The Innocents Abroad
Introduction: Just Somewhere to Begin
Everything has to begin somewhere, all essays and articles need an introduction, and so never let it be said that I was the one to break that mold. Hence, here is my introduction to "The Innocents Abroad."
OK, I know you have heard that title before, and so I credit it to Mark Twain, but I will talk more about that later under the heading "Off the Shelf." This essay or travelogue, however, is about a recent South Pacific cruise embarked on by my wife Kathy and I.
In fact, this started off as a poem and I had written ten stanzas of it before I decided poetry was the wrong direction (in reality I thought it was crap), and so I scrapped the poem and chose to write this piece of prose instead. I hope that was the right move, and am confident it was.
Some of you will remember my Cackleberry Farmer series. Well, if I was still on the farm I would have called this 'The Cackleberry Farmer Goes to Sea.' That has a ring to it don't you think? I did continue that series after I moved to town as 'The Lamb Street Chronicles' but 'The Lamb Street Residents Go to Sea' just lacks something or sounds downright silly.
Anyway, enough for the introduction. Let's move on to my account of the actual cruise. I must warn you that when I am not writing poetry or flash fiction I do tend to get a little verbose. I will try my best to not go 'overboard' (please excuse the pun).
- I originally intended this to be just one stand-alone article however due to its length (1700 words at last count) I have decided to make it two instalments. I thought it best to let you, the reader, know that here at the start rather than the end, and find yourself disappointed.
Spontaneous ... Who Me?
My wife says I am never spontaneous enough, that I rarely do anything on the spur of the moment, or off the cuff. Well, I must admit she is right. I am a planning kind of guy. I like to know what is happening a week or so ahead and have times and dates marked on a calendar. I rarely say, "Ok, Honey, jump in the car or bus and let's go.... to the moon or wherever," so it was quite a surprise to her when I said, "I have booked us on a cruise for a second honeymoon."
A little background information may be helpful here. Our first honeymoon was 36 years ago and somewhat of a disaster. Apart from a great first night in a plush hotel in Brisbane called the Crest International where we stayed in a honeymoon suite and were served complimentary lobster and champagne, the remainder of the week didn't exactly go to plan or could be remembered as the dream romantic getaway.
We planned a road trip to the Carnarvon National Park to camp and bush walk for a few days and to visit friends and family before and after who were unable to attend our wedding. The whole trip would incorporate about 2000 km.
Well, as we drove to the Carnarvons it began to rain. We had gone too far to turn back. The dirt roads were black soil which becomes slippery and muddy when wet and the despite my best efforts the car slid off the road and became bogged. We managed with one of us pushing and the other steering to get back onto the road and made it to the camping grounds, only to have to struggle to erect a tent in the pouring rain.
To make it worse the tent leaked and we were flooded out. We had planned to stay two nights but needless to say, those plans were scrapped. The rest of the journey was uneventful and not worth recounting here, though we did meet the family as planned.
So, booking this cruise was my chance to make up for the disastrous first honeymoon and plant new more pleasant memories in my wife's head, and I think it worked. I may have to try this 'spontaneity' thing more often.
Booking and Planning the Cruise
I had always envied others who said they had been on a cruise but, for some reason, always thought they would be too expensive for my budget. My father had always promised my mom to take her on a cruise 'one day' but they had never gotten there.
One day a friend told me that they had just returned from a cruise along the coast of Australia and had an amazing time. They said it wasn't that expensive if you book ahead and that I should check out an Internet site called Cruise Sale Finder.
Well, I did as my friend advised and found that by booking three months in advance that there were some great deals available. Some had on-board spending money or drinks packages included for free, but the one I chose gave me two passengers for the price of one, so a saving of over $1000 AU on the regular fare.
The cruise I chose was on the P & O ship 'The Pacific Aria' and was called the Pacific Island Hopper tour, for seven nights, leaving Brisbane and Visiting Noumea and Lifou Island in New Caledonia and Port Vila, Vanuatu.
I arranged travel insurance, booked one shore tour for Noumea, and arranged for my wife to be wheelchair assisted onto the ship ... all through the website. After that, it was just a waiting game that grew in excitement as the departure day came closer.
Day 1: Brisbane
Day 2: At Sea
Day 3: Noumea
Day 4: Loyalty Island (Lifou)
Day 5: Port Vila
Day 6: At Sea
Day 7: At Sea
Day 8: Brisbane
Day One. Bon Voyage
Well, the time actually flew, and before we knew it the departure day had approached. Bags were packed, luggage labels printed and attached, and passports in hand, so we drove to Brisbane to stay at our son's home overnight before boarding the ship the following day. A point to note is that you need to have at least six months remaining on your passport (after departure date) to be able to book a cruise. Fortunately, we both had nine months before expiry.
