“I’ll feel better once they close that door,” I told the passenger next to me on the plane. We were on the last leg of our last flight of the day, and I *still* wasn’t sure we were going to make it to our destination. I started telling her the whole story…
You may remember that in December of 2016, we took a wonderfully relaxing 12-night cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas. We enjoyed our sailing so much that we booked the exact same sailing for December of 2017. Only this time, we very nearly didn’t make it. It all started about a week before sailing when Stephanie noticed an unusual rash. Over the next few days, it got worse, and she started to develop cold symptoms as well. The more we consulted our “doctor,” (aka the Internet) the more we became convinced that Stephanie was experiencing a recurrence of chickenpox. While uncommon, this is not unheard of. Stephanie’s original outbreak occurred when she was six months old, and was very mild, so she was a prime candidate for a second outbreak. But back to our story…
The day before we were supposed to drive down to Baltimore and board our ship, we finally gave up on our cruise, as Stephanie admitted she still felt terrible and didn’t want to risk infecting a ship full of people. As if all that wasn’t enough, snow was expected overnight (making a 3 hour drive more daunting), AND we had a flat tire. All signs said we should skip the cruise, and so we stayed home, ate pizza and watched Magnum, PI while our ship set sail without us. (Which is odd because cruise ships don’t have sails to set. But I digress…)
Two days later, Stephanie was starting to feel better, and, according to Dr. Internet, was no longer contagious, so we decided to try and catch up with the Grandeur. The cruise began with three full days at sea, so our first opportunity to board would be on Day 5 in St. Thomas. We booked a flight on Day 4 on Southwest Airlines out of Baltimore. This way our car would be waiting for us there when we returned by sea. We chose Southwest Airlines because we have the Southwest Companion Pass allowing one of us to fly with the other for free. Southwest, however, could only get us as far as San Juan, Puerto Rico, and so we used a soon-to-be-expiring credit with JetBlue for the last hop to St. Thomas bright and early in the morning of day 5.
At the airport in Baltimore, there was some confusion. By confusion, I mean a colossal act of Traveler Idiocy. Both of us managed to completely forget that we were connecting in Orlando, and went to the gate for the direct flight to San Juan. We didn’t notice our mistake until they tried to scan our boarding passes and told us we were in line for the wrong flight. By then, our original flight had departed and we were stuck. The gate agent was great! She booked us standby on the direct flight. We were the last ones to board, so due to Southwest’s open seating policy, we ended up in center seats across the aisle from each other. (Unfortunately, we couldn’t convince anyone to switch seats with us so that we could sit next to one another.)
After dealing with some “luggage issues,” it seemed they were about to close the door when we were paged by name to the font of the plane. This flight had a load of cargo on board, and was now too heavy to fly, so off with the standby passengers.
Several agents on two computers tried everything they could, but any flights on Southwest that could get us to Puerto Rico in time for our flight the following morning were already sold out. We had exactly one option open to us. We flew to Ft. Lauderdale where there was one final flight to San Juan that day with exactly one seat open. We were booked standby, and had to hope that someone wouldn’t show up, thereby freeing up a second seat.
Ft. Lauderdale was a tense waiting game. In the end, there was another passenger whose flight was late, and that second seat opened up. We were hurriedly boarded against the objections of some of the Southwest ground personnel. Once again, we were last on, and once again, we were sitting apart – five rows apart, but I wasn’t about to rock any boats by asking someone to switch seats.
We got settled in but the door didn’t close. Instead the objecting gate agent came on board and started talking earnestly to the flight crew. He left but the door stayed open. The captain came on the PA and informed everyone that there were some “luggage issues”, but they were straightening it out. Uh oh! We’d been down this road before. In the end the door closed, the flight took off, and I breathed a sigh of relief while signing “I love you” to Stephanie. (It’s the only sign language I know.)
Once in San Juan, it was a matter of finding a dark corner to crash in for a few hours, and bundling poor sick Stephanie in her Philly winter gear to keep her sufficiently warm, so we could check in to our JetBlue flight in the morning. The airport recently expanded, and there is a perfect area on the 2nd floor in the new section. It’s dark, quiet and private enough that we felt comfortable sleeping at the same time. (Usually we take turns so we can keep an eye on our stuff.)
The next morning, our 30 minute, puddle-jumper flight to St. Thomas was uneventful. We found a shared taxi/van, and had them whisk us to our ship. At least – that was the plan. They had some other people to drop off, and on the way it became apparent that our ship was not at the main cruise terminal in Charlotte Amalie. Our driver didn’t seem to know where to find the ship, and so he placed a few calls to dispatch while we drove. In the meantime, we got what amounted to a free tour of the island. We got to see first-hand the damage caused by hurricane Maria. St. Thomas fared a lot better than some of the other islands in the Caribbean, but we could see it would still take a lot of work to rebuild parts of the island.
Eventually, we found our ship and boarded. Hooray! I was hoping that since we had missed the first four days, that they might upgrade us to an empty stateroom with a view, but it was not to be. Honestly, though, we were so happy just to be there that it really didn’t matter.
When we booked this repeat cruise, our table-mates from the year before did as well, and we had tied our reservations together so we would all be sitting together at dinner. Since we didn’t realize we’d miss the sailing until the last minute, they hadn’t received our email letting them know. We bumped into them about ten minutes after we boarded, the first thing they said was, “Where the hell have you two been?” It was clear by the looks on their faces that they thought we had been avoiding them. We told them the whole story and they realized we weren’t ditching them. The rest of our time with them was really enjoyable, just as we had planned.
So what of Stephanie’s second outbreak of chickenpox? On our 3rd day aboard, we docked in Castries, St. Lucia, and we opted to try and see a dermatologist. At first, the Tourist Information representative in the cruise terminal told us that since we were not part of St. Lucia’s healthcare system, it would be “impossible” to see a doctor on the island. Fortunately, a taxi driver overheard us and told us where we could find a dermatologist. After a lot of wandering around, we finally found her and she agreed to examine Stephanie.
We were relieved to learn that her rash was caused by a condition called Pityriasis Rosea – a harmless, non-contagious skin rash. Although the rash would clear up in a few weeks (!), She prescribed a cream that would make it go away in a few days so that Stephanie could swim on board without freaking out the other passengers. Thank goodness, because for Stephanie, a cruise without swimming is like a broken pencil – pointless!
The rest of our cruise was an escape from the winter cold filled with relaxing, dancing, relaxing, swimming and more relaxing. One thing I particularly enjoy on a cruise is formal night. For this adventure, I had picked up all the formal accoutrements necessary to wear my kilt. Unfortunately, poor Stephanie made a fantastic extra while I basked in the limelight. I told her it was only fair since she *always* looks so good when she’s all dressed up that I take a backseat. Her concerns were unfounded since she looked dynamite!
Since you stuck with the story all this way, here are some general photos…
This is the life
Just another day on the beach
Hiking to the beach
Happy cruising to all, and to all a good night