I want to start this story by saying I am not well traveled. I decided that a vacation was needed and I wanted to go on a cruise and visit Miami again. I lived in Miami for a couple of years and missed it very much. So I researched all the cruise lines and decided to take the Carnival cruise leaving Miami and stopping at the ports of St. Thomas, St. Maarten and San Juan. I also decided to stay in Miami a few days after disembarking from the cruise ship.
The second step was contacting a travel agent to set this up and that's where the fun begins. I obtained a cabin in the middle of the ship, I was told this was best because of the possibility of seasickness and I wouldn't feel the rock of the boat as much in the middle. The travel agent got a rental car for us on our return from cruising so we could drive to the hotel. I chose the hotel and what room I wanted, since living there I knew what to pick. We had the floor below the penthouse at the Eden Roc. I knew it would be a great view and a luxury hotel. So I was all set to enjoy a fabulous 10 days or so I thought!
On the morning of our cruise we had friends drive us to the airport very early in the morning. Our flight left around 8:30 am and was scheduled to stop at the Atlanta, Georgia Airport and we would change flights and then on to Miami .... This was the first big mistake as you will see! We took off from Philadelphia with no trouble at all. My husband never flew before so he was not very comfortable and looked like he wanted to jump off the plane. But he stayed on board and we got to Atlanta. We toured the airport because we had about an hour to kill. When we got to the gate we saw all these passengers coming off a plane ... their faces were white and full of fear and I swear I saw panic in their eyes. Well this transferred to us because that was the plane we were to board. An announcement came over the loud speaker saying that due to engine trouble, our flight would be delayed. I didn't panic yet because our cruise ship was not leaving port until 4:30 PM and there was still time to get there.
After 2 hours in the Atlanta airport, I got nervous and called the Carnivale Cruise lines to tell them we were stranded for lord knows how long and wanted to know what to do. I was told that the ship would not leave port with out me and that there were other passengers at the airport trying to reach the cruise ship. They asked me to go around and gather all Carnivale Cruise passengers, have them stay near me and that way we would all arrive together at the port.
So off I went going up to perfect strangers and asking if they were going on the Carnivale Cruise ... To my surprise I gathered 20 couples and many new friends. We all finally boarded the plane and started to taxi and taxi and taxi but no take off ... problems up ahead of the plane. We were on the plane an hour before we got off the ground. When this feat was accomplished the entire plane load of frustrated passengers gave a round of applause that lasted a full two minutes.
Thinking our problems were over we landed at the Miami airport, only to find that our luggage was delivered to the other side of the airport. So running through the airport we stood waiting for our luggage to appear. I would swear that my suitcases were the last unloaded. Again we ran back across the airport, now with heavy luggage and reached the area where there were shuttle buses. Thought our problems were over ... NOT No buses were going to the port of Miami and with 20 couples with us we decided to hi-jack a bus. The women jumped on the bus and refused to move and the men started putting the luggage away. The driver, not knowing what to do said okay he would get us to the port in record time. We drove into port at a speed that I wish not to describe. We were rushed to the "gang plank" I gave my name and the ship made an announcement that "Barbara is now aboard .... we can leave port". There were 1500 passengers watching us get on board and we did receive around of applause. Thinking my troubles were over, I soon found out that they were calling for everyone to come to the appropriate station for a drill, bringing their life jackets. Since I have never been on a cruise ship and not knowing where our cabin was located ... we ran the corridors until we discovered our new home for a week. We grabbed the life jackets and found our way to the proper location. Well, I did it again ... held up the drill and to make matters worse ... I was pulled out of line in front of all the passengers ... to demonstrate how not to put on a life jacket ... you see I had mine on upside down and inside out!
What a way to start a vacation ... I am now famous amongst 1500 strangers!
So thinking that all my troubles were behind me .... NOT. I went to unpack the luggage and join in with the fun. One of the first people I ran into was an exact twin [in looks] to my ex-husband and he even had the same first name ... What a shock ... for a moment I thought I would be cruising with 2 husbands! Thankfully, it turned out that Tom the look alike was a wonderful man [very big ... 300 lbs] but he was having trouble too. It appeared that the airline lost his luggage and there was no one on board his size, so he had to go to the first formal night in Bermuda shorts! He eventually got his clothes in San Juan - our first port of call. He was very good natured about this event and Tom [telling everyone that I was his wife] and his wife & my husband went around saying we were all married as one couple and had lots of fun. Trouble seems to be behind me ... NOT.
