Choices

This entry is part 2 of 20 in the series Cruising with Teens

I have used a real live travel agent exactly once. It was many years ago, as we prepared to take our second trip to Disney. I had planned the first trip myself, and appreciated the amount of work that went into it. The process involved a lot of time spent on the telephone, an activity that ranks pretty low on my list of favored pastimes. Hoping to save time and agony, I went to the local travel agency.

The experience cannot be reflective of the industry as a whole, or it would have ceased to exist long ago. Everything, and I do mean everything, got messed up one way or another. It took many more calls to the agent to straighten things out than it would have for me to make the arrangements myself in the first place.

For someone like me – a telephoneaphobic — the advent of shopping on the Internet, be it for travel, goods or services, was a godsend. Initially…

I remember when life on the Internet was simple. In 1996 or 1997, relatively few businesses actually supported on-line transactions. When Kris and I decided to spend a long weekend in Quebec City back then, exactly one hotel allowed bookings to be made through a web browser. They got our business. Easy. Simple. Click, done.

Nowadays trying to shop on the web is worse than perusing the cold remedy aisle at the pharmacy. There are too many choices and too much fine print for anyone to reasonably absorb.

When I searched the Internet for St Thomas resorts, I got exactly 884,000 results. I tried Bolongo Bay Resort, which I remembered fondly – that got me a more reasonable 6,090 results. It took a whole evening to go through ten of them. Then I tried Secret Harbor. 404,000 matches. I looked at several places that didn’t exist when we lived on St. Thomas. I read dozens, maybe hundreds of wildly conflicting reviews and personal opinions.

Virtually every package included air travel that involved an overnight in San Juan. That didn’t sit well, so I thought I’d look at booking a flight directly. After another full evening of searching, I found that American Airlines offered a direct flight from Boston to St Thomas (and back). The price was $658, per person round trip. High, but it hadn’t made me faint. I made a note and stumbled off to bed where the myriad of possibilities rattled around in my head, effectively blocking the sleep circuits from engaging.

The next night I got the bright idea of looking at house rentals. Again, there were thousands of possibilities. Some were quite spectacular – spectacular views, spectacular features, and spectacular prices.

I spent the entire following weekend going over and over the choices. I finally settled on the direct flight, and a beachfront unit at Secret Harbor.

Returning to the American Airlines site, I typed in all the information and asked for 3 tickets. Seconds later, the AA server responded with a request that I confirm the reservation by clicking ‘here’ – at the bargain price of $1348 per person. WHAT!!????

“Forget it,” said the rational voice.

Just for the heck of it, I tried the same flight for two people, and then for one. The pricing came back at $1,190 and $998 respectively. So much for quantity discounts.

I went downstairs to Kris’s office.

“This is nuts” I said, explaining the situation.

“Let me take a look,” she said.

I didn’t want to stand there and watch, so I returned to my computer. Checking the accommodations again at Secret Harbor, the room I had targeted was gone.

“Warm breezes…palm trees…romance. Food. Cruise,” said the vacation-minded voice.

Just for the heck of it, I directed my browser to Cruise411. The Century and the Millennium were sailing out of Ft. Lauderdale during our limited window of opportunity. Celebrity was offering $100 airfare for the Century trip, which had apparently done the trick. Only a few inside rooms and the Penthouse Suite remained. I though about the Penthouse for a few seconds…

”You could serenade Kris on the piano.”

”You don’t even know how to play the piano!”

”You need a vacation. Kris and Wells deserve the very best.”

“Insane. No way! You haven’t spent that much on your last two cars! Combined!”

The Millennium also had few choices. Except for the Royal Suite (which was even more expensive than the PH on the Century), there were no balcony cabins. Kris has only cruised once, and she already has a severe case of verandahitis. I didn’t think I could sell the idea.

Just then Kris popped into my office. Her eyes were slightly crossed.

“It’s crazy. How could the price change that much? I get something different every time,” she said.

“I don’t now, but I’ve already spent more time trying to figure this out than I’ll spend on vacation. I was just looking at cruises. Sure is a whole lot simpler. I think Wells would have a much better time. St. Thomas closes at dark, and he’ll be stuck with us. There’s always something happening on a ship.”

