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Scarlet Lady sails into Nassau, the Bahamas
Sailing direct from Miami, Scarlet Lady docked in Nassau on the second day of a roundtrip which originally was due to include Key West The southernmost point of the United States, Key West is currently reviewing its policies allowing large volumes of cruise lines to dock. Through the covid pandemic, residents and even business owners found there is much to be said for a quality of life without thousands of ships’ passengers descending on already crowded streets several times a week.
Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, still offers an enthusiastic
welcome to cruisers though social distancing on ships means that
the numbers of passengers are dramatically reduced.
Nassau has been a cruise ship favourite for decades.
Situated on the island of New Providence, with a population under
300,000, neighbouring Paradise Island is accessible via Nassau Harbor
The city has a hilly landscape and is known for beaches as
well as its off-shore coral reefs, popular for diving and snorkelling.
The Atlantis Bahamas, a huge castle like pink building rising
from the sands and visible across the island, is a sprawling hotel
complex featuring restaurants, cafes and bars, live entertainment
and a casino. Paradise Island is a resort and golf hotel on the white
Once ensconced behind the high walls of these five-star hotels,
most tourists do not venture too far afield, except maybe to visit
one of the few landmark features, the Queen’s staircase. A 102 ft,
65 step stair case carved in the limestone rocks by slaves in 1793.
While Nassau is open for business, post pandemic, many of the
hotels are still closed with hopes of reopening in Spring 2022.
Columbus was the first European to visit the Bahamas in 1492 as
he made landfall in ‘the New World”. In 1718 the Bahamas
became a British crown colony.
Following the American Revolutionary War, the Crown resettled
thousands of American Loyalists in the Bahamas and they brought
enslaved people with them and established plantations on land
grants. African enslaved people constituted the majority of the
population and even today over 90% of the population are made up
The Bahamas gained independence from Britain in 1973 and is still
a member of the Commonwealth with Elizabeth 11 as Queen.
With an economy based on tourism and off shore finance, the
Bahamas is considered one of the richest countries in the Americas.
Virgin Voyages shore excursions in Nassau include snorkelling
with visits to coral reefs and wrecks
but there are strict criteria covering those who are allowed to scuba
dive – a training and refresher course is offered to ensure safety
requirements are met.
There are also jeep dives through the surrounding countryside
and a sea turtles and reef snorkel yacht adventure.
Nassau has trouble living up to what was once considered a
byword for exotic tropical living. Retail around the main street,
Pompey Square and Bay Street offers contrasting shopping
experiences. House of Diamonds, Fine Jewellery and Park Lane Luxe
and designer sun glass shops, bookended with tourist
shops Giftoholic and Mad Hatters’ Souvenirs, selling t-shirts, caps,
mugs and fridge magnets.
Outside what was the traditional Straw Market, which is housed in
a beautiful multi coloured colonial building, (still closed due to
covid) local ladies offer hair braiding and henna tattoos.
Restaurants such as Little Switzerland, Shenanigans, Giotto’s
Café and Captain Vinny’s bar and pool room offer cold drinks and
shelter from the oppressive heat.
One street away from the lack lustre high street, are reminders
of a stately Colonial past with the pink hued Government House and
the once world famous, British Colonial Hilton.
Step through the magnificent central hallway with a
sweeping grand staircase and outside there is a swimming pool,
small sandy beach. Rising graciously from the turquoise blue
waters, on one horizon, a lighthouse, on the other, Scarlet Lady.
For many cruisers it is comforting to be within sight of the
mother ship. Lazing on the sugar soft white sands under a dazzling
sun in a cloudless blue sky, and the romance of a classy and
classic luxury hotel, Nassau showed clearly the qualities that
made it a place of luxury, aspiration and wealth.
Heading back to the ship, the last stop on a planned
exploration of the city of Nassau, the Christ Church Cathedral is a
landmark in a country where 96% of the population are catholic.
