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.
Miami the new Silicone Valley?
Have you heard the tale of the Two Billboards?
It’s sooo Miami!
Earlier this year, a venture capitalist paid for advertising on two billboards on a San Francisco highway to grab attention for his latest Twitter grand idea.“Ok, guys, hear me out – what if we move Silicone Valley to Miami? He asked on a tweet that went viral on social media.
Back came the immediate response. “How can I help?” tweeted Francis Suarez, the Mayor of the City of Miami.
The ad guys got in on the act and erected two billboards in prime San Francisco locations –and later Times Square, NYC.
Thinking of moving to Miami? DM. Mayor Francis Suarez.
The Grand scheme captured the corporate imagination and spread like wildfire as it gathered pace and propelled a High Tech exodus from California to Florida.
Prior to the pandemic, firms were relocating to South Florida because of lower house prices, great weather, no personal income tax and business friendly regulations.
The Two Billboards' conversation started a tidal wave of relocations thanks to a new freedom to ‘work from home.’
The cost of that housing being the number one factor that drives many employees out of San Francisco to other parts of California or more affordable and cites further afield.
As an example, at the beginning of summer, according to a report in Miami’s Biscayne Times, the median price of a modest one-bedroom apartment in Miami was $1,500 compared to a $3,000 monthly rental in San Francisco.
Miami real estate offices are currently crawling with out-of towners from California and New York looking to buy or rent in the Sunshine State. Tech companies with 100 employees or more are eyeing up desirable commercial property. Several billionaire founders and investors from equity and venture capitalist funds have put their money where their mansions are and bought multi-million dollar oceanfront residential properties.
Prior to the pandemic, and Suarez’s “How can I help?” tweet, out of state companies worried that they wouldn’t be able to recruit talent or raise capital in Miami, now companies from New York, Northern California and Boston are snapping up commercial leases. A critical mass accumulated.
Miami’s current business district is attracting clients, and developers are all set to provide the infrastructure and technology required to accommodate hundreds of workers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematical) industries.
The tech, hedge funds, law firms and financial centers previously overshadowed by tourism, hospitality and health care, are signaling their arrival by building whole villages places to work and live - not so much Silicone Valley more Beach City by the Sea.
Executives of Business Improvement Districts have observed that over the past year, the momentum has attracted a clustering of technology, financial and wealth management creating one of the largest emerging tech hubs in the nation.
Tech companies were already talking about turning Miami into a mint for cryptocurrencies now they have an opportunity to deal from the center of an energetic and forward looking city, inspiring state of the art innovations and advancements.
When the Mayor of the City of Miami, Francis Suarez, asked, “How can I help?” he opened the door to a massive influx of West Coast entrepreneurs, individuals and businesses bursting with economic and social opportunities.“Hey, guys, hear me out. What if we move Silicone Valley to Miami?” Great idea. The Magic City in the Sunshine State, we’re on it!
Further Information :
Are you ready to write YOUR book? What a beautiful day - even with tropical storms in Miami and a weather system on its way to SouthFlorida. We have all become pretty resilient over the last year and a half. What doesn't kill you - makes you stronger!
Spirit of the 32nd Olympiad. Opening Ceremony Tokyo Olympics. Faster. Higher. Stronger.
Let's give a well deserved cheer that the city persevered and have, despite constant challenges, almost insurmountable obstacles and on-going covid set backs, delivered the greatest four-yearly international event in the sporting calendar. Athletes from all over the world performing at the most awe-inspiring levels of skill, fitness and sportsmanship, complete with triumphs, tragedies and glory for their countries.
TWO YEARS AGO I was in Tokyo and the tour guide proudly pointed out a giant 2020 sculpture overlooking the city. No-one could ever have imagined that a global pandemic would sweep over the world and the Games would be cancelled.
The soaring crescendo of Ravel's 'Bolero' in a socially distanced arena, gave majesty to the symbolic arrival of the Olympic Torch as it was carried high into the stadium and passed from the hands of school children; to gold medal athletes; to a doctor and nurse team who treated covid patients and a medal winning paraplegic athlete. Japan's four times tennis gold winner Naomi Osaka with her waist length red braids raised the torch to ignite the Olympic cauldron in a glittering globe at the top of a steep flight of lighted stairs.
John Lennon's inspirational anthem 'Imagine" was given voice by musical legends from all over the world; Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas and Oceania and reminded us,
"And the world will live as one."
Tokyo's skyline was illuminated by a technological masterpiece; 180 light carrying drones formed a dazzling globe and on Wings that Fly, thousands of paper doves filled the sky.
"Let the Games Commence."
CONSOLE THE SOUL: PRAYERS FOR SURFSIDE. To mark and honor the catastrophic events engendered by the collapse of the Champlain Towers and the tragedy and heartbreak experienced by so many individuals, last night on Miami Beach a service was held to remember those who died, those still missing and those forever hurting. Introduced by Mayor Danielle Levine Cava, at an inter-faith musical gathering at Temple Emanu-el, prayers, sacred readings and words of comfort and compassion, were led by rabbis, reverends and priests from the local community. Uplifting and inspirational classical symphonies, hymns and contemporary music including the powerful "You Raise Me Up" and "I am Not Alone" reached deep into the soul and affirmed the strength and endrance of the human spirit. A guided meditation united the congregation in a time of reflection and healing.
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.