With all the running, pressure of gathering people at airports, hi-jacking buses and the other events ... I got seasick! Could not walk without feeling so dizzy and sick ... so I went to our cabin steward and asked for suggestions. He said suck on apple cores and eat crackers ... next thing I knew I had more apples and crackers in my cabin then anyone could imagine .... Still not feeling well, I told my husband to go enjoy himself and I would attempt to regroup and join him later. I finally felt human and joined him and some of our new friends in the gambling casino. I had to hold on to everything because my legs were trembling and my stomach was upset. I sat down in front of a slot machine and started putting in dimes for a while ... all of a sudden bells, whistles, lights went off ... I had a jackpot. After collecting my money and everyone cheering me ... I discovered the cure for seasickness .... winning at the slots! I was not sick once after that.
Thinking my troubles were over .... I decided to explore the ship. While walking around I felt someone following me ... and found that this Italian man who worked in the engine room was following me where ever I went. He could not speak English and I don't speak Italian ... he kept trying to talk to me waving his arms around and saying something. So I went in search of someone that spoke English and Italian. As luck would have it, I found a couple from France and they kindly interpreted what he was saying. I could not believe that he was saying he was in love with me because my long red hair had excited him and he had seen me board the ship and couldn't stop thinking about me. He wanted to show me the engine room. I declined, through our interpreters and thanked him for his flattery ... wrong thing to say! He followed me [at a distance] for 7 days and would wave and blow kisses from all over the ship ... he was everywhere. I just laughed and felt like a teenager again ... haven't had that much attention in years!
Our first port of call was San Juan, you could feel the excitement as all stood on the ship and watched the island coming closer and closer. Land at last! We had been at sea for over a day but having much fun even with a few setbacks mentioned above. So off to visit our first island ... Getting off the ship was easy ... walking around when you have "sea legs" is another thing. Everything felt like it was moving and it was funny to watch us all holding on to walls, doors, and each other ... looked like a bunch of drunks trying to find our way home after an all night drinking party.
We saw a wonderful show and had lots of fun and got back on board just in time to set off to our next port ... and no ... I did not hold up the sailing this time!
If anyone has taken a cruise, you know that your life revolves around a bell. Every time that thing rings ... there is more food somewhere and of course I was gathering a cabin full of apples and crackers ... more and more everyday. I tried to explain to our cabin steward that I was no longer sick .. that didn't help ... I did end up with 7 days of apples [over a bushel] and at least 10 cartons of crackers before we docked in Miami.
Our next destination was St. Thomas. I have been here before and was very excited about coming back. We did the usual tour and rented a cab to take us to Megan's Bay - my favorite spot in the whole world. The driver was a nut, drove 90 miles an hour on roads that were so narrow that I was surprised that we did not go over a cliff and a speed that seemed faster than the Indy 500! Arriving at Megan's bay with more gray hairs then I had an hour ago, we settled down and enjoyed the clear water ... acting like children because we could see our feet under water. Please note that I am use to the New Jersey shore and ocean and you can't see anything below the water, even if you stuck your head under the water ... it is not very pretty in New Jersey. It was time to go back to the ship and I didn't want to leave, but everyone yelled at me and said I would hold up the ship leaving port again ... so with regrets got out of the water and dried off enough to get into the cab with the crazy driver. Made it back very quickly to the ship and boarded.
It is amazing how 1500 people all in one location, all strangers, can have such a wonderful time and create lasting friendships. Needless to say I was enjoying my self, still had to keep a look out for my little Italian Engineer, but on the whole it was wonderful.
Our last stop was St. Maartin .... When we arrived on this island, I was shocked at what we saw. After visiting St. Thomas and San Juan and seeing the beautiful colors, and fascinating cultures the view at St. Maartin hurt my mind. There was this large ugly, rusted ship with dirty laundry hanging all over and the smell coming from the area can not be described. Being brave soles and having already paid for the excursion around the island, we got off our beautiful cruise ship and as the horror continued, we were assorted to our transportation. I will use this term very loosely ... transportation! It was a very old school bus, with bullet holes in the windshield and had to be "hot wired" to start it. Not the most encouraging way to start what we thought would be a fun day. Traveling through the different areas via this most uncomfortable vehicle - we saw goats eating garbage along the roadside, many roadside grave yards and more goats. It had a dingy feeling and we were told that this was the poor side of the island. We stopped at the shopping district and I was personally horrified to see vendors with live cocks for fighting being sold and beautiful color fish [all dead and smelly] for sale on wooden tables. The highlight of this shopping district visit was a mad man walking up and down the street with a large stick [about 3 feet high] balanced on the palm of his hand, screaming that today the world would end. This was not a place I wanted to be if the end was near! So we boarded our school bus, and after some more hot wiring ... we took off to the rich side of the island.
