Cruise ship officer Sam Whiteside shares the first of a series of posts detailing his world cruise journey on board the P&O Cruises ship Arcadia. You can find out more about him – and his role in the onboard Shore Excursions team – at the end of this article. All photographs are Sam’s own.
Half a world away
In this job the opportunity for travel is unrivalled. From the Norwegian Fjords to the Canaries, the Caribbean to the Baltic, I have covered some nautical mileage and visited close to 100 countries and countless towns and cities in my 7 years at sea so far. When I joined P&O Cruises in 2013, I set myself a personal goal before I decided to leave my life at sea – circumnavigate the globe. Contract after contract came, all exciting and with new destinations each time, but no world cruise. Until finally last year I was given the great news that I would be onboard Arcadia as Port Presenter for her 2018 Western Circumnavigation.
This 99 night voyage – departing Southampton on Tuesday 9th January 2018 and ending in Southampton on Thursday 19th April 2018 – traverses the globe visiting 22 countries across 4 continents, transits 2 of the world’s grandest man made engineering feats (the Panama and Suez Canals), crosses all of the world’s time zones and racks up close to 40,000 nautical miles. For me personally it is a chance to visit 11 new countries as well as exploring old favourites, and there is even the opportunity to visit family I have not seen for over a decade.
As I write this onboard Arcadia, we have just passed Cape York, Australia and the state of Queensland’s Northern tip, where way back in 1770 Captain James Cook claimed the land of New South Wales as it was then for the British Crown. This has marked the halfway point of our voyage. So far it has been an interesting endeavour, with great memories made, exciting adventures undertaken, all with a few challenges and sadly some missed ports along the way. I thought I would take the time to highlight our exciting journey so far, for those interested in finding out what a world cruise is really like.
Saturday 13th January 2018 – Madeira
Having been to Madeira many times, today was a chance for me to try out a new tour we have started to offer called the SitGo Adventure. This is like a Segway, although you have a seat rather than having to stand up. It was a nice way of getting around the old town of Funchal and it was only a short tour, meaning there was ample time afterwards to do some independent exploration.
Although I have done it a few times before, I took a trip on the Funchal Cable Car with my girlfriend Grace, who had never been on it before. We headed up to Monte as the weather was fantastic and afforded great views over the harbour and town. This is only €16 per person return, and I highly recommend it for the scenery from the cable car and viewing platform at the end. After returning to Funchal, it was the perfect time for lunch in the old quarter where one of my favourite restaurants is located, Novo Gaia. Serving fresh seafood, a platter of select fish (including the local black scabbard) accompanied with fresh vegetables was around €50 for two people, and worth every cent.
Friday 19th January 2018 – Barbados
After the standard 5-day crossing of the Atlantic, which was relatively calm and balmy, we arrived into one of my favourite Caribbean islands – Barbados. We had a late sail so it offered a great chance to do a tour and then, a first for me, catch a local cricket match between Barbados and Jamaica at the Kensington Oval. The tour of choice for me today was snorkelling with the turtles, a firm favourite with many, and also a great catamaran trip for those that do not want to snorkel. There is always a delicious buffet lunch of fish or chicken, with rice and Barbadian macaroni pie. We only saw one turtle during the snorkelling, but the weather was so nice it was perfect for sailing and sunbathing, and the rum punch was flowing.
After returning to the marina, I met my colleague Andy and we ventured round to the Kensington Oval and for only $5USD each, we got in to watch the final few overs of the 2nd day of the 4 day Caribbean League match. It was just a nice way to spend an hour in the afternoon sun. Listening to the old Barbadian blokes nattering about the state of West Indian cricket was just like being at home listening to the same from English fans. With the added bonus of a late sail, it still allowed time after the cricket to head into Bridgetown for some dinner, and what better meal than flying fish and chips down at the Marina Bar and Restaurant, next to the Chamberlain Bridge.
Sunday 21st January 2018 – Curacao
The third port and third island of our cruise, it was a nice return to Curacao having not visited since my first P&O contract on Ventura back in 2013-14. Being a Sunday, it meant that the town of Willemstad was quieter than usual and the shops and restaurants in the centre closed in the early afternoon. So it was a nice opportunity to get out and see a little more, with a tour on the Willemstad Trolley Train. Having done the main island tours before, I wanted to reacquaint myself with the wonderful buildings that herald from the Dutch colonial era. After the 1 hour 15 minute journey, it still left time for people to explore at their leisure before making their way back to the ship. I took the opportunity in the afternoon to take photographs of the wonderful Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge. Originally opened in 1888, the current incarnation of the ‘Swinging Old Lady’ has been in operation since 1939.
Tuesday 23rd January 2018 – Panama Canal Transit
This was a real highlight day for many people, I included, as I had only done a partial transit of the Gatun Locks on Oceana in 2015. I was fortunate enough that day, to go ashore from Oceana and take a land tour to Panama City. But this was my first full transit and one that I was eager to see from the open decks, in order to take lots of photographs. The day was not a disappointment at all, with stunning weather and even a chance encounter with Oceana herself. She was doing the same partial transit I was on 3 years ago, almost to the day.
