Check The Batteries. Make sure the security and smoke alarms are operating properly in the house. My trigger-happy, shotgun-wielding, vodka-swilling brother-in-law will be house watching while we’re away. I do not want him to put a hole through the front door when he hears a low battery chirp coming from the system.
Bring Sunscreen. I’ve been told the Caribbean Sun is different than regular sun.
Bring Booze. Think you can’t bring alcohol on a ship? Try 20 or so shot size bottles mixed in with your cosmetics in each suitcase. It works every time.
Bring Sunglasses. Your eyes will be bloodshot.
Bring Chargers. Don’t forget cellphone, laptop, kindle, ipad, ipod, and game system. A Caribbean cruise is certainly no time to disconnect from the World Wide Web.
Print Documents. Make sure you print everything, especially the ones that are already downloaded on your cellphone, you never know when the battery will die.
For The Ladies. Make sure you have an extra suitcase for your shoes. You will need 7 pairs of flip-flops, because God forbid anyone sees you wearing the same pair twice at the pool. Bring your favorite walking shoes for land excursions, and your second favorite, and your old favorite in case they don’t work out. And bring the new ones you want break in too. You should bring a different pair of heels for dinner every night, and that really nice pair for the night you just might have dinner near the captain. And don’t forget your slippers for your stateroom. All told that’s 19 pairs of shoes, plus the ones you are wearing, 20. That should do.
Eat. While most people prepare by going to the gym so they can look great in that new swimsuit, I have reached that age where I really don’t give a shit what I look like. I practice eating for a couple weeks because I don’t want to look like a lightweight at the buffet.
Make Reservations. The breakfast, lunch, midday snack, and dinner buffet may not be enough. Reservations are required early for specialty restaurants.
Clean House. Make sure your own house is thoroughly cleaned before you leave. Especially the doghouse, you just might find yourself in it.
Too often we take what we have for granted. I came across an interesting blog post by a young traveler recently. She said her goal is to take a 7 day cruise. I felt a twinge of guilt as I read this because I cruise more frequently than I get dental cleanings. Here are 5 great tips to make your dream cruise possible.
Always use a travel agent when making a reservation. Most cruise lines have a fair market booking system. This means a travel agent pays exactly the same amount you pay. Then what is the advantage? Perks. When booking through an agent you can receive prepaid gratuities, additional shipboard credit, specialty restaurant comps, and maybe even a bottle of champagne in your stateroom. Additionally, you will receive more personalized service from a single point of sale.
Book early. The cruise industry is booming and savvy cruisers know what they want and don’t wait for it. (Don’t believe me? Check out the buffet line.) It’s frustrating when you find the exact right itinerary on the exact ship you want, only to learn the accommodations are sold out.
Prices will often come down from the time of your original booking. Check the policy with your agent in advance. If the price lowers, you can usually re-book at no charge prior to final payment. And check the higher level accommodations as well, it could be a no-cost upgrade.
Know your accommodation. This is another great place to utilize your travel agent. Some cruisers are perfectly okay with an interior stateroom, they feel they won’t be in their room very much and it is the single largest price saver. Others want to open doors to a seaside balcony. We prefer a Grand Suite or above. Each level of accommodation comes with specific amenities.
Book your excursions early. The catamaran with drinks and snorkeling at the turtle sanctuary? It’s sold out. Especially when you’re on a bigger ship, the excursions sell out well in advance of your sailing. If there is something specific you want to do, book early. However, you do not have to book an excursion with the ship. Research the area, find out what you want to do, and book or plan it on your own, you’ll save a ton. You do not need your agent for this. But be forewarned, if you choose to go on your own, research the area and culture. There are places that simply aren’t safe to go on your own.
Avoid the buffet. Okay, let’s be frank here, everybody and Uncle Charlie will begin their power eating competition the moment they board the ship. Avoid the buffet for the first few hours. Find a quiet place to sit and start soaking it all in.
For other information, like how to save more on bookings, avoiding ATM and international credit card fees, and the best itineraries, please send us a message. We have tons of valuable information, and even more great tips, and will soon be putting them into book form… Enjoy The Journey!
