SVI Journal: Day 9, the Voyage Home

Sunday morning arrived too soon. We were up early, moored on the west side of Isla Palominos, cleaning and packing. There were just a few local boats left rafted near the beach.IslaPalominos

Batubara was still moored near us, but Chateau du Mer had to move again due to the Jenneau’s proclivity for excessive swinging.

Batubara

Breakfast was a menagerie of all the leftover food. Mary’s meal planning method had turned out to be pretty accurate. As we finished up everything from fruit to bacon, she garnered another round of compliments on her cooking from all the teens.

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We had planned to be the first boat back to Puerto Del Rey, but we actually ended up being the last to leave Isla Palominos.

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It could have been that we made a bigger breakfast or we took more time cleaning, but I think we were actually just dragging our feet about casting off because none of our crew really wanted to go home. However, all good things must end, so we let our pirate flag fly one last time as we raised sails and headed for Puerto Rico.

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It was a short trip between Isla Palominos and Puerto del Rey. It seemed like we had only been sailing for a few minutes when it came into view.

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We had to reduce speed and motor very slowly through the marina while we waited for Batubara and Chateu du Mer to finish refueling and pick up their charter representatives.

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Then, it was finally our turn to pull into the fuel dock — the first time Caicu had been docked anywhere in a week.

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The Sail Caribe charter reps filled the tanks with diesel. Our grand total after a week of frivolous motoring and running the generator every night — $148.

One of the charter crew jumped on the boat with us and directed us to a slip. We finished packing our bags and emptied all the trash, but they had us just leave all unfinished food and beverages out for the cleaning crew. (I’m pretty sure free booze is the biggest perk of being on the cleaning crew.) After shore showers and a debriefing, Sail Caribe gave our captain his deposit back, and we all walked up to the restaurant to kill some time until our shuttles arrived to take us to the airport.

The restaurant was pretty empty, but just one round of beers for our table proved to take almost 30 minutes, so ordering food was out of the question. It seemed the staff didn’t move any faster on Sunday mornings than they did on Saturday nights.

By the time we got to the San Juan airport we were quite hungry, so we stopped into the Casa Avila restaurant, which turned out to be very disappointing and much too pricey.

Our flight home connected through Ft. Lauderdale, and it was packed with a bunch of rowdy tourists that had just gotten off a cruise ship. There was a lot of cutting in the boarding line and arguing over seats going on. Within minutes of boarding the woman on our row had some sort of altercation with the flight attendant who threatened to throw her off the plane. I then had to listen to her huff under her breath things like, “I’ll say what I want, she can’t throw me off!” for the next ten minutes.

Then a new situation arose when someone’s carry-on bag wouldn’t fit into the overhead compartment. The frustrated flight attendants finally called for attention and asked the owner of the bag to come take something out of it. The owner unzipped the bag and removed a large, dirty toaster oven, which the attendants then set into the overhead bin beside his bag. I guess sometimes you really need toast?

We finally left San Juan and made it to Ft. Lauderdale only to find storms on the east coast had delayed our flight back to Houston by more than an hour. Thankfully our flight did finally arrive, and we headed for Houston just as the sun was setting.

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As we made the late night drive home across Houston in the dark, we were already planning our next adventure.

Flying, connections, weather, and the total breakdown of all customer service

Maybe I’m spoiled from the years of business travel, but I prefer direct flights. If I’m going to fly, I want to get there fast.

Mary, on the other hand, prefers cheap flights. She doesn’t care how many connections we have to make as long as it is cheap.

For our trip to Port St. Joe, we found cheap flights on American Airlines from Houston to Tallahassee via Dallas. I’ll admit, they were a bargain. Stress free mass transportation without the hassle of driving, right?

Not exactly.

We had to leave the house at 5 a.m. for the hour-long drive to the airport to make our flight at 8 a.m. Mary had booked us seats together, but when we checked in, we were in different rows. However, American Airlines offered to move Mary back into her original seat beside me for only $28.50. Then they charged her another $25 to check a bag.

We made it to Dallas by 9:30 a.m. Our flights were being handled by American Eagle, a regional carrier, and I think Oscar the Grouch might have been their hospitality trainer, but at least we were on time, and we still had high spirits in Dallas while we sat around all morning waiting for our connection.

