Transportation ease and information sharing has brought distant shores within a day's travel and images of sacred sites into our living room, but for many, the desire to visit fabled locations and experience other cultures still persists.
Over the next weeks and months, my wife, Brielle, and I will act on the dreams of our youth to explore a continent steeped in history and intrigue. Via rail and other means of transportation, we plan to traverse Europe, taking in legendary sights, ancient monuments and storied cities in many countries.
Along the way, we will indulge in the culinary, cultural and historical legacies of each destination. Each week, honest interpretations of our experiences will relate the journey as we see it and aim to captivate the spirit of travel in others while imparting tips, advice and lessons learned along the away.
Our passage across the Atlantic takes place aboard a ship of the highest caliber delivering us in Barcelona, Spain, on April 16 after 14 days at sea. The first week of our journey has consisted largely of a relaxing trip on the high seas accompanied by good weather thus far. Eye-opening numbers on the size and operation of our ship was provided by Royal Caribbean.
Liberty of the Seas
"She's a ship, not a boat," reminds our captain. He oversees the direction, care and operation of the world's third-largest commercial vessel, Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas. Coming in at three times the size of the famed Titanic, this ship consumes an average 142 gallons of diesel fuel per mile as it conducts its first transatlantic voyage.
Weighing in at more than 154,000 tons, costing $800 million to build in 2007, Liberty of the Seas is a monument to excess and indulgence. More than 3,000 guests representing 56 nationalities are served by 1,380 crew members, together consuming 105,000 meals each week. That number will be doubled during this 14-day sailing as will the weekly averages of 13,000 pounds of beef, 8,000 pounds of chicken, 5,000 pounds of pork, 1,400 pounds of lobster and 69,000 steaks.
To wash down the tons of food prepared and consumed while on board, passengers will guzzle down a weekly average of 2,900 bottles of wine, 11,500 cans of soda and more than 19,000 canned and bottled beers.
For all of the wining and dining to be had while on the high seas, the ship boasts a cornucopia of activities. Mapped out by the hour, every hour, games, clubs, performances, lectures and movies fill the entertainment wishes of a diverse crowd.
In our first week at sea, we have participated in activities ranging from snorkeling in the Bahamas to ice skating aboard the ship. Cruising across the Atlantic at 20 knots allows for seven straight days at sea enabling us and other passengers to explore the vast offerings of our ship. Beyond typical amenities, including multiple pools, a fitness center, movie theatre and shuffle board, there are opportunities for unexpected sports such as rock climbing and surfing.
As with the cruise industry in general, service aboard our first sailing with Royal Caribbean has been phenomenal. The crew is wonderfully attentive, helpful, courteous and kind, meeting all demands in a timely manner despite working seemingly endless hours.
Friends and acquaintances are quickly and easily made aboard the ship with the exception of frequent language barriers. Our daily trivia team, though not at the top of the ranks, is always good for a laugh. Through this connection we met up with another young couple preparing for a similar journey upon their arrival in Europe.
As we travel in style accompanied by residents of another financial realm, we are fed well and entertained often by production style shows, professional comedians, singers and a myriad of other performances. Although our fellow guests are on average 30 years our senior, I must admit there is no finer way to travel from one continent to another than at a leisurely pace in the lap of luxury.
To end with a nugget of travel wisdom gained from months of planning and preparation, I must recommend, with all earnestness, the use of a local travel agent. Through the experience of a seasoned agent, we booked our cruise at a rate comparable to that of coach airfare. Despite the ease of the internet age, it is often best to trust a local professional with your interests in mind. Search online, use the Yellow Pages and read the newspaper; although fewer in number, they can still be found -- and for good reason. Having a real person in your corner and in your hometown will wind up saving time, money, energy and headache.
Matt Shinall is the business reporter for The Daily Tribune News. For updates and information on his European journey, visit www.unequaldreams.com.