The scene in the street outside the Cathedral was unforgettable.
Limousines, SUVS, luxury vehicles and police cars filled the narrow
thoroughfare. High ranking military and police officers in best
dress uniforms lined the pavement and entranceway to the church.
Camera crews and photographers recorded the scene.
A State funeral was in progress and after negotiations between
security men and ushers, admittance was granted – on condition -
mask wearing was compulsory and name and address details were
to be given in case of a need for contact tracing.
The deceased, Keith Eastward Archer was a former Bahamian
Senator and Trade Unionist, in his 80s. Family, friends and
colleagues filled every seat in the vast Cathedral. Ladies glorious in
their flamboyant black outfits, feathered hats and eye catching
fascinators: every gentlemen and young boy wearing a black
tuxedos with white shirt and red ties. The eulogy delivered by a
priest who played on the same soft ball team as a school boy
and served in their different church and government capacities
through six decades. To attend a State funeral and observe the
deep ties of shared values, community and religion that bind a whole
city through the generations, showed a side of Nassau that explained
so much about the foundations and enduring legacy of the country.
And even now an innate Britishness. It was a privilege to be there
having arrived on Virgin Voyages, a British cruise line.
It’s so true, you never know what adventures travel will deliver
– it’s the reason we venture out from our own land, to explore,
discover, embrace other cultures. Rest in peace Senator Archer.
Ships all over the world are registered in Nassau and carry the
name of Nassau on their bow, registered as the home port.
Back onboard Scarlet Lady, grateful to be sailing every day
into unchartered waters. As we travel, adventures always await.
Ellen Frazer-Jameson reports from her latest cruise on the Norwegian Gem out of
Miami to Central America. The next port of call on a Central American itinerary is
Costa Maya, Mexico.
Welcome to Mexico – Norwegian Gem Cruises into Costa Maya Port
Costa Maya is the first Caribbean port designed exclusively for the cruise ship industry and is strategically located just hours from Cancun on Mexico’s Southern
Yucatan Peninsula. Resembling an ancient Mayan City, Costa Maya, is able to berth three ships at once. However, in these early days of a gradual return to full capacity, even at one ship at a time, the port enthusiastically welcomes seafarers.
The colourful and lively port aims to entertain visitors at a destination that showcases the ancient and colonial heritage of the Mexican Caribbean with all of today’s modern conveniences. Ships dock right alongside Costa Maya’s purpose-built facilities and the pier-side village features a number of swimming pools, one of which is huge with a swim-up bar. Foot-tapping Mexican music spills into the street from local restaurants and bars and shops sell brightly painted pottery, Mexican blankets and hand-made jewellery. There is even a small rocky beach offering ultimate hammock relaxation for those who choose to snooze away shore days under the shelter of an outsized sombrero.
Majahual is the nearest small town to the port and for a few dollars taxi ride, cruisers can visit and experience a typical Mexican neighbourhood which houses about 600 inhabitants. Constructed after a hurricane over a decade ago, there is a one-and-a half-mile promenade which features retail and plenty of places.
Close by are classic examples of Mayan ruins and though they do not feature towering sky-high edifices, these more modest structures are recognizable as Mayan temples with multi levels of stairs leading to an altar at the summit.
Limones village, 5 miles from Cancun and 4 miles from Cozumel, is home to whole families of descendants of the original Mayans and they endeavour to preserve the language and culture of their ancestors.
Few young people speak Mayan but the older generation guard the ancient traditions. The largest group of this indigenous people is In Central America and the Mayan population is estimated at almost six million.
Classic Mayan civilisation reached its peak 250AD to 900AD and the civilisation built great stone cities and towering monuments. Carved in stone, the Calendar Round, a sophisticated and elaborate Mayan calendar which began on a fixed date in 3114BC, calculated dates based on two interlocking cycle, a moon and solar cycle coupled with a sacred year. Recorded dates of the calendar, which for thousands of years had reset according to a Grand Cycle equal to approximately 5,139 solar years, was said by some scholars, destined to end on December 22nd 2012. Across the continents, cults and worshippers warned that the world would end on that date. One belief states that the Mayans were following extra terrestrial instructions when they developed their calendar.
