By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 1/21/2020
Occurred: 5/12/2007
Topics/Keywords: #Cruise #WesternCaribbean #SaltLakeCity #CarnivalLegend Page Views: 3350
We fly to Tampa to begin our first family cruise vacation!

If you count a "day" as being the time between two sleeps, our vacation started yesterday.

Cast of Characters: Me; my husband, Michael; my ex-wife, Mary; our daughter, Karen; and grandson, Zachary. Plus, joining us in Tampa: Our oldest daughter, Dottie; her fiancÚ, Frankie, their little girl Cailey; and Frank's parents, Joe and Kathy. Not going: Son John (who'll be house-sitting) and Zachary's mother, Jenny, who had to work.

I had arranged to get off work after just an hour's token appearance. So, the idea was I would go to Michael's graduation, show up briefly at work, join our extended family for a graduation lunch, drive Michael's sister, Surya, home, then get myself home to pack and start an early sleep for today's 4 am departure.

Which all worked out great, until after I had dropped off Surya and started on the return journey. The SUV's air conditioner belt has been making some God-awful squeaking sounds lately. Well, for maybe the past six months. Actually, it might have been as much as eight months. Or twelve. Anyway, I've been meaning to look into it. Unfortunately, the belt chose today to take "looking into it" out of the realm of the desirable and into the realm of the unavoidable. Because, with a snap and a flutter of horrible tearing sounds, the air conditioner stopped working. And, apparently, on our SUV the air conditioning and the power steering are driven by the same belt, because I also found myself flying down the highway with the usual feather touch required by the steering wheel replaced by the effort required to steer a highly-motivated cow in a direction other than that which the cow intends.

Three hours later, my unplanned visit to a Midas shop resulted in three new engine belts and a vacation wallet containing $204 less than expected.

I get paid again, via electronic deposit, next Thursday (the day we are scheduled to hit Costa Maya, the last stop on our cruise before returning to Florida. But the cruise itself is already paid for, as was our Saturday night stay at a Sheraton in Tampa. And our plane tickets. So, what the hell—we're still on our way; and when we get back, our car will be sporting fresh belts and no squeal.

That did mean, however, that I got a late start packing. And by the time I was done, it was time to get up. So I didn't actually go to bed Friday night at all.

Squeezing our bags into the back of the now-squeal-less SUV took some jiggling; and Mary had to sit with her head crooked a bit to the side to avoid the wheels of one of the suitcases. My son, John, drove us, as planned, to the airport; dropped us off, and returned home where he'll be house-and-dog-sitting for the next week.

At the airport we discovered that my suitcase was too heavy. The limit was 50 pounds and it weighed 61. Fortunately, Michael's second bag—filled only with shoes—only weighed 24 pounds; it was easy to transfer 11 pounds of clothes from my bag to his. (The alternative was to pay $25 extra to let them accept my overweight bag.)

Karen, who arranged this whole trip, had been unable to print the boarding passes at home: A pass was printed for each of us traveling from Phoenix to Salt Lake City, the first leg of our journey; but there was no pass and no explanation for the second leg, Salt Lake City to Tampa. So we tried to print a fresh set at the airport.

It's not like it was ten years ago. The smiling, effective ticket agents have been replaced by gleaming, less effective computer kiosks. Our kiosk wasn't able to help us with the second set of boarding passes, but it did offer to reschedule our flights for one that left earlier…for the price of $25. Each. And we would arrive in Tampa about a half-hour later than on the flight for which we were already scheduled. So we said, no thanks.

Security isn't like it was, either. Knowing this, I had come dressed in a light shirt, belt-less shorts, and sandals. Going through the security station was therefore simpler than it might have been. I saw other people having to remove their belts and and untying their shoes.

On the first flight we sat in two rows, Mary, Karen and Zach in front, Michael and me in back. With another, unrelated flyer, a little plump woman who kept telling Michael she'd brought a book and would like to read, while he kept her entertained with the story of his graduation, the parts of his life that had led him to decide to return to school, and every aspect of the process that had made him determine his field of study, human physiology. She was just starting to gnaw off her own leg when I fell asleep. That was before takeoff.

I apparently awoke briefly when they announced a "light snack". I don't remember doing it, but I must have asked for a bag of chips because when it was time to land and I woke up for real, the flight attendant was asking for our trash so I handed her the bag of chips…but upside down, so the remaining chips and crumbs spilled across the plump lady's dress and book.

We had the briefest of layovers in Salt Lake City, a town I rather like. I had been here many times as a truck driver, and Michael and I and my Mom had visited as well. But they were already boarding as we reached the gate. I asked the agent if Delta would be giving us a meal, since it was a four-hour flight. She laughed. "Are you kidding?" she asked. "They'll throw some cheese and crackers at you, and a drink. Maybe you'd call that a meal, but I don't."

"But, a four-hour flight!" I protested, my 70 pounds of overweight overwrought. "We'll starve!"

Thankfully, she didn't give me the I doubt that! look I probably deserved. "You have time to pick up something from the deli next door," she said, And taking her at her word, that's just what we did. I finished the breakfast "wrap" they made to order before we'd actually taken off.

Zachary was interested in the large lake he'd seen outside as we were landing, and was even sharp enough to ask if that was the "salt lake" the city seemed to be named after.

They showed two movies (Because I Said So and Words and Music) before we landed, the second one ending no more than ten minutes before we hit the tarmac. Almost immediately, my cell phone registered voice mail, as did Mary's and Karen's. We'd all neglected to turn the phones off, which they ask us to do, but it doesn't matter because there's no cell phone service when a plane is in the air. The cell antennas are designed for maximum ground coverage; a plane at cruising altitude and speed is seldom in a cell; and when it is, it's gone so quickly that the cell can't even register the fact your phone is there, before it isn't.

Cailey and Zachary: Reunited and it feels so good.

Anyway, the calls were from Dottie, who had arrived from Virginia hours earlier and was waiting at the hotel for us. A $20 taxi ride later found us at the Sheraton River Walk, chosen because its shuttle to the cruise ship tomorrow morning will be free.

Dottie looked wonderful, as did Frankie, Joe and Kathy. Cailey was, as always, unspeakably cute and she and Zachary were so glad to see each other, it was adorable.

I managed to catch a few Z's while Dottie and Frankie took the kids to the motel pool. And then I woke up, and we talked, we had dinner, we talked some more. But as I write this, everyone else is sound asleep on the extravagant Sheraton mattresses. And I will be joining them in about four minutes.

Tomorrow, I will board my first cruise ship. (Joe and Kathy cruise often; Dottie, Frankie and Cailey have accompanied them on occasion; and Mary was on a cruise with her parents when she was a kid. So it's Zach's, Karen's, Michael's and my first.)

To be continued…!