For the first time since my arrival, I sleep terribly.
We no sooner get close enough to port for my phone to have signal, but I get 2 notices from my office’s cellular carrier that I’ve exceeded my international data limit, and my access is being cut off. (I am able to call about it, and they let me know I can have someone in my office get this resolved for me/authorize further access. This is a nice theory, but it’s Saturday back home; nothing is going to get “resolved” on this issue until I’m back in the States and no longer in need of International access. But whatever.)
What all this means for the day is that I have been hoping to hear from my tour company about today’s plans, but that isn’t going to happen via email now.
Stress-inducing as all that may be — in any case, the first thing is just to get off the ship.
Our cruise is operating a little differently than any I’ve been on before. When I got on in Auckland, it wasn’t the “real” start of the cruise. The Auckland-to-Auckland itinerary exists as a sort of tangent to the “Melbourne to Melbourne” cruise. So, for example, when the Auckland set got on, we made up maybe a third of the total passenger contingent.
The “sail away” party happened when they left Melbourne, before we arrived. The “champagne fountain” and any number of other “traditional” shipboard activities (that I don’t care a whit about) all happened on the 3 days from Melbourne to Auckland, before we boarded.
Because of this, there’s a lot of people getting off (and more getting on) here in Melbourne. In fact, announcements refer to this as the “end” of the cruise, even though for a large enough contingent to matter, it’s really not. The Auckland set have this day in Melbourne, and then 3 days back across the Tasman to Auckland ahead of them.
Well most of them do, anyway. I don’t. I am getting off early, by special pre-arrangement, so that I didn’t have to burn 3 more vacation days at sea (especially since I wasn’t sure, going in, how well the Tasman would set with my stomach).
This means I am supposed to get a special Customs check before I get off the ship.
I’m instructed to show up at the designated dining room meeting point 30 minutes before the first set of scheduled departures.
We’ve lost some time across the Tasman, so we are pulling into port later than planned. In fact, there are multiple reschedules that morning. I go to the dining room as requested, but am sent away because of course until we get into port there is no customs official to check us in. The crew member who brushes me away tells me what time the updated scheduled departure set should be there, but (1) none of the updated posted information includes where or when customs-clearance passengers are to reconvene and (2) because I carried on, I’m not listed in any of the color-coded departure groups, which all correspond to luggage tag colors.
Basically, I don’t exist. And of course, since embark/disembark is in general a horrible, stress-inducing day for the crew, the addition of multiple reschedules has only added to the chaos and confusion. No one seems to know what’s what.
So I just stick close to where I’m supposed to be, lingering outside the dining room until we’re allowed in – Carol coming to join me even though she doesn’t technically have to disembark here – but still, there’s no guidance for customs clearance.
They let the first set of passengers (first set of color-coded luggage tags) into the dining room, finally, and I join them pending more information (this IS where I am supposed to be). And still no customs clearance announcements.
While we all wait in the dining room there’s repeat ship-wide announcements for one passenger (who manages to be missing for a full 10 minutes, despite pages to report to this room, call the front desk, and even for their travel companions to get in touch please … all of which creating a lot of speculation on our parts) but still no announcements for those of us who need special checking to get through customs.
Finally, they allow everyone in the dining room to make their way to the gangplank, and upon scanning us for departure…
I have to go back on board, because there’s an administrative note that has to be resolved.
That’s right. It’s about the customs clearance.
We get back to the dining room, and learn that:
- The customs officials had been right there in the room with us, waiting to clear the (apparently 7) people who needed that — but of course without announcements, we had no idea who the customs officials were, where they were in the room, or what was needed from us — and
- The customs officials have now left the ship, so there’s no one to clear us. And without that clearance, the 7 of us can’t leave the ship. We are in some kind of on-board international limbo.
I think I would otherwise be flipping out about now (I have a private tour scheduled for this morning, which was decidedly Not Cheap, and I have a flight to catch tomorrow, from Melbourne. So I really need to get off this ship, with a strong preference for “soon” since we already pulled in late.)
But I am not flipping out, because this morning, I have had a perspective adjustment: 2 of the people (in our sorry group of 7) took this cruise Auckland-Auckland because the wife doesn’t fly, but they are cutting their trip short and getting off to fly home anyway because (oh, Lord, have mercy) her mother is critically ill and their window to catch their flight back is ridiculously short. They were supposed to be literally first off the ship, and now they are in the same tangle I am.
Somehow, someone manages to finagle us back off the ship, drops us in the now-miles-long general customs line — upon begging (by all of us) helps the two people who desperately need it get to the front of the line and racing toward their flight — and I begin a very long wait.
At the other end of this process, Carol, who had none of this adventure, has waited for me. For no other reason than that she is simply a lovely person.
Even after I get through the line, it turns out they won’t let her back on the ship for another half hour. I offer to wait in turn – she did for me! – but she knows about my private tour and shoos me away, so we hug goodbye and I head out into the bright, beautiful Melbourne morning.
Onward and upward?
Now that I am (finally) off the ship and free to move about the country, I am not sure where exactly to find my tour guide, other than here at Station Pier. I’ve been at sea for 2 days without access, and as I mentioned I’ve been cut off since getting back within range of land-based systems, so I have very little in the way of detail (read as nothing other than my booking confirmation). So I am just looking for a placard with my name, or a vehicle with their logo.
I walk up the pier, section by section, not really sure where to look. So I take my time, until I get to the end (still not having made connection). I suppose I must have missed them along the way, and now I’m through the security area and can’t backtrack all that far. And I’m not sure where to look next.
Fortunately, I had printed out my booking confirmation with their phone number, and my telephone access still worked.
To cut what is already a very long story short (because this portion could go on for a bit too)… my tour guide isn’t here, because of a glitch of some kind that allowed my tour to be confirmed and charged, but not put in their booking/reservation system.
So I am not finding my tour guide, because my guide isn’t here. Wasn’t ever going to be here at all, until I called.
So I’m standing there, trying to be positive and thinking “at least it’s a nice day if I have to stand around outside for a bit while this gets sorted” — and then the cold, windy, wet weather we’d just sailed through arrived.
This is not my day, right?
in 45 minutes (a cup of coffee and a muffin in the local cafe, and $2 worth of local internet usage later) they had a driver to me, with a fair credit to the charges for my tour promised (note: 2 weeks later, credit still pending), and my One Day In Melbourne was about to really begin.
Spoiler alert: because it seems cruel to leave things there, but this was Already Far Too Long…
Don’t worry. It was actually going to turn into a really good day.