22 May 2011

Good Lord. Embarkation Day

I have been so busy. I was shocked last week to see how long it had been since I began this recap of our February vacation. Guess it's about like me sending Christmas presents -- that were absent-mindedly left under the tree here -- to Louisville and Biloxi in April. The lady at the post office laughed when I told her what they were, saying, "I would have made up something else!" Upon this revelation I finished this installment and clicked "publish," but I found two days ago that none of my work had been saved, let alone published:

Writing this on day two of our cruise, I figured that two days at sea would give me plenty of time to chronicle our adventure thus far since all we're doing at this point is sunning, eating, cocktailing and dancing.

Saturday morning we woke up early, and after making coffee, we packed, applied our Norwegian bag tags each piece of our "checked" luggage and made our way to the Mustang. We were surprised at how little traffic there was on the 405 that morning -- it made my plan: driving to the Westin, dropping Cameron and our luggage there, returning the car to Hertz and making it back to the hotel, a little less daunting.

Pulling into the hotel grounds, we spotted Andy and John out on one of the benches. I pulled up to the curb so Cameron and I could unload our luggage, then headed back out on Century Boulevard to return the car. At first I saw signs directing drivers to the various rental lots, including Hertz. But then for some reason after the first couple of signs my rental company wasn't anywhere to be found and I didn't see any arrows that instructed me to turn. I ended up driving all the way to the terminals at LAX before I saw another "rental car return" sign that took me on all sorts of loops, twists and turns before I spied the big yellow sign at the Hertz property.

After leaving the car I was whisked to the airport where I planned on grabbing a taxi back to the Westin. But when I got there a young woman directed me to a bus stop in the middle of a traffic island at the far end of the terminal where I should to wait for the blue bus. She told me it was free, but what she didn't tell me is that there are several blue buses, each of which go to two or three specific hotels. I began to get a little unnerved when I kept seeing shuttles for every hotel brand on Earth except Westin. I waited. I smoked a cigarette. I waited. What was likely fifteen to thirty minutes seemed like hours.

Since my focus had been on the LED route indicators on every blue bus coming through the terminal I didn't realize I was standing directly in front of the Theme Building with a clear view. In my previous trips to Los Angeles I've tried to snap a photo but have been thwarted by construction scaffolding, large machinery, parking garages, or what have you. I walked a few feet away from the shuttle stop to get a better view.

Finishing after a few quick snaps, I was messing with the lens cap and looked up to see that I'd completely missed the fact that a big, blue bus with the letters "W-E-S-T-I-N" flashing on the LED display was beginning to pull away from the stop. I ran toward the bus and used my palm to bang on the windows to let the driver know I wanted to be on that bus. Thankfully, she stopped. Boarding the bus, I thanked her profusely and explained that I'd been waiting for some time. She and I talked about why I was there as she meandered from terminal to terminal, finally leaving airport property and arriving at the hotel. As I hopped off of the bus she wished us a great vacation. Such a nice lady.

I joined our group and some new cruisers in the lobby where we waited for the shuttle to San Pedro and the Norwegian Star. A few of us made our way to Daily Grill to pass the time with breakfast, a bloody mary or a mimosa. Finding that we could smoke cigarettes on the patio where there were large, comfortable chairs in a conversation area with a stone fire pit we migrated outdoors for the delightful L.A. weather.

After anxiously waiting for what seemed like half the day the charter buses finally arrived. We paid our tabs, scrambled for our luggage and made our way out the door. Leaving our luggage to be loaded onto the bus, we climbed aboard and took our seats with a sigh of relief. It wasn't a long ride to San Pedro and before we knew it we could see our ship. The bus stopped and as the driver unloaded all of the bags we were instructed to walk in a particular door where we waited in line for security to check our passports and boarding documents. Once verified, we walked up two flights of stairs where the concrete block, windowless, sparse space opened up to a huge room filled with a cacophony of stanchions and hundreds of people waiting in line to approach one of the twenty or so NCL agents. The room was electric with anticipation. It was one of those times that everybody is a friend and complete strangers talked and chatted about their upcoming plans, where they're from, and what they did in Los Angeles before today.

We checked in, waved at those in our group who were still in line and began walking toward the ship to another long line. I could tell that some of the other people in line were beginning to tire of the process by how they leaned on any available object with sighs of boredom. Not me. I knew that before long we'd be in our cabin, on our balcony with many of our friends, waiting to leave Berth 93 for sunnier climes.