~ Cruise: Rome to Dubai ~

By Kathryn

The stellar Norwegian Star.

Greetings from Singapore, where we are waiting out the three weeks between the two cruises of our sabbatical. Based on how well the first one went, we are now contemplating adding a third to our itinerary: it was that amazing. We’ll see if the Celebrity Millennium can measure up to the Norwegian Star. Take it from Sam:

The best things about the cruise were the kids’ club, the buffet, the stir frys, the evening shows, the ice cream machine, and the art gallery. My only complaint is that twenty-one days was not long enough. I would have been happy to stay on board much longer and even to live on the Star, especially if we could have unlimited wifi. Everyone was really nice.Sam

All the people we met on board seem to have enjoyed the cruise just as much as Sam did, though in different ways: we met the friendly, interesting onboard bridge instructors and heard great things about their lessons from some of the students, we sat next to a few older couples dressed to the nines in anticipation of an elegant meal or dancing after the evening show, and we even exchanged home schooling strategies with a Russian acrobat family living on board for six months.

We weren’t at all sure how we’d manage our road schooling and sabbatical writing in a tiny stateroom on a crowded ship, but “sea school” and “sea sabbatical” were both complete successes. On top of that, Patrick and I used the onboard gym to get rid of the twins we were carrying, known affectionately as pasta baby and baguette baby in tribute to the foods that put them there. I completed the “Couch to 5k” running program and am now jogging away from my excess flab at the rate of 25 kilometres a week. Patrick did a weight-training boot camp and rediscovered his six-pack abs, aided by our decision to give up alcohol for the duration of the cruise. It was a welcome change after dozens of bottles of French and Italian wine during September and October, and we’re tempted to stay on the wagon indefinitely.

The bijou size of our stateroom took some getting used to after two months in spacious rented houses, but we adjusted quickly and it soon felt as much like home as any of our rentals. There was a place for everything as long as everything was put back in its designated place. Our cabin steward, Roy, went out of his way to make sure that Sam felt welcome by surprising him with an elaborate towel animal each day. It was a delight to come home at the end of a full day of adventures knowing that we would have one final discovery thanks to Roy.

Our itinerary took us from Civitavecchia in Italy to Dubai, with ports of call in Naples and Sicily, Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates along with five at-sea days. We developed a port-day routine and a sea-day one that allowed time for a daily workout, a visit to the thermal suite (with two hot tubs, lap pool, sauna, steam room, for an extra charge but worth every penny), sea school and sea sabbatical work, and plenty of fun activities on board. We loved most of the evening shows, especially the ones with acrobats and dancers, and Sam discovered an unexpected passion for art thanks to the excellent presentations by Park West Gallery during our at-sea days. He is now able to identify the artist and medium of every single painting displayed on board the Star, and has been sketching with real enthusiasm. He’s even started his own art collection, his first acquisition being a limited-edition signed print by Australian artist Donna Sharam. Unsurprisingly, it’s a koala. We were especially excited to discover that the auctioneer on board, Samantha, is moving to Ottawa to take up a job at Shopify – we’ll look forward to reconnecting with her after our sabbatical both because we adore her and because we’d love to get a behind-the-scenes peek at her amazing new workplace.

We quickly learned to organize our at-sea days around Samantha’s auctions. Our morning routine was to drop Sam off at the kids’ club after breakfast, hit the gym and thermal suite, and then have a bite to eat before the pre-auction viewing at 12:30 followed by the auction itself from 1-2. After that we parted ways to get our work done in the afternoon. Sometimes there was an art talk at 3:00, and Sam learned a lot from these, so they became a valued part of sea school alongside daily math and language arts lessons (because history and geography are taking care of themselves). Gym class was soccer, golf, or shuffleboard, followed by waterslides and a dip in the pool.

