Trip Begins Long Before Travelers Make It To The Cruise Ship
My husband, Fred Rowland, and I recently took a trip to South America via a cruise ship, a plane, a taxi and other modes of transportation. The plan was to visit his cousin, Noel and his wife Christine in Cuenca, Ecuador. We set out from home in the same Chrysler Town and Country mini-van that took us on a 2,400-mile trip on Route 66 in 2016 and to Seattle, Washington in 2017, where we began a 16-day land and sea cruise to Alaska. This time it had zip ties and duct tape on the front bumper from when Fred ran over a dead deer on I-86 just ten days before we left home.
My husband did all of the planning for this trip, as I was busy finding people for my weekly recipe page and then interviewing and writing to be able to keep it going for the 12 weeks we planned to be away. Then there was Christmas, something I don’t take lightly, but this year was very different, because we left the Monday after Thanksgiving. This meant an early celebration with our three kids and eight grandchildren. There would be no baking and delivering or sending cookie boxes, no live tree, no outside lights and no Christmas Eve candlelight service at our church or hosting our annual open house afterward. To be honest, I barely knew where we were going other than the key places, not that he hadn’t tried to tell me, but my attitude was “whatever you want to do,” because I was preoccupied.
We began our trip with a stay in National Harbor, Maryland, which is very close to Washington, D.C. The purpose for the stop at National Harbor was two-fold. First, we wanted to see the newly-opened Museum of the Bible and second, we needed to spend timeshare points before the end of the year. (And no, we did not spend many thousands of dollars buying a timeshare after listening to a spiel. This one came from a friend three or four years ago.)
The four days at National Harbor were unseasonably cold, so there were few people walking the streets, even though there were canopies made up of strings of lights, lighted trees and shrubs, fireworks and many other Christmas-related activities. On the waterfront at the foot of our street was a mammoth ever-changing electronic Christmas tree with various ornament-shapes outlined with lights. The colors changed as various Christmas songs and patriotic tunes played. The tree was situated in front of a row of saluting statues of men in uniform representing the five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. A large Ferris wheel, outlined in bright lights, was a few hundred feet beyond this. The “Awakening” sculpture of a head, hand, arm, knee and foot stuck out of the sand, giving the impression that a giant man was buried on the beach. Water taxi loading zones and ticket sale booths were found here.
Located throughout this area were many other sculptures and things of interest, such as a sculpture of Marilyn Monroe standing over a grate with her dress blowing up and another of the famous World War II scene of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square after Japan’s surrender to the United States. A life-like statue of an elderly woman in a knee-length winter coat, wearing a scarf while holding several packages, Abe Lincoln and a few other famous people were represented, as well.
The streets were lined with restaurants and shops but business was slow due to the cold. The Peeps Volkswagen was parked on the sidewalk in front of the Peeps Store. Inside we found the marshmallow candies in every available shape, flavor and color along with a video that showed the process of their manufacture. There were stuffed cloth Peeps, clothing with the Peeps logo, key chains and nearly every way of promoting Peeps imaginable.
A few blocks away at the Convention Center two million pounds of hand-carved vividly-colored ice sculptures made up “Ice! featuring a Charlie Brown Christmas” exhibit and play area. Not only did participants wear the winter coat they came with, but another was also supplied to wear over it. In the same building, the Sydney Opera House, Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Alamo and other famous landmarks from all over the world made up a very large gingerbread display. An ice skating rink and other forms of entertainment were located throughout the center.
We enjoyed our day at the 430,000-square foot Museum of the Bible, after riding the bus and taking the Metro to get there. There were several Bibles once owned by famous people displayed, including Elvis Presley and some belonging to Billy Graham in an area devoted to the evangelist who passed away earlier in the year. One floor was dedicated to the impact the Bible has on nearly every aspect of life. A Flying Theater where the visitor leans in and holds on to a padded support device while standing on a designated spot in front of a large movie screen, “flies” them over Washington, D.C., on an exciting flight past many buildings and monuments, each with biblical texts. The experience is enhanced with motion and special effects, such as lightning, wind, water and scent. Benches are provided in the back for disabled visitors. Kids are thrilled with this experience as well as with the section that has been devoted to them. It would take over 70 hours to watch every movie and presentation offered at the Museum, without reading a word.
