excellent? fantastic? stellar? none of these words seem to do justice in describing my most recent vacation. in fact, i have so much to share that i had to write four pages of notes and break up the experience into parts in order to have some sort of method to my madness. in short, it was a great time. better than i could have imagined and or expected. my aunt has tried to get me to go with her for five years. can you believe that? it was the mere thought of cruising and floating about in the ocean that made me not want to go. i, inherently felt more than a little nervous and claustrophobic at just the thought. she kept telling me “i just know i wouldn’t see you, other than to change your clothes”. well, i went and she was right!!! once i got in, got settled and familiar with my surroundings, i didn’t see her much. i tried to keep close and continuously say “thank you, thank you, THANK YOU”, but even that doesn’t seem like enough to share the appreciation for such a generous gift.
once out of the house i came to realize that this was my first vacation in ten years. yup, ten years. the last vacation was also memorable as it was the week of the World Trade Center disasters (September 11, 2001). that same week my grandmother had a quadruple bypass (September 10, 2001) and i woke up with a sinus infection and ended up spending my then-boyfriend’s birthday (September 12, 200i 1) in the emergency room of Kaiser hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii. this, however, is a much better, much funnier, much more exciting story. so let’s move forward, shall we?
as i have decided to tackle this monstrous event in parts, i will begin with “traveling to travel”. in order to get where you want to go, you must travel there. whether it be literally or figuratively, getting from one place to another can be a feat. this is one such occasion. as i stated, this was my first REAL vacation in ten years. i have stayed away from home for a couple of nights here and there, went to a weekend bachelorette event and, of course, spent time with the bestie and the babies, but none of that compares to a plan for almost eleven days away from home. the longest time away from my son since the day he was born, more than four years ago. the vacation plans have been in the works for an entire year. it consisted of a two-night stay in Miami, Florida (known as the pre-cruise party) followed by a seven-day cruise known as the “Festival at Sea”. some return to the initiation point for more post-cruise fun, but i was unable to commit to fourteen days away from Super-Boy.
with travel comes plans, itineraries, tickets, reservations, confirmations, identifications, passes, passports, tags and receipts. this is what some of that looks like:
without any one of these items, your trip could be ruined. not just ruined, but ruinT! you could get held up, delayed, denied or rerouted. and even with all of these items, you could still get held up, delayed, denied or rerouted (i did).
- flight itinerary: ya gotta know where you’re goin’ and how long it’s going to take you to get there. for the first time ever in my travels, i had layovers. two, to be exact. layovers have always made me uncomfortable. not because of the on and off the plane (even though that is annoying) but because of the luggage. i have always feared that my luggage would be lost and this seems like the easiest way for it to happen. it didn’t happen, but with every change and every delay, i felt more uneasy and certain that i would have only two outfits: my travel outfit (chosen for comfort, not for style) and my pajamas. i would have toiletries, but no swimsuit, no hair fixins and noooooo makeup. not to mention my only shoe choice would be running shoes. brooks. not ideal for twelve days away from home.
- boarding pass: required for boarding any mode of travel. i guess if you’re all snazzy and whatnot you can skip the printing and scan your iPhone… but i’m just not that snazzy yet. so with three boarding passes printed (for each way), i was set.
- luggage tags: i did not manage to keep the original luggage tags required for my luggage to make it to the same place that i do. with layovers, the case may be that the luggage gets to go on ahead on a straight-through while i’m stuck touring America’s airports. in what universe is this alright? i, the person, have to play airplane hopscotch to get where i need to be but my clothing items and hair fixins are waiting, impatiently, at my final destination. booooo. the tags you see here are the tags to get my luggage from the hotel to the cruise ship. a whole other matter entirely. but, another set of paperwork just the same.
- let me take this opportunity to bring up heightened security measures and how i can’t take a can of shaving cream over so many ounces and had to pop the razor off my razor and the constant removal of my shoes and being body scanned and the 3-1-1 rule and no cords (it’s a cell phone charger) and no scissors (they’re for my eyebrows!!!) and no jacket and no sunglasses and all that other blah-tey blah blah madness. if you’re going to travel, RESEARCH, and know what you’re up against. don’t just go and then have to throw out your hair gel, favorite cologne and just purchased 1-liter jug of carbonated goodness. trust me on this.
