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Archive for June, 2017

From Lecturing to Snorkeling, New York Times Bestselling Author Jonathan Balcombe Shares Voyage Highlights

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Jonathan Balcombe at Holistic Holiday at SeaLast March, Dr. Jonathan Balcombe made his Holistic Holiday at Sea debut on our 14th annual Caribbean cruise. As a featured presenter, Jonathan gave insightful lectures about the amazing abilities, personalities, and feelings of animals, from fish to baboons. Often humorous and always compassionate, Jonathan pulled from scientific facts and his own observations as an expert in the field of ethology, the study of animal behavior.

Jonathan is the director of animal sentience at the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy and a favorite among animal advocates around the world. He’s authored several books, including Pleasurable Kingdom (2006), Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals (2011), and his latest What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins (2016), a New York Times bestseller that was released in paperback this month.

We’re so excited Jonathan will be returning for our special ten-day 15th anniversary cruise to the southeastern Caribbean, February 15–25, 2018! We recently got the opportunity to catch up with him about his trip highlights, how the ethical and nutritional aspects of veganism work so well together, and why he’s so often curious about animals who don’t typically get the spotlight.

Fish Sightings on and Under the Deep Blue Sea

Jonathan Balcombe SnorkelingIn the early morning on the first full day at sea, Jonathan, with binoculars in hand, looked hopefully out over the sea. “I was delighted to see flying fishes taking off and moving away from the boat,” he says. “I saw them on like three or four occasions that day on different sides of the boat. We were definitely in waters that had a lot of them… I never saw any cetaceans. I talked to another group at my table one night who saw a pod of about 90 or so dolphins passing, coming toward the boat, and then kind of going past. I was green with envy at that time. Unfortunately I wasn’t party to that.” Timing is everything!

Our first port of call was Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Jonathan took part in the snorkeling excursion and saw many kinds of fish, including tarpon. “Tarpon are quite big, they’re like silvery white fish. They grow to over six feet long. The ones we saw were probably in the four foot range, the bigger ones. They just glided around so gracefully… I watched a boxfish blowing sand on the bottom, I guess trying to uncover food, that was pretty cool.”

On our last stop in Nassau, Bahamas, Jonathan snorkeled once again: “I enjoyed that, beautiful colors, lovely fishes of various species, and beautiful reef habitat as well.” Since the waters were very cold that day, Jonathan made a reminder to himself to pack a thick wetsuit for next year. Other fish Jonathan recalls seeing on his adventure are squirrelfish, yellowtail snapper, and porkfish, among others. He spotted yellowfin and mojarra, which are two kinds of fish he can also find at Boynton Beach in southeast Florida, where he lives.

A Compassionate Way to Live

Many people who choose plant-based lifestyles do so from a concern for the welfare and protection of animals. During his keynote lecture “What a Fish Knows,” Jonathan told the story of when he decided as a child on a summer camp outing that he did not want to fish like the rest of the kids. “From my earliest memory I was always smitten with animals, fascinated with them, wanted to know what it was like to be them. Of course I’ll never fully know. I was also deeply empathetic toward them. If there’s an empathy gene, I was born with it. I always went out of my way not to step on the ants. So it was that element. I was an animal person from my earliest memory.”

Jonathan Balcombe at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary

Jonathan Balcombe with Clover at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary

Jonathan earned three biology degrees, including a PhD in ethology from the University of Tennessee, where he studied communication in bats. When asked how he went from bats to fish, Jonathan replied, “I think I tend to consciously or maybe subconsciously gravitate towards less popular animals. Nowhere is that more evident than in my currently planned next book which is on one of the most reviled, least liked group of animals on the planet, that is flies.

“I almost did a graduate study on snakes which would have taken me in other directions, another very unpopular group of animals. I think that’s a big element for me, because I identify very much with animals ethically, I want to improve their lot, and the ones who are least liked by us probably need the most help.”

