John and I have been on two cruises. It was not the kind of vacation we thought we would like. But we ended up liking our first 7-day cruise in 2009 so much that four years later we went on one for 14 days. The trick for us was finding the right ship. It was so, so, relaxing. I think I read 12 books in 14 days.
So flash forward five years to a different kind of experience at sea. Friends of ours bought a residence on what is billed as the world’s largest private residential ship. What does that mean? Well, it isn’t a cruise ship and it doesn’t mean time shares. It means people actually own a residence on a ship, much like a condominium. They own their unit and a share in the ship. Some of those units (like the one we were in) are studios and look much like a cruise line cabin, but others have two and three bedrooms and have kitchens just like a place you might live. The size of the ship is about 644 feet which is about half the size of the Celebrity ship we were on. The Celebrity ship hosts about 2,800 passengers, this one only had about 250 aboard while we were on it. It felt gloriously un-crowded to us, but apparently 250 is a higher than usual number of passengers.
So where does the ship go? Well, that is perhaps one of the most romantic parts of it for me. I often pore over cruise line catalogs for so-called “world voyages” where a cruise line literally goes around the globe in about 90 to 120 days or so. I don’t think I would actually like to do that, for one thing I’m not sure I have the sea legs for it, but I love the idea of it. Imagine being free of work and being able to spend 120 days seeing the world and never having to change hotel rooms. It sets my pre-airplane nostalgia meter to high. Well this private ship is a bit like that except it takes the whole year to go around the world. And because it doesn’t have to follow the parameters of the cruise industry that needs to keep their ships full of revenue-producing passengers, it can go as slow as it wants to. It goes to out of the way places like St. Helena, Napoleon’s final island of exile smack dab in the south Atlantic. Instead of one day in a port, the ship almost always spends the night and more often spends 2-5 nights in a given port. There are also parts of the itinerary that say things like “Captain’s Choice” with no set itinerary other than the general location of where the ship will be at the time.
Another aspect of this ship that I totally loved is that, although it has some great restaurants on board, unlike a cruise ship, the food is not included, you pay for it as you use it. This means that when you are in a port of call with fabulous food onshore, there is no incentive to run back to the ship to eat your meals. And when you are in the Mediterranean there is a lot of food on land to tempt one.
What about the residents? Our friends who own a unit were not on board while we were so we weren’t sure what to expect. We kind of expected the residents not to want to mingle with temporary guests like ourselves. Well, not only did we meet other temporary guests who were friendly, the residents we came across were extremely friendly and went out of their way to introduce themselves. While one would certainly need to command a certain amount of wealth to own a residence, the owners we met were not even remotely flashy and were, dare I say, down to earth. Some spend a few months a year on the ship, others spend most of their year aboard. I think if there was one common thread among the people we met it was that they were all rather intellectually curious and had a sense of adventure.
In the days to come I will show you all the places we went. For now I will show you some aspects of the ship itself that had me never wanting to leave. Our voyage started in Venice, sailed down the Croatian coast, around the boot of Italy and ended in Sicily. But after we disembarked in Siracusa, it kept sailing west through the Med, up around the bend to Amsterdam and then was headed up for several weeks cruising the coast of Norway and into the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbad…and then…well, you get the picture.
Lots more pictures of the trip to follow. Stay tuned.