The next day, Wednesday, July 16, it was time to return to Fayetteville. Carol and I had a flight that left at 1:00 p.m., so we were pretty much at the end of the cue for disembarkation. Our tags required us to meet in the Colony Lounge, but that wasn’t until 9:00 a.m. which was really late, at least in terms of the disembarkation procedure. We had a leisurely breakfast in the dining room and headed up to the Colony Lounge to wait to be allowed to disembark. Let me digress a bit. One of the things that happens the night before disembarkation is that you must take care of your tab. At the beginning of the cruise you provide either a credit card or a cash deposit for all your expenditures on the ship. Your door key card acts as a charge card. There are no cash transactions on the ship other than exchanging U.S. currency (for in our case, Euros). All the accounts are run the night before disembarkation and the bill slipped under the door. Those with an outstanding balance had to clear it up before being allowed to disembark. We were all fine with that. Back to the narrative, we got off the ship eventually and found that the Royal Carribean disembarkation process (at least on the Brilliance of the Seas) was very efficient.

I forgot to mention earlier that the last evening of the cruise was the time to tip the staff who served you during your cruise (i.e., your cabin steward, waiters, etc.). The cabin steward put envelopes in the room for the steward, the waiter, the assistant waiter, the head waiter (who we never met, so we didn’t know why we should tip him). There were suggested amounts for each of those crew members. Royal Carribean has an option to prepay your tips (so much per day), and we’d selected to do that so we were in good shape. We put a little bit of cash in the envelopes to give the people who had been good to us an extra tip. Our waiters, Navin and Vicky, had been very good to us for the duration of the cruise given that you might imagine we were a rowdy table. The way it worked if you prepaid was that you got a voucher and you put the voucher in the envelope that you handed that to the appropriate party.

We got off the ship, went to the baggage carousel and easily found our luggage. Our problem was not being reunited with our luggage, it was obtaining transportation to the airport. We waited in line for an hour and twenty minutes for a taxi because everybody gets off the ship that morning and the queue was incredibly long. One alternative would have been to take the cruise ship’s transportation to the airport. The problem with that was you went on a huge bus and you had to wait until everybody who was taking that bus gets on. In other words, it was like an airport shuttle that left once it was full. I’m not sure, but it seemed to me that it might be six of one and half a dozen of the other. I waited in the line and Carol stood up front with our luggage. Once I got to the front of the queue we hauled our luggage over and got in the taxi to the airport.

At the airport we ran into another snag because we were there so early before our flight that we couldn’t check in. We were allowed to check in no earlier than two hours before the flight and they meant two hours and no minutes. So, we had our big, bulky luggage and as with most airports (post-911, well I don’t know if international it was post-911), there were very few places to sit, much less with so much luggage. We saw an upstairs restaurant and decided to take our luggage and put it in the corner and sit up there. But when we got up there (after squeezing into the tiniest elevator on earth and almost being stuck in there with our luggage), we found that the restaurant was closed. Since we were up on a little mezzanine area away from the hustle and bustle of the airport, we just sat there on the steps and waited until we were able to check in for our flight. One of the good things about that was being able to look out over the activity as people arrived and departed from the airport. Carol observed that there weren’t many places to sit or much to do, but when you think about it, most airports (i.e., O’Hare, the one with which I’m most familiar), have nothing once you enter the door from the street. There’s typically very limited seating, no restaurants, no bookstores, no nothing because the idea is not to encourage people to linger. I think that’s just a reality of travel today.

After about an hour and a half to two hours we were able to go and check our luggage and check in for our flight. Then we went in the departure area of the airport where there were lots of shops and restaurants. By that time we were ready for lunch. I have to say the food was interesting and quite good, but the service was horrible. We could not figure out why we could not get served. Our waitress (to call her surly is giving her a lot of credit) wouldn’t come over and wait on us in the first instance, so after about a half an hour sitting there being ignored and watching people around us being served, we got up and brought somebody over to the table. Then the surly waitress came over and was pretty snippy. The sandwiches were delicious and about the time we got done it was time to board our British Airways flight to Heathrow.

On the flight I cat napped because I knew the next day once I got to Fayetteville I had to leave my luggage, pick up another set of luggage, and head out to the NALP Foundation Board Meeting. It was time to get some rest, knowing what the remainder of the week looked like. By the way, there was an incident on our plane. A man was quite ill and we thought he was either having a heart attack or a stroke. He was flushed and sweating profusely and gasping for air, all after we had taken off, so there were cries for a doctor. The flight attendants gathered around him and his daughter explained what was happening and that he was going to be o.k. We thought we’d have to go back or land early, but as it turned out he was able to finish the flight. By the end of the flight he looked o.k. We landed in Heathrow with a reasonable amount of time to make our connection, but again we took vans, trains and buses. It was up, down, around, under, over, and through to make our transfer.

When we got to the Flagship Lounge to check in, I have to say that that Heathrow Flagship Lounge was pretty dumpy by comparison to O’Hare. I know that sounds very ungrateful given that we were in an exclusive waiting area, but seriously the furniture was threadbare and dirty and the food area was not kept very clean. The staff was very surly and the lounge was run down and in need of paint, that kind of thing. We were pretty surprised actually. We waited there for our flight and we had noticed the gate numbers as we walked to the Flagship area. Since our gate number was very close to those we passed we thought we had pretty much time to relax. As it turned out, however, our gate was a long way from the lounge. We left the lounge and we walked and walked and then we saw a long, long corridor without a people mover (I mean in a sense of saving time). We ended up having to run for our flight and it was crazy. You would think that being a Flagship Lounge, the woman who checked us in for the flight would come and say, “You know, ladies, it’s quite a ways to your gate. You probably want to start getting ready to leave” or whatever, but nobody said a word to us. So we ran to the flight all the time laughing at how ironic it was that we had this relaxing down time but then we had to jog – and it was far. We made our flight and I told Carol that I wouldn’t be very good company because I intended to nap most of the way back given that I knew I had a pretty full schedule waiting for me. We had the same excellent service I described on the way out and the food was again fantastic. The Bose noise canceling headphones were a dream and before long we were back at O’Hare.

Our flight from O’Hare to Northwest Arkansas was delayed, so we had to call Jim to tell him that we wouldn’t arrive until later. We did finally land safe and sound back in Northwest Arkansas, which I guess is obvious because you have this blog posting! It had been a long and wonderful trip. Jim and Carol dropped me off at the house. Fortunately I had the foresight to pack for my next trip before leaving, so I dumped the two suitcases from the cruise and hopped into bed to get up early the next morning for a flight to the NALP Foundation Board Meeting which was being held at Torrey Pines in California.