Performing cantors, adventurous shore excursions and all-you-can-eat sushi are on the menu when Kosherica sets sail. The company's most recent run, departing Ft. Lauderdale for seven days in the Eastern Caribbean, was no exception. Dudu Fisher inaugurated a string of shows, well supported by a handful of maritime mashgichim, midnight buffets and even Shabbat services aboard the five-star Celebrity Millennium luxury liner.
I was on an assignment, laptop in tow, with a brutal job ahead. So I gritted my teeth, boarded the ship and immediately got to work. Well, maybe not immediately. After reaching my cabin, my first stop was the festive glatt kosher welcome lunch. Suddenly, I was surrounded by familiar faces. Like a retrospective of previous writing gigs, there were two New Yorkers I met at last year's spirituality conference in Maui, the guy I met when covering Kosher Club Med in Mexico, a few friends from Isralight retreats and another female adventure traveler I met in Florida. At a minimum, I would be in good company.
Even better, our cruise director, Yehuda Schifman, had carefully planned the entire week as a cruise within a cruise. Our first full day at sea, a friend and I attended a concert with cantor extraordinaire, Dudu Fisher, who retold his stories about performing in "Les Miserables," first in Hebrew in Israel, and then in English on Broadway. In the ship's cavernous theater, we clapped along to Fischer's hits, including his Elvis-inspired "Lecha Dodi."
It was the beginning of a jam-packed week with several more cantorial concerts and lots of exploring the rest of the ship, including the expansive sauna with a massive porthole (one for men, one for women), spa, reading and listening libraries, and the cinema, which showed Jewish films all week. There were also events scheduled for JSinglesCruise.com, which Schifman's daughter, Helit Edelstein, coordinates in conjunction with two Kosherica sailings each year. The combination makes it easy for families and singles to travel together. JSingles group activities include SpeedDating, games and even a workshop with a life coach, who also offers dating advice via telephone pre-cruise. The formula seems to be working. JSingles has celebrated one marriage and one engagement since its inauguration last August.
With extensive glatt kosher buffets at each breakfast and lunch, including Friday's all-you-can-eat sushi and nightly five-course, sit-down dinner, this cruise was no different from any other, with plenty of calories easily within reach. During kosher cruises, Millennium's dramatic two-story, white-linen restaurant serves up ocean views with award-winning glatt kosher (cholov yisroel) gourmet cuisine prepared under the guidance of world-renowned master chef Michel Roux and supervised by Maritime Kosher International. Like any great sailing, our cruise also included afternoon tea as well as "midnight nosh."
The food was so abundant that a friend and I, who often met up in the ocean-view fitness center, joked our workouts were so intense that we had to make sure we consumed enough calories to avoid losing weight on the ship. Lest we disembark as waifs, we dutifully enjoyed sampling nearly everything available. Soon, our handsome Slavic dinner waiter was serving up plates of curly fries from the kids' menu without our even asking.
Few vacations offer the opportunity of going to sleep in one country and safely waking up in another without an assist from the black market. Our itinerary included several days at sea as well as international ports of call. These included Caso De Campo in the Dominican Republic; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; and Nassau, Bahamas. Guests were free to explore ports independently or book group excursions. Like all leading cruise ships, Millennium offers a staggering variety of options, including guided shopping, city tours, sightseeing, parties and sports. Most excursions are typically two to four hours in duration.
In our first port, Casa de Campo, I joined a rigorous kayaking excursion through a wide river surrounded by lush, tropical foliage. I returned to the ship spent, definitely requiring a second dessert at dinner.
The next day in San Juan, a friend and I headed to the lush rain forest that lived up to its name with a sudden downpour. The terrain was so gorgeous we would have gladly kept hiking. But our driver insisted we quickly wrap up our tour. Somehow, it seemed, he knew of our weight maintenance program and the urgency to return to the ship for immediate five-star nourishment.
My favorite port was St. Thomas, where I spent the afternoon exploring the town and its historic synagogue and the morning hiking and snorkeling in a protected biosphere. Amid red mangrove trees, we spotted yellow-and-black-striped sergeant majors, tiny bright damselfish, barracuda, graceful (harmless) jellyfish, one magnificent green moray eel and many other fantastic creatures.
All in all, I had a fabulous vacation -- I mean assignment. It was a lot like camp, but with nightly turndown service and the need for a valid passport. There were many couples and families on board. There were also plenty of singles and groups of friends enjoying each other's company, fantastic ports of call and an endless supply of curly fries. Not to mention the celebratory Saturday night farewell dinner, complete with a surprise parade of baked Alaska en flambé! Our final send-off: lox and bagels just in time for disembarkation.
Kosherica's upcoming sailings are scheduled for July 10 and Aug. 19 in Alaska's majestic Inside Passage. The itinerary begins in Vancouver, Canada; with stops in Ketchikan, Juneau and Sitka, Alaska. The ship will also cruise the Inside Passage and the Hubbard Glacier. Prices start at $1,750 per person, double occupancy. Caribbean sailings are also slated for Jan. 15 and 22, 2006. For more information and reservations, visit Kosherica.com or call (305) 695-2700 or (877) 724-5567 (Eastern time).
JSinglesCruise.com sets sail twice yearly. The next cruise is scheduled for Alaska, Aug. 19-26. Excursions are an additional cost. For more information, visit www.jsinglescruise.com or call (323) 640-7230 or (917) 952-4033 (Pacific time).