8 Countries in 9 Weeks Plus 9 College Credits - Beautiful
Without a doubt the Caribbean is a beautiful part of our lovely planet. In May, I made my third visit there and Hugh made his first. My first time there was when I was a kid on a Disney cruise to the Bahamas, the second on Semester at Sea and this time I was on one of those mega ships packed with seasonal cruise ship-goers on the Carnival Valor.
I was in charge of the itinerary. I didn’t want something that just went to the Bahamas or to Mexico: I wanted the whole spectrum of the Caribbean (well, the best I could get, anyway) and so I chose a southern Caribbean cruise. I have come to realise that I am not a cruise person for one simple reason: Semester at Sea.
I have been absolutely spoiled by Semester at Sea. I spent four months on a ship where it was nearly impossible to get lost and had the privilege to not only get to know my fellow travellers, but also the crew. That is something I did not experience on my cruise and I wish I had be able to.
On Semester at Sea the crew were happy to talk to you the best they could without being too distracted from work. They’d tell you about their day, their family back at home, where they’ve been, etc. On Carnival (whom I suppose has policies against the crew becoming too chatty with guests), I couldn’t get anything out of the crew other than a simple “Hello” and “How are you?” And what really bothered me were the waiters: they didn’t sing. I absolutely miss meal times where the waiters would sing. I also miss eating outside as the sun sets. I would also give so much to have my cereal blow off my spoon as I eat.
One thing I noticed was that nobody really seemed to be interested in the ship sailing away or pulling into port. To be fair, there were some, but not many. I’m fairly certain I annoyed Hugh more than anything each morning we docked in a new port because I forced him to wake up and watch us sail in. To be honest, I think we were some of the first people off the ship. How can someone not be excited about a new port?
Another thing I noticed was that nobody seemed to be interested in stargazing or even eating outside and watching the sun set. To me it seemed like the Carnival Valor lacked the seating area to watch a sunset because of where cabins and restaurants were placed (as well as the outdoor lighting comparable to Vegas) as well as the guests who appreciate such a beautiful moment in the day. I really miss sunsets at sea. Sharing those moments with my friends on Semester at Sea are some of my best memories.
I’m not complaining about my Carnival cruise by any means. It was more of a culture shock for me. I appreciate culture shocks and to be perfectly honest, I’d go on a Carnival cruise again, but first, I think I’ll do an Enrichment Voyage on the MV Explorer. Or better yet, another voyage.
Once aboard the MV Explorer, everything felt as if I had never left. Everything was as it was when I left it and the crew were the same, too. Julius, my former cabin steward, was on Deck 3 cleaning cabins, Mizraim was in the Garden Lounge singing as he brought me my juice, and Paul was at the Piano Bar (which was now filled with booze rather than candy, so that’s something which has changed). Even though my cabin for this voyage was different, it still felt like my cabin (3017) from my voyage. The sheets even smelled the same! I had felt like I had stepped back into another world, a world that is comforting, exhilarating, and unlike anything else. It’s a world with a close-knit community seeking adventure. Most of the faces on this voyage were new, but they quickly became familiar. This sense of community is one of the many qualities of Semester at Sea I cherish most.
The voyage itself was designed to be like a traditional voyage, complete with Green Sheets, Pre-Port, Neil Diamond’s Coming to America, Taco Day, a BBQ, Bridge Tours, the Crew Talent Show, slow internet, and the Field Office cancelling trips, plus much more. There were a few extras, like being able to be in the Glazier Lounge, having access to Deck 4 aft (outside) and not having to empty our water bottles before boarding. Oh, and on-ship time was midnight in Ensenada, our port-of-call, instead of the usual 6-8PM timeframe (I guess we’re more mature now that we’re alum).
On our first full-day at sea my friends Brittany, Caitlynn, Hannah, Lauren and I lounged around the ship. We wandered for a bit, did some reading and a lot of just sitting around and enjoying the sun. Overall, we were particularly lazy on this voyage.
In Mexico, Brittany and I went surfing for the morning. In our group were voyagers who sailed in the early 90s and had children of their own. Everyone exchanged stories from their voyage. There stories of mental taxi drivers in Argentina pulling over on the side of the road in the wrong lane to run off to nowhere to tell his wife he would be late for dinner, stories of being pick-pocketed in Taiwan and having the Dean encourage them to file a police report which required a ride in a garbage bag as a poncho on a scooter, students falling overboard, and much more. Brittany and I realised that we had lame stories and so we sat back, relaxed and listened to these alumnae as we waited for our surfing instructors to arrive.
