Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Our Chevy Chase Vacation

UPDATE:  After a few telephone calls, emails and a letter from our attorney (where I work), Carnival is honoring their 110% refund policy for us!  Just wish we hadn't had to go to bat for it but we're happy they finally took care of things.

Steve and I just got back from vacation in Florida.  Absolutely nothing went as planned and we had a few "extra events" happen along the way.  Just so we can look back and laugh at this down the road, I'm blogging our Chevy Chase Vacation.  You couldn't make up something like this if you tried!  If you're reading, I hope you have a coffee next to you because this story may be my longest yet!

Many months ago we booked a cruise out of Mexico with Carnival, our first cruise with this cruise line.  Then I happened to find amazing flights from San Franciso to Orlando so we switched our cruise to the Bahamas as I sail better on the eastern coast waters than our choppier west coast waters.  Excited to cruise again, we headed out of San Francisco to Orlando!

We arrived at Port Canaveral and made our way through the check-in and then entered the cruise ship.  We couldn't see it well as we drove into the port as two other ships stood in the way but as we walked toward the ship, I could see it was pretty small.  But no worries, we were sure everything was amazing on board.  After all, we're now seasoned cruisers going on our 6th cruise and all ships are amazing!  Right?

As we entered the atrium, I looked at Steve and said, "Is this the main atrium??"  He said, "Yep, I believe it is."  Uh.Oh.  Not a good start.  It was tiny, crowded and smelled very stale.  We were used to big, airy and and amazing atriums when entering the ship.  Off to one side was a guy about 19 that was shouting out rap music and telling us, "Come on everyone, let's get it going!"  Steve told me later he saw a place selling t-shirst that said "Booze Cruise."    Again...Uh.Oh.

The staterooms were not ready for anyone yet as luggage was just beginning to arrive to the rooms, so we headed to the top deck to have lunch at the buffet.  Again, on previous cruises we always found a spacious dining room, smiling staff, with abundant carving stations,  fresh salads and fruits, and several types of hot food areas.  What we found was a tiny dining room with a limited salad bar, a few lukewarm Italian dishes and a deli.  Comparing notes after we got our food to the table, we both wondered about the staff.  They weren't smiling and friendly, very unusual for staff and officers on previous cruises.  We both got a few things to eat but soon realized it was mostly inedible so we moved on to walk around the ship and see the hangout places.

The first thing we saw was the top-deck swimming pool.  It was about the size of a normal backyard swimming pool.  There were lounges and chairs all over the little area but we assumed there would be other pools (usually there are three per ship on previous cruises) so we were okay with that at this point.  As we entered the adult spa area, we found it to be the size of a large normal-sized living room in a house.  It had two small spas and a scattering of chairs and loungers.  It also smelled like cigarette smoke.

We then moved on, walking through the two bar lounges, which also reeked of cigarette smoke, and walked to the other end of the ship.  Finally it sunk in.  There were no side decks on this ship where we could relax and read on loungers.  There was no second, or third, pool area.  And there were no other places to kick back and relax on this cruise that weren't small and filled with the cigarette smoke smell.  Did I mention they said 2,600 people were on board this ship?  Other than their staterooms, where in the world were all these people going to spend five days while sailing?

At this point, Steve and I finally said to each other what we had been privately thinking: this was not where we wanted to spend five nights, nor what we wanted to do with our vacation.  This was a first for us, wanting off a cruise ship before we even set sail!

Just before our vacation, Steve had read on a news site that Carnival had a new policy that said, “If you’re unhappy with your cruise, you can get a 110% refund within the first 24 hours onboard.”  As we were now an hour and a half into being onboard the ship, we went to the guest services desk and requested to invoke the right to a full refund, and to not take the cruise.

They were clearly not expecting Carnival guests to say this only two hours into boarding the ship.  Well...neither were we!  It took the officer assisting us several visits to the back office to find out how to go about taking care of our request as this was a new Carnival policy.  It was obvious that Carnival had not prepped the guest service desk people on the handling of this new policy.

