So, the private renewal of vows were done, and we saved a boatload of money by not having a big party….so, what to do? Plan a second “honeymoon” (actually, a first since our first honeymoon was driving from San Diego to Junction City, Kansas where my new husband was attached to a military base)!
We carefully researched and selected a travel agent and chose a cruise through the British Isles that would set sail on my birthday and continue through our anniversary date. We booked the trip (buying travel insurance and booking flights from the cruise line for protection).
We arrived at the airport two and a half hours early with one suitcase that we checked in for the flights to New York and then on to London and two carry ons to carry through our TSA pre-check. We waited at our gate, while our flight was delayed…and delayed…and delayed (weather issues in New York). Concerned we were going to miss our connecting flight in New York, we stood in line to see what our options were (which turned out to be a smart move since our flight ended up being cancelled). The ticket agent told us to make a run for it, and we could get on a flight to LA and get a red eye flight to London arriving 2 hours later than our previously scheduled flight. We got on that flight, got to LA, tried unsuccessfully to get a bus to the International Terminal, did a quick jog through hoards of LA passengers in the steam of a late afternoon in July, checked in for our new flight, went through TSA again (this time without pre-check-necessitating taking liquids out and shoes off, etc.), called Princess cruise line to let them know of the itinerary change for our pickup in London, ran for the new flight and finally settled in for the ten hour journey…seated in separate seats for the start of our “honeymoon”.
Upon our bleary eyed arrival at Heathrow airport, we stumbled past customs and headed to baggage claim with our two carry ons in tow. As the last passengers off the plane (not only were we seated separately, we were in the back of the plane!) and through customs, most passengers had claimed their luggage by the time we arrived. We stood at the carousel as the final few bags were claimed and looked at each other in jet lagged disbelief….our luggage had not come with us! We headed to the baggage customer service and waited in line to share our dilemma. Very sympathetically, the British clerks checked the computer and found our luggage…stuck in New York!! Even though our flight had not gone to New York, evidently our luggage did!! Because of bad weather they did not know when it would get to London. They suggested we leave the name of our hotel, and they would try to reroute it as soon as possible. When we explained that we were trying to get on a ship that left port in four hours, they raised their eyebrows and busily worked at their computer. “That’s going to be a problem,” we were told. We wearily handed over our itinerary as they explained that the ports in Ireland three and four days into the cruise might be the first chance the luggage would catch up to us. Sighing, we picked up our small carry on bags and headed to the arrival area to meet our Princess representatives for the two hour transfer to the ship port of Southampton.
Can you guess what happened next? Yup, no representatives to meet us! After walking the arrival area more than once we headed to an information booth located by arrivals. The people there, while extremely nice, were unable to help us. They had no contact information for Princess cruise lines. They offered that we could use their phone if we had emergency numbers to call, so we got out our information one more time and tried to call the phone number we called from LA to change our arrival time for the new flight. Unfortunately, that number only worked until 5 p.m. (Pacific Standard Time) on the weekends so no one answered that call. Then we tried the second emergency number in our paperwork and got the response that the number was “no longer in service”. It was now about 45 minutes after our arrival and about three hours before our ship sailed from the port two hours away. We were discussing the situation and taxi costs with the information people when a Globus tour representative walked by and overheard our dilemma. She offered to call the Princess number she had on her cellphone. Success! She got ahold of a representative who was in another part of the airport (never having gotten our new arrival information) and met us for transportation to the port.
Upon arrival at the port (which was not very crowded since the ship was due to sail in less than an hour) we got in line to get our cruise cards. We gave the representatives our early check in documentation and waited as they looked at the computer…looked for the cards…and looked at the computer some more. Then we were informed they couldn’t find our cards, but they would make us new ones. If we’d just have a seat they would be ready in 25 to 30 minutes. By this point we didn’t even protest. We just dragged our carry ons to the seats they pointed out and proceeded to wait-yet again. Finally, cards in hand, we straggled as one of the last passengers to board the ship. Once checked in, we weren’t given ship maps or shown our cabin so we found our stateroom on our own.
