I guess I can’t help myself. After being a teacher for so many years, it is my natural inclination to reflect back on the trip to analyze what went well, and what we will do differently on future travels.
This trip was a bit of a test; we had never been at sea for a month before. So, the first question was whether or not we would do it again. The answer? We booked a 53 day cruise for the fall of 2016. Clayton was interested in seeing Vietnam, so during our 6 days at sea, we looked at cruises available through NCL in Asia. Our friends, Amin and Zahra, had also piqued our interest in Dubai (Amin was raised there), so we also wanted a cruise that would visit that port. We found an 11 day cruise that started in Singapore, and ended in Hong Kong, which visited both Vietnam and Thailand along the way. So far, so good. We then looked at the cruise prior; it embarked from Dubai and ended in Singapore. Seemed like a good idea. That cruise was 21 days, so if we booked both together, we were up to 32 days. We knew we could manage 32 days on a ship, but started thinking about maybe adding some more days, either before Dubai or after Hong Kong. Back to looking at the itineraries available! The cruise following Hong Kong headed back west, and duplicated some of the ports we would have just visited, so we eliminated it as a possibility. The itinerary before Dubai started in Istanbul and ended in Dubai. That one looked pretty interesting (it was a 30 day cruise). So, we booked three consecutive cruises, for a total of 52 days (the Istanbul port was eliminated, and the cruise was re-routed to start in Rome, which added one more day, bringing us to a total of 53 days). I will be writing about the planning portion to prepare for this trip in another blog post.
We had flown on Icelandair to get to Paris (with a layover in Iceland), and had paid extra for their Economy Comfort class. Would we fly with them again? We have booked our flight from Seattle to London (and will fly British Airways from London to Rome), so yes! We will not be stopping in Iceland this time, although we really want to return someday. The weather in Iceland during October tends to be very cold, rainy and windy. All of our ports of call on our upcoming trip are warm weather ports, so we would have to pack special clothes for just that one city. We also want to return and spend at least a week there, renting a car and driving around the island. And, I simply must spend enough time in Iceland to experience the Northern Lights! So, we will return to Iceland, but as part of a different trip. Anyhow, we were satisfied with Icelandair, but didn’t feel the extra cost of Economy Comfort was worth the cost. In order to give you extra room, and justify calling it Economy Comfort, all they do is fold down the middle seat between the window and aisle. They also give you a free set of headphones (woo-hoo!), and you can order anything off of their Economy class menu at no cost. The food wasn’t that terrific, and we have booked a window and aisle seat for our upcoming trip with the hope that no one books the middle. Voila! We have created our own Economy Comfort seats at no extra cost! Hopefully, no one will book that middle seat; we are keeping an eye on the flight to see how full it is getting. When we flew last fall, the plane was only about 2/3 full, so many people had a vacant middle seat. Here’s hoping the same is true for us!
When we flew home from Orlando back to Seattle, we splurged and flew first class. It was nice to have that extra comfort, but it isn’t something we will do on a regular basis. The seats were great; the food, not so much.
One thing that took us by surprise on the cruise was that the weather was much warmer than typical for November. And, as I mentioned before, we expected cold weather for the Transatlantic crossing. Bottom line? We packed the wrong type of clothes. We had very little in the way of warm weather clothing, and the weather, except for Iceland and Istanbul, Turkey, was really warm. From reading posts on Cruise Critic, we knew that a laundry special would be offered occasionally on board the ship(they give you a large paper bag, and they wash and fold as much as you can fit in for $19.99). It seemed like most people that went on cruises of more than a week were offered the special twice. So, we figured that on the 12 day part of the cruise (Venice to Barcelona), that we could have our clothes washed twice. And, on the 16 day TA/Caribbean portion, we could have our clothes washed twice again. Wrong! The laundry special was offered only once on each portion, so we ran short of clean clothes several times. There is no self-service laundry on Norwegian. You can have laundry done as often as you want, but the cost is usurious. $6 to have a pair of panties washed? I don’t think so! Anyhow, I ended up hand washing clothes in the teeny, tiny sink in the bathroom, and then hanging them in the shower to dry (which took several days). So, when we got home, we started looking into dedicated travel clothes. These are clothes that are lightweight, and dry quickly. We invested in some Ex-Officio underwear; it dries in hours, not days. We also purchased Smartwool socks, which are a nice, thin weight, wick moisture, and dry quickly. We found a Columbia Outlet Store not too far from us, and have loaded up with pants and shirts from them (SPF built in, very lightweight fabric, and easy to wash/dry). We each now have a whole wardrobe that will take up very little room in our suitcases, weighs very little, and can be washed and dried overnight. Perfect!
We had read that you shouldn’t waste space in your suitcase for otc medication. If you get sick, just find a pharmacy when you are ashore! Have a cultural adventure! Didn’t work too well for us. . .we had the “cultural experience” in a few pharmacies while in port. We found that the medications cost quite a bit more than at home, and the dosages tended to be different. That wasn’t that big a deal. The problem occurred when I got sick during the 6 days at sea. We assumed there would be cold medicine in the gift shop on board, but there was not. They had a lovely selection of medication for nausea, diarrhea, and various other stomach maladies, but nothing for a cold. I was quite surprised. So, next time, we pack a little of all of our favorite otc medications, so if one of us gets sick, we have something to treat our symptoms with. Could we have gone to the ship’s medical center? Certainly, but it is expensive to see a doctor, and you also run the risk of being quarantined to your cabin, depending on what the doctor thinks you have.
An item I would definitely suggest bringing is a wristwatch. I had brought my Fitbit, but had not taken into account that every time we changed time zones (which, for a while was nightly), my watch would need to sync. Since we did not have internet access most of the time, the time on my watch was almost always incorrect. At one point, it was off by 6 hours! And, to complicate matters, ship’s time is not always the same as the time in port; it can be off by an hour. If cruising, I would also make sure to bring a travel alarm, as cabins do not have clocks.
We learned so much during our “trip of a lifetime”, both about the various ports we visited, and how to travel well. We loved the trip so much, that we have decided to travel as much as we can afford for as long as we are healthy and physically able to travel. You truly never know what is around the corner, and so we are making travel our #1 priority for the time being. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my trip, and will continue to follow me on our upcoming adventures: 2 month cruise from Rome to Hong Kong (including pre-cruise stay in Rome and post-cruise stay in Hong Kong), 2 week Alaska cruise in May of 2017, 2 week British Isles Celtic Christianity Tour with my wonderful church choir (Church of the Redeemer, Kenmore, WA), 31 day South America cruise in December, 2017, and finally (for now) a European train extravaganza that we have just now started planning for.
Heather Griffin Phillips