Humans are a Varied Lot

When he wasn’t underwater, Jonathan was exploring all of the onboard activities. “I went to quite a few lectures,” he says. “Most of the ones that I went to, the people who were speaking I had already heard before, which is not to say I didn’t learn new stuff or that they didn’t cover new stuff. I thought Caldwell Esselstyn’s presentation was really very interesting. Gene Baur, I always enjoy hearing him speak.” A pianist himself, Jonathan attended Luiz Simas’ jazz concert on Wednesday evening titled “A Musical Voyage to Brazil.” He says, “I really enjoyed it. I bought the CD. I love it and listen to it all the time.”

On the discussion of meat substitutes in the mainstream food industry, Jonathan said he was excited to see these products keep rolling out even if he wasn’t personally hankering for them. “Humans are a varied lot. We need a lot of doors for people to go through to get to a more compassionate way of eating. It may not be compassionate for them, it may be saving money, it may be whatever. It may be feeling like this food is safer, whatever works. But I think that’s an important sector that will draw in some more converts away from the conventional meat eating that we currently have now which we need to switch. So I’m very excited about those.”

One of the most magical aspects of the cruise is the way that people from all walks of life can come together over mindful eating. “One of the things I most liked about the cruise was that the meal seating was random, and you almost invariably got sat at a table with other people, and they were people you didn’t know. They were people you didn’t plan to sit with. That was great because it really helped with integration to meet different people, different angles, different geographies, where they’re coming from, how many times they’ve been on the cruise… It was really fun, I really liked that. I think that played a big role in the integration of different ways of thinking about it and different priorities for why people were there. We always found common ground.”

Join Jonathan on the 2018 Cruise!

Book a spot on our 15th anniversary sailing, February 15–25, 2018. In 2018, the MSC Divina will depart from Miami, Florida, and head to the following ports of call in the southeastern Caribbean: St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda; Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis; Fort-de-France, Martinique; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands; and Freeport, Bahamas. View the itinerary here and start planning!

Single? Book a Ride on the Love Boat!

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Robert & Karen aboard the ship.

Robert & Karen aboard the ship.

Since Holistic Holiday at Sea first set sail in 2004, we’ve earned the nickname The Love Boat. And with good reason! In addition to discovering or rekindling a love for plant-based nutrition, many guests on our vegan cruise in the Caribbean have also cultivated relationships with each other—lots of them of the romantic variety.

But what is it about our programming, amenities, lectures, and ports of call that go into the recipe for love?

Robert Cheeke and Karen Oxley met on the cruise in 2011 and got engaged last August. We spoke with them about how they met, why the cruise was the perfect environment for their love to grow, and what advice they have for others who may meet on the cruise.

Go to the Welcome Party!

Robert & Karen Holistic Holiday at Sea-2After traveling on a red eye flight from the west coast, Robert was exhausted when he finally boarded the ship in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for his first Holistic Holiday at Sea adventure. “I almost didn’t go to the Welcome Party. I was just too tired, running on an hour of sleep, but I like to dance and have a fun time so I decided to go.”

Karen and her best friend Traci were also first-time cruise goers. Traci had heard about the cruise through VegNews and encouraged Karen to go with her. Earlier that day at lunch, while still docked, one of the people at their table pointed across the room and said, “Oh my gosh, that’s Robert Cheeke over there.” Karen turned, but could only see the back of Robert’s head. She hadn’t heard of this person before. Robert was a well-known athlete in the vegan community for his blog and Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness book, so many people were pumped to spot him on the ship.

So when Traci approached the publisher of VegNews at the Welcome Party, Karen turned to Robert (who was standing beside him) and said, “Am I supposed to know who you are?” Robert smiled and replied, “No, you don’t have to know who I am.”

Karen, Robert, and Traci became fast friends—Traci and Robert danced for hours at the welcome party. Karen, who is more of an introvert, loved Robert’s outgoing personality. The next day, after a lecture, Traci and Karen dined on the ship. They bumped into Robert and decided to explore Key West together (although Robert had already spent several hours exploring the town in the morning. He was excited to hang out with these fun ladies!).

