Courtesy of EatSleepCruise.com YouTube channel and featuring many of the passionate cruisers featured in Cruising Interrupted
.....Erin went to Disney World once as a child, and then several times as a young adult, and when her first daughter was a toddler, Erin wanted to introduce her to Disney. She told me, “I was in elementary school when Disney World opened. A lot of my friends’ parents were taking them to the park and they would come back to school and tell me these incredible stories. I was fascinated, and remember thinking, ‘How do you make a world?’ I was totally sucked in by those stories, The Wonderful World of Disney on TV, the gorgeous commercials. I was so freaking jealous. I vowed, even as a 10-year old kid, when I grew up I would take my children to Disney World as often as possible.”
“So, while I was staying home raising my daughter, I wanted to introduce her to Disney World, and we started going on Disney vacations. I had a research background and I started doing copious amounts of research on how to plan the best possible Disney vacation. The other moms in the neighborhood would tap my expertise. I was a go-to resource, and over coffee or lunch we would just talk for hours about how to plan a Disney trip. In 2007 Disney started the Disney parks Moms Panel, and I had basically been doing what the Moms Panel does on my own for several years. So I pursued it. To get the first round of panelists, Disney ran a contest. Several rounds of written questions and then phone interviews. I answered their questions, made it through the interviews, and of the more than 10,000 people who applied, I was one of the 12 who were selected.”
“Over the years I have answered over 11,000 guest questions about literally every aspect of planning a Disney World vacation. Anything from ‘my kids are afraid of bugs; my child has an allergy; what ride should I not go on; where should we stay; I am on a limited budget, what are some cost savings tips—really anything. Over time, I became more and more aware of things and enhanced my expertise and got quite adept at explaining how to do Disney......”
....The Unofficial Guide to the Disney Cruise Line by Erin Foster with Len Testa and Ritchey Halphen describes Disney’s ships and itineraries, restaurants, children’s activities, and Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island.
Erin has sailed over 20 ocean cruises, all on Disney Cruise Line, and has done two river cruises on AmaWaterways through Adventures by Disney. Erin’s first cruise was in 2003 on the Disney Wonder, a four-night Bahamas cruise stopping at Nassau and Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line’s private island.
I asked Erin if anything in particularly prompted her to go on a Disney cruise since she hadn’t cruised before and had not yet begun working with the Walt Disney Parks Moms Panel.
“We were just fans of Disney and were looking to do something different with our kids. At the time my twins were about three and my older daughter was six. Disney seemed like the logical place to start cruising.” I asked if she had any apprehension leading up to her first cruise, like fear of seasickness, concern that she wouldn’t like it, worry that it might be boring. Erin replied, “Honestly, I didn’t love it. I wish that I had more apprehension about seasickness leading up to the cruise. I was very sick on my first cruise, like clutching the bed seasick. One of the reasons we chose a Disney cruise is because it had a great reputation for little kids. One of my daughters happened to be in a phase of separation anxiety. So, she would be clutching to my leg while I was seasick. She didn’t want to go to the kids club and I hadn’t considered that and brought any toys or other things for us to do, and I was not feeling well anyway. So, the first cruise was kind of a disaster. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t cruise again for eight years.”
Who would have predicted—if you were a fly on the wall in that Disney cruise ship cabin observing this deathly seasick mom, dragging her toddler clamped around her leg—that years later that mom would be the author of The Unofficial Guide to the Disney Cruise Line. “Exactly! When I look back on it it’s really actually pretty amusing. I didn’t go on my second cruise until 2011. Had a much better time then and have been cruising regularly since.”
I was curious what prompted Erin to try cruising again given the unfortunate circumstances of the first one.
Read about Erin’s follow-up Disney cruise and the rest of Erin’s story in Cruising Interrupted, available now!
