In early January I caught up with travel writer and enthusiast Gary Bembridge. Gary writes a successful travel site called Tips for Travellers and recently published his book, the Cruise Traveler’s Handbook, which is available through Amazon among other places.
Over the years Gary has traveled extensively and become a big proponent of cruises in particular. In this interview Gary tells us why he is so passionate about traveling and gives us his top travel tips.
- When did you first catch the traveling bug? Can you remember the first trip you ever took?
I grew up in the land locked country of Zimbabwe. As a boy growing up in the 1960s, the infrastructure outside of the cities in that country was still quite basic. I remember as a young boy being woken up at 4 am in the morning to pile into our old Morris Minor Station wagon for our first trip to the sea. It required three days of driving through Zimbabwe and South Africa to get to the seaside resort of Durban. We drove along strip roads in the dark through the Zimbabwe countryside from Bulawayo to the border at Biet Bridge, to be there by the time it opened at 7am in the morning. This sticks in my mind as my first big travel adventure as I had never seen the sea before. I was hooked by the thrill of heading to see and experience something different.
- How long have you been running Tips for Travellers and what made you decide to start blogging about your travels?
I started Tips for Travellers in September 2005. I was traveling two or three weeks a month all around the world for my global marketing job at Johnson & Johnson. I would always try and add in a day or two every place I went to so that I could see the places I was visiting for work. I felt it was such a privilege to visit places, and I didn’t want to just remember the airport, meeting room and hotel. So I would research every place like crazy to make sure I got to see the must-see attractions and knew what the most efficient way to get to do that was.
I realized I had all this great travel content that could help other travelers. As I am a bit of a techie geek I was fascinated by the podcasts on iTunes and video on YouTube that was just starting at that time. So I created a podcast, video channel and a blog to share my tips for travelers. It took off really fast and I realized people liked what I was doing and have been doing it ever since. In 2012 I left corporate life and reduced my marketing work to be able to spend more time on Tips for Travellers.
- Have you always loved ships and traveling by sea?
No! I assumed that cruising was for old people, unadventurous people, that I would feel trapped and there would not be a lot to do and so never went on a cruise. Then I was invited to talk at a marketing conference that was taking place on the P&O cruise ship Aurora. I boarded reluctantly but as soon as the ship left port and headed out to sea I realized that it was magical and amazing. Ever since then I have been addicted to it. I think it is an incredible and varied way to see the world. I always tell people to try it just once. I have never met anyone (yet) that has not liked it.
- Do you have a favorite port from all the cruises you’ve ever taken?
Dominica is the port that is probably the most memorable. Though there have been many. I had not known much about the island and when we arrived I discovered a lush, volcanic island that is still largely reliant on fishing and agriculture. About 80% of the island consists of rugged mountains covered by dense vegetation. It does not have a long runway and so it’s not a big tourist destination and only has a limited number of cruise ships calling on it.
The beach sand is hot from the volcanic action below the island and you can snorkel through areas of the sea where bubbles churn up from the ocean floor from escaping gasses. There are amazing local markets selling incredible handmade baskets and local spices. Most of the film Pirates of the Caribbean II was filmed there too!
- You’ve mentioned on your site that you’ve traveled with Cunard more than any other cruise company. Can you summarize what it is that sets Cunard cruises apart from others?
Cunard is one of the few cruise lines that are more than a century old. It is steeped in heritage and tries to retain aspects of the service, decor and on board experience that harks back to the glamorous days of crossing the Atlantic before air travel. It is the only line that has a regular scheduled crossing of the Atlantic using the Queen Mary 2. It is also a very British experience. It has an on board ambiance and approach that is more classical and formal than many other cruise lines. For example the dress code and dressing up at night and formal white glove afternoon tea are very much traditions that are embraced and retained.
They also have large ballrooms in all their ships and formal dances are a big part of the Cunard experience. It has three distinct classes of staterooms and associated dining rooms (Queens Grill, Princess Grill and Britannia Grill), which is different to most cruise lines. It has a style and ambiance that feels special and feels like you are taking part of a grand adventure rather than just a cruise.
- Who is your favorite speaker that you’ve seen through the Cunard Enrichment Program?
This is a really hard one to decide on as there have been so many I have enjoyed. I think the one that I found the most fascinating was a series that Seth Gopin, an art historian, ran on the last winter Transatlantic Crossing to New York. Through the seven days he ran a series of talks about the history of skyscrapers in that city. He focused on the various stages of development and then featured many of the famous ones where he not only told us about how they were built but the stories behind them. It was fantastic to then explore the city on arrival and see the buildings with all that insight.
- For anyone that might never have been on a cruise before, can you describe what the atmosphere is like on board a cruise ship?
It depends so much on what line you have chosen to cruise with. It is essential to research and get advice on what is the perfect cruise line for you. The atmosphere differs dramatically based on which one you have chosen. The routes many cruise ships go to is largely the same based on the port infrastructure available in an area, and the key difference is what happens on board.
So if you cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line it is a much more informal atmosphere with lots of choice of places to eat, things to do and will be a busy environment as the ships are large and carry between 4,000 and 5,000 passengers. If you did the same route on Silversea Cruises it would be a calm and quiet atmosphere as they are small ships with about 300 passengers and much less arranged activities and entertainment and much more about meeting and chatting to new friends. Cunard is a more formal and traditional atmosphere with a focus on dressing up at night and having sophisticated, long dinners and taking in a show in the evening.
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