Saturday, July 29, 2017

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Pre-Trip and Introduction, Part II

Part I can be viewed HERE.

In March, we decided to finally tell the boys.  We have surprised them in the past with trips, but the logistics for doing such a surprise have gotten harder as they have gotten older.  Besides, any time we sound like we’re not telling them the whole story, they think we’re heading on a plane for a trip.  We came down from our room on a Sunday evening, dressed in beach attire, wearing brand-new Crocs, wearing sunglasses and carrying towels over our arms.  We thought they would first think we had finally lost it before getting extremely excited and running around the neighborhood and screaming about how much they loved their parents.

They took a moment away from their phones, looked at us coming down the stairs, and nonchalantly asked, “When and where?”


We watched some videos on YouTube about the ship, and I started pointing out some of the features of the ship and the cruise, from the ropes course to the water slides; from the restaurants to the itineraries; and from the excursions to the restaurants.

No, that wasn’t a mistake – they’re boys that attempt to clean the fridge out every day, so I emphasized the dining!

Next up was getting down to Miami.  Being a good travel agent, I recommended to my clients/family that we head down the day before.  We had vouchers from United when we helped them with an equipment change (we accepted a different itinerary the day before our flight), so I started pricing out the options.

Have I mentioned that I’m a researcher?

I checked all airlines from Chicago, Bloomington, Champaign, Peoria, Indianapolis, and St. Louis arriving to Miami or Fort Lauderdale.  We settled on Champaign to Ft. Lauderdale and then grabbing an Uber to Miami.

Lodging was the next item on the checklist.  Initially, I had booked the Holiday Inn on Biscayne Bay; however, I had clients that stayed there and gave me some feedback on that location, so I looked for another one.  It only took a few minutes to find what I was looking for:

The Intercontinental Miami.

We had points to use, so I got a City View room booked and canceled the Holiday Inn.  I found out about a lot of what the Intercontinental was like, and I kept pretty much all of it to myself without telling the rest of the Mushfam anything about it.  I wanted them to be a little surprised.

About 2 weeks before final payment, I printed off the menus for all the dining on-board, and I FINALLY got three excited family members working together.  Based on our tastes, I knew that Moderno and Teppanyaki were going to be definite specialty dining reservations.  For our anniversary night, we were flipping between le Bistro, La Cucina, and Cagney’s.  We made the mistake of relying solely on reviews, which skewed our views of the options, though.  We opted for La Cucina for our anniversary dinner.

Final payment day arrived, though we had paid a few days before.  Still, it was time for the reservations.  Though we didn’t really need them (Freestyle…remember?), having them meant that we likely would not have to endure much of a wait at all.  At the same time, we applied for passports for the boys, and we were surprised to get them just over two weeks later.  Sheri was in full-on planning mode, from the packing perspective.  One of her conditions was that we do “The Baths” on our Tortola day.  This lead to the age-old dilemma of choosing whether to book it through the cruise line or to do it on our own.  I was definitely concerned about the choppiness of the water for the ferry ride from Roadtown over to Spanish Town at Virgin Gorda.  I started researching and pricing out charters to get us over to the Baths quicker and, hopefully, earlier than the cruise line, and I found that the prices were very competitive.  The only issue was that, based on the companies I looked at, we likely wouldn’t arrive to the Baths until 9:30-9:45, which would kind of defeat the purpose.  Bummer…I was hoping to snorkel around Norman Island after the Baths, too #firstworldproblems.  We ultimately decided to go though NCL for the Baths excursion, mainly for the guaranteed return.