I find wherever I go people are generally supportive of my endeavours and some even a bit envious. But, “I can’t (or wish I could) travel like you,” is what I hear over and over again.
I don’t believe that. I believe if you want to travel, you can. But it helps if you follow our formula. SirOzzy’s aim is to help guide you on your perfect vacation. We want to help you decide where to stay and eat, and where to relax and play. We want SirOzzy to become a verb. “Wow, where did you get all that great information for your trip?” “I SirOzzy’d it!”
Yes, we have an amazing trip coming soon, but it wasn’t planned overnight. As with most trips the SirOzzy clan takes, this one took two years in the making. There is an infinitesimal amount of planning and organization that goes into a successful trip. The details can be overwhelming. Here we will begin to spell out and simplify the decision making process that goes into a vacation like this.
There are three key elements to the art of travel. Each piece has it’s own importance in the puzzle and will affect the outcome of another piece and thus, the trip itself. These pieces are Time, Location, and Money.
Let’s start first with the time frame. The busy time at Mrs. SirOzzy’s job ends every year in early February. The busy time in my career starts in March. Now we know February is a good time to travel. Lesson number one is plan ahead, there are way too many decisions to make in a short period of time.
Now begins the process of where do we go? This is the fun part. We could go virtually anywhere in the world, so before we decide where we’re going, let’s decide where we are not going. Europe is out, it’s too cold in February for us. Australia is out, we went just two years ago. Hawaii? No, too long a flight for what we want. Africa? No. Asia? Nope. The Caribbean? The weather is perfect in February and it’s fairly easy to get to from New York. Yes, the Caribbean it is.
The Caribbean. That’s kind of a big place, a little too big to conquer all at once. Let’s narrow it down. There are some amazing all-inclusive resorts and beautiful hotels in the islands. But for this trip I don’t think I really want to fend for myself too much and I don’t want to sit in one place for too long either. A cruise? I love to cruise. My favorite thing about cruising is that everyday you wake up you’re in an entirely new place, and you’ve done absolutely nothing to get there. Yes, a cruise it will be.
Our favorite cruise line is Royal Caribbean, for reasons we’ll leave to another post. Looking through the cruise book can be a bit overwhelming. The first thing we decide is where do we leave from. Bayonne, NJ and Baltimore, MD are both within driving distance and have cruises departing from there, but sailing the Atlantic during February can be unpleasant. We looked to leave from further south and found The Jewel Of The Seas is in Puerto Rico.
The Jewel is the first ship Mrs. SirOzzy and I went on together and has been our favorite ever since. On that ship was the first of many times I would ask her to marry me. Yes, The Jewel Of The Seas. Next, the itinerary. The Jewel has two different sailings in the month of February, both are 7 nights and both go to the southern Caribbean. One itinerary happened to also fall on our anniversary.
Simple, right? No way. Sure, you can just fly straight to Puerto Rico and jump on a ship, but why do that when you can go a few days in advance and acclimate and enjoy your trip even more? Besides, we have 2 weeks of vacation time, let’s use it.
We began to look at different hotels and realized, shit, we’re already down there, do we necessarily have to stay in Puerto Rico? No, we started looking at the surrounding US Virgin Islands. St. Thomas is not part of the cruise itinerary, and since it is part of the US there is no international flight required. Sounds good, but, hmmmm, there is one other option.
Key West is only a short flight to San Juan. One item that has been on my bucket list for a very long time is driving a convertible to Key West. We can get a direct flight from our local airport to Fort Lauderdale, we’ll rent a car from there. We’ll use our top secret code to get a deal on a room at the Hyatt next to Mallory Square.
Now we have a cruise and Key West. Coming off a cruise and going straight home is always a bit of a drag, so let’s stay one more night and take advantage of San Juan before leaving.
This didn’t happen over night. We began our planning two years ago and solidified the itinerary about 6 months ago. Here’s what it looks like now:
Day 1 Fly to Fort Lauderdale. Drive to Key West.