Today’s Mayan’s live largely in rural areas and some still work the land which was given to the indigenous people by the government.
A religious people, Mayan villages typically have a church, a small school and a community meeting place. Ancient Mayan’s devotion to the god’s revolved around sacrificial rituals and the priests chose the most beautiful young girls to be sacrificed. There were said to be nine levels of attainment to reach a spiritual hierarchy.
At Casita Maya in Limones village, Donya Claudia, dressed in a traditional embroidered white floor length dress, and her son Mario work 20 acres of land, plant corn and vegetables, raise chickens and tend mango trees. Their compound is built around a deep cooking pit in the centre of the village and though they have no running water, they do have satellite television.
Lunch at their home, a palm fringed circular hut, comprises of tacos made in a flour tortilla and spread with hot tomato, spicy pepper, salsa and guacamole. Washed down with Coca-Cola. Not one bottle of tequila in sight.
Mayans embrace a religious and spiritual life and on the garden washing line hangs a brightly coloured cushion cover honouring a deity. A flower filled shrine in the home pays devotion to the goddess, a combination of Mayan belief and Roman Catholic tradition. A priest visits weekly to hold services in the small wooden church.
“We have all the services we need,” our guide informs us. “The priest takes care of our spiritual health and for our physical conditions we have a village doctor and one ambulance.”
For effect, he pauses, “The doctor is not working today and neither is the ambulance driver. I am the doctor and the driver of your tour bus drives our ambulance.
Now, it is time to drive you good people back to your ship and we go back to our day jobs.”
Back on board, after a sail away party on deck, our ship sails overnight to Cozumel, Mexico en-route for the end of the roundtrip cruise in Miami. As every other evening, a starry line up of singers, dancers and speciality performers are in the Stardust Theatre to entertain. Production values are Broadway standard but the shows are original and the high energy young dance team and super talented singers deliver show-stopping renditions of all genres of music from ballads to pop to country to swing. An aerial and acrobatic show featuring married couple, American Megan Wilson and Brit Andy Parrish, called Duo Quintessence, thrill the audience with a cirque-style show of sky-high balletic artistry.
Norwegian Gem on this cruise, attracted mature and appreciative cruisers, almost exclusively American, as international borders are still closed, and the traditional ship with a period feel in its elegantly polished wooden interiors and sparkling chandeliers provides a cruise experience more smooth sailing than party city.
Captain Kim Klasson, a Finlander, in a Q and A session, thanked the passengers.
“Our guests are very grateful to be back on board, “ he said, ” and we have many less complaints than usual, for which we are very happy.”
Thank you, Captain, thank you, NCL, thank you the cruise industry. You have done a phenomenal job of getting travellers back to sea, safely on a ship with 100% fully vaccinated passengers and crew. Freedom to experience and enjoy all that the floating luxury hotels ships have to offer has returned the world is open to travellers again. Hop aboard.
Ellen Frazer-Jameson continues her ‘Return to Cruising’ series
From Miami she sailed to Harvest Caye, Belize on NCL’s ‘Norwegian Gem’
YOU BETTER BELIZE IT!!!
Harvest Caye, Belize, is a private island in the Caribbean, owned and managed by Norwegian Cruise Lines. Through the long pause in operations, as passengers waited to get back to sea, the trend for upmarket tailored destination travel reached new heights. The major cruise lines seized the opportunity to develop and market their own exclusive enclaves and capitalise on the ability to offer passengers a safe bubble, socially distanced and mask-free, while inter-acting with vaccinated fellow passengers.
Pristine palm-fringed beaches with sugar soft sand, lapped by vibrant blue seas in a natural setting, no longer fulfils the needs of high-end discerning travellers.
