Most people have heard of Murphy’s law – if anything can go wrong it will. Sometimes you just can’t seem to escape Murphy. I took one trip in particular where this held true. It all started with the booking. Just before Christmas my husband found a Caribbean cruise at a very good price with most of the port stops in places we’d never been. Instead of just pouncing on it while the price was good and booking it like we usually do, we printed out the info and brought it to the annual Christmas gathering to try and set up a family cruise with other relatives like my Aunt had done with an Alaska cruise on Holland America’s Westerdam.
It turns out my Aunt has much better skills for organizing group trips than I do. While waiting around to see who wanted to go and trying to book all together, the price went up. Cruise prices vary depending on how long it is until the cruise starts compared to how many rooms are left. While this one still had quite a lot of time to go, it must have had a lot of people book early. Had it been just us, we would have found something cheaper, but by then one person without flexible vacation time had already arranged to go so we booked anyway. We had a total of 6 people and 2 rooms, and though both were connecting rooms they did not connect to each other as none were available that did. Lesson 1 – if booking with other people, don’t wait for everyone to decide and book all together. Just book your room and let them book theirs.
Several months passed and it came time to book the airline. Seemingly slow learners, we had not yet got the hang of lesson 1. While waiting around for everyone to agree on something to book together, the cost of the airfare rose.
Meanwhile the price of the cruise went down. Though we had not booked early saver, where if you notice the price has dropped you are guaranteed the lowest price, Carnival was kind enough to allow us some onboard credit. When it dropped again though they said one time was it for that. Lesson 2 – if you book early be sure to get the early saver price guarantee!
It got close to time to go, and my grandson did not have a passport. There was some sort of problem with the paperwork on the initial submission, and by then it was too late to send it again. Luckily Puerto Rico is a US territory and not a foreign country. He could get on the airplane with an enhanced ID, which he could get from the DMV far more quickly than a passport. A birth certificate was sufficient ID to complete the ship’s online registration for a kid. Lesson 3 – if you don’t have a passport when you plan a trip, be sure to get your passport early!
We had decided to stay a couple nights in Puerto Rico prior to the cruise, which started there. A condo where we could all stay together sounded more appealing as well as cheaper than 2 or 3 hotel rooms. So one of our party got that booked. Even though a different person booked each of these things, none of us seemed to have any better luck than the other, although this time it was not about the price.
We arrived in Puerto Rico, got off the plane and headed to the taxi stand, It turned out that the condo that was supposed to be in San Juan was actually 40 minutes away and not near any source of food or entertainment, which would mean expensive taxi rides for everything. That would never do so we cancelled that one right there at the airport (which luckily they were willing to refund) and went online to find something else. Finally we did something right. We had mobile internet through hotspot on the iphone. Lesson 4 – do your research before booking anything!
We booked a condo through bookings.com that said it was just a few miles from the airport and not too far from old town. It did not have the 3 bedrooms the original place had, but did sleep 6 with a futon in the living room. We got lucky in that though we were more concerned with proximity to necessities and price than anything else while booking this on the fly, it did turn out to be right on a really nice beach.
Upon arrival, the doorman did not have keys to private rentals, and we had not been given a specific apartment number. Each individual owner of the vacation rental units in that building took care of their own so we had to find out who it went through. Checking the email on the iphone for that brought about the discovery of a conformation link, which then alerted the owner who up to that point did not know the apartment had been booked. He was 45 minutes away and needed to clean the apartment before use so the doorman locked our luggage in an unused room and we walked to a nearby restaurant for a late lunch. When we returned the owner was still up in the apartment cleaning, but he let us bring our stuff up. It probably would have been more thoroughly cleaned and better stocked with washcloths and things if we had booked it in advance. (It had plenty of towels, not so much washcloths and dishrags) Lesson 5 – portable internet can save your vacation.
In spite of all that, we did have fun in Puerto Rico. Then the time came to board the ship. I always advise people to pack anything they might need in the first few hours on board into their carry-on, and put those things they don’t want to lug around with them if the room is not ready in their checked bag. Usually the luggage arrives at the room within a few hours of boarding, but usually the boarding time is just a few hours long. This particular trip had a boarding period of 6 hours. We boarded early and did not follow my own advice to bring things we might need in a carry-on. My grandson really wanted to use the waterslide, but our luggage did not arrive and nobody had a swimming suit in their carry-on.
Hours passed. We watched out our window as they rolled luggage carts from new passengers just arriving straight to the bins to put on the ship. Some of the later arriving passengers just brought their own luggage in with them, knowing their rooms would be ready by then. They had everything they needed and could take it right to the room. Luggage arrived at other rooms up and down the hall, but never ours. Finally we asked a couple crew people, one of the luggage handlers and one of the people with a shirt proclaiming “Just Ask.” They both seemed fairly sure that the earliest luggage to arrive probably got buried somewhere and would be the last delivered. We entertained the grandson playing mini golf and exploring the ship. He really wanted to go down that waterslide, but darkness came with no luggage and the slide closed at sunset. Lesson 6 – When you give out good advice, you really should follow it yourself.
We went to dinner in what we had on, some of it being the sort of thing the dining room doesn’t normally allow like flip-flops on a couple people. We figured if they said anything we would tell them that we would be happy to dress appropriately if only we had our luggage. They let us right in without a word on our appearance and when we returned to the room the luggage had finally arrived.
The cruise itself went well other than a couple people getting lost at the first stop on a shore excursion. They asked a street vendor for help and rather than directing them to where the vans park she helped them find the ship so they ended up walking all the way back to the ship on their own. The lesson here – if lost on an excursion stop, find someone who works at the place you are visiting rather than asking a street vendor for directions. And bring along the emergency number the ship provides in their daily newsletter because most places excursions go are not within walking distance of the ship. I’ve never known an excursion bus to leave without everyone on board before, but I suppose there is a limit to the time they can wait or spend looking for missing people.
When the trip ended we flew home standby. We did it last year and had no problem – but last year’s cruise ended midweek. This one ended on a Sunday. The only direct flight out wasn’t until 7pm, but had open seats. All earlier flights to other airports were full, and should we manage to get on we’d be stuck at the connecting airport as the departing flights there were also full. Although in retrospect, if you could get there, being stuck at an airport with more daily flights would be better than being stuck in Miami which had one. By 7pm the plane was full. We had to get a motel for the night. It took quite a few calls to local motels before we found one that had both a room available and an airport shuttle that didn’t cost an absolute fortune. Next day’s direct flight had lots of open seats, and nothing was available earlier to any other airport. Once again by flight time it had filled up. It also had weight and balance issues so rather than standby passengers getting on, other passengers got bumped. That day we were able to catch a later flight to Dallas. After a long cold night at the Dallas airport we finally got a flight home the next morning. One last lesson learned – don’t fly standby out of Miami on a Sunday.