Boarding the flight from Australia to Canada, without my love, Fred, by my side felt so strange and forlorn. I’d lost my partner of 15 years to brain cancer two years before. Even travel, something I loved, had lost its luster.
But I am generally an optimistic, outgoing person. A year after Fred’s death, I booked a six-week, solo odyssey to Alaska, Russia and Asia, combing two cruises with a Princess land tour of China.
I had some doubts about traveling alone, but I shouldn’t have worried as a new family of fellow Princess passengers quickly enveloped me. From the first night on Diamond Princess as it set off from Vancouver for Alaska, I embarked on new friendships that have enriched my days ever since. Indeed, one special couple showed me how life and love was possible to find, even in your 60s.
The first leg of the cruise was wonderful, with the Alaskan scenery to die for, contrasting so vividly with the Tasmanian landscape of my home. My new dinner companions made me feel at home, and many remain my friends to this day.
On the night Diamond Princess left Anchorage toward Asia, I met another couple who literally changed my life. I had ventured alone to watch a comedian perform in the Explorers Lounge. Since he was a popular act, seating was at a premium, so I joined the table already occupied by a couple from Canada.
After the show, we started chatting. Darlene and I hit it off immediately. Her husband, Alec, joined in a bit later. We swapped family and life stories until well after midnight, when we looked around, surprised to see an empty lounge.
The next day I ran into them again, so we joined forces, spending most of our days together during the cruise. I was impressed by Darlene and Alec, married 55 years yet still so obviously in love. The concern these two showed to others and to me, helped with the pain I was still suffering and gave me a template for how to approach my own life at home. Their friendship brought love and laughter back to my days.
As Diamond Princess continued on her way, we toured the ports of Vladivostok, Busan, Qingdao and Dalian. The most memorable moment of the journey for me was crossing the Beida Bridge, the friendship bridge, in Dalian, China.
The bridge was built to symbolize the friendship between Dalian and sister city, Osaka, Japan. Legend was that if two lovers crossed the bridge, they would always be together.
Darlene and Alec would not have me cross it alone. With Darlene at my side and Alec behind (she and I were still talking non-stop), we crossed the bridge, vowing to remain friends forever. And almost two years later, we are as close as family. A recent trip to Canada cemented out friendship forever.
Prior to taking the cruise, I was resigned to going through the rest of my life alone. I had convinced myself I would make the best of it, that it would be okay. I came home six weeks later a changed person. Because of the friendship shared by everyone I met, but most especially, Darlene and Alec, I vowed that happiness and love would once again be part of my daily life.
I had seen how Darlene and Alec freely gave love and concern to those around them. I tried it myself and was amazed to see how a new world opened up around me. Close friendships blossomed. I reached out to one special man, who was suffering from the recent loss of his wife, and that friendship has strengthened to become an important part of my life.
Bruce is now my travel partner on land and at sea. He took his first trip outside of Australia with me on Dawn Princess and we eagerly look forward to years of life, love and laughter.
I can attest that there are so many beautiful people out there cruising. As Darlene and Alec showed me, a few kind words to a stranger can make such a difference to their lives, and your own.
With so many wonderful people to meet and exciting places to see we are eagerly awaiting our next cruise to New Zealand In December.
Cheryl and Bruce are eagerly awaiting our next cruise to New Zealand In December and look forward to meeting many more wonderful people.