This will be the third and last part of my posts on the sea (please see last two posts.) In my last post I finished by saying that I thought that when I retired it was time to go on a sea voyage. So when I retired in January 2008 I started in earnest to look at cruise deals. I found one on the Golden Princess going from San Pedro, California, to what they called the “Mexican Riviera.” This was for a week with stops in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. We went and my husband loved the cruise even though he had many reservations initially.
Aboard the Golden Princess in April 2008 - Click on picture to enlarge
Very often we would be on deck and were the only ones there. You can really tailor a cruise to your taste – be with other people, be active, walk or read alone. We did not have to constantly open and close suitcases, look for a restaurant or worry about transportation. Everything was provided. My husband was ready for another cruise pretty quickly. Since this first cruise in April 2008 we have been on seven more. And hopefully there will be more cruises in the months or years ahead as I am always on a lookout for a good deal. It turns out that budget wise it is more economical to go cruising.
Vintage postcard entitled “Sailing” - 1906
When the ship stops in a port we can either go on a small excursion or more often just walk around by ourselves. I study the ports in advance so we can decide what we would like to do and see.
Looking at our ship from a distance
In November 2008 there was a much reduced “special” offered by Cunard for an eleven-day cruise to the Caribbean on the Queen Mary 2 (I think because it was right after Thanksgiving.) We drove to Fort Lauderdale in Florida on Thanksgiving Day and stayed overnight in a hotel which had a special internet rate. On board the QM2 reading on deck or in the library, which is in the bow, looking ahead to the sea with just a couple of people around, is one of the most peaceful and profound experience bookworms like us can have. The interior décor of the QM2 is quite luxurious resembling the Victorian age, with art works galore. The cuisine was superb. I liked the afternoon tea in the Queens Room with tables laid with white tablecloths, silver service and china. Sometime I’ll get my photos together and write a post on this great ship.
Aboard the Queen Mary 2 - click on collage to enlarge, then click on each picture
The QM2 stopped in Curaçao, Netherland Antilles, and the islands of Grenada, Barbados, St Lucia, St Kitts, St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands and also 3 days at sea – which for me were a real treat. I spent many weeks researching each port and found some local excursions, more reasonable than what was offered by the QM2. For example I had read that Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park in St. Kitts is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with the best preserved historical fortifications in the Americas. I booked a trip there with a small local tour company. We were 6 people. Once at the fort we were left alone and told to meet back in 3 hours. The place was quasi deserted – no tourists. The tourists were shopping, on long excursions or buying assorted souvenirs far away from us. It was heavenly. My husband went to the top of the fort and I just walked around, all alone taking pictures. This was a day never to be forgotten. I’ll write a post on this someday. The sense of peace, of history all around me was extraordinary.
Brimstone Hill Fortress, St Kitts (built between 1690 and 1790) - click on collage then click again on each photo
Apart from the cruises we still manage little trips, like one to St Pierre et Miquelon, the not well-known French islands in North America, off the coast of Newfoundland (see my first post on this trip here where my heading picture is of the ferry.) We also took an old riverboat on the Savannah River last September and, on a trip to New York City, the ferry to Staten Island.
Staten Island Ferry in New York City and riverboat on Savannah River, Georgia
At the end of May 2009 we went to Alaska, first traveling on land and then back to Vancouver, Canada by sea on the ship the Island Princess. This was such a beautiful voyage. I wrote three posts about it so far (the first one is here on Anchorage, then here on Mount McKinley and the last one here on Denali National Park and will write several more. The Princess cruise line had sent me a special rate in early January 2009 which included the round trip by air to Alaska from Seattle, then 3 days in a lodge, going to Denali National Park, returning to the port by train then seven days down the coast. I could not have organized this trip for less, actually it would have cost quite a lot more.
on board the Island Princess in Alaska, June 2009
Coincidentally as I was looking at my pictures for this post, I found a photo that showed that while we were on the Island Princess we had passed the Norwegian Sun – the very ship we took last month to go to Central America.
During my research in early 2009 I had found out that the Norwegian Cruise Line had sold their “classic” (read “older”) ship "the Majesty" to Greece. This ship was making his last cruise out of Philadelphia in September. AirTran airlines had a special sale for flights from Atlanta to Philadelphia for about $118 each. This was an eleven-day cruise starting in September 2009 going to New England and the Maritimes of Canada. The ship stopped in St John, New Brunswick, in Sydney, Cape Breton Island, in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Portland, Maine plus 4 days at sea. The scenery was superb. Again, should I have organized such a trip on my own we would not have been able to afford it.
Aboard the Majesty in Canada, September 2009
Earlier when we had returned from our trip to Alaska I saw a great offer on the Web (for US citizens only.) We were going to France in the fall anyway and the MSC, an Italian cruise line, was offering a seven-day cruise on the Mediterranean. You could choose the port of departure. We took a train from Paris to Marseille in late October 2009 and boarded the Splendida two days later (so we could enjoy Marseille a bit.) The ship stopped in Barcelona, Spain, in Tunis, Tunisia, in Messina, Sicily, in Rome and Genoa, Italy before returning to Marseille. The ship was brand new having been "baptized" in July 2009. It was a very large ship but we were often quite alone. Many children were on the ship but one could not tell they were even there.
