This has been a busy week getting ready, mostly with medical things. We are both healthy and happy, but since there are, at our ages, always things to check out, we did so. I had my semi-annual visit to my cardiologist and he was happy with my EKG and all my other numbers as well. He had no worries about me taking this trip. I also got checked by my stomach doctor and my dermatologist, who of course reminded me to eat healthily and to avoid too much sun, respectively. Yesterday Gail and I both got shots, her in her bad knee and me in my thumb and two fingers. Mine are “trigger fingers”, even though the index fingers are fine. When I asked why in the world I would need the shots in my middle fingers he joked “maybe you’re using them too much”. We’ve also been to the dentist, as though the ship has good medical personnel and facilities, they don’t have dental services other than giving you a pain pill until you get to a port where you can find a dentist to get your problem fixed. At least all of our medical checkups and treatments are completed at last.
We also finally completed all the work we can do on our taxes for 2015 before we leave. We’ll be gone when all the final numbers come in and won’t be back for Tax Day in April, so have prepared estimated taxes and an extension form so Kim can mail them in in April. Utah is the only state I’ve lived in that doesn’t require estimated taxes to be submitted for investment or other income that doesn’t have taxes automatically withheld. So there will be a check for estimated taxes with the extension forms for the state. We’re always happy to not have to send money to the state every quarter like we do to the IRS.
We also spent a lot of time yesterday making our reservations for dinners at the premium restaurants on board the Insignia. One is Italian and one is a steak house. Unlike most cruise lines, there is no surcharge for dining at these venues (as opposed to the main dining room or the buffet, which are also excellent), but there is a quota on how many you can reserve. We booked all 14 of our allotted dinners at each as soon as we were allowed to do so. I know I’ll be having steak or prime rib on my birthday in the South Atlantic, off the coast of Angola.
During the next week our main preparation activities will be avoiding stores, having a simple holiday meal at home, and doing some volunteer work at the Jubilee of Trees, at the Veterans Home, and at church. We’ll also continue sorting through clothes and getting ready to send off four large suitcases to the ship several weeks ahead of our departure. We think we’re over all of the big humps and relaxing a bit more.
One of the favorite topics of Americans (and, I imagine, citizens of most countries) is FOOD. We want to have enough to be healthy and strong but not so much that it is wasted or that we get fat and lazy. I’ll confess that I’m writing this in a crowded McDonalds, featuring new kiosks, food delivered to your table after you order it from a kiosk or the counter, and a double drive through line that is even more crowded than inside. So, how do we survive on a cruise ship without McDonalds? Easy, we go to one on shore. Seriously, we have eaten in a couple of McDonalds in Thailand and Australia, as well as at a Starbucks. We didn’t need to do so for nourishment, but they had free wifi and air conditioning, so why not?
Most of the discussion of food on cruises is regarding the quantity and the difficulty of making decisions about it. Should I have rack of lamb or prime rib or Maine lobster tonight? Decisions, decisions. And of course you don’t have to make the decision based on the cost of the item, as you already paid for it when you bought the cruise. Even more difficult may be the decision about dessert: molten chocolate cake, cheesecake, homemade ice cream, key lime pie, or something with a fancy French name? The biggest problem is not cleaning your plate at every meal or ordering three desserts, which they’ll happily serve you if you ask. On one cruise a dinner companion, who was not a big guy, ordered two different entrees at each meal, and ate both of them. Ask and you shall receive.
The buffets can be even more difficult, since you can pick some of everything while trying to avoid taking too much of each thing. On most ships food is available in one location or another 24 hours a day, and if you don’t feel like leaving your stateroom, there is always the 24 hour room service.
Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to exercise away all of those calories you ate. Ships have a workout area with treadmills and such, and may have a trainer or classes for those who are interested, as well as one or more swimming pools, though most aren’t big enough to swim laps. Our ship has a walking/jogging track that goes above the swimming pool, and that is my main exercise area. Since I don’t like treadmills, preferring to control my own pace and variations in pace, my indoor exercise when necessary is walking the passageways inside. Most of them are a couple hundred yards long, so some walking back and forth the length of the ship a few times adds up pretty quickly. Most of our day trips off of the ship include quite a bit of walking also, so that helps as well.
Just as in the rest of life, how you control your exercise and eating is up to only one person. YOU. It is possible to be sane and healthy on a cruise with both.
Holidays are special, and I’ve been asked about their observance on a cruise, so this holiday, Veterans Day in the USA (Remembrance Day in Canada, Australia, Great Britain, and many other countries) seems like a good time to comment on it.
We’ve been on cruises on Thanksgiving (American), Christmas, New Years, Easter, and other holidays, plus assorted Jewish and Muslim holidays. In general, the ships observe the “American” holidays and observe the religious holidays of the three major faiths (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim) to the extent possible. Many cruises have a priest or pastor on board, at least for Christmas and Easter. This is most frequently a Roman Catholic priest, who also offers non denominational Christian services. Cruises that operate from Australia and other countries tend to observe their own holidays (ANZAC Day, for example).
I’m sure the specialty restaurants will be crowded on holidays, including Valentine’s Day. Many people choose to go to a specialty restaurant (extra charge on most cruise lines, but not on Oceania) for a birthday or anniversary. Gail is already planning for my birthday in a couple months. We will also celebrate our Wedding Anniversary on board, even though it isn’t until August. They don’t know when it is, so it will be when we choose to celebrate it. One of the reasons for this cruise is to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary on 8/17/16, shortly after we return home.
