Cella Baker landed in Anchorage recently after a remarkable round-the-world adventure. Although she did not technically circumnavigate the globe, she certainly did not sit still making her way from country to country.
“I’ve been to 140 countries,” she said. “The first thing I do is learn how to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in the local language. On this trip, I think we went to 46 countries.”
Baker’s journey started last November in Aruba. She had been hired by Oceania Cruises to work on a round-the-world cruise. But the ship, the Insignia, was laid up during the COVID pandemic. Part of her job was to get it ready to sail again.
“We were channeling Jules Verne,” she said. “But instead of going around the world in 80 days, we added another 100 days.”
The Insignia, built in 1999, is 594 feet long and holds 656 passengers and 400 crew members. After her retrofit in Aruba, the ship sailed to New York to pick up its first passengers on Dec. 21, 2021.
Baker’s job aboard the ship is a “Oceania Club Ambassador.” She sells future cruises to guests on board, manages a loyalty program and guides tours in port. Some guests on the ship take the full 180-day cruise, while others sail specific segments of the itinerary.
“This is my retirement job,” she said. “I retired two years ago and went to sea!”
Oceania Cruises has offered the round-the-world trip since 2015. “We have some guests who have been six times,” said Baker.
“We managed COVID really well on board the ship, but there were ever-changing protocols on shore.”
Those “ever-changing protocols” led to some re-routing in the middle of their journey.
After leaving Los Angeles on Jan. 6, the Insignia made it as far as French Polynesia before turning around. Many of the Asian ports-of-call still were closed to cruise ships.
“We did a U-turn in Tahiti,” said Baker. “We went 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 Isles, around Italy, France, Spain and Gibraltar. Then we sailed up to the Baltic region.”
Baker easily recalls the spur-of-the-moment itinerary changes and all of the planning that needed to be done on-the-fly.
“When you travel during a pandemic, you have to be flexible. You cannot have set expectations,” she said.
But the new port calls yielded some amazing experiences.
“We were one of the very first ships allowed in Istanbul,” Baker said. “I escorted a night tour to the Blue Mosque area during Ramadan. We saw families come and spread out picnic blankets on a large 100-acre garden area for a celebration. And it was a celebration every night (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 did the digging,” she said.
Cruising in the Atlantic, the Insignia called in Funchal, Madeira. Just off the coast of Africa, the island is controlled by the Portuguese and is known for its port wine.
Baker went with a group on a cable car up to the top of a mountain on the island. From there, they went back downhill in sleds with cushy chairs. “It was the most fun,” said Baker. “Each sled had two gondoliers that steered the sled down the steep streets.”
In Montenegro, which is north of Albania and south of Croatia, the cruise line arranged a tour of 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 home for a wine tasting.
Other dining events were more extravagant. “We had dinner under the sea,” said Baker. “We went to the lower level of the National Aquarium in Copenhagen,” she said.
“Most guests are in their 60s and 70s,” said Baker. “Of the 250 round-the-world cruisers, there were some mother-daughter pairs, as well as some recently-retired guests. Also, there were some who sold everything and decided to go around the world. Others sold their houses, put everything in storage and used the trip as a sabbatical.”
The guests on board came from 15-20 countries, according to Baker. The crew members came from 30-50 countries. “It’s like a little United Nations on board,” said Baker.
Wanderlust always has been part of Baker’s story since she started working in the travel business. That includes jobs in resorts, at travel agencies and with cruise lines. “This is a great retirement job. I get paid to see the world in a way that I couldn’t afford. And that makes it all the more interesting,” she said.
What’s next? Well, Baker is scheduled to work the 2023 itinerary for Oceania. “Next year, we’re going to Antarctica,” she said. “Next year will be my third try to get around the world. The cruise in 2020 got canceled and this year we had to make a U-turn.”
The 2023 itinerary also includes some Alaska ports: Dutch Harbor, Juneau and Ketchikan. Oceania offers a 198-day itinerary leaving just after Christmas, on Dec. 28, 2022 from Miami. Staterooms are available from $47,199 per person.