Ralph Grizzle began his journalistic career at the age of 32, following the conclusion of what he calls his ‘sabbatical decade.’ From 1980 through 1990, he bicycled across America, pedaled through Europe and island-hopped the South Pacific. After backpacking through Bali, bussing through Java, hopping a boat to Singapore and crossing Malaysia to Thailand, Ralph flew into Burma, tramped to Dhaka, and endured a 32-hour train ride from calamitous Calcutta to bustling Bombay. From there, Ralph hopped a plane for Greece and traveled to Switzerland before returning home, where he settled, quite naturally, into a career of travel writing.
From 1996 to 2009, Ralph contributed to HEMISPHERES, United Airlines’ award-winning inflight magazine. The North American Travel Journalism Association awarded his article, Ship Shape, which appeared in the September 2005 issue of Hemispheres, in the category of ‘Best Cruise Writing.’
Ralph makes his home in Asheville, North Carolina and lives part of the year near Copenhagen, Denmark. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and numerous consumer magazines. He has also authored four books, including ‘Remembering Charles Kuralt’.
When in Asheville, Ralph enjoys mountain biking, hiking, lingering in coffee shops and frequent trips to the gorgeous Biltmore Estate. When in Scandinavia, he enjoys biking, lingering in coffee shops and trying to learn Scandinavian words.
Travel Research Online (TRO): What was the motivation behind your “sabbatical decade” entirely on bicycle?
Ralph Grizzle (RG): I’ve been a bicycle enthusiast all of my life. In fact, one of the reasons for moving to the Copenhagen area was to be in a bike-friendly culture. I pedal nearly every day when I am not on cruise ships, and actually quite often when I am on river cruisers, which are more bike-friendly than ocean-going vessels.
My motivation was to get myself out of the small North Carolina town where I grew up and where I felt that I was going to stagnate if I had stayed there. I wanted to explore the world. That became what is effectively now a four-decade sabbatical. I’m still out there exploring. Truthfully, I didn’t do it all by bicycle during my twenties. I backpacked quite a bit in addition to the cycling. And I took some years off travel to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to study journalism.
But let me give you the answer that I think you’re looking for: My motivation was that I knew there was a lot more in life than staying put. And so I pedaled.
TRO: At what point did your writing transition from travel in general to cruising?
RG: I was one of the editors for the official publication for the American Society of Travel Agents. I had some pretty dull assignments in the early years – how to manage your travel agency, what’s happening in the car rental sector, learning the ins and outs of airline reservation systems. Then someone asked if I would like to do a cruise and write about it. That was the beginning. I thought, hmmm? Cruising is not such a bad way to see the world. And it has indeed not been a bad way to see the world. I’ve cruised from the Arctic to Antarctica, across the Atlantic and much of the Pacific. I’ve cruised Europe and the Americas, parts of Africa and Asia, and most of Australasia. Cruising has been good to me.
TRO: Tell us how you developed the concepts for the Avid Cruiser and River Cruiser Advisor websites and built them into what they are today.
RG: These are my babies (in addition to my two children, ages 18 and 20). At first, I launched Avid Cruiser to cover news and happenings in the cruise industry. Occasionally, I’d go on a cruise and write about that. After awhile, I realized people were much more interested in my experiences while cruising, and so I shifted the focus of the site to be experiential. Almost everything you read on Avid Cruiser is about my experiences on ships and in destinations that ships sail to. I try not to make it about me, though. I attempt to write in a way that helps readers make informed cruise travel decisions through narrative, images, and video.
When river cruising began to boom, I thought, why not launch a river cruise site that does the same thing? I was cruising a lot in those days with AmaWaterways and would write up those experiences on Avid Cruiser. Soon I was doing more rivers and saw the need to separate the content, and so I launched River Cruise Advisor.
I think what’s made them successful is that I straddle the line between trade (remember I wrote for travel agents for a long time) and consumer (relating my experiences).
TRO: How did you meet and begin working with your partner Aaron Saunders?
