The most exotic cruise itinerary we can imagine--rarer than the Antarctic or even the Northwest Passage--is a circumnavigation of Africa. We've done a cobbled-together version of it on three or four different ships over as many years. So it's doubly exciting to receive announcements in the mail for two such cruises coming up, one in early 1997, the other in early 1998.
First on the schedule is Around Africa '97 aboard the Black Watch (the former Royal Viking Star) from Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, marketed in the United States by Golden Bear Travel in Novato, Calif.
The second is from Los Angeles-based Princess Cruises, which is sending its popular Pacific Princess on a first-ever West Africa cruise in February 1998. It can be booked in combination with an East Africa itinerary setting out in early January 1998.
Avid cruisers know the pleasures of long itineraries on the same ship--the ease of a routine that offers the comforts of home. Once aboard, you never have to pack or unpack, and your waiter and cabin stewardess knows your all your foibles and preferences. You become part of a small community (the Pacific Princess carries 610, the Black Watch 775), and you have the security of safety and sanitation, a concern for many American travelers visiting exotic ports these days.
If you're interested in continental ports in West Africa that are rich in culture, history and tradition, we suggest the Princess 1998 cruise.
The Black Watch cruise circumnavigates Africa with primary attention paid to offshore island groups such as the Canaries, Cape Verde, St. Helena Bay and the Seychelles, then jumps directly to the Horn (Djibouti) and North Africa (Egypt).
Here are the itineraries and prices for each ship:
The Black Watch sets out from Dover (for London) Jan. 4, 1997, on a 64-night sailing that calls first in Tenerife, Canary Islands, then in Mindelo, Cape Verde Islands, off the coast of Africa. After five days at sea, the ship comes into rarely visited St. Helena, the 47-square-mile island where Napoleon died and astronomer Edmund Halley built a stone observatory.
Three more days at sea, and the ship lands in Walvis Bay, Namibia, followed by two full days in Cape Town, South Africa. Port Elizabeth and Durban follow, then Madagascar, the Comoros, Zanzibar, two days in Mombasa and two days in Mahe, Seychelles.
From here, it's a straight route north to Djibouti; then after a couple of days at sea, the ship calls in Safaga, Egypt; Jordan (for an excursion to the lovely rose-colored ancient city of Petra; Eilat, Israel; then back to Egypt for a Suez canal crossing and Port Sa'id calls before reaching Haifa.
A 12-day swing through the Mediterranean, calling in Marmaris, Turkey; Delos and Mykonos, Greece; Valletta, Malta; and Malaga and La Corun~a, Spain, bring the ship back to Dover on March 9. Segments are available, and the fare for the entire cruise ranges from $12,116 for the first person and $6,058 for the second person in an inside double cabin to $27,732 for the first person and $13,866 for the second in a premier suite. Round-trip air add-ons are $599 per person from New York to the ports of embarkation and debarkation.
The African Explorer program from Princess is divided into two segments, a 24-day Athens to Cape Town sailing and a 23-day Cape Town to Rome cruise, interrupted by two shorter safari sailings between Cape Town and Nairobi Feb. 6 and 14 that have extensive overland add-ons.
The East Africa cruise sets out Jan. 13, 1998, from Piraeus, Greece (for Athens), visits Ashdod (for Jerusalem and Nazareth), Port Sa'id (for Cairo and Gaza) and transits the Suez Canal, with stops in Luxor for a visit to Karnak and in Aqaba for Petra. A day and a half in Mombasa allows time for a short safari. Then the Pacific Princess calls in Zanzibar, Durban, Port Elizabeth and cruises the Cape of Good Hope before arriving in Cape Town on Feb. 6.
Even cosmopolitan Princess describes the West Africa itinerary "super exotic." It departs Cape Town on Feb. 28, calling in Luderitz and Walvis Bay, Namibia; Pointe Noire, Congo; Cotonou, Benin; Lome, Togo (where witch doctors and a voodoo market thrive); Accra, Ghana, filled with chilling stories from the slave ship years; Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Dakar, Senegal; Casablanca (for Marrakech) and Gibraltar before arriving in Rome on March 22.
Fares for the East Africa cruise range from $8,050 to $16,250 per person, double occupancy, while the East Africa itinerary goes for $7,650 to $15,850. Both rates include air fare. The shorter cruise safaris, 16 to 23 days each, range from $7,015 to $15,139 per person, double occupancy, with air fare. Several can be combined with the West Africa itinerary. Some Love Boat Savers with half-price rates for the second cabin occupant are available with early booking. Contact your travel agent.
For free brochures or more information, call Golden Bear at (800) 551-1000 and Princess at (800) LOVE-BOAT.
Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month.