Visitors to this forum seem to like Trip Recaps…so in honor of my second trip to St. John in two short weeks (can’t wait!) and to show my appreciation to this forum, I thought I’d share my first “accidental tourist” trip to STJ…
The Caribbean’s favorite son, Jimmy Buffet, once opined that there was an obvious distinction between vacationers and travelers. But to me - a thirty -something who grew up spending several agonizing family vacations riding gunner seat in the back of my parents' faux wood paneled station wagon trying to insert a "Happy Meal" toy into my little brother's ear - the two nomenclatures seemed irreconcilably synonymous...that is until 10:33 a.m. EST, Sunday May 25 anyway. A moment in time which will undoubtedly be forever emblazoned upon the minds of a group of vacationers who dared to laugh at the rain and spend the next seven days of their lives rediscovering the true meaning of the word "travelers"...
The following is a detailed account of the traveling exploits of four couples booked on a Caribbean Cruise the week of May 25, 2003:
YOU CRUISE, YOU LOSE
"I regret to inform you that the boiler room on the S/S Norway exploded this morning killing four people and your cruise has been canceled" said the Norwegian Cruise line rep in her best "oh yeah, this happens all the time" voice.
In less than five seconds, hours of planning, days of deciding and months of eager anticipation all came to a screeching halt. I felt like Herve Villechez (yeah, that little guy from Fantasy Island, R.I.P.) had just jumped out of my suitcase and yelled "get back on de plane" while punching me in the stomach. To top it all off, my friends and I had just risked our lives to make a 6 a.m. Flight to Miami in the middle of a cataclysmic electrical storm that caused a power outage all over Dallas. I was working on about an hour of sleep, an expired cereal bar, and the best the NCL representative could do was give me a business card with a customer relations 800 number that lead me to a recorded message that said "the office was closed on Sunday."
What in the blue (expletive) is going on around here, people? I desperately wanted to start cussing like a sailor and breaking expensive objects at random. But seeing how I was still in an airport, the TSA was still waiving the orange flag and spending a week with the Feds getting interrogated by Dr. Jelly Finger didn't exactly constitute a relaxing Vacation, I just stood there, silently waiting for the world to end with the rest of my incredulous counterparts.
DRINKING WHILE WE'RE THINKING
Normally this kind of catastrophic situation doesn't faze me. As an experienced Ad Exec, fixing problems is my forte. Stuff happens all the time in my line of work and if you're not an adroit firefighter, you won't be around long enough to get burned. But at this particular moment, I was pulling a serious Bill Paxton-when-the-"Aliens"-came-trick-or-treating and everything inside me desperately wanted to yell out "GAME OVER MAN." Especially after the rep from NCL explained to the group that all the other cruises were sold out and the best they could do was try and help us find seats on airplanes headed back from where we came.
Something tells me Jack Daniels knew there would be times like these and that probably explains why he named his to-go bottle "the traveler" instead of "the vacationer." And since most of us were packing at least a 5th of contraband whiskey camouflaged in water bottles, I'll be darned if it wasn't no cover, free well drinks in the middle of Terminal B. After throwing back a few stiff ones, the place looked eerily reminiscent of that scene from "Young Guns" when the group was lost and the guy whipped out the Peyote and sent everyone trippin' to find the chicken that would help them find a way. And though I can't claim we were in the "spirit world" for any length of time, we, or maybe I should say my friend Whitney, did indeed find a way to get us out of vacation-purgatory. Ironically, she was the only one not drinking.
GET BUSY LIVING OR GET BUSY FLYING (HOME)
Looking back, it was probably appropriate that Whitney was 5 months pregnant because at this low point in our trip, more than anything, this group needed a mom. Moms always kick butt at times like these and boy did she deliver. And when I say deliver, we're talking World Series, bottom of the 9th, down by three, bases loaded (and so was I), two strikes and there was a corn-fed Nebraska boy on the mound throwing nothing but high cheese...suffice it to say, she went "Robert Redford Wonderboy" on the situation and hit the ball "real hard."
Unbeknownst to the rest of us, Whitney had a travel brochure for St. John stashed away in her carry-on. Inside it was a list of phone numbers for villas that could be rented by the week. Long story short, she dials up the emergency line, gets the owner on the horn, reserves a four-bedroom villa for the week and just like that, the first domino fell. By this point I was on my feet yelling "was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor" and if there was ever a time for one of those Hoosiers-Al Michaels-do-you-believe-in-miracles-ain't-no-mountain-high-enough-slow-clap-sequences ending with everyone involved screaming and working themselves into a frothy lather, this was it.
Not long afterwards, the rest of us - Mike the architect, Vicki the lawyer, Jon the lawyer (no relation), Kristie the financial advisor, Steve the commercial real-estate broker, Maura the PR exec and me, the Progressive Party Whip - started to see the light. Working together, we secured a flight to St. Thomas using Advantage miles and some very sad faces to secure the three-week advanced rate on American. So we had that going for us, which is nice.
Then we pulsed Panama's GNP out of the ATM because the proprietor of the villa only accepted cash. My wife finally got through to somebody at NCL and confirmed that we were getting our money back for the cruise. And finally, we reserved a car on St. John, we re-checked our bags, called anybody who might be concerned for our safety because there were images of a burning S/S Norway on CNN and grabbed some snacks from the food court followed by another round of victory drinks. And just when we and the viewing audience in Terminal B thought disaster had been averted, the princess rescued, and the Death Star destroyed, our plane to St. Thomas pulled a mechanical and went on the DL. I say again, "what in the blue (expletive) is going on around here people?" After an hour delay or so, it became clear that we were going to miss the last ferry to St. John. Turn out the lights, party's over...or was it?
LUCK BE A LADY TONIGHT
Who ever said complaining doesn't solve anything needs to pick up a white courtesy phone at Gate B12 and kiss my butt, because not long after my extremely audible tirade, an older, sultry woman with a Mrs. Robinsonesque quality about her strolled by and before I could say "Coo-coo-ca-choo," she was on her cell phone talkin' turkey with her ex-boyfriend "Ken," who just happened to be the manager at an all-inclusive resort on St. Thomas ironically named "The Renaissance" - which, for all you people named something other than Leonardo, Donnatello or Fred, means rebirth or new beginning. So poetic, so timely so abso-freakin'-lutley lucky.
So our new lady friend whispers a few sweet nothings to Kenny and bing-bang-boom, he scores us two rooms for some pocket change. So we got that going for us, which is nice. Next thing you know, the airline trades the flying jalopy currently sitting in our jet way for "the plane to be named later" and only 10 excruciating hours after the mother of all calamities, we're singing "We are the champions" while coasting on the warm trade winds down to the Virgin Islands.
Look for Part II back on the forum (coming shortly)…