In part one of the Norwegian Escape Review (and Other Horror Stories) post, Lane and I were headed south to embark on our long-awaited, long-anticipated, hard-earned seven night cruise on the Norwegian Escape out of Miami, my very sick one year old was headed to the doctor with her Grandmother, and Hurricane Matthew was swirling somewhere out in the Atlantic (and in the back of my mind).
Despite leaving a bit late, Lane drove at Mach 3 speeds and we arrived at the Miami port right on time. He had already checked us in and gotten exact directions to the correct parking garage, in a preemptive attempt to curb my “Lane in a parking lot” anxiety. Unfortunately, the info that the cruise line provided put us in a parking deck for a Carnival cruise, and there was no real way to turn around without getting back onto the highway. Because of this, we started our embarkation process by dragging about 700 pounds of suitcases three quarters of a mile down the side of a very busy four lane road in the Miami mid-day heat. In 5″ wedge heels. (Me, not Lane.)
As part of the cruise check-in process, you have to complete a form that basically says that you are not a carrier monkey of any disgusting diseases or flu, so that you don’t infect everyone on the ship. I don’t really understand this though, because is anyone honestly going to answer, “yes I am ill with explosive diarrhea” and risk the chance of not being able to get on the ship? Not likely. The place was packed, so I was forced to stand in very close proximity to a frazzled lady, who was wearing one baby, and had two more running around at her feet. As we both stood there completing our forms, she turned her head to cough. It was a hack reminiscent of the one heard in the opening scene of Outbreak. And it blasted me right in the face. After she went right back to her form without so much as a “sorry” or handing me a tissue to wipe her spittle off of my cheek, I wondered what the incubation period was for whatever funk she had, and if I would be able to at least squeeze a fun first day or two out of the vacay before I came down with an Outbreak hack of my own.
I finished my form and Lane and I booked it up the escalator to the embarkation ramp. You know how when you embark on a cruise there is usually steel drum music playing and a bunch of happy cruise ship stewards clapping and singing and handing out leis and taking your picture? Yeah, there was none of that. We followed the only logical path that was laid out, and we dead ended into a glass door that opened out over the water, not into a cruise ship. Not ideal. When we reversed, we finally saw a member of the Norwegian staff and they half laughed at us and pointed us in the right direction, that happened to be in the exact opposite direction of the little ropes that they had set up. This probably should have been an indicator of the service to come, but we were too excited to get on the ship and start wearing out our drink package cards.
Now before you think that I’m a horrible mother and that I’d gone from sobbing over leaving my sick baby to poppin’ bottles in a matter of hours, know that during the drive we had received a full update from my mom on Lila’s doctor visit. She had another double ear infection, and a virus that caused blisters in her throat, hence her refusal to eat. She got an antibiotic shot, yet another prescription for Augmentin, instructions to continue rotating the Tylenol and Motrin as needed, and orders to stay home from school again on Monday, with a follow up appointment scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Monday. The doctor told mom that the shot would work much quicker than just the prescription, and that she should be feeling better by the next day. I was thanking God for the direction to go in to her room that morning and that I didn’t ignore my intuition. It was still terribly difficult to be away from her, but it gave me comfort that she would be feeling better soon, SO, on to poppin’ bottles.
On the way to our room we bumped in to the amazing friends who agreed to go on this adventure with us. These are two of our very favorite people alive and they were our saviors on this trip. They came with us to dump our bags in our room, and the four of us immediately went to the Waterside bar to get a sail away cocktail. Normally at sail away, there are super fun drinks with crazy names like the “Bon Voyage Bomb Diggity” and they have fruit and swirly straws and all kinds of stuff that get you so pumped for the rest of your trip. There was none of that. Instead, we were reprimanded by the less than friendly bartender for not having all of our drink cards. (I’d left mine in our room in our haste to get out.) Hmmm. Lane and I looked at each other like “WTF is this?” because we’d been on a cruise on the Norwegian Breakaway just three years before and the service was exceptional. We brushed it off and went to get a spot on the top deck for when we headed out. As soon as we pushed off from the dock, we got to Facetime with Lila and hearing “HI MOMMY” in her precious little voice almost broke me.
