In keeping with our theme this week about travel insurance and dealing with the unexpected while on your vacation, this is a perfect time to share a story that I experienced years ago. As many of you know, June through November is typically hurricane season in the Atlantic. Now this does not mean that you should avoid traveling during this time of year, in fact, some of the best deals can be had this time of year…partly because of the season!
The key is being prepared, building in time for flexibility, and purchasing a travel insurance policy to cover you in case a hurricane disrupts your travel plans. And above all, it is important to keep a positive attitude and to be able to just relax and go with the flow. Sometimes, the best experiences on your vacation are unplanned!
My family and I had booked a cruise on the Carnival Inspiration, leaving from Tampa, Florida and visiting Cozumel and Grand Cayman. Being the big Disney fans that we are we planned to spend the first few days of the vacation in Orlando visiting the parks and then we would travel to Tampa to board the ship. However, soon after we arrived we started hearing about “Wilma.” “She’s on her way,” the forecasters warned, “be prepared to hunker down Central Florida!”
A few days into our trip we realized that the unpredictable storm was heading straight for Tampa! We called the cruise line constantly to check the status of our sailing; however, they couldn’t tell us much because the storm was too unpredictable to know for sure where it would end up. We just had to wait and see! As it turned out, the storm did hit Tampa directly…and on the night before we were supposed to leave. Our cruise ended up being delayed by 1 day because the ship could not get back into port due to the storm. Plus, it was safer to keep the ship out at sea away from the storm. Because we were already staying in Orlando, we simply extended our stay another day and headed out to the port a day later to catch our ship.
Upon arriving at port we overheard tales of many frustrated, and obviously stressed travelers. We heard sob stories about people having to pay for a hotel when they hadn’t planned on it, people whose flights were re-routed or delayed due to the storm, people who lost their baggage during the flight changes, etc. These are perfect examples of how travel insurance would have helped alleviate some of their stress. The insurance company would have covered flight change fees; they would have also covered additional hotel expense as well as providing money to buy clothes if the luggage didn’t arrive. In addition, travel insurance could assist in locating bags even after the ship departed…and delivering them elsewhere for you to pick up later.
A number of people were also upset because our cruise was shortened by one day, and the cruise line could not tell us exactly where we would be cruising to. You see, not only did Tampa receive a direct hit, but both our scheduled ports, Cozumel and Grand Cayman, received direct hits as well…and the damage was severe. In fact, the cruise dock at one of the ports was completely destroyed! So the cruise line wasn’t quite sure where we would be going yet, but they were working to re-route us somewhere.
As a traveler, this is when you really need to just let it go because there just isn’t much you can do about it, and getting all worked up won’t help. Luckily, when we were finally on board the ship we found a lot of other people who had the same perspective; kicking back in a chair and sipping on a drink as if to say: “hey, who cares where we go…we are safe, and we are on vacation!” Plus, the mystery of not knowing where the cruise ship was heading was strangely exciting, especially to those of us who had cruised previously.
The next morning when we found our schedule of events slipped under our cabin door, it said our port of call was going to be Progreso, Mexico. Nowadays this is a scheduled stop on some cruise itineraries, but back during this time it was a port nobody had ever seen before. We were all scratching our heads thinking, “where the heck is Progreso?” We didn’t even know what part of Mexico it was in – but we assumed it was somewhere on the Yucatan peninsula. We even joked about it possibly being the home of “Progresso Soup,” although we knew that wasn’t true.
Probably the funniest memory I have of that trip happened later that day. My family and I were getting in an elevator and we met a man who was enjoying himself very much, and had undoubtedly indulged in a number of alcoholic beverages. He had long hair and a California surfer style about him. He looked at us, smiled, threw his arms in the air and said enthusiastically: “Hey! So did you hear, we are going to Progeso!” His excitement piqued our interest. Thinking he knew something about this magical place that we did not, we responded “Yeah, we saw that. Do you know where that is?” He laughed and shouted, “I have no idea where that is…but we’re going there, so cheers to that!” and he raised his glass and exited the elevator.
This surprise character in the elevator reinforced our attitudes about the whole vacation. We were actually excited to go to this new place that no one had heard of. We soon discovered that we were the first large cruise ship to visit Progreso; they had only recently completed the port so it could accommodate the ships, and we ended up having an amazing time! Tourism was really new to the town, so it was not overrun with tourists, tacky souvenir shops or anything like that; and it didn’t feel touristy because we were the only ship there.
We were so far off the beaten path that it actually felt like we were in the real Mexico. Instead of visiting the overcrowded and cliché Chichen Itza, we visited an even older site that was far more significant. We also experienced an authentic Rodeo with real Gauchos and some of the most amazing homemade Mexican cuisine that we had ever eaten! In fact, we still reminisce about the delectable lime soup that nobody can find out how to make just the same!
In the end, we would have never experienced any of this, or with the same hospitality, in busy Cozumel and Grand Cayman. So Hurricane Wilma actually did us a favor. It was a reminder that having extra time and flexibility built into an itinerary is essential, as well as having insurance to take care of unexpected changes in plans. Beyond that, we learned that sometimes you just have to go with the flow; enjoy your experience and let the Universe work it out for you. You never know, those travel snafus or changes in agenda could put you on a course to have one of the most memorable vacations of a lifetime.
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