Liberation At Sea

There is something about the routine of daily life that is both reassuring and suffocating at the same time. Even more than most, I live my life at home traversing a very intentional and well-worn rut. I work out on the same three days of the week, on certain days of the week I carry out food from the same familiar places (Thursdays are soup night, don‘t you know?), etc. The upside of having a routine is that this mindless pattern saves a lot of wear and tear on the little gray cells. On the downside, however, life lived in this fashion can slowly and silently suck your bones dry of the marrow of inspiration and spontaneity.

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When people ahead of you in the grocery store line start to become irritating, double-wide barriers between you and the checkout counter and when smiling starts to require way more energy than you are willing to expend, perhaps the time has come to book your next cruise (from one of our expert agents, of course) on the Liberty of the Seas. As I write these words, I am sitting in Liberty’s Café Promenade sipping a cappuccino and reflecting on seven ways in seven days to become liberated on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Liberated To Eat Like A Gourmand

When it comes to food and vacation, rationalization is a beautiful thing.  You can devour everything that comes within an arm’s reach and tell yourself it doesn’t really count, you are on vacation after all.  The great thing about cruising with Royal Caribbean is that the quantity, although voluminous, is somehow surpassed by the quality.

Here is a very important tip for those contemplating sailing on the Liberty of the Seas.  Belly up to the bar . . . a rather apt figure of speech . . .  and buy the three dinner specialty restaurant package in advance.  It will save you a little money but, more importantly, getting to dine at Giovanni’s Table, Chops Grille and Sabor Modern Mexican will, I promise you, be the highlight of your cruise.

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The up charge is modest, the food is divine, the service impeccable and the ambience intimate and inviting.  I loved all three but I suppose if I had to choose a favorite it would be Sabor.  This comes from someone who is not a raving fan of Tex-Mex (heresy for a Texan, I know).  But Sabor offers is authentic modern Mexican cuisine.  They make the guacamole tableside as well as the margaritas!  Nadia Guevara, the manager, is a true delight (pictured above with my bride) and above, as well, you can see Cocoa making one mean margarita.

Liberated To Imbibe Like A Connoisseur

When it comes to adult beverages, the great thing is you don’t even need to  rationalize!  Here is another little tip.  When you first get on the ship, you can purchase a wine packageIMG_1294 with several bottles of wine.  If you don’t finish one, you can have the remainder brought to you the next evening, regardless of where you are dining.  If you don’t consume all the wine during the trip, as we didn’t, you can bring the rest home with you.

One evening at dinner, as we were about to order our wine (you get to choose from a list of about 15 wines), the head waiter, Lucian, told is it was not necessary.  He said someone had provided a bottle for us.  He then raved about the quality of the wine, a 2013 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon pictured here.  We can confirm his estimation as we consumed the entire bottle over a long and lingering dinner!  So here is a special shout out to the benefactress whose name I will not mention both for fear of offending her modesty and also being accused of brazen name dropping.  Thank you for your gracious contribution to a wonderful evening.

Liberated To Indulge In Shameless Pampering

We rewarded ourselves for our numerous visits to the fitness center with a visit to the spa.  Let’s just say it is not exactly every day I am the recipient of a Swedish back message, energizing foot and ankle massage, relaxing scalp massage and a Men‘s Skin IQ MiniFacial.  I was very disappointed, though not completely surprised, to discover that my skin has a higher IQ than my brain!

DSC03243The pampering extended to the way Kevin, our cabin steward, attended to our every whim.  (I am pretty sure we exceed our whim allotment the first couple of days.)  From tracking down a lost suitcase, to brightening our day with his towel art and much more, Kevin embodied the rock star treatment one unfailingly gets on a Royal Caribbean ship.

