I suppose, if things have to go wrong, the best time for them to go wrong is at the end of an otherwise excellent vacation, and that’s what happened to us. It wasn’t anything awful, and our lives aren’t in the least disrupted by it, but it was frustrating, tiring and just plain annoying. And it wasn’t like the trouble hadn’t been foreshadowed, either.
When we booked the cruise, we’d had the Holland America cruise consultant book our flight from Fort Lauderdale to Vancouver. Why I didn’t ask her to book all the way through to Victoria is something I’ve been asking myself ever since I hung up the phone away back last February, but I didn’t, so I had to make the arrangements myself – no big deal, except that it turned into one.
See, Delta changed our flights two or three times before we left on the cruise, the last change meaning that I had to rebook the Vancouver-Victoria flight myself. And that was a big deal because I had to move it to the last flight of the day. If there were any more changes, we’d have to book a hotel for the night and fly out the next day, thereby upsetting the cats, our house sitters and not doing our own peace of mind much good. However, I didn’t receive any more notifications and thought all was good.
We had packed the night before and left the suitcases outside the door of the stateroom so they’d be picked up and moved off the ship for us. We received our “colour” – the disembarkation procedure is done by times and colours – you disembark when your colour (ours was purple) is called. It’s done to minimize crowding, delays and frustration. In this case, through no fault of Holland America, and precisely due to Homeland Security, that didn’t work.
The plan was to get up at our regular time, have a relaxed breakfast then sit and read/walk, do whatever we needed to do until our colour was called, when we’d disembark the ship. We’d pick up our luggage in preparation to go through customs. Then we’d board a bus, be driven to the airport, where we’d wait until our plane was called at 3:50 for Minneapolis. We’d land approximately 3 hours later, have time for a more or less leisurely meal, then board the plane at about 8 pm for another three hour flight to Vancouver. We’d have to hustle on that one, to get from the international terminal, through customs and over to the domestic terminal to pick up our flight to Victoria, but we had an hour or better to do that, so I wasn’t too worried. Lots of slop time for things to go wrong, or delays or whatever. That was before we encountered Homeland Security, and a bus company and an airline who’d obviously been channelling Homeland Security’s modus operandi.
The day started out all right. We got breakfast, sat and enjoyed the morning, waited for our colour to be called. Didn’t worry when they had some issues with the gangplank – after all, our flight didn’t leave until almost 4 pm, so it wasn’t as if we had to hustle to get to the airport. And we got called at our scheduled time, still with lots and lots of time to spare. It was 10 am. How long could customs take? Heh. Heh. Heh.
We disembarked, collected our suitcases and then confronted the customs lineup. Huge. Enormous. Five people thick and snaking back from the front doors of the airplane hanger sized building almost to the doors leading to the pier and the gangplank. We joined it and waited. And waited and waited. And waited some more. We moved forward slowly. There were a total of six customs officials on duty, and there were two columns – US destinations and non US destinations. US destinations line, with two officials was 1/5 the size of our line and finished an hour ahead of our line. And then both the officials went off duty. FOUR customs officials. Over 1200 people had been on board, and over 3/4 of them were in the line we were in. A snail could have beaten us to the front of the line. One on Valium. An hour and a half later we finally approached the security kiosks.
We were passed through after an intense scrutiny of whatever secret information is included in our passports, no verbal communication from the security officer (I think he might have grunted at one point) and then joined the line up for the bus to the airport. We were told that the bus to pick us up was even now on its way from the airport to us and would be here momentarily. Um, yah. No such luck. I’d looked at maps of Fort Lauderdale, and even assuming rush hour traffic and delays, it couldn’t take more than 15 or 20 minutes to get from the port to the airport – they simply weren’t that far apart.
So we waited again. And waited. And waited. No explanations, no attempts to answer questions. “It’ll be here in a few minutes” was the mantra.
Forty five minutes to an hour later the bus finally arrived. We boarded and then waited (again!) while the driver, by himself, loaded all the baggage (with 5 other employees standing around watching him and offering advice. I am not kidding.)
We drove off as the driver did a comedic monologue, which, if I hadn’t been so frustrated and annoyed by the unnecessary delays, would have had me in stitches. I looked out the window as we drove along, to see an enormous billboard advertising (I am not kidding here) Syphilis. Yes, THAT Syphilis. (There is any other kind?)
Did anybody give any thought at all to the idea that this is located where every visitor arriving in Fort Lauderdale is gonna see it? I can just imagine the conversations. So, what was your impression of Fort Lauderdale, Bev?
We did get to the airport, but our trouble didn’t stop there. Tomorrow I’ll tell you about our amusing dance de luggage and Delta, our less than amusing encounter with the gate attendants, and how you can drag race in an airplane.