I first encountered Christine Beehler when we became kindred spirits, so to speak. We were among a group of cruise enthusiasts interviewed by CNN.com during the pandemic for an article about our interest in cruising as soon as possible, “Cruise Fans Explain Why They Can't Wait To Cruise Again,” by Francesca Street (July 24, 2020). All of the cruisers interviewed were “off-the-charts” eager to get back on the ocean again; well, all except yours truly! I came across as the most cautious of the bunch, in stark contrast to Chris. The article began with a depiction of Chris’ last cruise which took place in March 2020 on the ill-fated Princess Cruises Coral Princess, which was denied docking during the pandemic declaration and then was stricken with a Covid-19 outbreak. That opening to the article immediately caught my attention; then it said, “…Beehler returned home on April 6; she also tested positive for coronavirus. Beehler is 72, with a partial right lung. She also suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema..…”
Most remarkable of all: Chris can’t wait to cruise again!
..... Chris initially planned a 14-day cruise departing San Antonio, Chile, rounding Cape Horn, and then up the east side of South America and ending in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she would then fly back to the US. Ultimately, Chris decided to extend her time on Coral Princess, and booked the 32-day cruise itinerary where the cruise continued on from Buenos Aires to Fort Lauderdale.
I asked Chris if she had any apprehension about returning to Coral Princess at that time in the face of the burgeoning coronavirus story abroad. “No, I wasn’t concerned. The coronavirus was confined mostly to China and Italy. There was only one reported case in South America at the time I left New Hampshire. A good friend suggested I not go. I downplayed her concern. I said ‘It’s South America. I’m going to be fine, they’ll take care of us.’ I did, however, during the days leading up to the cruise have fleeting thoughts about the news out of China—that if I ever did catch the virus I might have a hard time. I probably would need a ventilator. I might not make it. Yet I got on that airplane with complete confidence that nothing was going to happen.”
“On the plane over to Chile on March 3rd, word spread regarding a second case reported in South America—this one in Santiago, which was our destination. You could sense a bit of panic on the plane. The thinking back then was that this was a virus that was just connected to China and Italy. Even the one case in South America was supposedly someone who had come back from Italy. And there were a few cases on the west coast in the US that had kind of escaped. The concern level rose—even though it was only two cases on the entire continent—especially when we got to the airport in Santiago and they were taking a lot of precautions: the airport workers were in Hazmat suits, we had to complete multiple health forms and have our temperatures taken. It was nothing like that when I left Boston. At the port the personnel very deliberately went through our passports to make sure we hadn’t been to China or Italy, and then we boarded the ship.”
The cruise was uneventful for the first week.....
A few weeks later.....
..... That evening, the first of quarantine, March 31, Coral Princess stopped in Barbados for what Princess referred to as a service call. Chris said, “We had to detour to Barbados for what we were told was to pick up medical supplies. It was so interesting going into Barbados because there were all the empty ships with crew only anchored at the port. It was pretty eerie—distressing. At Barbados we saw an ambulance at the dock and someone was taken off the ship. Supposedly, he was airlifted to Florida. After we returned home I heard he passed away from the virus. So now things moved from stressful to ominous. We were confined to our cabins, and then we see someone taken off the ship.” A couple of days later, Princess reported publicly that Coral Princess test samples processed in Barbados confirmed 12 positive cases of coronavirus. On April 2, the Captain informed the passengers of the results. That same day, for reasons not entirely clear, the U.S. Coast Guard announced it would not allow Coral Princess to dock in their home port of Fort Lauderdale on April 4 as scheduled. Chris told me, “Two infected Holland America ships were just ahead of us and were docking the day before us. We heard that Fort Lauderdale didn’t want additional Covid-19 cases to take up their medical facilities.”
On April 3, Coral Princess met up with its sister ship, the Regal Princess, in the Bahamas to pick up additional medical personnel and supplies. There were no passengers on Regal Princess, just crew. Said Chris, “At this point we had been turned down by several places. There was a collective sense that nobody wanted us. So when our sister ship met us, we received a wonderful welcome from the crew on the decks of Regal Princess and in tenders.. They started their horns and the Coral Princess and the Regal Princess were communicating with each other, playing The Love Boat theme. When Princess ships leave port, their horns usually play out The Love Boat theme. It was…oh my gosh…I think everybody out on their balcony was crying......”
