The Wild Blue Yonder

The Christmas tree is down and it is time to move on. We have packed and are on our way around the world with our favorite cruise line, Regent. We’ve been sailing with them since the 1990s and have been with them for over 600 cruise nights. That is like “frequent flyer miles” and it means lots of privileges like free laundry and dry cleaning, free telephone and Wi-Fi. And free champagne and chocolates we sure don’t need! But it does tend to keep you loyal.

For the past five or six years, Regent had not offered cruises that they called World Cruises, usually ones lasting around 130 days or more. They had Grand Voyages like “Circle South America” that were nice and fun. We circled South America including going up the Amazon twice in four years. But it wasn’t the same as the ones around the world that we had done a few years earlier. There were lots of us old-timers that wanted another World Cruise.

So, a couple of years ago, new management had an epiphany. With a small fleet of two 700-passenger ships and a third one of similar size under construction, they took another look at their only other remaining, smaller and oldest ship, The Navigator, and decided to re-outfit it and dedicate it to reinventing their version of World Cruising. With a capacity of only 450 passengers, they planned to fill it or almost so with World Cruisers and create an exclusive feeling for those that wanted this style and approach to travel.

Their assessment of their customer base was pretty good; 90 percent of the ship is filled with travelers who are going the whole way from Miami around the world and back to Miami. No need for international flying, going or coming.

To kick things off and have an opportunity to meet our fellow travelers, our cruise included flying to Miami and spending the night in the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. The hotel is such a grand icon of Florida’s storied past. I could look out my window and see the house that Sug Schusterman grew up in. The hotel is the only commercial building in the high-end residential area. We met up with old sailing buddies and made new friends at the gala cocktail party and elegant dinner.

The next morning, we took the two bags we brought on the plane and were taken by coach to the dock, happy with the fact that our luggage, which had been forwarded two weeks before, would be waiting in our cabin upon our arrival.

It was really great to find that the total renovation of the ship was beautiful. Most of it met our approval, except that they removed some precious cabinet space to put in a BIG flat-screen TV in our sitting area.

With mandatory life boat drill complete, we finished unpacking and headed for our favorite bar. (All of the bars are our favorites, but this was the closest one!) It was like “old home week,” and I remembered that I like a French martini (vodka, Chambord and pineapple juice). One only needs one French Martini on an empty stomach, so we headed to the main dining room, the Compass Rose, for dinner.

There are three dining rooms including Prime Seven (steak and lobster), Sette Marie (casual Italian) and the Compass Rose, the large main dining room. In the daytime, Sette Marie becomes LaVeranda which is a very casual buffet for breakfast and lunch. There is also the pool deck for lunch, and a coffee corner of pastry, snacks, sodas and tables to sit and chat. And this is near the library, I.T. area, and a long run of veranda where some come to sit and needlepoint or gossip, have refreshments and play bridge, canasta and backgammon. There are also fresh cookies every hour! Duplicate bridge has its own room. There is even a bowling tournament!

Many days, there is indoor golf putting, duplicate bridge and mahjongg. The first morning, there was a lecture: “Naturalists on the Isthmus of Panama, 100 Years of Natural History on the Biological Bridge of the Americas” by a research associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute since 1983.

That was followed by “The Exploration of Pluto by New Horizons” by Dr. Alan Stern, a planetary scientist, space program executive, aerospace consultant and author. It was a question and answer talk.

The Canyon Ranch Seminar, “Secrets to a Flatter Stomach” was a bummer as all anyone wanted to do was go for a cocktail and lunch! Then it was bowling tournament time!

That was it! It was time for quiet peaceful lunch with a widowed friend from Cincinnati in the Compass Rose and then a nap!

The next day at sea, nothing was planned! It was sheer bliss to relax and do nothing, watch a movie and read.

The day after that, we anchored at Georgetown on Grand Cayman Island, husband Brad took a shore excursion and I indulged myself with my favorite pastime, uninterrupted reading, from one of the 30 books I brought along. They do have a library, but I have more than I’ll live to read and I give mine to the crew library after I have read them.

The shore excursion was billed as “Cultural Express,” which included a visit to a Botanical Garden and Pedro St. James, a National Historic Site. It wasn’t the best season to see a botanical garden at its best, but we did get to see a blue iguana, a protected species that has its own safeguarded area in the garden.

Pedro St. James was another story. It is the oldest stone structure in the Cayman Islands. It was built using slave labor in 1780 by wealthy Englishman, mariner and plantation owner William Eden. The spectacularly built three-story home with its sturdy stone walls, slate roof and sweeping mahogany verandas earned its name “Pedro Castle” as it is still known today.

Once a cotton plantation, a jailhouse, a courthouse, a government assembly and a restaurant before the Government of the Cayman Islands purchased the land in 1996 and restored the house to its 18th-century grandure.

The day after Grand Cayman was a sea day on our way to the South American city of Cartagena, Colombia. On the way, we did get some culture by attending a lecture by Smithsonian Curator of American Music John Edward Hasse. He has curated exhibitions on Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles, and founded the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, among other things.

Dinner was in the specialty restaurant Prime 7 and we had a “sharing” table with a couple we didn’t know. Her home is in Michigan and his in California and they commute between the two homes and their five children, all from previous marriages. The menu in Prime7 features big steaks, big lobsters and lamb chops among other carnivorous delights. Vegetables are definitely to be shared.

I had crab cakes and a double order of foie gras sliders with onion rings. The shrimp in Brad’s appetizer were definitely two-biters each, and his lobster was obscene. But dessert was over the top: a popcorn Sunday featuring chocolate and vanilla ice cream covered in popcorn, chocolate fudge, caramel sauce and salted peanuts.

We looked forward to Cartagena and the memories it brings. In fact, 20-some-odd years ago, we cruised there on the Raddison Diamond with Rose Rubel, Hazel and George Garcia, Mary Margaret and Billy Joe Phelps, Bunny and Ken Barker and other Pyramid Club members.

More about that, the Panama Canal and Costa Rica among other things next week. VT

Photos by Carla Sue Broecker