I was dreading the prospect of another miserable summer in the swelter and sweat of the nation's capital.
In search of cooler pastures, I booked passage on Royal Viking Line's (RVL) two- week Scandinavia/Russia cruise departing from Copenhagen at the end of last July, just at the height of Washington's heat and humidity. Cool Scandinavia seemed the ideal choice.
From past cruising experience, I knew that a cruise would indulge my appetite for occasional high living and simultaneously ease my mind of the typical, mundane details that come with an extended vacation, for once you are aboard, life becomes extraordinarily easy.
Let's get one thing straight from the beginning. You can't take a two-week cruise anywhere and expect to acquire a deep understanding of the cities you are visiting, in this case, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki, Leningrad and Bergen.
No, you choose a cruise vacation because you want to live every day and night as if you are the most important person in the world, having the luxury to eat, play and relax in glorious style. You want to traverse the seas on the most elegant of hotels.
And Luxury, at least on RVL, is the key word. There is no second class on the RVL's three ships, only "world class," the company boasts. I was surprised to find that the promises were not far off the mark.
RVL's ships (I was on the 725-passenger Royal Viking Sea) are considered by experts to be among the world's classiest. This is reflected in the prices ($2,352 to $8,939 per person, excluding air fare, for the Scandinavia cruise), and in the evening dress: One night in three, men wear tuxedos.
When you have it within your power to make every day a holiday, you lose all sense of reality. I was afraid I would come home demanding that my roommates deliver my breakfast in bed, serve the fresh, poached Norwegian salmon I had become accustomed to for dinner and bake the delicate chocolate souffle I love so much for dessert.
Had I been staying in one of the nine penthouse suites on the ship, I would have become even more spoiled. They feature a private veranda deck, floor-to-ceiling windows opening onto the veranda, separate bedroom and living areas and a two-sink bath. Penthouse passengers enjoy a complimentary, fully stocked wet bar, comfortable rooms and the services of a uniformed, white-gloved butler.
Along with extravagant menus worthy of any five-star rating (which the ship rates itself), the dining room has two features unique to cruise ships: single seating and huge floor-to-ceiling windows through which to view the passing scene or a setting Scandinavian sun.
Because the social aspect of cruising is an important reason to go on one, taking a cruise alone as I did has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on your age and aspirations.
RVL says its typical passenger age is 45-plus, but many are much older.
Coming in on the younger side of 30, let's just say this was not the "Love Boat." Although there were some young people, they were few and far between.
This trip was not a vacation for the rowdy crowd that has become infamous on the lesser ocean liners in Caribbean and Mexican cruising lore. But as is the natural tendency of impetuous youth to smirk at the old age they think will never come, there will be confrontations when the numbers of young and old passengers widely diverge.
One night a young fellow passenger on his honeymoon said he was having a little nightcap with some friends in his stateroom around 10:30 p.m. when, thunder-like, the elderly couple next door began banging on the walls screaming for quiet.
In hasty retaliation he pounded back and exclaimed, "This is a cruise ship, not a convalescent home." Some checking determined that this was a rare altercation unique to the personalities involved.
Nevertheless, some of my happiest moments were spent swimming in the warm, salt-water pool with grandparents who were quick to adopt me for the trip.
One of the things I most enjoyed about my cruise experience was the fact that for the first time in a very long time, I was able to really relax. While the ship makes every effort to offer activities, I never felt that I had to do anything, and no pressure was applied from any of the staff.
The luxury was the choice involved. And there were other times when I really wanted to take advantage of all the ship's bounty.
In a typical night I could go to a floor show in one of the two nightclubs; see a movie in a surprisingly modern, large theater; drink in one of several watering holes; or gamble in the casino with its wet bar and lush velvet drapes. European croupiers presided over four blackjack tables and one roulette table, and there were 25 slot machines.
But, alas, too much a good thing can wear on one's soul. By the 11th day or so I began to overdose on the friendly people, abundant food and drink, and various other sybaritic comforts.
This trip had so completely relaxed me that by the end of it I was ready to get back to my life of relative mediocrity.
But perhaps I am too practical. One woman who had cruised Royal Viking ships to every corner of the globe on more than 20 different occasions put it this way: "You make so many new friends on the ship that it becomes your home. Breathing the fresh salt air, eating marvelous food, visiting beautiful lands, this is what life is all about."
We should all be so lucky.