Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Elusive Insulated Drink Cup

This was my fourth cruise so I figured I’m pretty much a cruise expert by this point – right?

Well, not so much.

It might have been my fourth cruise, but it was my maiden voyage on Royal Caribbean. Turns out all cruise lines work just a little differently.

On our last cruise with Celebrity, our drink package was offered as one of the perks, so it was never a problem getting any sort of drink we wanted – fresh squeezed juice, soda, alcoholic beverage, fancy coffee, bottled water. Whatever. It was all free. And it was definitely the way to go.

But I discovered that Royal Caribbean doesn’t offer drink packages as a perk. So we opted to pre-pay for one because our last experience worked so well. I didn’t want to worry about how much we were spending every time we wanted something to drink on the ship, no matter what it was.

Once on board, we found out that Royal Caribbean provides insulated cups to those cruisers who have drink packages and there are soda/juice machines placed throughout the ship for self-service convenience.

Great, I thought. That will make things easy.

Famous last words.

As a person who only grudgingly drinks coffee and has a very specific acceptable coffee formulation, which can only be concocted at home (for a minimal price) or at Starbucks (for a premium price), I usually opt to get my caffeine fix with Diet Coke while on vacation.  Makes it simpler. And cheaper.

So I was thrilled with the idea of being able to fill my insulated cup whenever I wanted.

We headed to lunch on that first day and I saw numerous people walking around carrying insulated cups. When we asked where they got them, we were told they had been in the cabin upon arrival.

But when we arrived in our cabin after lunch, not an insulated cup was to be found. And, believe me, I searched.

So I knew then that we were going to have to go on a treasure hunt to find ours.

First we stopped at Guest Services and were told that the cups were in our cabin. When we said they weren’t, we were directed to the guy selling drink packages. On his table, there were dozens and dozens of those shiny plastic insulated cups. I think I started salivating, just a little. (Oh, and by the way, there were a LOT of people selling a LOT of stuff that first day – drink packages, internet packages, spa packages, port tours, fancy watches – you name it – they were selling it!)

We waited while the harried salesperson finished selling several drink packages and handed the cruisers their prized insulated cups. When he turned to us in anticipation of selling us a drink package and we told him we’d already purchased it, we pointed to the cups on his table and said we just needed two of those. But he dismissively told us that if our drink cups were not in our cabin upon arrival, they would be delivered there later that day.

Okayyy. By this point, we had threaded through the long lines at Embarkation and had wandered around the ship trying to get our bearings, and had been to lunch where I’d only had a small glass of water. I was still parched, but figured I would eventually get my drink cup and my thirst would finally be quenched.


We again went back to our cabin where we found our suitcases awaiting us (a major relief!) so we unpacked our bags to be all ready for our week-long vacation.

I was still pretty thirsty, but was trying to be patient about my drink cup.

We met our stateroom attendant (who was new to the job). I gave her a big tip hoping to get good service throughout the week and asked her about the cups. She said she would check on them and we should have them by the end of the evening.

So we changed for dinner and wandered around the ship a little more and eventually found a bar. Oh, who am I kidding? You can find a bar every five steps on a cruise ship. But maybe I should say we found one that looked like fun.

So we asked the bartender for lots and lots of water, but also ordered several mixed drinks. Fortunately, insulated drink cups were not required for mixed drinks. And, also fortunately, our badges proved we had paid for the drink package, so we didn’t have any hoops to jump through to get a simple gin and tonic.

We sucked down those drinks – probably because we were both so thirsty by that point. This certainly didn’t help our dehydration problem any, but we were just glad to have something cold and wet to drink. While there, we met some fellow passengers and had ourselves a fine ol' time.

Eventually, we headed to dinner, which was also fun, not to mention tasty.

By the time we returned to our cabin late that night, we fully expected two shiny, brand-new insulated cups to be sitting on the table awaiting our first fill of caffeinated bliss the next morning.

Nope. Not there.

Hunh. I was getting a little perturbed by this point. I mean, how many people I gotta talk to to get a stinkin’ plastic cup??

Fortunately, it was nighttime and I was not in any dire need of caffeine. But I knew I couldn’t last two days without it.

Vince, on the other hand, wasn’t as concerned about the cup as I was. He drinks very little soda. For him, caffeine comes in a simple cup of hot, black coffee. Or three. He’s easy. But he also wasn’t caffeine-deprived like I was.

When we got up the next morning and saw our room attendant, she reported that the cups still had not materialized. 


So we walked to the main dining room. You should know, by the way, that our cabin was in the front of the ship and the dining room was in the back of the ship. I could get all fancy and go all “fore” and “aft” and “starboard” and “port” on you – but I’d have to look it up to be sure I knew what I was talkin’ about and I don’t wanna ‘cause I’m getting mad all over again about my drink cup!

Anyway, suffice it to say, it was a L-O-N-G walk from the front of that ship to the back.