Day 2 Key West
Day 3 Key West
Day 4 Drive back to Fort Lauderdale
Day 5 Fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Cruise
Day 6 Sailing on The Jewel Of The Seas
Day 7 Bridgetown, Barbados
Day 8 Castries, St Lucia
Day 9 St. John’s, Antigua
Day 10 Philipsburg, St. Maarten
Day 11 St Croix, US Virgin Islands
Day 12 San Juan, Puerto Rico. Intercontinental Hotel, Isla Verde
Day 13 San Juan. Fly home.
Now that is what a two week vacation looks like.
As far as the 3rd part to planning a successful trip, Money? Shit, we’ll have to figure that out too, but we have two years to do it.
The period of time leading to a trip excites me as much as the travel itself. All the anticipation and planning is a better feeling than looking forward to Christmas Day when I was a kid. This is my Super Bowl. I love to travel, I love to write, and you get stuck with my blog.
I get lost in the planning. What airline will we be taking? What seats? Should we upgrade? Should we use miles? How do we get to the hotel? Taxi? Bus? Shuttle? Train? Private transfer? For any one trip I have a thousand questions that need to be asked. There was a time when I could just throw a clean pair of underwear in a backpack and go, without a care in the world. Now that I’ve reached middle age, I need to know EVERYTHING. I hate surprises.
And guess what? You get to know everything too. I’ve begun an online blogging course thru WordPress called Blogging 101. My aim has multiple fronts. First, I welcome critique in my writing, my ability to get my voice across. Secondly, I want to improve the blog site itself so I can gain more readers and followers. Maybe someday I will have enough followers that a great hotel wouldn’t mind having SirOzzy.com along to write a review.
SirOzzy will be traveling again next month. We’ll be flying from Long Island to Fort Lauderdale, where we will pick up a car for our drive to Key West. From there, we head to San Juan for a Caribbean cruise. For the next month I will publish posts detailing what it takes to plan and organize such an undertaking.
In the meantime, I’m open to all critique and hate-mail. I’ve always been a tad envious of people that have stalkers. Enjoy The Journey.
If I was a geologist, this post would start 85 million years ago. I would describe, in all it’s scientific glory and details, how a large landmass, now Australia, split off Antarctica and drifted north, into the Pacific Ocean. Over the next 20 million years there were smaller splits which created New Zealand and Tasmania. New Caledonia, the Vanuatu Archipelago, and the Solomon Islands were also created by these seismic events. But I am not a geologist, so you won’t be bored with what happened between then and 4,000 years ago.
I am also not an Anthropologist. If I were, I would be able to tell a tale of the first inhabitants of these untouched and dormant tropical islands. Four thousand years ago a small group of Melanesian fishermen set off in their outrigger canoes in search of God-knows-what. We can safely assume they got lost in a storm, or stuck to a whale they were chasing. Whatever the cause, 1,000 miles west of Australia, they came across these volcanic islands and made them home. But I am not an anthropologist, so I won’t bore you with what happened for the next 4,000 years.
If I was a Historian, I would tell the story of Frank McLoughlin, a young man from Hell’s Kitchen who joined the Army Air Corps in 1941. Taken from a life on the tough streets of New York he was trained to be a turret gunner on the B-24 bomber, also known as a flying coffin. He flew 50 missions, fighting Japanese Imperialism, during World War II in the South Pacific campaign. On one particular mission, while being swarmed by enemy firepower like a nasty hive of bees, he shot down 2 Japanese Zeroes and returned safely to the Solomon Islands from the Philippines. Seventy years later he was recognized for his acts of bravery and heroism, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross Medal. But I am not a historian, and will save that story for the future.
If I was a Sociologist, I would tell the story of Staff Sergeant McLoughlin’s Grandson. Fifty years after Frank’s heroics, a young man was taken off the streets and found himself in a cold and dimly lit prison cell in Elmira, New York. The first 2 books he read since childhood were by James Michener: Hawaii and Tales From The South Pacific. Each book he read 3 or 4 or 5 times, not because he loved them so much, but because that’s all he had. Reading was his only chance of escape and there was no better place than The Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, and The Vanuatu Archipelago. Deep in his soul, he knew he would never get to those places. But I’m not a Sociologist, and won’t bore you with what happened to him for the next 25 years.
