This was it, this was the day, the day we had all dreaded, but it finally came. It is time to disembark for the final time. There is no joy in seeing the friends you have made during the last 64 days walk down the gangway, no joy in the thought that an experience that we will treasure for years might never be duplicated. Now it is our turn as we load up our carryon, since our “checked” luggage has already gone through customs and is waiting for us to claim in the terminal building. Those nine pieces have already passed through customs and immigration. Our number and color has been called and we get in line one last time to be “scanned” off the ship. Faces of the crew who had greeted us in every port of call, now hurry us through, as they need to ready the ship for its continuing voyage to Fort Lauderdale. Our stateroom, our dining room table probably has been reassigned. Farewell!!
We present our passports and customs form to the young man at the entry point and he waves us on through, he did not even look at Barbara’s passport, whew, that was easy. Now we start the search for our checked luggage amongst the hundred of pieces in the staging area. Thanks to the hard work of our crew and customs workers, all of the luggage had been sorted and lined up in the order of our disembarkation color, so it is quite easy to find. Once we have it all accounted for, I get in line for a porter. This was the longest line so far, but soon we have our luggage and the porter takes us to where the hotel shuttle bus will pick us up. A call to the Best Western Bayside hotel assures us that our driver is on the way back from the airport and will be by for us in about a half an hour. As promised, Andrew arrives and we are whisked away to our hotel. So far I am very impressed with our choice of hotels, got a good price as well. When asked, Andrew assures us that later in the day he will be able to help us get our bags down to Amtrak so we can check them in before our early morning departure Sunday morning, which he did. With Amtrak, each passenger is allowed THREE 50 lb checked and TWO 50 lb pieces of carryon luggage. We could have carried on two of the 9 pieces we were traveling with but opted to pay the overage of $30 for the extra three pieces. There are luggage storages in each car so all the carryon does not have to be stored in the roomette. When we weighed in at the baggage room at the station, Barbara had to do some shifting as one of our pieces exceeded the 50 lb limit. I was impressed with the professional attitude of the Amtrak station personal.
The rest of our Saturday was spent walking through downtown San Diego and finding a good Mexican Restaurant in the Gaslight District. Since the first time I stepped onto lower Broadway in 1953, I have enjoyed my time spent in this lovely city. As we made our way up Broadway past the old YMCA/USO and where all the servicemen locker clubs, clothing stores, jewelry stores and theaters were that catered to the young boots from the training center, I was amazed at how this city had changed in all those years. Gone are all those shops and stores, even the “Y” has been changed into a low budget hotel and the sailors have been replaced with tourists and the homeless, but it is still one of the most livable cities in our country – I still love San Diego.
That evening, we enjoyed the view of the harbor and at sunset, watched our beloved ship sail away. One of the amenities I especially enjoyed that came with our room was the free wireless internet service, and the blazing fast speed. That evening we enjoyed a dinner of pizza, wine, and beer at Petrini’s restaurant and enjoyed sharing stories with a young Italian woman who had come to the states to attend college and had ended up marrying a young Marine. We hope everything works out for them. That evening our son Jon logged on to IM (instant messenger) and we had a very short conversation, our first since we left Seattle. He shared that “Thanksgiving at his Aunt Joan and Uncle Phil’s was “great”!
Sunday 25 November
We got to bed early since we had to be at the station for a 6:15am departure. I had heard our train arrive at around 3am, since the hotel is only three blocks from the tracks. We left the hotel at 5:45 and walked the four blocks to the station and got in line right behind another couple from the ship who were heading to Vancouver, Canada. We easily recognized each other by our bright red Holland America gift handbags. A long walk brought us to our “car” on the Pacific Surfliner that would take us to LA. A blond “Brumhilda” conductor collected our tickets and cleared the isles of luggage. She must have had a bad night, or she has to deal with uncooperative customers every day. At our final stop before LA, a young Mexican couple with a baby got on, and as she asked for their tickets, it seemed as though they had not bothered to buy any. “I ought to stop this train and put you off right here” she told them, “but I won’t because you have a young baby”! They pretended that they did not understand her, but I know they did.
The ride to LA was very pleasant with, occasional views of the beaches, the sunrise, the dry hills, palm, and eucalyptus trees. This was familiar countryside to Barbara as she grew up in Norco, CA, and she enjoyed the scenery. Our arrival at Union station was right on time, however getting our bearings so that we could be in the right “line” for our ten o’clock departure on the Coast Starlight took some time. Once again, we lined up behind Bob and Joan, the two folks who were heading to Vancouver. Right on time we were called to board and were just getting settled in to our new home for the next two days, when the train pulled out of Union Station – right on time. When we first boarded, I went to what I thought was our “roomette” and thought, now this is nice – wrong roomette. I found out later this was a “bedroom”, with a considerably higher booking cost. Ours was down the passageway. It was cozy to say the least: two wide seats facing each other, standing room, large picture window, a folded up bunk above, and a door, with curtains that closed out the other passengers – and the noise from the crying baby in the next roomette. As was the case on the ship, there was only one 110-v outlet, so the power strip came in very handy. We were able to plug in our cell phone, laptop, and battery charger for Barbara’s camera. We shared a toilet (aircraft size) down the hall, with more toilets and a shower (with clean towels) located on the lower deck. Freshly brewed coffee was also just outside our rolling quarters. Shortly after our arrival, Jamie Santos, our sleeping car steward introduced himself.