Common Interests

Once they met, it was easy for Karen and Robert to find things to do onboard that they both enjoyed. In addition to the boat’s acrobatic shows, the couple also enjoyed attending the Holistic Holiday at Sea Talent Show. It wasn’t long before they developed a core crew of people to hang out with. Robert says that the intimate nature of the cruise lent itself to the building and nurturing of relationships: “We met in a place where 800 friends and colleagues with similar interests were all together.” While the cruise has grown in size since 2011, it’s still very easy to make friends and spend time with them.

Robert and Karen attended lectures by doctors, wellness coaches, and other influencers in the plant-based movement. They connected through a shared love for animals.

Robert became vegan at the age of 15 after growing up on a farm and gaining a respect for all the animals who lived on it. Karen adopted the lifestyle a bit later in life. She shares, “I was never really comfortable with meat, but I thought that was just how it was. We just eat meat. Then I read a book, which kind of touched on all those things. It touched on the animal side, the health side… The thing that resonated the most with me was the animal cruelty and really getting in touch with those feelings I had: I’ve never been comfortable with meat for a reason. I’ve never been comfortable killing animals to eat them for a reason. And now I know we don’t have to. I don’t have to just accept it and eat it anyway. I do have an option and I can say no. And so that was the main thing, but I just thought the health benefits were an added bonus.”

Make Plans

At the time of their first cruise, Karen was living in Seattle and Robert was touring to promote his first book. It just so happened that Robert had plans to visit Seattle for Veg Fest three weeks after the end of the cruise, and Karen was already signed up to volunteer at the event. “From the time we said goodbye at the cruise, we already knew we were going to see each other in a few weeks,” says Robert.

The two kept in touch for the weeks leading up to Veg Fest, and Robert extended his trip by a few days so they could spend quality time together. While this coincidental planning will not happen for everyone, there are ways to stay in touch once the cruise is over.

“What I think is a nice thing to do—if there is some sort of spark on the cruise—is to not wait until the next year’s cruise, but to find a way to meet up. Find some neutral ground, such as a Veg Fest or a vegan festival,” says Robert, who adds that he sees this happening with people he knows who have met on the ship.

Karen adds, “I think it’s important, too, not to wait too long. If there’s really chemistry and mutual interest, just find a way to make it happen so you guys can spend time together again. Things do fizzle out. All relationships take effort, whether it’s romantic or not. Every relationship takes effort to maintain. I think you have to put forth effort in a budding relationship.”

This goes for friends, too! Robert and Karen love meeting up with the friends they’ve met on the cruise over the years, and with the abundance of vegan events across the country, it’s easier now than ever before.

The Travel Bug

If you’re in attendance on our vegan cruise, then chances are you love to explore new places. It’s always exciting to find a new companion with a common interest in travel. Their 2011 Holistic Holiday at Sea adventure was the first of many. Karen joined Robert and helped him with his book promotions. She wasn’t 100% happy in Seattle, so Robert encouraged her to join him on his tour. They spent three weeks driving around the country together. “We’d just met, but that was part of our immersion together in our relationship,” says Robert.

Attendees on every cruise since then, Karen and Robert love traveling together. After the 2011 cruise, they both moved around a bit before moving in together in LA. After that, Robert and Karen lived in Canada, Oregon, southern California, Colorado, and (now) Arizona. They’ve traveled to Australia, Europe, Mexico, Canada, and every corner of the US. Now that Robert is wrapping up another book, they are excited to see what opportunity awaits.

Find Love Next February!

Our 15th anniversary sailing will take place February 15–25, 2018. While all previous cruises have lasted a week, this next cruise will be extended to ten days! This means more exotic ports of call in the southeastern Caribbean, more lectures, and more opportunities to meet that special someone. Book today!

 

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