The Cruise

This was my fourth time cruising.  All three previous cruises had been with Carnival.  The last one had been an unmitigated disaster on Carnival’s behalf and really was off putting.  Rather than let one rather lack lustre cruise line ruin the whole experience, we had decided to try a different cruise line.  We chose Norwegian.

Preferring to cruise out of Miami we were somewhat restricted in our selection, but no matter, we had decided on the Caribbean and selected the ship, the Getaway.  On paper and in brochures it looked lovely.  I was good for one more try at cruising as a vacation mode, having reasoned that Carnival was entry level, Norwegian had to be better.

I was a little concerned initially, Norwegian’s embarkation process was not smooth, it was disorganized.  It turned out that there was an equipment malfunction which made registration of patrons slow.  They weren’t good about communication in this regard, leaving us about ten minutes at the registration desk wondering if our little lady had gone on break.  Once that was sorted out it was upstairs to a waiting area.  Then once our number was called, onto the ship.

It was a pleasant surprise.  The ship is not quite three years old.  It sparkled, the windows were clear, the floors shone.  Clean was the first word to come into my mind.  Carnival’s ships always felt worn and tired without that clean sparkle.  So score one for Norwegian.  We couldn’t go to our cabin yet, so off for a bite to eat.  The buffet was enormous, but to get to it you had to go through a hand sanitizer station.  Mandatory and nice (not that it helped me unfortunately, but it definitely helped everyone else), to go near the food you had to have your hands spritzed. Certain stations were self serve, but others, particularly the ice cream station, were served out by a member of the staff.  No one touched the cones with their bare hands until it was handed to you.  This impressed me.

Then there was the overall layout of the ship – it felt spacious.  There was room between tables in the dining areas and spacious walkways around the ship.  Tons of stuff for kids to do, there was no need for them to be around the adult pool because there were water slides, a kids pool, lots of stuff.  For those not wanting the noise of the main adult pool they offered a quiet retreat one deck above.  I don’t want to sound like a brochure, but I was impressed.

The only problem, and it was annoying, seems to be poor administrative communication from head office.  Here’s how this looked for my group.  My sister had bought two on board credits prior to the cruise.  Two $100USD credits or $200USD.  She had brought her paperwork, she’d purchased the credits well before the cruise date.  They weren’t in her onboard account when she checked in.  We went to the client service desk and were told no problem sometimes it takes a day.  Give it time.  After a couple of days went by it was apparent it wasn’t going to show up.  We went to the service desk armed with the papers.  Apparently during the conversion process, a penny went missing.  Head office advised the ship’s customer service desk that my sister hadn’t bought $200, instead she had bought $199.99, she owed a penny before the funds could be transferred, but they were willing to write it off, and graciously put $200 USD in her onboard account.  Not good.

Second story – again with head office involvement.  My coworker was on the same cruise and it became a bit of a joke as the days passed as to whether or not her room key would be suspended for debts owing.  It had been a schmazel for them as well when registering to board the ship, and the clerk setting them up with their sign and sail cards had neglected to obtain a credit card to put against the account.  No worry they had prepaid everything -gratuities, alcohol package, dining package, stateroom, everything was paid. One would think.  Apparently, while the ship is docked at the port of Miami any alcohol served is subject to another tax that isn’t covered in the alcohol package – about 76 cents per drink.  My coworker had a drink or two.  The tax went on her onboard account, there was no credit card associated with it.  Her room key, which is the sail and sign card would be locked – which meant she couldn’t get into her room.  Anyway by day 3 or 4 I think they had it sorted out.

Would I travel Norwegian again, sure thing.  But I would be prepared to bring copies of every bit of supporting paper with me relating to what I had prepaid for the cruise since their administrative services are not as professional as one would expect. Would I travel Carnival again – not a hope.  The last trip on Carnival left me feeling like I’d been duped out of my money: substandard room, aging ship, poor onboard service, just disappointing.

