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Published: June 27th 2014
It towered above me – a gleaming white marvel of modern engineering. Hundreds of bags were waiting to be delivered to the nearly 1500 cabins. For some strange reason I was anxious about my first cruise – but that is my usual reaction anytime I undertake an entirely new travel experience – whether that be my first steps in Europe, Africa or Middle East. Thankfully, I shared a taxi with two cruising veterans who assuaged many of my concerns, Raymond and Margaret had approximately 40 cruises behind them and had previously cruised on the Celebrity Eclipse
so they provided a comforting background on the ship, staff and activities on offer.
was launched in 2010, and part of Celebrity Cruises
flotilla of Solstice Class of vessels. This was an incredible ship of 317 metres in length with an occupancy of 2850 – and all those sleeping spaces would be occupied as the cruise was fully booked.
I walked around the ship, exploring and gazing at the 13 different public levels and there was plenty to uncover. There was so much to visit that I was still finding new places even after almost two weeks. I immediately warmed to the Eclipse
– it was a beautifully crafted vessel with great variations in style of restaurants (serving delicious food) and relaxation venues, so there was something for everyone. My favourite area was the lawn on the top deck, where I could lay on the grass under a bright sun, watch the fluffy clouds pass overhead, and breath in the invigorating salt air.
There were some great revelations about being on my first cruise. First, I did not get seasick. This was my primary concern before boarding as I have been seasick on other water craft previously. I am unsure what stabilisers were on the Eclipse
but they were superb in ensuring a smooth crossing. Even larger swells were barely noticed. The second revelation was the plethora of activities. Due to my speaking duties it allowed me no time to enjoy the multitude of what was on offer, but other guests informed me of the joys of glass blowing, cooking demonstrations and the like.
Before this cruise, I was tiring from almost 500 days of constant travel, but after the cruise my energy levels returned. Despite my speaking duties, it was still a very relaxing experience. Sitting on the deck late
afternoon one could observe the endless expanse of ocean. The sunlight reflected against the water, and the shimmering swells danced as we glided past them. Birds adroitly skimmed across the surface and they were the only actors I espied on the grand ocean stage. It was beautiful, it was soothing – I could understand why people return to cruises again and again.
The ship stopped at three ports along our Transatlantic voyage, with each destination surpassing the previous one. Our first stop was also my first ever visit to the Caribbean – The Bahamas was a typically relaxed place as one would expect. Luckily, it was Easter Sunday when we docked so I headed to a church to experience a local service. The Zion Baptist Church was attracting quite a crowd, and given the importance of the day, the female members of the congregation wore a rainbow of hues – bright purples, reds, blues, greens filled the church that looked even brighter against their dark skin. The quality of the outfits would have not looked out of place at a ball.
There was not a spare spot on any of the wooden pews when the gospel choir took
their position. I have never a gospel choir perform before and their singing was full of superlatives – incredible, inspirational, reverential. There was rhythm and soul aplenty voices soared higher and higher. This was probably my best Easter ever.
Our next stop was Bermuda which possessed an entirely different and ordered ambience – buildings, gardens and roads were immaculate. There was so much I wished to see here, but was limited to the dock area due to working on my presentations (the reasons for this late preparation will be revealed shortly). I eyed the jet skis with envy and if I am to return, shall definitely partake in my favourite water activity.
The final stop was ranked by other passengers and me as the favourite. The Azores is an island chain and autonomous region of Portugal located far into the Atlantic. The cobbled streets of Ponta Delgada emblazoned with black and white stone were filled with character. One could ramble and gaze at the myriad of shops and residences under glorious clear weather. Even better was the island’s beauty as revealed on a tour of crater lakes that sat within lush, emerald valleys dotted with whitewashed houses. Every
The mighty Celebrity Eclipse
This photo from when it was docked in Bermuda
bend in the road revealed another gorgeous vista. This was one of the most beautiful islands I have ever seen, and I could spend a full week in the Azores.
This would have been a perfect cruise had it not been for one unfortunate incident. Whilst on the ship, my DSLR camera fell out of the camera bag which shattered the electronics (now since repaired). Thus I had to rely on my phone and the still camera on my camcorder, and the quality of my images on this blog is inferior to my usual standard.
