My lovely wife, Rosy, slipped on ice, pre-Christmas, and broke her left shoulder. She suffered a lot of pain and has been off sick from work since then. I decided that some hot sunshine would cheer her up and hopefully aid her recovery.
Therefore, we looked for a Caribbean cruise, at a good price, preferably departing Florida. There were several to choose from, but alas no 'award' flights available. I had an American Express 2-4-1 voucher, which allowed me to use my BA miles to purchase two tickets for the price of one, on a return flight from the UK to any destination.
I'd learnt from the FlyerTalk.com website that the most cost effective use of miles is to travel in either Club World or First class. I found good availability to Houston, Texas and found a 7 day cruise to the Western Caribbean from Galveston, Texas at an excellent price, utilising a $100 discount for the over 55's. We also qualify for on board credit (OBC) through our Carnival share-holding and past guest status.
I used 25k more miles to upgrade the outbound flight as I hope the 747 will be fitted with new First, as most Houston flights currently have the latest cabin style. This is also a long daytime flight and so we can take advantage of the extensive wine list and personal service. For years we travelled in economy, where my 6'4" frame fits very snuggly, so it's a real treat to be at the other end of the plane.
Last weekend (two weeks from our cruise), Galveston was fogbound and all cruises were delayed. I haven't told Rosy this, as I don't want to worry her, so I hope all is well on March 6!
We usually travel up to London the night before a long flight, but as our flight doesn't leave until 14.20, we decided to travel up in what should be lighter traffic, as it's a Saturday, on the day and leave quite early, allowing more time in the Concorde Room.
My mum has just moved to a respite home near Cambridge and wanted some things, so we decided to travel up on Friday 4th and stay at her house, near Cambridge, before driving to LHR on Saturday morning.
I found a special offer for parking on the Travel Essentials website, allowing valet parking for the same cost as long stay. Perfect parking are charging us £59.99 for 9 days parking, excellent value. We simply drive to departures, leave our car with their chauffeur and do the reverse on our return.
UNWANTED FLIGHT CHANGE
On the Thursday night, I received a PM from a friendly Flyer Talk member, informing me that our flight BA197 may be cancelled. This really worried us as it meant we would miss our cruise, if the flight was cancelled. This was about 21.00 and BA in the UK close at 20.00, so I called BA USA and the agent told me that although the flight was still live, it said on our booking ref that it had been cancelled and as we had award tickets we would need to call BAEC in the morning. This stressed us further so I waited 30 mins for BAEC in USA and the agent confirmed that our booking ref showed the flight cancelled. He offered us various options, but the only satisfactory one meant us driving overnight to Cambridge to drop off my mum's things and then drive back to LHR. We knew she'd be upset, but fortunately she was awake at 05.00 and we had a quick chat.
We arrived at LHR at 07.15 for the 10.50 flight, but the parking guys kept me standing in the cold for 45 minutes, which delayed our breakfast and Bucks Fizz.
Fast Track and check-in were really busy, so we didn't get to the CCR until about 08.30 and no spa treatments were available so we booked the massage chairs and showers, followed by smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for breakfast.
I had to change my car hire and book a hotel in Dallas, which took an age on the awfully slow BA wifi. Eventually I used the terminals in the Board room enjoying the comfort of the old Concorde leather seats. This internet was much quicker and I used my Starwood points to book the Westin DFW (3000 points). We changed the car hire for a Saturday collection and will keep our original reservation for the Sheraton Houston North for the Saturday night.
Just before we left the comfort of the CCR Terrace, I asked the BA agent if our original flight BA 197 on 5 March, had been cancelled and was horrified to find that they were checking people in and the flight was 'live'. They suggested I email BA customer services, with my 'story of woe'. Something must be seriously wrong with their booking system for things like this to happen!
In no time at all, our flight was shown as leaving from gate B34, which meant a bit of a trek. One minute it was showing as Boarding, then the next 'final call', so we rushed along. In the excitement, I initially failed to spot that this flight had new F, so I was delighted. I took some pictures ably assisted by the cabin crew, who were very attentive.
We were soon airborne, only allowing me enough time to send a couple of PM's to FT members and post an update.
The champagne in F is Taittinger Brut Millesime 2004, which tastes good, but I have no idea as to it's quality. After two days of liquids and Aloe Vera in a Detox diet I'm delighted to be enjoying other liquids. My wife is adorned in a beautiful silky blue dress and she looks lovely, it's great to be alive. I hope Sam, the cat will forgive us for the hurried exit last night!
We are about to have lunch, which for me will be salmon and shrimps, followed by a duo of English beef and some cheese and chocolate (don't tell the Detox adviser!). Still to come, cream tea and banana chocolate cake.
With three hours to go I still haven't had the cake, but oh dear I have sneaked off to the Club kitchen and indulged in chocolate! All that effort and the calories come creeping back! Maltesers, shortbread chocolate bars all the way from DORCHESTER! Hey, we've still got the cruise to come and Rosy wants to find the Cheesecake Factory, my oh my!
