Return to Paradise!
Written by Rick Archer
Trip to Hawaii Recap
Rick Archer's Note:
Our Hawaii 2013 turned out to be a very odd trip. It was
totally different from any trip I have ever been on. This lengthy
two-week vacation felt like four different trips rolled into one.
Marla and I spent a couple days in San
Diego, then came five days at sea. Next we had four days of
port calls on the Big Island and Maui.
We concluded our trip with
three days in Honolulu. It really boggles the mind how much
happened on this trip.
Rick and Marla's
14 Day Trip
Sunday, Sept 22 - Arrive San Diego at 10 am
02 Monday, Sept 23 - Depart from Ensenada,
05 06 07: Sept 24 - Sept 28 - Five days
at sea crossing the Pacific to Hawaii
Sunday, Sept 29 - Hilo, Hawaii
09 Monday, Sept 30 -
Oct 01 - Lahaina,
Oct 02 -
Thursday, Oct 03 - Honolulu, Oahu
-- overnight stay onboard ship
13 Friday, Oct 04 - Honolulu: Disembark ship
on , go to Prince Hotel
14 Saturday, Oct 05 - Spend day in Honolulu,
board airplane at 7 pm
15 Sunday, Oct 06 - Arrive Houston at 9 am
This was a very unusual
trip for another reason - the ship did not make a round trip.
The Celebrity Solstice was passing through Hawaii on its way
to Australia to "reposition" the ship for the Australian Spring and
We were registered at
the ship terminal in San Diego, then bussed down to Ensenada,
Mexico, 70 miles to the south.
From there it took the
ship 5 days to cross to Hawaii located in the middle of the Pacific
Ocean. One weird feature was crossing six time zones in
seven days. Actually, this was a great benefit. We
crossed two time zones flying to San Diego. We left at 9 am
and got to San Diego at 10 am!
Then on four of the five
days at sea we crossed a new time zone. In other words, we had
25 hour days for a week! This made the days at sea very
Marla and I used our
time wisely. We made sure to take a 30 minute walk every
morning, have a leisurely breakfast, and still have time to get to
our 10 am dance class every day.
Who cares that we gave 6
hours back at the end of the trip?
Rick and Marla Visit
the San Diego Zoo
- A VISIT TO THE SAN DIEGO ZOO
The first thing I learned on this trip is that it is far wiser to take a
trip heading west than heading east. Thanks to a series of time zone
changes, Marla and I landed in San Diego just an hour or so after taking
off here in Houston. Considering this was a three hour flight, not bad.
Since we had deliberately left early in the morning, we had the whole
day ahead of us upon landing. It was still morning! After a quick lunch,
we headed over to the famous San Diego Zoo!!
Only one problem. We couldn't find it. I swear, between Marla and
myself, we made dozens of map errors on this trip. This first mistake
was on Marla, but most of the rest would be on me.
The zoo was about two blocks from the car rental, but Marla read the map
wrong and went the opposite direction. We got on the freeway and headed
a few miles out before realizing our mistake. No problem. We had plenty
Our biggest concern was the luggage we had hidden in our trunk. We saved
at least an hour by skipping morning check-in at the hotel
and relying on our trunk instead. However,
this was a serious gamble. Our entire trip would be ruined if someone
relieved us of our belongings while we visited the Zoo.
All day long I felt vulnerable to a catastrophic car break-in. We
allayed our fears a little bit by parking under a police surveillance
tower. If something bad happened, perhaps they would at least get good
video of our demise.
The San Diego Zoo was everything they say about it. It is one of the
finest zoos in the world. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how
you look at it, this zoo is way way big. There is simply no way a person
can do justice to the place in one visit.
Thanks to the gift of great space, the San Diego Zoo pioneered the
concept of open-air, cageless exhibits that re-create natural animal
habitats. One of these habitats features the giant panda, one of the few
zoos in the world to do so. This is good, except that the zoo is so darn
big Marla and I never managed to find the exhibit despite five hours of
wandering. This was bad.
It is easy to find the San Diego Zoo using Google Earth… looking down
from outer space, it is the only green spot in the middle of the city.
The water bill for this place must be immense because there are
waterfalls, rain forests, hippo tanks the size of mansions, and virtual
rivers for the otters. I am telling you, some of these animals have
better homes than humans.
A fun aspect of the Zoo is the gondola ride across the park that gave
access to all sorts of sweeping panoramas below. From the gondola, I
figured out that the zoo is built into some sort of deep and very
complicated ravine. The abundant trees and the split levels created by
the ravine cleverly hide various sections of the park from the rest.
This made for a delightful journey, but it was also easy to get lost or
have trouble finding stuff because everything was so well hidden from
From the sky, Marla and I spotted a magnificent aviary. There was a huge
net and hundreds of birds inside. When we later visited the aviary, to
our surprise we were allowed to go inside. They have a clever double
door system that allows people like us to enter and exit without the
birds getting out. The birds don't seem to mind a bit that hundreds of
people are visiting their home at any particular moment.
