December 22, 2015

World Cruise 2016 – Preparation

I has been about 10 weeks since I made the decision to circumnavigate the World on the Holland American ship ms Amsterdam, and less than two weeks until I depart. For those of you that know me, it will come as no surprise that I have everything ready to go except for putting stuff neatly in the suitcases. Yes that is plural, I don't think I have ever cruised before with more than one suitcase. I will need two for all my clothes and miscellaneous stuff, and a carry-on for those things I don't dare trust to the luggage gorillas like my boarding pass, passport, prescriptions, camera, computer, etc.

A number of the preparations for this cruise have been interesting to say the least. How many razor blades do I need for 4 months? How much toothpaste? How much shaving cream? Questions I have never bothered to think about in my entire life are now very important.

I very rarely have ever used a "to pack" list to travel, I would just gather up my stuff and go, but the consequences of forgetting something important are just too great on this adventure. My "need to take" list has over 100 items, and a single item like "dress shirts" really means 5 or 6 individual shirts.

Some items are rather obscure, and easily overlooked, like the foam inserts for my shoes. One pair won't last me 4 months, I need to take replacements. I know from experience that 2032 coin cell batteries are impossible to find on a ship or in most ports. Better bring spares. Same with AAA batteries for my computer mouse. The list goes on....

If you have read my previous posts you may remember the difficulties I had when I tried to be proactive and replace the battery in my pocket watch. They broke the crystal when trying to put the back on. The store did the right thing, and took the watch to a jeweler to be repaired. It arrived at my house a few days after I returned from my cruise on the Vision of The Seas. The watch looked great. I set the time, and within a few minutes the watch stopped. I tried a second time, and the same behavior. Looking very carefully with a magnifier I could easily see that the second hand had been bent and was catching on the minute hand almost every minute. Reminds me of a phrase I used often during my career. Once a job is screwed up, it would remain screwed up.

I return to the battery store. Everyone remembered the watch with the shattered crystal. I set the watch carefully on the counter. It wasn't running. The clerk changed the time, the second hand began to move and then stopped over the minute hand. What could they say? They said they would take it to the jeweler to be repaired, again.

Being a little skeptical at this point, I decided it would be prudent to purchase myself a Christmas present, an old fashioned wind up mechanical pocket watch. No battery to replace, no outside vendor to rely on. I order one, it arrives in a few days, and I will take it to sea with me. Now if I only can remember to wind it each day.

A number of the preparations I needed to make were relatively easy. The IRS posted the required form to request a filing extension over a month ago. Quickly completed and sent in the mail. I don't know how long the treasury has had it, but there is now an online system where you can schedule tax payments up to a year before the payment date. Set the date, amount, what type of tax and the funds are moved from your designated bank account on the scheduled day. No writing post dated checks and hoping someone remembers to mail on time.

I needed to update my home security alarm system so it could be easily monitored by my children that live nearby. Easily done by the alarm company in less than four hours. If I have the internet speed, I can even monitor cameras inside of my house from anywhere in the world. And to think if I were taking a trip like this 50 years ago I probably would leave without even locking the front door.

The main water shutoff to my house didn't work well, so I took this trip as an excuse to replace the valve along with the 16 year old water heater since the plumber had to redo some of the pipes to the water heater to replace the valve. The plumber arrived on schedule and made quick work of the repairs. I think I can cruise for at least 10 years without having to be concerned about the water heater starting to leak while I am gone.

I only had one appointment to reschedule, a regular dental checkup that I postponed a few months. All of my other doctors I just scheduled after my return. My cardiologist was most humorous when he told the receptionist to "just make Steve's appointment for whenever he wants" a stark contradiction to most providers that want to schedule appointments as frequently as possible without being challenged by the insurance companies.

