Trip 2 – Caribbean

This was a great trip — once it finally began! To start, I have always wanted to go to Cuba. President Obama opened the door, and we booked a cruise with Viking Cruises which we have used in the past. Well, enter a new president who apparently had the power to rescind the opening of Cuba, and the cruise was rebooked to Belize the Caribbean (I keep calling it the Belize cruise, and keep getting corrected). This moved the trip back from January 24th, 2020 to January 17th, 2020. Not a big issue…

We need to take a red-eye flight from San Francisco, California to Miami, FL. Not our first choice, but you do what you do. The trip begins on the the 17th, so no problem. Lynn tries to preboard us on our flight out of San Francisco on Friday, January 17th, and the computer is not letting her. A quick phone call and the problem became clear.

I walk into the office and Lynn’s in tears. The cruise left on Friday the 17th. Which means our flight was on Thursday the 16th. Oops. We both looked at the itinerary many times, and neither noticed this minor detail. She calls Viking (amazing customer service by the way). The first stop was supposed to be Key West, FL. The second day was an at sea day. Is there a way to pick up the cruise in Key West — nope. How about in Belize (day 3)? Why yes, Viking can change our flight but won’t until we show we’ve a place to stay. At this point we would have stayed in the damn airport over night. Anyway, Lynn books us a room. The flight is booked as a red-eye on Saturday night. It could be worse.

It was worse. The original flight was a red-eye, but direct. This was a red-eye with a layover in Dallas-Fortworth. You know how everyone extols the virtues and freedoms of Texas? About that. We land at something like 6a, and our next flight isn’t ’til 10ish. We have a Priority Pass that gets us into the private lounges in many airports. We go to the lounge, hoping to have a drink & relax. Guess what? Texas is still a blue law state, and it’s Sunday, so no alcohol ’til noon. Damn twice. Fine, we do our best to sleep & head to the gate. The flight’s delayed (because, at this point, of course it is).

I wander around the concourse and notice something amazing – there are zero bookstores, or anyone selling magazines or newspapers or anything. Wow. Apparently no one reads in Texas.

So…once it began the flight to Belize is uneventful. We land, quickly go through customs, and take a cab to the hotel. Sketchiest cab ride ever. I don’t even think the car had a sticker of any kind on it, no door handles, locks, or window cranks. He does, however, get us to the hotel at the agreed upon price.

We stayed at Harbour View Cottages. This wasn’t a hotel. It was ten individual bungalows on a small property and was absolutely amazing. That the office was actually a storage container is irrelevant (hence the reason I mention it).

Now, finally, we can relax, maybe take a look around town. A few paragraphs earlier I mentioned it was Sunday. Why would I do that? We’re now in a Christian country, on a Sunday. Nothing is open. No reason to walk around town as there’s literally nothing to see. Luckily, within a five minute walk there was a Radisson Hotel whose bar and dining room were open. We have a much needed drink, watch some American Football (it was the finals, this was Kansas City v. Tennessee, KC won) & head back to our room. Then we walk around the local beach. The dinner place we were planning to go, directly across from the hotel? Yeah, closed on Sunday evenings. Back to the Radisson for dinner. On the upside we got to watch the last of the American Football finals (San Francisco v. Green Bay, SF won).

After an amazing night’s sleep, we get up, have coffee (at the place across the street, which doesn’t allow one to wear shoes inside, so we sat outside) and need to be ready to be picked up to board the boat at 9a. No problem. We grab our luggage and wait. And wait. And wait (it wasn’t that long). Finally, a guy shows up in a van. There are two sides to this villa, we picked the wrong one to stand on. He offers to drive us to the dock which he points to. The dock is two blocks away. With one-way streets it would be longer to drive, so we spend the two minutes walking.

We’re greeted (unfortunately I don’t remember his name, but he was amazingly friendly) and led through what we assumed was customs. Our bags were x-rayed, and we were sent to the dock. Someone at the dock greets us, and looks at our passports – no stamp. Ooops. OK, nice guy from earlier walks us to customs. It’s literally a shack. It cannot be more than 8×8. No one’s there, so a call is made, and our guide makes a comment that the customs official must have had a late night & is sleeping it off. Great. Fifteen or twenty minutes later the custom official shows up. OK, we wander into the shack with him to get our passports stamped. He forgot his stamp. YOU HAD ONE JOB! OK, a few minutes later he returns and stamps our passports and we’re escorted back to the dock. It then occurs to me that I don’t have my backpack! Shit! The only possible place it could be is back where the luggage was x-rayed. Our guide went back for us, and there it was. Thank goodness.

Now, the Belize City port cannot accommodate cruise ships – they dock in the middle of the pay, and a skiff (I assumed) takes you to the ship. If you’ve every cruised you’ll know this is not uncommon. We board a boat that could probably accommodate a hundred people. There’s just two of us. And eight crew. They take us to our ship.

