Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bryan Family Christmas Cruise, Part 1: Snowpocalypse 2009

Time to get caught up (or at least start getting caught up...this could take a little while) on the holiday adventures!  As most of you probably know, the immediate Bryan family (Mom, Dad, sis, me - we left the other siblings at home) made plans almost a year ago to embark on a seven-night Caribbean cruise adventure for the holidays.  How awesome is that??  Props to Mom for dreaming up a cool vacation plan.  The traditionalist in me did find it a little strange to be completely surrounded by water on Christmas Day, but the traveler in me found the whole thing to be quite fantabulous.

However, all holiday adventures begin with a little bit of travel, and for this particular holiday adventure, I had to contend with Snowpocalypse 2009 in getting out of D.C. and making my way to Galveston.  I snapped this picture on Friday night in the midst of a packing frenzy (swimwear AND winter coat?  what the what?) that really should have taken place on Thursday night so I could attempt to fly out earlier than intended.  The snow is beautiful as it's falling, but when it's already piled up this much by the time you go to bed, you really start to wonder about your flight actually taking off in the morning.  And thus begins the comedy of errors detailing my journey across the country.
  • Wake up at 6:30 to discover that my morning flight, along with every other flight out of this part of the country, is most definitely cancelled.  Immediately call customer service, wait on hold twenty minutes to reach somewhat helpful yet also incompetent representative who politely inquires if my travel plans are flexible.  Representative receives resounding "no" from me and would like to rebook me on a 5:45 AM flight out of Baltimore the next morning.  Respectfully inform representive that it is supposed to snow for the next 24 hours and not only will it be next to impossible for me to get to Baltimore, the odds that the flight will actually leave are slim to none.  Hang up.
  • Pause for a moment of gratitude that the family planned to meet in Houston the day before the cruise.  Need to board giant boat in approximately 32 hours.  Back to work.
  • Panic slightly and use interwebs to discover any other travel options.  Amtrak is running!!  Will take train to New York and catch flight there!  Oh, wait, the snow is now hitting New York...duh, Erin.  Not thinking clearly.
  • Call voices of reason in the central time zone (known as The Parents) at this early hour and seek guidance.  Mother Guidance suggests heading south, through and then away from the snow, to an airport of reasonable size.  Which would happen to be the one my sister was flying out of, albeit a day ahead of me now.  Yes, brilliant! 
  • Rebook flight myself online since I can't reach anyone on the phone.  Incur $160 change fee that I'm currently attempting to get back.  Am now flying out of Raleigh-Durham at 6:00 AM Sunday.  Day of cruise.
  • Attempt to book business class seat (might as well travel a little more in style!) on late morning train to Raleigh out of Union Station.  Business class sells out before I can manage to get credit card entered.  Chastise self for being seat-comfort greedy and promptly book seat in coach.  Phew.  Goodbye, $100.
  • Realize I will need hotel room.  Mother Guidance offers to surf the web and find me a place in Raleigh since I'm running short on time to get to the train station.  Profusely thank Mother Guidance and then...
  • Hustle to shower and pack last-minute items, hug cat, and bundle up to face the snow.  Prepare to drag self, 50.5 pound suitcase, duffel bag, backpack, and giant purse through approximately two blocks of snow to get to Metro.  Do not trust any of the taxis attempting to make progress on the disaster that is the streets of D.C.
  • Pause several times to catch breath on snowy walk as wheels on giant suitcase don't function when there are snowdrifts on the sidewalk.
  • Attempt to cross 6th Street and unfortunate backpack/laptop incident occurs.  Curse the snow loudly and with great force.
  • Slip, slide, stumble to Metro stop where escalator is actually functional.  Brief moment of thanks.
  • Arrive at the utter madhouse that is Union Station.  Print boarding pass with relative ease and then attempt to check bag.  Stand in long line, determine I don't need to stand in line, and frantically flag down harried agent to collect bags from some twenty-odd people.  Am relieved to be relieved of bag and take the time to capture Christmas tree.

  • Stand in loooong line to board somewhat delayed train and realize in moment of stunning clarity that giant bag has been checked through to the end of the train line...Charlotte...and not where I'm getting off...Raleigh.  Miscommunication with harried agent.  Curse self, snow, bag, travel in general. 
  • Stomp through snow to board train.  Inquire with several people about status of bag and receive shrugs.  Say hopeful prayer that train conductor is a kind soul who will save me.
  • Train finally begins moving.  Hooray!!
  • Conductor Steve inquires as to why I'm going to Raleigh and my bag is going to Charlotte.  Make absurdly pathetic face.  Conductor Steve returns two hours later to inform me that my bag will now also be getting off in Raleigh.  Profusely thank Conductor Steve as Charlotte is approximately a 3 hour drive from Raleigh.  Because in my moments of panic I contemplated riding the train through to Charlotte, retrieving bag, and driving to Raleigh.  Did not consider rebooking flight out of Charlotte.  Obviously still not thinking clearly.  But saved by Conductor Steve!
  • Travel approximately 60 miles in two hours.  This does not look promising.

  • Train stops on tracks for ONE HOUR outside of Fredericksburg while engineers attempt to thaw computer that enables the track to switch.  Bond quite closely with seatmate Kristen on how we may die on this train.  Are reassured by Conductor Steve that we have plenty of fuel.  Hadn't even THOUGHT about that.
  • Make excruciatingly slow progress through excessively snowy Virginia.  The snow is beautiful, but still I curse it.

  • More train stops, more slow progress, but finally FINALLY arrive in Raleigh at approximately 10 PM...after just over ten hours on a train ride that typically takes half that time.  Am extremely grateful to see giant bag waiting for me.
  • $40 cab ride to hotel.  Discover it would have been more efficient to get off train in Cary, but no longer really care.
  • Fall into hotel room, call family, cry.  Order room service and wake-up call for 4:00, cab for 4:45, attempt to fall asleep, curse the snow and my stress, then actually sleep for a few hours.  $125 to Hilton Garden Inn.
  • Cab driver charges airport fee of $12 to drive me less than one mile.  Am not awake enough to care.
  • Board plane.  Finally.  Wait 20 minutes just outside gate while they de-ice the plane.  Am not reassured by the term "de-ice" after previous day's adventures with frozen train computer.
  • Connection in Atlanta.  Fortify self with coffee and bagel.
  • 24 hours and several hundred dollars later than originally intended, arrive in Houston to smiling, loving family, complete with camcorder armed by Mom.  Bag, however, does not arrive on baggage carousel.  Almost lose it.
  • Bag made earlier connection out of Atlanta and is waiting in baggage office.  A few more tears.  Mom with camcorder.  Not amused (sorry, Mom!).
And after all of that, the remaining travels for that day went remarkably well.  Made it to Galveston with plenty of time, enough time that we made a stop at the Texas treasure known as Whataburger for a little lunch before hitting up the boat.

I've already regaled several of you with this tale, although not necessarily with all of the gritty details, and several of you had quite the travel adventures of your own.  But you know what?  I think I needed the cathartic experience of getting it all out, so if you actually read through all of those mishaps, thanks for suffering along with me.  And I think you're right, Mom - I can laugh about it now.  Time to get on the big boat!

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