Embarkation went smoothly as the port terminal staff very efficient. It actually helped that Kathy was being wheelchair assisted because after checking in our luggage we just waited for a wheelchair to become available and were ushered past the lines of waiting voyagers and straight onto the ship, drama free.
In a previous life, The Pacific Aria was called the Ryndam, part of the Holland America Line fleet. However, once guests step on board Aria, any signs of the Ryndam will be long gone.
Both the indoor and outdoor decor was given a major face-lift, or in some cases completely replaced, during an extensive refurbishment in 2015. The renovations brought the vessel up-to-date with modern cruise trends.
With a 1,500 passenger capacity, the P&O Pacific Aria is slightly smaller than other cruise ships in Australia. Measuring 720 feet in length and spanning across 12 decks, she is the perfect-size vessel for short to medium length trips.
P&O Cruises Australia is a British-American owned cruise line with corporate headquarters at Carnival House in Southampton, England and operational headquarters in Chatswood, New South Wales, Australia. It has been awarded the award 'Best Cruise Operator in New Zealand' for four years running 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, and also 'Australia's Most Trusted Brand' 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 by Reader's Digest. (ref: cruisesalefinder.com.au and pocruises.com.au)
All Aboard: the Ship Sets Sail
This article is already over the 1000 word mark and by the end of this text capsule, I will have passed HubPages recommended maximum of 1250 words. if I had gone with my initial idea of writing it as a poem it would have been over and done in just 400 words and you, the reader, would have moved on to other hubs or articles.
I haven't even begun to describe the cruise itself yet so I doubt I am even halfway to completing this article, but I have come too far to turn back now, so brace yourself, the seas may get choppy.
Once on board, our first task was to find our room so armed with our onboard card which serves as room key and means of paying for everything on the ship and shore tours (it can be linked to your credit card or you can top up with cash with as much money as you think you will need), we took a lift to deck six where our room was located. Fortunately, room 6175 (I shall remember that for some time) is located very close to a set of elevators.
Our plan was to find the room, check if our luggage was there intact, then head off for lunch. The room itself was compact but fine as we didn't plan on spending a lot of time there other than sleeping. On a cruise ship there is no maximum luggage allowance, unlike the airlines, so unless you have to the port the ship leaves from, you can take as much luggage as you can fit in your room.
Unfortunately, one of my suitcases wasn't in the room, but we had been told to give it a couple of hours before worrying. We decided to go for lunch so we went to deck 11 to a food court type dining area called The Pantry. Well, there were probably a dozen food outlets serving multicultural fare from Indian, Mexican, Asian, French, Australian, as well as dessert and fruit bars etc.
Then, more than satisfied with our first sampling of the ship's cuisine we did a quick tour of the ship before walking along the deck back to our room. Voila, still no missing suitcase. So, I phoned reception and they informed me that there were a number of suitcases at the desk and I should come to check if mine was one of them. That I did, and yes it was. The luggage label had gone missing so they had no idea who it belonged to.
Now, with all our possessions intact we proceeded to unpack, then made reservations for dinner at the restaurants included in our tour price for the next three nights (The Waterfront, Angelo's, and The Dragon Lady), before taking a short rest to prepare for the evening and voyage ahead.
As this was our very first cruise we truly were two 'innocents abroad.'
(...TO BE CONTINUED...)
Off the Shelf
As a writer, it would be very remiss of me to not produce something about a recent South Pacific tour, and I had already planned to do so. That said, I can't really claim that the book titled by Mark Twain inspired this article. 'The Innocents Abroad'
However, as that book is in my collection I thought it was a perfect accompaniment to use as part of my 'Off the Shelf' series.
I HAVE FOUND OUT that there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.— Mark Twain in 'Tom Sawyer Abroad'
The travel book called The Innocents Abroad was published in 1869 and was the result of a voyage to Europe and The Holy Land undertaken by a young and then relatively unknown Mark Twain.
Under his real name Samuel Clemens he had worked as a printer's apprentice and later a journalist/reporter for various newspapers and magazines. In 1856 he dropped everything to pursue a dream of becoming a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi. He spent four years at the hem, learning every bend and snag in the river before the Civil war put an end to all river traffic.
In 1861 Clemens went to Nevada to prospect for silver but failed to make it rich other than a fortune in good yarns. Then in 1863, he joined the Virginia City Territorial as a reporter. Soon after, he began signing all his pieces "Mark Twain" after a riverboat cry used to announce water two fathoms (twelve feet) deep.
Soon after this, the now Mark Twain was sponsored by two newspapers, as a reporter, to cover the first ever chartered steamboat tour on the Quaker City to Europe and the Holy land. The letters he sent back to his sponsors were edited to meet the standards of "proper book" readers and resulted in the publishing of The Innocents Abroad. It is often called the book that launched Mark Twain's career.
In fact, The Innocents Abroad became the most popular travel book ever written by an American, and netting it's author around $300,000 dollars, a very princely sum at that time.
© 2018 John Hansen