(Dear Reader: The following is a tale of TSA security woes, dining room fiascos, moments of nostalgia, and new memories with old friends. It’s a long read. The opinions and observations are my own and might be completely different from someone else who was on the same cruise. That’s OK! We all view things differently, which makes life so much more interesting so, if you’re willing to read along, you are “my” people and this is my “Sunrise Story”.)
(clearing throat….now sing along to the tune to Gilligan’s Island….)
Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of our favorite trip. We planned to visit tropic ports aboard a mighty ship.
The first on the list was Paradise, sailing in the fall. The virus hit and cruises stopped; no traveling after all…no traveling after all.
Rebook they said and so we did, seemed like we couldn’t fail. Elation was the next in line with a famous red “whale tail”.
The news just kept on getting worse, and nervousness prevailed. We canceled the Elation trip, though it hurt our hearts to bail….it hurt our hearts to bail.
With the dawning of a brand new year, we prayed all would be fine. We hoped that we would sail again on the beautiful Sunshine.
But “life” prevailed…. plans were changed….changing dates again seemed wise.
We tried once more… it finally “stuck” so we’re sailing on Carnival Sunrise!
(Please note…..this first section is pretty much everything that happened to us between January 2020, which was our last cruise, leading up to now. There aren’t any pictures until I get into the actual Sunrise cruise part of the story. If you’d rather skip my ramblings and go straight to when we actually started THIS cruise adventure, please scroll on down. I promise I won’t be offended! LOL)
2020….what a wild year!
It started pretty much like all other years… New Year’s Day, cold weather, and our yearly cruise. In January of 2020, we sailed on the Horizon. (You may have read that review!) I distinctly remember being at dinner one night with Ron and chatting about the new virus that was currently spreading through China and how scary that must be for them. We never imagined that in just a few short weeks, our own lives would be so impacted by what we now call COVID-19.
If you haven’t read any of my other reviews, let me take a minute to introduce you to myself and my husband, who is also my best friend. We are Ron and Michelle and we live in the beautiful mountain state of West Virginia, just a few miles from the southernmost West Virginia/Virginia border. We are both real estate appraisers (at least at the beginning of this story!) and own our own business. It is difficult for us to find time to take a vacation during the summer because that is when our work tends to be the busiest and since we are self-employed, we really need to take advantage of those busy times. That is why we usually take our yearly vacation, which is always a cruise, in the winter. 2020 would mark our 35th anniversary and our cruise on the Horizon in January 2020 was our 8th cruise, seven of which were on Carnival. This cruise we were trying to book, and eventually DID book on the Sunrise, would be our 9th cruise.
I love writing reviews of our cruises! It just makes the experience last a little longer for me. I spend the year (or years in this case!) before our cruise reading reviews here on Cruise Critic and enjoy that immensely. I hope you guys enjoying reading mine as much as I’ve enjoyed reading yours!
I will start at the beginning….the VERY beginning….so here’s “our year(ish) in review”.
As COVID-19 began to spread across the U.S., it was obvious that everyone would be affected in some way. We were blessed to be in a rural area that was not as heavily impacted because of our sparse population. We already practice social distancing naturally! Our state was the last state to report a case of COVID-19 and, for quite a while, continued to have some of the lowest rates in the country. Still, our governor decided to shut down much of the state’s businesses fairly early on in March 2020 and issue a “stay at home” order.
As the governor was outlining who would be considered an “essential worker”, we assumed that we would NOT be on the essential list. We were surprised and happy to learn that we were considered part of the banking and financial community and therefore were considered "essential". We decided that we would take as many precautions as possible to protect ourselves and those people whose homes we visited and continue to work as long as we could. Both of us expected our work to slow down dramatically. Again, we were mistaken. Not only did the work NOT slow down, but we were actually busier than normal. So much for my assumptions!
We learned that stimulus checks were coming. Since our business wasn’t affected, it was extra, unexpected money for us and it was coming regardless of whether or not we needed or requested it. Let’s book an extra cruise! We’d never done two cruises in one year before. It would definitely be something to look forward to this summer when life returned to normal. I would later learn that I was WRONG AGAIN. (My track record for guessing correctly in 2020 was pitiful!)
We began considering different itineraries, ports, ships, and all the research type things I so enjoy doing. That’s one of the reasons I love Cruise Critic. I can read all the postings and reviews about the various ships and itineraries. It’s fun to read the stories of everyone’s different experiences and look at the pictures. We knew that it wouldn’t be possible to take more than a few days off, so we settled on a shorter, five-day cruise aboard the Paradise. I couldn’t believe it! We were going on an extra cruise this year!!!!
I looked at shore excursions, found copies of the Fun Times, read about the ship….all of my normal pre-cruise activity and then……...
On June 22nd, 2020 the announcement was made that all cruises in September were to be cancelled!!!!! My heart was broken. I understood the reasoning, but I was still disappointed. Ah well, it was fun while it lasted.
Back to the drawing board.