What I have become, however, is a traveler. So, in February, 2014, just a few weeks after the wedding of the century, my new wife and I set off on a dream cruise. The itinerary would have us depart from Sydney, Australia and take us to various islands in the South Pacific, belonging to both New Caledonia and the Vanuatu Archipelago.
Our exploration was on Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas. Staying in an Owner’s Suite entitled us to the best amenities and services offered, and man, did we take advantage of that. As a suite guest, there are no lines anywhere and our personal concierge is at our beck and call. We spent most evenings on this 12 night cruise in the Concierge lounge, with a top-shelf open bar from 4 to 9 every night, complete with private bartender.
Although we had spent the last 2 weeks exploring Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef, it wasn’t until we were on the ship with 2,500 people that we really learned what the Aussies are like. Generally speaking, they weren’t the most inviting, at first. It seemed like most needed to say hello (G’day) and see us a few times before opening up. But once they warmed up to us, they became friends for life.
And then there was John and Rose, from Tasmania. We met this interesting couple at dinner on our first night. John was a character, zingy one-liners flew faster than nautical miles. He quickly let us know he was from Tasmania, not New Zealand. He didn’t like Kiwis, his sheep were much healthier and handsome than any from that untamed nation below his. Not to mention the horrid things those New Zealand Neanderthals do to their sheep. Yes, the men are men, but the sheep are afraid.
He was fascinated when he discovered we were from the States. “I once went to Los Angeles. Is it very far from New York?” Not particularly, John. ” Well, I tell ya, I was there. Couldn’t believe how many coloreds there was. Bunch a big niggers everywhere. Got on an elevator with one. Bigger than a milk cow. So I says to this colored man, you just the biggest nigger I ever seen. Didn’t mean nothing by it, we don’t see too many coloreds down under, but damn he had a temper, thought he was gonna kill me, don’t know why. But the funny part, he was a queer to boot!” John let out a boisterous roar, and Rose, nodding and parroting, laughed too.
The next 11 nights we spent avoiding Tasmanian John and Rose, not always with great success.
By the second day sailing most men, and quite a few women, were thoroughly wrecked and that’s when the chants started. Aussie!, Aussie!, Aussie!, Oi!, Oi!, Oi!!!! “What the hell is that?” Gail says to me. I explained, that’s their national chant. We heard it often, typically at the conclusion of an AC/DC song played poolside, or Olivia Newton-John in the Karaoke Bar. “That’s stupid,” says Gail. And off we sailed to New Caledonia.
Noumea is the capitol and largest city of New Caledonia. A welcome sight after days at sea, it rose in the morning thru an eerie fog. I thought of Skull Island, that dark and foreboding home to King Kong. I expected to see natives shaking torches at me and banging drums. But it wasn’t like that at all, mostly.
As is typical with Gail and I, we didn’t follow the cruise crowd after tendering to the mainland. Instead, we ventured off to the tiny island of Amadee. By my estimation, this remote little island in the middle of the South Pacific couldn’t have been more than 8 acres in total. The only semi-permanent construction on the island is a decades old lighthouse, which was offered up for climbing and viewing. The inhabitants of Amadee consists of the lighthouse keeper and his seemingly understandable and equally anti-social wife.
The greatest feature of the island, though, was the beach. While larger than most Caribbean beaches, it was just as magnificent. Within minutes I was snorkeling with giant sea turtles and the infamous, and highly venomous, striped sea snakes. Though their poison apparently packs quite a wallop, I understand these snakes are virtually harmless. Their fangs are set deep in the back of their narrow mouths. In order to be struck by one, you would have to literally stick your finger down it’s throat. But I wasn’t going to take that chance and opted for a BBQ luau lunch with the local grass skirt girls.
Dinner that night introduced us to the only other Americans on the ship. With this retired Los Angeles detective and his Cuban born wife, we laughed thru several nights and plenty of wine. They were a pleasant respite from the locals, especially Tasmanian John.
