Ending 2023 with Reflections on a Year Cruising the World

Day 10, 2023 Holiday Panama Canal Sunfarer

Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023; Caribbean Sea

I greeted the last day of 2023 with an hour of precious solitude, sitting alone in the Lido Restaurant on a ship with 2,000 passengers. I accomplished this feat by getting up at 5:15 a.m. and watching the sun rise.

As I reflect on my year of living for 10 months on two cruise ships, I know I am blessed. Yes, I have made sacrifices – giving up the stability of a long-term home, missing my friends and family, foregoing the opportunity to do my own laundry and make my bed. OK, not so much that, yet occasionally I do miss cooking.

But oh, what a year it has been! It started with the 2023 Grand World Voyage, when we stressed over passing a covid test to board. It is ending with stress over getting a Brazilian visa for the 2024 Grand World Voyage, which starts on Wednesday. (I’m still waiting for final visa approval.)

I’ve sailed to six continents; gone on safari in Africa; shivered in early spring snows in both Norway and Antarctica; basked in the sun and heat of the South Pacific, Africa and the Amazon; bumped into friends in Scotland and the Netherlands and sailed through stunning fjords in Chile, Greenland and Norway. I’ve explored cities from Sydney to Cape Town to Boston, from Amsterdam to Rio to Buenos Aires. I’ve written and published 149 blog posts, with about 111,000 words (enough for a full-size novel) and 2,348 photos.

We missed a few ports Madagascar due to a typhoon, Dakar due to riots and tear gas, and the Falkland Islands, Guernsey and Punta del Este for rough seas. We gained a few new ports — Santos, Brazil; Corner Brook, Newfoundland; and Port Canaveral, Fla., giving me an opportunity for an overnight visit with friends I met earlier in the year. I’ve made many new friends on the ships (Zuiderdam and Zaandam), as well as through this blog, including one who took me to breakfast during a stop in Fort Lauderdale.

If it weren’t for the friends I see repeatedly on cruises, I doubt I would choose this lifestyle. Many go back six years to my first grand cruise in 2017. Some even back to 2011 and a 45-day cruise to the Mediterranean with my mother. And others I’ve just met, but we quickly become fast friends.

Meanwhile, since I last posted we have visited Willemstad, Curaçao; Cartagena, Colombia; Colon, Panama (following a partial Panama Canal transit to Gatun Lake) and Puerto Limón, Costa Rica.

In Cartageña we took a city tour that included a visit to a small fishing village surrounded by high-rise apartments and condos. One fisherman demonstrated the technique of casting the nets.

Then we walked through the old city that lies behind thick walls. It is full of vendors and emerald jewelry stores. I had a few minutes to listen to music coming from the church, which reminded me of a similar experience in Tonga in 2020. I thought I might stop for a Colombian coffee, but the only place I could find was Starbucks. Now, I do like Starbucks and frequent it often back in the states. But it just didn’t seem right this time.

To return to the ship in Cartageña, you pass through the Port Oasis Eco Park and its up-close encounters with anteaters, monkeys and tropical birds.

Our cruise director Kimberly provided an outstanding narration of our canal transit, not only giving us details about the canal and its history, but also about the ships we encountered – their sizes, purposes and planned itineraries. During the few hours we anchored in Gatun Lake, many passengers disembarked on tenders to take shore excursions, later joining us during our brief stop in Colón just outside the canal.

After 60-something years without transiting the Panama Canal, I’ve made up for it this year with three visits — and I’ll be back in less than a month for a fourth.

Passing through the whole canal is a great experience, but I would recommend the partial transit for anyone who can’t do the whole thing. It is amazing to see how big ships, with just a foot or two of clearance on each side, rise through the locks and back down.

Willemstad is a fun port and easy to explore on your own. We docked next to the floating bridge that connects the two sides of the city. I lucked out with a front-row seat at a waterside cafe and returned to the ship with lots of photographs of street art and the colorful buildings.