Ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to visit the British Isles…especially Ireland. I can’t say why that area has always intrigued me. The splendor of antiquity is just one of the of the many reasons I suppose. I’m a sucker for history, and there are very few places on Earth that preserve history like the United Kingdom . So, when the opportunity presented itself to visit the British Isles, I jumped on it.
As you know our family’s preferred method of travel is cruise ships. Although I knew I wanted to take a cruise through the British Isles, I was finding extremely difficult to find that particular ship that offered the itinerary I was looking for, while also keeping it fiscally responsible. If you’ve ever traveled, you know that nothing kills the awesome experiences you had on vacation or family trip faster than credit card guilt, or as I like to call it, the “Vacation Walk of Shame.” The guilty feeling that comes over you as you’re walking back from the mailbox holding in your hand the credit card bill or bank statement. They ugly reminder of how much you actually spent . It’s a feeling that we’ve all experienced, and one that my wife and I vowed never to experience again.
It took some time, but I finally found the cruise that best fit my vacation appetite. It was a 13 day cruise on the Ruby Princess. The ship would be disembark from South Hampton, sail to Ireland, Scotland and France, and end up back in South Hampton. Full itinerary below.
If you notice there’s only one full day At Sea. Which was a huge selling point. Regardless of how much we rave about cruise ships, as a rule we want to limit the amount of At Sea days as possible. New Places, New Experiences, New Adventures is our family travel and vacation mantra. Having a lot of days at sea, really cramps our style.
I book the trip and the flight. I’d be leaving from Portland International Airport, flying to Newark, New Jersey, and then from Newark to Heathrow. It was a tad bittersweet for me. On one hand, I would be doing something that I’ve wanted to do virtually all my life, but on the other hand, I would miss the heck out of my wife and kids. However, my wife had gone to South Korea the year before. When she talked about her trip, one of the most interesting things she talked about was how much her trip made her appreciate what we had as a family. I came to find out that she was right….as usual. (I’m sure a blog about how many times she was right is in the works.)
The departure day finally arrived. My bags were packed and my emotions were taking a ride from nervous to excited back to nervous again. We arrived at the airport at around 9 pm. it was way passed our kids bedtime, but my wife and I thought it would be okay for the kiddos to tag along to see me off. Plus, my daughter would’ve been a little upset if she wasn’t able to go. We said our goodbyes, and the next thing I knew I was on the plane.
I have five rules when traveling, whether it’s with family or alone
- Expect the unexpected.
- Always have a backup plan.
- Go to the bathroom even if you think you don’t have to go
- Treat the airline crew with respect, regardless of the situation.
- Always travel with chocolate
These rules would come in handy I would find out sooner than later.
I was sitting on the plane listening to my music, when I noticed that we had been sitting there for quite some time. I looked at my watch and sure enough almost 30 minutes had passed since we boarded. I looked around the plane and heard some of the passengers were starting to get a little agitated. Suddenly the captain came on the intercom. It seemed as if there was a problem with the fuel gauge, and we would have to transfer to another plane. As you could imagine many of the passengers were non too happy. I, on the other hand, always expect the unexpected. (see rule 1).
The other passengers and I exited the plane and were told to head to our new terminal. I got to the terminal and sat down, all the while texting my wife with the update. As I was texting, one of the flight attendants came over the P.A. and said they were looking for volunteers to give up their seats for other passengers. As compensation for volunteering they will give a $300.00 credit plus a room at a hotel for the night. I called my wife, explained the situation and told her to stand by, just in case I needed her to pick me up. I went up to the airline service desk and introduced myself to the young lady working. I explained that I’d be willing to give up my seat, as long as I am sure to make it to Heathrow in time to catch my shuttle to the ship, which left at 10 am. She checked and sure enough there was a flight that got into Heathrow at 8:35 am. I would leave Portland in the morning, and instead of flying to Newark, I’d be flying to O’hare. I told her that flying out of O’hare would not be a problem (sigh). I also told her that I didn’t need a hotel room, since I live so close to the airport. She told me that they usually only offer a $300.00 flight credit, but since I volunteered and didn’t require a room for the night, I would be eligible for a $500.00 credit. I asked if I could use the $500.00 credit towards a first class seat instead? “Unfortunately the credit can only be used on future trips”, she said. I laughed it off, thanked her for all of her help (see rule 4) and gave her four pieces of chocolate. (see rule 5) I called my wife and told her the news, and she picked me up.
The next morning came, and the family sent me off yet again. I arrived in Chicago around 4 pm, leaving me with about 2 hours to use the restroom (see rule 3), and eat before my flight to Heathrow. As I was sitting at my terminal eating my sub sandwich, I happened to glance out the window towards the tarmac. The guys were loading the luggage onto the plane, using that conveyor belt thing. That’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks. My luggage! I’d been so preoccupied with everything that happened the previous evening, that I hadn’t even thought about my luggage. Amateur Hour!! I quickly raced up to the service desk, and explained my situation. The gentleman working looked at the screen, looked at me, and then picked up the phone to ask for his manager. FYI, when someone has to call for a manager, that’s never a good sign. A few moments went by, and his manager comes to the service desk. The flight attendant and I explained the situation, all the while the voice in my head was chewing me out for waiting this long to find out about my luggage. The manager types a few strokes on her computer and pointed to screen. She then informed me that my luggage is still in Newark, and will depart on the next flight to Heathrow, will arrive a half hour after I get in. I explained to her my situation about my transport leaving at 10:00. She said that if my luggage didn’t get there in time, the airline will deliver my luggage before the ship disembarks. I cursed myself out again on the inside, thanked both of them for their hard work and gave them each five pieces of chocolate. The manager smiled and said, “That is the nicest thing that anyone has done for me all day!” she then came around the corner and gave me a hug. I was a taken aback by the whole hugging thing, I have this whole personal space issue. I told her it was no problem and that they both did a great job. About 45 min later, I was boarding the plane.
I got on board the plane still a little upset at myself about the luggage faux pas. I got on the phone with my wife told her about the luggage situation. I could tell she was a little perturbed, and would probably be calling the airline as soon as we ended our conversation. It was then that I noticed two flight attendants talking and looking my way. One of the attendants nodded her head as if in agreement and started heading towards me. I told my wife to hang on, as the flight attendant stopped in front of me. She looked at me and said, “Mr. Surratt?” I think she pronounced it “Sirit”. I nodded. She held out her hand and handed me a boarding pass. “Please follow me.” she said. I looked down at the boarding ticket she handed me and I saw Business First. “Honey” I said, to my wife who was patiently waiting on the phone. “I have to call you back. It seems I’m headed to Business Class.” I think I heard her yell out “What!?”, as I pressed the End button.
The pictures say it all. Business First is definitely an experience. My wife looked up how much one of those tickets cost round trip. Around $5,000 she found. So, I got a $500.00 credit and a $5,000.00 upgrade. The original ticket I purchased was $1,500.00, which means I got a $4,000.00 gift from United.
I landed in Heathrow at around 8:45 am. I made a B-line right to the United service desk. As I approached the desk, I noticed a lonely bag perched up against a baggage cart. You guessed it, it was my bag. I got through customs and was on my transport with 45 minutes to spare.
Was it my chocolates? Was it my calm and non aggressive approach to the flight crew? Who knows. I just know that timing was perfect and I had a flight experience that I wouldn’t soon forget. And my trip had just begun. Part 2 coming soon! Thanks for reading.