Our five-night journey to Key West and Grand Cayman aboard a cruise ship didn’t begin auspiciously.
For starters, the suitcase containing all my son's and my clothes for the trip was misplaced somewhere between LaGuardia Airport, in New York City, and Daytona Beach. My mother, who had recently had back surgery, suddenly went from feeling chronic but more-or-less manageable pain to being in such agony that she found it almost impossible to walk. My son and I both came down with bad colds on the day we were to set sail. And, as if to drive home a perverse point, my mother slammed the car door on the tip of her finger just as we pulled out of the driveway.
I think that we were all starting to wonder if we shouldn't simply take the hints and stay home.
But that wasn't going to happen. My mother was aching to get away somewhere since her surgery. She wasn’t going to let her pain get in the way of doing her favorite thing — traveling, especially with her 9-year-old grandson, Alessandro.
So, despite missing luggage, blackened fingernail, runny noses, intense back pain, and all, we went barreling down I-95 toward Miami.
As it happened, things did work out, but not without some initial angst, and a few tears on my part at the prospect of having nothing to wear but jeans and T-shirts for five days in the Caribbean.
Traveling with children or grandchildren, of course, ups the ante, as does traveling with someone with temporary or permanent physical limitations. On a cruise, your options for help — should things go wrong — might be even more limited simply by virtue of being at sea, or in unfamiliar ports. So preparation is even more crucial.
Here are a few tips to keep the sailing smooth in the eventuality that things could go wrong.
• Don't expect your luggage to arrive when you do. Luggage can, and does, get lost. This can happen even just before a dream cruise with your beautiful grandchildren. If you're flying to the embarkation port for your cruise, have everyone bring along a carry-on with a few essentials — a change of clothes fit for the weather you anticipate, toiletries, medications, and toys. That way, at least, you’ll have a little breathing room until your luggage arrives, and you won’t have to pay cruise-ship or port prices for little necessities like toothbrushes.
• If the luggage doesn’t arrive, there are things you can do to help it get to you faster. A meltdown might impress your grandchildren, and make you feel a tad better, but it won’t help. In our case, the Daytona Beach Station Manager for Air Tran, Gary Sticht, earned a place in my pantheon of personal saints by performing a miracle: On the second day of the cruise, when we were docked in Key West, I found our bag sitting in our cabin after lunch. I cried, and then I did a little dance in honor of Sticht.
The following are Sticht's suggestions for those who might get into a similar situation:
1. If possible, advises Sticht, try to "travel the day before the cruise departs, just in case of travel delays or inadvertently misdirected luggage."
2. If your bags don't arrive at the airport when you do, remain calm. As Sticht says, "The agent who is trying to find your bag didn't lose it, and you will likely get more help if you are calm and reasonable. ... Use your energy to provide the agent with as much information as possible about your plans."
3. After you’ve boarded the ship, contact Guest Services to let them know that you’re trying to help the airline find your luggage.
In our case, Sticht used an overnight shipping service to get our bag to the port in Key West, and Celebrity representatives "willingly picked (our) bag up at the airport once (he) had it shipped there." You improve your chances of success by actively making suggestions to the airline agent and to the ship’s crew, instead of just hoping they’ll work it out themselves.
• People really do get sick on vacation. Not your vacation, you may be thinking, but think again. It's a good idea to bring along small supplies of a variety of common over-the-counter medications — especially children's versions — just in case. What will you do if your grandchild spikes a fever at 2 in the morning? Ship stores may not stock many children’s medications. Rather than make an emergency visit to the infirmary, you’ll have what you need in your bag.
• Limited mobility doesn't have to keep anyone at home. On our way to the port in Miami, my mother fretted that she'd be the only one on the ship who would need a wheelchair. But on our arrival, we found plenty of them right at the curb where we dropped off our bags (the ones we had, anyway). Crew members were happy to wheel my mother onto the ship, through security and check-in, and to the cabin.
Our wonderful cabin steward soon brought up a wheelchair that my mother could use for the entire cruise, and could even take off the ship while we were in port. We hadn't asked for a wheelchair-accessible stateroom because we hadn't anticipated my mother's problem, but such rooms are available, and the ship's public spaces are accessible as well.
• And finally ... try very hard not to slam the car door on anyone's fingers as you leave for the port.
The Transportation Security Agency has information about carrying liquids onboard a flight.
For more information on Celebrity’s special-needs accommodations, e-mail its Access Department at email@example.com. Also ask about any shore excursions that are suitable for people with special needs.
For ports where tenders are used to get passengers to shore, Celebrity provides a wheelchair lift to get passengers onto the tenders.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.