 

 

What came first, the cold or the cruise?

So much to write about, but where to start?  Let’s start with the flu shot.  I had a cruise booked from November 12 to 19. Out of Miami, and miraculously none of the four ports we were scheduled to stop at had been decimated by hurricanes, typhoons or other acts of God.  What a lovely thought, kicking off winter going some place warm, but I had to get there first.  That meant exposure, germs, coughing, sneezing, slimey little bacteria lurking to nab an innocent victim.

It was a bit early for the flu shot, but I tracked it down – available at a local clinic.  The clinic was open for seniors and immune compromised individuals.  I spoke to my doctor to get in and get the shot, explaining my travel plans.  Fortunately she agreed with me, I needed the flu shot, my history indicated that I don’t travel well.  Three weeks before my cruise I was in and vaccinated.  Take that, evil germs!

I got the shot on a Friday after work, by that night I was feeling awful.  My shoulder really hurt.  The next morning, full of aches and pains I decided maybe I was one of the unlucky ones to experience a more severe reaction.  Oh, well better the suffering before the cruise than on the cruise.  By the next Monday, I was okay, felt a little under the weather but got through the week.  By the next weekend I felt awful again, body aches and pains, a headache, those normal seasonal things that working in a large office exposes one to.  By the end of the week heading into the cruise I was pumped, felt great.  Ready to go, confident that I had dealt with all the stuff that I now associated with that flu shot.  It was worth it to ensure I was in optimal shape for travelling.

Itinerary:  Friday – drive to Toronto and stay overnight at the airport, Saturday – depart Toronto to Miami where we’d overnight and on Sunday pick up the cruise.  A nice leisurely, stress free, relaxed approach to getting from point A to point B.  Not without risk of germs though, flying has always been the most likely place for me to pick up something.

I was travelling with my sisters – one was healthy, one was germy, also a significant risk for obvious reasons. No fear, I had my flu shot.  I was taking immune boosters, I was going into this trip feeling good, I had this.  Nope.  By Sunday night, the first night of the cruise I started to feel awful. By Tuesday I’d lost my sense of taste and couldn’t breathe.  By Thursday, I had my taste back but had started coughing.  By the time it got to the weekend I was dreaming, or was it hallucinating, about my brass bed and my bathtub. I just wanted to be home.

I always bring some supplies with me when I travel, but nothing touched this.  The ship’s store had no supplies to speak of, and the ports we stopped in had all sorts of available medication – but I didn’t know what I needed.  I had a friend on the same cruise with me.  Thank God!  Not only did she bring stuff, but she brought essential oils to use.  Unfortunately the cough, cold, flu whatever had gripped me too fast but at least I could knock myself out with sinus medication.

So here I sit, at home just writing about this now.  Why, because it didn’t end there.  I managed to go into work the Tuesday after I got back and squeaked out the week.  By last Friday I was in the throes of a high fever, aches and pains, extreme fatigue and nausea.  I decided to stay home Monday and heal, nope got worse.  Yesterday I visit the doctor.  A miracle really, because her office was actually closed, she was doing paperwork, but they squeezed a few people in, and I was one of the lucky ones.  The result – “No point in swabbing you now,” says the doctor, “You’ve had this for a bit.  It sounds like the flu, it’s here in the community, but something else is going on there.  Sinus infection.  And to be safe let’s get a chest X-ray while you’re here.  Yes, you’re contagious until the fever goes away and the cough stops.  Bed rest, I’ll call you when I get the x-ray back.”

Today, she called me about the x-ray.  Pneumonia.  Why not?

About the Cruise

The cruise last month was my third one in the past 12 months.  All three have been with Carnival.  Carnival is considered to be an entry level cruise line or so I am told.  Regardless of where they sit on the spectrum I have to say the food is stellar. Other things not so good.  Communication on board the ship has been an issue.  There’s nothing like travelling with your sister and having a honeymoon cake delivered to your dinner table complete with little chocolate hearts.  Or the towels made into little hearts on the bed.  The cabin steward didn’t believe me when I told her we weren’t a couple, we were sisters.  I got eyebrows raised in disbelief and a sympathetic smile suggesting I wasn’t ready to come out of the closet.