After a day in Lifou, of the Loyalty Islands, we discovered Vila, Vanuatu. We hired a local taxi driver, Alberic, to be our personal tour guide for the day. A native to this region, Alberic happily obliged us for the day. After seeing our general disinterest at the tourist friendly Turtle Sanctuary, Alberic realized we wanted something a little more off the beaten path.
Off the ocean, past the farms and small villages, we entered a jungle. Through the dark woods we drove to where, Alberic told us, only the locals go. Alongside a stream we began to see an occasional wooden kayak and locals milling around. The stream was so clear, at first I thought it was empty. Before we knew it, we were in a dirt parking lot with the smells of BBQ and locals running around. “We’re here,” said Alberic.
By “here”, he meant the most amazing blue water hole I could have ever imagined. The water was so clear and clean it was like swimming in cool air. I spent hours swimming. This was the South Pacific of my dreams.
We finished our day drinking cocktails at The Warwick Hotel at La Lagon, a beautiful resort just down the road from the cruise port in Vila. While there were no passengers from the ship, it seemed like half the crew was playing in the pool. We laughed at our fortune and thanked Alberic for a wonderful day.
The next day brought us to Champagne Bay, on the largest of the Vanuatu islands, Espiritu Santo. Following that we arrived at Luganville, located on the backside of Espiritu Santo. Here we met Linesse, another local taxi driver willing to be our tour guide for the day.
As friendly as Alberic was, Linesse knew her history. We spent hours at another local water hole, known locally as “blu ho”. Linesse was a walking encyclopedia of World War II knowledge. When I mentioned my Grandfather was a veteran she really opened up. She showed us the roads that the Americans built 70 years earlier. To this day, not a pothole anywhere. She pointed out an area where American troops hid tanks and other heavy artillery. It was a heap of thick brush. “We call that American Vine.” In addition to weapons, apparently we brought over the vine to hide them.
Something that did not come as a surprise was that every island had absolutely amazing beaches. Mystery Island, on day number 9 was no exception. A completely uninhabited island in the Archipelago, we had another day of snorkeling with sea turtles and reef sharks. Our tans were perfected. But truth be told, at this point in the trip, we were ready for some city life.
Evenings on the ship continued to consist of drinks at the concierge lounge and your traditional corny cruise entertainment. We walked out on a number of comedians, as they were recycling old Henny Youngman style slapstick comedy. We could hear Tasmanian John and Rose cackling from across the theatre. But we also met some great people along the way. Michael and Vicky were one such couple. Michael is an executive chef at a 4 star retaurant and restored our faith in Tasmanians.
We met these two in the lounge and shared plenty of drinks together. Back at Champagne Bay we sat beachside and smoked cigars. I could talk to a chef about his craft for days.
Twenty five hundred passengers on a ship sure seems like a lot, but somehow, we manage to continually bump into the same people over and over. So it was disconcerting when we hadn’t seen Michael and Vicky in a number of days. And there we were, on the Isle of Pines, appropriately named by Captain Cook, when we saw Vicky. Practically crawling behind her came Michael, with his face bandaged from side to side. “What in the name of New Caledonia happened to you?” As it turned out, after we shared a few drinks and a smoke at Champagne Bay he decided it would be good idea to go for a swim. Diving headfirst into the water he face-planted smack into an old coral bed, breaking his nose and ripping off half the skin on his face. He vouched for the Medical Staff on Royal Caribbean, and we had another drink and laughed our asses off.
We spent the next two days sailing back to Sydney. We laughed as we heard the old Men At Work tune, I come from a land down under. When that song played poolside, it was as if the ship stopped, everybody, and I mean everybody, sang along. And then the chants of Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!
James Michener, my favorite author, once said about the people of Vanuatu, “…the friendliness of the peoples, their infectious smiles and their open heartedness will remain forever one of life’s treasures.”
We spent nearly a month traveling various parts of the South Pacific, but to say we even saw any of it, is like asking if you know the big guy in an elevator in Los Angeles.