Monday, March 1, 2010

A Message from Matthew

A message from Matthew Upchurch, Virtuoso CEO:

As you know, I am not shy about sharing from my heart when it comes to the Virtuoso extended family. If you’re reading this blog post, it’s because you’ve been interested in Jesse’s adventures on the Crystal World Cruise 2010 and you’re hoping to find an update.

Dad has been under the weather for a couple of weeks, and despite our hopes to the contrary, it became clear to the Crystal Serenity medical staff and our own doctor in Texas that it would be best if Dad ended the cruise and returned home this week. Dad left the ship around 10:00a ship time Monday morning and is now under doctor’s care in a hospital in Goa, India. Even though his health issues unfortunately hindered his ability to continue on the cruise, he is doing well. As a precaution, we have requested an air ambulance transport via MedJetAssist to the hospital at home. We’re working through the final details and hope to have him home in the next 48 to 72 hours.

Throughout Dad’s experience, I have had one recurring thought. How fortunate I am – and we all are – to be a part of the Virtuoso family.

Crystal Cruises has provided support far beyond anything I could have expected. Dad’s been telling you about the programs and entertainment on and off the ship, but I must say the support they provide in the background, out of the spotlights, is truly amazing. I commend the ship surgeon, Ralph Sorbris, MD, PhD, and his team of medical professionals, Carmen Petricia, Dragana Simovic, and Sarah Kennedy, for providing Dad with expert medical care, and more importantly, doing so with a thoroughly human touch. Their bedside manner played such an important role, and I will be forever grateful for the warmth and compassion they showed to Dad.

Virtuoso On-Sites are regularly called upon to provide amazing life experiences for Virtuoso Members’ clients because they are the best in the industry. And yet they are also among the first to step up when plans go awry, emergencies arise, or illness cuts a dream trip short. Dad was excited to have already made plans to visit with Shanti Kohli of Amber Tours while he was to be in India. When she learned of his need to disembark and go home, Shanti mobilized her team in Goa to provide transportation and support for Dad and my assistant, Melody, who is traveling with him. Shanti also reached out personally to her close family friends at East West Rescue, the leading medical assistance and evacuation company in India. She went even further to travel from Mumbai to Goa to personally meet Dad and Melody, liaise with the hospital and East West Rescue, and stay by “Uncle Jesse’s” side to provide comfort and companionship. This time it was Amber Tours who stepped up to the plate, but I know beyond doubt every Virtuoso On-Site has the same focus on excellence and personal service.

MedJetAssist provides medical transport emergency services to travelers worldwide. A Virtuoso preferred partner, MedJetAssist offers a valuable service to travelers – medical evacuation from a hospital anywhere in the world to the hospital of the traveler’s choice. I believe in their product so much that Virtuoso has a company membership providing coverage for Virtuoso employees traveling internationally.

The Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa, a new addition to the Virtuoso family, took room service to a new level - they delivered food to Melody and Jesse in the hospital. They also made Melody feel very welcome by giving her the opportunity to briefly leave the hospital and relax in one of their amazing rooms.

We have been celebrating the 20th anniversary of Virtuoso’s Voyager Club during this world cruise. The keystone of Voyager Club is the hosts we provide onboard to assist Virtuoso cruise passengers as needed throughout the cruise. Brian and Judy Robertson are four-times proven world cruise hosts and gave Dad both assistance and friendly support, especially during his last few days on the ship. Brian is a veteran blogger, too, and I invite you to follow his blog for “the rest of the story” on this Crystal World Cruise 2010.

Thanks, Dad, for letting me post on your blog. And thank you, Virtuoso preferred suppliers, Members, friends – family all – for your love and support, and for letting us be a part of your lives.

If you would like to send a note to Jesse or comment on this post, please address your message to

Warmest personal regards,

Friday, February 26, 2010

Day 44: en Route to Cochin, India

We are to arrive in Cochin, India in the morning. On this seven day crossing we have had the most beautiful weather; the water has been almost like glass.

Today has been a very full day and one that I have really enjoyed. After breakfast, it was off to get my hair cut in the Crystal Salon and I was prepped and ready for my very own photo shoot.

