Ft. Lauderdale - Embarkation Day!

We left Phoenix on Friday December 28, eight days before our scheduled sailing date. Not having seen our four kids (& grandchildren) since July who all live in the Charlotte area, we wanted to be able to spend some quality time with them. With the help of a strong easterly jet-stream, our flight was a short 3+ hours to North Carolina. First stop, Brendon & Brittany’s in York, South Carolina. We were met at the door by the newest addition to their family, Bentley. No…Bentley’s NOT one of our recently born grandchildren, but rather a very cute, energetic Datsun puppy with a non-stop tongue if you get close enough…it was so nice being around & loving a dog again after our family canines passed away, the most recent our St. Bernard (Zeus) who left us in October of 2010. It was dinner time by the time we settled and as promised, Brendon fired-up the grill and made his awesome signature cheeseburgers – he will tell you he got the recipe from me but in reality, he’s improved on it with the addition of several spices and a new infra-red grill - so good!!


Saturday was a cold, somewhat lazy day, though both Brendon & Brittany had to work for a short time. On Saturday night, we went over to the home of Charlie & Tooti Congdon, great friends for many years. Tooti made my favorite (& her famous) artichoke dip, then served an incredible dinner of Chicken Cordon Bleu! We shared many wonderful memories together; good wine, laughter, and eventually, shed some tears as we said good-bye several hours later. As you go through life, you have many acquaintances but we’ve discovered that in the long run, very few genuine friends – Charlie & Tooti are among the very few and very best.


On Sunday, our youngest son Bryan joined us at Brendon’s & Brittany’s – they took us to a very unique Japanese steakhouse and of all places, Gastonia, North Carolina. Called Saki Express, it’s much like a McDonald’s but as you would expect by name, a much different menu and table service once the order is placed – incredible cuisine, reasonably priced and also very healthy! Once we returned home, we broke out the cards for our traditional game of family ‘hearts’ – Bryan was the victor but as I told him, I couldn’t possibly beat up on him over a holiday weekend! For that matter, I didn’t beat up on anyone – in fact, Brendon, Brittany and Cheryl ALL won subsequent games – they ALL beat up on me! As always, great fun…but someday I’ll get my revenge on them all, IF I’m lucky!


Monday was our 25th wedding anniversary and as we typically do, we stayed home and celebrated quietly. Neither of us enjoy large crowds, elbows & traffic, so we let everyone else blow fireworks and toast to our wonderful marriage – we just watch the ball drop on TV! Not to outdone by Brendon, Brittany made her deep-fried chicken tenders for dinner and was a real treat for us on this special occasion – she’s an excellent cook, wonderful hostess and an impeccable housekeeper! Earlier in the day, we helped Brendon take down his Christmas lights, clearly the best in the neighborhood…that’s my boy! I didn’t share this with Brendon at the time, but I was thinking …it wasn’t but a few short years ago that Brendon was helping ME put up and take down Christmas Lights – he was only waste-high, got in the way sometimes but as his father, I kept him in-line and on-task! How the tables turn with time! Brendon was clearly in charge of the process – he kept ME in-line and on-task – I was merely the aging, feeble, bumbling father trying to keep up with his young son, doing my best to hold the ladder so he didn’t fall. It was just one of those ‘fatherly’ moments you have as you watch your kids grow & they step into your shoes. Emotional for me, yet VERY proud.


On Tuesday, New Year’s Day, we packed up & drove north to Mooresville, North Carolina, the home of our second daughter, Renee, and hubby Adam. They just recently gave birth to our newest grandson, Miller, and along with their daughter of 13 months, McLayne, have had their hands full trying to adjust their lives to care for two infants. It was our mission to give them a mini-vacation from the day-to-day child care duties – actually night-to-night duties as they were both clearly two VERY tired parents! The ensuing 3 days brought back so many of our own memories - I don’t think we slept longer than perhaps 2 hours at a time during our 72-hour stay, but it was so rewarding to be able to not only care for & bond with these two beautiful grandkids but equally, give Renee & Adam a chance to catch their breath, sleep, have some private time, and regain their sanity!


On Wednesday night, we left our ‘post’ in Mooresville long enough to see our oldest daughter, Jenny, along with her husband, Nick, and our remaining grandchildren Molly, Mason, & Miles – they live 30 minutes north of Renee in Statesville, North Carolina. Molly is the newest addition to their family, born just a few months ago, but the boys (4 & 6) were quite anxious to show us (& demonstrate) what Santa left them for Christmas and of course, not just one toy at a time. There were multiple toys coming at us that either had sirens, whistles, booms or all of the above! It was awesome to see such joy & enthusiasm. As a firefighter, Nick often has kitchen-duty at the station so he whipped up one of his popular dishes…baked spaghetti! Great recipe, accompanied with salad, warm garlic bread and of course, brownies & ice cream for dessert. It was a beautiful evening with a beautiful family but being a school night, we left early (7:00) and returned to Mooresville to prepare for the nightshift.


Sadly, Friday morning came and after doing some casual laundry & packing, it was time to head to the airport & Ft. Lauderdale. We stopped at Circle K to gas the rental car and as I was fueling, a young lady (early 20’s) pulled up and said she was embarrassed…that she lived in a shelter for battered women and had three young kids…that she’s been trying to find a job filling out on-line applications but hadn’t had any luck…she said she wanted to go out and apply in-person to many places but had no gas…she said she wasn’t asking for money, but said, “if I can please have ½ tank of gas, I can fill out at least 6 applications today.” There are some freeloaders you can easily spot – this young homeless mother was making a real effort to get out and find work – we just couldn’t say no. It was heart-warming, and made our day.