After leaving the Museum, we walked the sidewalks and entered buildings and a church that caught our eye. We did not go to the usual Washington, D.C., monuments and museums on this trip, as we have done in the past.
Another day’s drive around Old Town Alexandria, Va., ended with dinner at Gadsby’s Tavern, where Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Monroe were supposed to have eaten and where I ate 34 years ago while visiting D.C. with two Bluebird busloads of exchanges students and their chaperones. Although the servers are dressed in colonial period attire, they no longer spoke as if they were back in those times, as they did when I last visited, and the lyre player had the night off.
Gadsby’s Tavern consists of two buildings, a circa 1785 tavern and 1792 City Tavern and Hotel. Mr. Gadsby operated them from 1796 to 1808. George and Martha Washington attended a birthday celebration for President Washington at the establishment in 1798 and again in 1799. Thomas Jefferson celebrated his inauguration there in 1801. The City of Alexandria now operates a museum, out of one of the buildings, which is a National Historic Landmark.
We traveled most of the fifth day to our son’s house near Charlotte, N.C., where we spent two nights. While we were there, we exchanged Christmas gifts with him, our daughter-in-law and grandson and after attending church with them on Sunday, we drove to Jacksonville, Fla., for an overnight stay.
We drove to Pompano Beach the next day where we, once again, spent four days in a timeshare. This stop served several purposes with one being a place to stay fairly close to the Miami port where we would catch our ship on Friday, 11 days after leaving home. It also gave us a chance to take my 84-year old aunt to dinner, visit my cousin’s shop where she sells bar stools, and do one more appraisal of our luggage for the long trip ahead.
We used an Uber for the first time, which was a quick, easy, efficient and inexpensive way of traveling to the cruise port, since we were parking our vehicle in Pompano Beach.
When we arrived at the port we did all of the usual things; turned our bags over to the porter, walked inside the building and through the metal detector, filled out the health form and showed our passports. After getting key cards to our room, we wound back and forth through some gradually elevated ramps until we came to the side of the ship. Unlike all of the other ships we had boarded in the past, this one did not have a distinctly marked walkway leading to the ship’s open door. Each door we came to was marked “Crew Only.” This was the first time we had used this cruise line and the first time we could not find our way onto a ship. We boarded, after asking a member of the crew where to enter, an hour and a half before the ship was scheduled to set out at 4:00 PM. I was not impressed.
We took our carry-ons to our room, which was a typical stateroom, but larger than some we have had. My husband had selected a balcony room because we were going through the Panama Canal. We had seen the canal four years prior via a round trip train-ride, when another ship we were on dropped us off before entering the north end of the canal. The ship waited on Gatun Lake for its passengers before turning back toward Fort Lauderdale.
We assembled on Deck 6 at Assembly Station P for the muster drill, when the announcement was made to do so. We were given a demonstration on how to strap on a life preserver. I probably should have been thinking about my daughter’s five-, eight- and ten-year old sons’ past year-long obsession with everything Titanic and all of the facts they had given me, rather than daydreaming throughout the instruction.
After a very late lunch, I posted “Bon Voyage” on Facebook, thinking we would be setting off soon. We checked out some of the upper decks and then returned to our room to see if our luggage had arrived. It had not. We finally started this leg of our journey at 6 p.m., which was two hours late, another first for us.
Not only was the dining room’s food subpar at dinner, the service didn’t compare to the other cruise lines we had used. When I wasn’t given butter or offered sour cream with my baked potato, I decided it was because I had substituted it for fries that were offered with the New York strip steak I had ordered. This was another difference from the other ships, whose menu lists the courses separately, allowing the diner to select what they would like.
We were relieved to find our luggage in our room after dinner because of witnessing some passengers on a cruise a few years ago, who did not get theirs for several days. To be continued.