June 06, 2016

The Trip Home

I wake before my alarm goes off at 7:00. The ship is already docked in Vancouver, British Columbia. The last items are packed away, and I go for breakfast, my last meal on the ship. The buffet is very busy, but the staff is prepared today and everything works smoothly. Turn around days are the hardest on the staff because of all the extra work getting rid of one set of passengers, readying the ship, and greeting a new set.

At 9:00 we head to the gangway, luggage in tow. The process is painless. I learned many years ago how to navigate an escalator with two suitcases in tow. The one I never figured out is how to climb stairs with two suitcases, but we encounter no stairs. Canadian immigration process consists of collecting a form. No interview, no questions, they don't even want to see if I have a passport, not to mention look at it.

Finding the luggage storage facility is easy. There is a line of passengers using the service. It takes about 20 minutes to get the group's 23 pieces of luggage checked. How to get out of Pacific Place is another matter. We are directed the wrong way by the first person we asked. Our second attempt is successful. Once outside, the group disperses to engage in different activities until we meet again at the airport at 7:00 PM to claim our luggage and check in for our various flights back to the USA.

I head to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, one of the best rated tourist attractions in Vancouver. The free shuttle bus from Pacific Place is a bonus. The bridge is fun, especially if you are a people watcher. Kids try to make it sway, some adults are scared out of their minds. They think it is bad going across, and probably don't realize they have to cross the bridge a second time if they ever want to go home again. A couple of hours here is enough for me to see everything. The bus takes some of us back to Pacific Place, others will return later.

After a lunch at Subway, I buy a ticket for the Hop On Hop Off Bus. The route takes me around the city including several stops in Stanley Park, a thousand acre park in the city, much of it native woodlands. The bus eventually brings me back to Pacific Place.

Vancouver definitely is a city where one could spend a few days. We were fortunate in that the weather was absolutely perfect, sunny skies and temperatures in the low 70's. An unusual phenomena for Vancouver.

I eventually head to the train station about a block away to find a train to the airport. Instructions are clear, I purchase my $2.70 CAD ticket, and follow the signs. Modern clean trains run about every 7 minutes during rush hour on a Friday night. After about a 30 minute ride I am in the airport looking for the luggage company. Downstairs and a few hundred foot walk, it is easy.

Checking in with United is fairly quick. Metal detectors at the security checkpoint do their usual thing and set off bells and whistles as I approach. Eventually I am cleared.

Our 10:50 PM flight to Chicago is smooth. Some passengers are able to sleep, but not me. I never have been able to sleep on a plane. I think the engine noise is just too much.

Because of the late departure, we are not able to clear US customs in Canada, but must do so in the US.

We land at Chicago's International Terminal. At customs and immigration there are tempermental kiosks that take our picture and attempt to compare them with our passport photos. There are only 2 agents, and a plane from Mexico unloaded just before us. It takes about 30 of 40 minutes, we claim our luggage and immediately give it back to United for our flight to Orlando.

Of course our next flight leaves from the terminal as far away from the international terminal as one can get and still be at the airport. After the shuttle tram it is still a long walk. I already have a boarding pass, so I don't need to check in with United, but do need to be processed by TSA again. While I am waiting for my usual "additional processing" a cigarette lighter falls off the baggage conveyor belt. TSA is in panic, "There was an explosion in the luggage X-Ray....", an exaggeration that brings everything to a screeching halt.

Despite the long distances and the delays, I make it to the gate about 10 minutes before boarding. We leave the gate and taxi to near the end of the runway, and then turn back towards the gate. A water leak has been discovered in the forward galley. We need to go back to a gate and have a mechanic look at it.

About an hour and a half later we are on our way to Orlando. The captain pushes the jet at maximum speed and makes up some of the lost time. No matter how you cut the pie, this plane is going to be late for the rest of the day.

About 3:00 Saturday afternoon I am back home. Over 30 hours with no sleep. I'm getting too mature for this. (I don't like the "O" word!) I don't unpack, I hit the shower and then nap for about 5 hours. Hopefully within a few days my internal clock will be back to normal. No trips for at least a few months, time to finish a railroad before the NMRA National Convention in Orlando next summer.

At the moment my next cruise is October 22 on MSC Divina for 2 weeks. Pictures from this trip will be posted in a few days.

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