Once through the Gatun Locks I spent time on deck with guests at an event organised by the ship, where they could enjoy lunch and afternoon tea on an exclusive part of the deck. I also had some personal time to take my own photographs as we majestically sailed on through, descending through the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks before entering the Pacific Ocean for the first time in my sea career. At this point, having transited approximately 51 miles from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific and been risen in the locks 26 metres (85 feet) above sea level, I now felt like I was truly on the world circumnavigation.
Friday 26th January 2018 – Huatulco, Mexico
Viva Mexico! After two days at sea following the transit of the Panama Canal, Arcadia reached the first of two ports in Mexico, both touristic resorts but with different exploration opportunities. Huatulco in the region of Oaxaca has only been developing as a tourist resort since the 1980s and, as such, only really experiences domestic tourism, with 80% of all tourism in the Bahias de Huatulco being domestic in nature. Only 20% of Huatulco’s tourism is foreign, mainly because international air access is limited, so cruise ship arrivals at the cruise pier of Santa Cruz are allowing more international tourists to appreciate this beautiful area.
The great thing about this pier for cruise ships is if you just want a day relaxing on the beach with a tequila or margarita in hand, then you could literally fall off the ship and onto it. That’s because the beach of Santa Cruz is at the very end of the pier, around 300 metres from the ships gangway. There are plenty of bars and restaurants serving fabulous drinks and sumptuous local dishes.
Before taking in the beach and the delights of Mexican cuisine, I headed out on tour to visit a relatively new archaeological site that is just starting to open up to tourists wanting to learn more about the indigenous Zapotec people. Copalita was only opened to the public in 2010 and is still being excavated. The site is believed to have been occupied by different groups between 500BC and 500AD, and again from 1000AD to the 16th century. The average visit time is around 1 ½ hours and it is located around 20 minutes drive from Santa Cruz, with an entrance fee of $80M Pesos.
It is situated in 87 acres of the Huatulco Ecological Park stretching from the mouth of the Copalita River, through a zone of wetlands and gentle hills of deciduous forest and steep cliffs on the coast, that have magnificent viewpoints. Discovered in 1996 the area open to the public comprises of a civic-ceremonial centre consisting of plazas, temples and a ball court. The park includes a site museum which gives an excellent perspective on the cultures which inhabited the various regions of what is now the state of Oaxaca. I would say that the site is not as impressive as the Mayan Temples of the Yucatan like Chichen Itza or Tulum, but if you were looking for historical sightseeing from Santa Cruz, this is the only real option on offer. You could easily do this of a morning and still have time, as I did, for a stroll along the beach and a margarita or two back in Santa Cruz.
Monday 29th January 2018 – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
For the first tender port of the cruise, Arcadia was anchored in the stunning bay of Cabo San Lucas at the tip of the Baja California peninsula. The ship was positioned with unrivalled views of the Arch of Cabo and the sweeping bay around to the Medano Beach looking down the coast along the touristic corridor. The tender ride into the marina of Cabo was a highlight in itself, with lots of pelicans swooping overhead and even sea lions following the boats inquisitively seeking out food and attention. The marina of Cabo is well situated for independent sightseeing with loads of tour operators offering trips out to Lover’s Beach at the Arch of Cabo.
Today I took the opportunity to go whale watching, as in the winter, pods of whales can be observed in the area. They bear their calves in the warm waters of the Gulf of California after completing their 6000-mile migration from Alaska and Siberia. I was excited when the boat guide said they had seen 11 whales the previous day. We were not disappointed on our morning trip, as we passed the Arch of Cabo there were spouts of a pod of humpback whales straight ahead of us. In total there were 8 in the group and we slowly trailed them around, watching as they breached at regular intervals. We managed to see many flukes, as they would descend before reappearing in different areas. Keen to get in on the action, a group of dolphins also passed by on our port side and the guide mentioned that she had never seen such activity before in one morning. Independent whale watching trips started from $85 per person.
After the tour I took a walk around the marina to take pictures and get a souvenir fridge magnet. In the heat of the day I had worked up an appetite for some local flavours at the La Casa Country restaurant. It was great to have the waitress make guacamole from scratch at the table, served with tortilla chips. That was accompanied by a tasty Molcajete, shrimp served in a hot stone dish with cactus, cheese, roasted onions and delicious red sauce. I just wish we had this dish onboard for our Mexican nights; it was so good and only cost £10.50!! I guess if I cannot convince the executive chef on board to do it, I’ll have to go back to Cabo on holiday 🙂
Sam will be sharing more from his world cruise diary over the coming weeks. To make sure you don’t miss his next instalment, subscribe for updates at the top of this page. You can find out more about world cruises here.
I love reading comments from other cruisers, so please feel free to share your thoughts on this post below.
Sam Whiteside grew up by the seaside in Lowestoft, Suffolk but ended up working at sea by chance after a discussion at university with a professor. Having spent his entire ship career in the Shore Excursions department, Sam is currently a Port Presenter with P&O Cruises where he has been for 5 years. He has worked on all the ships in the current fleet.
Sam loves getting out and exploring all the destinations that he visits on cruises and is always excited to try new things and expand his knowledge of the ports. He has recently invested in a new passion of amateur photography, which is great in his job because he has the perfect material to work with on a daily basis. Sam doesn’t have a favourite destination. He finds they all have something special about them, but destinations he enjoys visiting regularly include the Baltic and the Central Mediterranean.
You can follow Sam’s travels on Instagram at iamsailorsam.Follow me on social media