Freight Escapes

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Freight Escapes

August 12, 2009

Hopping a freighter to travel the world isn't just the stuff of fiction.

Freighter World Cruises offers sea travel, the old-fashioned way. You can hitch a ride to the fjords of Norway on a mail ship, or go around the world on a massive cargo vessel for as little as $90 a day. We talked to Joycene Deel, the company's president.

GOOD: So who goes on freighter cruises?

Joycene Deel: Flexible people. A lot of retired people. The departure dates for these ships aren't guaranteed. The dates can change, the ports can change. People have to have an open schedule. Freighter travel isn't cookie-cutter. You hear about these cruises: "We went to the Caribbean, blah blah blah." Freighter travel is for more self-sufficient types that don't need to be babysat.

G: What would an average day be like on a cargo ship, in the ocean?

JD: Your time is your own, except for mealtimes, which are set. It's not like a cafeteria, where you can wander in anytime and get food. These are working cargo ships, so there are only a few cabins and limited accommodations, but it's a really intimate atmosphere. True freighters only have about 12 cabins. You get to know the officers and crew.

G: What kind of activities are there?

JD: There are some people that don't want to play bingo on a big cruise ship. They don't want people pestering them with "Hey, let's go to the costume party!" There's no organized entertainment on a freighter cruise. So you'd probably read, or work on hobbies. You bring whatever you want to be doing. One woman brought her sewing machine and ended up fixing the crew's clothing for them. They were sad to see her go.

G: Did she get a discount?

JD: No, but she probably should have.

G: I'm assuming you've been on some of these voyages. Where have you been?

JD: Oh, gosh. I've been to South America, through Europe, New Zealand, Tahiti, the Marquesas Islands, the fjords of Norway.

G: On big container ships, can people just wander around freely?

JD: The only place you can't go is to the bridge, unless it's by invitation. Officers need to have their entire concentration. There's usually an invitation to the engine room at some point during the voyage, and if you want to go more than once you can ask and they might arrange it with the engineer.

G: If we stop in a port city, how long might I be there before we leave?

JD: Most port stays are short, around 8 to 12 hours. Sometimes you're coming in at midnight and leaving at eight in the morning. It's not the norm, but it does happen, because technology has improved and it doesn't take long to load and unload cargo. You're also not coming into the tourist ports, you're arriving at real shipping ports with freight terminals.

G: Is there a chance I might experience a big storm?

JD: There's always a chance. We hope it doesn't get too exciting. These ships have the most sophisticated radar. And they don't want anything to happen to their cargo, so that tends to keep the people safe, too.

G: If I wanted to bring a driver and hit golf balls off the bow of a giant cargo ship, would that be allowed?

JD: Well, that would probably depend on the individual ship. And situation. But possibly. I can say possibly. 

Photo by flickr (cc) user engrey

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