November 09, 2015

Curacao and Aruba on The Sunshine

Curacao has become my favorite port in the Caribbean, and I haven't been there in many months. The people are very nice, the city is clean, and the architecture is visually appealing. A blue arched bridge crosses high above the water. Buildings are brightly painted a rainbow of colors, merchants from Venezuela bring fish and produce to the boat market on the edge of the downtown area, and of course the floating swing bridge is unique in the Caribbean.

So off I go. I am settled in to a deck chair 5 hours before sailing, but preoccupied with the world cruise I just booked 2 days ago. How can I make best use of the next few hours while I still have cell service thru land based cell towers.

First I secure travel insurance. The company my travel agent has suggested waives any exclusion of pre-existing medical conditions providing the policy is secured within a certain time frame after booking, and providing the passenger is able to travel at the time the policy is purchased. What better way to prove I am fit to travel than being on another cruise. I secure my travel insurance.

Despite being officially retired I manufacture a small electrical assembly for a friend. Since I will not be able to produce any for a number of months I need to deliver enough inventory by December. Several messages back and forth to Bob, and I ask him to forecast his needs for 8 months and place orders by October 19th. Another of hundreds of details taken care of.

Curacao is about 1500 hundred miles from Port Canaveral, so I will have lots of sea day time. I scour the ship looking for a quiet place to to do some planning. At the back of the upper balcony of the theater I find a nice comfortable location and settle in to work on some "to do" lists.

It is easy to pack for 7 or 14 days, I have done it so many times I don't even think about it. But packing for 115 days is going to be different. And besides I just can't run to the local store if I forget something. I can't imagine 4 months with only the 1 pair of socks I was wearing when I boarded the ship.

I do regress for a moment, yes I did meet a passenger a few years ago that managed to leave home without any additional clothes. His wife packed for herself, and he thought she was packing for him also, but wasn't. Yes, this is a true story.

Just after I get settled in, Paul the head of sound and lighting approaches me. He tells me that he is supposed to ask everyone to leave the area as they need to repair some overhead equipment. He recognizes that I am no where near where he needs to work and offers a proposal. If I don't see him or his staff, he will not see me and I can stay where I am. I thought that was very generous and went back to my laptop and the packing list.

I realize that cruising for me is going to change and I need to learn some new habits. I have become so engrained with just staying on the ship, I don't even think about where we are. That needs to change, and this is probably a good a time as any. So I decide to get off the ship at every port. It was really OK and I adapted to the change quite easily. The only frustration was that the floating swing bridge was closed for maintenance so I had to take the ferry to get across the harbor.

Several days later I find myself in the back of the theater again with my laptop working on some model railroad electrical designs for Bill C. when Paul, the tech guy, comes in. He stops and we chat, and then he informs me that he needs to work on calibrating all the spotlights. Normally he would do this in a dark theater, but he has left one light on directly over where I am seated and wants to make sure that is enough light so I can continue working on my computer. Maybe he thought I was a spy from the home office, I'm not sure, but just thanked him and told him the lighting was perfect.

As is the case on nearly every ship I am on, I run into passengers that I have met on a previous cruise. This time was no exception. Dick is retired from the ownership of several businesses including several marinas, a large charter boat operation, and a yacht manufacturing company. Each afternoon we solve a few of the world problems.

The 8 days fly by, and I am soon driving back home.

Home for a week

I arrive home and go thru the usual routines of unpacking, laundry, looking at the pile of mail and scanning the hundreds of emails that have accumulated. Now its time to do some serious homework. I quickly discover that there are 2 world cruises leaving in January of 2016. One being offered by Princess, the other by Holland America. They both leave in January, have similar itineraries, and are 111 and 115 days in length respectively.

Why does there have to be more than once choice? I fire off an email to Kent, my travel agent, telling him that I might be interested in one of the 2 cruises and to please give me a call. There may not even be any cabins available. It is already past the date for final payment. If there is no space, I don't even need to consider all the other issues.

Next I start thinking about some of the logistics and how to handle them. What is the procedure for getting more than 90 days worth of medications? What countries require visas? Will I find the weather tolerable? Will may age and medical history make travel insurance prohibitively expensive? None of my credit cards have chip technology yet, but much of the rest of the world switched several years ago and many merchants no longer take cards that aren't chip equipped. These are all potentially show stopper issues.

I review my Medicare insurance coverage, call my prescription drug insurance carrier, and talk with my credit card issuers. I research the process for getting visas. I review all the accounts I can't set up for automatic payment. It is quickly confirmed for me that all of these issues are relatively easy to address, it just is going to take time and the paying attention to details. Yes time, time is going to be the challenge.

