Day 15 – Do I hear Funeral Music?

The ship steamed towards Florida all night, and we awoke to our final destination – back in the USA.  Darn.

Yesterday was a jam packed day, so I had started packing the day before.  I’m not good with goodbyes, whether it is kissing one of my kid’s goodbye as they drive away with their family or realizing that my fantasy vacation is once again ending.

I love my family, I love my children, and oh my – how I love to travel.  George is always ready to head back to Oregon.  His dream vacation lasts around a week.  This was a little over two weeks, so Teddy Roosevelt is ready to cry “Charge” and head back home.  His souvenir panama hat planted his head, safari shirt, shorts and black dress socks and shoes.  He is dressed and ready to go.  I, on the other hand, am eyeballing the next ship to see if there is a stowaway spot.

Our plane doesn’t leave until late afternoon, so we are the last to get off the ship.  According to my internet directions, it was about 30 minutes to the airport from the Ft. Lauderdale port.  In reality, it was more like five minutes.  But I didn’t know and purchased the ship’s bus transfer, so we had to wait until they called our number to disembark.

Funeral rites commenced the night before when we put out our luggage.  Staff bustles around, checking tags and working their well honed exit routines.  For two weeks this has been our home, but suddenly I felt like we were being evicted.  The halls are lined with suitcases.  Some rooms have an enormous amount of huge luggage.  Good grief, they must change clothes three times a day!  We navigated through them as we went to dinner, and many had disappeared by the time we came back home from the last show on the ship.  George and Emma are jolly and laughing, and I’m trying not to let them see the tears prickling my eyes.  I’d even consider getting back in the water with that darned dolphin, and give the voodoo driver a hug, if they’d let me stay longer.

But morning comes and I console myself at the buffet line.  I heaped up a plate of food and dug in.  It was all healthy choices, but the portions reflected my emotional state.

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The final meal….

There isn’t anything else to do, all the shops and functions are shut down.  Already the room attendants are frantically cleaning rooms to be ready for the fresh batch of excited cruisers.  I’m such old news.  Don’t get me wrong, the staff are all friendly and wonderful; many stop to say goodbye and give a hug.  Anthony, our room attendant, tells us goodbye and says he is going home to see his wife.  She is pregnant and their baby is due in two weeks.  He’s thrilled to be there for the big event.  How hard it must be to be separated for such long periods of time.  He can’t stop smiling and we wish him the best.  He’s made our trip special and done so many extra things for Emma.  She likes chocolate, so he has put extras on her pillow each night, and made her the towel animals.  He’s been a piece of our lives for two weeks, and chances are we will never see him again, never know how the birth went.  Oh geez, I wonder if the ship doctor has a sugar coated anti-depressant for weepy old women.

This has also been a magical grandparent time for us with Emma.  We’ve always been close, but now it has taken on a different dimension – and it is all good.  She’s 14, so there are all of the adolescent issues, but words can’t describe how wonderful this time has been.  When we got on the ship, she was embarrassed by all the photos:

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Traveling with grandparents can be sooooo embarrassing…..

 

And now?

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We all had a whopping good time, and the memories are all here to refresh my aging mind, as needed.

Finally, the last group (us) was herded off the ship.  Emma thought we just walked off and went to the airport.  Oh no.  Next spot was the cattle call of the Florida Roundup.  We were herded into a giant warehouse where the luggage was held.  Thousands of pieces of luggage, huge numbers of tired tourists fighting to find it.  Truly, it was well organized, and we found it in short order.  But the immensity of the building and the amount of people/luggage took the hot, humid Florida breath right out of you.

Emma thought we were now done.  But now we had to head to the next huge room in the warehouse complex to go through Customs.

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This is when you know the vacation is coming to a close.

I was thrilled that we had hours before our flight left; there were some pretty frantic old farts in this line.  I couldn’t help but wonder how the hysteric old broad with the foaming mouth from yesterday (was it only yesterday?) was doing.

Again, the line moved pretty darned quickly, and we were suddenly outside on the warm sidewalk.  George and Emma, who do not do lines, were both looking stressed and shell shocked.  I guided us towards the bus stop to catch out transit to the airport.  Everyone was sure it was going to leave without them, so the cattle stampeded towards the charter buses.  There were taxis lined up everywhere, and George wanted to grab a taxi.  I reminded him it was a 30 minute ride, and we had already paid for the shuttle.  It would just take a minute to get our luggage loaded and we would be off.

Old bladders that are the mother to six children, have a limited capacity.  Mine was overflowing with too much fruit and coffee and I couldn’t last any longer.  I had to stop, which frustrated George and Emma.  I told them to walk ahead and I would catch up.  Frantically, I rushed back to the warehouse, and raced back to the shuttles.  If you remember the old 1970’s OJ Simpson rental car commercials (long before his prison career), he dashed around the airport like a football player, leaping around people and furniture.  That was me, hauling a suitcase, purse and backpack.  Out of breath, I reached the shuttle.

George looked at me and said “Don’t rush, get a look at this.” and pointed to the men loading the shuttles.  There were two shuttles side by side.  Each had one elderly, very elderly, man.  They were loading the suitcases onto the shuttles, taking the tickets, answering questions, and trying to calm the multitudes of cranky old people who were missing their flights.  Did I mention they were elderly?