Meanwhile, I quickly adapted to my new office in the spa’s relaxation room, where I was usually alone enjoying the cucumber water, soothing music, and wall-to-wall sea views. I should probably dedicate my book to the spa staff since I wrote my entire theoretical introduction there. After a good writing session I’d adjourn to the top deck pool area, meeting the boys for a soak in the hot tub followed by dinner at the buffet or in Aqua, a table-service restaurant with a great atmosphere and delicious options on the kids’ menu. We found it easy to make healthy choices in both the buffet and Aqua, and especially enjoyed the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables and overall excellence of the food on board. Sam had a stir fry at least once a day, made to order by our friend Ricardo, who has a son just a little older than Sam back in his home country, the Philippines. We caught the 7:30 show most nights, and usually there was a third daily hot-tub session back at the spa, which may be the reason that despite running every day for 21 days I never had sore legs or feet.

Our routine for port days had many of the same elements because we made the decision not to do the ship’s tempting but pricey shore excursions. We managed to see and do a lot on our own:

  • Civitavecchia, Italy (waking up feeling entirely ready to leave Italy thanks to an earthquake)
  • Naples, Italy (wandering through the piazza and stocking up on Halloween candy in a gourmet grocery store and drinking a final caffe macchiato)
  • Messina, Italy (taste-testing candidates for Sicily’s best cannoli)
  • Limasol, Cyprus (a surprise favourite with great food and friendly locals in a charming setting – we’d like to go back for a longer visit)
  • Olympia, Greece (eating souvlaki with the most delicious pita at a lovely family-owned restaurant and wandering near the port)
  • Athens, Greece (discovering the roots of theatre and democracy at the Acropolis)
  • Haifa, Israel (a super science museum, the gorgeous Baha’i gardens, and great food on the terrace at Fatoush, a local legend)
  • Aqaba, Jordan (swimming in the Red Sea at the Intercontinental, Sam learning to make sand art from a merchant who then gave him the fruits of his labour, free of charge)
  • Egypt (riding camels in the desert near a Bedouin village)
  • Salalah, Oman (Sam bargaining hard for souvenirs in the souk)
  • Muscat, Oman (strolling the charming corniche and happening upon a fantastic museum and contemporary art gallery in an old house where we were the only visitors)
  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates (discovering that Sam loves this city as much as I do, hatching a plan to return on our homeward journey)

We were very sad to say goodbye to the friends we’d made among the passengers and crew of the Star, but fortunately the cruise ended in Dubai, one of my favourite places on the planet. We’d contemplated moving there about 10 years ago when Patrick was offered a job as a corporate trainer, but then Sam came along and we felt that Canada was a better choice for our family. We don’t regret that decision at all, but it was great to be back and fascinating to see how Dubai has grown in Sam’s lifetime. With the current preparations for Expo 2020 and the celebration of the UAE’s 50th anniversary the following year Dubai is still expanding at an incredible pace, so we expect that when we do go back we’ll notice at least as many changes there as you’ll notice in Sam when we’re back from our epic year. During the cruise we were complimented so many times on our well-mannered, well-spoken, interesting son, and on our decision to show him the world this way. I think it’s been a good trip for all of us so far, and it’s hard to believe that we’ve only been gone for four months. We’ve seen and done so much already, and I know that we’ve all learned and grown, not just Sam.

So far the destinations have been pretty easy, but Singapore marks the start of three months in Asia and we’re already experiencing some initial culture shock. I’ve rented us an apartment outside the usual tourist areas, and Patrick’s was the only non-Asian face at the grocery store yesterday when he went to pick up some essentials. Today Sam and I joined him on a second grocery expedition and we were the only non-Asians in the entire street of markets and food stalls. Sam and I are being cautious with the food because of our allergies, but Patrick had his first of what I expect will be many dinners from the local hawker stalls and then I made a similar menu for Sam at home. This will be trickier to pull off for lunch on a sightseeing day, but I have a plan to keep us safe from peanuts while Patrick gets the full Asian experience.

So far we are enjoying our resort-style apartment complex, which has 21 pools including one filled with underwater exercise equipment and another with an aquatic playground. There’s a decent gym where I ran today’s 5k in air-conditioned comfort, and, inexplicably, there are two steam rooms, which is gilding the lily since Singapore is one giant steam room averaging 32 degrees Celsius and 90+% humidity.

As soon as we’ve adjusted to the climate we’ll start doing some sightseeing, but hanging around the complex was a perfect way to spend our first day. I’ll check in before our Celebrity cruise to let you know how we’ve adapted to life in steamy Singapore. Until then, jumpa lagi (see you later)!

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