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By Ship is By Far the Best Way to See the World

This post is about the advantages of visiting a foreign country by ship instead of air.

Is this conversation familiar to you?

“Have you ever been to Japan?”

“Well, last year I had a layover in Tokyo.”

So the answer is no.  You spent a few hours at the Tokyo airport, which is almost exactly like every other major airport in the world. But it has virtually nothing to do with Japan.

The area of Hong Kong where the arriving ships dock.

Airport Foreplay

Airports are important and necessary but they are really obstacles to seeing a country.

Flying into a country, especially on international flights, is stressful.  Never mind the stress of leaving the destination, there is getting through security, and the flight itself.

Now you’ve landed and there’s more stress.  You have to go through immigration, collect your luggage, go through customs, and find your transportation to your local designation, usually a hotel.  Maybe you’ll stand in line for a taxi and hope the driver doesn’t rip you off.

Planes arriving in Hong Kong Aiport. Or any airport.

Planes arriving in Hong Kong Aiport. Or any airport.

Or find the bus or rapid transit to downtown.  Or if you’re renting a car, you have to get to the car rental area, fill out the paperwork, and navigate your way to your destination and unpack.

Then you have to check into the hotel.  More waiting.  If you arrive before noon, your room is likely not ready.  Then you have to unpack.

Plus there’s the jetlag.

Only once you’re no longer part of the transportation supply chain do you feel like you’ve really arrived to wherever it is you’re going.  Only then has the main event started. All the preceding stuff has just been airport foreplay.

Ship Benefits

Contrast all that with arriving at a foreign country by ship, as we are doing on Semester at Sea.

First, there’s no jetlag.  Yes, it took three weeks for us to get from California to Japan, but still.

As soon as the ship docks, you can be in the most desirable part of Hong Kong.

Plus we encountered the harbor of Yokohama, our first stop, gradually. The skyline grew as the ship slowly made its way to port. We greeted the crew of the pilot boat that escorted us to land. We could see the dock workers preparing to lash the ship to the pilings. People on the pier greeted us and we greeted them.

Usually the ship is moored right in the center of the city, check by jowl with the most desirable and costliest of hotels.  In Yokohama and later in Shanghai and Hong Kong, we disembarked and were immediately and effortlessly in the very heart of the city.

Immigration on a ship like ours is super easy.  Immigration officials come on the ship and process the passports in bulk.  There is usually a ten-second screening and then voyagers are on their way. You are in the middle of things in minutes.

Luggage? What luggage?

When you arrive by ship, all your luggage is already unpacked and securely organized in your cabin.

The Explorer docked in Yokohama.

As long as the ship is tied up, you have a place to eat and sleep.  Some people take off on day or overnight excursions to inland points. (By necessity, ships can visit only port cities. On the other hand, the most storied and interesting cities in the world developed around ports.)

You can travel light knowing all your possessions will be available on the ship.  You are well-rested and ready to go.

Many people prefer to return to the ship at night as their base.  The ship serves three meals a day even when docked. Sleeping on the ship saves a lot of money, particularly in ports where hotels are expensive.

Logistics aside, the quality of visiting a country is different when encountering it slowly at sea level. The entire metabolism of consuming the scenery is different.  There is no question of “doing” a country by sea.  Rather, arriving by sea allows a country to do you.

Not having rushed to the country, I feel less urgency to rush the visit.  It’s easier to just hang out, coming and going from the ship.


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