After about 45 minutes, were advised that in order to invoke the new policy, we would need to disembark the Ecstacy, wait in the terminal for the porters to find our luggage, and to work on the refund issue at the Carnival desk inside the terminal once off the ship.  The officer stated they "should" be able to locate our luggage, but could not guarantee it.  Naively, I believed it would be found, after all, they had 3-4 hours to find it!  We agreed that this was what we wanted to do and so we were then relieved of our ship keys and escorted off the ship. 

Once inside the terminal, Kathy, a very nice supervisor at the Carnival desk told us that the discussion and decision on Carnival’s part should have occurred on the ship with the Carnival staff before we disembarked.  


We told Kathy that the ship's officer said just the opposite, that we had to request the refund with Carnival inside the port terminal at her desk.  While waiting for Carnival to find our luggage, Steve called the number that Kathy gave us regarding the refund for the cruise.  Carnival's response was - no.  In fact, they stated that to even discuss the possibility of invoking that new policy, we had to reinstate our cruise, get back on the ship and sail the first night to Freeport.  If they then agreed to the refund (and I didn't have lots of faith in that by this point), they would fly us from Freeport back to...guess where?  Yep, right where we standing while making this call!    


Kathy then gave us a business card for Carnival’s Care Center to call during the week days, telling us that they had “more authority” over these types of matters, along with a phone number to a good shuttle service we could call because once the ship sailed, we were stuck at the port with no transportation. 

Close to the time the ship was set to sail, an officer of the ship came to the supervisor’s desk at which time Kathy asked if our luggage had been found.  (During the 3 or so hours we were waiting, Kathy emailed the ship often to get a status on our luggage but she received either a no, or no answer at all from the ship.)  The officer shrugged his shoulders, and said, "Nope."  At this point I had about reached my level of tolerance so I (nicely) addressed the officer myself and asked if there was even any point in waiting for our luggage as it had yet to appear.  He told us that he was going back on the ship shortly and once that happened, they would set sail.  He further stated it was unlikely we would receive our luggage.  We decided it was time to head back to Orlando.  Kathy told us that she had emailed the Ecstacy crew to have our luggage put into Zone 1 upon the return from the cruise so it could be easily found by the Carnival staff when it returned to Port Canaveral the following Thursday.  I admit, I kind of wanted to laugh at this information because, really, had any of her pleas on our behalf been heard that day?  Not so much.  We profusely thanked Kathy for all her help as she did all she could to help us out.

So now we're standing at the port, with literally only the clothes on our backs and our backpacks with our wallets, passports, and a dying cell phone because I had just put my phone cord in the luggage before we got to the port.  No luggage for the next five days.    

Okay what?

After we got a new phone cord and arrived back at the Hyatt in the airport we briefly told our kids what happened and that we weren't sailing after all.  Jamie and Mike saved the day by booking us with some of their Wyndham points at the Bonnet Creek property, right in the middle of Disney!  We rented a car and stayed the first night in a Holiday Inn, then moved for four nights to the Wyndham property, which was amazing!  We had numerous pools, a lazy river, coffee places, snack and drink bars, and restaurants right at our fingertips.  All of the condo towers surrounded a little lake. We bought 4-day park hopper passes and visited the Disney parks at our leisure, coming home mid-afternoon to swim, relax and visit with many of the nice people staying near us.  Mid-week Steve started getting sick, but we still were in good spirits, determined to enjoy the vacation we had been looking forward to for months.

So far... so good (mostly).  :)

We spent most of the day of our vacation shopping for the clothing and toiletries we would need for the next five nights.  You never really realize what's in your luggage until you don't have it.  The normal toiletries, hair brushes, socks, the proper shoes, bathing suits, and hello...more than one outfit!  I think we made about three shopping trips over two days before we were done shopping and felt we were making it on what we had.  Thank goodness for a full washer/dryer in our condo!  Trust me, I will now always have a small carry-on with me that contains another outfit, shoes, medications and phone cords!  