Expectations of cruise ship passengers rise constantly as they demand more and more exclusivity and access to luxury facilities even as they leave five-star ship living behind and venture ashore. Cruise lines endeavour to manage every aspect of the local experience – with none of the unpredictable aspects of everyday locations.
Harvest Caye in Southern Belize in the Caribbean, offers the perfect premier island destination for a port call. There you are made welcome on a 75-acre oasis featuring an expansive pool with a swim-up bar, salt-water lagoon for water sports, exclusive 7-acre beach and exciting shore adventures ranging from zip lining across the island to snorkelling the world's second largest barrier reef.
The development of Harvest Caye is part of Norwegian Edge, a program designed to bring higher tourism standards to the high seas. Business owner’s partner with the cruise lines to offer unique, quality locally designed and sourced jewellery and artefacts as well as jewelled flip-flops, sunglasses and hair accessories. Services such as hair braiding and henna tattooing are available and tiki-hut palm fringed shops and bars offer shelter from the sun and cooling coconut filled drinks.
The extensive pool area has a swim-up bar, cascading waterfall and private canopy cabanas available for rent. Shopping village features popular name-brand retailers as well as local Belizean crafts.
Luxurious beachside cabanas can accommodate up to 6 guests and feature concierge food and beverage service, lounge chairs, private bathrooms and air conditioning, with access to golf carts for easy transportation around the island.
The Flight house is a thrilling 136-foot high venue for aerial activities featuring 3,000 feet of zip lining across the island, quick jumps and an observation deck with mainland views. There’s a salt water lagoon for aqua sports such as kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and electric float boats.
But is it the authentic Belize?
To experience the real Belize, take an excursion away from the caye.
Belize is a nation on the Eastern coast of Central America, with Caribbean shorelines to the East and dense jungle to the west. Offshore the massive Belize barrier reef, dotted with hundreds of low-lying islands called cayes, hosts rich marine life. Belize’s jungle areas are home to spectacular Mayan ruins. To the north Belize borders Mexico, and to the east, the Caribbean sea and Guatemala.
To the south. The capital is Belmopan and largest city, Belize city.
The country formerly a British colony from 1840, known as British Honduras, won its Independence from Britain in 1981 and continues to be a Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth as its monarch. The country’s anthem is Land of the Free and its Royal anthem is God Save the Queen. English is the official language and Spanish second. Most of the population are bilingual and speak a Belizean Creole and a few locals speak the traditional ancient Mayan language.
The Mayan civilisation flourished in Belize until about 1200AD and mystery and myth still surround the reasons the Mayans died out. It may have been due to disease; possibly their worship rituals that involved human sacrifices or more fancifully the enduring notion that the population was captured by aliens and transported to space.
Belizean cuisine is an amalgamation of all the diverse ethnicities in the island nation and a typical meal includes rice and beans with coconut milk, stewed chicken and potatoes salad. Punta is a popular modern style of Belizean Afro-Caribbean music with an international beat said to be an amalgamation of calypso, reggae and merengue.
The national flower of Belize is the black orchid, their national tree is mahogany and the national bird is the keel billed toucan.
Leave Harvest Caye for an off-shore excursion and a catamaran with the exuberant Captain Kirk, makes a 30-minute journey to a nearby island and offers a coast line of indigenous trees, a few waterfront properties and pastel coloured houses on stilts with communal meeting areas alongside under the shelter of tiki huts.
After the boat ride, a short coach journey arrives at a nearby settlement. The Mango and Independence villages. Unpainted wooden houses line the streets of two villages separated by one street.
Upwards of four thousand people live and work in the area, mostly at the rum refinery and a cashew factory which produces a fine wine known as ‘poor man’s whisky.” The population is made up of descendants of the Mayan culture and various other Caribbean ethnicities.