Liberated To Explore Like A Latter Day Columbus

Our cruise called at Cozumel, Georgetown, Grand Cayman and Falmouth, Jamaica. Among the score of offerings at each port of call, Royal Caribbean singles out these three for special recommendation:

  • Cozumel – Explore the ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Tulúm, majestically perched above the turquoise Caribbean.
  • Grand Cayman – Experience a once-in-a-lifetime adventure: snorkeling with stingrays at Stingray City Sandbar. These relatively tame creatures will swim right into your arms as they glide around you.
  • Jamaica – One of Jamaica’s leading natural attractions, Dunn’s River Falls are terraced, giant limestone stairs, measuring about 180 feet tall and 600 feet long and plunging into the sea.

DSC03229I would tell you all about these wonderful excursions were it not for the fact that we never ventured out of the fantastic dockside shopping areas each port offered.  From the picture above, you might say the one in Falmouth, Jamaica was conveniently situated!

Liberated To Shop Like Paris Hilton

Speaking of shopping, I was particular impressed with the incredible village in Falmouth, Jamaica with the bamboo stores and rum shops.  OK, we may have whiled away a couple of hours in this cute little rum shack.

You can purchase all manner of items in these shops.  You would be completely off base if IMG_1298you are picturing a Bahamas “Straw Market”.   In these shops, you can find diamonds, colored gemstones, jewelry, watches, gold, sterling silver, and even Oriental rugs.

Among my favorite places  were the bamboo stores where everything sold was made of bamboo.  They sell sheets that are softer than Egyptian cotton.  You can find shops offering everything from handicrafts to designer stores such as “C2K, Caribbean Hook, Honora, House of Tanzanite, John Hardy, Kabana, La Nouvelle Bague, Starnight, White Diamonds, Cartier, Concord, Maurice Lacroix, Michele, Movado and more”.

Liberated To Learn Like A Rhodes Scholar

You literally would not believe how many learning opportunities there are on board if you want to expand your horizons to match your growing waistline.  We both attended a cooking . . . and tasting . . . demonstration put on by Sabor where they demonstrated how to make some of their signature appetizers.   I did not join in on the cupcake decorating class, however, knowing my limitations full well.  Sampling is one thing, squeezing icing something else all together.

I was never able to work in the “Puffy eyes and dark circles” seminar.  Honestly, the whole subject sounded a little depressing anyway.   I wasn’t sure I wanted to surround myself with a room full of folks who felt a pressing need for that information!

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Liberated To Transform Former Strangers Into Fast Friends

When we are at home, we seldom approach strangers and when we do, they usually assume we want to sell them something. OK, by way of full disclosure, in my case that is usually true. I tend to place people into two important categories: potential cruisers or possible land tourists. Non-travelers are, truth to say, passing blips on the radar screen.

When you are on a cruise, total strangers have a way of becoming Facebook friends on the elevator somewhere between deck five and eleven. You find yourself asking the couple at the next table at dinner where they are from and, no matter what answer they give, it triggers some long suppressed genius for free association. You will immediately discover what seems (for the moment at least) like a providential connection fated by a mysterious higher power.

DSC03171Isn’t the time long overdue for you to discover you own seven ways in seven days to liberation?  In spite of the length of this post (my apologies), I have only scratched the surface.  To experience all this for yourself, trade in your frustration at home for liberation at sea.

Cruising The Caribbean . . . Mediterranean Style (Parte Seconda)

Since our discreet little assignation a few days ago, I must confess I have been off flirting with another destination in Mexico.  You needn’t be jealous!  I assure you that it was completely innocent . . .  platonic even.   Therefore, assuming after a couple of tequilla tasting events in Los Cabos (blog post to follow) I can still reconstruct where we left off, let’s take up the narrative from that point.

