Cella Baker landed in Anchorage recently after an incredible adventure around the world. Although she didn’t technically circumnavigate the globe, she certainly didn’t sit still making her way from place to place.
“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 places.”
Baker’s journey began 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 grounded during the COVID pandemic. Part of her job was to get her 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 refurbishment in Aruba, the ship sailed to New York to take on her first passengers on December 21, 2021.
Baker’s job aboard the ship is an “Oceania Club Ambassador.” It sells future cruises to guests on board, manages a loyalty program and guides port tours. Some guests on the ship take the full 180-day cruise, while others sail on specific segments of the itinerary.
“This is my retirement job,” she said. “I retired two years ago and went to sea!”
Oceania Cruises has been offering the trip around the world since 2015. “We have some guests who have been six times,” Baker said.
“We managed COVID really well on board the ship, but there were ever-changing protocols ashore.”
Those “ever-changing protocols” led to several diversions in the middle of their trip.
After leaving Los Angeles on 6 January, the Insignia made it as far as French Polynesia before turning back. Many of the Asian ports of call were still closed to cruise ships.
“We did a turnaround 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 the quick route changes and all the planning that had to be done on the fly.
“When traveling during a pandemic, you have to be flexible. You can’t have expectations,” she said.
But the new port calls brought some amazing experiences.
“We were one of the first ships allowed into Istanbul,” Baker said. “I accompanied a night tour to the Blue Mosque area during Ramadan. We saw families come and spread out picnic blankets in a huge 100 acre garden area for a party. And it was a party 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 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 wine.
Baker went with a group on a cable car to the top of a mountain on the island. From there, they went back downhill on expensive chair sleds. “It was the most fun,” Baker said. “Each sleigh had two gondoliers guiding the sleigh down the steep roads.”
In Montenegro, which is north of Albania and south of Croatia, the cruise line organized a tour of an olive grove. When they arrived, the farmer met them and they tasted the olive oil in the field. From there, the group went to the farmer’s house for a wine tasting.
Other dining events were more extravagant. “We had dinner under the sea,” Baker said. “We went to the lower level of the National Aquarium in Copenhagen,” she said.
“Most of the guests are in their 60s and 70s,” Baker said. “Of the 250 cruisers sailing around the world, there were several mother-daughter couples, as well as some recently retired guests. Also, there were those who sold everything and decided to go around the world. Others sold their homes, put everything in storage and used the trip as a vacation.”
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,” Baker said.
Wanderlust has always been a part of Baker’s story since she started working in the travel business. This includes work at resorts, travel agencies and cruise lines. “This is a great retirement job. I get paid to see the world in a way I couldn’t afford. And that makes it even more interesting,” she said.
What is expected next? Well, Baker is slated to work the 2023 route for Oceania. “Next year, we’re going to Antarctica,” she said. “Next year will be my third attempt to go around the world. The 2020 cruise was canceled and this year we had to make a detour.
The 2023 itinerary also included several Alaska ports: Dutch Harbor, Juneau and Ketchikan. Oceania offers a 198-day itinerary departing just after Christmas on December 28, 2022 from Miami. Rooms are available from $47,199 per person.