This Caribbean Escape Is Always in Season
A Celebrity cruise includes a crucial part of New World Jewish history in Barbados.
Robyn Spizman Gerson is a New York Times best-selling author of many books, including “When Words Matter Most.” She is also a communications professional and well-known media personality, having appeared often locally on “Atlanta and Company” and nationally on NBC’s “Today” show. For more information go to www.robynspizman.com.
A group of friends decided to dodge the cold weather in December and book a warm-weather Caribbean cruise on the Celebrity Silhouette.
Scheduled long before Hurricane Irma tragically hit the Caribbean, the cruise rerouted the islands on the itinerary. With challenging weather still on our coattails, it was only an hour after our departure that 600 flights were canceled at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. That afternoon a snowstorm hit Atlanta, and we felt fortunate to escape the weather at each turn.
As the cruise left Fort Lauderdale, the daily temperatures of 75 degrees, piña coladas and sleeveless walks while gazing at the aqua sea surely fit the bill.
Celebrity Cruises was the choice of traveler Fred Katz’s relative and seasoned travel agent Fran Penn, who made the arrangements for our group. Traveling with friends made the trip extra-special, and rabbi-led Chanukah services with songs, festivities and latkes were a nice surprise and were packed to the brim.
While the Caribbean islands had just been hit hard, cruises were still full. We never saw any hurricane effects, but each island we visited was deeply grateful for tourists and for its escape from the recent wrath of nature, though their hearts and ours surely stood by Puerto Rico and the smaller islands that were pummeled.
Sailing With Celebrity
It’s often hard to decide on a cruise line and a ship. Fran chose the Celebrity Silhouette, a luxurious, modern ship accommodating 3,000 travelers. Sounds overwhelming, but the staff ratio and layout of the ship made navigating the decks and amenities easy, and the ship felt cozy after a few days of getting our sea legs in motion.
Celebrity offers modern luxury with its cool, contemporary design and warm spaces. Dining amid the décor of the specialty restaurants provides an unmatchable experience. Celebrity Cruises’ 12 ships visit all seven continents.
Seasoned Master Captain Georgios Iatrou championed our cruise and made it a pleasure with smooth sailing.
One highlight is the ship’s resemblance to a floating art gallery with a prestigious roster of modern artists on each floor, including Damien Hirst, Alex Katz, Ellsworth Kelly and Bennet Bean. The line’s art tradition began in 1995.
Staterooms vary with upgrades for inclusive packages. A butler? Private dining? Clubs? VIP invitations? Special cocktail parties and a private lounge? Whatever your budget or desires, Celebrity can meet your needs.
Getting Ship Shape
It’s vital to get informed about the ship details before you go on any cruise, including ways to cut costs if you’re budget-conscious. Excursions and specialty restaurants cost extra, though if you are a foodie, the charge is well worth it.
Each night in your stateroom you’ll find an activity bulletin for the next day. The Canyon Ranch Spa Club on board offers fitness and healthy living classes and a well-equipped exercise room. Spa services are also available from an itemized menu.
Other offerings at sea include round-the-clock casino gambling, movies, lawn games, yoga, a sea camp for teens, culinary presentations, a lending library, and, before every port of call, a shopping presentation mostly focused on jewelry.
One of my favorite activities at sea was the computer class I took from the Apple Store expert. Classes were taught about the iPhone and other Apple products.
While we stayed casually dressed, each indulgent evening involved a two-hour-plus dining experience followed by a variety show with nationally accomplished talent ranging from magicians to Broadway singers and dancers to a famous pianist.
Energetic cruise director Chris Sweets was a nonstop entertainer and ensured that we didn’t miss a moment.
Chanukah services each evening included latkes, dreidels and jelly-filled doughnuts. In song and prayer, these gatherings were joyous and added a special touch.
The nights were topped off by dancing to genres from Motown to classics to silent disco, in which we wore illuminated headphones and could program our own music choices. And after a day of nonstop eating, we always had the option of stopping at the after-hours dessert buffet.
A few organized groups captured my attention on board, especially the Café Cinematheque International enthusiasts, led by film guru Shelly Isaacs from Boca Raton, Fla. With about 100 movie lovers on the Silhouette, Shelly coordinated foreign films screened twice a day. We attended one called “Mr. Stein Goes Online,” a delightful film about an elderly man who discovers the computer and online dating.
Shelly’s cruise efforts include a trip to the Cannes Film Festival in France in May.
Synagogue Visit in Barbados
Before sailing, we planned a tour of a synagogue in Barbados, Nidhe Israel, which is the oldest synagogue in the Americas.
In the 17th century Jews driven from former Dutch Brazil by the Portuguese Inquisition fled to the Caribbean as well as to Holland. Many Jews made their way to Barbados and the city of Bridgetown, where the synagogue was built in 1654.
Next to the synagogue is a 350-year-old cemetery.
Our private tour was quite interesting, and it was meaningful to see a menorah from the 17th century during the season of Chanukah.
A Fitting Farewell
As our cruise ended and we landed back in freezing-cold Atlanta, the Caribbean sounds, fresh air and blue skies were a lovely memory. As fate would have it, another adventure began as soon as our plane landed: The lights went out in Georgia — well, actually, in the ATL.
Fifteen minutes before, the power had gone out at the airport. We sat on the runway for over four hours, navigated the dark and boarded a hotel shuttle, which fortunately arrived just as a cab was about to depart.
We begged for a ride-share and, thanks to stranded passengers who shared their cab, we headed to our home sweet (cold) home.
In spite of Mother Nature, blackouts and snow, vacation accomplished!
Robyn Spizman Gerson (www.robynspizman.com) is a New York Times best-selling author and a media personality seen often on local and national television.