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San Diego to Victoria – flights

Wednesday, December 21, 2011 – Day 31 – San Diego, USA to Victoria, Canada

I wake up around 5:30AM this morning as the transverse thrusters are turned on in preparation for our arrival in San Diego. This has been my wakeup call whenever the ship is arriving in port throughout the whole cruise. Thom the Cruise Director comes on the PA system at 6:30AM explaining how the disembarkation process will work, although we were already briefed at the Farewell Event yesterday. My deck ends up being called upstairs to clear U.S. Immigration fairly early, so after I go to the Lido buffet for breakfast around 8AM. I get to say goodbye to a steward who calls me by name and is always joking around.

The immigration clearance is going well for the rest of the passengers, and they appear to be ahead of schedule before things go off the rails. They can’t find a Mr. Jones, and until every last person clears immigration, nobody can leave the ship. The Express Departure time of 8:45AM goes by, as well as our departure window of 9:00AM. Finally about 9:15AM, they announce the Express passengers can leave the ship. We are called at about 9:45AM, which still leaves us plenty of time to find our bags and catch a taxi to the San Diego airport. After arriving about 20 minutes later at the airport, we check in with no line up, and then it takes 20 minutes to go through the security check to get to our gate.

There are lots of Rotterdam passengers aboard this flight, and the flight is also full of holiday travellers. San Diego airport has free Internet like Vancouver, which is a great idea. Of course, the system is swamped, but I manage to catch up with my email and facebook before they start loading the flight. As usual, Alaska is using a newer Boeing 737-800, and flight 483 departs on time at 12:20PM. I manage to take a few photos of San Diego from the air before the aircraft turns north.

Alaska Airlines offers in-flight Internet through the Gogo service. They want US$9.95 for the two-hour flight, which is a bit rich, but I might be interested if this were a longer flight. As the flight progresses, the landscape changes from farming valleys with irrigation ditches to desert, and later to frozen lakes and some snow cover. We hit a few bumps in the middle of the flight, so the pilots climb to a new flight level and things smooth out again. Horizon Airlines flight 2388 from Seattle to Victoria leaves on time, my bag appears on the belt in Victoria Airport, I clear Customs and Immigration, and I’m driving home by 6:30PM. It’s good to be home.

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Victoria to Ft. Lauderdale flights

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, and does a great job with takeoff. We cruise at 31,000’ as we head south, on a beautiful clear morning. 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.

JoeTourist: Texas &emdash; Sunset over TexasContinental 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 have a glass of Coke and pull 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. Time for bed after this 18 hour marathon session with the airlines.