Ft. Lauderdale

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Sunday, November 20, 2011 - Victoria, BC, Canada to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA

United Express/Skywest flight 6315 from Victoria to San Francisco is the first leg of my journey to Ft. Lauderdale today. I’m up at 3:30AM, arriving at Victoria airport by 4:30AM to check in. The aircraft has to be de-iced since it is -5°C outside and there is frost on the aircraft, so we are 10 minutes late departing at 6:35AM. A female pilot is in the left seat. She does a great job with takeoff, and we cruise at 31,000’ as we head south.

It is a beautiful clear morning to be flying. I can only imagine what the view is like from the cockpit, but from my seat facing west as the Sun rises, the horizon is lit up over the Pacific Ocean in the distance as we fly down the coasts of Oregon and California. The pilot nails the landing in San Francisco, and then we taxi for what seems like forever until she slams on the brakes and we were at the gate!

United flight 43 operated by Continental from San Francisco to Houston – I had to retrieve my checked bag and then go through the United States' Immigration. At least I didn’t have to be fingerprinted or photographed, and the immigration officer feigned interest in my upcoming cruise. Going through security again was a hassle – shoes and belt off and my first full body scan. Then I walked several kilometers and took two moving sidewalks to find my gate. It is 9:30AM and my flight doesn’t leave until 12:05PM. This is the first time I have traveled through San Francisco airport. I had heard it was nice, but I would say "not so much". It certainly is better configured than the Los Angeles airport (LAX). There are a huge number of shops (like most American airports), and it is a study in humanity with huge crowds of people everywhere I look.

There are 23 passengers on standby for this flight to Houston, so I assume it is full. If it is anything like the other flights I’ve watched while waiting the three hours for mine to leave, it is chaos at the gate. We pull away from the terminal about three quarters of an hour late, but we make up all but 10 minutes by the time we arrive in Houston. During the flight, I purchase a Thai Chicken Wrap for lunch, which is quite good. After clearing the gate, much to my relief the gate for my flight to Ft. Lauderdale is in the same terminal and is only a 10 minute walk.

Continental flight 1192 from Houston to Ft. Lauderdale – George W. Bush International airport isn’t terribly impressive. I actually had a half hour at the gate to observe lots of people and the semi-controlled chaos at the multitude of gates in the area. This is certainly a hub, with flights coming and going to many destinations within the US (since I’m in one of the domestic terminals). After boarding and take-off, I find the in-flight meal offerings are not impressive. Basically they can sell you snack packs…there are no dinner entrees or even sandwiches available, despite having them listed on the menu. I guess it is such a short flight, they don’t expect passengers to want to eat, but I do! Oh well, I’ll soon be spoiled with all the choices of food aboard the cruise ship. Being a bit hungry today won’t hurt. I didn’t think the Thai Chicken Wrap I had for lunch would be my main meal today! I had a glass of Coke and pulled out one of my breakfast bars which I always have handy when travelling.  As with the last flight, this flight is full. Both aircraft are operated by Continental, but have United on the outside of the aircraft and also inside the airport with signage. They merged awhile ago, but I guess I wasn’t paying much attention at the time.

After my arrival at Ft. Lauderdale airport, my friends and I find each other (thank goodness for cellphones), and we catch a taxi to our hotel, the Alhambra Beach Resort . The driver doesn’t know where our hotel is, so I end up turning on the data services on my iPhone so we can use Google Maps to navigate there. The Alhambra is a funky, small property, but the rooms are spotlessly clean, and it is only a half block to the beach. I have a quick shower and go to bed after this 18 hour marathon session with the airlines.

Monday, November 21, 2011 - Day 1 - Leave Ft. Lauderdale aboard Rotterdam

Although I had a good night’s sleep, I awake early at the Alhambra. I need coffee, which won’t be ready until the continental breakfast is available at 9AM, so I walk the half block to the beach to have a look around. It is quite a spectacular beach – straight and long, and lots of white sand. Ernesto, the guy who runs the Alhambra tells us the sea temperature is 82°F right now, and it goes up to about 85°F in mid-summer.  There is the usual collection of joggers and walkers on the beach and walkway at this early morning hour.

After returning from the beach, I get myself some coffee, which perks me up. As I go back to help myself to some of the continental breakfast goodies, my friends open their door, so we have breakfast together on the patio. We all enjoy the warm breeze, remarking what a contrast it is to when we left home (-5°C). We are anxious to get aboard the Rotterdam as early as possible today, so after we finish breakfast and repack it is 11AM (check-out time). Ernesto calls us a taxi to take us to the cruise terminal. We are early for our 1PM check-in time, but they are processing passengers slowly, and we step aboard by 2PM.

Our cabins are not ready because the debarking passengers were late leaving the ship this morning. Housekeeping staff needs a bit more time, so we go to the Lido and have a late lunch, taking some time to explore the ship. It appears to have the same layout as the Volendam, the ship we cruised on last year at this time. The décor is different, but it will be nice to already be familiar with where everything is located.

There is a mandatory safety drill with everyone going to his or her lifeboat stations before our departure. Our bags finally arrive later in the afternoon, so I unpack before heading to the main dining room for dinner. The ship is late leaving at 6:30PM, so my friends and I get to see the ship’s departure from our window seats in La Fontaine, the main dining room. I remember the shipping channel from when my mother and I traveled on the Oriana way back in 1968, although obviously Ft. Lauderdale is built up a great deal since then. At the end of our meal, we are served a glass of champagne as a way to thank us for our patience with the late cabin availability and late luggage delivery – a nice touch from the housekeeping manager.

Once the ship is in open water, she proceeds at just over 20 knots, which is pretty fast for a cruise ship. The captain obviously wants to make up time for our late departure, so our beach time on Half Moon Cay won’t be shortened. He also announces that our departure time tomorrow will be pushed an hour later, since he doesn’t expect to arrive on time.

I sign up for 100 minutes of Internet time this evening at a cost of US$55.00, with a bonus of 10 minutes extra. This satellite service is available on most cruise ships, and is obviously very expensive. It is slow and unreliable, but I’m amazed it is available at all. It’s nice to keep in touch while sailing the oceans, and I can do it from the comfort of my cabin if I wish, since the wifi service is available from most areas of the ship.

 

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