RG: Aaron and I met on Silversea. We hit it off and thought we would begin collaborating. That’s one of the great things about being a small company: we have an idea and we try it. No need to run it through the ranks and analyze the crap out of it. I remember reading something once that essentially said, “If you’re not embarrassed by your first efforts, you started too late.” We don’t mind experimenting, and so far, so good.
TRO: You recently won an award from Travel Weekly for your video on Antarctica, tell us more about it.
RG: That was thanks to Seabourn. The team in Seattle took us to Antarctica and contracted us to produce video for them. It is the type of place that if you have your camera pointed anywhere and turned on, you are going to get some great footage. Of course, we gave it context with voiceover and interviews, and what we created, if I may say so, was rather poetic. That’s about all that it could be. Antarctica is such a magical place that it inspires creativity.
TRO: Avid Cruiser is working with Seabourn for a new onboard television series. How were you approached to work on this project?
RG: Let me clarify that this is in-stateroom television. You’d never mistake me for Samantha Brown – or Rick Steves for that matter. What we do is tell people what they can expect in the destinations they’ll be visiting. We had done a film featuring Helsingborg, Sweden. It’s a darn good video. Seabourn President Rick Meadows saw it and said, “We need this on our ships.” That is how the relationship with Seabourn started.
TRO: What are some ports you’re planning on visiting for your new television series?
RG: We’re visiting ports right now. In fact, I am writing this on a flight to Malta, where we’ll film the island of Malta and nearby Gozo, then head up to Sicily, hop over to Italy, where we’ll visit Santa Margherita and then on to the south of France. Last year, we spent about two months visiting and filming ten destinations. It is a great job because we’re charged with playing tourists, but with a video camera and with the Seabourn brand behind us, which gives us great access to experience some of the things that Seabourn guests experience.
TRO: From your blog I’ve seen that you love to take your family with you on your adventures. Do they share the same love of travel that has kept you going all these years?
RG: What good is an experience if it’s not shared? Sure, there are times, like when I cycled across the United States, when you need to be alone, but in general travel is so much more enriching when traveling with those you love. I’ve taken my ex-father-in-law on a cruise, my kids, my significant other of many years, and her children. The only person I haven’t taken is my mom. Why is that? She’s afraid to travel. She wanted to visit the Holy Land, and I had all that worked out, a cruise on Silversea. Last minute, she backs out. I called her from each holy site and walked her through what I was experiencing. That’s as close as she’ll ever come, I suppose.
I think my family does share my love of travel. My son says he loves it but he’s not willing to sacrifice all that I did – close relationships back home, a robust family life, etc. But it is addictive. I can only hope I made the right choices. I followed what I felt was my calling and always, always, always tried to bring those I loved along with me.
TRO: Of all the places you’ve traveled to, what would you say is your favorite to date?
RG: Today it was Sweden. I pedaled along the coast with an eye on Hamlet’s Castle, across the sound in Denmark. The leaves were on fire, blazing reds, bright oranges, and yellows. The air was crisp, the sky blue. I was on the edge of something euphoric. Well, I guess it was more than that. I had a tingly feeling, giddy almost. Biking does that for me, but so does beauty. I feel that way quite often. I mentioned Santa Margherita earlier: there’s a hike between there and Portofino that is magical. It induces the same sort of feeling. I had some great days in the Camargue region of France this past summer on a barge cruise that I hosted. I love Asheville. I’m peripatetic, I suppose, so there is no one place that ranks as a favorite. Of course, I could say planet Earth, but who knows what Mars holds?
TRO: What is on the horizon for Avid Cruiser?
RG: Avid Cruiser will feature more and more videos. We’re increasingly focusing on what I enjoy most – small ships, expedition cruises, and river cruises. The more exciting venue at the moment is River Cruise Advisor. There are a fair number of people who are only now discovering river cruising, and it seems that they end up visiting us eventually, thanks to our Google rankings. I enjoy hearing from them and helping them make decisions. What is on the horizon is what has always been on the horizon? A commitment to help others make informed travel decisions, a commitment that allows me to have what I think must be the best job in the world, particularly on those days when the ones I love are traveling with me.