- cruise itinerary: again. it’s nice to know where you’re going, an estimate of how long it will take to get there, how long you’ll be there and what time you’re leaving. since “a tropical storm” decided to hitch a ride, we had to skip stop two (St. Thomas) and stop three (Puerto Rico– my WHOLE reason for going) and just jam right on to stop four (Grand Turk Island — which turned out to be the party of all parties, we’ll get to that in part three) and fill the rest of the time with stops in other places not listed on the ITINERARY! i’m sure one of you is saying “it’s a plan, it’s not set in stone” and to that i say “it’s written in BLACK and WHITE”. i’m not complaining though, really. i wouldn’t want to take on Mother Nature, particularly while at sea.
- cruise ticket: required at customs along with your passport to prove that you have a valid and verified reason for boarding a boat with 2,928 other people. and for some reason this magic piece of paper says “ticketless”. hmmmm. this same paper was also required at the cruise check-in location to verify confirmation of my reservation prior to the verification of my identification.
- hotel reservation confirmation: prior to boarding our cruise, we spent two nights in Miami, Florida. it allows folks to get acquainted, get familiar and then get crazy at the Pre-Cruise Party the night before push-off (that’s cruise talk for setting sail). you need confirmation of your reservation, followed by the verification of your identification, again… i’m so glad i planned ahead and had all of this ticketless paper madness in one place.
- courteous door tag: our cruise-tastic cruise director “The Mayor” donned the doors of his group with a lovely greeting and welcoming. it also served very helpful in finding the oooooooone room amongst the many rooms when the Mojitos set it. it was purely a courtesy but much appreciated.
- detoured, delayed, denied and rerouted: mmmmm.. yes. well, the weather detoured our cruise and subsequently our flight home. the detour caused a delay. the delay caused us to be completely denied requiring us to be rerouted. on the left is the luggage tag given to me as i checked my carry-on, thinking, “i won’t need it, i’ll be home in 5 hours”. on the right is the denied and rerouted paperwork received when i tried to scan my delayed boarding pass. details? our flight from Tampa to Atlanta was detoured due to weather. we were detoured to Huntsville for fuel. several hours later we resumed our flight to Atlanta, obviously delayed. upon landing our connecting flight to Ontario was already gone. we were denied exit from Atlanta for TWENTY-FIVE hours and requested to return to the Atlanta airport the next night. we made it home sunday night instead of saturday night.
- passport, key cards and “Sail & Sign” : (clockwise) a) your passport is your life. do not travel to another country without it. if you don’t have one, get one, keep it safe. seriously. b) key cards are almost as important as passports since they open the locked hotel rooms where one’s passport currently resides. and c) the “Sail & Sign” card as issued by Carnival Cruises. you must have it. it’s the only way to do ANY and EVERY thing on the boat. it’s your credit and your key. don’t lose it. might i suggest a clear plastic waterproof lanyard? i wished i had one. as i mentioned, the weather changed our itinerary and we made a stop in Key West, Florida. prior to disembarkation of the ship to Key West we were notified via loudspeaker that in order to reembark the ship home, we had to show either 1) our passport and “Sail & Sign” card or 2) our legal state issued identification and BIRTH CERTIFICATE. say whaaaat? yup. serious.