I begin researching the differences and the advantages of each cruise line and ship. Historically I have preferred smaller ships and have preferred Princess over Holland America. The Pacific Princess is smaller than Holland America's Amsterdam, and Princess also offers free internet and free gratuities. But Holland America has several ports where we spend 2 or 3 days like Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai. Holland America has a larger variety of shore excursions to choose from, and Holland America has fewer sea days in total even though the total cruise is a few days longer. Decisions. Decisions.

Only a few days before I head to Aruba and Curacao. I must make a decision soon. Doubts pass through my mind. What will the other passengers be like? Will I become totally bored after a few weeks, or even after a few months. This will be nearly four months in a little tiny cabin with no window. Four months of the same food week after week. Some people would be excited to have salmon, lobster, and shrimp frequently, but not me. I'm allergic to all those foods.

Probably half the dinner menu items would send me to Davy Jones' Locker. Is food going to be an issue? It never has before, but I have never been on a ship for four months either.

I talk with Kent. He confirms availability of cabins. I remember all the conversations with Pat, Fred and Chuck. One statement Pat made sticks in my mind. "If you have the time and can afford it, then do it." No, none of the other stuff really matters. I make a decision and book the 115 day around the world cruise on the Amsterdam with Holland America.

Some of you will wonder why Holland America when I historically have preferred Princess. It all comes down to the available shore excursions and the length of time in port as opposed to time at sea. Most cruises I take for the journey. I don't even get off the ship. But this one is different. Out of approximately 45 ports we will visit, 41 of them I have never been to before, and probably will never get back to again. This cruise is all about the destinations, the ship is just the method to get there. The ports and the excursions are what is important. I decide I can live with any of the other possible problems, well except for the lobster.

I Have To Start Somewhere

I spent all my life near or on the water. I grew up on the shores of the Hudson River where there was a State of New York sign on the corner of our property indicating that was the spot where Henry Hudson landed centuries earlier. Maybe this is where my love of the sea is rooted.

In my early twenties I moved to the Midwest near the shores of Lake Michigan. It was there that I began to think about long sea voyages, specifically on one of the tramp steamers that stopped at Burns Harbor about every 6 months. Unfortunately the need to work for a living prevented my from ever acting on such thoughts.

After retirement and moving to Florida, by 2012 I began taking frequent cruises in the Caribbean. With 5 ports within driving distance of my home cruising was easy and soon became one of my favorite pastimes. I'll start this blog with a cruise on the Freedom of the Seas in early September 2015, about my 45th.

By now I have fallen into a pretty predictable ship life pattern. I usually don't get off the ship, preferring instead to enjoy the peace and quiet of the ship while most of the passengers have gone ashore to shop or go to one of many sandy beaches. I usually request "My Time Dining" which gives me flexible dining times, and different table mates most nights, and I always book an inside cabin for the lower cost. Besides, I only shower and sleep there.

Having attained a higher loyalty status with Royal Caribbean, I often frequent the Diamond Lounge or Concierge Lounge before dinner, and then again after dinner if timing permits for free drinks and social conversation with fellow frequent cruisers.
This cruise however was just a little different. I was seated with Pat and her husband Fred nearly every evening, but in different areas of the dining room. I soon learned that in 2012 they had taken a World cruise with Princess. Having a long time interest in such an adventure I asked many questions. What a wealth of information. I don't recall ever having met travelers that had taken a world cruise before.

About the second of third night into the cruise I went to the Diamond lounge for a drink after dinner. There was only a single chair available. I asked the gentleman if I may join him and of course Chuck said yes. We chatted as we consumed more drinks. I quickly learned that he too had taken an around the world cruise the previous year. What a coincidence. I met several world cruisers in just a few days. Somebody is sending me a message.

The more I think about the experiences Pat, Fred and Chuck shared with me, the more intrigued I become with the idea. I'm not getting any younger, and if I were ever to take such a trip maybe now is the time. I mull it over in my mind as the week goes on. By Thursday afternoon while most passengers are on shore I decide to get on the Internet and see what world cruises are being offered in the next couple of years.

I get my laptop and go to the Internet Cafe on the ship. I go there not because of wireless reception, but because the adjustable office chairs and computer desks provide a comfortable place to sit and type. Much more comfortable than using the desk in my cabin. I log onto the wireless network, and enter "Princess Cruise Line" into my search bar. I wait, and wait and wait some more. Nothing happens. I soon learn that some gremlin took down all the satellite communications and no one was able to use the Internet for the rest of the cruise. I can only assume that Royal was preventing their customers from contacting the competition.

I continued to think about the possibility of a world cruise, but anything further would have to wait until I returned home.