Marla loved it. Wherever she went, birds went flying right past her. The
energy was exciting. This was a real paradise.
What I didn't know is that the Zoo is home to many species of ferns,
trees, flowers, and bushes imported from different areas of the world.
In other words, the Zoo is also a botanical wonderland… which of course
drives up the water bill even further. There was one nature walk in
particular that was sheer bliss… mist, bird calls, descending walkway,
abundant tropical flora and thick vines that completely separated the
visitor from any sign of civilization for quite some time.
Towards the evening, Marla and I were getting pretty tired. So we hopped
on a bus that took us on a winding road through the Zoo. We learned all
sorts of things including hot inside gossip on which giraffe was
currently sleeping with which giraffe. Indeed, we saw a very impressive
group of giraffes including a new born stumbling around like it was
walking on stilts. One of those boy giraffes obviously has more going
for it than just a pretty neck.
We passed the elephants. Our guide informed us there are two kinds of
elephants - Asian and African. I stared in awe at their immense size. My
favorite moment came when he pointed out the African elephants have ears
shaped like the African continent. I'll be darned. Sure enough, he was
The bears were a big disappointment. They were all sleeping in their
caves in the back. What a bunch of losers.
The orangutans put on the best show. These trapeze artists did a
marvelous job of swinging from tree to tree Tarzan-style. Plus they seem
to be natural hams. One large monkey rolled over and over towards the
audience. Considering the monkey looked up several times to make sure we
were paying attention, this was obviously an act staged for our benefit.
These animals definitely seem to enjoy the attention.
Besides the pandas, we also missed seeing the gorillas. And we missed
the lions too. This place is just way too big.
During the bus ride, I learned that the Zoo has a sister location 32
miles to the north known as the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Located way
out in the boondocks where there is plenty of unused space, the habitats
are even larger.
These free-range enclosures house such animals as antelopes, giraffes,
buffalo, cranes, and rhinos. Apparently any animal that isn't a
carnivore is allowed to roam free. Since the climate and landscape is so
similar to the African bush at home, I am sure these animals feel right
The Safari park is noted for its California condor breeding program, the
most successful such program in the United States. The San Diego Zoo
single-handedly brought these magnificent eagle-like birds back from the
edge of extinction.
Since there are no cages and few barriers, this Safari area is more like
a game preserve than a Zoo. I smiled when I learned animals are
regularly exchanged between the two locations. How cool is that… a
vacation resort for the animals! If I was in charge, I would immediately
revoke any visiting privileges for the bears until they start making
more daily appearances.
To my immense relief, I did at least get to see the lions towards the
end of the bus ride. Although the distance was great, I really enjoyed
seeing the massive Lion Kings with their great mane of hair.
One night at supper during our trip, I brought up how magnificent the
lions were. My friend Tom Easley told me a great story. He said the male
lions, the so-called King of the Jungle, are the laziest creatures on
earth. Tom said the male lions sleep most of the day and expect their
female mates to go out and catch the food for the evening meal.
Tom spoke of a scene he saw in a documentary. A pack of very large
hyenas found a lioness alone as she searched for food. Realizing they
were nearly as big and had the numbers on her, the hyenas pursued the
lioness. The big female cat was forced to climb a tree to escape. Now
the hyenas had her cornered.
At this point the documentary switched back to the lion sleeping in the
den. He wakes up hungry. The movie shows him yawn, then start looking
around for his mate. You could very easily read his mind: "Where's my
woman and where's my dinner?"
Finally the lion decides to go look for her. He finds her cowering up in
a tree surrounded by the pack of hyenas. The lion doesn't even hesitate.
Even though he is badly outnumbered, he loses his temper and plows right
into the middle of them. The hyenas lose their nerve and quickly
scatter. It is just amazing the confidence this lion has.
Meanwhile the lioness meekly climbs down from the tree where the lion
confronts her with a withering stare. She quickly slinks off into the
brush to find dinner while the grumpy lion heads back to his lair to
rest some more.
After that story, I could not help but think that if I were as confident
as the lion, I could have my life of ease too. However, my life is much
I will be laying there on the couch dreaming of all the great things I
want for dinner. I will call out to Marla, "What's for dinner?"
She will say, "Whatever I serve."
I will say, "But what are my choices?"
And she will say, "Your choice is to get dinner or not. And if you open
your mouth one more time, you can make your own dinner."
Oh, to be a Lion King. Whatever happened to male dominance?
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park
- THE ENSENADA ORDEAL
Travel has so many benefits.
Adventure, learning, the chance to meet new
friends and strengthen ties with people we know, entertainment,
relaxation… the list is pretty endless.
However I have to admit travel can also be very stressful. Anyone who
has ever read the
bizarre story of how I lost my passport on our trip to
Russia will quickly realize how traumatic things can get in the flick of
a moment. There is so much that is out of one's control that it is
difficult to let down your guard.
The one good thing I can say about the perils of travel is that it
toughens you up and it also encourages a form of ingenuity to find ways
to make things a little easier. Experienced travelers typically fare
much better than the rookies…. but not always.