Soon we were out of range and the lights on the coast were barely visible. Our friends went to bed and Lane and I went to get dinner. We hadn’t eaten a thing all day. We decided to go to one of the main dining rooms. Unlike other cruises Norwegian has “freestyle dining”, which just means that you go whenever you want. We chose the Savor dining room and walked up to the hostess stand. The little hostess gem that
greeted us was standing there didn’t even look up from the computer screen when we walked up. “How many?” Um well if you’d actually look at us you’d see that there are two people standing here, soooo “Two please.” It was later in the evening, and the dining room was not even close to full, yet she chose to seat us nearly directly in the laps of a couple who were trying to enjoy their dinner in peace. I politely asked if she’d mind if we sat at another close by table. Ya know, so we weren’t so close to the only other people in there that it felt like we should all be sharing an app. This must have pissed her off, because she stormed over to another table, threw the menus down and just walked away. By this point we were realizing that the garbage level of service that we’d received to this point was no fluke. The hostess returned to bring our silverware. She had a fork and knife set in each hand, raised each fist over our respective plates, and LI.TER.A.LLY. opened her fingers from about a foot above our plates. Like, she legitimately did a loud, clattering, silverware mic-drop onto our table. We quickly went from stunned to “that is freakin’ it we have had enough” and asked the lady if there was a problem. At this point she began BANGING ON OUR TABLE and saying “Oh NOOOOO, everything great! We on vacation!” with a tone of sarcasm that even I can not attain. My mouth was hanging open as I began my mental calculations of how much cash we had on hand, because I would certainly need it to get my husband out of the brig for what he was about to do to this woman. Instead, she walked away, and when our server came we asked for whoever was in charge. This was a mistake because it meant that throughout the course of our meal, we had four different people come to our table to apologize, ask us for a written complaint and hand us business cards. We couldn’t even eat. When the last person came to the table, I finally just broke down in tears. I couldn’t believe we’d waited so long for this (not cheap) vacation, and this is how it was starting. We ended up and just got up from the table and walked away. “Fresh start tomorrow,” we said.
Lane deduced the next morning that Norwegian has changed it’s policy on tipping and that was the cause of the Everest-sized cliff dive in the level of service. I later asked a couple of employees who were not total jackasses, and they confirmed. So sad. Fortunately we figured out a few ways to work the system to get good service, and I will share those in the part three of this post next week. The next two days were at sea days. I woke up Monday morning and was ill. Not because of the Outbreak lady’s cough to my face, but seasick. Lane informed me that we were in about ten foot seas at that point. To the people who say seasickness is in your head, I politefully (a Lane Jones original word) disagree. We loaded up on Bonine, Dramamine, and Motion Ease, and then poured some cocktails on it. I started feeling better by Sunday night, but the next day one of our friends got a little barfy, and the day after that Lane did. Of course, the seas got rougher as we progressed, which in hindsight was because, unbeknownst to us, we were traveling in the wake of a Category Three hurricane.
Sunday and Monday were at sea days and we enjoyed pool time and spa time (our room package had access to the thermal suites at the spa) and lots of cocktails during the day, and mediocre dinner service and some shows at night. Don’t get me wrong, we had fun. Lots of fun. The friends that were with us are a complete blasty-blast, so despite whatever other crap was going on, we laughed and talked, and enjoyed the gorgeous sapphire colored water views. And many plates of nachos. And cocktails.
On Monday we got another update from my mom after Lila’s doctor appointment. We wanted to call much more than we did, but we were aware that service was spotty at best, and when you could get through, calls were about $5/minute. Lila had not improved as much as the doctor wanted to see, so she got yet another antibiotic shot. Her ears were about 60% better, but her throat was still very raw. I apologized profusely to my mom that she was having to take care of so much in our absence, and my heart shattered again every time I heard “hi mommy” in Lila’s sweet little voice and I couldn’t pick her up and hold her.
Wednesday was our day in Saint Thomas and we went on a snorkeling excursion. In all honesty, Saint Thomas is kind of a dirt hole. We traveled with a total of about twenty other fat Americans in a 1989 open air Ford F250 bus with tires that were roughly two-thirds inflated. They drive on the left in Saint Thomas, and there were many very steep hills that the struggle bus could barely crest on our journey across the island to the catamaran. It was supposed to be a “Champagne Sail and Snorkel”, but if there was champagne, I definitely missed it. Hi-C and Rum punch yes, champagne no. The seas were rough, but the scenery was beautiful and the water was crystal clear. We saw lots of Dory fish, walked on the softest sandy beach, and Lane and I enjoyed listening to a very peculiar man complain about his flotation noodle irritating his arm and shout back to the captain that he “still didn’t see anything” as he swam in a one foot circle.