In January of 2010 our blogging friend from Norway, RennyBa, invited us to a “Blog Gathering.” We had enough frequent flyer miles on Delta to have one free round-trip fare and I found another one on sale on Air France (the same flight.) Being so early in the year I was able to book what is called "the most beautiful voyage" along the Norwegian Coast on the Hurtigruten Line. Their ship the Lofoten is also considered “classic” with no cinema, swimming pool and other luxuries but it is comfortable. The scenery is what is important. So last August 2010 we went on board the Lofoten in Kirkenes, a northern town close to Russia and north of the Arctic Circle (my first post on this voyage is here.) We stopped in dozen of little picturesque Norwegian ports loading, unloading merchandise and passengers. The Lofoten is not a cruise ship; it is a small cargo ship with passengers. There were about 6 US citizens only on board.
Our seventh cruise ended less than a month ago. We drove to Cape Canaveral in Florida and boarded the Norwegian Sun, which we had seen on our Alaska trip last year. This was a seven-day voyage stopping in the island of Cozumel, Mexico, in Belize, in Guatemala, in Key West plus a couple of days at sea. To give you an idea this cruise, for a stateroom with view, was about $585 each, plus taxes of course, but that was less than $85 each a day for room, all meals, transportation, activities and entertainment. I search pretty hard for deals and usually find them on the Net at great discounts.
I am not sure where we will go next – I guess where there is a good offer and an interesting itinerary. I enjoy watching the sea but I also like to listen to the other passengers, sometimes. There was not a room really dedicated for reading on the Norwegian Sun so we went in one of the lounges where we could have a good view of the waves. Then a group of pious seniors from Indiana came in the lounge. They were a church group and started to talk about their religion on a loud speaker. My husband told me this is called “witnessing.” (This is something we did not hear on European cruise ships.) The Norwegian Sun had a large amount of passengers from Germany so much so that all the announcements were made first in English, then in German. Some of the German passengers asked a senior man from Texas sitting nearby why there were so many religious zealots in the US. We were not sure where the conversation would lead so we later moved to another part of the ship. It is rare that we cannot find a secluded area on a ship.
At sea on a deserted deck of the Norwegian Sun,14 November 2010
To conclude I’ll say that in a way I have had a privileged life. I do not mean financially, but I was able to do many of the things I cared about passionately, like being close to the sea and traveling. My mother told me when I was little that if there was something I really wished for I could always make it come true, and I did. So that this post won’t be too long again, as I write my posts in the future I’ll explain how I managed to go to … let me see now…51 countries and visited some of them many times each.
Painting by Alberto Beniscelli, Italian, 1870-1952
This is not boasting. I worked hard and had my priorities, which were my family, my profession then my interests. Here is an example – once a friend of mine working in the tourist industry asked me if I would be willing to do a job for her as a tour guide of sort, after work. It was to guide a group of French surgeons and doctors to the best Atlanta restaurants. They were here for a week attending a conference seminar. She said that they spoke very little English and wished to go to the top 5 Atlanta restaurants. I needed to select the restaurants, wear tasteful and elegant clothes, translate the menus, eat with them of course while talking about Atlanta’s history, and would be paid $100 per evening, then go home after the meals. ($100 in 1990 is about $200 now per GDP calculations.) So I did and it was much fun – intelligent conversation and good food! I had already a round trip ticket to Paris to see my mother. Delta working with Singapore Airlines was offering at the time a trip from Paris to Singapore with 2 free stops for $450. So I grabbed the offer and after visiting my mother went to Singapore and stopped in Jakarta, Indonesia (with a side trip to the island of Bali) and Bangkok, Thailand. Voila une méthode.
Painting by Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky, Russian (Armenian originally named Aivazian) 1817-1900
Now we finance our trips with our Social Security and as long as we can depend on it, we’ll be able to travel. However I have been quite worried after listening to what the government is doing lately. I wrote to my representatives to tell them about my worries. The present cuts in payroll taxes will undermine the Social Security Trust Fund, please read about it in the AARP article here and in the National Committee to Preserve Social Security here. This is quite serious.
Clouds over the Sea, also by Ivan Aivazovsky, same as above
Now that we are retired my husband and I jump and go when we find great travel offers. We are getting on in age and we never know what the future holds. I always feel that we make our own decisions by our choices; we have control of our thoughts, our acts and consequently are masters of our lives, at least in the western world. When something does not work out, we must forget the problems and try something else to achieve the goals and get satisfaction. We just need to be true to ourselves. Why wait and have regrets? Before I left Paris I worked in a music publishing company that distributed the songs of Edith Piaf, the well known singer. I saw her several times singing “Je ne regrette rien.” (I regret nothing. ) My preferred lyrics might not contain the same words, but I don’t regret anything either.
Edith Piaf singing "Non, je ne regrette rien." circa 1960 and Marion Cotillard in the movie "La Vie en Rose" (on Piaf's life.)
Note: picture on top of this post is a beach on Cozumel Island, Mexico taken 15 November 2010