OK . . . it is all coming back into focus.  We were midway through our discussion of “hardware” and about to transition to “software”.  If you are picturing toggle bolts and Firefox browsers, you probably should go back and read Parte Uno.   In my previous post, I mentioned spending obscene amounts of time in a dark corner of La Cantina Di Bacco being caressed by an impertinent Cabernet from the hills of Tuscany.  But the Divina offers any number of respites such as La Caramella, L’Angolo Dell’Oggetto, Il Gioiello and Caffe’ Italia.  Is the “Mediterranean Style” thing beginning to click for you?  Caribbean mystique meets European chic!  Did I mention that Sophia Loren is the godmother of their fleet?

MSC Cruise Spa And FitnessIf you are like me and an aficionado of spa treatments (the full body massage being my personal treatment of choice), you will certainly enjoy the MSC Aurea Spa and Fitness area.  I do take umbrage at their unauthorized use of my likeness in the picture above.  Oh well, as one of the “Don’t hate me because I am beautiful” crowd, I suppose one should remain sanguine about such things.  Can you really blame them?

SOFTWARE

The time has come to move from facilities to features.  One feature I place a premium on is a great itinerary.  Try these on for size.  If you like the western Caribbean, Divina calls at Falmouth, Jamaica; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Cozumel, Mexico and Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas.   If the eastern Caribbean floats your boat, try Philipsburg, St. Maartan; San Juan, Puerto Rico and again Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas.   There are additional itineraries with other fascinating ports of call called Caribbean Enchantment, Caribbean Wonders and Southern Caribbean.  For details about every itinerary, there is an online brochure which is available here.  And if you fall in love with Divina and can’t bear the thought of separation, you can follow her to the Med next summer!

MSC Divina ItinerariesI would be more than remiss if I did not devote a few words to the MSC Yacht Club or, as they like to style it, your Sanctuary At Sea.  The best way to describe this experience is to imagine you are traveling as the special guest of Gianluigi Aponte himself, the owner of MSC Group, who invites you to partake of his own inner sanctum far away from the maddening crowds.  You would expect that a man of his eminence would have his own private lounge, bar and pool, naturally.

Lounge on MSC Yacht Club  MSC Yacht Club bar

What else would you expect to be at your and Signor Aponte’s beck and call?  An exclusive butler and a private concierge desk, of course.  When you check in at the terminal, you would expect to skip long lines and to be discretely guided to a lounge where you would meet your butlerMSC Yacht Club butler who would escort you to your cabin.  You would no doubt anticipate gourmet dining in a private dining room.  It would almost be a given that each afternoon you would be invited to an English high tea where you and the Signor would converse about matters of international import.  What was not resolved in the afternoon session could be resumed over champagne and canapés before dinner!

Sadly, we can’t all be lifelong bosom buddies with “Luigi” as he starting asking me to call him after I saved his life for the second time.  Not to worry!  Everything I have described and more can be yours if you simply remember to book the Yacht Club on your next MSC cruise.  What’s more, it will not require a king’s ransom.  I was quite shocked to learn that the differential is much closer to a serf’s ransom, and a pretty scruffy serf at that.  This, without a doubt, is one of the greatest values on the high seas.

The Past Is Prologue

Here is some information you should know about MSC, the fastest growing cruise line in the world, before we wind up this little tête-à-tête.   In 2003, MSC sailed 127,000 passengers.  In 2014 an estimated 1,680,000 will live the MSC experience.  In that same period, they have gone from four ships to twelve and 5,000 berths to 39,000.

But even more interesting than where they have been is where they are going.  They are currently building two ships at STX France (2017 & 2019) and two more at Fincantieri (2017 & 2018).  Click here to go to the press release section of their website.  Read the 5/22/2014 news release and you will find they are not just building new ships.  They are building **NEW** ships in the most dramatic and revolutionary sense.  They will be “futuristic ships with groundbreaking designs.”   I witnessed a recent slide presentation of the new builds and even a jaded seafarer like me was knocked off my peg leg.  Fortunately the parrot was uninjured.

As I see it, you have two choices at this point.  You can dream the dream or you can live it.  As we like to say, “Lend us your dreams and we will repay you with memories!”