This cruise was the first vacation I've ever taken as an adult. Not that I've never gone anywhere for non-business reasons. But the idea behind my travelling previously typically involved some kind of project. Or to visit friends living in a particular area (more likely, both). Not the traditional "go to someplace and just relax and/or recreate."
I haven't done that since I was 18 and went to Sugarloaf in Vermont with a friends' family for skiiing. After one day, the temperatures went above freezing, the next day it rained, and I came home 2 days early. At the dawn of adulthood, that taught me that pleasure-only trips can quickly go south if the simplest things don't cooperate.
I've done book signing tours in the Northwest, and research trips to London (adding visits to friends in Paris and Denmark) and Southeast Asia. I've lived in Germany, and spent plenty of time at Sofie's grandparent's in Austria. According to Chandra, none of these really count as going away for a vacation. I agree.
This was different. And if I could do it again, I would. Not every time -- it is a fantasy life, to a great extent. But it had some distinct advantages. Like that I could go scuba diving one day (albeit risking my life unnecessarily) and travel to the next spot that same afternoon. I couldn't have done that on a plane -- without my skull exploding. Or, finding a place that was not to my liking (San Juan), I could retreat to the pleasure palace that was the ship with the knowledge we'd be on our way.
But, really, the best thing was having everything handy. We could unpack for the whole week and have it all set before us. What I didn't like that, although meals and shows were free, they never missed an opportunity to nickel and dime us. Free wi-fi should be standard. There was no self-serve laundry -- it was either a hefty charge for whatever we could fit into a large sandwich bag or wash them in the sink. Or, in my case, buy more socks.
But as we got our stuff together and disembarked, these were minor, minor concerns. We left vastly more relaxed than when we arrived. And, I have to give shipboard life credit -- I gained maybe half a pound. The food was served in senior sizes (much like in European restaurants), which is not such a bad thing when the food is fairly rich and ful of flavor. You get to try more things, after all. Now add to that the trek half a mile to the dining room and back, and suddenly you're exercising even when heading to the get your fill at the thrice-daily trough. And that late night snack of ice cream, cookies or pizza on the Lido deck
Unlike arriving via Jake Express, we now took the bus to the airport. The cost was like 10 bucks each, which we had booked the day before. For the short time and distance, we could have caught one of the many cabs and gotten there perhaps earlier, and a few dollars cheaper.
When we got there, the bus driver said, "Welcome back to reality." I imagine dropping people off from a cruise is probably the most pleasant part of his workday. People are so mellow. In this case, they weren't even in a rush. Couldn't be in a rush. Inside the Ft. Lauderdale terminal, lines of people crowded every available space.
Turns out snow had shut down flights to and from Chicago and most of the eatern seaboard the day before. While waiting in line, Chandra met a friend from work who had been at the airport going on her second day. Standby was fading reality for her, so she and her teeange daughter were about to rent a car to drive back to Boston. All the trains had been booked already.
JetBlue was overwhelmed like every other airline, and thanks to technology passengers were able to check with the airlines and other airports to totally undercut whatever desk personnel were claiming. "The plane that you just said will be here in 3o minutes hasn't even left the ground in New York yet" and that sort of stuff. Having had their image tarnished just a few weeks prior by keeping a plane on the tarmac for hours and hours simply gave the impression that JetBlue people were trying really, really, reallyreallyreally hard to be nice.
Okay, fine, I just got back from a week of doing nothing important, and if we're waiting another hour here, that's okay... this was our attitude.
As for the flight itself, we had taken AirTrain EconoProp airlines down and the contrast with JetBlue could not have been more stark (as mentioned previously, we found it was cheaper to fly one way with each than roundtrip with either -- go figure). JetBlue had flat screen tv's in the back of every seat, and we could change the channels. They gave out snacks that I had actually heard of (Famous Amost cookies, Sun Chips, etc.) and these weren't the 25-cent-slip-in-your-vest-pocket versions -- they were I-better-save-the-rest-of-this-for-later size. Good business model, guys.
And that's it. We got back to Boston. It was cold. I drove home to Chatham. And real life began again. Here's the skinny on the trip:
Holland America Cruise Lines: Good food, good service, too cheap on modern conveniences, watch out for nebulous competitions.
AirTran: Take it if you have to. Or just to teach the other guys lessons about keeping fares low.
JetBlue: Take it if you can. But maybe wear a t-shirt that says "I will become this flight's Official Unruly Passenger if we do not take off one hour after we leave the gate."
Grand Turk: Go diving. Go scuba diving. Go helmet diving. Do not waste your time at the beachside club. Instead, find some reason to hold your head underwater for at least 20 minutes.
San Juan: Check that the Marshall's is still open before you go. Otherwise, skip it. In fact, skip any cruise line that offers to take you there. A waste of a day better spent elsewhere.
St. Thomas: Skip it. Save your money. Tell the cruise lines that they better dock you in town or shuttle you for free there.
St. John: Go. Hit the earliest ferry from St. Thomas and try to stay as long as you can.
Half Moon Cay: Make sure this is part of any cruise itinerary, and a bonus if it is your last stop. If you can manage it, have your birthday there. Or die there. Or both. You might even get a free towel.