Devion's Views #197


THIS IS NOT A CHRISTMAS STORY (posted November 24, 2019)


In the summer of 2019, friends from Parksville suggested we join them on a late-Fall Oceania cruise from Montreal to Miami.

During our retirement years, we have taken a number of cruises on large and small ships. The most enjoyable, by far, were riverboat cruises in Europe.

Our Parksville friends have been on Oceania ships in the past. Oceania is/was reputed one of the best...and most expensive.

Their Parksville travel agent coordinated all bookings with Oceania for the four of us.

When you reach that "age"...when even buying green bananas is considered risk-taking...planning another bucket-list adventure, six months into the future, demands meticulous attention to every little detail.

                                                           CHAPTER TWO - THE JACKET

Many retired folks (of my vintage) have dozens of ties of various widths, lengths and colours, dress socks and closets containing rarely-used dress shirts, a tuxedo, suits and sports jackets all dating back to the styles-in-vogue during our long ago "working days".

You may wonder why?

Well, these cherished garments are just like an old pair of comfortable slippers, not easily discarded.

Regardless of the condition of these out-of-fashion wardrobe items, adult kids and their kids, have zero interest in Grandpa's hand-me-downs.

Meanwhile, Grandpa stubbornly holds firm, believing it's not-yet-time to donate all the "stuff" to charity; convinced his classy outfits are still needed and worn as "obligatory-garb" while attending funerals, club luncheons, reunions, etc..

It was while purchasing the essential and expensive cancellation and health insurance that Grandma began a campaign..."your ancient wardrobe will not pass muster on Oceania. It's time to buy a new sports jacket".

Grandpa resisted..."there's nothing wrong with my navy blue blazer, with the brass buttons. I love that jacket". He knew, however, that eventual surrender was inevitable, otherwise he would certainly endure the alternative; a relentless seemingly never-ending campaign.

Victory in hand, Grandma dragged her captive to two men's apparel stores located in beautiful Sidney by the Sea...the only men's apparel shops in all of Sidney.

For the record, Grandpa has not purchased a sports jacket in several decades. And like most men, he really hates shopping because it makes him kind of grumpy.

At the first men's apparel establishment, nothing satisfied Grandma or her prisoner. The second was more promising having a wider selection of off-the-rack contemporary styled jackets. The price tags alarmed Grandpa ($700+) as he stood silently in front of a full length mirror, while the eager young sales person (John) and Grandma selected several garments to try on. John ceremoniously placed each one on Grandpa's upper torso, gently smoothing the shoulders offering "this one really looks good on you".

Apparel "experts" (John and Grandma) quietly enjoyed themselves commenting in a coded-language, Grandpa assumed was only understood by connoisseurs of haute-couture. 

It became apparent how much Grandpa's physique has rearranged itself over the decades.

Occasionally, the "experts" asked Grandpa for an opinion. His silence was evidence he wasn't prepared to offer one. Grandpa just wanted to get the hell out of there and go home, more convinced than before he didn't need or want a new jacket.

Forty five minutes passed before the "experts" concluded another course of action to deal with Grandpa's rearranged physique,  pivoting to Plan B...made-to-measure.

John smiled greedily and scurried away to return with a tape measure and a large pad of paper. He took meticulous measurements, again and again, noting each on the large pad. Grandpa thought either John is the most precise tailor he ever encountered or John didn't know what the hell he was doing. Turned out John was not a tailor.

This part of the ordeal finally ended. It was now time to select colour, type and weight of the material. John hauled out a book with hundreds of swatches. Grandpa uttered "colour blue, weight light!" Blood pressure slowly increased as the "experts" found it necessary to comment on each passing swatch. To stop this process Grandpa firmly stated "that one".

Believing this saga was nearing its conclusion and Grandpa could finally go home, John announced "it's now time to select the buttons, stitching and lining" and gently guided the old man to a counter to make his selections.

Grandpa took less than a minute to choose the buttons and stitching, then waited patiently for the "experts" to finish discussing their preferences for the lining...that nobody would ever see.

John completed the detailed order form when Grandpa said "I need the jacket finished quickly, we are going on a cruise in six weeks". "No problem Mr. Devion it will be back from Hamilton in three weeks. Then you can come in for alterations which can be done locally, in a week".

Hamilton? Alterations?