Ron mentioned that we’d probably never see prices this low again or have this chance again. Carnival offered the opportunity to rebook up until 2023. We COULD skip this fall and use the future cruise credit for our 2022 vacation, but we had gotten our hopes up at that point. We decided to book a mid-November cruise from Port Canaveral aboard the Elation. Just like before, it was a five -day cruise. We booked and crossed our fingers. Surely life would be back to normal by then.
The summer weeks rolled by. August 2020 arrived and one of the hardest things I have ever endured happened. My beloved grandmother became very ill, was completely bedridden and was admitted to hospice care. My mother, who was her primary caregiver, needed help. I started taking a few days off work every week so I could travel to her home 3 hours away and help my mom with her care. Now I really NEEDED this cruise to be cancelled. Besides, at that point, my heart just wasn’t in it.
In light of the things going on in my life, I called Carnival to discuss the possibility of canceling. The trip was paid in full already. I was told that there would be a $300 penalty if I canceled or rescheduled. (Considering all that was going on in the world, I was kind of surprised and disappointed with their response.) I had trip insurance. It was going to cost me less to use the trip insurance than to pay the penalty. My plan at that point was to wait as long as possible to see if the cruise would be canceled by Carnival and, if not, I would use my trip insurance. I just couldn’t leave my mom or my grandmother, both of whom I loved so very much, when there was so much suffering, just to go on a cruise.
On October 1, I received notice from Carnival that, although my cruise was not yet canceled, I now had the option to voluntarily cancel with no penalty. With a huge sigh of relief, I took the offer and canceled our fall cruise on the Elation. As you already know, it turned out that November was cancelled anyway.
On November 3rd,2020, my precious grandmother passed away. I was grateful that she wasn’t suffering any more but it was so very, very hard to let her go. I have been very close to her all of my life and I feel like that void will never be filled. She was the kind of woman I wanted to be when I grew up. I still sometimes think, “I’ll call Grandma and tell her…” before I realize that I can’t. She was my confidant and the one I went to for advice and comfort. She was one of my best friends and my biggest supporter. I had tried to be a comfort and help to her, too. I’m still adjusting to the loss nearly a year later.
December arrived and with it came illness and injury. Ron and I both came down with COVID. We were very, very blessed that we both had mild cases that behaved more like a bad sinus infection. Then I fell down the stairs, breaking my foot and hurting my back in the process. At the time, the foot injury hurt worse than my back but as the weeks and months wore on, it was obvious that my back injury was the bigger problem. (I have suffered with back issues most my adult life but this was worse and different.) The pain in my back got worse and worse as time went by. There was no big family gathering this year. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day found us wrapped in blankets on opposite ends of the couch with fevers from COVID, pain in my foot and back and generally miserable. Would 2020 never end???
January came and I began the long process of trying to “repair” my back issues with chiropractic care. I had been a chiropractic patient for many years with really good results but this time, it just wasn’t enough. After struggling for four months, I finally gave in and, at the suggestion and referral of my family doctor, visited a neurosurgeon. An MRI revealed a whole list of problems, the worst and most immediate of which was a badly pinched nerve due to my fall down the stairs moving things out of place in my back and causing severe inflammation. The surgeon felt that it was imperative that the pinched nerve be addressed first to relieve the pain. It was his hope that some very specific injections in very specific locations might solve my problems long term, too, since many of my issues had been with me for a long time and didn’t seem to be causing immediate problems. Even if it might not be a long term fix, it might give me relief for even a few weeks or months. I felt really discouraged. It just seemed there was no end in sight. My injection took place the first week that sailing resumed in July. Due to the type of injection he wanted to use and the necessity of being very specific in the location, I had to be admitted for what was considered “day surgery” for the procedure. At least I had something to read on Cruise Critic while I recovered! To make matters worse, Ron also had an injury and had to have surgery to repair the damage. Thankfully, his surgery was scheduled a few weeks after my injection so I was back up and going by the time he had to be down for a while. We could really use some good news!
Good news began in the form of that injection that my doctor had ordered. Since I had to be in a surgical setting for that particular injection, I was terrified! Because of COVID, Ron wasn't even allowed in the building with me. I was on my own. I was nervous waiting for the procedure. Finally, it was my turn in the OR and I quickly discovered that it wasn't nearly as bad as I had envisioned. In a couple of days I started feeling better. Finally, there was some relief! I could sit again without tremendous pain. I could work a normal day, go to church, play piano, go to the grocery store… I felt like things were finally looking up!
June and July also brought an interesting professional proposition. Like I said earlier, we are both real estate appraisers. A southeastern bank chain approached Ron about heading the bank’s appraisal services department, which covered multiple branches in multiple states. It was very unexpected. He hadn’t been looking for a job, hadn't applied for the job and we were completely happy with what we were doing but, to quote “The Godfather”, they “made him an offer he couldn’t refuse”. In the middle of July, he left Shumate Appraisals to join the bank where he has an office in their corporate headquarters. Fortunately, his new office was within driving distance of our home so it wasn’t necessary for us to move again. I felt like it was the right thing and was excited about the opportunities it offered, but I really, really did (and still do!) miss being with him in the office every day. It was the first time in many years that I had worked alone. Not only is he my husband; he is my best friend. It was an adjustment for both of us.