Read the entire stirring chapter in Cruising Interrupted, available now!
“Are we there yet?” After 40 minutes or so, and yet another “how close are we,” in the distance the mighty
Harmony of the Seas cruise ship came into view as we approached Port Canaveral. Up until a little over a year prior, Harmony of the Seas was the world’s largest cruise ship; it was indeed awe-inspiring and immediately captured LaKi’s attention. Perhaps the only thing LaKi likes more than getting in the water is being on the water on a cruise ship. The beach outing was a fun subterfuge; in reality we had decided to celebrate LaKi’s birthday with a cruise. She loves cruising; this was going to be the 5th cruise we have done with
LaKi in the last 4 years—most recently the previous Christmas on Anthem of the Seas, the culmination of The Joy of Cruising. A broad grin took over LaKi’s face as the ruse about the beach became clear; the grin did not disappear for the next eight days!
Harmony of the Seas was all we had hoped for and more. Besides the many highlights of Harmony, it was also our first visit to the newly imagined Royal Caribbean private island, Coco Cay. The private island had recently re-opened as Perfect Day at Coco Cay, a $250 million transformation of Royal Caribbean’s picturesque beach playground into a more kid-friendly space with a water park and hot air balloon rides adjacent to the beach, and theme park style eateries replacing the private island standard picnic style buffet. Oh, and
a newly constructed dock enabling cruise ships to anchor right at Coco Cay instead of requiring ship passengers to be transported to the island from the ship via a tender, a small boat only capable of moving a finite number of the ships passengers at a time and subject to safety issues related to the weather and getting on and off the tender.
Cheryl, LaKi and I had a wonderful time at Perfect Day at Coco Cay despite a fair amount of trepidation as to whether we would get to experience it at all. During breakfast prior to disembarking, a downpour started, and it did not appear our day at Coco Cay was going to be so perfect after all. When the Cruise Director came on the public address system and announced several additional on-ship activities, it brought to mind my dreaded experience on Anthem of the Seas just six months prior. (On Christmas morning on Anthem, right before we were due to stop at Coco Cay, the Captain announced it was too windy to tender and we had to skip the stop.) This time there was a happy ending: the weather cleared, sun came out, and Perfect Day at Coco Cay was wonderful. LaKi loved the water park and the Up, Up & Away balloon ride with me; it offered great views and a wonderful vantage point for photos. My wife and I enjoyed a shady spot to sip our Miami Vices while LaKi was on the waterslides, and we sampled the nearby wave pool.
The second cruise I booked post-The Joy of Cruising was also chosen directly as a result of writing the book. Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas, or Indy, as it was affectionately known to Brits after it was launched and based in UK in 2008, had a significant role in The Joy of Cruising. A popular feature in The Joy of Cruising, was “The Godmother: Elizabeth Hill,” which was about the first non-royal, non-celebrity person in UK chosen to serve as a cruise ship Godmother, of then new UK-based, world’s largest ship Independence of the Seas. Known as Cruise Like A Godmother on social media, Elizabeth’s story of being plucked from relative obscurity as a leader of a charity working with children on a working farm, to be named the Godmother (she had never been on a cruise before!) of the at-the-time, world’s largest cruise ship, was like a modern-day fairy tale....
In The Joy of Cruising I included a photo of The Godmother standing next to her portrait which is permanently displayed on Indy. My plan was to take a photo of my grandkids next to the The Godmother’s portrait for inclusion in this book.
Yet another cruise chosen as a result of my of my involvement with The Joy of Cruising, was our first Mediterranean cruise, booked for NCL Epic November 2020. I asked each of the passionate cruisers profiled in The Joy of Cruising about their most memorable cruises as well as cruises they have on their “bucket list.” A number of destinations showed up repeatedly: Alaska, Panama Canal; Galapagos, and of course, the Mediterranean, and, several cited Barcelona, Spain as among their favorite ports. Speaking to seasoned cruisers from around the world led us to broaden our horizons instead of always cruising to the Bahamas and the Caribbean. So, the Mediterranean cruise is our first step in that direction and we looked for an itinerary that included Barcelona. For our 28th wedding anniversary we will be spending a few days in Barcelona, and then on November 1 cruising from Barcelona to France, then Italy, and then back to Barcelona. In 2021, Alaska here we come. You know, research!