As wonderful as both the ship and shore stops, my purpose in being brought onto the Eclipse
was to deliver a series of four 40-50 minute presentations to passengers about my adventures along the road less travelled for the Beyond the Podium
speaking programme. I secured this spot via a speaking bureau, World Explorers Bureau
, an agency that deals exclusively with adventurers and explorers.
I was one of two speakers and on our first session was in a space that held approximately 200 people – a venue called Celebrity Central. The speaker before me, Linda, who is an expert on Elizabethan England, had spoken
on cruises before and there was standing room only for the presentation as she already had a following.
When it came time for my speech on North Korea, quite a few people left, so my crowd numbered approximately 150. No question that I was anxious for this was an entirely new type of audience. For the past two years I had been speaking at conferences filled with other travel bloggers, social media participants, or travel and tourism industry practitioners, but these were members of the public who loved cruising. This type of audience complements my radio work on The Travel Show
in Dubai, where I also address an audience not involved in the travel industry.
I commenced my presentation about a journey into North Korea combined with numerous images of the country, but unfortunately, there was a technical issue and the link to the projector failed. So without pictures, I needed to describe the images that the audience were missing. An important rule for all speakers – keep talking in case of a technical failure. Thankfully, 15 minutes later the data projector kicked into life after a bit of prodding from the technical crew and so the presentation
continued as planned.
The turnout to the presentations for both Linda and me was so strong that the remainder of our presentations were shifted to the much larger Eclipse Theater. I was very pleased at this decision for the Theater had a proper stage and could at least 1000 people. In fact, I reckon this was the finest speaking venue I have addressed. I loved the feel of being on that stage, it felt so comfortable – it felt like home.
Word of my presentations spread quickly, so that my audience grew in size every day and at least 400 were in attendance for my final presentation. Though the passengers may never travel to these places it still was of great interest to many. I could not walk for more than ten minutes without someone thanking me for my presentations or being invited to talk for an hour (and more) about my travels or opinion on different events in the world. Some passengers had even travelled to places such as North Korea, Sierra Leone and Algeria, so it was such a privilege to share my stories and hear the stories of others.
Most significant was that there
Oceanview Cafe on Celebrity Eclipse
My favourite dining area on the ship.
was a great demand for me to deliver more presentations, so after seeking permission, I was granted an extra four talks – thus the order of my presentations were: North Korea, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somaliland, Central Asia, Syria, and North Korea (again due to request). This required me to spend most afternoons and evenings preparing for these additional presentations and is the reason I did not explore Bermuda.
For the final presentation entitled Highlights from The Road Less Travelled
. I changed my storytelling style to more of an inspirational tone by describing the most astonishing, fascinating, touching and surprising moments on a day that marked my 500th
day of travel – 1 May 2014. I concluded this final talk with my thoughts about those seated in the theatre: “Your attendance, comments and conversation have all inspired and encouraged me, but more importantly they have ensured that though two week ago I boarded a ship full of strangers, tomorrow I shall disembark the same ship surrounded by friends. Thank you and goodbye.”
And with those final words - my speaking aboard the Eclipse
was concluded. Some people rose for a standing ovation and I was quite taken aback, and though
I shifted to the rear of the stage in a slight move of embarrassment, the applause continued. I again moved to the front to acknowledge their appreciation, the applause increased and far more people joined in the standing ovation. This was totally unexpected, as was the numerous requests for my business cards and for photographs afterwards. I was genuinely touched by the response from the wonderful people who attended my presentations who gave me so much strength to continue to tell my tales of the road less travelled.
This was the third of a series of presentations in 2014 – Malaysia Social Media Week (Once Upon a Time
) and The Social Travel Summit in Germany (From the Computer to the Stage
) being the other two – that have accelerated my career change to a full time blogger. This cruise accorded me a firm affirmation of my new career, and there can be few better ways to reflect on one’s accomplishments than being in the middle of the ocean whilst watching the sun slowly sink beneath the waves and for the approaching evening to scatter the sky with sparkling stars.
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