When we beat COVID how do we want the world to be?
Yesterday was the first time in 9 years that astronauts departed from U.S. soil. Space tourism will eventually become a reality. How exciting especially for todays younger generation. Many of them are now inspired and some will possibly have the opportunity to travel to space.
Isn’t it wonderful hearing a good news story. I think we can all agree that there aren’t enough of them right now.
It’s Sunday morning and I am currently sitting on my front porch soaking in the sun as I write this blog post. I’m thankful for this beautiful day. I’ve lived in my current home for a number of years but today is one of the few times I’ve sat out on that porch. I typically listen to the morning news when I get up and then there is always work to be done but today I decided I needed a break from those unbelievable news headlines.
I was disappointed in myself a few days ago. I was expecting a couple parcels. When they didn’t arrive as scheduled I was frustrated. The day after – still no parcels. The day after that – I wondered if they will ever arrive. I sat on the phone for hours trying to find out the status.
That same day I received an email and although I recognized the senders name, it took me a few minutes to place who that person was. I’ve met hundreds of people from all over the world but its impossible to keep in touch with everyone. The young gentleman that wrote me is the Taxi driver I hired many years ago in order to show me around his beautiful country named, Bali. This was the second time he has written. The first time was the day before his wedding. He was so excited and wanted to share the news. This time it was a – “How Are You” – during these times letter. How wonderful that someone who barely speaks English, from a land far away took the time to “share a little kindness”.
I emailed the shipping supervisor who was trying to locate my parcels and apologized. I came to my senses and realized those parcels can wait. There is a pandemic going on and most workers and businesses are just “trying to do their best”.
That young guy from Bali made me realize I can do better. I have started going through travel files in order to find emails/addresses. I now devote some time everyday sending “how are you” messages to tour companies, Coach companies, tour guides, hoteliers, theatre owners/entertainers, restaurant owners and more from all over the world.
I know so many who are struggling. I am most familiar with the entertainment and travel industries because I’m involved in both. Those industries have been brought to their knees because of the pandemic.
Social Media posts are turning brutal. I’d ignore social media if I could but its important for me to spend hours on-line so can keep up to date with the latest industry developments.
Six Flags amusement parks are opening shortly in locations throughout the USA. Opening during a pandemic is not an easy task. The owners want to protect both ticket holders and their staff. You are therefore required to wear a mask when working or visiting the park. Instead of reading encouraging “we wish you the best” or “we are excited you are opening for us”, social media is filled with hurtful messages from season pass holders saying that they “want their money back” and are “never returning” – why? – because they have to wear a mask….
Many of you have visited Pigeon Forge, TN with me and the finest theatre production in town is “Smoky Mountain Opry”. They just announced they will be closed for 2020 as its impossible for them to adhere to social distancing protocols. Theatres throughout the world have closed.
We are fortunate to have a national airline in our country. Air Canada has opened the world to us. Without that airline, travel will be much more difficult and prices will skyrocket. Social media posters are not supporting Air Canada.
A young entrepreneur from Fredericton, NB has diversified his clothing manufacturing business and has produced a line of designer masks. Some started posting on social media platforms he is a hoax and doesn’t exist.
When we eventually beat COVID how do we want to world to be?
I’d like the opportunity to once again visit Six Flags, Smoky Mountain Opry, fly on Air Canada and support a young entrepreneur’s clothing line in Fredericton.
If my favourite family-run restaurant is shut down, businesses are boarded up and the attractions I look forward to visiting every year are gone – its going to be a major letdown.
Let’s face it these aren’t easy times. Many are struggling not just to pay their mortgage but to put a meal on the table. The Canadian government has come out with many helpful programs but they aren’t available to all. Many small businesses do not quality. Many business owners may not see a paycheck for many months but even without an income they are trying to appease customers.
Let’s make a difference – I think we can!
Consider writing positive social media reviews about businesses that aren’t able to open right now – skip writing negative ones.
Share positive news about these businesses with friends and family.
Follow their social media posts and engage some positive online conversation.
Sign up for their newsletters/blogs/updates.
Consider offering to help them during these times by volunteering your time.
Send them a “How Are You” encouraging message. Let them know you anxiously wait for them to re-open.
When I woke this morning I couldn’t stop humming, Glen Campbell’s “Try A Little Kindness”.
Let’s spread more of that kindness and possibly we will can eventually wake up to more “Good News” headlines.
As the world pauses, everyday I hear from one or more of my family of travellers. I so appreciate you keeping in touch.
Many of you have emailed me your favourite travel pictures. Those shots have brought back awesome memories so “thank you”.
I’ve heard some of you are missing my blog posts so I’ll gladly continue to write at times during this “no travel” period.
I was joking with a good friend by telling her that due to COVID-19, I feel like I’ve been forced into early retirement but she quickly corrected me and said I’m on sabbatical!
The last tour group I hosted returned to Toronto from Dubai on March 9th. That was an AWESOME journey but I was relieved when we returned back to Canada because the world was just starting to shut down.
