First of all, I would like to apologize to Francisco and the other CC members on the February 3rd sailing of the Norwegian Pearl, for not showing up at the meet and greet we had scheduled at the Sky High lounge right after the muster drill. Me and DW had a little problem....a cruisers worst nightmare: we missed the ship...But amazingly everything came out good in the end...let me explain with a day by day account.
Sunday, February 3, 2008:
Okay, I know that one of the basic recommendation to any cruiser is that you travel the day BEFORE your cruise. I knew this, but on my three previous cruises, I traveled the day of and never had a problem. I threw common sense to the wind and let the gambler in me take control. Dumb me. If you are planning a land trip, to say Mexico, and your plane is delayed, well Mexico ain't goin anywhere...you can get there later or maybe manana. But a cruise ship is a different story. You don't get there on time and the old cliches kicks in "your ship has sailed" and you're "SOL".
I figured that even if good old American Airlines flight 1048, departing at 8:35 AM from Chicago O'Hare to Miami was three hours late, I would still catch the Pearl, unfortunately it was four hours late. American Airlines, why did you wait four hours to roll out a replacement jet, when you realized you couldn't fix the "circuit problem" in the jet engine on the left wing? If you had rolled out the replacement jet after say two hours, then DW and I, the nice family of three from Rockford, the young couple from Wisconsin and the family of five from Indiana, would have all caught the Pearl. Instead American, after you insisted that there were no other flights available (except for the young couple from Wisconsin, who somehow got on another flight, without their luggage) the rest of us finally arrived in Miami about 45 minutes after the Pearl sailed. Yes American, you did provide those of us who missed the ship overnight accommodation in Miami and reservations the next day on the flight to Cozumel, to meet up with the Pearl on Tuesday, but what kind of hotels are you affiliated with in Miami?
DW and I were assigned to the airport Comfort Inn, a dismal place with a depressing restaurant. Yes they gave us food vouchers, and although the food was okay, you had to order it at the cash register and then they brought it to your table. The hotel seemed to be filled with laborers and construction workers who were staying there. I'm not a snob, I like laborers and construction workers, but jeez, what a depressing start to our much anticipated vacation. I was supposed to be in a romance suite on the Pearl, instead I watched the Super Bowl in the restaurant, one of the few who was even paying attention, while the rest of the people ate in complete indifference, like it was just another game....strange vibe.
I know, it's my own fault....you always travel the day BEFORE the cruise, dummy! Sorry I didn't make the meet and greet Francisco.
Monday, February 4, 2008:
Me and DW decide we are going to turn lemons into lemonade, darn it! We are catching the 12:50 plane from Miami to Cozumel and all is going to be great, we decide. We have breakfast at the unComfortable Inn and board the Shuttle back to the hellhole called Miami International Airport for the Cozumel flight. If you never flew out of MIA, you are lucky...if you are planning to, don't do it! Revise your plans. Go via Fort Lauderdale instead. Long lines, long waits, chaos, unfriendly and unprofessional staff. has to be the worst major airport in America (more on this later). DW and I wait in a long line, to check our bags for the international flight to Cozumel. The American ticket agent asks for our tickets. We explain to her that American has booked us because the flight was late and we missed the ship and blah blah blah. Unfriendly ticket agent says there is a problem and disappears. Me and DW are sweating because if we don't get on this flight there will be no Pearl, no vacation, no fun and we will have to head back to cold, snowy Chicago. After ten long minutes, she finally comes back and says problem straightened out and give us our boarding passes. Phew, close call.
We have a couple of hours to spare and we go to the gate. There we meet the family of three from Rockford: A very nice couple and their twenty-something son, who are also trying to catch up with the Pearl. What do you know? The family of five from Indiana was also there. When boarding time came, we had to board a bus that took us out on the tarmac to board the Cozumel plane. On the bus we met some more people flying to Cozumel after missing the Pearl: A young couple from New York who were supposed to get married on the Pearl and an older couple from New York. We found out their American Airlines flight out of Kennedy had a much worse problem than our O'Hare flight the day before: Their flight caught fire while in the air! They had to make an emergency landing in Baltimore, and they also missed the sailing of the Pearl.
The bus drives a long way out to a remote part of the airport and stops in front of a small propeller plane, not a jet, a propeller plane. We all are saying this just cant be our plane, but it is. I think it holds about 30 or so. DW and I are sitting in row 4 and the stewardess announces she needs two volunteers to move from the front of the plane to the back of the plane because (get this) they needed to balance the plane! American Scarelines are you kidding me? You are making us risk our lives because it's 2008 and you're to cheap to update your fleet and your still flying propeller planes and we have to fly over water and now we have to sit in certain seats to balance the plane? HELP!
