know first hand that there's much that's right. More often than not, the industry is a happy one. Thousands worldwide have been put to work both on and off land. Ports visited gain a stronger economy. And, millions travel in an environment that helps drop the stress of life a notch lower -- for every day onboard. That Cruise Ship Blues is unable to address any of the positives weakens the author's case and ultimately makes me suspicious about Klein's agenda.
If I Were Not Upon the Sea -- Under the Captain's Table by Joyce Gleeson-Adamidis ($15)
A reader, over a year or more ago, had recommended Joyce's If I Were Not Upon the Sea -- Under the Captain's Table and sent me a copy. I took it with me on a train ride to New York, and it was so dishy and full of great stories that I couldn't stop reading. I finished it that day. Like a lot of folks, I find stories about the inner workings of cruising to be fascinating. What I love about Joyce's tales is that they focus on the people not on the corporate entities. This book, like Joyce's columns, has special heart and soul.
Joyce's writing style is totally unorthodox but she has a rare and unique voice -- something that, as Cruise Critic's editor, I'm always looking for. So we ended up hiring Joyce as our first-ever monthly columnist and she's the most popular writer, bar none, we've ever had. Her stories appear under in our Features section under Under the Captain's Table.
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never do Again by David Foster Wallace ($10); (£7.59)
A friend recommended this book of essays by David Foster Wallace, which features a particular piece (same name as title of collection) on Wallace's first cruise experience: a seven-night Western Caribbean trip on Celebrity's Zenith. Let me just say: This is required reading for cruisers.
Ruthless with his subject, it's fair to mention that Wallace won't become a regular reader of Cruise Critic any time soon -- but you'll laugh anyway. He rechristens the ship the Nadir, and begins to deconstruct the minutiae of cruising in alarming detail -- featuring thoughts on the "eleven scheduled daily opportunities for public feeding" and his fascination with Petra, his cabin steward. There are extended tangents on how his cabin's toilet flushes -- "with a velocity that lets you feel as though the waste is going to end up someplace so far away from you that it will have become an abstraction." The overall essay reads like a piece written by someone partaking in an experience typically enjoyed by the extrovert through the eyes of an insightful, bitter and sadistic introvert. Of course, he's really a pretty nice guy, and amidst his clear repulsion for cruising is a sympathy/humanity/pathos -- whatever you want to call it -- for the people he meets along the way.
--by Dan Askin, News Editor
What Time is the Midnight Buffet? by ChesterH ($12.95); (£4.00)
It's not just because ChesterH is a prolific contributor to our member boards that we picked up this slim but incredibly detailed recounting of his first-ever cruise. It's that the book is so full of humorous anecdotes, intriguing insights and, frankly, just-plain-great advice, that we read it straight through in one sitting. What Time is the Midnight Buffet? is like the longest first-time cruise virtual you'll ever read. Can't wait for ChesterH's next book....
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor
Devils on the Deep Blue Sea: The Dreams, Schemes and Showdowns That Built America's Cruise-Ship Empires by Kristoffer Garin ($24.95); (£6.97)
This warts-and-all look at the cruise industry was launched last year with quite a publicity campaign. It sketches how cruise shipping, a relic from the 1950's during the advent of the transcontinental airplane, managed to recreate itself. The most interesting aspect of Devils on the Deep Blue Sea is the big chunk of the book focusing on Carnival Cruise Lines' foibles and successes. The book bogs down in the last third though, by providing a blow-by-blow account of the Carnival/P&O acquisition in a dry way that only a serious investor could enjoy (if even understand).
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor
Cruisin' ... A Cruise Journal by Journals Unlimited ("Write it Down" series) ($18.95)
While on a family vacation nearly two years ago, I picked up a camping journal for my mom. It was quite nifty really with a handcrafted look on recycled paper and a cute graphic of an RV on the front. I had no idea how popular these journals were until I came across their web site: www.journalsunlimited. And wouldn't you know ... out of more than 50 titles, they have one for us cruisers!
On the front there's a graphic of a cruise ship with the title "Cruisin' ... A Cruise Journal." Inside, of course, is the fun part -- this is where you record your memories of all your sailings in an easy, formatted, two-page journal entry. Categories include "Date, Name of Ship, Weather/Temperature, Ports-of-Call, Traveling Companions, Activities/Onboard Experiences, Dining/Entertainment Highlights, People I Met, Special Purchases, Most Memorable Events and Shore Excursions." The second page is blank for you to write anything you want. As for me, I'm off to write down my experience about my trip onboard the new Norwegian Pearl...