Alas, our 2020 cruise plans fell victim to the pandemic. It was going to have to be More Joy of Cruising…deferred!
Read the rest of More Joy of Cruising in Cruising Interrupted, available now!
“What are some of your standout memories and experiences,” I ask.
“So many! Sitting in the jacuzzi on my balcony with a drink in hand watching the sea pass by and listening to music; swimming with stingrays and swimming with pigs in the Bahamas; cruising down the Nile on the MS Mayflower; crossing the Drake Passage to Antarctica while cruising on the expedition ship Vavilov; watching the sea lions bathe their pups in the Galapagos; seeing the hanging coffins in the cliff faces as we drifted down the Yangtze on the Victoria Jenna–there are literally coffins from ancient times, cliffside cemeteries, very unique, very interesting. I’ve seen nothing like that elsewhere in the world. And the whole experience of filming the commercials...”
Sarah was featured in a series of destination excursions commercials to be shown on the ship’s television for a major cruise line. I asked Sarah to elaborate on what made the filming incredible.
“So as part of the process of filming, I got the opportunity to do every excursion available in the Eastern and Western Caribbean: from swimming with the stingrays in Grand Cayman, to bobsledding in Jamaica [4000-foot sled coaster ride down a mountain and through a rainforest], to snorkeling in Cozumel, to the Flying Dutchman in St. Maarten [the world’s steepest zip line, from the top of St. Maarten’s highest mountain.]”
All sounds wonderful but no thanks on the Flying Dutchman; loved looking at the mountains in St. Maarten but that’s where it ends for me! I was fascinated about the Jamaica Bobsled ride; I remember the famous Jamaican Olympic Bobsled team and the fun movie based on their story, “Cool Runnings.”
“It’s really fun; kind of feels like a wooden roller coaster, but you get to guide yourself and control your own speed. I did it three times and I thought it was so much fun.”
Prior to the pandemic, I interviewed Sarah about her near-term cruising plans. Notably, while still planning to see the world, Sarah emphasized she is focusing more on experiencing it via the seas. “Ideally, I’d love to reach my next seven countries via cruise, bringing me to 120 countries. I’m working on transitioning from overland travel to cruise travel, as I prefer the leisure and luxury of it all.”
Of course, the pandemic derailed those plans. It would take several pages to chronicle the travel opportunities—cruise and overland—that Sarah had to forgo due to the pandemic. Her plans to increase her focus on cruising in 2020, following her Top 10 Cruise Influencers of 2019 accolade was thwarted by Covid-19 and the suspension of cruising and will have to be deferred.
Her last trip before the pandemic was the kind of grand, sweeping, multi-country excursion that has characterized the growth of The Five Foot Traveler.
Unfortunately it ran into the realities of a global pandemic and winding down the trip and returning home became an adventure that just adds to The Five Foot Traveler lore. Sarah had been invited to tour the Arctic and parts of Sweden and Norway by a couple of tourism boards many months prior. Her flight took off March 2, a week-and-a-half before the global pandemic declaration.
“When I left for the Arctic there was this vague talk about a virus in China—supposedly it was like the flu. I wasn’t really stressing about it, but I always take some extra
precautions when anything is going around, and I actually had an N99 mask with me. I’m a germaphobe by nature, so I always travel with a mask, wipe down my airplane seat and tray table and things like that. So the trip itself really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for me. For the first part of the trip my photographer and I weren’t paying much attention to the news and we were just having this unbelievably unreal experience in the Arctic. Then, my photographer, David Rocaberti, received a call from his family in Madrid and was told the virus was getting really bad there and that they had shut down schools; he has two girls. We were like ‘there’s nothing we can do and it will get under wraps soon.’ We weren’t stressing…yet. The next day we took a train into Norway and as soon as we got there the country was going on lock-down and we were going to be quarantined in a cabin in Norway that we had originally planned to stay in for just one night. So all of
sudden it went from a bad flu to being caught up in a global pandemic and things got really scary. My family is in the states and my brother is high risk and my dad had to go to work every day. My photographer’s family is in Madrid which was already an epicenter before New York was. We couldn’t figure out how to get home to our families; all the information we were receiving was contradictory.”