Part way during the journey my passengers and I toured the spectacular city of Abu Dhabi and we noticed nothing unusual. I even nabbed a, “Tim Hortons” grand opening invite for all of us which was great fun.
The next day was a free one. I hired a private driver so I could inspect some ultra-deluxe hotels and attractions. Surprisingly overnight Abu Dhabi had literally turned into a ghost town. I asked my driver what was going on and he explained that Covid-19 news was starting to make the front page headlines and even though it wasn’t mandated, the scary reports frazzled the locals so much they were staying at home. The highways were almost void of cars. In order to detect body temperature, thermal imagining devices suddenly appeared in the posh hotels and attraction entrances. It was eerie walking through the massive Marina Shopping Mall because there was next to no shoppers. I literally had the place to myself.
When my group arrived back in Dubai I once again met with some hotel sales people and they were concerned as travel groups and convention attendees were cancelling their travels last minute. Hotel occupancies which should have been near 100 percent were all of a sudden looking grim. The yearly Dubai “Pepsi” convention which draws worldwide delegates was abruptly called off that day which was the day before it was to start.
Our Emirates flight from Dubai to Toronto was scheduled to take-off just after 3am so we departed by motor coach for the airport around midnight. After we arrived at the airport I learned that the Dubai cruise port had just been shut down. We were getting out of the UAE in the nick of time. We were mysteriously moved from one check-in line to another. I could tell the airport workers were starting to get anxious about the unsettling Covid-19 news. Extra check-in security measures for foreigners were now in place. I didn’t relax until our plane was in the air. I then knew I was going to get my passengers back to Canada!
Soon after we arrived on Canada soil, Prime Minister Trudeau told travelling Canadians it was time to get home. Some took that request seriously while others ignored him. That was almost 7 weeks ago. When we returned to Canada, it wasn’t mandatory to self-isolate for 14 days but I along with my passengers decided to protect others by staying home.
Like almost everyone I’m not thrilled with the current situation but I’ve accepted that home is the safest place to be right now. I have no problem keeping busy so the weeks fly by.
I continue to “fine tune” my cooking skills! I make a point to eat very healthy. Everyday I enjoy a homemade bowl of soup. I can’t get over how much olive oil I’ve gone through! I typically purchase olive oil from small farm producers when I travel to Greece, Portugal and Italy but my stock-pile of that high quality product, is already running pretty low. Every once in a while for a treat, I devour a bowl of Indiana Amish grown popcorn which I top with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and black pepper – be sure to try that combo but in order to avoid a mess this concoction needs to be eaten with a spoon.
The entire Walters Family has taken the “stay at home” mandate very seriously. None of us are even entering a grocery store, We order on-line only what we really need and then take advantage of curb-side pickup.
None of us could have possibly predicted that life could change so drastically in a matter of a few weeks but we must do whatever it takes to keep everyone healthy and get through this.
My entertainment and travel careers have obviously been hit with a double whammy. It’s very stressful but I realize there is value in every one of life’s situations. I can always find the positive if I look hard enough so I’m not letting this valuable time go to waste. I continue to make great plans for the future.
Everyday while working from home I create memorable travel experiences for the ”Travel With Bradley” family but I won’t be releasing any of these new, exciting itineraries until it’s once again safe to travel.
How are you?
I miss the “Travel With Bradley” family very much.
You may have heard that folks are using ZOOM so they can chat as a “group” on-line. I thought it would be fun for some of us to try this out. I’ll share a few stories plus you can chat with your fellow travelers. In the future I could possibly arrange for special guests to join us. Email me a message if you’d like an invite – email@example.com and I’ll announce a date and time.
Over the years many of you have suggested that I should write a book but there never seems to be the time. I can’t use that excuse now so I’ve started writing it.
Most importantly I want you and your family to be well so take care of yourself and don’t venture out unless absolutely necessary.
It’s not often that I am home for Easter because this is typically travel time.
I very much look forward to daily video chats with my family but I really miss my jaunts with Mom.
As we celebrate “separately” there’s Easter joy in every corner of the world.
I put some of my favourite Easter Eggs on display from Ukraine, Russia, Romania, Croatia and Bulgaria. Every time I look at them they bring back wonderful travel memories.
I laughed after watching a video message from Taras (the finest guide in Ukraine). He was in the Carpathian Mountains on his wife’s Grandmothers farm. He was busy planting potatoes – shovel in hand. The rolling hill scenery was stunning. His Easter message was very down to earth – he basically said in Ukraine during this time of isolation, you just can’t cancel the “planting of the potatoe”.
Some of you have emailed letting me know that while at home, you have been enjoying looking through your travel pictures.
I continue to reach out and am hearing from travel friends near and far. These are difficult times for “everyone”.
It’s hard to grasp how much our world has changed over the past month.
As travellers it is challenging staying at home, distancing and pausing travel plans.