One of the ways I deal with the inevitable problems is to expect
something will go wrong. Into every life some rain must fall. Once I
accept that travel will sometimes be unpleasant, it is easier to roll
with the punches. However, like the next person, I have my limits of
Never in all my years of travel have I seen more things go wrong in a
single day than Day Two of our trip.
The day started innocently enough. Marla and I took a morning walk on
the grounds surrounding the lovely Sheraton Hotel in San Diego. The
first hint of the oncoming problems came when Marla confessed she was
very worried about today. She had a feeling that something was bound to
I asked her why. Marla said that although Celebrity was nowhere near as
conflicted as the doomed Carnival, they too had their share of problems.
She had encountered several very frustrating situations dealing with the
Celebrity staff ahead of time plus there was a legion of complaints on
Cruise Critic that had her worried.
As we walked back to the hotel,
Marla clearly had a frown on her face. I had the feeling Marla knew more
than she was telling. However there wasn't anything she could do about
her fears, so we both shrugged our shoulders. THE BAD DAY BEGINS
We had a great breakfast in the hotel's main dining room. The room was
full, but we noticed newlyweds Larry and Megan had two extra spots at
their table. So we asked to join them. The company was great and the
breakfast was great.
Life is good. Still no warning of the problems ahead.
Our first mistake was lingering in the room longer than necessary. Marla
and I were both ready to go at 11 am, but Marla decided to hold back for
30 minutes. As it turned out, we hit the terminal at the same time as
everyone else. Marla would later estimate we could have shaved 90
minutes off our upcoming trip to Ensenada had we left at our first
The headaches began when Marla went to check out of the hotel. The man
looked at her strangely and said in a very rude manner, "Lady, you're a
Marla did a double take. Mind you, Marla had personally placed over a
dozen of her cruise passengers in this hotel. How on earth could they
not have a record of her? Furthermore, what man chews
out a customer for not showing up when the customer is
standing right in front of him?
To her surprise, the man continued to speak to her in an accusatory
voice like "the nerve of you to not honor your reservation". The man
actually began to argue with her that she wasn't there. Marla was
incredulous at his attitude. As far as he was concerned, since she was
nowhere in the computer system, therefore she didn't exist.
Marla could not understand his animosity. Why on earth would Marla be
going to the trouble of checking out if she hadn't been there in the
first place? Okay, so something was wrong with the computer. Why take it
out on her?
Marla showed the man her key, told him her room number, but he continued
to say there was no record of her being there. He concluded by saying,
"I'm sure we will find the record shortly. You can just go."
Not so fast. Marla said she wanted a printout to make sure all the
charges were accurate. The man shrugged his shoulders. He couldn't print
what he couldn't find. Just go.
Rolling her eyes, Marla left the counter. It was time to get a cab and
go to the pier.
The cab ride was supposed to cost $10. Marla had checked ahead of time.
It was only two miles to the cruise ship pier. Thanks to yesterday's
rental car, I knew exactly how to get to the ship. On the previous
evening, I had seen our cruise ship in plain sight on the other side of
the harbor across from the Sheraton. Easy. After all, the road simply
hugged the coastline. All I had to do was make one right turn. In fact,
if we didn't have luggage, it was an easy walk.
Now as we got in the cab, I learned our cab driver was from Afghanistan.
He said he had been in America for five years.
His next words brought up a red flag, "Please direct me to your ship."
That made no sense. After five years in San Diego, he needed help
finding the pier one mile away?
Heck, I had found the ship myself just
last night. Where had
this guy been for the past five years?
Before I could even answer, the driver made a left instead of a right at
the main street. Both Marla and I immediately protested. "No, no, turn
right, turn right!" So the driver took a long roundabout way back to the
hotel and got it correct on the second try.
Marla looked at me and I looked at Marla. We both knew what was going
on. This guy knew exactly where the ship was. Although the ship was not
currently in the harbor (I will explain in a moment), he
had even mentioned seeing it the night before.
So why was he playing stupid?
Well, we all
know the answer to this. The
cab driver was scamming us. Sure enough, he asked for $20 and pointed to the meter as proof.
Marla was indignant; so was I.
I had never
seen a more blatant scam in all my years. This guy had made two deliberate mistakes to run up the meter.
As the map shows,
the route from the hotel to the ship terminal was about
as simple as it gets. So how does one get lost? It would be
The sad thing is that he knew we knew what he was doing, but he did it
Some people have no shame.
Unfortunately now I made a mistake… I had only $20s in my wallet. If I
had a $10, I would have handed to it him and walked off. Instead I gave
him a $20 and left in a huff. I didn't want to argue with this jerk. The
sad thing is I would have given him a $5 tip if he had done his job
right. He would have had $15. Was it really worth it to him to
deliberately create such animosity to get $5 more? Well, we know the
answer to that.
Now I was in a bad mood for the second time. First the Sheraton's
incompetence, now the cab driver was playing us for a fool and getting
away with it.
Why do people have to act this way?