“So the cabin in Norway, did you have to rough it, or was it decent accommodations for you to spend this difficult time?” I asked.
“Oh my gosh it was stunning. It was like the greatest place I could ever possibly be quarantined,” Sarah laughed. “The views were amazing; we were isolated; under normal circumstances it would have been spectacular. Even still we’re incredibly grateful for where we ended up. We were in a big, luxurious cabin called Dyrøy Holiday in the middle of nowhere; we saw the Northern Lights dancing overhead. It was spectacular.The only issue was the changing news every day, so we didn’t know when we would be allowed out of the country. So, we weren’t able to appreciate the luxurious accommodations because we were glued to our phones keeping up with the rapidly evolving news......”
Read the rest of Sarah’s wonderful travel journey in Cruising Interrupted.
Writing is done!🍾🥂 30 passionate cruisers, over 100 photos, 90000 words, fascinating stories. Cruising Interrupted is in production and will be available soon. Ordering information will be provided shortly.
I asked Judi to talk about how she gravitated away from big mainstream cruise ships to her predilection for smaller vessels. “Somewhere along the line we discovered Pandaw Cruises. We went on a Pandaw Cruise in Myanmar. It was our first small-ship cruise—it had 16 people on it. And that’s when we absolutely fell in love with small vessels. We loved it. It sailed a short stretch of the Irrawaddy River between Mandalay and Bagan in Myanmar. We landed in Yangon, Myanmar, and then flew to where we were going to board the vessel. Our first sight of that boat, the Pandaw Kalaw—it was so simple, a two-deck river boat. And the crew, and an onboard guide who accompanied us on our adventures off the ship at each stop was so welcoming, so genuine, we knew that we were going to be looked after well. It was just wonderful how they ran everything. Two excursions a day; if you wanted to stay on the ship to relax and read you could, but if you wanted to leave you could get off the ship twice a day. The adventures that we shared were into the smallest remote villages along the Irrawaddy. It was such a memorable experience.”
So small ship cruising seemed to appeal to Judi right away. I asked her how soon after the Kalaw did she do another small vessel. “Immediately; we got off that and then we took our kids, as well as two of our friends on the exact same itinerary with Pandaw the following year. And then we went back with the kids only and we did Vietnam and Cambodia with Pandaw.” Judi’s first three small ship cruises, done in succession, were with Pandaw. A new passion was born. Judi has essentially done almost exclusively small ship cruising since, ranging from very small ships barely holding double digits of passengers, to the 100 passenger Akademik Sergey Vavilov, a former Russian scientific vessel converted to an expedition ship to Antarctica, and up to luxury ships like Crystal Serenity which holds about 1000 passengers. By the way, of Judi’s many small-ship cruising lasting memories is a less than wonderful one an otherwise wonderful cruise on the Vavilov, operated by One Ocean Expeditions. “I really enjoyed the Vavilov; the cruise was fabulous, everything was first-class; seeing Antarctica, spending time with the penguins, learning as much as we did was a tremendous opportunity. I will add probably one of the most memorable—maybe not in a good way—was crossing the Drake Passage. It was rough, it was crazy, and my husband gets seasick in a bathtub,” Judi laughs.