While I might not be seeing you for the time being, I think of you often, I’m therefore doing my best to post daily on Facebook (Bradley Walters and Travel With Bradley) and I’ll continue to write some blogs.
I’m busy as always creating many new, amazing travel itineraries so I look forward to the day that we can start exploring the world once again.
Lovin the Celebrity EDGE – Western Caribbean Cruise
Saturday February 15 – En-route to Miami
My passengers all arrived at Toronto Pearson earlier that I suggested which ended up being a good thing because the lines to clear security and US customs were ridiculously long. I highly suggest that anyone flying to the USA needs to arrive at Toronto Pearson with plenty of extra time – 3 hours ahead might not always be enough.
My passengers have an advantage because once they are through the airport formalities they can relax in a premium lounge – a “Travel With Bradley” perk. Once again the Premium Lounge staff had reserved seats for our group which is a huge plus. This lounge (catering to US bound passengers) is not large. Everyone enjoyed a bountiful hot breakfast and conversation with their fellow passengers.
While in the lounge one of my passengers came to me and said “I may be reading the flight screen wrong but I think it says our flight to Miami has been cancelled”……… sadly enough that was the case so I told my passengers to stay put in the lounge and I headed to see the Air Canada staff.
At least 50 people were in line ahead of me at the Air Canada Customer Service Desk so I called my office emergency line and within minutes someone was in their car heading to the office in order to resolve this issue while others were on the phone from their homes with Air Canada and our suppliers in the USA. What an efficient, wonderful team!
I learned that new boarding passes would be printed and we would be allocated a $20.00 lunch voucher from Air Canada due to the delay.
I soon received word that the office staff secured space for all my passengers on a newly added Miami flight departing at 430pm. Our Miami Airport greeter and Coach Line were notified about our new flight details. One advantage when you travel with a group is in a situation like this, group passengers seats are usually secured first followed afterwards by individual travelers.
I gathered my passengers in an area outside of the lounge where there was ample seating and asked them to wait as I wanted to make sure we were first to get the new boarding passes. As soon as AC staff gave me the word it was a quick process picking up the new boarding passes and then we used our lunch vouchers (accepted at all food venues in the terminal).
Time zoomed by and soon we were seated on a 777 aircraft to Miami. It’s very unusual for Air Canada’s newest and largest aircraft to fly this route but two flights were involved in this change of aircraft – 450 passengers – they needed a LARGE plane to hold everyone!
During our flight I enjoyed watching, “Judy” – the award winning movie about Judy Garland. I’ll purchase a DVD copy when I get home. I don’t often find the time to see a movie but I can highly recommend this one.
Our arranged Miami greeter was waiting for us at luggage claim and soon we boarded a comfortable coach for a relatively short drive to our deluxe overnight hotel. We passed the newly opened Hard Rock Guitar shape hotel along the way – very cool.
At our hotel everyone was housed in 2 room suites – we were spoiled with so much room but after a long travel day we deserved it.
Sunday February 16 – Boarding Celebrity EDGE
After a relaxing buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant we were anxious to get to the cruise port.
The coach driver was a real pro. He could move the motor coach around like it was Mini Cooper size.
Checking in for the Celebrity EDGE cruise was a VERY simple process. I’m surprised Celebrity hasn’t incorporated a similar process system wide but I have to wonder if there is the technology at other ports around the world to make it happen.
The Celebrity terminal that has been built especially for the EDGE is state-of-art and its very beautiful.
As usual the cruise baggage mafia was waiting for our arrival. They expect a large gratuity when handling group luggage so I look after this as soon as we arrive so my passengers are not harassed.
Once we entered the new cruise terminal we rode an escalator to the upper level, we quickly went through security (many lines) and then an agent met us, scanned our express pass and asked us a couple questions. We then walked a few more steps where our express pass was scanned again and that was it – we were on the vessel. What a seamless easy process with no lines – possibly 10 min max from start to finish – marvelous – congrats to Celebrity! I don’t believe you will find an easier cruise ship check-in process anywhere else in the world.
On board we went directly to our stateroom to pick up our room key card (in a slot next to the stateroom door) and we left our carry-on bags in the stateroom – so nice not to have to carry them around. Staterooms were officially allowed for occupancy at 1pm but most of our staterooms were already ready for occupancy when we boarded. I was able to make welcome aboard dinner reservations for my group in a speciality restaurant so I called all my passengers with the details.
The EDGE cost 1.3 billion to build – making it the most expensive ship ever built. If you appreciate design you will really admire this amazing vessel. I had a meeting with a staff member who stressed the vision of the designers and I’m so glad she did because I then noticed many design features that I may of overlooked. There is certainly plenty to admire when sailing on the EDGE.
Captain Kate is in command and she is a marketing machine. She is the first American female with the Captain role on a Mega Cruise Ship. I don’t know where she finds all of her energy. She has become a Celebrity Cruise superstar. Some passengers make a point to sail the EDGE because they want to meet her – she has a huge fan base especially with younger cruisers. My brother, Darren is one of her admirers – he has chatted with her on line and follows all her instagram posts.