Hummingbird Highway crosses the small island and all points lead to the commercial centres and transport depots from which bananas – described as “Fyffes, regular size bananas, not baby size Chiquita’s” - and a factory producing 30 different kinds of rum, mostly for export to Europe. This small island community produces 22 varieties of mangoes and the largest of the crop which are “the size of your head” are known locally as bellyful mangoes. Seafood comes in all shapes and sizes and shrimp , red snappers and lobster are fished and exported
The small town boasts a school, a church, sports stadium, nursery day care centre, an ice cream parlour, three cell phone shops, several Chinese superstores and a Holy Redeemer Credit Union. The Hello Hotel is a low-level structure painted sky blue and sunshine yellow and the lot next door complete with a house, is to be raffled – when all the tickets are sold. A young man on a push-bike wearing a superman t-shirt stands by the ticket board, calling out, “Buy a ticket, win a house.”
On main street The Pioneer House built in the 1950’s acts as a museum. Formerly an office building for the now defunct lumber yard and saw mill, the two -storey structure was home to the Zabadi family; parents and seven children. With five bedrooms and two bathrooms, the Pioneer House, also known as “the rich man’s house” was the first in the village to have running water and electricity.
Two Belize flags flutter on the towers of Jian’s Superstore and a welcome breeze drifts across the well-swept sidewalks.
“We are warm as the weather,” Belize people like to proclaim.
The contrast to Harvest Caye is certainly apparent but with high employment in the area and a happy-go-lucky attitude, Mango and Independence villagers take pride in their homes and their country.
Local people and business owners have developed a marketable brand signature, you hear it everywhere you go.
“BELIZE IS UN-BELIEZABLE. YOU BETTER BELIEZE IT.”
International Travel Write and author, Ellen Frazer-Jameson, continues her series on
“Return to Cruising” from her home port of Miami, Florida.
Her latest voyage, round trip Miami on NCL’s “Norwegian Gem” to Central America.
A Jewel of a Ship – Norwegian Cruise Lines “Norwegian Gem”
Under the shade of a cotton tree in Gumbalimba Preserve and Animal Sanctuary in Bay of Islands, Roatan, 40 miles off the northern coast of Honduras, in the Caribbean Sea; the monkey sitting on my head nurses her baby and eats her nuts.
She shows no fear of humans and after the initial shock of a two-foot-tall hyper -active creature leaping from the ground right into my arms, we come to an understanding. She will not pull off my hat and I won’t attempt to share her treats.
Bruna is a white-cheeked, black-haired spider monkey and with other family members including Petra and Joey, she lives with her trainer of 12 years, Angel, who has his work cut out stopping the playful monkeys, who roam uncaged, squabbling with each other and running rings around tourists.
“The monkeys will steal your personal possessions,” Angel warns. “They are fascinated by cell phones, love to know what you have in your wallet and pick pockets for the fun of it.”
Arriving in the early morning sunshine on Norwegian Gem after sailing for two days out of Miami, the first stop on the Central American itinerary was a former British Colony, British Honduras which was fought over by the Spanish and British in the 1850’s and regained independence from an English-speaking government a decade later.
Norwegian Gem, 15 decks high, 1,000 ft long, weighing 93 and a half tons, was built in 2006 to carry 2,394passengers. Post-covid social distancing restrictions have halved that number to 1,200 on current voyages but crew numbers remain above 1,000 individuals, all happy to be back at work after more than a year of enforced home leave. Half the passengers, twice the service, with NCL pulling all the stops out to ensure that returning cruisers feel safe and protected by stringent health protocols though only employees are required to wear masks. Many ports of call impose mask-wearing rules and this applies to passengers who travel on shore excursions from the ship.