One thing I will say is this: surfing is harder than it looks. With my grace, I fell off, had a board smash into my leg, and nearly drowned (twice). But, it was fun. Brittany and I were able to stand a few times; we were so proud of ourselves.
Later in the day, Brittany and I met up with Lauren, Caitlynn, and Hannah to explore the magnificence that
isn’t Ensenada. Ensenada has great food and that’s about it. Only drive down to this coastal town from San Diego for the food. It’s a great day trip if you want excellent French food (and ostrich) and to perhaps try Starbucks’ cherry mocha. And if you’ve got a car or are happy to pay quite a pricey cab ride to see the geyser La Boufadora, then go for it! Or if you’d like a cheaper option, just look for the girls from the cruise ships dancing on tables at Papas & Beer. It’s not my sort of thing, but I’m sure for some it could be rather amusing.
While Brittany, Caitlynn, and Lauren went off to see a film at the local cinema, Hannah and I headed back to the ship where we hung out, had a few snacks, and then headed out to dinner to a brilliant French restaurant called El Rey Sol (I know, it’s not a very French-sounding name). The owner kindly gave us free margaritas and an appetiser. Hannah and I, as well as her mother, her mother’s boyfriend, and their friend Christine had a wonderful meal (I had ostrich) that was mostly seafood in a very Alpine setting. After dinner it was getting late and so we all headed back to the MV where we ate several servings of ice cream and watched a miserably boring documentary on happiness.
The next two days at sea are a blur to me. All I remember is watching The Hunger Games with my friends in my cabin, watching The Campaign several times with Brittany, watching the cooks do Gangnam Style and feeling weirdly nauseous. You see, the ship was going hardly 13 knots. For those of you who don’t speak Ship, that is SLOW. And when you go slow in choppy waters, it makes things more unbearable. I now know what it’s like to be one of those little fishing boats I’d sometimes see in the Malacca Strait bobbing around as we’d passed by. To those fishermen: I am so sorry.
Once docked in San Diego, Neil Diamond’s Coming to America blared throughout the ship. This feeling was all too familiar to me, as this is what played the morning we docked in San Diego back in May.
While my voyage- Spring 2012- may have ended almost a year ago, the journey one begins with Semester at Sea is everlasting. One’s time spent on land is merely a port, because at one point, one will step foot back on the MV Explorer for another adventure. My journey with Semester at Sea began exactly a year ago today (16 January) as I left for The Bahamas to embark on the journey of a lifetime. The adventure continues for me and the other alumni who have been fortunate enough to become a part of this community.
Here’s hoping to sail on Spring 2022!
The ‘milestone’ reunion for my Semester at Sea friends and I began in San Diego, our last port-of-call on our Spring 2012 voyage. Brittany and I flew out on New Year’s Eve where we spent our first afternoon together in ages wandering around San Diego and heading to In-N-Out Burger. Brittany had never been there, but since that first visit, she and I (along with the others) made several trips to this sacred place. From the tram stop we saw a van advertising ‘Fast Divorce,’ a bench covered in dog excrement, and plenty of people who looked rather cold in the 60F weather. On New Year’s Eve we were in bed before 10 and that was that. The next day, we headed up to Anaheim for a visit to Disneyland where our journey was north overlooked the beach to the west and the sun rising in the east.
At Disneyland, we met up with Will, one of our friends from Semester at Sea. Surprisingly, Disneyland wasn’t crowded on New Year’s Day. The Matterhorn had about a 10 minute wait (if that), we rode Space Mountain twice (and posed for the camera as if our friend had just fallen out of her seat), Indiana Jones had a five minute wait as did Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. It was pure bliss being able to ride these rides without the agony of having to wait for days for a less-than-a-minute ride. Perhaps the weather had to do with this? Will, a California native, suggests that it was the weather (which he deemed was ‘cold’ for California. As for Brittany and me, it was warm for January) or the Rose Parade in Pasadena. The day was particularly relaxing, despite having to say goodbye to Will at the Amtrak station in the very spot where I said goodbye to Rosemary just this past May.