Sophocles Alexiou has been on board since Capetown and will depart in Mumbai. He is a very interesting young man and an accomplished photographer who has been awarded many titles such as Family Portrait Photographer of The Year, Portrait Photographer of The Year and many others. Along with being a great photographer he is a musician who plays the Bouzouki. Sophocles took the time to make me feel comfortable and very relaxed. He picked some really beautiful locations on the ship of which there are plenty so today I strolled all over the ship in my tux and felt like quite the movie star.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, I ended my day with a massage.
Life aboard Crystal is superb!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Day38: Zanzibar

A Place Called Zanzibar – In a Country Called Tanzania

“What serious traveler has not longed to wade ashore in the warm waters surrounding Zanzibar? Who among us has not dreamt of walking in the paths of Sultans draped in rich robes, or in the shadows of one of his harems of concubines?” That quote is from Karyn Planett, who writes for Reflections, was what I read on the morning we arrived in Zanzibar and it is the perfect quote.

Upon arriving you see the local fishermen in their small sailing boats weaving in between the tankers and visiting yachts. The buildings have an Arabian flair with ornate doors; the market is filled with vendors selling everything from spices, fish, and poultry to tennis shoes. You can explore its maze of streets and find a wonder at each turn.

A church in Stone Town commemorates the slave trade and it is said that the heart of Livingstone was buried there before his body was returned to England.

The slaves were chained together and after arriving by boat from lands across the sea were placed into a holding cell until they were sold. If they could not be sold for whatever reason, they were killed. There is a beautiful sculpture that is in memory of the lives that were sold and for those that were killed.

Zanzibar was the home of Sultans and their wives. One such man was Sultan Barghash. He was the rich man in this town and according to local history had 100 concubines and 5 wives. When he was not too tired, he built Beit el-Ajaib otherwise known as the “House of Wonders.” It was the first house to have electricity on this island and is still the largest of Zanzibar’s many structures. Today it is a museum and visitors can explore it from top to bottom.

Zanzibar was once the most important port in the Western Indian Ocean. According to an Arab proverb, “when a flute is played all Africa east of the Lakes must dance.” I can see why.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Day 37: Buffet

We have been at sea for several days sailing to Zanzibar since leaving Durban. I have been resting and taking it easy!

One of the highlights of being at sea is the wonderful buffets that Crystal puts together. This week was Mediterranean which was fantastic.

We had a tasting of everything from paella with seafood, marinated mussels to roasted lamb with yogurt. The crew dressed in bright colors and we had some great sampling of music from the Mediterranean to complete the experience.

Everyone really seemed to enjoy themselves and with the crew, how can you not? These ladies and gentlemen are the best. They always have a smile on their face and a cheerful greeting for you. I spoke with one gentleman this evening that is sailing with Crystal as a staff member for the first time. He said he is very excited and that being able to work with a great crew and meet guests from all over the world was very thrilling. He was one of twenty-five that were chosen to work for Crystal out of 200 hundred applicants. He said his mother and father were very proud, and I can see why, he is outstanding.

The crew seems to be there in the morning and also in the evening and they are consistently friendly and happy. It is a pleasure to be around them as they absolutely make you feel that you are family.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Day 34: At Sea

Today was a lovely day at sea. As always, Crystal had many activities to participate in from enjoying piano music in the Crystal Cove to sculpting alabaster on the Lido Deck. There is never a shortage of activities or entertainment and they are all top notch. Each day we receive a daily printing placed in our rooms called Reflections. In Reflections, you will find all the information you could ever want to know about the day aboard Crystal’s World Cruise on the Serenity.

Brian and Judy Robertson, the Voyager Club Host and Hostess, planned a wonderful cocktail reception for the Virtuoso Voyager Club. It was said to have been the very best to date! There were many in attendance and we were fortunate to have quite a few officers in attendance.

Everyone enjoyed each other’s company and shared many of their travel stories.

