When it comes to travel, nothing seems carved into stone. At least, not the way I travel. But I’ve never missed connections. Til now.
If you follow me on Instagram, you might remember that I was recently aboard the “new” Norwegian Joy for the U.S. Inaugural preview cruise. It was a short jaunt. Just three nights, April 26-29, non-stop from Vancouver, BC to Los Angeles. Sounds easy enough. I never considered missed connections in the realm of possibilities.
Why I Went West Earlier than Needed
In order to attend the inaugural sailing, I had to head west two-plus weeks earlier than needed. What I’d do in-between the Norwegian Joy and Radiance of the Seas was yet to be determined. I had my eye on a couple of Holland America cruises that, if I booked an inside stateroom, would cost less than ground transportation, meals, and accommodations for the almost two weeks after the short cruise.
FYI – Norwegian Joy: Goodbye China, Hello America
Norwegian Joy was built specifically for the Chinese market in 2017. The ship recently underwent a $50 million refurbishment in preparation for its U.S. debut. For example, out with the Tea Rooms and luxury shops. In with a Texas BBQ restaurant, more lounges, a brew house, even a larger photo gallery. Thus the big deal.
My three sea days were packed with trying various venues. From Laser Tag and GoKarts to Q for BBQ and Food Republic for Asian fusion, we covered all the bases. Pages of notes and hundreds of photos later, I was packed and ready for an early 7:30am pre-arranged, priority departure in Los Angeles. I had a train and two ships to catch.
Late Arrival Equaled Missed Connections
Something changed overnight. When I woke up at 6:30, we were nowhere near docked. Or even in port. Panic set in. If I missed the train, my plans to get to Vancouver would go sideways, like a misplaced domino that wrecks the entire chain.
By 8:30am, I knew there wouldn’t be enough time to get to Union Station. If we had docked early and I was one of the first people off the ship as planned, then calling for and getting an Uber would be easy. That didn’t happen.
North to Alaska – But First, Back to Chicago
Plan B. Even with the delayed debarkation, I really thought it would still work. Rush off the ship at 9ish…call and Uber and get to the train by 10-ish. I didn’t stop to think about thousands of other passengers calling a ride share. It appeared that Uber and Lyft were overwhelmed – no cars available.
There was no way to catch the 10:30 am train from L.A. to San Diego. At this rate, I’d miss my Holland America Eurodam departure to Vancouver. To make matters worse, missed connections included my Volendam departure for Alaska, too.
Sure, I could have rented a car and driven the 1,300 miles. Two reasons for not doing so. First reason was the expense. When added into hotels and meals, it was way over $1,400. The last-minute Eurodam followed by Volendam were a fraction of that cost for 11 nights. When cheap airline tickets aren’t an option, price matters.
Second reason, it’s a lot of driving through mountains. Last year, because of raging wildfires, I had to rent a car and drive from Medford, Oregon to Portland. While an incredibly scenic drive through two rugged mountain passes, it was dizzying for this Midwesterner.
Making lemonade from well, you know, lemons
The missed connections meant I now had time to visit a very special place and one that was on my radar for years. Two friends from the cruise were booked for one night at the Queen Mary Hotel in Long Beach. We shared an Uber to the ship/hotel though we had to walk about 1/2 mile away from the terminal to get an Uber.
My makeshift afternoon was spent wandering about what was once the grandest ship in the world. Queen Mary, launched in 1934, was also once the fastest ship in the world, crossing the Atlantic in a whirlwind 3 1/2 days.
In the span of four hours, there was no way to see all the restored and not-so restored grand ballrooms, dining rooms, even staircases. We did manage to squeeze in time for a ghost tour and it was worth it. If you’re not familiar with Queen Mary, the ship is near the top of the list of haunted places in the US.
At lunch, I asked our waitress if she had ever experienced any sightings or any paranormal activity. She proceeded to talk for the next 15 minutes. She’s seen, heard or felt just about every ghost that walks the corridors, roams the ballrooms, inhabits staterooms and lurks around the swimming pool.
It would have been easy to let time slip through my fingers. I couldn’t experience more missed connections so I kept one eye on the clock. There could be no chance to miss my train to Chicago. Two hours before departure, a small white Uber picked me up and we were off for the 45 minute ride to downtown LA. To the painstakingly and gorgeously restored Los Angeles Union Station.
I Had to go East to go West
The best and least expensive last minute option was the 6:00 p.m. Amtrak Southwest Chief, L.A. to Chicago, in a roomette with shared bathrooms. The deluxe bedrooms with en suite bathrooms were sold out. But, it’s a very scenic ride and I was excited to begin another train journey.
Read Next: See America aboard the Southwest Chief
Back on track
It seems like the last two weeks have been a non-stop whirlwind of events. Writing and work took a backseat. Being in Chicago meant walking along the elevated 606 path on beautiful spring afternoons.
A short drive to Garfield Park Observatory and a preview concert by four members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was truly something different for me. In whatever spare time there was, new and old restaurants needed a visit. Somehow, I managed to fit in two appointments at the Apple Store Genius Bar.
Now I’m back on track. Or at least I will be when the mighty Empire Builder pulls out of Chicago’s Union Station later this week. I am heading back to the Pacific Northwest and up to the Last Frontier – to Fairbanks and beyond.
And even better news, I was able to spend Mother’s Day with my oldest daughter. She planned a Monet painting class and we ended up having an early dinner at a random Korean BBQ place. One of the best meals I’ve had in a while. And see another Queen Mary!
So that’s what’s been happening for the last couple of weeks and why I haven’t been as prolific as usual. I hope you’ll follow my Alaska adventures as I travel north on trains, ships, buses and maybe even a dog sled. Overland to the Arctic Circle? I hope so. Please subscribe to my newsletter and follow me across social.
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