Yet Lawrence loves to cruise. “He loves to cruise. He knows there is a price to be paid, but he is prepared to do it. I asked him if he would be willing to go back to Antarctica and he said, ‘I’d go in a heartbeat.’ He considers crossing the Drake a rite of passage.” That actually wasn’t Judi’s first experience crossing Drake’s Passage. She had done so prior to becoming a small-ship cruising aficionado on a cruise on Celebrity Infinity. That cruise on the Infinity—wonderful as it was—as compared to Judi’s small ship experience starkly depicts the contrast between big ship versus small ship cruising. “It is very different whether you go on a small or big ship—no less beautiful, but different. Our first cruise to Antarctica was in 2013. It was a wonderful experience. Celebrity Infinity departed from Buenos Aires and took us down through Argentina, Venezuela, a stop in Ushuai, and then into Antarctica. But we were sitting on the deck on a big cruise ship. Because the Infinity was larger, we could not get off the ship and explore. We crossed the passage, we went into the Antarctic Circle, and we saw all of these other people on Zodiacs and small vessels, and then going to land and hiking. Lawrence and I looked at each other and both said, ‘We have to do that. We need to come back here and do that.’ We knew we wanted to come back and do it in a more adventurous and immersive style. So in four long years, we did.”
Read the entire chapter, Traveling Judi, Cruisers Just Like You and Me...Sort Of, Cruising Interrupted (Coming Soon
“…We packed up the dog and whatever we could load into the car and headed to Florida…and everything was perfect. I started blogging more. I had been blogging quite a bit up north, but just didn’t have the time to put into it. I had started doing things for Google. For Google+, I was an early adopter and a power user in Philadelphia, and they rewarded me by putting me on a follow list with Emeril Lagasse, Martha Stewart, Anthony Bourdain, Rachael Ray; so here were all these huge chefs, and me!”
At this point, Chef Dennis was not a travel blogger but rather a food blogger who travelled with a live show. That was about to change in a big way. I asked, “How did you become a travel blogger?”
“I’ve been called the accidental travel blogger. My career as a travel blogger began in 2017 when I was asked to apply for a stay at an oceanfront motel that was looking for bloggers. I was a food blogger not a travel blogger; nevertheless I applied, and they asked me to visit. I was picked, and was given a not-so-great room on the third floor; it was a little old, twin beds. However, they had just installed these nine foot floor-to-ceiling sliding glass balcony doors facing the ocean. So I just stood there overlooking the beach, looking out at the ocean. At that point I decided, I could be a travel blogger!”
“…The Viking cruise on the Forsetti was along the Danube. And when I say the Viking cruise was magical—the wonderful aspects of my first brand ambassadorship started even before the cruise. First off, I asked them what they wanted me to do. They said, have a good time! There was no expectation of social media posts—although I did posts anyway. We boarded and they told us we upgraded you to a suite, we hope you don’t mind! And we couldn’t pay for anything either; even all of our excursions were taken care of. The trip was amazing; we made some really good friends. The hotel manager would sit and chat with us, the cruise director was wonderful. We made a number of lasting friendships.”
So began Chef Dennis’ brand ambassadorship with Viking, as well as similar relationships with several other luxury cruises lines. He told me, “With that initial relationship where nothing was expected of me, that started a series of opportunities that have enabled me to cruise all over the world. After getting started with Viking, I went to work learning how to be a better travel blogger and how to become an asset to the brands I worked with.”
As a brand ambassador, Ask Chef Dennis has been fortunate to sail some exotic itineraries on incredible cruise ships. For Viking, Chef Dennis cruised Viking Danube Waltz river cruise June 2017; Viking Bordeaux Chateaux & Wines river cruise July 2018; on Viking Portugal River of Gold river cruise. On European Waterways, Chef Dennis went on a Northern Burgundy Barge Cruise on La Belle Époque in 2018.
In 2019 Chef Dennis continued his impressive foray into small ship luxury cruising with Crosi Europe, sailing a Barge Cruise on the Seine in August on the MS Deborah. In December Chef Dennis and Lisa brought in the New Year on a UnCruise Sea of Cortez on the Endeavour.
Read the full story of how Chef Dennis transitioned from chef, to food blogger, to travel blogger, to luxury cruise influencer, in Ask Chef Dennis, Cruisers Like You and Me…Sort Of, Cruising Interrupted (Christmas)