We had several of the guest lecturers to our cocktail reception. One such guest was Barbara Rinella who has developed a unique business presenting one woman shows dramatizing current literature. She is a very dynamic woman who combines wonderful dramatic talent with a perfect touch of humor. We were also joined by Executive Producers Michael Rosenblum and Lisa Lambden from The Travel Channel Academy. They are conducting daily video clinics for anyone who wants to make great travel videos or just make videos that the family will actually enjoy watching. None of the videos where your viewers get “sea-sick” from watching the grass you are recording when you think the camera is actually off!

It has been a busy day so I will retire now, more to follow tomorrow!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Day 33: Port Elizabeth

We have had two great days at sea. The boat has been in heavy swells so it has been entertaining to walk about!

Once again Crystal Cruises has exceeded my expectations. I was having breakfast with a fellow traveler and commented that I have never met such wonderful people who know what you want even before you want it. This crew is the best. If you have never sailed with Crystal then you cannot begin to imagine the service and friendships you are missing!

We are docked in Port Elizabeth and I have decided to have a free day. I am treating myself to some wonderful spa services, looking forward to a great dinner with wonderful entertainment afterwards. The crew on this ship is really the very best.

I promised that I would tell you about Simon’s Town famous canine. I really enjoyed the history I learned from our guide Chris. One of the best stories he shared with me was about Just Nuisance.

Just Nuisance was the only dog ever to be officially enlisted in the Royal Navy. He was a Great Dane who from 1939-44 served at HMS Afrikander, a Royal Navy shore establishment in Simon's Town, South Africa. He died in 1944 and was buried with full military honors.

Although the exact date of Just Nuisance's birth is not known, it is usually stated that he was born on 1 April 1937 in Rondebosch, a suburb of Cape Town. He was sold to Benjamin Chaney who later moved to Simon's Town to run the United Services Institute (USI). Just Nuisance quickly became popular with the patrons of the institute, mostly the ratings who would feed him snacks and take him for walks. He began to follow them back to the naval base and dockyards, where he would lie on the decks of ships that were moored up in dock, normally at the top of the gangplanks. Since he was a large dog even for a Great Dane, he was almost 6.6 ft tall when standing on his hind legs, he presented a sizable obstacle for those trying to board or disembark and he became affectionately known as Nuisance.

Nuisance was allowed to roam freely and, following the sailors, he began to take day trips by train as far afield as Cape Town, 22 miles away. Despite the seamen's attempts to conceal him, the conductors would put him off the trains as soon as he was discovered. This did not cause him any problems, as he would wait for the next train or walk to another station where he would board the next train that came along. Amused travelers would occasionally offer to pay his fares, but the railway company eventually warned Chaney that Nuisance would have to be put down unless he was kept under control to prevent him boarding the trains or had his fares paid.

The news that Nuisance may be put down spurred many of the sailors and locals to write to the Navy pleading for something to be done. Although somebody offered to buy him a season ticket, the Navy instead decided to officially enlist him; as a member of the armed forces he would receive free rail travel, so the fare-dodging would no longer be a problem. It was a good idea: for the next years, he would be a morale booster for the troops serving in World War II.

He was enlisted on 25 August 1939: his surname was entered as "Nuisance" and rather than leaving the forename blank he was christened "Just". His trade was listed as "Bonecrusher" and his religious affiliation as "Scrounger", although it was later altered to the more charitable "Canine Divinity League (Anti-Vivisection)". To allow him to receive rations and because of his longstanding unofficial service he was promoted from Ordinary Seaman to Able Seaman. Like all new sailors, he underwent a medical examination that he duly passed and was declared fit for active duty. The proper enlistment forms were filled in and he signed them with a paw mark. Just Nuisance was now a bona-fide member of the Navy and, as such, he expected all the benefits that that brought - he started sleeping on sailors' beds - his long frame fully stretched out with his head comfortably placed on the pillow. One of the seamen was allocated to ensure that Just Nuisance was regularly washed and he often appeared at parades wearing his seaman's hat. Sailors being sailors there was the odd fight. Just Nuisance did not like his sailor friends to fight each other. If he came across a fight he would quickly put a stop to it by standing up on his hind legs and pushing his huge paws against their chests. After a short while he was promoted from 'Ordinary Seaman' to 'Able Seaman', which entitled him to naval rations! Just Nuisance was equally at home on any ship that called in at the port, and was loved by everybody who met him though his main interest was only with other ranks.