Okay, we are tough, we are gonna make this trip a memorable adventure. Me and DW decide we will be heroes and volunteer our services as "balancers" and move to the back of the plane. Besides, I figure, on this plane the back row gets off first and when we get to Cozumel, we will need hotel and food vouchers from American Scarelines, and we want to be the first team to get to the gate agent and make our arrangements and hey how the heck did we end up on the "Amazing Race" anyway?
The flight to Cozumel takes about two hours, on a jet it would probably take half the time. It was a little bumpy, but not too bad. We start to descend and below is a sea of beautiful turquoise blue. After landing, DW and I are first off the plane. We walk down the stairs onto the tarmac and are instructed to follow the American Airlines agent into the terminal and into the customs line. I ask her about hotel vouchers and she tells me to talk to her after we clear customs. She is not sure why we need vouchers and is unaware of our airline-caused delays. The Cozumel airport is small, new and clean. The luggage comes out and customs is a breeze. We walk to the American Airlines counter and there is nobody there manning it. In fact, all the ticket counters are dead...not to many flights going on at this airport at this time of day. Soon after we are joined in line by the other teams trying to catch the Pearl: Team Rockford, Team Indiana and the two teams from New York. We soon learn that the only American Airlines employee at the airport is the agent who escorted us off the flight and she is busy with a "problem" on the flight leaving for Houston and will be with us in about 20-30 minutes. This doesn't sit well with us gringos who don't like waiting.
Finally the agent arrives at the desk and wonderful Hispanic lady from one of the New York teams, the one that is getting married aboard the Pearl, takes over on behalf of all of us. She speaks Spanish and is able to better communicate with the agent. American Airlines really comes through for us this time. They book us at the beautiful Casa Mexicana Hotel, directly across the street from the dock where the Pearl will be tying up in the morning. They give us a dinner allowance and are sending to vans to pick us up and take us to the hotel. Things are really looking up!
We arrive at the hotel and it's really nice, new and beautifully designed with outdoor decks and atriums. Nice room with balcony and from our balcony I can see the dock, currently occupied by the Carnival Freedom. We order room service of delicious Mexican food. Hotel service is wonderful. We are happy. DW and I decide to do a little shopping. We look in several of the shops, heading down to the square and back, picking up several souvenirs and gifts along the way. It's dark now and the Carnival Freedom looks beautiful, all lit up. We meet up with Team Rockford and decide to go have a drink at Carlos and Charlie's. Bill, the patriarch of Team Rockford generously pick up the tab for all of us for those giant yard long slushy drinks while we sit and chat and watch people do the limbo with the waiters pouring long streams of booze in the participants mouths as they go under the pole. After the limbo, the five of us hit the dance floor....we have a blast! DW is impressed that I actually danced...I am too. We leave the bar and head back to the hotel next door. The Carnival Freedom is gone....set sail, nowhere in sight. Tomorrow we will finally catch up with the Pearl.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008:
I wake up early, maybe about 6 or 6:30 and go out on the balcony. I look out by the dock and there she is...we finally caught up with her! The beautiful Norwegian Pearl is backing into her slip in the dock across the street. We get a call from our new friends from Rockford and decide to meet downstairs and walk over to the ship together. We arrive at the dock, present our passports and a porter takes our bags on a large cart. as we are walking down the pier I am looking up at the ship, trying to locate our aft cabin balcony and I trip over something, recovering my balance before I fall, but making a total fool of myself...oh well. I am happy, we are here.
At the door to the ship we are met by an NCL agent who has us on a list of over 30 people who have missed the ship. He tells us to leave our luggage and follow him to the reception desk where we check in, arrange our onboard accounts and get our cruise cards. DW and I walk to our beautiful aft cabin 10666 where waiting for us is a bottle of wine, bottle of champaign and basket of fruit. NCL thank-you! You are treating us right. We originally booked a mini-suite but were upsold into the romance suite, affording us certain "VIP" privileges. We give the concierge Carlos a call. He comes by our room and is vary helpful setting up dinner reservations for us for our remaining three nights. DW and I go to the Blue Lagoon for breakfast as it's either that or the buffet. We enjoy a delicious breakfast and are relieved to finally be on the ship. From the window we see a sea turtle swimming in the turquoise water several decks below. It is an awesome sight.
