Smooth Sailing

So far our Princess Cruise Lines experience has been very impressive!

First of all, our flights out of Rochester, NY on AirTran were on time and we made it to Ft. Lauderdale in no time flat. We always go down the day before because several times we almost missed the boat by relying on the “package” deals we found online where the layover times are incredibly tight and the time allotted to get to the ship from the airport are even tighter. Those deals are hyper-optimized for efficiency, but one monkey-wrench in the scheduling can ruin a vacation. For example, we’re from Upstate, NY, and one year we almost missed our layover because of a 45-minute “de-icing” of the plane. And last year, there was a storm in New Jersey, and all flights were cancelled…we had to drive 4 hours to Cleveland to make it to the ship. Without that 1-day buffer, both vacations would have been ruined.

We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale and we were immediately greeted at the baggage claim by a Princess Representative named, Francy. She was great. She was expecting us, knew we were due to arrive at that time, and actually called us by name. She gave us all the details of what to expect as a Princess customer and quickly made sure we got to our hotel. We had opted to purchase a hotel and transfer package for the first time and I have to admit, it made this part easy peasy. We were escorted to our air conditioned bus…sort of overkill as we were two of three passengers, but it worked. (Perhaps a greener approach would be smaller vehicles when there are fewer passengers arriving…something to consider.)

Our driver was kind of gruff, but that was easily overlooked since we were in good spirits, enjoying beautiful Florida weather.

We stayed at the Marriott Ft. Lauderdale North and we received a warm welcome from Carla as soon as we walked in the door. She knew we were on a Princess Cruise, and gave us the information we would need to get our luggage and ourselves to the ship easily.

So far, Princess has make the whole experience a piece of cake. All we have to do is tag our bags (don’t forget your stapler) and put our luggage outside our door at 9am. From there they will come pick it up and get to our cabin for us…way easier than Royal Caribbean, where we have to lug our own luggage to a busy, chaotic terminal fighting hundreds of other passengers. All we have to do is hop on a bus at noon and away we go! When all is said and done, it’s been smooth sailing thus far…thank goodness.

The Coundown Begins – Three Days Until Vacation

As someone who owns their own company (two different companies, actually), the 4 weeks leading up to a vacation are always so stressful.

I’m a web designer and developer with a healthy client roster and they all demand and deserve my personal attention. Trying to get all of my work buttoned up before I disappear for two weeks is always a challenge. WiFi on cruise ships is expensive and very unreliable and cell phone coverage while at sea is basically non-existent. Even if I did take calls, I don’t bring my laptop with me so I wouldn’t be much help in the case of a client emergency.

All this means that I have to do a lot of pre-planning, anticipating anything and everything that might go wrong. I make backups of all their projects and burn them to DVDs so they have them in case they need to make changes, in addition to backing everything up to external hard-drives to an off-site location. All this takes time. Plus, as soon as a client hears that I am going on vacation, all of a sudden those, ‘low-priority-no-hurry’ projects magically transform into “OMG-this-is-mission-critical’ items that need to be done immediately, before I leave.

I also am co-founder of 24PageBooks.com, a venture-funded eBook publishing company that we’re just getting off the ground, so I now have shareholders to answer to.

I’ve been putting in 12-hour days for the last 4 weeks and I cannot wait to get out-of-dodge and over to the Caribbean for a couple of weeks.

Day of Departure Freakout

It’s 6am on the first day of vacation and we log on to the Continental Airlines website to see if our flight to Miami was on time.

Not only is it not on time. It’s been canceled.

Continental Airlines then automatically re-books our flight for Tuesday, which doesn’t do us very much good since our cruise ship would have sailed by then and we will have missed the boat.

Vacation over. $3000 down the non-refundable toilet. Jody is crying.

I reach out to Continental Airlines on Twitter, but they don’t respond. I call Continental Airlines customer service number but they won’t answer the phone…”we are experiencing high call volume and cannot take your call.“. I notice that Continental almost NEVER responds to ANYONE on Twitter.

I start calculating mileage on Google Maps to drive from NY to Miami. Almost 24 hours of non-stop driving, but we could make the boat. We’re hoping this is a last resort.

We reached out to Travelocity, where we originally booked the flight. They were totally awesome. Apparently, if you’re Travelocity, Continental Airlines will pick up the phone, but if you’re an actual customer of Continental’s, you’re pretty much screwed.

Unfortunately, while Travelocity was able to cancel our flights and refund the costs, they weren’t able to get us on another flight on short notice…everything was booked.

We decide to just go to the airport anyway and play stupid, as if we had no idea the flight was canceled. We figured if we were face-to-face with a Continental employee, it would be harder for them to ignore us. Our Continental rep at the Rochester airport was Jennifer. She was very sympathetic and suggested that we rent a car and drive 4 hours to Cleveland, where there was a flight to Ft. Lauderdale in 5 hours, then we could take a $100 cab ride to Miami and possibly make it to the ship on time.

So that’s what we did.

It turns out that a couple from Canada in line behind us were on the same cruise and therefore were in the same predicament as us, so we split the rental car fee with them and drove to Cleveland.

The GPS in the rental car says it will take us 4 hours and 15 minutes to get there, which means we have 45 minutes to park, get through security, and make the flight. I drive 90 miles an hour and get us there in 3 1/2.

Vacation saved.

UPDATE: When we returned from vacation, I logged in to Twitter to see if @Continental had ever responded to my any of my twitters to them. They had not.