The ONLY nice thing about leaving the family & Carolina was escape from the cold weather. Living in Phoenix for over 15 years (combined) has really thinned our blood and spoiled us – Carolina was cold (20’s at night) rainy (40’s during the day) & foggy. Once we landed in Ft. Lauderdale and the doors of the plane opened, you could immediately feel the wonderful warmth & humidity – we taxied to the hotel and were out walking in shorts & sandals within minutes! After an early dinner, we were both in bed by 9:00.


In retrospect and as always, our time with the family is never long enough. We are so blessed to have five awesome kids & five incredible grandkids – if you’re a parent you know the feeling – you just can’t love on them long enough! It’s also very interesting to watch them grow in their respective careers and experience many of the same circumstances along the way. Personally, I’ve made many mistakes & judgment calls along the way so although I don’t volunteer advice or interfere with their lives, I’m always happy to share advice when asked. One thing they’ve learned, however, is that they don’t ask me for advice on anything mechanical – I’m a disaster on anything requiring assembly or remediation. Cheryl’s the family expert – she’s amazing! She can lay tile, wood floors, fix plumbing, run wires – you name it! Even during our many trips to Lowe’s or Home Depot – I push the cart – SHE has the list and knows what to buy – I load it into the buggy and pay for it. I’m digressing here, but we have such interesting family dynamics, I wanted to share a few with you. Many times, our sons have had issues with their cars or cycles – they walk right past me with their wrenches & grease rags yelling “hey Mom!” Any of the kids will tell you…”keep the tools away from Dad – he’s dangerous” - I could share so many funny, ridiculous stories, but back now to embarkation day.


I was up Saturday morning at my customary 4am – we were originally going to walk down to the port (about 0.2 miles) and watch the ship come in and dock following a 2-week Caribbean cruise, but by the time we were ready to leave the hotel, the wind picked-up & it started raining. We grabbed breakfast at the hotel (Embassy Suites on 17th) and caught up on email & last minute banking tasks before we caught a cab to the ship at 10:30. A quick side note – we once again this year decided to book our own hotel & transportation to the port vs. coordinating with the cruise line. We find this to be much less expensive & stressful. Typically, on the morning of cruise departure, passengers staying at cruise-line sponsored hotel have a tendency to overcrowd the lobby waiting for busses to transit to the ship. In the past, all our experiences have been unfavorable – crowds, pushing, luggage everywhere, loud voices, very chaotic – NOT an ideal way to start what should otherwise be a relaxing trip. Booking on your own enables you to come & go as you please – no lines, no shoving, no stress, and comparatively inexpensive – can’t beat it!


Once inside the ship terminal, we were directed to the security line and whisked right through – no waiting. The ‘holding’ area was already quite full and with a quick glance over the crowd, we could see arms in the air waving wildly and sure enough, several couples from the voyage last year were greeting us. It was very heartwarming to see so many smiling, familiar faces. Everyone exchanged hugs and talking over the top of each other, caught up on activities spanning the past 9 months – it was like a family reunion in many respects and really gave us a good feeling. After the conversations relaxed a little, I turned to Cheryl and simply said…”this is really awesome.” I knew we’d see a few folks from last year but didn’t expect so many, and that was only the beginning. We were then advised to move to another short line so our passports could be processed and the Cruise Director (Bruce) and his assistant (Adelle) along with employees from the spa & photo department were welcoming passengers and to our surprise, many of them remembered us along with several others in line. It’s not so much knowing our business was appreciated by Holland America but moreover, the personal touch & recognition. Within minutes, we were at the check-in counter, had our vaccination records checked, photos taken, and stateroom keys issued. By 11:45, just 1+ hour after leaving the hotel, we were in our room getting settled.


Much of the early afternoon was spent wandering the ship and rekindling old acquaintances. We had a light lunch in the main dining room and met a wonderful couple from Sydney, Australia (Barbara & Ellen). Hopefully, we see more of these folks – very nice!


Special note to Barbara & John from Concord, California: You asked me to check on the status of Bret, our Activity Director from last year – he did in fact go to Venice, Italy in October and he proposed to his girlfriend. The answer: NO. That’s all I was told (by Bruce) – we have a new Activity Director this year – haven’t met him yet but will later this afternoon (Sunday).


Our luggage started arriving at 2:00 – we unpacked from 2-4pm, and then had our lifeboat drill at 4:15. Once concluded, we went up to the pool deck for the sailaway party at 4:30 and ran into several other folks from last year. We learned that one of our guests was taken away by ambulance earlier in the day – no details other than she passed out while waiting in line to board the ship. As mentioned in last year’s blog and because of the average age of guests, we typically lose 7 passengers each year either by death or injury. I will say, however, based on early observations, there seem to be more couples around our age this year. We’ve also seen three teenage boys and one infant.


Dinner was at 5:30 – we met two of our four tablemates, Barbara & Jim from Ft. Myers, Florida - extremely nice couple – off to a good start! The other couple didn’t show – we assume they were busy unpacking and we will meet them this evening.


After a light dinner, we went to the Piano Bar and again, ran into more folks from last year! Debby Bacon, the entertainer, (also a good friend) was playing ‘special requests’ so a good time was had by all. We only stayed about 30 minutes because we wanted to get back to the room and finish unpacking in time to catch the 9:30 show. In total, we spent approximately 4 hours getting organized and as an FYI, we have a total of 4 closets & 15 drawers – everything in our 6 suitcases fit perfectly and actually, we have some extra space because we packed more wisely this year. The empty luggage is now neatly tucked under the bed until May!


The 9:30 ‘show’ was more ‘introductory’ than anything else – just an opportunity for the Cruise Director to introduce various staff members and outline their functions. We were finished by 10pm – returned to our room and just collapsed – both very tired and slept like babies. It’s great to be ‘home’ again!



...and we're off!