On January 19, 2023 Sharon and I will be leaving from Los Angeles (Long Beach, really) aboard the Island Princess for a round-the-world cruise. According to the information sheet, we will be sailing 34,500 nautical miles. But who’s counting?
I’ve been very fortunate in life, and don’t really have any particular must-do items left on my “bucket list.”
Through the years I’ve learned that one of my strongest personality traits is to try to complete the most important or most challenging tasks first. Even as a teenage Boy Scout, when I looked over the list of merit badges required to complete the various levels of advancement, I chose First Aid, knowing that once it was completed it would satisfy a number of requirements and I wouldn’t have to worry about it again. It was only after I was in the class that it became clear that First Aid was generally one of the last badges to be attempted by most other Scouts.
The same philosophy took hold during travels. I had heard about the Galápagos Islands and visited there as soon as I could. These days, when I mention the Galápagos to contemporaries the response I typically hear is, “Oh yes. I’ve always wanted to visit there, but I’ve never gotten around to it.” Well, guess what? If you put something off long enough, you’ll never have to do it.
And so here I am, wanting to “go around the world.” Jules Verne wrote about it, but did he ever do it himself? No, he didn’t. That said, I’m sure if he’d lived in modern times, he probably would have achieved what his fictional character Phileas Fogg did.
The voyage we’re currently attempting is costing us basically nothing, and not because I’ll be an entertainer or lecturer on the ship (although it’s crossed my mind). Rather, it’s because we received a generous credit from Princess Cruise Lines to make up for the 2020 world cruise we were on, which was aborted after 60 days as a result of the then-mysterious pandemic. Near the front desk there was a video screen tracking the ship’s current position, and I watched the map in amazement as we slowly executed a perfect U-turn somewhere in the Indian Ocean, heading back to Australia. From there we were flown to our home cities at the expense of the cruise line.
None of us wanted to go home, but there was no country on our planned itinerary that would accept our ship in its port (we were headed towards South Africa). So back to Australia we sailed, and disembarked holding courtesy plastic bags filled with face masks, sanitary wipes, and surgical gloves. We then headed toward the airport in specially chartered buses. It was the day after Saint Patrick’s Day. I remember that distinctly, because while dancing at the party to celebrate our “last night on the ship,” Sharon fell and fractured her sacrum (we didn’t get that definitive diagnosis until days later at the Kaiser ER). While the St. Patrick’s Day incident is an old story at this point, it’s one that continues to haunt me—once again I could not protect my wife from a fall-related injury.
Fortunately, we snagged first class seats on Qantas and arrived many hours later at San Francisco Airport, which felt and looked like a ghost town. The taxi ride back to Oakland over the generally abandoned Bay Bridge was the end of our first attempt to circumnavigate the world.
You all know how the pandemic has panned out. We were more fortunate than some others because our ship, the Pacific Princess, had no cases of Covid-19, unlike at least one other ship that was quarantined for weeks in the Port of Oakland. In fact, Sharon and I did not contract Covid for another year or so despite being vaccinated several times.
Since no one knew how long the pandemic would last, we were anxious to get back on the ship and resume our world journey. But the 2021 world cruise was cancelled as was the 2022 cruise. Our cruise agent, Zoe, successfully booked us on this one, and we have every intention of completing the voyage. But instead of the 600 passengers on our previous ship, there will be over 2,000 on this one. While following our own cruise forum on CruiseCritic.com we’ve discovered that at least 200 of the passengers on our aborted cruise will be sailing on this one, and there’s a reunion planned. Strange how life works.
In 2014, I attended my 50th Wantagh High School reunion and decided it would be fun (whatever that is) to travel back to New York on Amtrak, which offers a 30-day rail pass. It was indeed a wonderful adventure and I blogged the journey, which included visits to friends and family along the way. It also included a seven-hour delay while the train was stalled in the middle of an Iowa cornfield (I’m serious). At the time, I decided to not be angry or upset—I was not in control. Rather, I was comfortable and could freely walk around the train (unlike if I’d been sitting on the runway of an airport), had access to food, water, and bathrooms, and—most important—the internet.
The next significant journey I wrote about began this way:
“On a beautiful Southern California day in 2017, 70-year-old Robert Schoen waded knee-deep into the Pacific, walked back to shore, put on his shoes and socks, and began walking toward the Atlantic.”
That was a blurb from the back cover of my book On God’s Radar: My Walk Across America, which I’d originally blogged on Facebook and Instagram…as I walked.
But that was a different type of journey, much different than boarding a large ship where someone else will be responsible for getting 1,200 passengers (plus crew) to 50 destinations in 31 countries on six continents. (Several people have asked which continent we are not visiting. Well, first I had to remember the names of all the continents, which by convention total seven. [Didn’t we learn this in eighth grade?] Anyway, we’re not going to Antarctica this time around. Maybe someday we will, even though it’s not on my own bucket list for some reason.)
When friends have asked me where we’ll be going on the cruise, I make it a point to mention that we’ll be sailing through both the Suez and Panama Canals. This typically brings the “ooh” reaction I’m hoping for. Sadly, our ship is too large to transit the Erie Canal (low bridge, everybody down!).
After much thought, I decided that I will, indeed, write about the cruise. But in keeping with my schedule of posting memoir essays on the first and fifteenth of each month, I plan to write about each sea day as well as the excursions to the many destinations we’ll visit—some of which I can barely pronounce (Mina Qaboos?). What this means is that you can read not only my description of what it’s like sailing through a canal (which is akin to watching grass grow), but will also hear about daily walks, trips to the fitness center, and executing the lip slurs, arpeggios, and pedal tones that are part of my daily trombone practice. (I have practiced the trombone on several previous cruises and will share with you the secrets of how not to be evicted from one’s cabin.)
The many cruise ship jokes, clichés, and references about overeating, cutthroat bingo, too-small showers being used by too-large people, and art auctions featuring the works of celebrated luminaries such as Keane and Peter Max—I’ve heard them all, and they don’t need to be repeated.
Rather, what I love most about being on a cruise ship is experiencing the vastness and romance of the oceans, the star-filled nights, the freedom to pursue the everyday tasks that bring me fulfillment in this latter stage of my life, and the liberation from such daily responsibilities as cooking, cleanup, shopping, driving, and schlepping.
Thank you, as always, for reading my essays, sharing them, and sending me your comments and encouragement by email, text, and messaging.
And finally, I wonder, can one wish oneself Bon Voyage?