Grandma then asked the most important question "How much is this going to cost?" John, "the buttons $25, the stitching $25, the lining $50 plus the made-to-measure will be between $1,100-$1,200. Adding we normally charge $100 for any alterations but being a first-time customer I will waive that charge. We require a $500 deposit".

The voice in Grandpa's head whispered "After all of the measurements why would the jacket require alterations? Your first car didn't cost that much!" The "experts" smiled knowingly, they were in the presence of a fashion luddite.

Having spent the better part of an afternoon with John, Grandpa no longer cared about the cost or anything else. He just wanted to go home.

In the aftermath, turned out John's delivery deadline predictions were fiction. A month went by before the jacket arrived for alterations and then had to be sent back to Hamilton. Another week went by. Exasperated, Grandpa called the store and demanded to speak to the owner. A heated exchange ensued during which the owner accused Grandpa of threatening him and his staff and hung up. Grandpa's thoughts turned to retrieving the $500 deposit.

Following a phone call from (I'm not a tailor) John, on the day before we left on the cruise, Grandma picked up the jacket. Had Grandpa picked it up, there would have been casualties. John kept apologizing to Grandma for the unacceptable service, concluding with "for the inconvenienced caused, the cost of Mr. Devion's made-to-measure jacket has been reduced by $500".

P.S. The jacket still requires further alterations, apparently the sleeves are off. Grandpa no longer cares.

                                                           CHAPTER THREE - THE CRUISE

A week before the cruise departure, we received in the mail (via the Parksville travel agent) a 62-page personalized booklet from Oceania entitled "Preliminary Cruise Vacation Summary" plus airline documents and pre-booked shore excursion vouchers.

The cost of the cruise "package" included: 1) prepaid airfare, seats and checked luggage from Vancouver to Montreal, 2) shuttle from the Montreal airport to the ship, 3) prepaid airfare, seats and checked luggage, Miami to Dallas and Dallas to Vancouver.

Airfare, seats and checked luggage Victoria to Vancouver and Vancouver to Victoria was on our dime.

Everything appeared now to be in place for the anticipated restful, pampered, 16-day dream vacation of a lifetime...or so we thought as a series of unexpected "glitches" began to happen.

The first "glitch": Seats and checked luggage from Vancouver to Montreal was not prepaid by Oceania.

The first flight: Oceania booked us on Air Canada Rouge (French for red-eye) departing Vancouver at 11:25 p.m. arriving Montreal the next day at 7:00 a.m. What a hell of a way to begin a restful vacation. Air Canada has finally managed to create a unique no-frills flying experience. The U.N. international court would certainly conclude the "experience" Air Canada subjects its paying customers to endure is a form of cruel and unusual human torture.

Montreal airport: After retrieving our checked luggage we noticed a diminutive "mature" lady holding up a sign "OCEANIA". A dozen sleep-deprived strangers huddled around her. My name is Marie-Jose she announced in a familiar French Canadian accent. I will guide you to the airport location where the shuttle bus will deliver you to the ship at 11:00 a.m. In the meantime and to kill some time, Oceania will host the group to breakfast.

As we waited for the shuttle bus to arrive, Marie-Jose and I spoke in French, about the results of our federal election. She was delighted that one of her flock, from British Columbia, could speak French. We had a lively conversation for half an hour that nobody else in the group understood. She gave me a big hug as we boarded the bus, convinced that, like her, monsieur Ronald was a dedicated separatist.

Embarkation on the Oceania ship "Riviera" took place around noon at the Port of Montreal. That's when passports are confiscated and credit card information is provided to Oceania. Passengers then receive a "Oceania Cruises World Card" that functions as a stateroom key, concierge lounge key and onboard credit card.

The ship carries 1,200 passengers and 800 crew. Passengers came from 28 countries; the majority being U.S. and Canadian citizens. Our stateroom, on deck nine, was nicely appointed and conveniently located near the concierge lounge and laundry facilities.

The cruise itinerary: Quebec City, Saguenay, Quebec, Charlottetown, PEI, Sydney, Nova Scotia, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Bar Harbor, Maine, Boston, Massachusetts, Newport, Rhode Island, New York City, Miami, Florida.

Day two: Our Russian captain announced the weather on arrival in Quebec City, heavy rain with 80-90 kmh. winds. Passengers planning to go ashore do so at their own risk. One million Quebec homes ended up without power and the much anticipated Fall leaves colour show blown away by Mother Nature's storm.

