Well, we’re finally underway! The weather here in San Diego is unusually rainy, and the forecast is rain throughout all next week. We need the rain but it is a bit dreary. We’re very much looking forward to some sunny tropical weather!
Because San Diego is a popular cruise ship port, we like to try to either start here, end here, or both. Because we’ve completely exhausted the “both” option years ago, our choices become more limited and what we’re left with are the “repositioning” cruises where a ship will go from working one itinerary to another. For this particular cruise, the ship was working South America during their “summer” (December through March), sailing back and forth from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Santiago, Chile. We did that cruise a few years ago, so now we’re picking up the ship in Santiago, working its way up the West coast of the Americas on the way back to San Diego. After we disembark, the ship is scheduled to go on from San Diego, to Vancouver BC and start working the Alaska circuit for the “our” summer. But we have to get to Santiago first, and that means a long plane ride.
Despite the rain, our spirits were up and we headed off to the airport to begin our first leg of the journey from San Diego to Dallas-Fort Worth where we would pick up the international flight to Santiago. With the COVID-19 epidemic causing a crisis in the travel industry, we expected that fewer people would be travelling and that was somewhat true. Our seats were in the back of the bus, but fortunately, there were a few open seats, so we hogged a window and isle and had the middle free. A good deal in coach! Nevertheless, while the plane was not packed, it wasn’t exactly empty either. I was a little surprised given the general sense of panic I’m seeing on all forms of media, but I suppose that it takes a few days to adjust given rapidly changing situation.
We made it to DFW without too much trouble, and we had a layover, so we got a bite to eat and had a short birthday celebration for Stella.
We boarded our international flight uneventfully. It was on a Boeing 787, and we paid a bit extra to get upgraded “economy plus” seats. For these long hauls, the “business class” has these fancy “cubbies” that you can sleep in, but they are nosebleed expensive. Turns out that the economy plus is what I would otherwise call “first class” – free booze, upgraded meals, separate service, nice roomy seats that recline without banging the person in back of you. The real deal. Totally worth the extra bucks on a 9 hour overnight flight!
Just as we were settling in, the purser came over the intercom and announced that if you were going to embark on a cruise ship in Santiago, that your cruise was cancelled and you needed to deplane. Crap! This was what we were trying to avoid by carefully monitoring the situation, almost hourly. But we’re in a crisis mode, so best to accept things as they are and go on. Just as we get all of our stuff together and head for the exit, the purser comes back on the intercom and announces that the previous call was only for those that got some sort of message from their cruise line. Several of us were going on the same ship so we quickly compared our texts and e-mails and confirmed that we were not affected. So back to our seats we go. I decided to follow up and called the cruise line directly. The person I spoke with then said that Royal Caribbean was canceling all cruises for the next 30 days, following what the Carnival line did the previous day. So, in a panic, I told this to my fellow cruisers and we started to head out again. Finally, as luck would have it, we had a crewmember going to the ship on our flight, and she was in direct contact with headquarters, who gave us the straight story: The cancellation only applied to ships sailing out of the US and any ships underway, or sailing from foreign ports would continue with their original itinerary. So we’re on again! Back to the seats we go.
Since there actually were some folks who had to deplane, we sat around for about an hour. Once we pushed back and we started taxiing, I though all would be well, so I sent my boys a “wheels up” text. That turned out to be premature. The captain came over the intercom and reported that we had a brake overheating problem, so we went back to the gate to have maintenance take a look. It turned out to be a stuck brake caliper, but since the airplane had many (32 of them), we could disable one and still fly. After another hour, the captain came back on the intercom and announced that the maintenance crew could not complete the repair, but that there was another plane that we could use, so we deplaned, this time for real, hustled over to the other aircraft, and waited an additional 90 minutes while they preflighted, fueled, and catered the airplane. We boarded, got settled, and got going, this time for real. Whew!! It’s amazing what a couple of shots of bourbon will do to improve your disposition! Life is good.
Our flight landed around noon, local time, and we de-planed and made it to the gate. We had to go through a basic medical screening right away, but it was pretty, well, basic — taking our temp and answering a few questions on a medical form. From there, we went through immigration and customs, and, lo and behold, a person from the cruise line was waiting for us to get us a ride straight to the hotel. We arrived at the Sheraton, Santiago, one of the best hotels in Santiago, and were treated as you would expect to be at a top notch hotel. We got in our room, and I had a nice lunch with a well-deserved beer (or two), went back to the room for a nap, then it was down for cocktails and dinner.
Stella and I went to the lounge and ordered the “official” alcoholic beverage of Chile, picso, which is a type of brandy distilled from grapes. It’s highly regulated (distilleries must grow their own grapes, and it can only come from certain regions) and it was wonderful on the rocks! Really looking forward to our vacation!
Then the phone call came.
At first I didn’t answer it because I didn’t recognize the number and I figured they’d leave a message. Stella then looked at her phone and the 3 digit prefix was the same as our travel agent, so I figured I’d better call back. It was, indeed, the travel agent, but I only got to voicemail, so I quickly walked over to the Celebrity Cruise folks, who were still in the hotel lobby. Lo and behold, our cruise was cancelled 2 hours earlier! We found out that there were two other cruise ships in quarantine at San Antonio (our cruise port), so things were degrading fast. Time to get out of Dodge!
I called the Royal Caribbean hotline (parent company of Celebrity) and a representative quickly answered and made travel arrangements for our return. These aren’t as nice as our incoming flight, but the fact that we have them at all makes us extremely fortunate. Additionally, since we aren’t coming from an area that is on the prohibited travel list, we won’t be travelling into one of the DHS designated airports designated for extra screening. I’m hoping we won’t have to go into ordered quarantine when we return to the states, but we will be self-quarantining for 14 days. As of this moment we are asymptomatic, so perhaps luck is still with us.
We decided to make the best of it, have another pisco on the rocks, and have dinner at the hotel. The restaurant was actually quite fabulous, and we were overlooking a very large gathering of a wedding cocktail hour before the reception. Sadly, all of these gatherings, at least in the US, are not going to be happening for a while as we collectively hunker down and settle into a hermit lifestyle.
So, having previous risk mitigation and contingency plans in place, we are well positioned to execute our “plan B” and get our butts home.
Your wishes for good luck are much appreciated and are paying off!