Cruising

The majestic Celebrity Eclipse

For a long time, too long a time, I thought that cruising was a snooty affair. I journeyed around the world but mostly traveled by airplanes, rarely by ship, and only then on a single-day sailing. I had images of Katherine Anne Porter’s “Ship of Fools” and cruising as boring as well as inordinately expensive.

3 pools, 6 jacuzzis to enjoy

This year, though, my wife and I decided to join my older brother and his wife on a 14-day cruise of the Caribbean, with stops at 8 ports: St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, Philipsburg, St. Maarten, St. John’s, Antigua, Castries, St. Lucia, Bridgetown, Barbados, St. George’s, Grenada, Oranjestad, Aruba, and Willemstad, Curaçao.

Rugged beaches on the East Coast (Atlantic side) of Barbados
Footprints of Holland in Curaçao

A taste of Curaçao!
Seaside in St. John's, Antiqua
Smoothies at the Lighthouse at Oranjestad
Beachside serenity
Our friend Iggy gives his 'saludos'

In a previous incarnation I had worked in the Caribbean for 18 months and knew most of the islands well. Each is in a sense an island unto itself, offering visitors a magnificent cornucopia of cultural diversity, distinct history, and breath-taking scenery, but all with a common refrain: steel drums and calypso fever!

Steel drum musicians welcoming us to Grenada
Local Art
And windmills too
A classic sailing vessel
Japan—14,199 kms away from Christ Church, Barbados
As quiet a beach as it gets
Shelter from the sun
A balmy day in Bridgetown
Taking an outdoor bath
A St. Maarten Sail
Atlantic waves crash the shoreline of Bridgetown
A plane takes off from St. Lucia
Philipsburg-our ship in the background
Smooth Sailing in St. Georges, Grenada

The cruise more than exceeded our expectations, by far, and dispelled a number of faulty pre-conceptions.

One was that cruising days at sea are boring. Rather than to spend idle time twiddling my thumbs, I had downloaded 50 books to spend the time when the ship was between ports, but never opened my Kindle once. Just too many value-added activities on board, whether sunbathing on the top deck, working out, chilling out in a spa, playing bocce on a real lawn, watching a hot glass show, dancing under the stars, joining fascinating lectures, or being entertained nightly in prime seating by Broadway quality dancers, singers, comics, magicians, even a ventriloquist.

And lest I forget: The dining was gourmet quality, with 5 specialty restaurants to choose from in addition to standard dining. At our assigned table in the standard dining room, a head waiter (Guatemalan), assistant waiter (Uzbekistani) and sommelier (Serbian) served us. All were friendly and professional.

Indeed the entire crew was friendly and professional. The evening menu consisted of a wide variety of choices fixed throughout the cruise as well as menu items that varied each day, including sumptuous Caribbean lobster tail. I ate far more than I had planned and am now doing penance, on a hard-core Paleolithic diet (no rice, bread, pasta, ugh!).

viewed from our stateroom veranda, a special treat
Stateroom Comfort
Cactus on Aruba
This little tree has braced the wind
a lonely soul, but not alone
Trees provide the cover for this delightful little house in Antigua
Flowers everywhere
In case you haven't guessed it, I love trees, plants & flowers

Here’s a typical agenda of activities for one day on board:

Beyond the podium: a renowned British astronomer discusses how five decades of spacecraft exploration have enhanced hugely our understanding of the 8 planets orbiting the sun. And in a contrasting lecture, a comic shares his life—how at age 61 he walked away from a career in real estate to pursue a dream of becoming a stand up comedian.

Officers vs. guests: a jovial competition of pool volleyball for volleyball supremacy on the high seas

Red Carpet event in the sky: dancing to the live music of a top notch party band

Fitness first: early morning routines to suit any fitness level, in a state-of-the-art (or science) fully-equipped gym, with a spectacular view of the Caribbean Sea before you

Food Pairing: a workshop on wine and food pairings hosted by one of the ships many sommeliers

Celebrity Showtime: a dazzling live production of entertainers provide a whirlwind tour of the most popular shows of Broadway and West End

A slice of the ship's theater from the stage

There was so much more to do on board than I had expected, yoga classes, dance classes, lifestyle seminars, poolside guitar and vocals entertainment, wine tastings, acupuncture—and a host of others— that we never took time to watch any of the great featured films offered.

So rewarding was the cruise that we have already booked next year another passage around Cape Horn  departing from Buenos Aires (on our own—pre-cruise tango dancing in the city’s famous tango bars, or Milonga!), with the final port stop at Valparaiso. Coincidentally, watching the movie White Squall last night, I listened to Sting singing about a sea trip around Cape Horn to Valparaiso, deeply poignant and perfect for the film. (http://bit.ly/4oIzRg). Here are the lyrics:

Quote

Chase the dog star
Over the sea
Home where my true love is waiting for me
Rope the south wind
Canvas the stars
Harness the moonlight
So she can safely go
Round the Cape Horn to Valparaiso

Red the port light
Starboard the green
How will she know of the devils I’ve seen
Cross in the sky, star of the sea
Under the moonlight, there she can safely go
Round the Cape Horn to Valparaiso
Valparaiso

And every road I walked would take me down to the sea
With every broken promise in my sack
And every love would always send the ship of my heart
Over the rolling sea

If I should die
And water’s my grave
She’ll never know if I’m damned or I’m saved
See the ghost fly over the sea
Under the moonlight, there she can safely go
Round the Cape Horn to Valparaiso
Valparaiso
Valparaiso
Valparaiso

Unquote

But choose your cruise ship carefully.

Thanks to my brother and his wife, we received amply good advice, and chose the Celebrity Eclipse, christened in 2010, the length of 3 football fields (317 meters) and nearly as broad (48 meters). The Eclipse houses 2852 passengers and has a crew numbering approximately 1,600, with about half of these working in food and beverage service. They represented more than 60 nationalities.

How is that for diversity?

Our stateroom steward was Thai and his assistant Mexican. They kept our stateroom as clean as a whistle and were often in the passageways to give us hearty greetings in the mornings or evenings. The overall quality of the crew was one of the great benefits of the cruise that we took. As well as the diversity and sociability of the passengers.

If you make a cruise, start your planning early.

Good ships on good cruises fill up a year or more in advance and good deals are available for early birds. This is especially true during the seasonal repositioning of ships from one area of the world to another. In fact, there are couples who travel year round on consecutive cruises taking advantage of seasonal variations in ship charges. That may seem over the top to you, it does to me. I guess you could say different strokes for different folks. Or, it’s true if it works.

Whatever, I look forward to our next cruise. And the one after. And the one after, and the one after, hehe

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier
©2013 Warren J. Devalier