I was invited to a welcome aboard reception. I knew Captain Kate would be there so my goal was to get her picture. I then had the opportunity to be in that picture. When I mentioned my brother Darren she knew who I was talking about, so she grabbed my camera and made a video for him. How fun is that!
My passengers were excited about my welcome aboard dinner invitation. We dined in one of the Speciality Restaurants (Le Bistro) – a Le Petit Chef experience. This one-of-a-kind evening was originally exclusively on the EDGE but has now expanded to other ships in the fleet. In fact my recent Antarctica group had the pleasure of enjoying two nights at the Le Petit Chef. I don’t want to tell you about this culinary experience because it more thrilling if you don’t know what to expect. My group loved it!
Tonight’s entertainment in the theatre was a piano playing comedian. It’s hard for a comedian to please everyone – some enjoyed his show while others didn’t.
I just love the EDGE infinite balcony staterooms. They are a first. This new concept adds 23 extra sq feet to the typical stateroom size (major bonus) and the views from the floor to ceiling window is beyond spectacular – this mega size window brings the spectacular outside sea views inside. Every time I walked into my stateroom that view took my breath away. When the room steward closed the veranda blind in the evening I opened it again. I often kept that window open even through the night as I enjoyed the fresh air breeze and the sound of the EDGE moving through the ocean was so relaxing.
Monday February 17 – Key West
Our day in Key West started an hour later than scheduled because another vessel hindered our entrance into a small channel that Captain Kate had to get the EDGE through before arriving at the dock but even with the delay by 8am we were able to get ashore.
I met a few interesting people at breakfast in the Cosmopolitan Restaurant – a Jewish man that lives 5 minutes from the Trump compound in West Palm Beach (he teaches Opera) and a couple from Norway who have been sailing on the EDGE for a month and then they board the Oasis of the Seas for 2 more weeks of cruising before heading back to Norway. Sadly while on this ship a family member of theirs passed – Captain Kate conducted a service for them.
Key West is a wonderful port. In fact some of my passengers enjoyed their time so much they asked me to make sure they get on my not-yet-released, Key West tour.
Key West is actually closer to Cuba than Miami.
There are 4 smaller themed dining rooms that are included in the EDGE cruise fare along with some speciality (fee) dining rooms. My passengers scattered amongst all of them this evening.
I have encouraged them to try all the different complimentary venues. Each one of these restaurants features speciality items exclusive to that venue. __
I dined in the Speciality Fine Cut Steakhouse where the cuisine and service was exceptional. Many claim this is the finest fee restaurant on-board. As many of you know I am not a red meat/pork eater so I ordered the lobster that was pouched in lemon butter – so good!
Tonights production show was enjoyed by all. The main theatre onboard the EDGE is state-of-art. The stage is round and huge LED screens fill almost half the theatre so the technology is sometimes more impressive than the entertainers! The downfall is its too small for this size of ship – you need to arrive early to get a seat.
Tuesday February 18 – Day At Sea
It was a perfect weather day to be at sea – the sun was beaming and the seas were as smooth as ice.
Almost all of us gathered for an optional group luncheon in Cosmopolitan – delicious food with attentive service.
Late in the afternoon Captain Kate made an announcement that broadcast throughout the ship (even in the staterooms). She said she would be skipping the port of Costa Maya due to unrest – some protesters are closing roads etc and as Captain Kate stated her goal is to keep passengers and her crew safe. She is now going to head the EDGE directly to Cozumel and when a pier opens tomorrow evening at approx 7pm we will dock for an overnight stay.
Tonight’s dinner was at “Raw on 5” – this is not just a sushi restaurant – they have shrimp cocktail, stir fries, beef tenderloin on the menu….
Tonight’s show in the theatre was a Paul McCartney tribute – was very well done – the crowd loved it.
Wednesday February 19 – Day At Sea with Evening Arrival in Cozumel
It’s another picture perfect day.
Many of us gathered for dinner in the Cosmopolitan and later in the afternoon we enjoyed a Travel With Bradley cocktail reception in EDEN.
Captain Kate docked the EDGE at the newest port in Cozumel. A short distance from us was another pier where 2 Carnival Ships were docked.
EDEN consists of a cafe, lounge and restaurant. I dined at the restaurant this evening and the culinary experience may be one of the very best I have ever experienced. I had a prime seat overlooking the open air kitchen. The chefs here deserve to be named something other than a chef – they are true artists. Many of them work with tweezers and the 6 course meal is truly a masterpiece. I have no idea where else I could find a culinary experience quite like this one. Throughout the evening acrobats and singers performed in the restaurant. This was an added bonus that really wasn’t needed because the meal was so exceptional.
Two Carnival ships departed at 830pm and 9pm. From my balcony I had a beautiful view of their departures. I kept my balcony window open this evening. The air was fresh.
