....in the ensuing years Joe became bored with just exercising and started running. By 2005, now down to 160 pounds, Joe ran his first marathon and a new passion for long distance running was born. Just as he traveled to pursue his bird watching passion, Joe traveled as part of his new passion, first visiting different states to run marathons and then establishing a goal to run a marathon in all fifty states. Eileen had also started running and sometimes traveled with Joe on his running trips; other times Eileen would leave Joe at home and join her siblings who liked to travel on cruise ships. Eileen sailed on three cruises without Joe, and of course she would rave to Joe about the wonders of cruising after each one. Eileen pointed out to Joe that each ship she had cruised on had a running track, so he would not have to miss his running if he joined her on a cruise. Joe reluctantly agreed to accompany Eileen if she acquiesced to one condition: on the first night of the sailing, he would get out of bed shortly after midnight and run the 26.2-mile marathon distance before the deck became populated with sunbathers, lounge chairs were moved into positions that can obstruct runners, and the running track became congested with casual walkers and joggers. Eileen was elated, and in January 2008, Eileen, Joe and some family members embarked on Joe’s first cruise, sailing Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas from Miami....
Late on the night of embarkation, Joe changed into his running gear, quietly so as to not disturb a sleeping Eileen, and at around 1:30 in the morning he went up to Deck 12 to the running track. Not that long prior the sports deck had been busy with first night cruisers milling about or lounging and enjoying the views of the ocean. Now chairs were strewn about with empty glasses and bottles sitting beside them, and the deck was stained where drinks had been spilled. The reddish-brown tinted, lightly padded, almost one-quarter mile running track circled the perimeter of the deck and offered exquisite ocean views—when the sun came up. Joe was not up there for the view.
Exactly four-and-a-half hours after stepping foot on the track in the darkness, Joe had finished his first cruise ship marathon-distance run. Joe had circled the track for 118 laps, and the “marathoner of the seas” legend was born. The sun had not yet risen.
...after several cruises, Joe began to entertain the notion of running a marathon-distance on all of the Royal Caribbean ships. Such an audacious goal was not uncharacteristic for Joe. After all, before he caught the cruise bug, he was on his way to running a marathon in every state. So, he and Eileen began planning Royal Caribbean cruises, especially paying attention to ship locations and ports of call—as that would influence what birds might be in the area that Joe could add to his sighting list. Joe lined up local bird guides in some of the ports; not only did he get his runs in, Joe saw many of the birds that are endemic to the Caribbean and Central America. How wonderful it must be to be able to meld multiple passions!
In the first four years of Joe joining Eileen to cruise on Royal Caribbean, they cruised eight times. Joe logged many more than the 210 miles resulting from running a marathon distance on those eight Royal Caribbean running tracks. He did not limit himself to only running the 26.2 miles on each cruise, usually choosing to run at least a few other mornings. Most of those eight cruises were in the Caribbean and the Bahamas. One of them, however, was an Alaskan cruise. Joe, Eileen and their son Mike flew to Anchorage. Prior to embarking on the Radiance of the Seas they spent a week visiting Denali before taking the train to Seward to board the southbound cruise. During that pre-cruise week, they each ran in a local marathon, Joe the full 26.2-mile distance, while Eileen and Mike ran a half-marathon. As opposed to Caribbean cruising, a cold water Alaskan cruise definitely presented some physical challenges for Joe’s cruise ship marathon-distance running...
....On another cruise, Legend of the Seas from Quebec to Florida, the winds and seas were such that the ship’s Captain shut down the running track for the first couple of days, disrupting Joe’s routine of doing his run on the first night of the cruise. One of the cruise ports of call was in Boston. The weather had calmed by the time Legend of the Seas ported in Boston. Instead of running in the middle of the night, while most of the passengers were touring Boston, Joe went up to the sports deck and ran his 26.2 miles. As best as can be determined, Joe is the only person who has run both the Boston Marathon and a Boston Harbor “marathon” on a cruise ship.
Read the complete chapter “Marathoner of the Seas: Joe Church” in The Joy of Cruising. Available in March; preorder soon!
I traveled on my first cruise vacation thirty years ago. I was intrigued by the idea of a cruise for perhaps a somewhat superficial reason: I had done a fair amount of vacation traveling to Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Caribbean, and had become enamored of the concept of “all-inclusive” vacation resorts, where for a fixed price vacationers’ lodging, meals, alcoholic drinks,entertainment, activities, and even cigarettes (hey, it was the eighties) were included. My first visit to an all-inclusive was to a resort in Jamaica that was called, aptly, “Hedonism”. With youthful exuberance, less maturity, and lack of self-control that comes with being in my twenties, I approached that first all-inclusive stay with the same rationale I approached all-you-can-eat buffets back at home: “they’re going to lose money on me!” I partook in it all, indulging to excess in everything that was available, especially liquor (screwdrivers with my eggs and bacon at breakfast). It was on that first all-inclusive vacation that I cultivated my taste for cognac—even if it was not exactly top shelf. Up to then, the concept of an after dinner cordial was foreign to me. My rationalization of getting my money’s worth veered into stupidity. For instance, even though I had kicked the smoking habit several years prior to that vacation, I could not resist the saucer of complimentary cigarettes that adorned each of the bars at Hedonism. Convinced that I could indulge for just the week I was there, I ended up re-starting the smoking habit again for another several years.
Cruise ships promised many of the same amenities of all-inclusive vacations, at least the food, activities and entertainment part, with the added benefit of being able to visit more than one destination. Despite cruises having obvious appeal, I had demurred. For one thing, I just was not a “water person”. In my boyhood in Brooklyn, NY, the closest I got to the ocean was occasional visits to iconic Coney Island. I never learned how to swim; my only opportunities to visit a swimming pool in my youth were when my summer day camp occasionally took field trips to the Department of Parks and Recreation McCarren Pool. Furthermore, I was apprehensive about an unknown: the possibility that I or my companion would experience seasickness that would ruin our vacation. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by these floating all-inclusive resorts.
In 1988, Royal Caribbean launched Sovereign of the Seas, then the world’s largest cruise ship at over 73,000 gross tons. It was 12% larger than the then cruise ship size champ, the Queen Elizabeth 2, and almost 60% larger than the Titanic. Its scale was so unimaginable that a May 1987 article in the Chicago Tribune exclaimed that “it is doubtful any larger cruise ship will be built in the near future.” The article was sort of correct; depends on how “near future” is defined. In 1995 Princess Cruises launched the larger Sun Princess, the setting for The Love Boat: The Next Wave, a revival of the iconic The Love Boat television series that ran from 1977-1986.
Sovereign of the Seas promised as many, or more than, the amenities of the most luxurious all-inclusive resorts. The floating city boasted 14 decks traversed by glass-encased elevators, a high-end shopping mall, the largest casino at sea, night clubs and lounges, spa, and numerous photo-friendly vantage points. A stunning atrium soared five stories and surrounded tropical plants, a splashing fountain, more glass-enclosed elevators and a sweeping staircase. My cruise on Sovereign of the Seas was my first “real” date, well, the first time traveling together, with my then girlfriend Cheryl. Besides the obvious sentimental value I hold for that cruise—Cheryl is now my wife of 26 years—my recollection of that voyage is that it was magical. Amazing, grandiose midnight buffets with ornate ice and butter carvings, formal nights where everyone dressed to impress (both now forgone cruising traditions), a grand atrium unlike any cruise venue seen before according to veteran cruise mates on that voyage with us, and all the other amenities and trappings of a new, state-of-the-art vessel easily convinced me that cruising was something that I wanted to do more of.
Read the complete Chapter 1, The Joy of Cruising. Available now!