The Mediterranean is chilly in the Fall, ranging from 48-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Anybody coming from San Francisco will feel right at home. The cruise ship was packed with a couple thousand explorers. Not only that, there were three other ships just as large following a similar itinerary. Pretty good for the tail-end of the season in a supposedly difficult economy.
One of the best ways to travel is via a really large boat. Every other day you’re waking up to a new city. There’s never a need to pack and unpack your bags. Meanwhile, the amount of activities on board is endless. If you like service, food, travel, and a variety of entertainment, then cruising is for you.
Another positive about cruising is that you really have to time to observe your surroundings. You’re captured, with nowhere to go, except for perhaps the tennis court on the top deck and the buffet line right below. When you’ve had your second helping of peach cobbler ala mode and are relaxing in the jacuzzi tub, all you’re doing is contemplating. In addition to coming up with a mercurial plan of writing full-time from a cruise ship for $12,000 a month, I learned a lot of things that I’d like to share with you.
LESSONS LEARNED AFTER 12 DAYS AT SEA
• Rules and old habits die hard. During formal night, we sat next to a well-dressed couple in their late 60s. They were from Indiana and it was clear Diana wore the pants. Diana’s husband Bob wanted to eat the final morsels of meat on his lamb chops by hand like I did, instead of by silverware. Diana wouldn’t let him, so he methodically and obediently listened. Fifteen minutes after I had already finished my lamb chops, Bob finally exhaled a sigh of relief. It was as if he burned more calories trying to eat than he consumed! He still looked hungry.
• There is no substitute for good service. When we checked into our room, we were greeted by Deden, our porter assigned to our particular wing of the ship. He told us that if we needed anything, to not hesitate and give him a ring. He brought us fresh fruits and a copy of the latest New York Times and Financial Times every morning without fail. Deden also even helped look for our missing Croatian Kuna that was mistakenly left at home. Deden was cheerful every single day. He showed me that it doesn’t matter what we do, so long as we do it with grace and good attitude.
• Waiting until we are old is a mistake. Over 70% of the passengers were over 60 years old. Several were in wheelchairs and many had walking canes that also served as expandable stools. At each city, we spent 5-7 hours walking. We were exhausted, but we were constantly smiling given there was something different to see at each turn of the corner. I kept thinking to myself how I’ll be able to walk around so sprightly when I’m 65. My knees won’t be able to go more than 100 steps! Don’t wait until you are old to see the world. You might not be able to do it.
• Where are all the younger folks, protesting? I often wondered where the rest of the demographics wandered. On the island of Kortula, Croatia, we met three such people in their mid 20s. A teacher, a writer, and a marketer. Together, they were vacationing from London, just a short 2.5 hour flight away. Their friend had a house in the hills overlooking the ocean and had never considered going on a cruise. They had no idea about all the restaurants, shows, activities, and educational classes one could take. Now they know and are thinking of planning a cruise next year.
• Going on strike is counter-productive. Our ship of 2,000 couldn’t dock in the port near Athens because the dockworkers decided to go on strike. Each of us would have spent on average $50, which would amount to $100,000 injected into the local economy. Multiply $100,000 by the five other ships who wanted to come visit, and that’s $600,000 a day. Given the strike lasted 2 weeks, that’s $8.4 million dollars in lost revenue for the Greek who depend on tourism money to survive. The protesters are only hurting themselves as the money is diverted to another city of workers who are working hard for their money.
• The older we get, the more we are aware of our mortality. I started talking to an elderly lady about politics in the live jazz lounge one evening. She said, “I’ll be gone in 10 years, so I don’t care so much about what happens to me. But, I fear for my children and the debt our government has put us in.” To be able to come to grips with the reality that one might not be around in 10 years is both courageous and frightening. I know I will die one day, but I never assume that it will be within 10 years. It’s all fine and dandy to say that we should live today as if it were our last, knowing full well that it likely wont be since we’re only in our 20s, 30s, and 40s. It’s another thing to say those same words in your 70s.