Thursday February 20 – Day In Cozumel
Eight other cruise ships joined us in Cozumel but surprisingly it wasn’t busy when I headed into downtown Cozumel. Celebrity and Royal Caribbean use the new International dock – there are a number of docks in Cozumel.
It was another beautiful day – highs of 86 and not humid.
The taxi ride to the core runs $8.00 and it doesn’t seem to matter how many people you have with you. It’s a flat $8.00. The taxis are more than plentiful and the drivers are friendly.
I meet some of my passengers in Cozumel so we explored together. You need to be willing to barter in the local shops or you are going to pay way too much. For instance I purchased a ring – first price was $250 and I walked away paying $50.00.
Not all the store fronts are occupied in the core but the majority are – name brand jewelry shops, silver shops, pharmacies (no prescription needed for many well known pharmaceuticals), souvenir shops and a few restaurants.
There are a few stores as you walk down the side streets but I noticed they offer lower quality merchandise.
There were a few armed army trucks roaming around. Of course keeping passengers safe is very important here because the cruise ships bring in much needed income.
The International port also features a number of shops along with a few chain restaurants – Margaritaville, Bubba Gumps Shrimp so its not necessary to head into the downtown core if you wish to shop.
I believe we were the first ship to depart – its quite the jaunt to Grand Cayman our next port of call, and as Captain Kate said she needs to move full speed ahead if we are going to arrive on time.
I heard wonderful things about the female entertainer who took the main stage this evening.
The light and martini show in the main atrium was entertaining – takes place twice an evening.
Friday February 21 – Grand Cayman
Grand Cayman is a tender port. I was hoping that we were going to have the opportunity to use the ship life boats to get ashore because I wanted everyone to see how beautiful they are inside and out (bucket seats/televisions) but the island tender service was used probably because they offer much larger boats to get people ashore.
I was on the first tender and spent 3 hours ashore. It was a steamy day but none of us were complaining because in a couple days we are heading back to Canada’s winter temperatures.
There are a number of stores that line the Main Street – most of them carry known jewelry brands. I guess there must be enough people spending 20G on watches to keep these stores operational. Cozumel offered a wider variety of things to buy and you could find deals. Grand Cayman has always had a “very expensive island” reputation.
Some of my passengers had a blast swimming with the dolphins and many took island tours that were purchased off the ship for $25 or $20 (depending who you were dealing with).
Saturday February 22 – Day At Sea
Another beautiful day. Last night was overcast and the seas were a little choppy but by 8am the sun was beaming and the clears cleared for us.
The balcony blind in my stateroom stays open all the time and I leave the window open some but the weather must have been blustery through the night as I noticed that Captain Kate must have hit the button to close all the balcony windows because it was closed when I awoke.
I start my day at Cafe al Bacio, where the staff member named, Princess brings me a Chai Latte made with Almond Milk. I notice the same passengers early every morning at this cafe. Every once in a while one of my group members spots me in the cafe and we enjoy a great chat.
I then head to the eatery at EDEN for a very light breakfast – fruit bowl. The EDEN eatery is never busy – its a hidden gem with a very limited but high quality menu.
Finally I visit the Tuscan Grille which is reserved for those who have sailed many times with Celebrity. I stay just long enough to enjoy a smoothie and then I am on my way.
At 1030am my passengers gathered for my disembarkation briefing.
That was followed by a private galley tour “just for us”.
Finally we gathered for a Farewell Cocktail Party in EDEN. It wasn’t busy so we had choice of seating.
The weather turned this evening – stormy, rainy and very windy. The EDGE due to its latest technology design easily handles miserable weather.
I had a reservation at the Rooftop Garden Grill. It’s the only speciality restaurant that I hadn’t dined in. I called to make sure they were still accommodating guests in this weather and they said yes. I ended up being the only one brave enough to eat outside (covered overhead) so I had two executive chefs and two wait staff looking after me. They brought me a blanket to wrap around me – the outside temperature was more than comfortable – it was the wind that was a challenge. The meal was exceptional. They have a special smoker that they use when cooking so the meats/fish are full of flavor. I didn’t order a dessert but they surprised me with one. A freshly baked cookie prepared in a cast iron pan, topped with ice cream. I was videotaping the dessert and the weather when a huge gust of wind came up and literally blew everything off the table. Luckily it just missed me. This is the best form of calorie control – the dessert looked so good!
Tonight’s production show in the theatre is the highest rated in the Celebrity fleet. The impressive thing about the EDGE theatre is the massive LED Screen that circles much of the theatre. The cast of singers and dancers are young and full of talent. I miss not having a live band behind them.
Sunday, February 23 – Homeward Bound
Remember I told you how easy it was boarding the EDGE. Getting off the ship was just as quick. I had my passengers gather in the theatre – we were the first group to disembark at 8:45am. When we walked into the arrival terminal we walked up to a terminal with face recognition capability. We all received the green light meaning we did not require any screening from a customs official. We then collected our luggage – only a handful with our #11 tags so quick to find. We then walked through the nothing to declare line and we were done. I called Adrian our coach driver and within 5 minutes he arrived at the terminal – we loaded luggage and were on our way. There were massive traffic jams due to traffic merging to one lane due to highway construction but we were in a special lane and avoided all the mess.