Although this was the wealthy end of the island, it does not have the beauty of St. Thomas. There did not appear to be any middle class on this island. Either you are rich or you are not and lived accordingly. We were yelled at by a man with a donkey because we tried to take a picture of the donkey without paying and he went after us with a stick.. After running for our lives and nearly falling over laughing .... we decided that the "luxurious bus - bullet holes and all" would be the most favorable place to stay on this island.
Getting back on ship was a real pleasure and we all decided that St. Maartin would not be on our itinerary ever again. We really enjoyed the cruise ship that night and partied till the wee hours. In fact we partied for days, dancing, singing and eating all the way back to Miami! It is hard to describe how you can feel like you are leaving family when we parted our ways at the port of Miami. How can 1500 people from many walks of life, spend an entire week together with no fighting or problems and become like one. Perhaps we should put the world on a cruise ship until all of the stupidity is gone!
Now you say, what more could happen ... well, lots.
As I stated when this story began, I use to live in Miami and wanted to spend extra time here - perhaps to re-live some of the wonderful times I had or just get the feeling of returning home again.
My wonderful travel agent rented us a car so we could go to our hotel and do some sight-seeing. It sounds like a simple thing, how hard could it be to pick up a car that has been rented in your name for months! Well let me tell you ... We took a taxi to the location of the car rental agency given to us by our travel agent. Arriving there we were dismayed to discover that it was not a car rental agency at all and the car rental agency was at the airport ... The taxi had left us stranded at a car dealership. Luckily the people there were helpful and contacted the car rental agency. After back and forth phone calls and my temper at the brink of exploding, it was worked out that they would have someone drive a car to us. We waited and waited, my temper rising and I said to the poor car salesman ... if this rental car does not arrive in the next 5 minutes I am going to cause a storm! He laughed and said "we haven't had rain for weeks, and no storms are predicted". Ha, this man does not know what I am capable of ... so 6 minutes later the storm arrived - no car, but a heavy down pour of rain, lots of lightening and thunder. The car salesman started getting afraid of me and called the car rental agency and pleaded for a car to be sent before the floods arrived. Finally, the car and driver arrived, but the storm was getting worse. I thanked the salesman and he was waving good-bye like he never waved before. I was still mad when I got into the car and found that we had some little foreign made car that would hold almost 2 people and not very much luggage ... it was not what I had ordered. So, the storm got worse as we drove away ... the driver deciding to wait for someone to come retrieve him. Pat and I continued our trip to the Eden Roc hotel and on our way ... the car died ... just stopped and would not go. We called the rental agency and they said that this car had a problem, but with tender care it would start again. So we tried and succeeded and continued our trip to the hotel. It was getting late, and we had people from the cruise ship waiting for us at the hotel so we could continue our party.
We arrived at the Eden Roc, which is a very upscale hotel, one of the most beautiful in Miami. It was embarrassing to pull up to the doorman in a car that made "farting" noises and could be heard 3 blocks away! With the utmost dignity, we got out of the car and had our luggage removed and someone took the damn thing away to the parking lot. The rain stopped and we entered the hotel. I had been in this hotel many times while living in Miami and knew what to expect. My husband, never seeing anything so lavish, could not keep his mouth closed and I had to check us in.
Our room was below the penthouse and had a view with a balcony which went around the back of the room [ocean view] all along the side [with the view of the bay]. It was splendid and I ran out onto the balcony with my husband still standing at the room's door with his mouth open and no words coming out. We had arrived, but no friends were there because they had flights to catch . Pat just went from room to room with mouth open and it took at least 15 minutes for him to speak the word wow! Our suite was below the Penthouse where Lauren Bacal was staying. I don't particularly like her, had met her before when bartending in Philadelphia. She is very impressed with herself and when we rode the elevator together, managed a tight little smile and hello, I returned the same.
We had our wonderful car picked up and replaced so we could do some sightseeing. I must say that I truly enjoyed the 3 extra days we stayed in Miami, but it was time to return home and to the real world.
For some reason we were given Champagne on the flight home and the sunset was a beautiful pink. We arrived at Philadelphia Airport and to our surprise, it was so humid and hot we wanted to turn around and go back to Florida. No one would believe that Florida was cooler than Philadelphia in the middle of August ... but it was.
Now you say, what else could happen ... well, just one more little thing! When we arrived back at our apartment, we could not get in. Someone had a mattress stuck on the stairway and no way to get past.
Yes, I am back to the real world .... and you think .... well that's another story!