Gumbalimba Preserve is high in the hills above Flowers Bay, home to the second largest coral reef outside of Australia, close to the town of Coxen Hole, the major settlement on the Bay Islands. Named after Captain John Coxen, a notorious pirate, one of the more than 500 who set up home on Roatan when several British families arrived from the Caymen Islands in 1835. Coxen’s Cave is a man-made cavern showcasing the Golden Age of the Pirates and the first inhabitants of the islands from 600/700 years ago. A recently excavated barnacle covered cannon guards the entrance to the buccaneer, Coxen’s Cave and a replica of a 7th century Spanish battlement houses an Insectarium of 1,000 breeds.
Roatan has an international airport and is an ever-popular cruise ship destination. It claims bragging rights as a world class scuba, water sports and snorkelling destination with nearly perfect diving conditions.
Sparkling turquoise waters of the gigantic coral reef are surrounded by tropical white sand beaches and an abundance of cotton, coffee, cinnamon, lemon and cannon ball trees, so named because of their unique shape.
Black and green iguanas who can grow up to 5/6ft long and lay 50/60 eggs a year, roam wild in the Animal Sanctuary though elsewhere they are a delicacy eaten by the locals and known as chickens of the trees. In the natural habitat of the outdoor Bird Sanctuary, exotically coloured parrots fly free and are tame enough to pose for photographs with visitors.
Christopher Columbus visited Roatan during his explorations of the central American territories and named one area “deep water”.
“He knew he was in “deep water” when he sailed into our bay,” explains an enthusiastic young guide, and he laughs, “the water around our island are very deep.”
Maybe that is the reason why, even the most expensive newly constructed brick- built houses with spectacular bay views from their hilltop acreages are built on stilts. Driving up the mountain side from the port, the oldest church, a rum factory, a barber shop and huge golf course, once visited by Tiger Woods, are all visible from the road that runs East and West across the 36 miles x 8 miles island. The island is shaped like a crocodile and the best beaches and best restaurants are claimed by West Beach. It is here that veteran Hollywood superstar Michael Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones have a vacation home. If you want to know where the couple live, it is necessary to know the colour of the house. There is no mail service on the island, addresses are listed by distance from the clock tower and the colour of the paintwork.
Exports from the island include five varieties of bananas, rum and coconuts. Fishing, hunting and farming sustain many locals and the recent return of cruises has given the economy and service industries a welcome revival.
Aspects of Roatan can rightly be called Untamed and with the awakened interest in ecologically sustainable tourism, the largely undeveloped areas attract visitors who choose to tread softly on the lands they explore.
“ Welcome Back,” reads a sign in a tour coach window,
“Arrive as strangers, leave as friends.”
The journey continues……next Port of Call – Harvest Caye, Belize, Central Americato edit.
What if we chose to appreciate every moment as if it were our last?
Tony Robbins, is known as the nation’s top life and business strategist. He is often called the greatest motivational speaker on the planet and he has coached millions of people in 100 countries in the art of living a better life. His best-selling books include Unlimited Power and Awaken the Giant Within. “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten”
Performance coach, Miami-based, Dragan Trajkovski, decided as an 18-year old immigrant, whose family hardly spoke English to model himself on his hero, Tony. A North Californian, Tony turned his own life around from being a broke janitor at 17, to a famous international speaker in his mid 20’s. Dragan set as his first goal that he wanted to work for the Anthony Robbins company and learn everything he could from the master. Now, some 14 years later, Dragan has partnered with Tony to deliver over 2,500 seminars to top businesses and global organisations. Dragan, whom Tony calls, Dragan Slayer, is a Worldwide Strategist trusted and mentored by Tony to deliver his high energy brand of Peak Performance Strategies. “Identify your problems but give power and energy to solutions” But, Dragan admits, he did not always embrace his Peak Performance. While he tried to find a meaningful role and career path, he suffered from esteem issues with his Eastern European background and limited resources. The Dragan Slayer refused to embrace his birth name and instead called himself, David. thinking that by staying below the radar with an everyday name, he would not need to expect too much of himself. And neither would other people expect too much from such an unassuming individual.
