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A day at sea forces cruise guests into a state of extreme leisure, writes Chris Johns.

LisaStrachan/iStockphoto

The little cursor on the digital map that shows our ship’s location points northwest, a tiny arrow in an unbroken screen of blue. It was that way yesterday and will be that way again tomorrow. We are hundreds of kilometres from the nearest land and I couldn’t be happier.

I’m on board a luxury cruise ship en route to Hawaii from Tahiti with more than 1,000 kilometres of nearly unbroken open sea between the two. At first, the voyage’s large number of days at sea seemed kind of daunting. Isn’t the point of cruising to wake up each day in a new destination, preferably a new country? To check off exotic locales like so many chores in a to-do list?

While it’s true that most cruises try to minimize the number of sea days, when crossing the Pacific Ocean there isn’t much choice and, besides, I soon found that being disconnected from the world and forced ­into a state of extreme leisure agrees with me. I’m not alone in feeling this way, either.

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Ann Layton, a luxury travel and tourism communications specialist, has cruised all over the world, but cites a transatlantic crossing to Barbados from the Canary Islands as her favourite, precisely because of the extended number of sea days. “I brought a stack of books with me,” she recalls, “had a quiet breakfast on the balcony of my suite every day and sat on deck looking out at miles and miles of ocean. Having absolutely nothing on the agenda was intoxicating. When you are in a different port every day, you have a sense of missing something if you just stay on the ship, but when there is no option to go ashore, you can just revel in enjoying the sea.”

That tracks with my experience, as well. With nothing but horizon in every direction, it’s hard at first to get my bearings on board the Silversea’s Silver Shadow, but soon the propulsive rhythms of the ship help establish a routine. Every morning starts with coffee on the balcony and a scan to see if the flying fish are with us. Watching them glide across the surface can easily while away an hour.

Next, it’s down to the pool side to knock off a few chapters before a leisurely breakfast followed by a couple of laps around the running track. This is crucial because the abundance of food means there is a real temptation to eat non-stop: breakfast, lunch and dinner, but also a series of random, made-up meals that only exist at sea.

Eating isn’t the only activity available. Options include game tournaments, dance lessons, water volleyball competitions, movie screenings and cooking classes. Jon Nicholson, the director of planning and product at Zegrahm Expeditions, an adventure travel company that runs small ship cruises around the world, considers sea days crucial.

“We use sea days a lot for an educational component,” he says, “so a day at sea could have three to four lectures on topics that are relevant for what’s coming up and about 95 per cent of our guests take advantage of the lectures. I also find sea days are really valuable because, when we are visiting places, our itineraries are quite jam-packed, so sea days give people the option to sort of chill out, get a massage and do whatever they want to do.”

What I want to do is wrap myself in a warm blanket like some kind of romantic 19th-century consumptive and alternate between reading, napping and watching the horizon. However, we’re deep in the heat of the tropics so blankets are a luxury reserved for the air-conditioned cabin.

What if things were different, though, I wonder? What if the opportunities to lounge by the pool all afternoon, with fresh fruit skewers and cold drinks in abundance, were unavailable? Would I feel differently about sea days then? A couple of years later I found out.

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It’s August, but Greenland remains a largely frozen expanse of glaciers and icebergs. I’m taking part in an expedition cruise aboard Adventure Canada’s Ocean Endeavour, an ice-strengthened expedition ship that, while comfortable, does not boast the over-the-top luxurious amenities of the Silver Shadow. We’re gathered in the Nautilus Lounge and the crew is trying to determine if we should attempt a crossing of Davis Strait. “The ice is moving south and is really heavy around the coast of Baffin Island and there’s no guarantee we’ll be able to make it close enough to get in,” our expedition leader explains.

The ice is constantly shifting, however, and there’s hope that by the time we get there it will have moved out of the way, so it’s decided we’ll make an attempt. With weather conditions deteriorating, what should be a one-day crossing stretches into two and then three as we look for breaks in the thick ice pack. At one point, the entire porthole of my cabin is submerged beneath the waves. Just walking around is a challenge, so we’re largely confined to our cabins. We read and rest and study the ice maps that the crew posts each day.

Eventually, we are forced to turn around and return to Greenland. This makes a few people antsy, but I happily ease into the journey, content to just be a small arrow in an endless expanse of blue.

The writer travelled as a guest of Silversea and Adventure Canada. They did not review or approve the article.

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