I did run into one issue that I will share so someone else doesn't get caught. Before I even booked this cruise I called my Medicare Prescription Insurance company to ask what I needed to do to get the extra prescriptions I needed for the cruise as normally I get only a 90 day supply. I was told this is a common occurrence and all I needed to do was call them before I ordered the refills, and they would enter a vacation override into my account. They also told me to be aware that they will only do this once per year. Sounded simple enough to me, or so I thought.

When I called the insurance company in early December to arrange the vacation over ride so I could order prescriptions to last me thru May 10th, I was told it could not be done. Surprise, they do not allow a vacation override to transition the end of the year, a major detail they failed to mention previously, and ordering in January doesn't allow enough time for processing and shipping! I expect this is unique to my policy or unique to United Health Care, as I know other passengers ordered extra medications without issue. Fortunately for me, this is not causing any problem as I learned many many years ago the value of maintaining a small stock pile of drugs I take on a regular basis. Over the years this has carried my through labor strikes, lost shipments, manufacturing shortages, and botched paper work. I'm saved again by planning ahead for the unexpected, or as we said in the Boy Scouts: "Be Prepared".

What about money? Credit cards are fine for major purchases while in another country, but the vendor on the street corner usually isn't equipped to handle credit cards. There was much discussion on the Cruise Critic web site as to whether or not Holland America would have a currency exchange on board. Some passengers said they did in the past. Customer Service gave many different answers depending on who you spoke to or maybe who was asking them, and HAL's printed documentation says both yes and no, depending on which page you are reading. Some passengers will believe the answer they want, I won't speculate but will know the correct answer by May. I'm not waiting that long.

Again, I take the no frustration approach and arrange to take 15 different currencies with me. I must say that the paper bills of many other countries are much more attractive than US bills.

I also call my two credit card companies to tell them of my foreign travel plans. They have entirely different approaches. The representative at card one, took notes on the 30 countries I would be visiting, and the dates that I would be there, only to discover that she couldn't enter more than a few into the system database. I suggested she have a conversation with a manager and she did, but the manager had no suggestions. The end result, the system says to read her notes if there is any question.

The second card company took a different approach. The note in their system only says I will be "out of the country" with no indication of where. I was then told if I have a problem with the card being accepted, I was to call them. Probably will work from a security standpoint, but certainly not very customer friendly for me. Fortunately this is my backup card, and I don't expect to be using it.

One of the best things to transpire since the time of booking, was that about a dozen passengers got together for an afternoon just to meet each other and spend some time getting to know one another. It was a great idea, and everyone had a wonderful time. A special thanks to our gracious hosts Mel and Karen. This now puts me in the position of being able to predict with 100% confidence that I will know some other passengers when I board the ship.

Thru my travel agent I made arrangements for my daughter and her husband to board the ship as visitors on our day of embarkation. With increased security concerns, the cruise lines are not as open to visitors as in years past. The only visitors I have seen in the last few years were travel agency personnel or prospective employees.

Since Adrienne and Steve are avid cruisers themselves, it is going to be painful to board a ship, and then be asked to leave a few hours later. On the other hand, I doubt if there will be any passengers close to their age on the ship, and they may be just as happy to not be stuck with a group of mostly "mature" cruisers. These four months will probably be the longest period of time in her entire life she has spent without seeing me. We will survive.

Speaking of pain, Adrienne's gall bladder surgery took longer than expected, but "Griffin" is no more. She is still recovering, and has been released by her doctor to return to work in a few days with minor restrictions.

We will be driving to Port Everglades on the morning of January 5. Boarding is expected to begin about 11 AM, however the ship does not leave until 11 PM that night. The latest in the day I have ever started a cruise. I haven't heard any official explanation, but I assume the long turnaround time allows for late arriving passengers, more time to load the large amounts of luggage and provisions, and more time for the complex check in process with many passengers having visas that must be checked prior to boarding.

There were many other details to work out, but I think they are all taken care of and I still have time to enjoy the Holidays and hopefully to post information about the ships itinerary.
World Cruise 2016 – Preparation