Dealing with Air Canada in Miami was a treat. They gave me 2 exclusive agents to check our group in so once again the process was very quick. They even offered to pre-board us on the flight ahead of the other passengers.
I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
Space on the Air Canada Rogue airbus was tight so I’m glad that the flight was just 3 hours. The young crew was friendly.
We arrived back to 4C temps and sunny skies but after such a wonderful cruise we are relaxed and tanned! Thanks to my wonderful passengers.
Our Falkland Islands experience was an “one of a kind” adventure.
Over a year and half ago I contacted the very best Falkland Island tour operator in order to book my passengers on his Falkland Island Volunteer Point excursion so we could visit the home of over 1000 King Penguins.
Only 200 visitors a day are offered the opportunity to visit Volunteer Point. There are 3000 passengers on the Celebrity Eclipse and over 2000 passengers on the Holland America Amsterdam which was also in port today so very get to mingle with the King Penguins.
I discussed this excursion with my passengers a number of times over the past year so they were very prepared for the day. We were ready to go ashore at 7am.
My experience paid off as I figured a way to get us off early – we were all on the first tender which ended up being a HUGE benefit. Boarding was a challenge because it was very windy and the sea was very choppy. I estimate the crossing took a good 20 mimutes. Getting off the tender was a bit of a challenge too because of the deteriorating weather conditions. The local operator was waiting for us. He was surprised that the ships tender service was operating.
We met our 6 very professional drivers and boarded their 4 x 4 vehicles. We were put on hold while the ship staff and port authorities debated what to do about the turbulent tender process.
Due to weather and sea conditions the Falkland Island port authority closed the port and tender service stopped but lucky for us we were already on the island.
Shortly we heard an announcement that tender services wouldn’t attempt to re-start until 3pm so we were told to start our journey. Communication on Falklands is a challenge – cell phones did not work where we traveled and wifi was non-existent.
Holland America didn’t end up unloading any passengers so when the port closed they departed.
Celebrity was in a bit of a bind – they also wanted to sail but there were around 300 passengers that got ashore and leaving us behind would be a major issue.
Volunteer Point is one of the worlds most unique destinations – its an adventure getting there which adds to the experience. The majority of the drive is through farmers fields – the farmer owns 55000 acres – our drivers were excellent and did the best to make the ride as smooth as possible by driving carefully and slowly but we still bounced all over the place – this is true off-roading – definitely a fun “amusement park” type experience.
Part way through our journey there was a washroom break at a farm facilities. There was also a bakery stand here for anyone that felt like a treat.
We were 30 minutes from Volunteer Point traveling through the farmers field when we received notice by radio for us to head back to the pier – weather conditions worsened.
In our 4×4 convoy there was another group in 6 vehicles – they turned around and we followed but our drivers started chatting and couldn’t understand the command for us to turn around especially since tenders were not running. They decided to be defiant and wanted to “make sure” that we needed to return. After a number of back and forth radio communications we heard a “Let’s Go To See Some Penguins” announcement so our 6 drivers turned their vehicles towards Volunteer Point and away we went.
Volunteer Point is a special place but it was extra special for us because my group of 24 + 2 Americans were the only ones there!
Before we got out of the vehicles to start our stroll another radio message arrived from the ship – we needed to be back by 2pm. This allowed us 40 minutes to “Walk With The Penguins”. I made sure my passengers understood we needed to adhere to this demand. We had more than enough time to get our wonderful pictures. Everyone was beaming when we arrived back to the vehicles. What an AMAZING experience.
It felt like we were competing on “The Amazing Race” as our experienced drivers headed back to the ship. My passengers even passed up the scheduled washroom break as they knew we needed to return to the ship.
Typically after visiting the Falkland Islands there is a long line of passengers waiting to re-board tender boats sailing to the ship. When we arrived at the pier there was a tender waiting “just for us”. Our local operator personally walked us to ship security and re-confirmed our passenger count with them. The ship staff was paged so they knew we were on our way and we were ushered on the tender.
There was a welcoming committee waiting for us when we arrived back on board – the documents officer and the hotel manager from Poland who I have dealt with on other cruises greeted us with big smiles. They were holding trays of hot chocolate to warm us up but the weather conditions had improved majorly – blue skies and next to no wind.
They kindly asked for us not to “spread the word” about our amazing experience on Falkland Island – after all over 2700 passengers did not get the opportunity to visit the Falklands but the 24 of us had enjoyed an “experience of a lifetime” with 1000 King Penguins.
Like they say “the early bird gets the worm”!
When I eventually find time to write my book this day will easily fill a chapter!
NOTE – Pictures will follow when wifi service improves.