For our St. Thomas day, we initially planned on hitting Magens Bay and doing the standard tour of the island.  Karen Guglielmo, who is one of my best friends from elementary school, knew the area very well as her mother was raised in Frenchtown, so I hit her with a ton of questions.  She asked about the possibility of St. John and Trunk Bay.  I had researched that idea but nixed it because it would involve another ferry ride on the cruise.  She also talked about shopping in St. Thomas and included some information on the famous Crucian Hook bracelets that the U.S. Virgin Islands are known for.  That sent me down a path in scheming up a plan for our anniversary.  She also gave me some ideas on drinks…in her words: “Drinks to sip: Bahama Mamas….Hurricanes…Rum…Rum…Rum…”.  Of course, she went maternal on me, too: “Don’t get sunburned…drink bottled water…use only taxis with medallions…two pairs of sunglasses…”.  I’ve always loved that girl!

Over dinner, I talked to Sheri a bit about the amazing info that Karen passed onto me and quickly read what Karen sent to me regarding St. John (“If you want to throw all your eggs in a great basket, I would recommend taking the red hook ferry to St. John for the day.  If shopping doesn’t interest you but history hiking snorkeling beautiful scenery and less crowds does, St. John is the way to go.”).  I did it quickly before moving on to Magens Bay, Paradise Point, Mountaintop, and more.

Of course, she stopped me and sent me back to talking about St. John.  I told her about how it would be a LOT quieter than Magens Bay and that it was consistently ranked as one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean.  I then mentioned that it would involve a taxi ride to Red Hook, a ferry ride to Cruz Bay, and another taxi ride to Trunk Bay.

Her response: “Karen’s the expert…let’s go with her idea!”


Sooooooooo…..hat in hand, I went back to Karen for her take on St. John.

For Nassau, Sheri and I both agreed that we would likely stay on the ship, as there were three other ships in port that day.

When we got to about three weeks out, our house seemed to become delivery central as Sheri, quickly becoming an expert on packing, had ordered a number of items, ranging from packing cubes to rash guards to towel clips to water shoes to lanyards…she was on a mission, and I’m thinking of asking her to post an entry on the trip report on packing tips for a cruise.

About 400 videos on YouTube and a nearly infinite number of visits to the Norwegian Cruise Line page on CruiseCritic later, I felt like I was ready to be, as my family was now calling me, “Tour Guide Barbie.”  I sat the boys down with deck plans and showed them the general idea of where things were.  I immediately knew that they would be okay walking around the ship on their own without getting (too) lost.

With about one week left, I was going through the final checklist of things:

  • Cruise Tags – printed out and in their plastic holders (I purchased these to give to my clients and had to make sure they worked…they did!)
  • Cash to bring…around $400, for gratuities, taxis/ferries/etc.
  • Cat – arranged to be fed so she wouldn’t gnaw my arm off as soon as we got home
  • Documentation (in order of when they'll be used…yes, I’m THAT anal retentive):
    • Flight information
    • Hotel information
    • Cruise documentation
    • Cruise amenities/dining/entertainment reservations
    • Travel Insurance documentation/information
    • Old Freestyle Dailies
    • Lyrics to “Washy Washy” (just seeing if you're paying attention)
    • List of drinks to try while onboard AND
    • Shuttle service reservations from Port Miami to Fort Lauderdale (QLS Transportation)
  • Mail – post office informed
  • Credit Card companies – let them know we’d be on the cruise
  • Mobile Phone service – set up to use may plan/data while in the British Virgin Islands and Nassau
  • Downloads of several episodes from Season 1 of Downton Abbey for Sheri on my iPad to help her endure the flight to Miami (she’s going to be hurting when I get her to Europe or Hawaii)
  • Weighed all the luggage

I think we were ready!  Sheri had the luggage squared away perfectly, and we were ready to go!!

Please Click HERE for our arrival day!


Heather said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who organizes paperwork for travel in the order it will be needed.

Great start, as always. Even though, after witnessing how they handled norovirus (and just seeing the ship and service in general), Nick has said we will only ever cruise DCL, very interested to read what you thought of NCL.

Mush said...

Thanks, Heather! We'll see if this report might help sway Nick to branch out. I'll leave you with this little teaser - we would DEFINITELY recommend the Escape to others!!!

Congrats on the weeding this weekend!