Our next reversal of fortune came inside the Celebrity doors. We had
priority status. That meant we had the right to go to the "Fast Lane"
Instead we were ordered to go to the "Slow Lane". There must be some
mistake. We took a quick look over at the Fast Lane. There were maybe 20
passengers milling around. We took a look at the Slow Lane. There were
200 passengers in line.
We protested, but no one budged. Slow Lane. We protested to another
person. She too pointed to the Slow Lane. Three people in a row had
ordered us to comply. What choice did we have?
Marla was livid; for the past six months she had been repeatedly told we
had priority status. No such luck.
So what is priority status and why was it important? Well, today it
would have saved us at least an hour of extra waiting, probably more.
A cruise line values "loyalty" as much as any other business. In order
to build this loyalty, they reward returning passengers with goodies and
added privileges. Although Marla and I had never been on Celebrity
before, our 17 previous cruises on Royal Caribbean carried weight since
the same company owns both cruise lines.
Now I understand it sounds a bit "snobby" to want to move through this
check point faster than the others, but I would like to point out we
have previously stood in our fair share of check-in lines over the
years. At some point, it is nice to avoid having to lug our carry-on
luggage around the snake line for half an hour… which is what we were
now forced to do. The line was huge. Marla instantly regretted waiting
the extra half hour. So much for believing the hype about the "priority
For lack of anything better to do, we continued to stare at the priority
line across the room. It was so empty that they had extra staff people
just standing there waiting to check non-existent passengers in. There
were two agents for every customer, one to take their information,
another to polish her own fingernails or twiddle her thumbs. How
The worst was yet to come.
THE JONES ACT
Everyone on the ship was about to be taken on a bus from San Diego down
to Ensenada, Mexico, a 70 mile trip. Fortunately (or unfortunately),
none of us had the slightest clue just how ridiculous this trip was
going to be. Actually, one person did have a good idea… Marla. She had
read all the horror stories about this upcoming bus ride. But there was
nothing she could do about it other than fret.
As it turned out, there was no cruise ship in San Diego that day. Why
not? After all, it had been there in this harbor the night before to
drop off passengers. However, today it was waiting for us down in
So why did we have to take a long bus ride down to Ensenada, Mexico,
in the middle of Nowhere when we had a perfectly beautiful harbor in San Diego?
That's a good question. I am not sure I can give a good answer, but I
Long ago (1920), the Jones Act
was passed to protect the American
shipbuilding industry. Section 27 of the Jones Act deals with "cabotage"
(i.e., coastal shipping). It requires that all goods transported by
water between U.S. ports be carried in U.S.-flag ships, constructed in
the United States, owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed by U.S. citizens
and U.S. permanent residents. This prevents outside ships from
undercutting the U.S. shipping industry. By giving a monopoly to
U.S.-built ships, it stifles lower-rate competition from other
As for a cruise ship, if the ship is not U.S. built or U.S. owned or
U.S. crewed, then it is required by law to touch ONE foreign port during
the cruise trip.
This stupid law makes a huge difference to cruise lines.
causes all kinds of headaches for cruise passengers, rumor has it the
foreign cruise lines secretly like it. I will explain why shortly.
Due to the Jones Act, any cruise ship that is not U.S. built, U.S. owned
and manned by U.S. crews cannot travel directly between U.S. ports. They
must first stop at a foreign port before proceeding to another U.S.
Consequently, any ship that is foreign in any way (origin, ownership,
crew) can only go from Seattle to Alaska or from Portland to San
Francisco if it stops in Canada along the way.
Similarly, to stop in Hawaii means that a ship that is "foreign" in any
sense of the word must either sail from Canada or Mexico, or as NCL did
for years, stop in some tiny foreign port to get around the law. For
many years, this turned out to the Republic of Kiribati, a little known
island nation located in the middle of the Pacific. Kiribati served as
a way station for many cruises headed to Hawaii. Want to know something
funny? Hawaii is 2,500 miles from Ensenada,
Mexico. Kiribati is 1,200 miles southwest of
Looking at the map,
using the "Kiribati Technique", a cruise ship leaving directly from
San Diego would be forced to go not just 1,200 miles out of its way,
but almost 2,400 miles out its way simply to comply with the Jones
some cruise lines will go to any length to circumvent this
strange Jones Law, but this is ridiculous.
Given this absurd
situation, the decision to substitute Ensenada for Kiribati starts
to make sense. Since it is illegal for a foreign-owned ship to go directly from San
Diego to Honolulu without stopping in a foreign port, now we begin to
understand why Ensenada, 70 miles south of San Diego, was chosen as a
solution to Kiribati.
What I couldn't figure out… and still can't… is why the Solstice
couldn't dock in San Diego, board the passengers, cruise all 3,000
passengers in comfort down to Ensenada, sit in the Mexican harbor for an
hour, then head on over to Hawaii.
I know cruise ships are expensive to operate, but I cannot imagine how
it would be cheaper to hire 70 buses (yes! 70 buses!) to caravan the
poor passengers on a miserable FOUR HOUR ordeal down the Baja California
coastline (one hour waiting in terminal, two hour ride, one hour waiting
My guess is that to do something practical like ferry us down on the
ship is somehow illegal. If anyone knows the correct answer, by all
means let me know. I am very curious.