“Could we get a verandah?”

“Well, actually, it looks like we’re too late. There’s not much left.”

“I’ve got to have my verandah, especially if the three of us are staying in a little cabin.”

I finished the conversation with “Let me look around some more.”

My wishful thinking failed to make a verandah cabin appear in the reservation system. However, there was something called the Celebrity Suite available on the Millennium. It looked interesting. Separate bedroom, dining area, big windows and a butler. The price was certainly higher than a regular verandah cabin would be, but way less than the Royal Suite.

I added up the costs for the three of us to go to St Thomas. Between the airfare (using an averaged value), accommodations and a car rental, the price was higher than an air/cruise package in the Celebrity Suite. I hadn’t even figured in the cost of food on St Thomas, which is high. Since Wells eats a lot, staying fed could become a significant factor. Major points went to the cruise option.

“Now that would be a sensible choice. The kid will eat enough to pay for the whole trip. You can always go up on deck for fresh air, and you’ll have some privacy too.”

”It does look like a really nice room. Kris will get over the verandah thing, and it will be a lot more romantic if you can’t hear Wells snore. And with all that food, he’ll probably get gas…”

The voices were in agreement. I booked. A couple of clicks and it was done. Proudly, I got up and went back down stairs to test the waters.

“The best thing I can find is called the Celebrity Suite.”

“Oooo – does it have a big verandah like the Sky Suite.”

“Well, no…but it has huge windows.”

“So the verandah is small like the one you had on the Mercury?”

“Well, no…it doesn’t have a verandah.”

“But I love my verandah.”

I patiently explained the whole situation. The pros and cons, ups and downs, ins and outs. I quoted some comments on CruiseCritic from people who initially had the same misgivings and came back raving about the Celebrity Suite.

Finally, she said, “Oh, I guess that would be o.k. It will be more fun for Wells, especially since Danny isn’t going…”

We called Wells into the room. He seemed to buy into the whole concept with remarkably little backlash.

Harmony was established.

The next evening, I was making dinner when Wells walked in. “Dan wants to go now,” he said.

“On the cruise?”

“Yeah.”

“But…I…how…”

“He thinks it sounds cool.”

“Well, that’s fine. You guys will have to share a sofa bed. Is that a problem?”

“Nah. We can do that.”

“Alright. That’s great.”

Kris called Dan’s parents to confirm his interest and their permission. Everyone was excited.

The next night I logged into the travel site to add Dan to the reservation. Turns out I had to call to make any changes once payment had been made, so I picked up the phone and dialed.

The gentleman who answered listened patiently to my request.

“I’ll have to call the cruiseline. Can you hold, please?”

Beatles tunes arranged into mush filled my ear while I waited. At length, the agent came back on the line.

“I’m sorry, but Celebrity says that your room is limited to three people. There’s nothing we can do.”

“How can that be? The room is more than twice as big as rooms they stuff four people into.”

“I know, but that’s what they said.”

I hung up in disgust, and started searching the Internet for confirmation of this policy. Sure enough, I found it. Celebrity Suite – accommodates 3. Bizarre.

Hanging my head, I went to tell Kris.

“Danny can’t go. The room only holds three.”

“This is terrible. His mother says he’s already packing. How are we going to tell him?”

“I don’t know. I just don’t know.”

It was too late to call Dan’s house, so we let it ride.

I couldn’t sleep again. After all that, we were going to head into a nice vacation in a state of extreme disappointment.

”Well, if he was more decisive then this wouldn’t have happened.”

”It was probably a big decision for him. It’s not his fault. He and Wells would have a great time. Isn’t there something you can do? Go someplace else?”

”We’re locked in — can’t cancel the reservation without a huge penalty now.”

”Maybe they’d let you upgrade to the Royal Suite.”

”Way too expensive!”

”Guess you’re right. What a shame.”

I thought that the issue was settled, but the voices talked all night. I watched the clock count the hours and minutes until the alarm signaled the beginning of another workday.

”There must be a way. There’s always a way.”

Next: Ready, Set…

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