These were not Celebrity Cruise personnel, but a contract shuttle company.  Apparently, it was a company who employees retired old men.  Our guys probably together for coffee at McDonald’s every morning.  Their conversation probably went like this:

“Fred, did they raise the price of senior coffee?  I think I paid more today, but I can’t remember what it cost.”

“Marvin, all I know is the price of everything is going up.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it cost more than a dollar for lunch now.  I haven’t paid for anything other than coffee since 1964, but I hear it is outrageous.  Money doesn’t stretch like it used to.  In fact, I’m looking for a part-time job.  I’d try Wal-Mart, but those old women get really mean.”

“I heard they are hiring shuttle drivers at the airport.  You and I are careful drivers, we never go over 35 mph, even on the freeway!  How hard could it be to drive from the port to the airport?  Let’s run over there!”

“Hand me my walker Fred, let’s go check it out!”

Fred and Marvin were hired.  Fred had our shuttle bus and Marvin had the other.  Together, they were a formidable team.  Together, they would peer at each piece of luggage, angle their heads appropriately so their reader glasses were working, and decide which bus it went into.  Then decide which storage bay it went into.  Then shove it to the correct bay.  Then tell the worried luggage owner that yes, they would keep all their luggage together and this was the right shuttle and no they didn’t know when they would be done….and use every muscle left in their wrinkled bodies to lift the luggage a foot high to shove it into the bay.  The handkerchief would come out, wipe the sweaty brow, rub the sore back and shuffle back to the next bag.

After a half a dozen bags, Fred had to sit down and Marvin started yelling at people to be patient – they were doing the best they could!  A few of the crowd who were younger than Fred and Marvin (myself included) offered to help.  “NOT allowed!” they bellowed.

Anxious glances became mutters and then the group divided into two camps.  Those who found it hilarious (me) and those who were missing their flights.  It was getting ugly.

Marvin, 75 pounds lighter than Fred, filled his bus first and took off.  The passengers gave us sympathetic waves as Marvin backed his bus up, nearly hitting Fred.  As he could have pulled straight out, we were all wondering what the hell Marvin was doing.  After going back and forth a few times, he cautiously turned on his signal and crept down the street.

In a collective decision, the crowd decided to board the bus, clutching every bag that could possibly be held or shoved in the aisles.  Fred wasn’t happy, but finally said “What the hell, go ahead…”

A good 30 minutes later, a red-faced and sweating Fred boarded the bus.  Everyone cheered and applauded.  Too tired to speak, he tiredly waved his hand and we slowly left the port.

The port and airport are almost across the street from each other.  Even at the slow crawl of Fred, we were there in just a couple of minutes.  George glared at me, thinking if we had taken a cab we would have been there two hours earlier.  He was, of course, correct.

We still had time to make our flight – we were one of the lucky ones.  In fact, we had a lot of time, because our flight as delayed.  Which meant we missed our connecting flight, which meant we had to wait to take another flight and got home about 8 hours later than we should have.

Both George and I had to work the next day, and were frantically making calls to get it arranged.  The magic of the holiday was definitely over and reality was back.

Would I do it again?  ABSOLUTELY.  Will we go again?  ABSOLUTELY.

In fact, the next one is already planned and we will be leaving on August 3rd.  This time we are heading to St Petersburg, Russia with some wonderful stops along the way.  And we are taking another granddaughter, Ellie – who is the twin of Emma.  Please join us!

Author: Traveling Grandma

As an aging mother of six and grandma to seven, travel was always a dream. Diapers, work and an eccentric high-maintenance husband just seemed to keep those trips a distant desire. Eventually, however, the kids potty trained, lived through the teenage angst years and left the nest to start their own families. Work still gets in the way, but it does help pay for the trips! Can't do much about the eccentric, high-maintenance husband; after 36 years I have reconciled that he will never pick up his underwear. He's my partner for life, travel companion and can always be counted on to do something totally odd. It makes for a good story, and besides - without his major financial contribution, we would sitting at home year after year, watching yet another rerun of NCIS. I work for a national weight-loss company and LOVE to cook. My love of food, and birthing those babies, led to an 85 pound weight gain. After joining a weight loss program, I shed the weight and found a new career. For me, it is a dream job. How many people can say they love their job? I get to work together with people to help them live a healthy lifestyle, and lose weight. And it changed the way I cook! Instead of coating foods with fat and/or sugar, I've learned to bring out the real flavor in foods and keep them healthy. It's a joy to travel the world and explore new foods. I'm always on the lookout for different foods and willing to try almost anything. George, my husband, is always aghast at my choices. He's looking for a McDonald's while I'm trying to find the best local eatery. Checking out grocery stores and food forums in different countries is endless fun. Bringing back cooking ingredients keeps the memories alive every time they are used in a recipe back home. Paprika from Budapest, Sumac from Turkey, dried squid from Japan....what a lucky person I am to experience it all. Life is interesting everywhere, and there is always something humorous to be found. I love to journal and people have been telling me for years to become a writer. With Medicare looming in my near future, I figured this was as good a time as any. If I don't do it now, I'll be writing stories about my neighbors in the nursing home. A big trip will probably be whacking along in my walker to the day room to watch the Travel Channel. I take heart that Colonel Sanders started his finger lickin' fortune late in life because he wasn't afraid to try something new. So here I go!

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