Ah, Carnival.  Lots of fodder to write about there.  The honeymoon mix up was only one of several things, but that’s to be expected I guess when you have 3000 guests in a confined space.  But on the cruise trying to get  cup of hot tea with milk became a personal challenge.  On one occasion a gentleman from an adjacent table, after watching me request the tea multiple times over a period of 20 minutes, finally ordered it for me from the same server. Guess what, it arrived in, oh, three minutes at most.  This wasn’t unique to one trip – I had the same problem for two out of three, hot tea apparently confounds them, as perhaps do women travelling alone.

I really don’t have anything to compare Carnival ‘s service to at this point, but I will by this time next year.  We have already booked a cruise with Norwegian for November of this year.  I think the intent is to always kick off the winter with a cruise (November) which is around the time of my sister’s birthday, and then kick out the winter blues with a cruise in February. Once I have put a little more distance from Kevin’s death in March 2015, I hope to find a way to go away that month too.  Our anniversary was the 24th and he died on the 29th.  It seems like a good idea to run away from reality that week.

Anyway, it will be interesting to compare the two cruise lines.  My understanding is that the staff to guest ratio is slightly better with Norwegian.  They also have a unique offering amongst all the lines – cabins for singles.  In a secure area, some with balconies – but geared to and priced for people travelling alone.  I haven’t booked one of these cabins since I am travelling with the sis, but who knows what the future holds, so it will be good to check it out. A bunch of us are planning on going – the more the merrier.

Invariably though I find I have a little weep when I am travelling.  It was Kevin’s passion to travel.  I doubt he would have had any interest in travelling by cruise ship, they are just too restrictive.  Even the food wouldn’t have been enough.  But it suits me fine, I am not the most adventurous and there’s plenty to do aboard the boat.  And there are lots of cruise lines.  I’ll just keep going as long as I have someone to travel with.

Invisible Attack

I left for my vacation healthy as can be.  The week leading up to my flight I was supplementing with Vitamin C and taking Reishi drops in water.  All designed to protect the immune system and send me off on my trip in tip top form.  When I had packed for the trip I made the conscious decision not to take along all my supplements with me. I packed my usual ‘pill’ form supplements, but I didn’t pack any liquid ones.  I rationalized that I was in good shape, so likely could fend off anything that came my way.  I didn’t take the liquid Reishi — mistake.

When I boarded the plane on Tuesday I sat beside a man who was suffering, as he said, “from a dry throat.  Don’t worry, it’s just that I’m dry.”  He coughed for the entire three and a half hour flight.  Behind me there was a guy who had a persistent cough, but it sounded more like a smoker’s hack, and across from me one seat up, was a man who was busy blowing his nose, sneezing and generally looking feverish.  By a half hour into the flight I was completely neurotic – no doubt in my mind, nothing could stand up to these germs.  I started breathing through my tee-shirt, pulling it up over my nose to filter the air.  This position, however, is not sustainable for any length of time.

We landed in Miami and headed to our hotel.  I pumped some water, and mentally kicked myself for not bringing my Reishi drops – they work, at least for me they do.  I still felt okay, but knew that I had been subjected to a germ attack on the plane; I really needed to bolster my defenses.  The next morning I felt okay, but kept pumping lemon water to get my Vitamin C intake up.  A day later we boarded the ship – still doing okay, not sick yet.  One of the first activities once aboard is the muster drill – mandatory attendance – what to do in the event of an emergency.  Our station was in the library.  What luck, we got to sit with a woman who was in full blown head cold mode.  She hacked and sneezed and wheezed and blew.  She was considerate though, she didn’t sit with her friends, she didn’t want to make them sick, she sat with me and my sister.