Watching cruises start up again was very exciting. I was glued to the computer as I watched Mardi Gras enter the Port of Miami to escort Horizon out of port on her first voyage in more than a year. I felt a little emotional. Silly, I know, but it was a sign that our lives were, indeed, finally getting back to normal.
We had had booked a cruise with a group of friends on the Sunshine that was supposed to sail in February of 2021. Obviously, that didn’t happen but had been rescheduled. A group cruise was going to be a totally new experience for us. Up until now, we had only sailed with just the two of us. We were pretty excited!
As cruise dates changed, “life” also took over for some of our friends. Job changes, family challenges and the like happened and it just wasn’t possible for the whole group to cruise as originally planned. That’s something we still hope to do in the future. One couple was still able to go, Aaron and Liz.
Aaron and Liz are actually the ages of our children but have become some of our closest friends. I have no idea why they want to hang out with old people like us! LOL The whole “group” cruise was actually Liz’s idea. I really didn’t think Ron…or Aaron…would want to do it but…. surprise, surprise… they both thought it was a great idea. Aaron and Liz have been on several cruises and have sailed out of Charleston several times. They would have been our “tour guides” for our pre-cruise activities. When the cruise had to be moved to October and a Miami sailing, we knew we’d have to table our visit to Charleston to another time so we took a rain check on the personal tour and turned our attention to Miami/Ft. Lauderdale.
And that brings us to Sunrise. When we realized the cruise on the Sunshine in September out of Charleston wasn’t going to happen, we moved to the Sunrise out of Miami on Oct 14th with ports of call in Key West and Cozumel. We figured Key West was “iffy” at best, but worth a try. This was the cruise that finally “stuck” but not necessarily the ports. Aaron had wanted to visit Key West for a long time and Cozumel is a favorite port for all of us.
The countdown officially began in earnest...60 days……45 days……34 days…AND THEN there was an itinerary change. Key West and Cozumel were changed to Nassau and Half Moon Cay. At this point, I don’t care!! I just want to go on a cruise! I love Half Moon Cay and I haven’t been to Nassau in years so LET’S GO!
One of the trickiest things to figure out for cruising in our new COVID world is the testing requirement. I get it…..I really do……but it’s tough to make all of those moving parts work together. We basically have one day to get the testing completed because we always fly the day before the cruise. The cruise left on a Thursday, we were scheduled to fly on Wednesday so that meant the test HAD to take place on Tuesday. I know this is a common problem. I know most people have the same kind of crazy work schedules that we do and fitting in that extra wrinkle in an already hectic work “wrap up” day is tough. I also read how some people (particularly Saint Greg) had a lot of challenges with the logistics of the testing and cancellations beyond his control. Fingers crossed for a problem free test!
I turned my preparation attention to testing options. There was the “test at home” option, which seemed a little expensive but probably most convenient. There was the CVS and Walgreens option but every time I called to inquire, they were always out of the rapid tests. After reading Saint Greg’s review, I thought CVS and Walgreens might not be the best options. Our family doctor only offered tests for people who were displaying COVID symptoms. One pharmacy offered tests for $65 per person and finally, a local urgent care place offered tests for $189 each and supposedly your insurance would pay.
After considering all of the options, we went with the home test and the local pharmacy as a back-up plan. Our cruise was to start on Thursday, October 14th. We were flying into Ft. Lauderdale on Wednesday, October 13th. That left Tuesday, October 12th as the only possible test day. If it’s a requirement to go on the cruise SO BE IT. We made it happen.
Oct 12th – Test Day!
Two days until cruising and it’s time to test.
As I said, we had opted for the eMed at home testing option. We really had no idea how or if this would work so we started early in the day so there would still be time to use other options if necessary. We had all watched a couple of YouTube videos of people actually taking the test and it seemed pretty straightforward.
Ron was up first. He started his test early since his workday started the earliest. We got the test kits out, set up a phone and opened the app. After signing in, the app instructed us to connect via the eMed website. Ron connected quickly and immediately received a message that he was “next in line”. A test proctor came on and began talking to him. It isn’t possible to see the proctor on the screen but they can see you. The procedure was quick and simple; scan the test box, open the test box, follow the proctor’s instructions for swabbing and putting the test together and then waiting. The test itself could not be touched after it was finished and a fifteen minute timer counted down on the screen. At the end of fifteen minutes, the proctor came back on and asked Ron to hold the test close to the camera. He then asked for verbal confirmation of what he was seeing. Ron was negative and his test results came in the email even before the proctor had finished his closing instructions. Super simple! By the time Ron was finishing up, Aaron and Liz had arrived as they had decided we would all test one after another. Aaron went next, then me, and finally, Liz. All of us tested negative, thankfully. We were ready to cruise! Out of an abundance of caution, I decided to not rely just on the electronic version of boarding passes, test results, etc. I also printed out all paperwork. I wasn’t taking any chances on missing this cruise!
(to be continued tomorrow!)