As I write, Cape Horn – the tip of South America is viewable in the distance – its almost 7am. In a matter of minutes we’ll sail around this famous point. I’ve been lucky to have sailed around the tip of South America a number of times but I’ve never experienced seas as calm and skies as clear as today. There is barely a ripple in the water! Often visiting here is a “hold on to the railing” experience. We are fortunate for sure. Even our naturalist announced that today offered us the most perfect Cape Horn weather conditions she has ever experienced.
Our stay at the horn was 45 minutes. The Captain was gracious allowing equal time to view from the Starboard and Port side of the Celebrity Eclipse. From our balcony staterooms we had a front row seat. There was no reason to venture to the deck.
Remember in this part of the world one has to take the attitude that there is no poor weather – just poor clothing choices…..
Winds, the Drake Passage, currents along with Antarctica icebergs makes this “the end of the world” adventure a challenging one. In the past many mariners lost their lives in these waters.
Prior to the completion of the Panama Canal all trade ships were forced to sail around Cape Horn. Now there is little cargo traffic but Cape Horn provides a thrill for the most adventurous tourist traveler.
At Cape Horn its important to look at the sea and not just the land as there are a wide variety of whales, albatross and other birds to see.
The lighthouse at Cape Horn is manned in 6 month rotations.
Unlike many sailors from years ago, how fortunate we are to experience these waters in a safe, luxurious vessel.
After our wonderful visit our Eclipse Captain turned the ship south to Antarctica and we said our farewells to the souls of many “Cape Horn” mariners.
As luck would have it the Drake Passage waters were unusually smooth – there was barely a ripple in the water. There is often more motion in the Caribbean Sea than what we experienced during our Drake crossing. The notorious Drake Shake didn’t even attempt to make an appearance.
We all gathered for lunch in the dining room and my passengers were asking me when the seas were going to get rough…. some cruise passengers will be disappointed that we didn’t experience the Drake Shake but my passengers are lovin this smooth sailing experience.
January 25/20 – Schollart Channel/Paradise Bay ANTARCTICA
Welcome to the bottom of the world – “Antarctica” – also known the loneliest place on earth.
The Grandeur of Antarctica makes it an intriguing destination for all and we are finally here!
Antarctica is a “one of a kind” amazing destination that few will have the opportunity to experience. Even though I have luckily visited here a few times, this experience always brings me and many of my passengers to tears – happy ones. The world is an amazing place with many spectacular destinations but Antarctica is one of those “I just can’t believe I am here” places. Antarctica is also our cruise directors favourite destination.
Celebrity only has two sailings a year visiting Antarctica – who sails these waters is very restricted. We are making history today as the Eclipse is the LARGEST cruise ship that has ever sailed through these waters.
Antarctica is the coldest and windiest continent on earth. This journey is during their “summer” but the weather is more severe than our Canadian “winter”! We can’t imagine what their winter brings.
During the Morning we sailed Schollart Channel. In these waters we spotted many Humpbacks and Orca whales – one has to be aware as their colour blends into the steel coloured Antarctica waters.
We passed many massive natural sculptures called “icebergs” – all shapes and sizes – ice covers 98% of Antarctica. Above the water we see just 1/10 of the iceberg and 90% is under the water.
Just like a snowflake no iceberg is the same. Glacier icebergs are made from fresh water – hundreds or possibly thousands years of annual snowfall becomes very compressed and the bluer the iceberg the purer the water. An iceberg is 4 times more dense than the ice cubes in your freezer at home.
Antartica attracts the largest number of whales in the world. They navigate here because there is plenty of food which of course is most important for their survival – they eat a half ton in 22 hours and then take an eating break for 2 hours….
During the afternoon we visited famous, Paradise Bay. While the name may sound akin to some tropical getaway, this shimmering inlet is actually carved out of Antarctica’s mainland. It’s water a bit chilly unless you are a penguin or seal. This bay is home to a pair of naval bases.
The Captain allowed us extended views of this beautiful place. He made sure that those on both the port and starboard side of the Eclipse experienced wonderful views.
Today the penguins were not very sociable but the whales were plentiful.
Our Antarctica day was remarkable.
Today we continued to explore Antartica – Elephant Island.
One of the striking features about Elephant Island is that it’s glaciers are always on the move. This island is home to the biggest collection of glaciers that I have ever seen. As we approached the island we were welcomed by many penguins. It was very easy to grab pictures of them and they entertained us during our entire stay,
The fog was thick as we approached Elephant Island but it soon vanished on our arrival – how lucky!
After another wonderful Antarctica day it was tragic to learn about the passing of Kobe Bryan. I heard the first breaking news report on Fox News. Of course his passing was the topic of discussion throughout the ship.
On this cruise I’ve enjoyed my conversations with an acupuncturist from California. We discussed the Kobe Bryant tragedy shortly after we both heard the news. He explained that Buddhists believe that one needs to experience sorrow in order to know the feeling of happiness….. The world is big so we should see as much of it until it’s dark.