It was inevitable by this stage.  I could almost hear my body groan with defeat.  The next morning I woke up with a very sore throat, stuffy nose and a bad attitude.  The exposure was just too much, and I didn’t have my Reishi!  I spent the next three days blowing my nose, snitching packets of honey and making lemon and honey hot drinks.

So it could have been the germs (highly likely), it could have been the fact that I finally relaxed (been stressed out for many, many months), it could have been that I did not get the flu shot this year,  it likely was a combination of the three.  All I know is that from the time Kevin got ill, until the day before I boarded the plane, I have been diligent in taking my supplements.  During that time I did not have a head cold or the flu, nothing.  Of course, while Kevin was alive I didn’t have the option, his immune system was completely compromised; germs were the enemy.   We took lots of supplements then.  I could never match his pill intake, it was enormous: painkillers, antacids, vitamins, blood thinners – it was crazy.  The vitamins and supplements that he took I took, and I never was sick during the whole eight months he was battling cancer.   During his illness I disinfected the house, the car, anything he came into contact with, constantly.  I screened visitors and some I turned away.  Those that entered, well, I still have at least a year’s worth of hand sanitizer in my cupboard.  It worked, for what it’s worth; neither he nor I came down with a cold or the flu.

Here I am back from the cruise, still coughing and sneezing.  I’ve started back on my Reishi and back on my alkaline drink in the morning.  My new twist is the hot toddy.  Ummm – it’s the only good thing about having a cold.

People Watching

So, yes, I did a lot of people watching while I was away.  There is so much you can learn from a person, even while they are in repose; some people never, ever forget they are on display. The ship had over 3,000 guests, and they came in all shapes, sizes and compositions.  There were families with small children, singles, couples; some obvious sneak away hook-ups, kids out for a booze-cruise, every imaginable type were on the ship. Far and away, outnumbering all other age demographics were the Baby Boomers.  At least 50 per cent or more of the patrons on the ship were 50+ years of age.

The close proximity on a ship forces human interaction.  You can hide but only for so long, necessity forces one to surface. And everywhere, absolutely everywhere, on a ship there are people sharing close quarters.  We had a variety of social situations while out at sea but the most interesting, because it forced conversation among strangers, was when we were dining.

We sat with one couple who had retired from working and were now spending their leisure years travelling.  There was a competitiveness between them, we’ve all seen it, it didn’t matter what she said, he’d correct her, and vice versa.   This couple obviously had achievements in life, the lifestyle they were living suggested it, however, it also implied that they’d made a decision at some point to forgo or place second any friends and family so that they could quest after something elusive.  It struck me that what they were looking for was happiness.  One got the feeling after just a few minutes with them, that they were bound together by shared finances and a shared desire for self-fulfillment in a manner they couldn’t figure out – not relaxing folks to be around.  It exhausted me just trying to figure them out. I wish them luck.

Then there was the breakfast where we met the sisters; a bit older than us, one widowed, one not; simpatico in thought and action, the bond blood brings.  My own sister even commented on it – something to the effect: “My gawd, that’s us in a few years!”  That was perhaps one of the better meals we’d had, no competition as to who had done what or gone where – it was warm and engaging conversation around the table, a genuine interest in the experiences of this particular trip.  There was an awareness and acceptance that we were never likely to see each other again; a shared understanding that for now tomorrow doesn’t matter, it’s all about the moment.  It’s about calm, peace, rest and release – take it while you can. Sometimes it’s okay to accept the uncomplicated, to stay on the surface and just skate for a bit.

I realized that this venue, a ship, actually worked well for me as a vacation.  I suspect that a lot of that has to do with my sister.  My sister is a travel agent.  She’d booked our cabin for mid-ship on just the right floor, she arranged for us to board first and disembark first, and had done all the other things that good travel agents do.  She worked hard to create a great experience and it showed.  She’s a gem; the trip was wonderful.  What’s left to say other than thank you meine Schwester.