As Silver Spirit’s World Cruise comes to an end, I thought back to one of my favorite travel stories of all time by my friend and Avid Cruiser contributor Geoff Edwards. I’ll be reporting on the final night of Silver Spirit’s World Cruiser later this evening. In the meantime, enjoy Geoff’s story of his world cruise in 1996.
SOMEPLACE IN MY GENETIC MAKEUP LURKS A MAGELLAN MOLECULE. Magellan's ships circumnavigated the world. Ever since my first cruise, I dreamed of doing the same thing. My fantasy became reality in 1996. Of course, my experience was different from his. Magellan didn't have to deal with visas, vaccinations, malaria medicine and pre-payment of fixed monthly bills, but then he had other problems. When he ran out of food, he and his crew were forced to eat leather. I ate lobster and caviar, and we never ran out of food. While he sailed on a tiny wooden ship, I "sailed" on a large luxury liner with pools, gym and spa. But, luxury notwithstanding, both our voyages promised discoveries and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Today's world cruises are organized in segments, and the most asked question on board is "How far are you going?" Some will say Hong Kong, some Sydney, some Mombasa, but members of a select group respond with a slightly condescending, "I'm going all the way!" — a phrase I hadn't heard since high school. These are the "World Cruisers," and when you are one of them, things are special indeed. There are parties just for the WC group. Gold pins identify you to others. The crew, aware of your status, gives you extra concern; the captain knows you by name; the chef, by your favorite foods.
My wife Michael and I have been on two world cruises and loved every minute of the nearly 100 days at sea. Well, almost every minute. Unless you are traveling with friends, chances are you will be seated at dinner with strangers also "going all the way." That's more than three months of dinners with the same people, each, like me, with their own quirks. Sometimes quirks dovetail, sometimes not. One tablemate, before she would let the waiter take anyone's order, insisted on sharing every project she completed that day in craft class. A middle-aged couple worked in tandem. Nightly, he told an inappropriate joke, his wife shushing those not paying attention.
Truth be told, I would have a hard time eating that many meals in a row with my own family without getting a bit cranky. After a month, we changed to late seating and requested a table for four, set for two. We then had space to invite others to our table if we wanted company.
On a world cruise, many dinners are formal, and readying a wardrobe for those countless evenings, plus climate changes from chilly Osaka to hot Ho Chi Minh City, takes preparation. First time, my wife prepared by bringing everything she owned. Luckily we had a walk-in closet. Well, for me, crawl-in. The only way I could get past her gowns to my jackets was on hands and knees. On our second world cruise, our closet was smaller and so was our need to dress for show. We made frequent use of the ship's launderette, where Michael once met a wealthy lady who called home every night, at $15 per minute, to talk to her dog.
Colorful characters like the dog lady routinely turn up on world cruises. Many of them "Repeaters," epitomized by a group of widows who, yearly, gathered to spend their winters going around the world. They knew each other from previous trips and were the ship's doyennes. Anything they wanted was theirs, except perhaps, another husband, even though Kissing Annie did her best to acquire one. Annie was under ?ve feet with a low raspy voice. She asked every male in sight to dance. Annie had two cabins; one to sleep in, and one for her wardrobe. Each evening she wore a different gown and wig. She had a table for eight to herself, but never dined alone. Weekly, she sent out invitations and each night filled her table, mostly with the ship's dance hosts.
Sometimes, as with Kissing Annie, it's easy to believe the world is revolving around the ship, each port a waiting adventure. So, we learned to expect the unexpected, on and off the ship. The day we visited Djibouti, political emotion bubbled over, and whiffs of tear gas sent us back to the ship. Then there was the strange tour guide in Ambon, Indonesia, who believed that the island's mountain people sprouted wings and flew at night. "If I weren't a Christian," he vowed, "I would kill them all." The tour bus became quiet.
We also learned to go with the flow. One day in Madras, India, after making a deal with two tour guides leaning against a shiny Mercedes, we started to get in the car. "No! Please follow us." They led us on a hot trek past the port gates to an ancient car with no air conditioning, a wobbly rear door and a spring poking its way out of the rear seat cushion. "This," they said proudly, "is ours!" It was a great day.
Way beyond any expectations was what happened on our first world cruise. The ship hit a reef off Egypt and came close to sinking. We spent all night at lifeboat stations, as the liner, without power, drifted with the current. At dawn, our bow rested ignominiously on a deserted beach, surf breaking at the stern. Next to me, an elderly gentleman surveyed the scene. "I am 86 years old," he said ruefully, "and never in my entire life have I been up this late!"
Thankfully, no one was injured in the accident, but there were tears in more than one eye. The captain's voice broke as he announced the end of our world cruise. We had luxuriated for 75 days in great food, wonderful shows and stimulating visits to exotic ports, but for me, it wasn't enough. On the flight home, that Magellan gene kicked in again, and I started planning my next world cruise. That one, in '99, did indeed go "all the way."
Geoff Edwards is a veteran radio and television broadcaster. He received an Emmy as best talk show host for his work on TV's MID MORNING LA, and was nominated for an Emmy as best Game Show Host for NBC's JACKPOT.
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