Tony Robbin convinced him that a reclaimed “Dragan” would roar into life and become an extraordinary person who did not be need to be afraid to show his full power and strength. “It’s not knowing what to do, it’s doing what you know” Dragan is on a mission to train and empower people who are committed to living up to their potential. In Peak Performance Strategy sessions he lays out the structure for change. “If your life is underperforming and you don’t change it, you’re choosing it. You are growing and adapting or dying,“ he stresses. A transformative aspect of the Tony Robbins, motivational Seminars, is Fire Walking. A barefoot walk over red-hot coals. “Don’t try this at home, “ Dragan jokes, “ you need the training and confidence to believe you can do it. Then you will.“
Dragan certainly knows how to inspire confidence in his audience and urges the gathered businessmen, executives and realtor newbies at a lunchtime Strategy Session in the luxury real estate offices of Aria Reserve, Miami, to “Live with Passion.”
Dragan, who talks super-fast and constantly circles around the Room as he encourages attendees, “You need to put energy into everything you do.” One compelling reason for thinking big and making dreams outsize is that, every time you underplay your potential, you leave money on the table and the next guy along can pick up your best deal or sell your real estate. “Energy is limitless when you learn to overcome the fear and harness it ,” he states. “ It’s your job to combine the three elements of mental, emotional and physical and become a force to be reckoned with. Bet on Yourself. Invest in Yourself. Grow Yourself.” Dragan offers a strategy. Examine BELIEFS AND PATTERNS– identify POTENTIAL– take Action and ACHIEVE the OUTCOMES and RESULTS “Now is the time to reset the outmoded operating system in your heart, mind and body. If you are using the oldest version of Windows, you are not up to speed. Close down that outdated system and start firing on state-of-the-state software.” After igniting energy levels in his newly motivated audience, Dragan Slayer makes a speedy exit out into the red-hot heat of a Miami summer afternoon. With his last fiery breath, he demands. “If you became aware today, act fast, there is no time to lose.” email@example.com
Back to Cruising!
Sixteen months ago, halfway through a Grand Round the World Voyage, my ship of dreams came to a sudden halt one port on from Sydney.
Aboard a Greek owned, British cruise liner whose entire fleet would subsequently be declared bankrupt, we intrepid seafarers waited anxiously for news of whether we would be evacuated from the ship and flown home; sailed home the long way around or be left to drift aimlessly on a Magical Mystery Tour. A couple of thousand anxious passengers and crew, we treaded water while daily waiting to hear our fate as a global pandemic raged and ports refused entry to once most eagerly welcomed visitors, cruise ships which in many countries help keep their economies afloat.
With Britain in lockdown, most of us were not eager to rush home. Eventually the company confirmed that our global cruise would continue but there would be no shore excursions– essential supplies and fuel were to be allowed onboard in designated ports – but no passengers to disembark. Except for one enterprising gentleman who asked the Captain to drop him off in
Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory on Spain’s south- east coast also known as The Rock. The elderly resident was transferred by tender to his home port as we all stood on deck and waved him off. Apart from the fact that our supply of Easter eggs was not deemed essential enough to be on-loaded during an emergency stop in Singapore, everything went surprisingly smoothly. Hardly anyone complained about the lack of bananas during the latter days of our conveyancing back to the UK.
On board, the ship remained a hive of activity, a highly organised sanctuary of fine dining, first class entertainment and companionable camaraderie.
It felt as if we had been shipwrecked – even while we were onboard.
“This will be your best cruise ever, “ the company assured us. They were not to know that it would also be the last cruise of any sort for a very long time.
My enduring memory is of arriving back at our home-port on the River Thames and being issued with personal protective equipment, hand sanitisers and letters of authority to complete homeward journeys.
With continuous instructions to “maintain social distancing.” Whatever that was! We had been in a bubble – not one passenger crew member went down with covid19 on our ship.
Like dancers on the deck of the Titanic we had worn our party clothes right up to the last Gala Night as the live bands played on.