I now have burnt butter ice cream and Bailey's with ice, yum yum! We have been having a discussion about the distance from the table that an average stomach is and how important kit is to use a napkin! Pity the poor soul that does the laundry!
Now 2 hours to reality, when we land at DFW and presumably meet chaotic immigration, but don't forget queue on the right, where the line moves fastest.
Arrival at baggage reclaim presents a further problem, as our bags are still in London, so a nice lady called Ruth, gave us a voucher for a night in the DFW Hyatt, with food to the value of $140 and an ATM card with $300 for replacement clothing.
Our AMEX travel insurance allows us a further £750 and we're told that our bags will arrive in Dallas FW on BA193 5 March.
We took the shuttle to the Hyatt Regency DFW and had a very comfortable room, but it was now quite late and we were too tired to eat much. We went to bed at 22.00, only to awaken at 01.30 and couldn't get back to sleep, as were so stressed.
Next morning we enjoyed our complimentary breakfast and then returned to DFW for our short but bumpy flight to IAH. This was only the second flight that the cabin crew had been told to stay seated, so no drinks.
Upon arrival at IAH, we took the shuttle to the rental car centre and they tried to rip us off as we needed what we thought was 1 extra day's rental. I had notified NetFlights.com of our change of circumstances but they hadn't amended our voucher, for which we had booked an economy car for 8 days. Initially they wanted a further $120 for 1 day, but we challenged them and only ended up paying an extra $40 for a full tank of petrol, so we have to return it empty or lose out!
We were offered a choice of two cars, either a Ford Focus or Mercury Grand Marquis (a luxury car - we took the Ford - no not really). It was dirty and pretty scratched, so I marked numerous things on the report form.
Next, we sought some replacement clothes and a suitcase, but the satnav tried to take us to Miami and we were getting thoroughly cheesed off, so we eventually stopped for coffee and cake at the Cheesecake Factory then bought a few things, but we just couldn't be bothered.
Then we called Ruth at DFW, about our missing bags. They'd arrived from LHR and would arrive at IAH on a Continental flight and we could then collect them. We drove to Terminal B and the Continental staff had no knowledge of them and there was no reference on the system, showing them as having left DFW. I threw my arms into the air in disgust and they told me not to get upset! We went to BA in Terminal D and they couldn't find any reference to them, but they were very helpful and told us they would look after us for the return flight. They told us there were to further flights arriving IAH that night so we went back to Term B and whooped with joy as our bags were sitting on their own in the middle of a near deserted terminal. Now anyone could have walked off with them - quite astonishing and the CO staff couldn't care less!
We drove to our hotel completely exhausted, but happy we'd been re-united with all our possessions. We were staying at the Sheraton Houston North, which offered free parking or a free shuttle. We'd been upgraded to the Club Floor, with free soft drinks and continental breakfast.
We also had a ginormous bed!
Sunday 6 March (start of cruise)
We sure were ready for our cruise as the last few days had been a nightmare and I hope we'll receive an explanation as to what happened to suggest our original flight had been cancelled.
Anyway we had an uneventful journey down to Galveston, avoiding the expensive toll roads by using I-45, which was an excellent road and our economy rental car, a Mercury Grand Marquis - £119 for 8 days, cruised down there with ease.
We had a quick walk around then found that from where we had parked, it was an easy drive to the terminal, avoiding the bust traffic approaching from I-45. We dropped off our bags then drove a couple of hundred yards to our pre-booked car park. A short walk to the terminal followed. It took about 30-45 minutes to get on-board and we basked in the warm sunshine, whilst we waited for our cabin to become available at 13.30.
My bag was waiting for me, but Rosy's was held back as she had a bottle of champagne in it. It was confiscated as it should have been in her carry-on, which she didn't have! Apparently people carry on alcohol in all sorts of disguises, but Carnival are getting very tough on this. They missed my water, which could have been vodka!
We had dinner on a table for six, but no-one else showed until half way through. Carnival is getting far more aggressive with their attempts to sell extras such as bottled water and bar drinks, which can be annoying. The Chocolate melting cake was outstanding, but we are starting to talk about returning to Princess!
I fell asleep during dinner and again in the welcome aboard show, so went to bed, but I still awoke at 04.30, blooming jet lag!
I am currently enjoying some early morning coffee, whilst most sleep!
I think we'll be taking more cruises from nearer home in future. These long flights pre-cruise are too risky. It's so easy leaving from Southampton, UK, 50 miles from home, but the weather is less predictable.
Just had breakfast in the buffet, but I'm feeling cold, which is unlike me, so maybe I'm under the weather. I was hoping it would be sunny and warm, but there's quite a stiff breeze blowing.
Rosy commented that Carnival may be cutting back on their entertainment budget, as there aren't many craft-based activities.
Clear the decks!
It's now pouring with rain and everyone's running for cover. That'll sort the chair hogs! Tomorrow, the weather will greatly improve, says the Captain, after this weak front's moved away. Good because we had enough rain and cloud on our 'Dream' cruise!
