A Cruise to Europe—70% Off

My husband Tim turned to me and whispered in a confidential tone out of the corner of his mouth, “I’ve never been so excited in my whole life.”

I guffawed, because it was so out of character.

Heads turned. Our cover was blown. We were beginners, and they all knew it. We were standing in line under a high glass dome that shed dappled light over the scene. Smiling, efficient attendants swirled around us. My whole body was tingling with anticipation. This was our first transatlantic cruise—in fact, our first cruise ever—and the buildup had been intense.

We had cast off our old life, sold our house and furniture, and set off for a home-free life, unfettered by dishwashers or lawnmowers, roof repairs, and children and grandchildren. First step: crossing the ocean from Miami to Europe, bringing with us all the subconscious romantic notions about transatlantic cruises that we had collected from movies and books all our lives.

Tim, who handles our travel arrangements, discovered a way to get a deep discount on cruises early in his quest for budget-sensitive travel options—a method that could get you anywhere from one-third to 70% off the price of your cruise.

So now we were ready to see if what we had heard was true—that this was the ideal way for retirees to get to Europe: two weeks or so of free rent, excellent food, and total relaxation, plus an arrival free of jet-lag and stiff knees.

Tim had chosen us a stateroom in the ship’s curved bow. Its irregular shape and large porthole, which faced right out into the future, delighted us.

Everything had a purpose, and as we explored, we knew that all our things would fit somewhere in the space. Ship designers are clever people. It felt like playing house, but someone else was going to clean up the toys six times a day… Patrick, our ever-attentive, discreet steward, rapped quietly to introduce himself. I asked for ice, and from that moment the ice bucket in our room was always filled. It took about 10 minutes to realize that I loved transatlantic cruising.

And this was before we ever left port. Later, as we dined with six new friends, the lights of Fort Lauderdale’s port twinkling outside the glittering, tall windows of the two-story main dining room, the ship began to move.

Its progress was stately at first. Then, after a long bellow from its horn, it picked up speed and went plowing through the canal.

In moments, as people applauded, we were in open water—on our way to Europe.

After dinner, Tim and I stepped out on the deck and stood, like Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember, watching the phosphorescent wake glide by. MGM had sent a moon to complete the scene, and we spent quite a bit of time congratulating ourselves on our brilliant scheme.

Our entire journey was as promised. We slept beautifully, lulled by the subtle hum of the engines and the gentle movement. We ate well, taking advantage of the specialty restaurants from time to time.

We made new, entertaining friends, some of whom enjoy permanent status in our date book. But we were also perfectly happy to spend time on our own, in our attractive cabin, watching TV or even having room service for a change of pace. Pajama-dining evenings are sometimes a must, even on a cruise.

We used the excellent gym equipment on board, lolled on deck chairs reading in blissful idleness, and never felt compelled to participate in activities that didn’t interest us.

We left the ship in Rome rested, relaxed, and ready to enjoy our first extended, home-free European visit, sporting great shipboard haircuts from the salon with an ocean view. And we were so pleased with the money we saved, that we’ve since taken three other cruises—for a fraction of the usual price.

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