- receipts: i didn’t NEED receipts for anything. but it’s good to keep them, because when the final bill comes and i needed to make sure that i consumed hundreds of dollars worth of Mojitos, Mai Tais and Red Bulls over a seven-day period, receipts were far better at recollecting what happened that my shoddy memory. they added up faster and easier too. (there are waaaaaay more receipts than what is pictured here).
it pays to think ahead when traveling. i had all of the items above (minus the key cards, the “Sail & Sign” card and the receipts) inside clear plastic sheet covers, assembled accordingly in a bound notebook. i kept the notebook with my carry-on luggage and as i made each stop and checkpoint, i was prepared and able to move on quickly. included in my handy notebook was emergency contact information, a brief medical history (i’m allergic to a few things) and a few select pictures of my son. it might seem a little overboard (is that a boat joke?) but it worked out really well. any and all paperwork was organized and at my fingertips. i did the same for my aunt. it gave us a sense of security, which is needed when traveling.
so, now that we’ve talked about the paperwork, let’s actually talk about the traveling. yes, i still have more to say. it can be difficult to budget for a long trip. be sure to account for long-term parking, shuttles and taxis. be sure to have some singles to tip your drivers, baggage handlers and bellmen. if you’re going to stay at a hotel for several days, include money for meals and go to the local store to purchase snacks. even at touristy prices, they will cost less than inside the hotel or airport. speaking of snacks, here’s a question: how long has it been that they stopped serving food on airplanes? and since when did 0.42 ounces of peanuts suffice as a “snack”? that is a pitiful shame and a farce!
that brings me to the topic of airport yumminess. there tend to be an outrageous amount of mini restaurants, bars and eateries inside most airports. i had the pleasure of enjoying Charley’s Fresh Grilled Subs in Atlanta on our way to Miami. egg, cheese and jalapeno type omelet served on a fantastically fresh and warm roll. served to me by some of the happiest working women i have ever seen. laughing, joking and all of them smiling. but with that said, beware of eating in airports as it is expensive. seriously. my sandwich and soda was close to ten dollars. while most of it is very delicious, where a budget is concerned i wished i had stopped outside of the airport and grabbed a bite.
airports also tend to be loaded down with reading material. hours on a plane can provide ample time to knock out several magazines, peruse pictures or read hundreds of pages in a long-anticipated current read. i suggest getting this stuff elsewhere. listen… the airlines and the airport are getting their money. they once provided us with room for ourselves, our luggage, carry-on items, headsets, meals and snacks — all for the cost of one ticket and a tip to the porter. but these days, you’re allowed one bag. any additional bags, cost. any overweight bags, cost. parking, meals and extra thoughts, cost. save yourself some trouble and some cost and plan ahead.
one more item before i let you rest is that you can’t beat interesting conversation with another traveler. sitting between my aunt and i from Ontario to Atlanta was Mr. Grover C. he was on his way to his niece’s wedding. he was just as sweet as pie. as my aunt napped, he and i engaged in conversation. we talked about everything in the few hours we were together. two things stand out: our conversation about how clouds look solid, yet fluffy and delicious and also about my writing, my blog and of course his encouragement of me going back to school. i gave him a bookmark with my blog address and i hope to hear from him soon.
in the future i would do the following to make my traveling just a smidge easier:
- tag all luggage with the exact same indicator. ribbon, bow, tag, whatever. all of them the same.
- clear plastic waterproof lanyard to hold the “Sail & Sign” card. it was hard to keep track of while i spent the first four days in the pool. it’s not something you want to leave lying about.
- take beverages of choice. we were allotted unlimited water, lemonade and iced tea on the cruise. everything else was at cost. inflated cost. i would bear the brunt of a case of water and a case of carbonated goodness.
- pillow. i hate other pillows. i don’t even know why i try.
- waterproof camera. it’s too hard to keep track of cameras and phones when you’re spending so much time in the water (perhaps that’s just me). it would have been ideal to have a waterproof camera near so that when the moment struck i could snap the shot and keep on keepin’ on instead of having to get out, dry my forearms, dig into my bag, dry my forearms, turn the camera on, aim, try to shoot, dry my forearms and take three really bad pictures before giving up.
so this, my lovelies, is part one ~ traveling to travel. just a hint at what it takes to leave home for a total of twelve days and if you’ve never done it, just a little glimpse into what you can expect. i hope it was helpful. if you think of something to share, please let me know. i love and appreciate your comments. i’ll return soon with part two ~ the ship, the staff and the service. until next time, my darlings…. stay sweet.