After a long and traumatic flight (hours of delay and an unexpected extra stopover) I have arrived at Fort Lauderdale. Our ship, the Independence of the Seas, was Royal Caribbean's biggest and bestest until a couple of weeks ago when their new monster ship was launched. I wake up and go onto my balcony to look out over the port where the hugest ship I've ever seen is moored, right opposite the hotel. Its lights sparkle, reflected in the water. It has to be ours, surely? I'm too excited to sleep anymore even though it's ony 5.00a.m. I only slept for a whole day on the flight, and seven hours here, so I will get back into bed and try to catch up....
A hundred and twenty of us from all around the world are here to participate in one of Landmark Education's courses - called 'Celebration'. I begin by walking around to orientate myself. The ship is 14 decks of luxury! Sumptuous dining rooms and staterooms, casino, theatre, ice rink, disco, bars and pools galore, plus a shopping mall and food outlets too numerous to name. It is a playground for adults and children alike, and the service is friendly and efficient. You really can have everything you want. Something to celebrate already!
Our first port of call is St. Maarten, where my cabin buddy Sarah and I take a private taxi to the other side of the island where we stroll along a nudist beach, chatting about men with our amply built 'sister' Jenna. She gives us the benefit of her advice on how to keep a Caribbean man under your thumb. I'm thrilled to be roomed with Sarah who is way ahead of me in self development, and an inspiration to be with. She does like to indulge in shopping, not my favourite activity, but I accompany her anyway as we talk about getting what we want for our lives.
It is then I decide to share the abundance of this cruise with my family and spend a fortune on Xmas gifts for them in the duty free shops.
Dinner is formal tonight. We get our glad rags on and shimmy into the chandeliered dining room, to be serenaded by the restaurant staff from the sweeping central stairs. After dinner we dance till two in the disco and stagger into bed exhilarated and exhausted in equal measure.
Next stop St Thomas, where I go parasailing – an activity I have wanted to do for the last seven years. As I soar into the sky and the boat recedes rapidly from view, I experience complete silence. It is peaceful up here, and the deep blue of the sea looks inviting. Just as well, as a dip is obligatory on this boat. When my turn comes I'm delighted to find that the water is warm, and admire the skill of the captain who can dip my parachute up and down safely whenever he chooses.
Afterwards I take a bus ride into the shopping area but see nothing to inspire me – burned out from yesterday no doubt – and I board our beautiful white liner for another evening of fun.
In Puerto Rico I take a jungle canopy tour where we zoom along zipwires among the treetops from platform to platform, after climbing a punishing slope in the wet heat. When our driver drops us off in the capital, San Juan, I am to find that this place reminds me of Cuba, with its pastel-walled houses, elegant colonial buildings, and blue cobblestones. There is even a Starbucks for me to enjoy my favourite coffees in. And as happens throughout the days and evenings of this cruise, I meet and share with other course participants who enrich my life, and know that I also contribute to them.
More dining, cocktail drinking and dancing under the stars, and it is suddenly our last port of call, Haiti – or rather, a playground extension of the ship called Labadee.
It is paradise: the Caribbean water is warm and silky, the sand like talcum, the drums irresitable, the barbecue delicious, and the company inspiring. I take a jetski trip and after the first ten minutes of sheer terror at the speed I have to go to keep up with the others, I let go of my fear and trust the universe to take care of me. I open the throttle to maximum and my body relaxes as if someone has given me a shot of a recreational drug. Now I can't get the jetski to go fast enough. This has been a real breakthrough for me and I'm excited once again about what I can achieve in life if I let go of my history and live in the now.
At every course session, normally from 4pm till 7pm, I come away with something life-changing – but mainly, we celebrate life and all its aspects. We sing, dance, play games and laugh a lot. We share our breakthroughs and concerns as we conduct our enquiry designed to give us the life of our dreams for ourselves and others. Powerful stuff, and worth our full participation.
Next morning, our last day at sea, I have a go on the FlowRider, a surfing experience, and follow it with a margherita in the sun with several of my new friends for life, swaying to the kettledrums as we exchange more ideas and contact details.
The airline has done it again. We are delayed three hours (they board us first, then tell us the plane has a fault) and I miss my connecting flight to Alicante. I spend the day at Madrid airport, snowed in, waiting for an onward flight home. Good job I'm able to practise being present to the now, else I'd have very high blood pressure and spend the day complaining. But I'm not – I'm glad to be alive. I have a great life, a wonderful family and friends, and I've just treated myself to luxury I didn't know existed. Who could possibly ask for more?