Don't miss your sailing time
MIAMI, FLORIDA -- My wife, adult son and I recently sailed on a 7 day Western Mediterranean Cruise. We reserved a suite so that the three of us could share the same cabin. Turns out it was a "penthouse suite" and was fabulous. We may never travel in a "mini suite" again! We loved the service and the option of eating where ever we liked. On "dress up night" our concierge seated us in the main dining room at a table with a wonderful view. Everything was fabulous (other than the food, which was good).
All of our excursions were also wonderful and provided us with a panoramic view without showing too much or too little. We visited Malta, Sorrento, Pompeii, Pizza, Florence, Rome, the Vatican, and Cannes. A fabulous introduction to Europe! The Italian people were wonderful and seemed happy to meet us. We loved learning to communicate. One guide told us that since the Euro has risen, relative to the dollar, Americans have stopped traveling to Italy and they want us to come back! Tourism is 40% of the Italian economy, she informed us. However, it cost me $993 for 615.00 Euros and a Euro buys in Italy what a dollar buys in the US. Also, it seemed like cab rides all cost 150 Euros. So, the scary part:
Our excursion to Pisa and Florence was cancelled so we went ashore in Livorno and made a deal with a local cab driver, Stephano, to pay 150 Euros for a trip to Pisa and Florence, along with a Spanish family. We visited Pisa in the morning and Florence in the afternoon. We were told to watch for "pickpockets" on our excursions, especially in Rome and Florence, so we traveled only with Euros and our passports... no credit cards (never do this).
That day, three days from the end of our cruise, I was coming down with whatever illness it seemed everyone on the plane and ship had, and was not feeling well. When we arrived in Florence, we made arrangements to meet the cab driver at 4:30 PM so we would have plenty of time to get back to the ship (about 55 miles away) before it sailed at 7 PM. Of course, I felt sick and was not paying attention. I figured my wife and son (age 28)were, so I just tagged along.
About 4 PM my wife suggested that we head back to the cab, after a joyful day of sightseeing (no pickpockets attacked us but my son and I enjoyed bumping into each other saying loudly, "Scuzi!" and going for the pocket). But something happened. No one got directions to the cab, or even got his phone number (we had no cell phones... another mistake... take one, so we thought we had no use for his number) but we all memorized the landmarks and stores. Turns out there were several of those stores and all the landmarks looked the same.
After taking turns leading the way, one of us had the idea to hail a cab to take us to our cab. We did not have the address but did have a picture of a nearby pizza place and remembered the landmarks. Unfortunately, he did not speak English, spent 15 minutes driving around, charged us 5 Euros and kicked us out of his cab.
Now we were desperate and knew we had to get back to the port. We hailed another cab and she agreed to take us to the port for 150 Euros. So, off we went. I was thinking at that point that we could not possibly make it... but maybe we could. I couldn't conceive of the notion that we might not make it.
Florence was very busy that day. It took a half-hour just to get out of town. Then the highway to Livorno was crowded with travelers and we had to slow down twice for roadwork. To top it off, our cab driver would not go over the speed limit. Long story short, we arrived at the port 10 minutes after our ship sailed. Fortunately, I was sick and could not muster the emotions to express. However, my wife and son could, and did.
Fortunately, again, our first cab driver met us at the port, upset that we had missed him and might be blaming him for leaving. We assured him we did not and explained what happened. I paid the other driver her 150 Euros and she left. Stephano explained that he had waited and that the Spanish family became very upset and paid him an extra 50 Euros to get them to the ship. He told us that he did 120 kilometers an hour just to get back to the ship on time.
Stephano then suggested that we take the train to Ventimiglia and then get a cab from there to Cannes. He told us that the train ended at Ventimiglia, probably to insure that I had the money to pay him some of the 150 Euros I had agreed to pay him.
Stephano basically "saved" us, at that point. He drove us to the train station, bought us 3 tickets to Ventimiglia, with 2 connections. I paid him 75 Euros and told him I would mail the rest when I returned home.
The first leg of our trip was on an "express" train and we all enjoyed the trip.. oh to have this kind of train in the US. The train was filled with Italians, all dressed for the cooler weather, and their baggage, and us, in our shorts and no luggage. Did we look like stranded tourists?
We arrived at our first connection station and soon learned that our next (6 minute) train ride would be a half-hour late. Then we knew we were in trouble.
We arrived at the next station, in Genoa, Italy, at 10:15 PM. The station had closed at 10:00 and all the employees were gone and the bathrooms were locked. There were no doors on the station, which was a large station, and there were 5 metal chairs bolted to the floor. We sat down and pondered what to do. We had 3.65 Euros. My son and I tried to work the pay phone. We did not know Italian, however, so that was futile.
