Saturday, April 27, 2013

Lines to Remember

What a mess we had on the ship at the end of our first leg from Sydney to Hawaii. For all the good times in the lead-up, the last two days have made most of us angry and annoyed.

It started yesterday when we landed at Lahaina in Maui. Because this was the first port of entry to the US, everyone aboard the ship had to be cleared through US Immigration. Government officials (especially sequestered federal folks) + Hawaii was an easy equation to solve: they didn;t show up on time and when they did, only one person showed up to process more than 3000 people.

All of which would be annoying but not much more except the ship's staff completely fell apart when dealing with thie delay. Rather than making a quick announcement that people should ignore the times they were told tor eport and wait for further announcements, they did what all bad customer service people do. Nothing.

So when we reported at our time of 8am, we found a line of people queing from one end of the ship to the other (and it's a very long ship). Oh, and then the line snaked around and continued back in the direction from which it started.

After standing around for several minutes, we finally got an announcement that the immigration officials weren't aboard yet and people should not remain in line since A) there was no reason to do so and B) the congestion was creating safety issues. So of course most of the old people remained in line.

LK and I took the opportunity to sneak down for a coffee and were halfway through when a new announcement came that it was indeed OK to now get in line because the officials had finally arrived.

This time we were even further away from our final destination.

And then it kept getting worse. The line would move a few feet and then stop for ten minutes. And then stop some more. You have to remember that one of the reasons LK and I like cruising is because so many of our fellow passengers make us feel young again. There was a line of hundreds of older people struggling with bad knees and hips and just general fatigue trying to stand in the line for what amounted to more than 2 hours. Not nice.

We had booked ourselves into a 10am whale watching boat ride and had given up on that idea as the clock ticked towards 11 when the excursion people came walking up the line telling people who had 10am excursions to follow them. Which led us to the front of this massive queue where they told us to just cut in front of the people who had been waiting hours. They then abandoned us without giving the other passengers any explanation, making us fearful that we now faced several options - being crushed by the people ten abreast trying to fit through a double door, stabbed in the back by the people who saw us cutting in front of them or being trampled as our knees finally gave out under the pressure of having to stand in line so long.

That nothing happened is testament to how tired the people behind us were.

And we finally got on the tender that took us to the dock where the whale watch boat was still waiting to take us out. And that part was great as we did see some big splashes several hundred yards away and dozens of spinner dolphins about two feet away. The dolphins swarmed our boat and sayed with us for a while. They are one of only two types of dolphins that do a 360 spin in the air when they jump out of the water, which is very cool to watch.

And although the whales were a bit distant during the boat ride, we had a spectacular display later that night when back on the ship as three or four whales which were quite close to us started jumping out of the water and generally causing all of us to ooh and aah for a good half hour.

There was some speculation that the captain had paid people to dress in whale suits just so the passengers would forget about the mess in the morning. It would hardly have been enough.

The next morning we arrived in Honolulu, ready to disembark and spend some time in this beautiful city. I would like to tell you all went smoothly, but then I would have to skip the part about how the gangplank did not fit the dock and the crew had to saw part of it off to enable people to use it. Or the fact that passengers with early flights home had to wait a long time to get off the ship because there were problems offloading the baggage (not an issue with us, of course, since we were staying on. Or perhaps I should say not an issue with us for another 12 days)

When we finally left the ship with our friend Pat, another person staying aboard all the way to Ensenada, we had planned to grab a taxi and pop into Waikiki. Which was an option if we were willing to stand in a line for cabs that looked like it could take more than hour. After yesterday's immigration mess, I suppose only standing in line for an hour sounds easy, but really it was like a dagger in our calves.

Fortunately, a perky young woman spotted that we had no luggage with us and  offered us a free return shuttle to Waikiki. All we had to do was agree to watch a 20-minute presentation on Maui Diver jewellery. Done deal. And if you would like to know about the discover of black coral in the early 50's, just drop me an e-mail.

I am pretty sure we were having our second margarita at Jimmy Buffett's before we would ever have reached the end of the taxi queue, so it was a fair trade. And then we met friends we had made on the ship to have some lunch. Because 19 days at sea with the same people is never long enough to really say everything you want to.

When we finally returned to the ship, our friend Pat - who is a seasoned traveller - knew that we didn't need to wait in lines to get our new room passes and get aboard. Which was very, very good because the lines to register were --- well, they looked pretty similar to something we had seen yesterday in Lahaina.

In fact I overheard a very angry man berating one of the staff, saying he and his wife had been waiting for more than 2 hours, they were still a long ways from getting aboard, they had had no lunch (and obviously no margaritas) and there was no one telling them a blessed thing.

The three of us who had been on the earlier leg of the cruise knew the reason. The ship had had an outbreak of norovirus, qualifying it officially as The Ship of Stools. It was undergoing a top-to-bottom sanitization before anyone could come aboard. It also had to be inspected by the CDC, and given the sequestration I wondered how promptly their (short) staff showed up.

As we listened to this new passenger's tirade, I commented that he was starting his cruise pretty much the way most of the people had left it this morning.

Pat asked, "Yeah, and given how happy he is already do you think we should tell him the ship has had an outbreak of norovirus?"

I offered that since he already had the shits with them, there was nothing to be gained.

And then - because we were returning passengers - we got to walk past everyone in line and cut in at the front and go aboard.

This time, I definitely didn't look around and, yes, I walked a little faster than normal.


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