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WORLD CRUISE DISPATCH: AN EVENTFUL NIGHT AT FORTALEZA DEL REAL FELIPE

Join Crystal Insider Joe Kita for a behind-the-scenes look at the first World Cruise shore-side event at a 16th-century Spanish fortress in Peru.

As if every day wasn’t already a celebración on Crystal Serenity’s 94-day circumnavigation of South America, there are special shore-side events held periodically for full World Cruise guests. And these are indeed “special.”

Crystal Serenity Captain Egil Giske "in character" for the event festivities at Fortaleza del Real Felipe.
Crystal Serenity Captain Egil Giske “in character” for the event festivities at Fortaleza del Real Felipe.

In past years, events were staged in Egypt (with a laser light show on the pyramids), Dubai (with a Lawrence of Arabia desert theme), Hobbiton in New Zealand (with exclusive access to the site where Lord of the Rings was filmed), and even Pompeii (with an evening concert in the ancient Roman amphitheater). Although guests know the location and general theme of the event, they never fully know what to expect until they step off their luxury coach and into yet another exotic and exciting part of the world.

As your Crystal Insider, I attended the first World Cruise event of Serenity’s Southern Celebración on January 29. Together with the captain and select crew I boarded a late-afternoon shuttle at the port in Callao, Peru. Our destination, just 15 minutes away, was the Fortaleza del Real Felipe, a Spanish fortress built in the 1600s.

One of the great things about these events is that the cruise director, World Cruise hostess, the Crystal Ensemble of singers and dancers and, yes, even the captain often play cameo roles in the entertainment. So they’re arriving early today not just to make sure things are buttoned up for the evening but also to button themselves up into Spanish Colonial costumes.

The exclusive event carried well into the night for Crystal Serenity World Cruise guests.
The exclusive event carried well into the night for Crystal Serenity World Cruise guests.

Cruise Director Gary Hunter will be Señor Felipe, the master of ceremonies. World Cruise Hostess Stacey Huston will be his vivacious “bride” – dubbed Filet Mignon Felipe because, says Gary, “she’s a cut above the rest.” And Captain Giske himself will play a wealthy land baron and arrive via horse-drawn carriage.

Meeting us on the drawbridge to the fortress is John Stoll, Crystal’s vice president of land programs. He’s the party’s architect, and he flew in from Los Angeles to oversee it. But this is his 36th World Cruise event, which probably explains why he’s not sweating despite being dressed in a suit.

“Okay, everyone follow me, and I’ll explain what’s going to happen this evening,” he says.

As we cross over the moat, pass beneath the fortress arch, and salute a line of soldiers in period uniform (their pants creased so sharply they could be used as emergency cutlasses), we step back in time almost 200 years. Safe from the marauding pirates and corsairs who plunder these waters and nearby Lima, guarded by rows of infantry cannons, we are now free to enjoy all the riches and spoils of an 1866 Spanish town.

The festivities featured highlights found in traditional 19th century Spanish celebrations.
The festivities featured highlights found in traditional 19th century Spanish celebrations.

And that’s exactly what Stoll and his team have recreated. A traditional town plaza has been prepared for an elaborate festival. Market carts are blooming with fresh flowers and ripe vegetables. Street vendors are arranging pancitos (toasted breads) and humitas (tamales). Lovely ladies in colorful classic dresses are chatting and fanning themselves in the shade. Afro-Peruvian musicians and masked dancers are getting ready to entertain. Even a cadre of Peruvian step horses and their practiced riders are on their way. Later tonight they will provide the grand finale.

After Stoll gives everyone their assignments, he spends a few minutes with me explaining how all this comes together: “We typically start planning events like this two years in advance. Once the ship’s itinerary is set, we search for an iconic venue. That’s half of it, finding a unique place like this. Then we search for a local operator, in this case Lima Tours, who we can trust to help set it up.”

“World Cruise events don’t usually concentrate on the culinary,” he continues. “Although there are lots of great local canapés and refreshments, there is typically not a sit-down dinner. Instead we focus on the entertainment and presenting the essence of the culture. We want guests to come away with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the destination.”

Warm and welcoming smiles were everywhere during the exclusive event.
Warm and welcoming smiles were everywhere during the exclusive event.

Indeed, many of the “actors” and “actresses” in this fortress scene are local volunteers excited to interact and present their homeland at the first cruise-ship event ever hosted here. Various Peruvian dignitaries are also present. “That type of local relationship makes it a win-win,” he adds.

Already it’s almost time for the guests to start arriving. “Pisco sours this way!” Stoll yells, motioning to a team of servers with trays of Peru’s national libation balanced on their shoulders. He positions them by the entrance. The cavalry soldiers snap to attention. A brass band appears out of nowhere and starts blasting a welcome. And as the buses begin to pull up, everyone else forms a receiving line up to the plaza.

I am no longer Joe, a humble blogger. I am now Jose, an 18th century Spanish bard. And all the World Cruise guests feel some of the same as they stroll into the fortress and are slowly and pleasantly transformed.

And as the sun sets and the ceviche and tapas keep coming and the pisco sours get replenished and the dancing commences and the step horses step out, there is no thought of pirates, just toasts for the galleon that brought us here.

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