When we returned the ship I turned my phone on and saw a text that said “Fwd – Entire BN mobilized for hurricane. Report to the armory NLT 1200 tomorrow. 14 day supply.” It was from some people at work and I thought oh very funny, they’re messing with me. It wasn’t until a few hours later, Lane and I both received a text from one of our friends asking if they needed to go by our house and tie anything down before the hurricane, and at that moment it hit me like a 110 mph wind in the face. The earlier text had not been a joke. Our warehouse manager is in the National Guard and he was letting us know that his unit had been mobilized and he wouldn’t be at work. Panic Momxiety mode: ENGAGE. Lane and I immediately got on both of our phones, $5/minute be damned, to figure out what was going on. You see, in the middle of the ocean, the only news that you get is National news, and to that point, our good buddy Matthew had only made it to local news.
We quickly learned that Hurricane Matthew was a raging Category Three hurricane that was one day away from hammering Nassau (our third port), and was expected to ravage the entire eastern Florida coast, making landfall just south of Saint Augustine AND MY BABY, as a Category 4. It was a slow moving storm, which only prolonged the torture. We spoke to my mom, who had already cleared the grocery store shelves (my emergency envelope came into play!) and at that point she intended to ride it out at our house. She had a Plan B in place to evacuate to a friend’s house in Tampa if it came to that. Again I apologized for how much she was having to do and what a disaster the week had become for her.
Did I mention that whole $5/minute thing? At this point we resolved ourselves to a $1,000 phone bill, Lane called his Dad and I called my brother. When we told them mom and Lila’s plan, they both strongly advised against staying. My brother had already begun his evacuation process from South Florida , and my father in law told us that the Florida governor had been on the news all day saying “if you stay, you will die.” If I can read between the lines of that message, I think he was saying “if you stay, you will die.” We decided at that point to come up with an alternative plan for mom and Lila. Thank God (again) that Lane’s precious cousins, who were already evacuating to the Jones family farm in south Georgia with their two year old son, welcomed them with open arms.
From that point on, if we were in our cabin, we were glued to the news. “Will be just like Hurricane Andrew” they said, “power outages for weeks” they said, “massive and catastrophic coastal flooding” they said… And we sat in our tiny cabin, in the middle of the ocean, with what seemed to be the storm of the century barreling down on our baby and our home, with nothing to do but watch, pray, and fight the urge to hurl our phones into the Atlantic abyss when we couldn’t even get service for an update.
Thursday we were in port in Tortola, which is absolutely stunning. If you have the chance to go, DO IT. Just not on a Norwegian cruise. We were able to speak to my mom that morning and she was packing up the car to head north to the farm. I felt massive relief that they were getting out of there and would be safe, but still fearful for what was in store for our house, AND really concerned about my mom in the car for however many hours it would end up taking to complete a three and a half our drive in the middle of mass exodus, with my sick child and borderline feral dog in tow.
We were able to enjoy lunch at the port in Tortola, and then watched an insanely inebriated woman almost puke on herself, and then literally jack a wheelchair from an old woman with a cane so that she could be carted back on to the cruise ship due to her inability to walk. It was really gross to watch. I wish that we’d had more time in Tortola, not only because it was gorgeous and super clean (with the exception of that disaster drunk lady), but also because despite our planned stop the next day, Tortola would be the last time our feet were on solid ground until we returned to the States.
I think we all knew it was not likely that we would be stopping in Nassau, but when I called guest services all they told me was that there had been “no change to the itinerary” at that time. A few hours later, a ding on the loudspeaker of the ship confirmed otherwise. Our stop in Nassau had been cancelled and my and Lane’s hopes of our (already paid for) relaxing resort beach day were dashed. “At least we’ll be safe,” we said through gritted teeth.
My sweet brother had been sending us e-mail updates every few hours since it was easier to check those versus calling or texting, and he confirmed that after five and a half hours, Mom and Lila had made it safely to the farm. Hallelujah!
Friday was our last day on the ship, the seas seemed to be calmer, and we soaked up another day by the pool, some spa time, and less than average service while we waited to hear if our house was still standing. By this point, Hurricane Matthew was a Category 4, but thankfully the eye had remained about thirty miles offshore. From what I understand, power went out in our neighborhood at about noon on Friday.