We relax and unpack and then explore the ship. We decide to walk back into town and do a little more shopping. We have been in Cozumel about 24 hours by now and are glad to get back to the ship and relax. We sit out on the balcony enjoying the view of the dock and our Casa Mexicana Hotel. Soon the ship sets sail. I am enjoying watching the sun going down from our aft balcony and snap several pictures. DW is at the makeup table getting ready for our dinner at Cagney's.
Cagney's is delicious. I have the New York strip and DW has the lamb chops. We are exhausted but decide to go see the Second City Show in the main theater. We both think it's really good. We laugh, but we are tired. Two days of trying to catch up with the Pearl has finally taken its toll on us. I play a little roulette in the casino, the cool one where you put your money in the slot and make your bets on the touch screen. I lose about ten bucks and decide to go back to the cabin and watch the Super Tuesday coverage on CNN. Glad to be on the Pearl.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008:
We get up early. DW and I go to breakfast at Summer Palace...it's okay, nothing special. DW's pancakes tastes like McDonald's pancakes...no big deal. Ship is still sailing, about 90 minutes from Grand Cayman. DW goes back to the cabin and I check out the casino. The casino is completely empty. I see an attendant in the corner behind a desk and ask her if I can play the machines. She says I can for another hour. I have the whole place to myself. I go back to my roulette machine and start hitting some numbers. I leave ahead $75 for the morning which puts me up $65 for the trip...not bad. I'm happy.
We arrive in Grand Cayman and DW and I use our VIP priority boarding privilege to get the first tender to the island. DW wants to take a tour out to Stingray City. I'm okay with it, although personally I'm not that interested it getting in the water and petting the beautiful, strange sea creatures. We pay $40 per person and board a bus for a local tour operator, not the one sanctioned by NCL. The tour crew seems a little motley but friendly. We board a small boat that has a couple of cracked windows and start heading quite a long distance out to sea. I start to wonder if we shouldn't have booked the official NCL sanctioned excursion instead. I enjoy the boat ride through the beautiful water and after about a half hour we finally arrive at the sandbar called Stingray City. Several tour boats are out there and our guide sets up everyone with snorkel masks and directs everyone into the water....except me. I stay on the boat and snap pics of DW playing with the Stingrays. As I said, playing with them was not my cup of tea, but I enjoyed watching DW have fun and snapped a lot of great pictures. On the way back, our boat stopped to pick up a diver who was collecting Conch shells. I think he just wanted the Conch inside and gave one of the beautiful empty shells to DW...nice souvenir.
We decide to go back to the ship for a late lunch...we are starving. We dine up at the buffet looking out at the Carnival Freedom and the Costa ship...I noticed that they were identical designs. I go back to my roulette machine and give back $30 of profit and am now up $35 for the trip. We relax in the cabin but decide that we ate lunch top late and will have to cancel our 6:00 reservations at LaCucina. Even our "VIP" status couldn't get us a later reservation there, so we have a later dinner at Indigo. DW doesn't care much for her lobster ravioli but loves her Greek salad and trifle desert. My sirloin stake is okay but nothing like the Cagney's steak. The Moulton chocolate cake is amazing. After dinner we go to the South Beach Rave dance review. We especially love the dancer I call "rubberwoman"....man, she is flexible. We go back to the room and watch movies on the movie channels.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
A day at Sea. We use our "VIP" status to have breakfast at Cagney's. It is good but not memorable. We have to try the broiled grapefruit with sugarcane and rum after seeing on a sample menu several weeks ago...good but not as goods as it sounds. We explore the pool area and walk around the jogging track a couple of times. I suddenly remember the promenade deck 7 and we walk all the way around the ship. This deck is the best kept secret on the ship. Quiet, no hustle and bustle and a great place to walk or lounge, although the few lounge chairs provided were taken. We go to the Bliss Lounge and I order a BBC, which is a Bailey's banana cream drink that I read about on the CC boards and had to try. mmmmmm. DW goes to Spa and I go back to my roulette machine and proceed to give up my profit and then some more. I think I'm down now about $60 for the trip. I go back to the cabin and sit out on the balcony and read. Already we are getting disembarkation instructions for our arrival in Miami in the morning. Heck, we just got on the ship.
