Cella Baker landed in Anchorage recently after a remarkable adventure around the world. Although it hasn’t technically circumnavigated the globe, it certainly hasn’t stood still as it makes its way from country to country.
“I’ve been to 140 countries,” she says. “The first thing I do is learn to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in the local language. On this trip, I think we went to 46 countries.
Baker’s journey began last November in Aruba. She had been hired by Oceania Cruises to work on a world cruise. But the ship, the Insignia, was laid up during the COVID pandemic. Part of his job was to get him ready to go again.
“We were channeling Jules Verne,” she said. “But instead of going around the world in 80 days, we added an extra 100 days.”
The Insignia, built in 1999, is 594 feet long and accommodates 656 passengers and 400 crew. After her renovation in Aruba, the ship sailed to New York to pick up her first passengers on December 21, 2021.
Baker’s job aboard the ship is an “Oceania Club Ambassador”. It sells future cruises to onboard guests, runs a loyalty program and guides port visits. Some ship passengers take the full 180-day cruise, while others sail specific segments of the itinerary.
“It’s my retirement job,” she said. “I retired two years ago and went to sea!”
Oceania Cruises has been offering circumnavigation since 2015. “We have guests who have been there six times,” Baker said.
“We handled COVID very well aboard ship, but there were ever-changing protocols ashore.”
These “ever-changing protocols” resulted in a rerouting midway through their journey.
After leaving Los Angeles on January 6, the Insignia reached French Polynesia before turning back. Many Asian ports of call were still closed to cruise ships.
“We turned around in Tahiti,” Baker said. “We came back through the Panama Canal and spent about a month in the Caribbean. From there we went to Europe, Israel, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Greek Islands, around Italy, France, Spain and Gibraltar. Then we sailed to the Baltic region.
Baker easily remembers impromptu route changes and all the planning that had to be done on the fly.
“When traveling during a pandemic, you need to be flexible. You can’t have set expectations,” she said.
But the new ports of call gave rise to incredible experiences.
“We were one of the very first vessels allowed into Istanbul,” Baker said. “I accompanied a night visit to the Blue Mosque area during Ramadan. We saw families come to spread picnic blankets over a large 100-acre garden for a celebration. And it was a party all evenings (during Ramadan).
Another adventure when the ship called in Italy was truffle hunting in Tuscany. “We went out with two guys and their dogs. And yes, the dogs dug,” she said.
While cruising the Atlantic, the Insignia called at Funchal, Madeira. Just off the coast of Africa, the island is controlled by the Portuguese and is known for its port.
Baker went with a group on a cable car to the top of a mountain on the island. From there they went down in sleds with soft chairs. “That was the most fun,” Baker said. “Each sled had two gondoliers who steered the sled up the steep streets.”
In Montenegro, northern Albania and southern Croatia, the cruise line organized a visit to an olive grove. When they arrived, the farmer met them and they had an olive oil tasting in the field. From there, the group went to the farmer’s house for a wine tasting.
Other gastronomic events were more extravagant. “We dined under the sea,” Baker said. “We went to the lower level of the National Aquarium in Copenhagen,” she said.
“Most of the customers are in their 60s and 70s,” Baker said. “Of the 250 cruisers around the world, there were mother-daughter couples, as well as recently retired guests. Also, there are some who have sold everything and decided to go around the world. Others have sold their homes, put everything in storage and enjoyed the trip as a sabbatical.
Guests on board came from 15 to 20 countries, according to Baker. The crew members came from 30 to 50 countries. “It’s like a little UN on board,” Baker said.
Wanderlust has always been a part of Baker’s story since she started working in the travel industry. This includes jobs at resorts, travel agencies, and cruise lines. “It’s a great retirement job. I get paid to see the world in ways I couldn’t afford. And that makes it all the more interesting,” she said.
And after? Well, Baker should be working on the 2023 route for Oceania. “Next year we will go to Antarctica,” she said. “Next year will be my third attempt to circumnavigate the globe. The 2020 cruise was canceled and this year we had to turn back.
The 2023 itinerary also included some Alaskan ports: Dutch Harbor, Juneau and Ketchikan. Oceania offers a 198-day itinerary departing just after Christmas, December 28, 2022 from Miami. Cabins are available from $47,199 per person.