On our previous 2007 cruise to Hawaii, we used NCL. Although this cruise
line is registered in the Bahamas, it negotiated some sort of sweetheart
deal with Congress which bypassed the Jones Act by hiring an
all-American staff. I remember back in 2007 when a very knowledgeable
crew member explained to me that even a sold-out ship like our NCL ship
in Hawaii would probably end up losing money because the labor costs
were so high. Only at total capacity did the ship have a fighting chance
of making money. Neither Marla nor I understood how this business model
made any sense.
I am not sure if today's cruise lines are unhappy with the current
system, but I suspect not. I am not sure they are the ones who are
inconvenienced. It is the passengers who suffer!
There are significant financial advantages to the cruise line for all
this trouble we had to go to. Not only does Celebrity have the ability
to register the ship in a low-tax country, but it can also hire foreign
staff and pay them wages that would never pass U.S. labor laws.
If the Jones Act were repealed, it could definitely make a significant
difference to the cruise industry. For starters, there would be more
cruises around Hawaii, and quite possibly short cruises from San
Francisco to San Diego or Seattle and the like. I could see a cruise
trip from Galveston to Disneyland here in the Gulf.
In addition, in the fall, being able to directly travel between U.S.
ports might mean a cruise line could try an itinerary between, say, New
York and Florida or vice versa. There is great potential for fall
foliage cruises up in New England. Currently, cruises either go
roundtrip for Boston and New York and stop in Canada, or go one way
between the two countries, but new rules could mean longer stays in
Maine and simply forget about Canada.
In my opinion, this is one law that should disappear. For one thing, the
U.S. shipbuilding industry has largely vanished. Furthermore, most of
the less popular cruise ship jobs aren't exactly the average American
worker's cup of tea. These menial jobs are heavily tip-dependent, and
require long hours with little free time plus onboard commitments for
months at a time. Worst of all, each job demands endless butt kissing.
In an egalitarian society like America, I just can't see American
workers having the necessary mindset for this job. So I can't imagine
why American labor unions would object to relaxed labor standards
There would be some real benefits for the American cruise passengers. It
would mean more short cruises within the U.S. on large ships which could
be an economic stimulus. Certainly the combination of "something new"
and no need for a passport would be appealing to regular and first-time
I suppose the reason the Jones Act doesn't get repealed is that today's
cruise lines don't actually mind it that much. Cruise lines can hide
behind foreign registry as an excuse to take advantage of workers
regarding minimum wage and overtime issues.
As it stands today, if an American cruise passenger wants to go to
Hawaii, their cruise choices are limited to goofy situations like this
Ensenada fiasco. If the passengers complain about the uncomfortable bus
ride to Ensenada, the cruise line can blame it all on the stupid
American "Jones Act".
One more thing… a cruise trip to Alaska is a completely different story.
While it is subject to the same absurd situation as Hawaii,
Vancouver-Canada is about a million times more pleasant to visit than
Ensenada. More about this shortly.
THE BAD DAY
GETS EVEN BADDER
Getting back to our Miserable Day, Marla and I finished our check-in and
now waited nearly an hour to get on a bus. It bugged us to know had we
come earlier, we would have hopped on a bus immediately.
The odd thing is that I had absolutely no idea what a mess this was
going to be. I had looked on a map. It was only 70 miles between the two
cities. However we made terrible time. I had forgotten about Mexico's
"drug problem". We had to stop at the Border and one checkpoint after
another. I saw Mexican military men carrying massive weapons longer than
their own height.
But the biggest insult of all was being forced to sit on the bus for an
entire hour AFTER we reached Ensenada.
We just sat there. Nothing was ever explained to us. Not one Celebrity
representative ever bothered to board our bus to explain the delay. I
had no idea what the problem was; I still don't. Every single person on
that bus had already shown their passports earlier in the day. We all
had our Celebrity "sea passes" proclaiming our legal status. So the
reason for the delay went totally over my head.
As I learned later, the
Mexicans had only brought two X-ray machines to scan our carry-on
luggage, creating a huge bottleneck. Why this was even
necessary was beyond me. We had already had our carry-on
luggage scanned back in San Diego!
Meanwhile during the long unexplained wait, people increasingly had to
go to the restroom. This was a serious dilemma since the restroom at the
back of the bus had developed a serious "port o potty" odor. Most of the
women would walk up, be assaulted by the smell, then think twice and
return to their seats. I know of one woman in particular who chose to
suffer rather than enter that vile cabinet.
Guess who was sitting at the back of the bus and suffering the most?
Yeah, me. What was I doing back there?
My problem started way back on the Oslo 2010 cruise. Everyone on the
trip wanted to dance, but the crew handed me a boom box that was so
inferior it had no volume and skipped to boot. We couldn't dance the
The disappointment at not being able to dance as promised was obvious. I
vowed never to depend on a cruise line instead.