Okay, I couldn’t stand not knowing this part, so I did check so I could estimate how many miles a day we walked. Allure of the Seas is 1,188 feet long and we walked to the main dining room and back twice a day. Not to mention all the other places we walked to on the ship. And all the places we got lost on the ship and had to backtrack. Yep, just as I suspected – that’s a lotta walkin’!

Vince kept telling people if we invented an “Uber” for getting around the ship we could make a lot of money. And most people agreed with him.

Anyway, we went to breakfast in the main dining room and I was – seriously – so dehydrated that I could barely form enough spit in my mouth to speak. When the server asked if I wanted coffee, I just looked at her and started crying, which rather shocked and horrified me (not to mention her).  But I plaintively cried, “I…just…want…a…Diet Coke!”

Then I blubbered out the whole story about the apparently impossible-to-get insulated cup. She solicitously patted my shoulder and scrambled to get me a Diet Coke – all the while probably wondering what sort of crazy person she was dealing with.

And then she called over some other lady who looked pretty official. I mean, she had on a white shirt with epaulets and everything. So that lady called someone and told them to get the insulated cups to our cabin stat.

They probably had a good laugh later about the deranged blonde woman who cried over not having an insulated cup – which I could hardly blame them for – but they were nice enough not to laugh in front of me.

Vince and I finished breakfast (where I had not one but TWO small glasses of Diet Coke, so I was sufficiently caffeinated by the end of the meal). And, because our first port of call in the Bahamas was that day, we disembarked without any cups. But, fortunately, there was a guy on the gangway handing out bottles of cold water, so we weren’t at risk of further dehydration.

Once we arrived back on the ship and returned to our cabin, there was a knock at the door and – voila! – our room attendant was standing there with a big grin on her face holding up two insulated cups!! I shouted, “Bless you!” and all but snatched them out of her hands. She just grinned some more and then apologized for the delay.

I didn’t care – I was just happy to have them!

But here’s the interesting thing. I didn’t spend much time on the level where the drink machines were – consequently, I didn’t drink a lot of Diet Coke on the ship.

But at least I had enough to quench my thirst and get sufficiently caffeinated so as not to annoy Vince. 

Oh, and by the way, both the server and her supervisor sought me out later that evening during dinner to make sure that I (a) got my insulated cup and (b) was not having any further meltdowns over caffeine and/or plastic drinkware. 

That was brave of them, eh?!

No, but seriously, I was touched that they followed up like that. And no more tears were shed the entire rest of the cruise. This is a good thing because, after all, I was on vacation.

We made a habit of loading up on the beverages whenever we stopped at one of the many pool bars. We'd order a bottle of water, a can of Diet Coke, and a fancy mixed drink with fruit stuck in it. We wanted to make sure the fridge back in our cabin was well-stocked. Well, except for the fancy drink with fruit stuck in it. Those we drank sitting by the pool and hot tub. 

When we were gathering all our belongings at the end of our trip and it came time to pack up the drink cups, I considered NOT bringing them home with me. For about a second and a half. After all, we have a cabinet full of insulated drink cups and these, frankly, didn't keep the ice from melting like some of our other cups do.

But there was NO WAY I wasn't going to bring these suckers home given how much I had to go through to get them! So in our bags they went. And when I look at them now, I can only shake my head and laugh. 

And, really, I wouldn't have had to write two L-O-N-G blogs about this vacation if our shuttle bus driver had taken us directly from Point A (Miami Airport) to Point B (the correct Hyatt Place hotel in Ft. Lauderdale). And if my drink cup had been in the cabin upon arrival. I mean, what else could I have talked about? 

The monkeys in St. Kitts? The pretty jewels Vince bought me? The production of "Mama Mia" we saw? 

Yeah. Maybe. But they may not be nearly as entertaining. I'll work on it...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Where Oh Where Is Our Hotel? (Subtitle: Riding Around in a Shuttle Van for Three Hours? Not a Fun Way to Start Vacation!)

So we just returned from a 7-day cruise to the Caribbean with stops in Nassau, St. Thomas and St. Kitts. We went on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, which – lemme tell ya – is one friggin’ big boat!

We got a little sun (not too much, which is good for us pale faces), did a little sightseeing (and still had time for a little shopping, which is really good for us shopaholics), and ate and drank a lot more than usual (but not so much that we worried about hangovers or our clothes no longer fitting). So, all in all, a great time.

But our voyage did not begin smoothly.

We took a direct flight from Columbus to Miami and that went okay. I’d say it went “great” – but you know how it is when you’re wedged into a tiny airplane with many people and much luggage. You feel like a sardine and are quite grateful when the doors open and you can finally un-pretzel your legs.

There were eight of us traveling together – five adults and three small children. As in a 5-year-old boy and his 3-year-old twin brothers. We arrived in Miami at 8:20 PM, gathered our mega-pile of luggage and proceeded to the nearest shuttle to take us to Ft. Lauderdale and the Hyatt hotel we had pre-booked.