• Having money buys you freedom and happiness. A 12 day cruise costs around $2,000 for higher floor room, in the center of the ship with a private balcony per person. Given that you’ll likely go with someone, let’s double that expense to $4,000 and add on another $2,000 for tours and special events. Double the total again, a couple could live an adventurous life with one child on about $12,000 a month or $144,000 a year after tax. Two people each making $5,000-$10,000 a month in passive and active online income is very feasible if you spend 20-30 years trying to get there. Some do it in way less time. Take it from someone who just 2.5 years ago had $0 online income.
• Going on vacation isn’t a license to be stupid with your money or your health. I can put on 10 pounds, in just one week if I’m not careful. Given this was a two week cruise, I was being extra mindful of what I ate until someone told me, “You’re on vacation, just go crazy!” Of course the person telling me was super skinny. Easy for you to say, I thought to myself. The same thing goes with money. I was at the poker table when a husband whipped out two $100 bills and gave them to his wife. “We’re on vacation, so go have fun playing craps. But remember, only on vacation!” It makes no sense to go way outside your normal spending and eating habits due to the repercussions when you return. Someone has to pay off the bills and go spend 100 extra hours at the gym. It’s not worth going too far outside the norm.
• Only fit people work out at a cruise gym. There aren’t a lot of healthy looking people on a cruise. Age + an abundance of all you can eat food does that to waistlines. Yet, it’s only the fit that I see at the gym. I sat down for a “Secrets to a Flatter Stomach” seminar, conducted by this beefy South African fella. He reminded us to avoid processed foods, caffeine, coffee, tea, desserts, sodas, alcohol, and basically anything that puts the liver into overdrive. We should eat anything we can “Pick, Skin, or Pull”, letting our liver process that fat into sugar, and allow our metabolism to speed up and our muscles to eat. Eat more seaweed he told us. It’s the best alkaline base food one can consume to counteract all the acid and toxins we eat.
• Some things are worth spending on. There were two things I spent money on which I would probably cringe spending on if I were back at home. The first thing is $100 for 250 minutes worth of “high-speed” satellite internet access. That comes out to $0.40 a minute, which equals $25 an hour. I spent 45 minutes on average a day for 12 days = 6 hours of use for $225. I felt it was important to somewhat stay in touch with the community (bet you couldn’t tell I was gone!). The second thing I splurged on was the 12 day spa access for two for $295. The spa contains an indoor heated pool, massage jets, multiple whirlpools, steam room, sauna room, heated beds, all the fruit and juices you can drink, and a private place to just relax. There’s nothing better than getting into a hot tub after walking for 7 hours!
• Everybody works hard. I spoke to our waitress Angely from Indonesia and she says she puts in 11 hour days. I asked her how many days a week she works, and she said, “From Monday to Monday, every day sir!” Wow, hardcore! She responded it’s a lot of hard work, but she was also glad to be able to send money back home to her family in Jakarta. She gets to vacation two months a year, and she’s not complaining. The cruise director said he works 9-12 hour days depending on if the ship is docked or not and takes no days off either. In fact, nobody gets a day off, just time in between shifts to unwind. Yes, I do not believe there are people who work 40 hours a week or less and complain why they can’t get a head. Thank you Angely, Deden, John, and the entire staff for reminding us to up our game and take nothing for granted!
SPEND YOUR MONEY, ENJOY YOUR LIFE
There’s no point making money if all you’re going to do is hoard it. All those long hours working on your company or at your job should be balanced with pleasure. You don’t want to be 70 years old with all your accumulated wealth and look back and say that you should have spent more time enjoying life. You might have bad knees and be unable to hike up the hills of Mykonos. You might get glaucoma and no longer be able to see the canals of Venice.
You have a right to enjoy your life as long as you aren’t hurting babies and welching on your debt. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. There will always be people who try and make you feel guilty about your success. They just don’t know what it took for you to get there. Until the next vacation!
Photo: St. Mark’s Square, Venice from the room’s veranda. Sam.
Photo 2: Santorini Crater, Sam.