In just a few days, Stephen would add Tunisia, Algeria and Libya to his list. "I've been to 102 countries," he told us during a recent cruise, "and now it'll be 105."
Most of us don't "collect" countries like Stephen, a member of the Travelers' Century Club (for people who have visited 100 or more countries.) But we still feel the allure of exotic destinations, "far away places with the strange-sounding names," as the song goes.
One way to explore these destinations is via "repositioning cruises" that cross an ocean to deploy a ship. Many lines move their ships from Alaska to the warm Caribbean in the fall, or from the Caribbean to Europe in the spring to take advantage of the European travel season in the spring and summer.
Longer than average and thus ideal for retirees with more free time, repositioning cruises are leisurely, usually spending several days at sea. They are also a good value, with fares often discounted 40 percent or more.
"Repositioning cruises are still one of the best-kept secrets in cruising, especially for people who love days at sea," said Paul Motter, editor of CruiseMates.com, a cruising Web site.
They are also "far more than just a way to get from Point A to Point B," said Susan J. Young, editor of SouthernCruising.com and SouthernTravelNews.com. These cruises offer "exotic and highly creative itineraries that appeal to cruisers who wish to avoid a 'been there, done that' experience," she said.
We took a 25-day repositioning cruise on a now-defunct line from Singapore to Sydney, Australia five years ago and visited such exotic ports of call as Komodo, where we encountered half a dozen Komodo dragons during a jungle hike. During another cruise last year, 12 days aboard Silversea Cruises' Silver Wind, we visited a princess' villa and gardens in Sicily and the ruins of Carthage in Tunis (and met Stephen, a fan of repositioning and exotic cruises).
"When you consider how far you travel, the unusual destinations and the number of days you have to enjoy your ship, you can't beat the savings repositioning cruises offer," said Motter, the Cruisemates.com editor.
For example, prices start at about $100 a day for a 16-day repositioning cruise from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Lisbon, Portugal aboard the deluxe liner Azamara Journey in March 2009, with stops at northern Brazil, the Canary Islands and Morocco. "You get a deluxe cruise ship experience and a fascinating itinerary at the same price point as a much less expensive cruise line," Motter said.
Azamara Cruises (www.azamaracruises.com), a line launched in May to provide off-the-beaten-path travel experiences on smaller, 710-passenger ships, offers butler service in every stateroom, fresh flowers and fruit, Frette cotton robes, slippers, European-style beds and plasma televisions.
Its two ships, Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest, will visit more than 200 ports in more than 70 countries during their first few years of operation, said Dan Hanrahan, the line's president. Optional "truly immersive" shore excursions, which cost extra, will include a fishing expedition at Puerto Chacobuco, Chile; a tour to see the endangered scarlet macaw in Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica, and a behind-the-scenes look at thoroughbreds preparing for races at the Buenos Aires Hipodromo, a racetrack in the Argentine capital.