Again, if you’ve ever taken a cruise you know about excursions. Unlike other cruise lines, when you book with Viking you are guaranteed a free excursion at each port, or you may book a different one. In Key West, we were supposed to go biking, and in Belize we were supposed to go snorkling. At 9a. Yeah. When our Viking representative rebooked us to join in Belize, he also rebooked the snorkeling adventure for 1p. Have I mentioned how amazing Viking is? No? OK.

We get onto the ship and settled in, head out to the snorkeling adventure, which was fine (we were divided into groups of around 10 which was nice) then return. Sorry, not much more to say about it.

If you’ve ever been on a cruise you know that there is a mandatory safety lecture which we obviously missed. We’re called to the security officer’s area to take the training. He asks, “Have you ever been on a cruise before,” yes, “Have you ever been on a Viking cruise before,” yes, “The life jackets are here, you meet here, we’re done.”. Literally less than five minutes.

At some point we end up talking to other people on the cruise (Viking ships are much smaller than, say, Carnival. There were fewer than 1000 people total on this ship). It turns out the Key West stop was cancelled because the seas were so rough the skiffs (another spot where the ship couldn’t dock directly) could not safely link up with the ship. So we didn’t miss anything other than two rough days at sea. Nice to know!

Day 2 (Tuesday): We did the Mayan ruins at Cozumal. These were fun but not what I was expecting. In a former trip we did the pyramids at Chichen Itza, which is what I was expecting. When they’re called ruins, that’s what they are. There are outlines, and our amazing guide explained what used to be there, and there were some stone walls, but no large structures. There was a fun archway that was literally the midpoint of the peninsula, so that was cool. And it wasn’t 200 degrees out, as it was at Chichen Itza, so Lynn didn’t get sick and the general bit was far more pleasant.

A quick aside – the seas were *rough*. I’m not used to actually feeling the ship rock, and it wasn’t so bad during the day but at night one could really feel the motion of the ocean.

Day 3 (Wednesday): The excursion was to Merida City, Yucaton. This was a 90 minute bus ride each way, for about an hour in the city. The city was interesting, the guide was annoying as hell. Not really worth it, but what can you do? Talking to other travelers on the ship another option was a bike tour. They absolutely hated it. The tour wasn’t much of a tour, just biking along crappy trails on crappy bikes. Once again, Lynn chose the superior excursion.

Day 4 (Thursday): Sea day. Not much to say. Lynn went to the gym & rode a bike, I ran on the upper deck. The top deck, with the track, was not runnable because the track was too narrow, but there were maybe a dozen of us either running or walking on the deck below. I had my GPS watch on, which was great. When I went the opposite of the direction of travel it looked like I was running ~30MPH. Go me!

We got a call in the early evening from the ship steward. Since Our flight from Miami doesn’t leave ’til 5p, and we’re docking at 9a, would we like to book a walk-on/walk-off bus for the day? Sure, why not?

Final day – landing in Miami. For normal people, this meant getting your luggage into the hallway at 10p on Thursday night, having a light breakfast on the ship, then dis-embarking. Not us. For reasons (?) we had to keep our luggage, and be ready to disembark at 6a. OK, we set the alarm for 5a, shower, and are ready to go at 6a. No one knows what to do with us, and most of the crew has left the ship for a leave. Finally, around 7a we’re escorted off of the ship. We go through customs, and there are no signs directing us so we walk out the door. There’s nothing but darkness. We turn to go back into the terminal for coffee and a bagel or something and are turned away by security. Damn. We stand around for another hour or so and *finally* the bus shows up, along with a van for our luggage. Hooray!

Now we’re sitting on the upper deck of a two-level bus. I think it was another hour before anyone else came onto the bus with us, but we were off, and all was good. We were told where to meet up for the trip to the airport and were free to do whatever we wanted.

The first bit of the tour was south beach. It was fine. If nothing else, I learned that Miami was not somewhere I have any desire to visit, much less to live. When that finished, we had plenty of time so we took the bus to Little Havana. My sister’s partner glowed about cuban sandwiches, so we found a small restaurant and had a couple. They’re fine. We probably would have done well to walk a block or so off of the main street to find a less touristy place, but what can you do?

The trip home was mostly uneventful. We were supposed to land in San Francisco around 10p, giving us more than enough time to get home. Guess what? The plane was delayed. Who knew? We didn’t land until after midnight. We had parked our car at a hotel (which, at $10/day is far cheaper than even long term parking at the airport). When the shuttle returned us to the hotel, we just walked in & got a room. There was no way I would have been able to drive the hour or so home at that point.

On to trip 3…