We go to dinner at LeBistro. We are enjoying the quiet ambiance of the room. We start with the french onion soup and it's disappointing. DW sends it back for the mushroom soup and is much happier. The goat cheese and caramelized onion tart is delicious. We both like our entrees, the chicken dish for DW and the duck for me. I loved the creme brulee for desert, DW told me later that the sweetness of it bothered her stomach. We decide to go see the Rootberry show in the main theater. Rootberry is two juggler guys that do some pretty good juggling stuff and try to be funny at the same time. It was amusing, but a bit on the lame side...DW liked it better then me, but it was fun. We went back to the room and started packing while watching political stuff on CNN. I sat out on the deck and enjoyed the warm air and stars. Our journey is coming to a quick end.
Friday, February 8, 2008
I wake up at 5 AM, its still dark. Ship is pulling into Port of Miami. We go up to the buffet for early breakfast. Carlos the concierge had sent us disembarkation instructions for VIP priority disembarkation. We are instructed to meet him at the Stardust Theater at 6:45. Even though our flight to O'Hare isn't until 2:30, we decide to go as early to possibly try to get an earlier flight to O'Hare. Carlos leads us off the ship at about 7 and we really are the first to walk off. We breeze through customs and hop in a cab to Miami International....the dreaded Miami International.
We stand in another long line till we get to the ticket agent. She tells us there are plenty of seats on the 11:15 flight, but claims she has to put us on standby and can't simply change the reservations to confirmed seats. I offer to pay the $25 fee for confirmed seats but she waves off my suggestion assuring us we won't have a problem. We go through a very long, undermanned security line (what's going on TSA? You have eight security stations and only two are open?) but we have plenty of time, even for the 11:15 flight.
We proceed to gate E33 for AA Flight 703, where we encountered the rudest, most foul gate agents in the history of air travel. Both Hispanic ladies, one with mid-length dark blond hair and the other with short black hair. I went up to the blonde one to ask a question about our status and she snarled at me that she was too busy and to come back later. I came back later and she would only tell me we were on a list and snapped at me to go sit down. I was dumbfounded. If I argued with her or protested her rudeness, was she going to purposely move me down the list and keep me off the flight? Would she call the cops on me and have me dragged away to the Dade County jail? My wife tried to talk to the dark haired one and got the same snappy treatment. All we want to do was ask a couple of questions, you horrible b----. If you hate the traveling public that much, maybe you better think about a career change. As soon as I wrap up this review, I will be notifying AA about your rudeness. You were even stupid enough to give a hard time to another AA employee who was trying to get on the flight and even a stewardess on the very flight itself. She must have hated me too...we got on the flight but she put us in row 44 of the completely full 767 jumbo jet, the very last row between the two bathrooms. Worst seats on the plane, but we got home safe and we had a fantastic time, in spite of the setbacks
NCL: Thanks for everything. It's not your fault that the ship had to sail without us. Once we caught up with the ship you treated us great and provided us with everything you promised and more. We will defiantly cruse with you in the future. The NCL staff was friendly, helpful and efficient.
Miami International Airport: Miami, If you want to be a world-class city you have to have a world-class airport...and you don't. Your airport is pure chaos and disorganization and way too small for the throngs. Your employees are the rudest in the USA. Not a good thing for a city dependant on tourism. I will cruise out of south Florida again but I will fly into the far superior Fort Lauderdale Airport in the future.
American Airlines: Mixed reviews for you AA, mostly on the negative side. When you knew your jet needed major repair, why did you wait four hours to roll a replacement plane, causing people to miss important connections? Why do you make it so difficult and costly to change a reservation? When I tried to get on the 6:30 flight out of Chicago, after I realized I made a mistake booking the 8:45, you made changing my reservation cost-prohibitive, while at the same time you lost a bundle paying for two days of hotel and food and an extra flight. If you changed my reservation you would have saved hundreds of dollars on us. What's with the propeller planes? Time to update your fleet AA. Any plane where people have to move to balance it, doesn't sound worthy of the worlds biggest airline. Much of your personnel in Miami needs an attitude adjustment, or better yet, a ticket to the unemployment line...these people and their surly, argumentative attitudes should not be serving the traveling public and are a black eye to your airline.
On the plus side, one of your gate agents at O'Hare was very helpful during the four hour delay(another was rude and not helpful). Your agent in Cozumel was efficient and nice, although maybe you can hire an assistant for her. You put us up in a great hotel in Cozumel. The stewardesses on all three flights were friendly and good.
Final Tip: LEAVE THE DAY BEFORE THE CRUISE!!!