We packed our luggage (aka Target bags) into the trunk of the rental car and headed to Port Canaveral early as we were nervous about actually locating our luggage.  Two Carnival employees, Kathy (our previous helper) and Mary, assisted us when we arrived.  We waited for about two hours before someone finally set us up to escort Steve into the building where all the luggage had been unloaded from the ship.  Steve walked through hundreds of pieces of luggage twice with his escort, only to find our luggage was not there.  It was not in Zone 1 as Kathy had requested.  Personally I was shocked it wasn't in Zone 1 as requested.  (Okay, that was a bit of sarcasm on my part.)  Finally, a Carnival employee coming off the ship told Steve and his escort that she knew just where it probably was; minutes later she came off the ship with our luggage that had been locked inside the Percer’s Office.  I have to wonder when they planned on bringing it off the ship...

We have never been so relieved to see two pieces of luggage!  I could have kissed each one, but I'm sure that would have been a little weird.  But, do you know how many times that week I had wished I had that luggage??  It had many things in it we needed, and if they had shipped it to us, you can bet it would have been C.O.D and probably cost several hundred dollars to ship!

At this point, we were happy to head back to the airport and fly home.  I can honestly say, we still felt positive, and had enjoyed our time in Orlando, minus all the cruise drama. 

But wait!  It gets even better! 

After landing in San Francisco, we drove to San Pablo, where we had a reservation to spend the night before going home.  The next morning, we went across the street to have a quick breakfast.  When we got back to our car, we found the front passenger door window had been completely broken out and Steve's backpack was gone.  The one with his medications...our passports...and his Galaxy Tab (small computer).  Thankfully it was a hash-n-dash break-in and they didn't take our luggage or the Disney gifts for the grandkids that were in the back of the car!  (We're thankful our son-in-law is our insurance agent, he got things started on the window claim ASAP, and it was fixed on Monday!)

Okay.  In all honesty, at this point, our vacation was now on my very last nerve.  I think we were done telling each other, "It was still a good vacation, even with all that happened!"  It was a very noisy, windy drive home.  We had no passenger backpack with our things...Steve was sick...and we still had to resolve things with Carnival.

After we got home, we called the number that Kathy gave us for the Carnival Care Center.  After spending about 30 minutes on the phone with them, Steve was again told that there would be no refund.  Carnival stated that it was our responsibility to know the tonnage of the ship, and that we should have sailed to the first port and then be flown back to the Orlando airport after the first day of sailing. 

You know, because that made so much sense!

After finishing the call to Carnival, we re-grouped and headed to the walk-in to make sure Steve didn't have strep, picked up his prescription, shopped for his new Galaxy Tab, got groceries, etc.   We pulled into the garage, glad to be done for the evening, only to get out of our brand new van and find it had been sideswiped in one of the parking lots.  Yep, that's right folks!  Two, count them, TWO car claims on the very same day...for different cars.  Sigh.

That's the end of the story.  Almost.  The next Monday, on the way to drop his car off for the window repair, Steve accidentally dropped his GPS (that we didn't want left in the car to be stolen) and it broke.  So he was off to buy a new GPS as he was traveling overnight to the coast that day on business.  

Oy Vey!

But the moral of this story?  It's just "stuff."  We appreciate it...we use it...we like having it...  But in the end, the "stuff" we have isn't what is important in life.  We have the blessing of family and friends, our jobs, and each other and a Chevy Chase Vacation or a car theft are fleeting things in our lives.    

There will be other vacations.  Of course, I really do hope we don't have any more Chevy Chase Vacations.  I don't think you're supposed to come home needing a vacation from the vacation, right?  

So that is all.   Really, isn't that enough??


Mari said...

Oh my word! What a horrible experience. I don't blame you for not taking the cruise - it sounds like a disaster. I can't believe they didn't give you a refund though - pretty poor publicity!