A day at sea – choppy seas this morning but calm seas and sunny skies arrived in the afternoon.
My passengers and I enjoyed a private tour of the ships galley lead by the head chef. His in-depth tour was appreciated by all- my passengers said it was the finest galley tour they have ever experienced.
We all gathered for lunch in the dining room.
Later we returned for a “Le Petit Chef” culinary dinner experience. My passengers enjoyed last weeks “Le Petit Chef” experience so much my they wanted to return. This weeks 3D show and menu was a totally new experience. Once again we all loved it.
NOTE – Pictures will follow when wifi access improves
The Robert Q shuttle driver had to contend with heavy Friday afternoon Toronto traffic so we arrived at Toronto Pearson 30 minutes later than scheduled.
My group of 24 gathered and met me at 645pm. It took some convincing but I was able to arrange a private Air Canada check-in for us so it was a really quick process. There was no wait at security either we soon were in the Lounge enjoying food and beverages (a “Travel With Bradley” perk). The staff in the premium lounge knew we were coming so they graciously reserved seats for us.
The 777-300 Air Canada aircraft was filled to capacity. Temperatures in Toronto were frigid, ice formed on the wings of the aircraft so the Captain had to have the plane de-iced.
The young flight attendants worked hard. The 2 meals that were served (choice for both dinner and breakfast) were very good.
Most of my passengers had a good rest on the flight to Santiago, Chile.
When I put this tour together many months ago Air Canada was flying direct to Buenos Aires but that didn’t route didn’t last long. The route now stops in Santiago and continues to Buenos Aires. In Santiago we got off the plane and went through security while the plane was cleaned and serviced,
Saturday, January 18/20
When we arrived temperatures in Santiago had already reached 88F and the sun was beaming. The continuation flight to Buenos Aires took 2 hours. We had a beautiful view of the Andes Mountains on take off and lunch was served.
After going through immigration in Buenos Aires, we gathered our luggage and were warmly welcomed by our professional guide, Anna.
We enjoyed a brief city tour on our way to our hotel – 5 star Sofitel. The last group I brought to Antarctica also stayed at a Buenos Aires Sofitel but that mansion location closed and this new Sofitel opened. It’s a stunning hotel in the most prestigious residential area of Buenos Aires. An upscale shopping mall is located across the street from the hotel and a quality handicraft market is a short stroll away.
Dinner was at one of the top steak houses in the city. Our leisurely paced, dinner was superb.
Sunday, January 19/20
After a bountiful breakfast in the elegant Sofitel boutique dining room we continued our city tour.
Lunch was at a top quality buffet restaurant.
We arrived at the port around 2pm. It’s a bit of a process checking in for a cruise in Buenos Aires. We were given a number and were eventually called to go through security. Check in followed. We then boarded coaches and headed to the Celebrity Eclipse – 5 minute drive through industrial port. Once we boarded the Celebrity Eclipse we were presented with a champagne toast. Our staterooms were ready. We attended an innovative safety drill and soon after we started to sail.
I invited my passengers to a “Welcome Dinner” -the Speciality Restaurant “Le Petit Chef 3D Dining Experience” was superb. The 3D “show” was so awesome ALL my passengers asked me to arrange a repeat experience later during the cruise.
It took 3 sailing days to reach Ushuaia – the southern most city in the world. Every day the sea was as smooth as ice but temperatures continued to fall day after day. Surprisingly there were still brave passengers laying outside next to the pool wearing bikinis!
During our sea days there were so many activities to attend, it was impossible to do everything.
My passengers gather daily for lunch in the dining room. As always enjoy mingling with one another.
The nightly entertainment in the theatre has been excellent. We especially enjoyed “Horizon” a entertaining Mo-Town 3 piece group based in Detroit. I think that show would be a wonderful addition to the “Walters Theatre” schedule – I’ll be providing my brother, Darren with their contact information.
Celebrity is well know for its excellent cuisine.
The Celebrity Eclipse was awarded “Best Ship in Fleet” for 2019. Its an honor that its crew wants to continue.
Thursday, January 23/20
We enjoyed our time in Ushuaia – the southern most city in the world. The weather was perfect. In fact during the afternoon temperatures reached 60F. This is the base for Antarctica cruises – a number of exploration ships are in port ready to make their journey through the Drake Passage. The Celebrity Eclipse is by far the largest ship making this journey (just 2 times this year). We hope that the Drake Passage is kind to us and does not provide a “Drake Shake” experience!
Tomorrow we will sail around the tip of South America – Cape Horn.
It will be a few days before I have wifi access once again.
Sorry, I would have attached many more pictures to this blog post but wifi connection is not powerful enough to upload them. I’ve been able to post pictures on Facebook – “Travel With Bradley” and “Bradley Walters”.
We are having an awesome time. You can’t beat a Celebrity Cruise Experience and how lucky we are to be sailing to exotic Antarctica.