In the harsh light of day, we were shepherded down the gangway, wrapped head to toe against the encroaching virus and looking, as the brilliant travel writer Paul Theroux once described it, “resembling individuals expelled from the Garden of Eden.”
Many of our family and friends, thought we would never cruise again – not even if we had the chance. They could not have been more wrong; most cruise aficionados were desperate to get back on board.
That brings me full circle to the cruise I finally sailed on out of Port of Miami sixteen months later.
The cruise lines have gone to enormous trouble to implement health and safety protocols to keep passengers safe, and many ships (everyone vaccinated with a few exceptions) are sailing with only
50% capacity. Of course, there is a huge revenue impact on the cruise lines but for travellers, the socially distanced ships are less crowded with no queues for food or entertainment.
Carnival have adopted the marketing slogan BACK TO FUN and on my ship Carnival Sunrise, most passengers did not need much encouragement. A party atmosphere prevailed throughout the vessel with crew showing their joy to be back in jobs by going the extra mile, smiling and welcoming clients while going about their duties with extra wide grins, constant eye contact and offers of “Is there anything else I can do for you?” All crew members actively engage with passengers and in the dining rooms, waiters, servers and hosts join in specially choreographed celebratory singing and dancing routines giving them a chance to display their versatility.
Cruise companies took advantage of the long pause in operations to refurbish their ships, the décor is streamlined and updated, with clean lines and contemporary furnishing. New carpets, drapes, bedding, towels, everything is super ship shape.
Ocean view windows and spacious balconies invite the constantly changing patterns of sea and sky on the passing horizon directly into the stateroom. Fares are affordable and discounts and family rates are being used to attract new passengers and re-engage seasoned cruisers.
Buffets are still popular and from morning to night
there is a mouth-watering selection of every imaginable dish from eggs benedict for breakfast to pizza served all day long to free ice cream cornets.
It is said, if you really try, you can put on 5lb on a week-long cruise. If there were only one culprit to blame, it would have to be the sky-high 6-layer cream sponge cakes in strawberry, peanut butter, chocolate and lemonade.
Lovers of fine dining are treated to waiter service with five-star meals in vast, airy restaurants with glittering chandeliers and vibrant sea- blue glass balconies overlooking the waves.
Speciality restaurants embrace international dishes and hearty American smokehouses serve up plate sized steaks.
Live music around the pool offers on deck dancing and Sail-away parties, while the more active climb never ending staircases up to the top of twisting and turning water slides and flumes.
The Casino offers the chance to claim high stake prizes or simply enjoy repeatedly pressing an outsize button and winning clattering stacks of coins.
Shows in the double decked-theatre cater for all ages and tastes, contemporary musicals make use of fast-moving state-of-the-art graphics and video accompaniments to the team of diverse and multi-talented dancers and singers. Comedy club specials are on offer for a more late-night audience.
Shore excursions on the short Caribbean trips are subject to local restrictions. Travelling in a bubble with other passengers aims to keep passengers and locals protected but there is still a wide range of activities available if you travel in a group.
An abundance of caution is observed while not allowing anything to spoil the sense of spontaneity and adventure. Crew members are always masked and face coverings are mandated for passengers when appropriate.
Returning to the spotless staterooms in the evening, often feels even better than coming home, especially when a cuddly towel creature is perched on the bed.
Many people were sad to leave behind a new family of towel animals who all are a display of the love, care and sense of fun that is a tradition of cruising.
Snuggled down in a super-soft bed, sailing through the night under a blanket of stars, swayed to sleep by the gently rocking of the waves, it’s so good to be back. This is my idea of paradise. Please don’t expel me again.
Ellen Frazer-Jameson is a journalist, author, actress. theater producer and drama coach. She co hosted the largest live late night radio show in Europe for the BBC and has appeared on national TV shows and taken leading roles on stage. She lives in Miami and London and loves to dance Argentine tango.