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Feature Article
JUST BACK FROM

BACK-TO-BACK

by
Greg Kandra

In my dreams, I'm still at sea. I hear the roar of water, the creak of the cabin, the delicate fall of bare feet on a wooden deck above my bed. I roll gently in the waves. I'm home. But it never lasts. I wake in the morning to find I'm back in my Queens apartment, where car alarms go off at night and, for some reason, there are no chocolates on my pillow.

That's the price you pay for taking back-to-back cruises: after two glorious weeks, you get used to the primping and pampering and fluffed pillows. You almost expect it. That, at least, is how I felt when my wife and I returned to La Guardia airport after two extravagant weeks on the Celebrity Century. New York City was dark, raining and cold. Somewhere, at that very moment, another couple in a warmer place was uncorking the first bottle of champagne and tasting the caviar canape that John the butler had left in their cabin — OUR cabin! — the one we had to surrender to return to reality. It hurts just to think about it.

My wife and I first tried cruising back-to-back last year, when we sailed on the Sun Princess and Star Princess. The good news is that we had two delightful weeks to soak up the sun, the ships and the sea. The bad news was that we had to get off in mid-vacation — to change ships mid-stream, as it were. After a week on the Sun Princess, we had to pack up, disembark, stay overnight in a Ft. Lauderdale hotel, then head back to Port Everglades to embark the next day on the Star Princess. Next time, we agreed, we'd stay on just one ship.

I'm delighted to report that we chose the Celebrity Century — a ship that, like the cruise line's ad copy declares, exceeds your expectations. The Century's itinerary is perfectly designed for back-to-back cruising — hitting the Eastern and Western Caribbean on alternate weeks. Celebrity even gives you an "in transit" pass so that you can disembark during the interim Saturday in Ft. Lauderdale without having to go through customs. (We used that Saturday to go ashore, make long distance calls, and buy a few odds and ends.) On board, we stayed in a Royal Suite, complete with veranda, butler service, walk-in closet and more storage space than we had in our bedroom back home. This wasn't just a home away from home; it was something better.

The ship is elegantly designed and beautifully appointed — as other reviews on this site can attest — and the Celebrity service is beyond compare. The staff on other cruise lines often tries too hard to win your approval (and your tips). On Celebrity's Century, the staff was gracious and unobtrusive. They charmed us with their sweetness. When I mentioned my dismay over having a few days of bad weather, our young waiter, Vlado said with a Slavic twinkle in his eye: "Tomorrow, we'll try to have sun on the menu." Sure enough, the next day was perfect. I'm convinced Vlado had something to do with it.

He surely had a hand in our enjoying the back-to-back experience as much as we did. When you cruise for two weeks on one ship, you begin to feel like part of the crew; the faces of the waiter, maitre'd, bus boy and cabin steward are as familiar as your own in the bathroom mirror. When you begin your second week, suddenly there are hundreds of strangers invading your dining room, your lido deck, your cocktail lounge. You want to turn to the waiter and whisper, "Who ARE these people? What are they doing on OUR ship?"

Of course, the staff goes through that kind of confusion every week, and the greatest insight from this cruise was realizing how effortless they make it seem. For most of us, the first hours on ship are exciting and exhilarating, full of discovery. The Century staff consistently made us feel it was their discovery as well; we always felt this was the first time they'd tuned up the string quartet to greet us in the foyer, or lit the baked Alaska for the Thursday night parade, or lined up to pose for the Grand Buffet. Doing a back to back cruise, we saw them do all this — and more — twice, and came to appreciate the zeal and professionalism it takes to make each time seem like something new.

If you've ever gone through "cruise withdrawal" during disembarkation, and wished you could steal a few more days, back-to-back cruising is the perfect tonic. Here are a few practical thoughts to bear in mind....

* Be bold at dinner. Chances are, the menu won't change from week to week, so you have twice as many chances to discover something out of the ordinary. (Or stay with something tried and true.) On the Century, the food was so good, the risk of choosing badly was pretty low. We learned later that virtually everything on board was made from scratch — even the pasta and ice cream! The quality showed.

* Pack enough. I made the mistake of assuming there would be laundry facilities for us to use. Wrong. The only laundry facilities were available through the cabin stewardess, who would drop off and pick up clothes and charge you handsomely for the service; there were no public washing machines or dryers for us to use. I ended up paying eight dollars for laundering a few pairs of underwear and socks. My wife, shrewder than I, decided to just wash her things in our bathroom sink. (All that free shampoo came in handy; so did the clothes line built into the bathtub wall.) This was a surprising lapse on the part of Celebrity, which goes out of its way to accommodate families and small children -- the kind who sometimes end up wearing more chocolate ice cream than they eat.

* Try a little variety. We had late seating the first week, early seating the second. That way, we could stay up later the first week — and actually waddle through the midnight buffet — and hit the hay earlier the second week, to witness a sunrise or two. Likewise, a few events you miss the first week — the art auction, or a line dancing class, or a culinary demonstration — will be there for you the second week. You won't feel like you have to give something up, or squeeze everything in.

* Talk to your travel agent about trying to get a break in price. Back-to-back cruising is hardly a bargain. But we did get a small discount that helped make our trip a little cheaper than taking two separate cruises.

* Finally: be careful. This kind of cruising can be addictive. Reality is tougher to take after two weeks of balmy breezes, clear skies, and fabulous food. Like Alice in the Looking Glass, you'll feel backward -- as if your house on dry land is only temporary. You will become convinced that where you truly belong is back in your real home: at sea, gently being rocked to sleep.

Mr. & Mrs. Greg Kandra

Line

Greg KandraGreg Kandra first got his sea legs on the Norway in 1995. When he's in port, he's a writer and producer for CBS News in New York, currently the Story Producer and Writer for 60 Minutes II, and one of the head writers for "9/11," the CBS documentary which aired on September 10, 2002. Other writing credits include "60 at 30" on the 30th anniversary of the popular news magazine, 60 Minutes, a BIOGRAPHY of Jerry Seinfeld, which aired on May 11, 1998 on the A&E network show of the same name, and SUPERLINERS, a documentary produced for the Discovery Channel which first aired in the Fall of 1998.

Over the last 20 years, Greg has won a Peabody Award, an Emmy and two awards from the Writers Guild of America.

Greg can be reached for questions or comment at: gkandra@yahoo.com.


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