Saturday morning we got up early and did “walk off debarking”, which should have been called “walk in a giant roped off circle all over the ship until you’re seasick again and want to punch someone in the face debarking” instead. Luckily after that we only had to walk 47 miles back to the wrong parking deck. When we got in the car Lane wasted no time resuming Mach 3 speeds to return home.
We started noticing damage about halfway through the drive when we hit Port Canaveral / Port Orange. Lots of twisted trees, smashed billboards, and debris everywhere. When we arrived at our house we were devastated to see……. that our flagpole was broken. That’s it people. I was half expecting to get the ultimate dose of katied and return home to a pile of rubble. But, we had one giant limb down in the back yard, a few things broken on our back porch, a broken flag pole in the front, and no power. That was it. Our baby was safe, our house was in one piece, and our feet were on solid ground. *angels singing again*
There was no point to staying in a hot house with no power, so we grabbed some clean undies and hit the road to the farm and our baby. A few minutes before we arrived, Lane said, “now, do you want me to wait in the car and give you guys a few minutes?” How sweet is my husband? And how much of a Daddy’s girl is my daughter that this would even be necessary? But he knew that once she saw him, her sweet “hi momma” would turn into a “DADDY!!!!!” and I’d be left in the dust. After a total of ten hours in the car, we burst through the door and I hugged Lila so tight that, had I not let her go to get to her Daddy, she may have passed out. And of course, I cried.
We spent the night at the farm with Lane’s sweet uncle and cousins and our little nephew (I’m calling him that because I don’t know what you call your cousin’s kid?) who had been so kind to shelter my seventeen month old baby (who whole-heartedly embraced the use of the word “NO!” while we were gone), my justifiably frazzled mother, and my hyena mutt dog for nearly three days. We are so blessed with this bunch I tell ya.
We headed back to Saint Augustine Sunday morning and took our time on the drive. There was no point to rushing since power was still out. The trick was that, in truly perfect timing, Lane had a week-long work conference beginning on Monday and his flight was at 5:30 a.m. the next morning. We had no clean clothes, and were absolutely exhausted from the whirlwind that had been the previous two weeks. We were talking about how to handle all of that and unloading our bags from the car when we arrived at the house. We were so happy to be home and so happy to have our baby with us and healthy. We had been home less than thirty seconds and I was walking to the front door with a song in my heart and a smile on my face, nothing could stop us now! We’d made it out unscathed! Then suddenly I felt what seemed to be an acid-dipped dagger stabbing into my arm. I screamed and did all I could to not just flat out drop Lila on her face, and a wasp the size of a cantaloupe fell to the floor. Lane said something to the effect of “are you kidding me?!” and slapped it with his flip flop. And THAT’S how you get Katied, folks. I cried for about five minutes – y’all wasp stings hurt like a mother – and then looked at the sting. It looked like someone had shoved a drinking straw into my arm. Oh well, we had more important laundry things to figure out.
Thankfully, we have amazing friends, one of which offered up his washer and dryer, so Lane was able to get some stuff clean before his trip, and we could sit in his air conditioning for a bit. And wouldn’t you know it, by the time we got home Sunday evening, the power was back on! We were all able to sleep cozy and comfortably in our own beds and it had never felt so wonderful.
Lane got up in what seemed like the middle of the night to catch his flight the next morning and has been gone all week. I know that his schedule has been grueling, and it’s been a little intense here as well. The house has had to be on point for showings, since apparently even a hurricane didn’t slow down the interest. YAY! We actually got an offer yesterday, but it’s lowball, so we’re in the process of seeing what these people are really made of… more to come on that!
The blessings and amazing things that have come out of this past week have blown us away. We had the best travel companions to talk us off of the ledge (and refill our drinks) when we were losing our minds with worry, we had family to take care of our baby and keep her safe, and we have friends who checked in on our house, Lila and my mom while we were away. Plus, despite the crappy service, we had so much fun and it was definitely a trip that we’ll remember forever!
Lane will be on a flight headed back to the east coast soon, and will probably be home about 11:30 p.m. But y’all… it’s Tini Friday. Do you think I can convince him to make me one as soon as he walks in the door? CHEERS and happy sailing!
Part Three of this saga will be tips on how to navigate (more puns!) a cruise and all of the tips that we learned to maximize your fun! I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you to subscribe so you won’t miss it. Just a teensy little e-mail address and you’re in! And never fear, spam is a dirty word to me.