Hence every trip since I carry heavy music equipment (amplifiers,
speakers, computers, backup sound system, wires) back and forth back and
forth. For example, on this trip my carry-on duffel bag weighed 75
Is this really necessary? Probably not. After all, these days all I have
to do is hook up my music computer to a small plug and use the ship's
sound system. How hard is that? Except that Celebrity demanded $100
every time we hooked up to their equipment. I
fumed. Mariner 2013 had allowed us to do this for free.
I wasn't going to allow them to extort us for something so painfully
effortless to do on their part.
It wasn't till right before the trip started that they dropped their
demand, but now I didn't trust them anymore. So
thanks to Celebrity's lousy attitude, I lugged this enormous
weight from Houston to San Diego as a precaution. Fortunately
I didn't have to pay extra. I was able to pretend
the bag was a simple carry-on.
Now that I was on the bus, where was I supposed to put this unwieldy
duffel bag? Certainly I couldn't check it. I had an expensive amplifier
ruined on the Dominica 2012 cruise trip. Someone broke it by being too
rough. I am reluctant to let anyone touch the bag but myself.
So I headed to the back of the bus where I could use the entire back
seat. Bad move. I nearly died of noxious fumes during the bus ordeal.
Death by overpowering stench.
My only salvation came from two Scottish ladies sitting in front of me.
Every time the door opened, they would quickly get out their expensive
little perfume bottles and spray the air. I owe them my life.
Marla, of course, was too smart to sit next to me. She sat up at the
front enjoying the charming company of a delightful unattended Scottish
husband instead. I fumed as I watched her laugh at one witticism after
another while I nearly choked to death. I was so mad at the unfairness
of it all I wanted to get some Scotch tape and put it over his big
So we reach Ensenada and we just sit there. 15 minutes. 30 minutes. 45
minutes. An hour.
Once we were finally allowed off the bus, we walked directly to the ship
and stuck our sea pass into the machine. This stage took all of five
minutes. Why couldn't we have done that when the bus stopped in the
first place? I can only assume the Mexican government was responsible
for this delay.
It was now 4 pm. We had left the Sheraton at 11:30 am. This ordeal had
taken four long hours. Between the time waiting for the bus, the two
hour ride down to Ensenada, and sitting on the bus for another hour, we
were completely exhausted. But the hour wait on the bus was the worst.
The sad thing is that Mexico will ultimately be the one to suffer. All
this red tape has backfired. I heard that Celebrity is fed up with
Ensenada. Next year they plan to switch their entire operation to
Vancouver, Canada, instead (which is clearly a very smart move). At that
point, this expensive Mexican cruise ship pier will stay empty and bring
no more money to this impoverished town at all.
Well, tough, it's their
own fault. Should have brought more X-ray
MORE CELEBRITY HOSTILITY
Before we got on the ship in Ensenada, we walked through an extensive gift shop, the
kind that sells you every possible item you could ever want or need on
the long trip ahead. I noticed a wine shop and wanted to stop. We were
allowed to carry on two bottles of wine. Marla said better to unload the
equipment and come back. I disagreed, but was too weakened by fumes to
put up much of an argument.
So I get in front of the camera for my "sea pass" picture. I am not a
happy camper. Let's get this over with. They order me to take off my
glasses which irritates me further. I didn't like the tone of their
voices, but comply with a frown. Click. Good, it's over. I walk away but
they order me to come back.
Apparently I had blinked. I protest. So what? Is some terrorist going to
fake being me by closing their eyes? I was exhausted, so I kept walking.
Now seven security personnel step in to block me. Their expressions make
it clear I was going to have my picture re-taken or I can hitch a ride
back to San Diego. So be it.
In retrospect, all they had to do was be patient with me and they would
have gotten my cooperation. It was the way the photographer demanded I
return for a second picture that got under my skin.
These security people weren't the ones who had to endure a grueling
day-long bus ride, so why did they need to be so harsh? This isn't the
military; do you really have to bark at me over a simple mistake? A soft
word would have worked wonders. Something along the lines of "please,
can we do one more?", for example, not "get back here and do it again!"
After this unpleasant confrontation, Marla and I head to the cabin. As
we await the elevator, I notice I am not the only passenger who isn't
smiling. The mumbling and complaining says it all. We are all completely
beaten down by this ordeal.
After Marla and I put our luggage down, I turn around and head back out
for my two bottles of wine. I have never needed a glass of wine more in
my life. Now I encounter more problems. The security people stop me
again. I am not allowed to leave the ship until after the mandatory
muster drill scheduled an hour from now. Mind you, the shop was 200 yards away. I had a valid sea pass. What
difference did it make for me to get off and get back on? I would be
gone for all of ten minutes. I raise this point, but no explanation is
I took this
picture of the 14 newly-arrived buses from my cabin.
These buses arrived after ours. I would estimate there are
60 people or so in each bus just sitting there waiting.
The red building
on the right was the gift shop
where I wanted to go buy my two bottles of wine.
I noticed hundreds
of suitcases were sitting below.
What was this all about? Then I had my answer.
dog was checking out the bags on the pier
These people are getting in line to have
their Sea Pass picture taken.