Whether you’re celebrating any special days or not, you can be sure that you’ll find plenty to keep you fed and entertained on a cruise.
Another set of questions we’re often asked regarding the trip is whether we’re afraid of violence, pirates, or strange critters in various places. The easy answer is no, never. We’re educated on our surroundings and exercise reasonable caution everywhere we go. On a previous cruise on an identical vessel we spent ten days in pirate waters in the Arabian Gulf and off of East Africa. We had pirate drills but knew that the chance of anything happening was remote. It didn’t.
We also learned to be careful when snorkeling, wearing our lycra suits to keep from getting stung by jellies on the Great Barrier Reef. I did get stung by another jelly on Aitutaki, where they supposedly weren’t around, but suffered no long term damage. We’ve also been careful in the areas where saltwater crocodiles are a risk, and will be in all other such potentially dangerous environments. One friend regularly asks how deep the water is in various places, and I simply say “deep enough for the ship” and have no fears about running aground. Again, we know from previous experience that if there are typhoons or other dangerous weather that we’ll skip a port, go somewhere else, or just stay in a previous port.
Overall, we know we’re 73 years old and won’t be on this earth forever, and plan to have as many experiences and memories as we can. That’s why we are traveling now while we’re still healthy enough and able to stretch our budget enough to do it. If the pirates or sharks or crocodiles get us before old age does, so be it. But we’re sure not worrying about it.
One of the things we’re commonly asked is “Are you rich? It must cost a fortune to do this. Can I ask how much?” Since Gail and I are totally open in all aspects of our lives, our answer is easy: “All in, about $170,000, including balcony cabin, visas, shore excursions, land tours, airfare, travel insurance, house sitter, and so forth” That then leads to “wow, that proves you’re rich” and then I explain that we’ve been saving for a long time, and do that by living in a small house, having no debts but a mortgage, having an efficient paid-for car, are almost always at home, don’t drink, smoke, or gamble, eat out, or go to movies. We also don’t have a second car, second home, boat, or other toys. No argument with those who do have those things, we just all make our own decisions on how to spend our money. We’ve also never felt any obligation to leave an inheritance to our children, other than one of love and good training.
Our travel agent (who is also our house and pet sitter) reminded us that we could save $40,000 by booking an inside cabin. We reminded her that we value the extra room, and most of all the balcony to watch the waves and the arrivals and departures from ports while having a coffee or tea. Again, for those who choose to save with an inside cabin, or to enjoy a suite, that’s fine too. Their money, their choice.
I’ve always appreciated this quote from the song Aurora Borealis, by C. W. McCall:
“Life is simply a collection of memories, but memories are like star light… They live on Forever.
So we choose to make memories, and record in words or photos some of them for anyone who might care to share them.
As many already know, we’re taking a cruise on the Oceania Insignia beginning on January 4, for 180 days, ending on July 1. We will start and finish in Miami, Florida. The day above, -54, is the number of days until we leave St. George on New Years morning at 320 AM. We will take a shuttle van to Las Vegas McCarran Airport, wait a few hours there for a Southwest flight to Ft. Lauderdale, and stay in Ft. Lauderdale for two nights before going to Miami for the night before the cruise.
We will be posting reports, hopefully daily, on this blog and on our linked photo site at https://lesterland.smugmug.com/Travel All should be linked back to this Facebook page.
As of now all of our travel arrangements have been made and most activities on the cruise planned. Over the next 53 days I’ll report on other things we’re doing to get ready, and of course report on the trip itself when the time comes.
Today we skipped church so that we could have Kim, our house sitter, pet sitter and travel agent, and Mike, our salt water fish guru, get together for Kim to learn more about the fish maintenance routines. She already knows everything about our crazy little dogs, Dolly and Bobo. Kim will feed the fish, add water to the tank, and have Mike do major maintenance monthly. He will be on call in case she has any problems. We also changed the plans for getting to Ft. Lauderdale and that is finally set.
There is always plenty to do in getting ready for being away from home for over six months.
Last week I was asked to serve the wine at the altar today, which I do every few weeks. Until the event was explained I didn’t have any idea what a special honor it would be. This is the Sunday that is closest to Veterans Day, and was that day chosen by Ed and Jane Blacksmith to honor the memory of their son James Patrick (JP) by giving a pair of silver chalices and patens (the plates that hold the bread) to the church. JP was a US Marine 2nd Lt. who was killed in action by a sniper in Fallujah, Iraq, on November 11, 2004, Veterans Day ten years ago. The two of us who served today were Ed and me, the first to serve from the beautiful new sterling silver chalices after their blessing for use.
I never knew JP, but I’ve provided links to a couple of articles that tell about him and his amazing life, and his death doing what he had always wanted to do, graduating from the US Naval Academy, and serving as a US Marine Officer. His father had been a Marine officer in Vietnam, and other family members had been Marines before that. His best friend and colleague in Iraq had this comment: “He had a code of ethics and morals and a presence about him… He was the old breed. Men respected him a lot, he was a great leader. It’s better to die a piece of broken jade than live as a piece of clay.”
By far the best and most complete article describing the man, and his father, with whom I was honored to serve today, is the first one below. It is well worth reading, and the one to read if you only read one.