He never went to sea, but fulfilled a number of roles ashore. He continued to accompany sailors on train journeys and escorted them back to base when the pubs closed. While many of his functions were of his own choosing, he also appeared at many promotional events, including his own "wedding" to another Great Dane, Adinda. Adinda produced five pups as a result, two of which were auctioned off in Cape Town to raise funds for the war effort.

Nuisance's service record was not exemplary. Aside from the offenses of travelling on the trains without his free pass, being absent without leave, losing his collar and refusing to leave the pub at closing time, his record shows that he was sentenced to have all bones removed for seven days for sleeping in an improper place: one of the Petty Officer's beds. He also fought with the mascots of ships that put in at Simon's Town, resulting in the deaths of at least two of them.

Nuisance had been involved in a car accident which had caused thrombosis which was gradually paralyzing him, so on 1 January 1944 he was discharged from the Navy. His condition continued to deteriorate; on 1 April 1944 he was taken to Simon's Town Naval Hospital where on the advice of the naval veterinary surgeon, he was put to sleep. The next day he was taken to Klaver Camp, where his body was draped with a Royal Naval White Ensign and he was buried with full naval honours, including a gun salute and the playing of the Last Post. A simple granite headstone marks his grave which is on the top of the hill at the former signals centre. A statue was erected in Jubilee Square in Simon's Town to commemorate his life.

The Simon's Town Museum has a room dedicated to his story, and since 2000 there has been an annual parade of Great Danes from which a lookalike is selected

Tomorrow: At Sea.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Day 31: And I think to myself...

Today we had the good fortune of having Chris McWilliams, thanks to Andre Botha of Trans African Safaris, as our guide once again. Chris is a wonderful young man that really knows how to take you on a tour of the area so rich in history and with so many wonders to be discovered.

We began our day on a drive to The Cape of Good Hope (Afrikaans:Kaap die Goeie Hoop,) is a rocky out cropping on the Atlantic coast of South Africa.
There is a very common misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa, because it was once believed to be the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In fact, the southernmost point is Cape Agulhas ("ah-GOOL-yuss"), about 150 kilometers or 90 miles as we call them to the east-southeast. The Atlantic and Indian oceans meet at the point where the warm-water Agulhas current meets the cold-water Benguela current and turns back on itself.
When following the African coastline from the equator, however, the Cape of Good Hope marks the psychologically important point where one begins to travel more eastward than southward. Thus the first rounding of the cape in 1488 by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias was a major milestone in the attempts by the Portuguese to establish direct trade relations with the Far East. Our wonderful guide Chris explained that at many times you can see people at The Cape celebrating with champagne and dancing and you know they have been traveling Africa and are at their turning point.

As we drove to The Cape, the weather was just beautiful. Chris pointed out that the original lighthouse on the cape was not always functional due to the clouds surrounding it on a regular basis so another lighthouse was erected on the actual point. The weather was amazing and we were able to get off some great photos and then very quickly the mist came in. One moment it was clear and in the next moment we were completely shrouded in mist. Once again, Africa showed us that it had saved the very best for us!

We stopped off for some wonderful grilled calamari at a local restaurant called the Black Marlin. It is a quaint restaurant located in Simon’s Town and has earned a reputation for its food, wine and attentive service. Chris told me that at any given time the baboons would actually come up and join you for dinner, he did say not to worry about them stealing your cooked fish; they actually liked the bread better. A shower came in and luckily or unluckily, however you want to look at it, baboons prefer not to eat their bread in the rain.

We finished our drive with a tour of Simon’s Town where I saw some wonderful ironwork. It had some very interesting history…which I will save for another day. You will have to hear about the famous canine from Simon’s Town.
Back on the ship this evening the captain announced that we would be departing Cape Town. The tug boats arrived to escort us out of the harbor, we cast off the lines with Louie Armstrong singing “..I see skies of blue, clouds of white, bright blessed days, dark sacred nights…””

So, tonight as I am rocked to sleep with the gentle swaying of the ship ..I'll think to myself…what a wonderful world.

Tomorrow, a day at sea.