Tonight is the first elegant night, so the baseball caps should be hidden away.
Ports of Call
Montego Bay, Jamaica
We had decided to take the shuttle to town and back, walking wherever we felt like and mixing with the locals, but the shuttle was $15pp, so we decided to walk the 1.5 miles instead, ignoring the constant peeping horns seeking a fare. We walked to the edge of town, when we were befriended by a local, who advised us where to go and where to avoid. We thought nothing of it and continued on.
A few minutes later this same man, who claimed to work at the port, again offered some assistance. He just stayed with us and was a very good guide, showing us some interesting places, including the Church of England.
By this time I was becoming a little wary and said thanks for the info, but we would buy a hat and some water before returning to the ship.
He offered us a beer in an authentic bar, but I was concerned something might be added to the drink, having heard stories of tourists being drugged and robbed. He found what we wanted and sorted a cab back to the ship for $10. Surprisingly he got in too and advised us that his 'guiding services' usually cost about $60 each, but he'd settle for $40. We pretended we only had $30 and gave him 20 saving 10 for the driver. He then got out. On arrival at the port the driver tried to charge us $30 each for the 10 minute ride. We gave him $10 and told him that was all he'd get.
This is a cautionary tale, as I consider myself to be very careful, but I think my previous rule should apply. Never talk to strangers!
After lunch we walked to the Sunset Beach Resort, which took about 20 minutes and probably costs $10 by cab, maybe per person.
This return visit to Jamaica, our fourth, has confirmed what we thought before we came, that we'd be quite happy not to return and we wouldn't trust anything a Jamaican told us. It would often be cheaper and safer to take a London cab! The "all inclusive" resorts seem to be very well cared for and very comfortable, but once you step outside it can be quite scary.
This is a tender port and we were off bright and early at 07.30. We enquired about snorkelling, at tourist information and discovered a place called Eden Rock, where equipment can be rented for $14pp. We have our own and paid for flippers and a vest for me. We saw many multi-coloured fish large and small and it was good value for money.
Next we walked about 1 mile out of town to a peaceful retreat called Dart Family Park, which is a National Trust venue, mainly for young children, with a play area and chickens, but it was nice to sit and relax in a rural spot.
After this we walked to a bar called 'Hammerheads' where free wifi is available, as well a selection of food and drink, but prices are in local dollars, so multiply by 1.25 for $ US. A typical cocktail was expensive at about $10 including tip.
After sampling some rum cake we returned to the ship.
We have booked a catamaran, sail and snorkel trip for $70pp, really to have everything taken care off, rather than trying to find the best place to snorkel and the transport to get there.
The excursion, booked thru Carnival, is run by a company called 'Fury'. They have 5 catamarans, which run from the various cruise ships in port that day. The company also has its own beach, with loungers, sun shades, cabanas, hammocks etc, as well as primitive restrooms. They offer purified water, Daquiries, sodas and beer, all included in the price, both on board and at the beach. Scattered close to the shore are water trampolines, slides etc and kayaks are also available. Parasailing and wave runners can be rented, but Fury discourage this as they cannot be held responsible for any mishaps.
Soon after leaving the jetty we stopped to snorkel. This is very well organised by the safety conscious crew. Floatation jackets are mandatory and we all kept to a tight formation. The sea was quite choppy and the current strong, but it was very well run. At collection time, the 'cat' moved around to sort of scoop us all up!
Then the bar opened and the staff were very keen to serve us and kept offering refills. I thought the alcoholic drinks seemed quite weak until we left the beach, for the return trip.
At the end we were given a farewell talk by the guide, who went on a bit about how impoverished his crew and their families were and how much we should tip them. I didn't like this and tipped the same as I would have without the 'speech'!
We got up at 07.45 and grabbed a quick breakfast, eaten on our balcony and we now await our number to be called. Our number '2', was called at about 09.15 along with numbers 1&3 and then had to wait 1.5 hours in an immigration line, the only line for International customers.
Why is there a need to treat us in this way? We'd already waited 2 hours to get through Dallas. Our car was parked right across the road, and the journey was very easy. As we had the extra day at the beginning of our car rental, we had to be at IAH by 12.30pm, or they would impose a hefty surcharge, so this means a long wait at the airport, hopefully enabling me to complete this trip report.
Unfortunately the First cabin is full for the return, so no chance of the promised u/g dependent upon available space. We were allocated seats 18E,F in the main cabin and no upper deck seats available, but delighted to be on our booked flight and in such comfort.
The service, food and drink were all excellent and then most went to sleep, but I always find it difficult to sleep for long, so tend to recline and watch tv. About 90 minutes from landing we enjoyed a quite decent breakfast.
We landed on time, but had quite a long bus journey to the terminal. Immigration was quick and we were soon on our way home.
The Sunset Beach Resort offers an all inclusive day pass, which is probably the safest excursion. It is possible to walk there and takes about 15 minutes.