For future reference, please note that there are a LOT of Hyatt hotels in Ft. Lauderdale.

Once we got that mega-pile of luggage crammed into the back of the shuttle bus, the eight of us (plus the driver) climbed into the vehicle and prepared ourselves for the approximately 30 minute drive to the hotel.

Only it took M-U-C-H longer than thirty minutes.

Why? Because the driver was an idiot. Er, I mean, the driver got lost. Multiple times.

We told him from the start that we needed to take a small detour to a pharmacy as one of the twins was sick and a prescription had been called into a particular pharmacy in Ft. Lauderdale. So he managed to find that pharmacy and the dad jumped out and quickly fetched the prescription. 

We were all still relatively awake and anticipating our week-long getaway, so we were mostly in a good mood. We may have been getting a little hungry and the kids were getting a tiny bit antsy, but that was normal. Right? So the driver takes us a bit further to a Hyatt Place hotel and announces we had arrived.

Ah, relief and anticipation! I couldn’t wait to wash my face, brush my teeth and change into comfy PJs. I wanted to get to bed early so I would be fresh and well-rested the next morning to start our vacation.

Not our luggage cart. Ours was wayyy fuller! Ha!
Once all twelve (count-em!) suitcases and carry-ons were piled onto the luggage cart, we generously (and I mean REALLY generously) tipped the driver and then trudged into the lobby with our hotel confirmation sheets in hand.

That’s when it all started to fall apart.

The clerk haughtily told us we were at the wrong hotel. When we sighed in frustration and then asked if they had any available rooms he said, (a) no, and (b) we’d be paying a “cancellation fee” at the other hotel, which was basically the entire night’s rate.

Fortunately, the shuttle driver was slow to leave and we were able to flag him down and tell him his job wasn’t finished. He was probably cursing himself for taking the time to greedily count his tip instead of hightailing it out of there. But he grudgingly loaded all those bags back into the shuttle while we all climbed back into our seats and prepared for another short drive to the correct hotel.

As they say, “hope springs eternal.” Right?


Our hopes were dashed when the second Hyatt was still not the right hotel. This time we had only started to take the bags out of the vehicle when Vince told us to hold off; he wanted to make sure we were at the right hotel before we unloaded.

Meanwhile, one of the twins who was not feeling well vomited on the floor of the shuttle bus. Fortunately, I was in the row behind him and neither saw nor heard it so my sympathetic gag reflex was not activated. Big “whew” – as the shuttle driver was already looking a little panicked by this point.

And Girl Scout Jane had Wet Wipes at the ready so all evidence of barf was quickly cleaned up. (And, really fortunately, Girl Scout Jane wasn’t the one responsible for cleaning it up!)

Meanwhile, the driver was on the phone calling Dispatch to find out the exact location of our pre-booked hotel. He had that information, of course, because we had given it to him back in Miami and he even had the correct address on the GPS screen in his vehicle, so it was hard to fathom what his problem was.

Maybe he had never been to Ft. Lauderdale before? Maybe – like me – he was directionally challenged, but – unlike me – he didn’t know how to follow the GPS instructions?

Maybe we should’ve checked to see if he had a legitimate driver’s license?

Nevertheless, he climbed back into the driver’s seat and said he was certain he had the correct hotel this time. And off we went.

But that would be a big N-O.

This time we stopped in front of a Hyatt hotel where a formal wedding had taken place and men in tuxes and women in fancy gowns were standing out front.

Again, we opted to check to make sure we had the correct hotel before off-loading our luggage and the kids and ourselves, so Vince was the only one to exit the vehicle. But yet again, he was told we were at the wrong hotel!

By this point, it was almost 11 PM and I was royally pissed. I mean, come on. THREE wrong hotels?!  And two extra hours to get us where we were supposed to be?

I wanted to ask for our very generous tip back!

By this point, our driver had zero credibility with us and, even though there couldn’t possibly have been that many Hyatt hotels left in all of Ft. Lauderdale, we wouldn’t even let him try to figure it out. Instead, we grabbed a cell phone, hit the GPS app and directed the driver to the correct hotel. Sure enough, our fourth stop was finally the right one.

When I stumbled out of the van, I very nearly kissed the ground, but I thought that might be a little too melodramatic even for me!

But it truly was a great relief when I got to our room and was finally able to wash my face, brush my teeth and change into comfy PJs.

But our evening wasn’t over quite yet. We all couldn’t decide if we were more tired or hungry at this point, but hungry won – so we ordered pizzas and calzones to be delivered to our rooms. If I could remember the name of the restaurant I’d tell you because the calzones were THAT good. But, yeesh – eating food that late at night was crazy. And we didn’t sleep all that well. But we DID sleep.

And I was ever so grateful I wasn’t still riding around in the back of a shuttle bus!

So I figured our trip could only get better from there – right?!