The long day
ordeal began at 11:30. We got to our cabin at 5 pm.
"We have our orders."
That was it. I was officially mad. The utter stupidity of this entire
process left me shaking my head in disgust. Celebrity had gone out of
its way to make a very grueling process far worse than it ever had to
Some cruise lines go out of their way to make the check-in process
as gentle as possible, but Celebrity had done just the opposite.
have my word I did not use any profanity or sarcasm. I was
exhausted from the six hour ordeal and they were insensitive.
That's the bottom line.
As a footnote, after the muster drill, I did indeed go back to the store
and buy my two bottles of wine. I gave my meanest glare to the same man
who had stopped me twice.
Ironically, I never drank a single drop from either bottle the entire
trip. They became a symbol of my oppression.
Every time I looked at one
of those bottles, I got mad again at how I was pushed around at the
entrance that first day.
I ended up giving one bottle to the cabin
attendant on the final day and the other bottle to
some valet kid at the
hotel in Honolulu.
CELEBRITY DINING ROOM FIASCO
Believe it or not, the story of our
Very Bad Day isn't over yet.
We had early seating for Dinner at 6 pm. After the muster drill was
over, that gave us about half an hour to get ready. After purchasing my
two useless bottles of wine, I dropped them off in the cabin and headed
There were 60 of us. Our official total was 62, but two people chose to
do the later seating. The moment we entered the room, we were greeted by 8 members of our
group. They were seated at the absolute worst table in the room in front
right next to the Maitre d'. This meant they would be passed all night
long by every single passenger eating on this side of the room. I was
instantly upset. There would be no privacy for these people.
I looked at Marla to ask why these people were seated in such a crummy
spot. However, the moment I saw that Marla was ashen faced,
I realized this was not her fault. Marla was beyond
horrified. She could not
believe her guests were being treated this way. This was not
where the Celebrity liaison had agreed to seat her people.
immediately assured the group seated at the front
door that she would look into this.
It turned out that
our own table was in the same place Marla and the
ship's liaison had agreed
upon. So was the table next to us. Marla and I sat down and said hi to
everyone. But neither one of us could relax. We
both had a nagging feeling something was wrong. Then
it dawned on us - half our group
So we began looking around. Sure enough, we spotted our fourth table
about five tables down. Then we saw two people eating at another table all by
I asked Marla why these people were alone. She replied that no one was
supposed to be isolated like that. Just to make it clear, Marla handles
the seating personally. This means she has handled the exact seating
assignments long before the trip has even begun. Every
single table had been adjacent in the planning stage, but not now.
Marla had no idea what had gone wrong; our tables were scattered all
over the room!
In 27 previous trips, not once had our group ever been separated
like this. NOT ONCE. Historically everyone sits in adjacent tables in one specific area of
the dining room. There have been some trips on
the Conquest where our group was so big it stretched from one side
of the room to the next.
Well, that particular streak was now officially broken. Despite her best
efforts, something was very wrong tonight. Marla whispered, "I had the
entire group seated in six consecutive tables 10 per table. Someone
moved these people behind my back!"
Alarmed, we both got up from our table. While Marla stomped over to the
Maitre d' in search of an explanation, I started to walk around the room
in search of the missing people. I soon discovered a fifth table in
another section of the dining room. It was divided from sight by a wall. I was
incredulous. What were they doing over here? I apologized to this new
table and said we would try to get this worked out.
I assumed I had located
the final missing table, so I went back to see what Marla had
learned. Marla said she had gotten nowhere with the Maitre d'.
should go talk to him. I said I would, but
something was still nagging
at me. I started to do the math. Then it dawned on me. There were still
10 people unaccounted for!
There had to be another missing table somewhere.
I was already angry when I entered the room. Now I was even angrier.
This was beyond acceptable. I walked up and down
our "port" side of the dining room
twice without spotting the missing people. Now I went to the center of
the room. Nope, they weren't there either. Now I went to the "starboard"
side of the dining room. Nope, not there either.
Determined to solve the mystery, I found the stairs and climbed to the
level above us. No one on the starboard side. There
was no center to check; a massive chandelier
occupied the "center" of the floor above.
So now I headed over to the port
side. No one over here either. Every seat I could see the back section
was deserted, but then I noticed there was a wall. Surely not… but I
decided I better check behind the wall just in case.
To my surprise, I turned a corner and found the missing ten people.
Their table was completely hidden from sight behind the wall. They were
eating by themselves in a completely empty section of the upstairs
Dining Room. To their credit, they all smiled when they saw me.
"Where the heck is everybody?" they asked.
Bless their hearts. They could just as easily begun to chew me out for
sticking them up here by themselves and I couldn't blame them if they
felt that way. I explained something had gone badly wrong and that I
would try to correct the situation. I kept my temper, but I was seething
inside as I apologized to these people.
Who had done this? Why had they done this? What was the point of taking
Marla's careful pre-planned seating arrangement and hacking it to
pieces? Even ham-handed Carnival had never done something this
Finding these people alone turned out to be a silver lining. While I was
up there, I took note of the empty room. I carefully counted chairs.
