Dispatch is a series of first-person stories from the road. Readers can share their experiences, from the sublime to the strange.
I've just spent three and a half months away from family and friends and I can honestly say that no one missed me, except maybe my cleaning lady.
I sailed east from Singapore, dropping into Thailand and Vietnam, then north to China, Korea and Japan, then south, crossing the equator and proceeding by Manila, Malaysia and Indonesia to Darwin and the Great Barrier Reef, down past Australia as far as Hobart, Tasmania, before heading north again by New Zealand, across Samoa and French Polynesia, hard east to Hawaii across the Pacific to California, south past Mexico, and Central America, across to Cartagena, transiting the Panama Canal, skipping Key West because of weather, finally stopping at Miami, from where I flew home to Toronto, some 50 stops in all. Around the world in 109 days.
There was much talk during the trip about permanent cruisers. Everyone, including me, knew or had heard of someone, or a couple, who simply cruised as a vocation or an avocation – not a vacation. My understanding is that a traveller can permanently book a cabin and just keep going and going and going, like the couple in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel, Love in the Time of Cholera – Fermina and Florentino united at last on board a ship, sailing under the protection of a yellow-fever flag indicating quarantine, cruising back and forth forever.
Forever seems to be possible these days, and retired people are trying it out on cruise ships bound for eternity or anywhere – whichever comes first. It costs, mind you, but about the same amount of money as an upscale "assisted living" home. I looked up comparative prices.
Before I got on board this last trip – because I'm old and the trip was a long one – I had a concern. I asked whether I should bring along a Canadian flag to drape my body for a shove overboard, if I were to die on the way. I was told that my all-inclusive insurance had that covered: Clause 13 allowed for the "repatriation of remains." So no flag. Also no funeral.
Since I've looked at cruises from inside now, I can tell you some of the disadvantages of living full-time on a ship. Full medical services were provided, but there was no dental care. Unfortunately, I had a filling drop out about halfway around the world and I had the dubious pleasure of exploring the cavity with my tongue for the next 10 weeks. My tongue recovered, but I had to have three fillings. Remember that and see your dentist before you go.
Among the most popular arguments against living it up forever on a cruise ship is the separation from family and friends. Let me say, if you're so old as to be able to retire to a ship, you won't have many friends left.
You know the line, "A stranger is a friend I haven't met yet." All the strangers on a cruise ship are potential friends, until proved otherwise. And if you find one group incredibly boring, just wait two weeks. A new batch of eager travellers will join you with fresh eyes and a willingness to listen to your stories because they never heard them before.
Ah, I hear you say, there's the rub: too many strangers, too many people and no chance to be alone. Believe me, on a mid-ship liner (I don't like them bigger), there are lots of places to hide and to be alone, even for solo travellers who share a stateroom.
And if, like me, you get up early, the morning hours are your secret weapon. I made friends with the barista, who came on duty some time after 5, and who made the best coffee on the ship.
But if you really miss communing with a close friend, there's always WiFi, the price of which will make you prize your friendship even more.
People ask if after all that time at sea, have I had enough; would I really retire to a cruise ship?
In a heartbeat.
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