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We finally made it into Tallahassee by 4:30 p.m. and picked up our rental car for the two-hour drive to Port St. Joe. We pulled into the rental house, just after 6:30 p.m.

At this point our total Thursday travel time was 13.5 hours. We had also paid $150 each for the flights there and the rental car was going to be $200 for the weekend plus gas.

Total drive time from Houston to Port St. Joe is 10 hours, and it would have cost us about $75 in gas.

I kept trying to convince myself that we had avoided all the traffic jams, road construction and crazy drivers, but by the end of the day I was thinking that maybe those cheap tickets weren’t such a good deal.

Then it came time to fly home on Sunday. The weather in Florida was great. The weather in Houston was great. Unfortunately, the weather in Dallas was terrible. They were having thunderstorms and tornadoes all afternoon.

After making the two-hour drive from Port St. Joe to Tallahassee we arrived at the airport by 1:30 p.m. for our 4:15 p.m. flight and attempted to check-in. Due to flight delays the automated kiosks wouldn’t issue boarding passes. We got in line. While still standing in line to check-in at 2 p.m., it was announced that all flights to Dallas were canceled. While still standing in line to change our ticket at 2:30 p.m. an announcement was made to call the American Airlines 1-800 number to change our tickets over the phone. Upon calling this number we were greeted by an automated message that said, “We are currently experiencing high call volume, please try your call again later,” which was followed by a click as it hung up on us. We continued calling periodically as we waited in line for the next hour and never got through. When we finally hit the ticket counter at 3:30 p.m., American Airlines had nothing to offer us and no way to get us home before Tuesday at midnight.

Needless to say, we decided to just have them issue a refund for the return flights and headed back to the car rental desk.

Since we had just turned in a car with Budget, we decided to rent from Budget again. We told the lady at the desk we’d be driving the car back to Houston Hobby Airport. She said that she could give us the Mother’s Day Special on an economy car, and it would only be $89. That sounded expensive for a small car but great for the distance to Houston, so we carried our suitcases down to a VW Jetta and headed out.

The Jetta left a lot to be desired. For one thing, the brakes felt kind of funny. The pedal would nearly hit the floor before the car started stopping. Then we found the cigarette lighters were dead, so we couldn’t charge our phones. However, at this point it was already past 4 p.m., and we just wanted to get home. Going back to the airport to complain wasn’t an option.

Mary drove us through Florida, Alabama and Mississippi before we finally crossed into Louisiana and stopped for gas and food.

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Then I did the second stretch across Louisiana and back to Houston. We finally rolled into bed about 3 a.m.

Monday Mary went to work, and I had planned to take the morning off and recharge, but by 7:45 the phone was ringing with office issues. I got up and dealt with those, then headed to Hobby Airport to return the rental car.

When Budget scanned the car’s tag, a receipt printed out for $305. Yes, $305 was quite different from the $89 we’d been quoted in Florida. As I mentioned before when we rented through Priceline, the experience was great. Renting straight through Budget, not so much. They’ve definitely lost our business after that bait and switch deal. It’s not like the rental agent wasn’t aware that Houston was more than 200 miles from Tallahassee, but there was no mention whatsoever of a mileage charge if we went more than 200 miles.

Running on zero sleep, I only had the energy to briefly argue the situation, and it was clear the Budget rep was not going to budge. I finally shrugged it off since American Airlines would be refunding us $300 for the canceled flights, and I took the shuttle to the parking garage to pick up my car.

About the time the shuttle pulled into the terminal I had the horrible realization that I hadn’t actually brought my car keys. They were still in my suitcase.

There was nothing to be done.

I walked into baggage claim, had a seat on a bench and called Mary. I didn’t move from that spot again until my lovely wife showed up to rescue me two hours later.

She’d had to leave work, drive home to the north side of Houston to retrieve the key, then drive all the way to the south side of Houston to drop it off, then drive back to work.

By the time I was finally on the road, it was 2 p.m., so I just gave up on life, used another vacation day and headed home for a nap.

A week later, American Airlines has issued the refund for Mary’s ticket, but they have not yet refunded my ticket. Budget refused to listen to any complaints regarding the $89 Mother’s Day special rental rate and says we should have read the contract.

I’m done with cheap flights with connections. From now on if the trip is less than 12 hours, we’re either spending the money for direct flights or we’re driving because the cost of cheap flights is too damn high.