On the 2nd January, Caitlynn and Lauren had finally arrived. Once settled in, we proceeded to the San Diego Zoo. To be honest, I wasn’t impressed by it. It may be a large zoo with plenty of animals, but it really is overrated. Admission is over $30 (our hotel gave us a discount for buying it through them and it was still over $30) and really the only fun I had at the Zoo was riding the ‘Skyfarai’ across the Zoo. The Zoo’s ‘light show’ was actually a Christmas tree with some lights synced to some music (and it wasn’t even TSO). I really didn’t mind all of the walking at the Zoo; I was just bummed that it wasn’t as exciting as everyone had made it seem. The highlight of our day (aside from Caitlynn and Lauren’s arrival) was going to San Diego’s Little Italy for dinner where we had the best pizza ever to exist at Filippi’s Pizza Grotto.
And so the next day, the 3rd January, we all boarded the ship. We were absolutely ecstatic to be back on the MV. But before we left our hotel, we saw many of the Spring 2013 students coming in and out of the lobby. Some asked if we were on the voyage, and many just smiled at us. All of us agreed that they’re very lucky to be spending their semester at sea (though we all felt a bit more privileged as we crossed the Atlantic and they won’t be). But anyway, our short trip to the cruise ship terminal (the same place where we debarked the MV) was an anxious one. It was as if the ship had waited there for us and we were glad to be home.
The morning began in cold, dark Finland. My friends Jess, Dani, and I trugded along to the hotel’s reception to find our marvellous breakfast (granola bars and tea with squishy apples and bananas), and then braved the cold as we found our tram which would lead us to the ferry terminal where we would venture to Tallinn, Estonia.
Our ferry tickets were booked through directferries.co.uk with quite ease. We were suggested to show up for check-in an hour before departure. An hour was a bit much, to be honest. A handful of people were there when we showed up, but waiting for a ferry at 6:30AM which isn’t scheduled to depart for another hour can be tiresome and rather boring. Once on board we all fell asleep and by the time we had all woken up we were being welcomed to Estonia.
Estonia was not at all what we had expected. My only desire to go to Estonia was because I had never been there and I wanted to acquire as many countries as possible (I collect countries. They don’t take up much space in one’s house, which is nice.) His Holiness, Rick Steves, included Tallinn in my bible for Scandinavia (“Rick Steves’ Scandinavia”) and so I thought, “Why not?”
When we arrived in Estonia it looked and felt like we were behind the Iron Curtain. It was dim, grey, and cold. But, we knew that there was a Christmas market hidden somewhere in the city and so we went and looked for it. Once we found the Christmas market we were in awe. It was by far the cutest thing we had ever seen. It was better than puppies. And kittens dressed in costumes.
The market had stalls with handicrafts, like Christmas decorations, as well as bratworst, saurkraut, and mulled wine. I’ll just leave it at this: we all spent WAY too much money there.
For lunch we stumbled upon a medieval restaurant called “Olde Hansa.” It was so cool. There weren’t any lights (just candlelight) in the restaurant and the entire menu was based off of medieval recipes, including the drinks. A girl a few tables away from us odered a Coke and the waitress replied, “I am sorry but Coke does not yet exist in Medieval times.” Well, the girl did not appreciate this and so she left. My meal was bear, elk, and wild boar sausages along with whatever else it was they had thrown on my plate. The thing is that the lighting was so poor in there that we had a very hard time reading the menu and seeing what was actually on our plate. I know that what I ate was delcious, and that’s all that matters.
After lunch we wandered round the city and eventually ended up back at the Christmas market. More money was spent on gifts for loved ones (Estonia is fairly cheap) and then we just had to call it quits. So, we ventured to what looked like the “newer” bit of the city. There wasn’t much to it, but it did keep us from spending more money on souvenirs and Christmas gifts. Instead of eating out we bought our dinner at a grocery store near the ship. Thanks to the wide selection of food which could easily be consumed (food which didn’t require heating up), our options were pasta, potatoes, cookies, bananas, and apples. Aside from the cookies, this meal felt all too familiar to me.
When we arrived back on the ship (well, ferry) we ate our pasta and potatoes. My tastebuds were questioning my sanity. The memories came pouring into my memory. It was like being on Semester at Sea all over again and it felt great, even if the taste of the food was awful. To top it off, the ship’s bell for announcements was the EXACT same as it is on the MV. Even if it was a nice reminder of Semester at Sea I just never, ever want pasta and potatoes in the same meal ever again.