Disembarking the ship before the end of the cruise...

Remember our motto,  "Wafting Through Our World Wide Journey with Joy, Simplicity and Ease"?

We strive to keep this in mind.  In order to accomplish doing so, we must be proactive.  On occasion, proactive behavior requires assertiveness that may, on occasion, be off-putting to those with whom we are dealing.


As we plan to disembark from the Celebrity Equinox tomorrow, Tuesday, January 29th we are faced with a few potential obstacles:

1.  How will our luggage be handled on the smaller "tender" boat taking us the 20 minute ride to the pier in Belize?  Will we need new luggage tags as when we disembarked the Celebrity Century?
2.  What time shall we schedule the hired driver to appear at the pier, holding up the sign with our name based on a projected time the ship will be cleared for dismemberment?
3.  What is the procedure for acquiring a visa, which based on our research is provided at the time of entering the country of Belize, not online at an earlier date?  Will they in fact grant us a visa for 2 1/2 months?
4.  What is the process with the Belize Immigration Department? Will they go through our bags?  (We didn't purchase anything aboard ship).
5.  Will our scheduled driver have a large enough and reliable van (as promised when we booked) for the four hour drive to Placencia?  Will we arrive at the dock at 12:30 as scheduled?
In an effort to be proactive on Sunday morning I visited the customer service desk to review the process of getting the above four items addressed.
The staff person tried to dismiss my concerns saying all would be fine.  Ha!  This is not the answer I was seeking!  (Tom and I agreed to let me handle these kinds of potentially testy situations.  I tend to stay calm and pushy at the same time).

After the staff person attended to the answer to Question #1, I was able to secure two PRIORITY TENDER TICKETS, enabling us to choose a time to get onto the tender with support staff.  This helps.

Unfortunately, when I pressed for the remaining answers, the staff person was unable to answer, preferring to say again, "everything will be fine.  Nothing to worry about."
"Yes," I said, "there is something to be worried about."  She straightened the lapel on her navy blue blazer, wincing at my comment.
"Let's say we get into Belize with immigration and 2 1/2 months later, we're stuck in immigration for 24 hours or more trying to "get out of Belize" if we didn't have a proper long term visa. (A visa for Belize is not required for under 30 day visits).
"We need immigration to meet us at the pier," I insisted, "to provide us with a visa good through April 9, 2013, when we depart." (We had tried to get this ahead of time but was told by Belize Immigration to get a visa when we arrive).
"Whatever you need to do to arrange this is imperative."  I continued.  "If you don't know the answer, please direct me to the staff member who does handle these types of concerns.  Is there such a person on board?"
"Yes," she said meekly, "I'll call her and she'll contact you." 
"OK," I said, feeling frustrated, "We'll watch for a message from her by the end of the day today.  We spend little time by the phone in our cabin."
By the time I walked over to Tom who was sitting in a lounge area waiting for me, I had cooled off enough to tell him what transpired, reassuring him that all will be taken care of and not to worry.  When passengers get off of a cruise ship, returning after a day of spending money in their city, there is little, if any hoopla.  Getting off the ship and staying for an extended period is an entirely other matter.

Once we hear back from the on board immigration handler, we will report the results.  Hopefully, all will go smoothly. 

Persistence prevails.
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A few hours after writing the above, we returned to our cabin with a phone message from Jennie, the on board Celebrity immigration officer.  Immediately returning her call, she suggested I bring our passports and our itinerary to the customer service desk and she'd meet with me.
I couldn't get down there quickly enough, leaving Tom behind in the cabin.  As I dashed to the elevator, it dawned on me that this was the first time since January 3rd when we boarded the Celebrity Century, that I was out of Tom's sight.  I chuckled to myself.  Imagine. We aren't sick of each other yet!

Meeting Officer Jennie put my mind at ease.  Her crisp white and black uniform with epaulets, the official name tag as "Chief Officer of Immigration" coupled with her professional demeanor immediately reassured me that we were now in the proper hands.

Showing her our lengthy itinerary set the pace for a lively conversation with her enthusiasm to ensure that everything goes smoothly in our early departure from the cruise. She handed me immigration forms to complete, made a copy of our itinerary and immediately addressed all of our concerns.

She suggested that she'd hold onto our passports until Tuesday when the Belizean Immigration Officer will board the ship (also via tender).  She'll handle everything for us including arranging for our 2 1/2 month visa.  Should there be an entry fee, she will let us know and charge it to our cabin.

She answered all of our questions including the seamless handling of our bags via porter to our cabin, taking our bags to be handled by the tender staff who again will assist at the pier.  She said there is no need for us to so much as touch our bags.  No luggage tags are needed since we'll be the only passengers staying in Belize.
In addition, she explained that our having PRIORITY TENDER TICKETS, we can board the tender at any time we'd prefer.  Contacting our private van company in Belize by email today, they reassured me on the vehicle's good condition, the size of the van and that the driver would meet us to be at the pier at 12:30 PM holding a sign with our name. According to Officer Jennie we'd have no trouble being there on time for the driver.
On Tuesday morning when the ship anchors in the harbor of the port of Belize at 10:30 am, requiring one hour to be cleared, we'll have our bags down by the gangplank ready for us to get on the tender.  Jennie will call our cabin instructing us when to come down to the desk to retrieve our passports and our new visas and head to the tender, knowing that our driver is scheduled for 12:30 PM. 

Anything could go wrong and throw this plan into total chaos. There is absolutely nothing WE will do to throw it off.  However, we're subject to the responsibility and timing of others.  As we all so well know, we can't always count on the diligence of others, only on that of ourselves.
Then, of course, is the four hour drive to Placencia only after the driver takes us to the FEDEX office in Belize City to return the XCOM Global MiFi device which won't work in Belize.  They are aware of the slow return mail and aren't charging us for the time it takes for the package to get back to San Diego, California. 
We'll need the device again by April 9th.  We'll have to pay the international shipping charge back to Belize so we can collect it at the same FEDEX office in Belize City before we depart on cruise #3 back to Miami for a same day departure of cruise #4.  At the cost of $395 a month for the device, it made no sense to hang onto it for this extended period.  Postage both ways will be about $140.

Details, details, details!  The perception that this adventure of ours is comparable to a long vacation is delusional.  This is work, lots of work and endless planning.  Fortunately, I find the process is pleasurable and much to my surprise, Tom does as well.  We are both reminded, each and every day, to enjoy the living in the moment, even when it entails a phenomenal number of specific events falling into place. 

We'll see how we feel about this premise when its 7:00 PM Tuesday night, arriving in Placencia in the dark, tired, hungry, opening one particular suitcase that has no clothing inside, taking out the multiple allergy and bedbug protecting mattress covers, putting them on the mattress, box springs and pillows all before we open our other bags.
We shall see and of course...report how it all goes.

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