On Amtrak, sleeping car passengers have several amenities that coach passengers do not have; all meals provided, a private lounge car with a bar, booths, and swivel lounge chairs for viewing the passing scenery. Before each meal the dining room stewards come through the sleeping cars taking reservations for the upcoming meals. Meals are served over a two-hour period.
Another plus in traveling via Amtrak was our ability to use our cell phone to reconnect with friends and family, on the other hand a downside of train travel is the number of families’ with restless children who are also enjoying train travel. We were fortunate to be able to retreat to our cozy nest and close out the noise.
As we navigated the narrow passageways from our sleeping car to the dining car, we found that our “sea legs” were an asset.
At 3 PM the “sleeping car passengers” were invited to the lounge car to partake in a wine tasting complete with cheese and crackers. We were able to sample three different wines (all from California vintners) which we were sure provided at minimal cost, as these wines were also being offered for onboard purchase. A fruity Ironstone Obsession Symphony White was marvelous – we purchased a bottle!
After dinner, Barbara decided to try the onboard shower, which I assured her was a winner. She did not find it as attractive; however, Amtrak did provide soap and fresh towels. By the time Barbara returned from her shower, Jamie had the upper bunk made up. It was a restricted space but Barbara was able to crawl up, change to her nightclothes and stow her “day” clothes and strap in for the night. Planning is the key here. From Barbara’s journal: “After struggling into my nightie and realized that my head was not headed toward the pillow. Low ceiling made it impossible to turn around, but I made it. Got under the covers and had to move the clothes in the net away from my hips. Narrow bunk has a metal edge where my knee is. Air vent does provide lots of fresh air. Jack was already snoring, but I could not reach him. Got comfy and settled into a good, clickety clackety, swaying and lurching good night’s sleep after the loud speaker announcements finally ended.”
Monday 26 November
We woke around 6 AM, and played musical toilets in getting ready for our second day. It was still dark outside as we passed through Dunsmuir, CA with a moonlit snow-covered Mt Shasta framing our picture window. During breakfast, we were treated to a beautiful sunrise, patches of snow-covered countryside. Since Amtrak does not follow major highways in Northern CA and Southern Oregon, we were traveling through isolated ranches and farms as we pulled into a chilly Klamath Falls. A few minutes after pulling out of the station, our progress north was halted along side Klamath Lake, where we cooled our heels while track maintenance was being performed. Though the surface of the lake was partially ice covered, the abundance of water fowl was incredible and a joy to watch. When we arrived at Klamath Falls, we were 30 minutes ahead of schedule, now we were over 45 minutes late.
After passing through Chemult, OR our route took us through the Cascades and we descended through the upper reaches of the Willamette River Valley, turning north we followed I-5 through the flat farmlands between the Cascades and the Pacific coast. Our afternoon wine tasting featured a dry white, a sweet Riesling (very nice) and a robust red. Our stop in Portland was brief and gave our “smokers” a smoke break. Our evening meal was served as we sped through a dark rainy Washington evening. We shared the remains of our wine with our traveling companions from Canada, and spent the rest of our trip preparing to disembark in Tacoma.
Stepping off the train (less than an hour late) we were surprised and pleased to once again see ALL of our checked baggage. However before we could claim our luggage, we had to show our claim tickets, a nice touch from Amtrak. Taxis were waiting for arriving passengers, however no one had a car large enough for our checked and carryon luggage, so one of the drivers called a friend of his that drove a van/taxi, and he arrived shortly to pick us and deliver us to the La Quinta Motel just a few block away.
We checked into the Motel and left all our checked luggage in a locked storage room in the manager’s office. After the train’s “roomette”, our room seemed like a palace. Barbara enjoyed the bathtub while I enjoyed the blazing speed of the free Internet access.
Tuesday 27 November
Our Enterprise Rental car was delivered to the motel after 9:30AM. Since it was late in arriving we were given a $1 upgrade to a luxurious roomy Chrysler 300, quite adequate for our heaps of luggage. What a nice way to end an eventful Odyssey. Our drive home was uneventful, arriving around 3 PM.
Saturday December 29, 2007
I apologize for being so lax in finishing this final report but….. we are finally caught up with the mail, bills and visiting with friends and family. Christmas is in the books and all we (Barbara) have left to do in regard to the trip is sort through some 7000 plus digital pictures, choosing several thousand to have printed and placed in albums.
I have a couple of questions for my fellow cruisers: are you still closing both parts of your toilet before you flush? Do you catch yourself staring at a large body of water, wondering what the next port will bring and when the ship will get underweigh? IF you answered yes then you are addicted to cruising my friend, and we will meet again.
Till then we wish you Fair Winds and Following Seas
Jack and Barbara