travel, ups and downs

Getting there

The plan

Getting to this voyage starts pretty far back, making it a long and circuitous route to get here. This was to have been our cruise in Summer 2020. Obviously that did not happen.

But it came around again, more or less, as life – for the vaccinated and willing-to-be-masked – returned to something more like normal.

So this was the plan, when we rebooked it:

2022 Itinerary (Original version)

The main draw of this itinerary for me – and this is rare – is that it hit all 4 Scandinavian countries (or 4 Nordic countries depending how you count; basically hitting Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland.) Bonus for seeing Berlin too.

Changes

Now tensions in the region had been high for a while. Even when we booked for 2020, we had nixed the idea of any excursion that took us outside St Petersburg proper. No sense in getting ourselves too far from the ship, “approved tour” or not.

In mid 2021 as we rebooked, sabers were already rattling and we were thinking that even if we had an overnight in St Petersburg, we probably wouldn’t get off the ship there. Handing our passports to someone there seemed … not desirable.

But of course that was before Putin decided to attack Ukraine. So… Hell to the No.

Pausing here to pray for the people and the nation of Ukraine.

No. Obviously in light of sanctions, we would not be going to Russia.

The itinerary was updated. We picked up an overnight in Stockholm and a stop in Visby. But the Scandinavian countries were all still intact.

Update One

And then it got worse, everything escalated, and rather than risking the ship, crew and passengers, they scrapped everything that was in the Baltics entirely… basically cutting the non-NATO countries from the itinerary and opting to stay farther west in general.

Update Two

It’s still 6 ports but now there’s an extra sea day. I would rather have had an extra stop in Netherlands or Poland or France vs a sea day, but whatevs. They promised 6 ports, I’m getting 6 ports. That Hamburg (for Berlin) has no actual excursions to Berlin? Disappointing. That the Brussels stop currently has no excursions to Brussels? Same. That originally the 6 ports (plus embarkation in Copenhagen) meant 7 new countries, and this is 4? Well it’s 4 new countries and there’s a war on in Europe. Maybe my problems are small.

But wait, wait! There’s yet another change, with 8 days left until our sailing!

So we did pick up another port. Just not in a new country. The new stop is in Cornwall, just before we stop in Portland.

So that’s nice.

There turns out to be some twists and turns along the way though. This is already a book just on this part, so let’s cross those bridges as we come to them.

A disconnect

Then S and I were on our Caribbean cruise when Princess started asking for our flight information. Um, I know stuff changed, but we booked EZ Air through y’all. You’re supposed to be telling us the flight information.

(Unless you can drive to, or fly in to your embarkation port a day early, I always recommend spending a little more and booking the EZ Air. It saved my bacon when the-airline-that-hates me tried Very Hard Indeed to strand me in South Korea and miss my ship. Basically if there’s a connection problem, EZ Air means Princess is gonna try to help solve it. That peace of mind is a worthwhile spend if you have the option.)

Like for instance if your return flight is no longer from the same country as when you booked it.

But.

A week later S and P both had their flight info sorted. I did not.

We knew it was in process, because S was able to confirm with the airline oxygen desk that they did in fact have me booked on the same flights. With less than 3 weeks until departure, I still had no confirmation that Princess knew that. But the main thing was that the airlines knew.

Until at the 2 week mark, when I got another reminder from Princess that they want my client’s flight information, and could I please enter it into the system?

“My client?” I’m the client. I’m not a travel agent.

And they had my flight details in process. Why was I getting these emails??? Shouldn’t I be on a “we’re working on their stuff so don’t hassle them” list over there?

So I went to Twitter to see if there were other people looking for updates etc. Not so much. Just one person who had been pulled into quarantine due to a positive COVID test, and needed EZ Air assistance getting rebooked for flight changes.

So that’s…. oh right. That’s the real issue. Even if the airlines have me sorted, if something goes wrong, I don’t have anything documented that confirms I’m an EZ Air customer, until they get the info back on my account.

Two weeks until the trip, and 2.5 hours on the phone, and I was squared away. It had all been in process really. I’m sure there were a lot of us pending this kind of thing. So really, just flagging us NOT TO GET THE REMINDER EMAILS might have helped with the stress level.

Why they think I’m an agent is a different question entirely. I’ll sort that later. The long hold times (I anticipate due to short staffing) means that’s the lowest priority.


Prep

I was more than packed, more than early. Packing was not an issue. Other than that I don’t usually check a bag and I can tell you quite honestly I tried MULTIPLE times to see if I could condense into a smaller bag. I could not. Maybe I could have if I had been able to better estimate the weather. Unpredictable northern climates meant I could not safely divest bulkier items. It is what it is.

Transit 1

I needed to Train up to NJ to join S and P for our flight. The timing rules for pre-embarkation tests had tightened: no more than one day before boarding. Basically, I needed to get up there, then we needed to get a test the morning of our flight, to red-eye over, and then get on the ship. S and I booked our COVID tests as soon as that date opened up, to ensure we’d have an appointment. Naturally, there were no appointments local to where we would be, and unless that changed, we’d have to go into NYC to sort that.

I worked most of my last work day then bugged out an hour early to meet the train. WAY earlier than necessary, for the record. But I was stressed about traffic to the train station. Better to be there early and hang.

My travel stress was off the charts, actually. I felt like at any moment I might go into my first real, genuine panic attack. Why? WHY? I’m 2+ hours early for the train. I’m getting picked up at EWR by a friend. Why is this freaking me out?

But by the time I was passing New Brunswick and Metropark – familiar homey places – and just had another stop or two to go, I was breathing again. I made it, luggage in tow, to S.

Get Ready… Get Set…

We were both up earlier than planned but well in time for our COVID tests. An hour later the emails arrived: NEGATIVE!

Yes! Woot woot woot!

S still wasn’t packed. Or her stuff wasn’t in the suitcases anyway. There’s order though. as promised it only takes her 20 minutes to go from (apparent) shambles to showtime!

Transit 2

For me the flight was sleepless (not for lack of trying but forcing yourself to be calm and still does not promise sleep’s arrival), but smooth nonetheless. Even with the 45 minute delay out of Newark, we were early to meet our tour.

And so we arrived, tired but excited. Bags collected and tour guide met. Off we go to a new country…

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