As we approached our cabin, our female steward greeted us and told us to grab our life jackets since the lifeboat drill was happening momentarily. I protested that I needed to use the restroom as the alarm went off and we were pointed in the direction of our lifeboat gathering spot where our cards were scanned for attendance and we were given directions in case of an emergency. Once back at the cabin (and after a quick restroom stop!) we next navigated the line to guest services to give them the lost luggage information. The person at guest services was very nice, but when we asked what our insurance coverage with Princess was, she told us it was an airline problem and we would not have any coverage, but she could offer us two complimentary toilet kits with a toothbrush and toothpaste. Upon seeing our incredulous looks, she added that my husband could be fitted for a rental tux. “When is formal night?” I asked. When I heard it was the next night, and they offered nothing for women (meaning that we would miss the first formal night, since I would be in jeans, and be eating dinner at the casual buffet) I started to cry as I explained that it was my birthday…and it wasn’t going well. Told that we could call our travel agent the next evening,to verify our travel coverage, at ship expense, we wearily retreated to our cabin to find a letter from the ship expressing their disappointment that we had not attended the lifeboat drill! At that point, we just opened our meager carry ons to find something to sleep in and called an end to our disastrous travel journey.
The first port of Guernsey was lovely and warm as we sweated through our emergency t-shirts from our carry on. That night, as we sailed on to the next port, we spent our first formal night in an hour long conversation with a substitute travel agent (our agent was on vacation!) as he talked with a Princess representative and relayed that we were being given the wrong information. We had $500 in delayed baggage with our insurance. We should buy whatever we needed and keep the receipts for reimbursement. Of course, this conversation took place as we left port – and the stores where we could have purchased necessary items. We went into the ship’s store and purchased a couple of new shirts to wear (very Caribbean oriented in design!) with our “in need of washing” jeans as couples in evening attire floated around us on their way to the formal night dinner. That was the end of Day 2!
Day 3 was our first port in Ireland. We looked very festive in our Caribbean shirts as we wandered the streets of Cork (the last place passengers for the Titanic boarded…which should have signaled the challenges yet to come…). As we returned to the ship that evening, we crossed our fingers that our luggage might be in the stateroom. No such luck awaited us. Sighing, I started filling out an express laundry sheet for our meager clothes and wrote out a lengthy explanation of why we needed the clothes returned by 7 a.m. – unless the ship wanted us to be wandering pantless among the well dressed passengers!. I had just finished my lengthy (and sympathy provoking) explanation when there was a knock at the door. The luggage had arrived, battered but intact, on the third evening of the cruise! We fell asleep in clean pajamas, dreaming of smooth sailing ahead!
It appeared our prayers were answered. The next day we woke up early and remarked on how quiet and smooth the ship was. Looking out our cabin window, we marveled at the”glass like” sea. It was so calm it almost seemed as if we weren’t moving. At about that moment the captain came on with the announcement that we were right…the ship was not moving!! Engine power had been lost. Passengers should not be concerned, ship electricity and sanitation was intact, but the ship had lost engine power. We were also told not to be alarmed about the arriving helicopter. They were bringing in engineers to work on the problem. In the meantime, we were to enjoy the ship’s services (Bingo, anyone?!). As the morning progressed, the ship’s movement did not. We were informed mid morning that the port of Dublin that was scheduled for that day had been cancelled (and we would receive $250 shipboard credit as compensation- I guess to pay for all that unscheduled Bingo and drinking that was going on! Later hours brought announcements that an ocean tugboat was on its way if needed and authorities were alerted of our predicament and were aware of our location-somewhere in the Irish sea bobbing like a cork! Late that evening, we were informed that power had been restored and we chugged on to the next port of Glascow, Scotland (with the helicopter and tugboat along, just in case).
Next day, another great port! We were trying to find our cruise enthusiasm back. After all, this was a special cruise to celebrate our 40th anniversary. We had our luggage and each other! As we sailed from port that evening we were in a good mood, determined to enjoy the rest of our cruise. Then….the captain came on with another announcement. The minute he started his interruption of “another situation” there was dead silence among crew and passengers. Everyone froze in place, and you could have heard a pin drop! This time, he explained that there was a major storm brewing that would be hitting our next port of Kirkwall with full force the next day. It was a dangerous situation and for our safety we would have to miss the port as we sailed at full speed to try to keep in front of the storm (and, since it was weather related, there would be no compensation). Also, please be prepared for a rough night and remember to hold on to the bannisters by the stairs for your safety.
Another unscheduled sea day (but hey, more Bingo!) and time to reflect on our cruise experience. It occurs to me that our cruise can be compared to a long marriage. There have been periods of smooth sailing and periods of stormy seas with the occasional crisis that stops you in mid water. We have navigated waves of irritation along with winds of uncertainty and doubt as to where we were going.
I know one thing for sure after our anniversary journey. After cruising along for 40 years, I’m grateful to find myself in the safe harbor of a marriage that has withstood the passage of time…I’m also glad that the “honeymoon” is over, and we’re back on dry land! Happy anniversary to us:)