We noticed a "Police" window over in a corner of the station. It turned out to be a 3 man station, there to protect the train station and, I assume, passengers. I thought, "Why do they need a police station here?" By now, my wife and son were panicked and I was sick. We decided we needed to try to get help from the police so went to the window. Fortunately, one of them spoke English well. When we explained our plight, he invited us in and helped us problem-solve. We decided to call our ship! The number was on our stateroom cards. We called but there was no operator and we could not get through. The automatic answerer told us to call the 800 number in Miami. Hope! It was only 4:30 in Miami. Surely, they would know what to do!
We called the number and my wife got someone right away. She told them our plight and asked what to do. The woman she was talking to told her there was nothing they could do! "Send one of their contracted cabs to pick us up and drive us to Cannes?" "No." "Take us to a hotel and on our way in the morning?" "No." "At our expense?" We were "penthouse suite" passengers, after all. "No." After "checking with her supervisor" whom she did not let us speak with, she told us, "Sorry" and wished us good luck. My wife then told her, "Sorry to you too, since we will never use your cruise line again." There was little satisfaction in that. Now, what to do.
The policeman suggested that we wait for the next train, which would arrive at 5:23 AM. It was now 11:00 PM. He told us, "Don't wander far from the (police) station. We don't know what could happen out there." Great! We asked them if we could wait for morning in the police station. They told us no, there are only 3 of them and they had to go out on "patrol" during the night.
Another policeman suggested we wait until the station opened at 8:00 AM to have our tickets updated. However, we had no money and they might want more money to update the tickets so the first policeman suggested we get on the train and "take your chances." Wonderful. My wife asked him to write his suggestion on paper and provide his identifying information, which he graciously, if not reluctantly, did. He was truly empathizing with us and provided the information, even though he did not want to.
We returned to the metal chairs and began waiting. My son was frustrated and angry, pacing. My wife was scared. I was numb. I wondered what would have happened if we were like many who take cruises, sick and frail? As it was, I am a post bypass patient and did not have access to my medication. However, aside from the flu, I was healthy. So, we waited.
Soon, the station began to fill with homeless people. There were only a few stranded train passengers. A homeless woman arrived, looked angrily at us (telling us by her body language that we were sitting in her bed). She soon threw her newspaper padding down on a seat next to my son and crashed into the chair, shaking the foundation. Shortly, my son got up to pace. I warned him that he might not get his seat back. He didn't care. Sometime later, my wife got up to pace. I warned her not to leave her seat. She didn't care, either. Soon thereafter, a homeless woman took her seat. When my wife returned, she began yelling at the homeless woman that she was in her seat, and yelling at me, why did I let this woman take her seat! I interceded and asked her to calm down. What would yelling at this homeless person get her, I thought? A knife in the stomach? My wife stormed out into more danger, out by the tracks, filled with homeless men resting and sleeping. I followed her out and asked her to come back in. She did, and we spent the rest of the night sitting on the steps in front of the police station, while my son angrily paced (and maybe kept any threats at a distance). The night turned out uneventful, except for the cold. The bathrooms were opened at 5:00 AM and we caught the train (a "local")at 5:20.
The train had hard, plastic seats, but they were an upgrade, compared to the police steps. Also, we had the hope that we might be heading to the ship. Soon, the train operator arrived for our tickets. He did a double take when he saw them and told us they were no good. They were for yesterday. We told him we knew that and explained our plight. He told us it would cost 50 Euros to update our tickets. We whined that we had no money and no other way back to the ship, that the cruise line abandoned us and left us on our own. My wife showed him the note from the policeman. He stood there looking at the 2 documents for a few moments more, returned the tickets to us, kept the note, and walked away. We did not know if he was allowing us to stay on the train, going for help to kick us off, or what. However, he never returned and we slept fitfully as the train started and stopped for the next 2 1/2 hours until we arrived in Ventimiglia.
When we arrived in Ventimiglia we learned that the train did not stop there but went all the way to Cannes. Huh? We figured at that point that Stephano must have wanted to assure that we would pay him, at least partially.
We left the station and hailed a cab. The driver did not speak English but agreed to take us to the Cannes Port. 2 1/2 hours and 162 Euros later we were relieved to see one, lone ship in the bay; Ours! We had not told the driver we did not have any money so told him that we would have to go to the ship to get our money. There was no dock so we had to be tendered. We left our son with the driver, as a hostage.
When we arrived at the ship, it was as if we never left. There was no big deal made. We went to the "penthouse" got the debit card and went to the concierge to get 615 more Euros. We learned that the ship cancelled our excursion to Cannes that day (nice of them)and also our shipboard credit, which we had to reinstate. The woman at the concierge desk told us that the people in Miami should have connected us with, or directed us to the Port Agent in Livorno, who would have helped us. Nice to know!
An hour later, we arrived back at the cab and unhappy driver who suddenly became happy when I paid him 170 Euros. He shook our hands, wished us well and left.
The moral? If you are not on a ship excursion, make sure you are back to the port on time. The cruise line, at least Norwegian, is not there to help you, even if you are in the "penthouse suite."