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On the top deck of the MSC Poesia while transiting the Suez Canal as part of an around the world cruise.Gloria Galloway/The Globe and Mail

In January of this year, I packed two large bags of luggage, flew to France and boarded a ship. It was the start of a mostly westward sea voyage that landed me back in Marseille 118 days later.

My friends and family call it my “trip of a lifetime.” Though I am not sure they all fully understood why I would want to go around the world, on my own, as a woman in her 60s with limited cruising experience.

In fact, I had long dreamt about this voyage.

My grandparents did the full global trip in the early 1970s. The weekly accounts of their adventures, mailed to us on blue onion-skin envelopes, were magical. Plus, I worked as a journalist for four decades and saw a few bad parts of the Earth but not many nice ones. I knew I was taking several steps out of my comfort zone but I wanted to go while I was still young enough for my body to keep pace with my ambition.

A world cruise, however, is like a tasting menu: You sample a tiny bit of each country on the itinerary and then choose which ones you will revisit later. I did not truly get to “know” any of the places we visited.

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The MSC Poesia departed from Marseille, with 2,550 passengers for a 118-day voyage to circumnavigate the globe.MSC/MSC

Now that I’m home, I am often asked whether it was worth it. The answer is an unequivocal “Yes!” But that’s largely because I did my research ahead of time and I got what I expected.

World cruising draws an older crowd. Not many young people have the time and the money for such indulgences – though there was a handful of young families with children. I was one of the less senior folks on board the MSC Poesia, but I was continually impressed by the determination of the grey-haired passengers to make the most of the experience.

The vast majority of 2,550 passengers were European – French and German mostly, with sizeable contingents of Italians and Spaniards. I would guess there were 100 whose first language was English. I met two of those English speakers – sisters from Windsor, Ont. – while I was boarding the ship at Marseille, and the three of us quickly made friends with others to form a tight group of companions over the next four months.

The things that we saw at sea were spectacular.

Rounding the tip of Gibraltar and sailing out onto the Atlantic, to see nothing but water in all four directions, was something I had imagined since booking the adventure. But imagination was nothing compared with the reality. It brought home the fact that I was really doing this – spending four months on a ship.

Then I got COVID and was locked away by the ship’s medical staff (and upgraded to a balcony suite) for a week until I tested negative.

Thankfully, I was free by the time we traversed the Panama Canal and watched lush green jungle pass by on either side of the deck as we cruised the inland lakes. I marvelled at the mechanisms that allow huge ships to make it through such a tight squeeze in the locks.

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The pool on the MSC Poesia. After crossing the Atlantic and passing through the Panama Canal, stops included Papua New Guinea, Tokyo, Singapore, and Thailand.MSC/MSC

I stopped in 26 countries, but these were some of my favourite moments:

In Papua New Guinea, we piled into small, eight-seater vans and took off through the jungle to the home village of David, our guide. The people there had never previously been visited by tourists – and David was hoping he could open it up to the economic benefits tourism brings. The result was perhaps the best day of the entire voyage. The villagers seemed just as excited to see us, and to show us their community, as we were to take in the experience. I was moved to tears more than once, when I bought a colourful basket woven by an older woman sitting under a tree, when children giggled shyly at the attention they were getting from foreigners and as the chief offered a prayer of welcome. It was a such joy to be part of that meeting of two cultures.

In Tokyo, we walked through parks of cherry blossoms. And in Nagasaki, we took in the aftermath of the atomic bomb. I think, even now of the shattered clock, stopped at 11:02, exactly the moment that the weapon landed.

I went parasailing on my 65th birthday in Thailand. I was told beforehand that the adventure was open only to those 60 and under. But, when my friends headed for a shopping plaza, I took to the beach and convinced the parasailing guide to give me a chance. A half-hour later, I was hanging high in the sky as the motorboat attached to my harness cruised the Gulf of Thailand.

A week later, I was eating Singapore noodles in Singapore.

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The MSC Poesia sails off the coast of Dubrovnik, Croatia.MSC

I could go on, there was so much more.

MSC Cruise’s around-the-world itineraries are among the cheapest. But it was still a massive expenditure of both my time and money: The base cost for my inside cabin was about US$17,000, plus a singles supplement of 70 per cent, plus taxes. On top of that, I had to pay extra for a drinks package (alcohol, specialty coffee and even bottled water were extra), Wi-Fi, gratuities, my flights to and from Europe, and many excursions (15 excursions were included but there were 53 destinations). All in, it cost me about $55,000.

I understood that, by purchasing an inside cabin on a lower-priced ship, I was not getting a gold-plated bathtub, lobster at every meal and bottomless flutes of Dom Pérignon. But life on the Poesia was, in truth, quite upscale compared with my normal existence. The food was good. The chefs did their best to match the menus with our ports of call. We did have lobster every now and then. And the service was exemplary. Plus, there were some nice perks, including five live-music venues on board and unlimited wine and beer at lunchtime and again at dinner.

My room was not large. But it was quiet and comfortable, and it was mine alone. Which, judging from the tales of passengers who shared cabins, was the way to go.

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Tourists walk during a tour in the ancient city of Petra, south of Amman, Jordan.MUHAMMAD HAMED/Reuters

By the final month, some of the Germans and some of the French were at each other’s throats. It wasn’t exactly a geriatric Lord of the Flies, but I did see tensions nearly come to blows more than once. The captain was even forced to make a plea for civility.

Even so, the fabulous parts of the trip vastly outweighed the negative. Before we returned to the home port, three of the couples in my small group of English-speaking friends had rebooked a similar voyage for 2025.

I will wait a while before doing it again – if ever. There is too much land travel on my agenda.

Five tips for the round-the-world cruiser

  1. The most important items you will need are a couple of pairs of good walking shoes. And a good pair of dancing shoes is also essential.
  2. Your day pack should be comfortable on your shoulders for several hours at a stretch, day after day.
  3. Purchase a virtual eSIM card to cover the cost of phone and internet in foreign countries. It is much cheaper than buying packages from Canadian cell providers.
  4. The onboard internet packages are expensive but well worth it, even if the reception is sometimes spotty. Going five days at sea with no communication back home is difficult. And, if you wait until you get to shore to connect, you will be giving up valuable exploration time just to read your e-mails.
  5. The ship will likely charge you a large gratuity fee. But I could never get a clear answer from MSC about how much of that money goes directly to the workers on the ship. So be prepared to also give gratuities to the crew members. They work hard and will become good friends over four months at sea.

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