Counting the ten people who were already here, this alcove had 64 seats.
Hmm. We could move the entire group in here without asking any other
of the ship's guests to move.
This meant no one would have to be
inconvenienced and then we would have our group intact again.
The Maitre d' was named Jesus. When I finally spoke to Jesus, he was
standoffish and non-committal. He refused to say who had done this. He
didn't even seem to care.
What did bother him was my request to move the entire group to the
alcove in back upstairs. "This
is a very special section!"
Jesus said this
remote back section was reserved for drop-in guests. He added this back
room played a major role in an intricate, highly calibrated overall
OMG! What utter horse dung. Plain and simple, that area was an unwanted,
overflow area where they typically stuck people who
changed their minds and didn't want late night dinner seating. This guy was trying to convince me how valuable those
seats were when I had seen with my own eyes that those seats had all
been empty thirty minutes into the Dining process. Besides,
if our group moved into this alcove, then he would have five extra
tables downstairs at his disposal.
And as for his
'highly calibrated' operation, what genius had moved us in the first
Jesus never once seemed to understand that it wasn't about what was
convenient for him. He never once acknowledged that entire group of 60
friends had been scattered to the winds and it was his responsibility to
do something to remedy the situation. That would have been the correct
attitude. Instead he made it seem like a real imposition to be expected
to move a group to unoccupied seats in a back room that no one cared
about but him. Jesus never seemed to grasp that the come-later guests
could just as easily be seated at any table we vacated to move upstairs.
This man had clearly been promoted past his level of competence. He had
serious trouble seeing the Big Picture.
No matter how much I implored, his best answer was 'maybe'. He said he
needed time to think about it. He left it that Marla and I would need to
make a special trip to meet him tomorrow in the Dining Room at 10 am.
Based on my experience, I decided not to force the issue. Let him have
Besides, I knew what this delay really meant.
Even though Jesus said he was in charge, Jesus wasn't in charge. He
obviously had to get permission from someone else, but didn't want to
admit it. In the meantime, thanks to his procrastination, our guests had
no idea where they would be seated the following evening.
This meant poor Marla would spend the
entire night worrying about what to do if he said 'no' the next
morning. Now that I think back, I worried all night long as
THE FINAL INSULT
When I finally got back to the table, Marla had a new surprise for me.
Larry had spoken to her. (Larry was the man who had let us
sit at his breakfast
table that morning.)
Marla said that Larry had just told her a terrible story.
After we had left the Sheraton in the morning, the front desk had called
Larry's room to ask him who we were. Larry was
told we had stiffed the hotel for the breakfast tab.
This of course was not
true. At the end of breakfast, we had
simply written our room number on the check like we were supposed to.
However, since the computer had no concept who we
were, the dining room people had just discovered our room number was no
good. Apparently the waiter at our breakfast table remembered the four
of us eating together. They called Larry's room and proceeded to give
Larry the third degree regarding our identity. In fact, they were so
angry about being stiffed for breakfast that they began to act like
Larry was in on it. Maybe he had invited these outsiders to join him and
they had played a dirty trick on the hotel.
Embarrassed and flustered, Larry offered to pay for our breakfast!!!
Even worse, the Sheraton accepted!
I looked at Marla; Marla looked at me. How absolutely embarrassing to be
singled out as deadbeats by those incompetent people. And how
embarrassing they laid so much guilt on our friend that he felt the need
to pay for us!
As we walked back to the cabin, we were both dejected. Could this day
possibly have gone any worse than it did?
Once inside, Marla showed me her original seating chart. There it was -
six adjacent tables, ten people per table. Marla could not settle down.
The utter senselessness of someone ripping up her carefully designed
plans ate at her for the rest of the night. She was distraught that her
dining plans had been ruined and that this ignorant man would not budge
on such a simple solution.
Knowing there was no guarantee that he would come to his senses the
following day, Marla did not sleep a wink. What would she do if he
turned her down? She worried all night long.
I didn't sleep well either. One time I woke up in the middle of the
night. There was Marla staring blankly at the TV screen. She looked
What an awful day.
At ten the next morning Jesus was waiting for us in the Dining Room. He
didn't waste any time. Our request had been granted. Our entire group
had permission to move upstairs to the alcove in the back
of the dining room.
Marla and I immediately began to smile. This was a very good omen. Maybe
yesterday's dark cloud had passed.
That evening we
all gathered in this small room hidden at the very back of the
second floor of the Dining Room. This was by far most
remote corner of the vast two-floor dining area and
invisible to anyone but us.
I was glad to
see our group finally gathered together in one spot, but I
was still appalled by his incompetence. This entire
area had been empty the night before except for ten members
of our group who in here all by themselves. Why was this
deserted area was so "valuable" to his master plan that he
was fearful to make this obvious concession? If there
was any legitimate reason Jesus had been reluctant to offer us this
space, it went completely over my head.
screwed up Marla's entire seating arrangement.
Then they forced us to beg to have our group moved here.