By John Toth
When I worked for the Houston Chronicle, I always envied the travel writer who went on vacations and wrote stories about them on the paper’s tab. I wanted to do that also and decided that if he left the paper, I would apply for that job.
He never left - not while I was there. I wonder why? He may still be there, who knows? I’ve been gone from the Chronicle since 1995.
That was one of my career goals at the Chronicle - to travel and get paid for it after the kids could drive themselves to school. I would run around the world, visit interesting places and earn a living by vacationing full-time.
Since I had no travel-writing background, the chances of being selected to fill that spot would have been slim. But it never came open, anyway, while I was there.
If an opportunity that you really want does not present itself, create it. That’s what we did. The kids started driving themselves to school, and The Bulletin has now given us an opportunity to do what I have not been able to do earlier.
I interviewed for the travel-writer position and waited. Then I told myself that I had the job. It was time to celebrate and book a cruise. That was last year - a four-nighter to Cozumel and back, and it was a great success.
It generated several articles for The Bulletin and videos for our YouTube channel, “Wandering with John and Sharon.”
Since then, cruising has become my favorite way to travel and vacation, although my accompanying field editor has suggested that we should try another type of travel experience the next time. Maybe, we’ll see.
I know that a lot of our readers love cruising. I’m a late-comer to it, but I’m trying to catch up. There is nothing more relaxing than watching the waves, whether from our room or the pool deck.
The pool deck, you say, which is always packed?
It actually has places that are not crowded, even on hot, sunny days. Just a little distance away from the crowds, for example, we found areas on the deck that were almost empty. It was quiet, except for the faint sound of jazz music from a distance.
I like exploring each ship, and I usually find interesting areas tucked away. For example, on our last cruise, I found a window by the gym through which we could look down on the entire bridge.
It looked like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, with the captain’s chair in the middle, surrounded by a big curved control panel. There were two officers on duty at the time, and all we could see them do was talk to each other. Neither of them looked like William Shatner.
You can do this on many Royal Caribbean ships, which beats a $150 excursion fee to visit the bridge and see the same thing. I would pay for a ship excursion to see the engine room, but they don’t offer those.
A narrow passageway on one of our cruises led to the heliport in the front, which - on Royal - was accessible. We could go to the very tip of the ship, where the railing is, and re-enact the scene from “Titanic.” I’m sure no one has ever thought of doing this before.
Sharon did it, only because I insisted, to video the scene for our channel. You can’t pass up an opportunity like this. There was a sign saying “Don’t lean on the railing.” They don’t want any re-enactors tumbling overboard.
These are the types of stories I am looking for while on the cruise-ship beat.
But they’ll have to wait a little because we got bumped off our cruise as we prepared to embark on another “research assignment,” this time to three ports in the Western Caribbean.
The ship was overbooked, and they were looking for volunteers.
In return, we got a full refund and 50% off our next cruise. I couldn’t pass it up, especially since the ship was sailing over capacity. We’ll rebook on an off-season cruise, when schools are open again, and families are back to work instead of taking vacations.
Meanwhile, we’ll be doing some other type of traveling to make up for the lack of being pampered by the ship’s staff.
Read all about it in subsequent issues, as my editor and I gather stories from wherever we go.