The "emergency evacuation drill" was very unorthodox. Passengers assembled, comfortably seated in the theatre without life jackets, not at the muster stations with life jackets on. Did our Russian captain assume a boatload of overweight geriatrics knew exactly where their muster station was located on this large ship and would instinctively know how to put on a life jacket in a real emergency at sea?

Only four TV channels carrying news were available, MSNBC, Fox, Sky and a business channel. No Canadian news channel, despite half the cruise took place in Canadian waters. The impeachment hearings were available on MSNBC, which made conversations with Americans about what was going on in their country tricky and delicate. For example, as the ship was leaving New York, at dinner we sat next to a 78-year-old retired Marine captain (who served in Vietnam) and his wife who had been employed by the C.I.A.. The captain declared, Donald J. Trump, is the best American president in U.S. history, look at what he's done for our economy, while admitting when asked, he had no idea what NAFTA was. By the end of the meal we were ready to duel.

Game seven of the World Series was not available, frustrating a majority of passengers from the U.S. and Canada. Senior crew members who were asked why, responded "what is a World Series?"

Electronic devices remained on "airplane mode" to avoid exorbitant fees. The "free" internet service operated in super-slow-motion mode. It was obvious this was meant to encourage passengers to purchase the expensive onboard internet package.

Our pre-booked (morning) New York City bus tour excursion (scheduled to take two hours) occurred on November 11th. That day, the 100th U.S. Veterans' Day Parade took place in the heart of the city. No American president had ever attended this parade until the current occupant decided to be the first. Emperor, Commander-in-Chief and Vietnam draft-dodger, President Donald J. 'Crazy Pants' Trump, stood on the reviewing stand taking the salute. The city that never sleeps was turned into a gigantic parking lot. Our exasperated tour guide confessed he had never seen anything like it in 30-years of guiding tours in New York City. His bus was filled with geriatrics with no onboard toilet. As the hours passed the "experience" turned into a marathon of bladder control. Many were forced to leave the bus and disappear into the nearest restaurant, for relief...never to be seen again. Arriving at the next to last stop before returning to the ship, the guide left the bus for 20 minutes. When he returned we enquired where he had gone..."I had to go to the toilet", never thinking that the few passengers left on the bus had to go as much as he did. He lost any chance of receiving tips.

Several on the crew provided excellent service, however, many had difficulty with English, creating problems with ordering such things as room service.

Mucho gouging: A flute of California champagne cost $19.47 USD. We quickly decided that rather than being gouged on a daily basis, we purchased Oceania's wine, beer and champagne "package" ($559.30 USD X 2). Later, we discovered the "package" had restrictions. It could not be used whenever restaurants were closed; which meant during Happy Hour (4:00-6:30) and after 9:00 p.m. During the restricted hours we were gouged again. 

Our shipboard account was charged twice, for purchases made by someone else, e.g. martinis charged at half past midnight while we were fast asleep. Complaints had to be made at the reception desk. The clerk in turn forwarded emails to a manager. It took three days to have any conversation with said manager. He only agreed to reverse one of the charges...gouged again.

The food was terrific; especially at the four "specialty" restaurants (Thai, Italian, American and French). We dined there often. Grandpa's jacket was on full display. Ironically, jackets are not part of Oceania's dress code. A full schedule of onboard activities was available to passengers plus nightly entertainment in the theatre. However, the most popular "activity" for this crowd was the afternoon nap.

The sea adventure ended. We disembarked "Riviera" at 8:00 a.m. A shuttle bus took us to the Miami airport where we faced another "glitch". The American Airlines agent advised AA would not honour Oceania's complimentary checked luggage document. We had to fork over another $30 USD X 2.

Then, we discovered Oceania had booked our friends on an earlier AA (Miami to Dallas) flight. Our AA flight left Miami two hours later. We arrived at building "C" at the Dallas airport. The departure notice board indicated our connecting AA flight (Dallas to Vancouver) was boarding, in one half hour, from building "A". We panicked. How do we get to building "A"? An "elderly" airport employee noticed our distress, came over and asked for a boarding pass. His East-Indian accent complicated communication as he slowly explained building "A" was accessible by train, and he would personally take us there. We hurried up an escalator to the train platform. The train took off in the direction of building "A" and stopped. The kind gentleman said "No, not here, one more stop to go and please try to remain calm". At the second stop, the "elderly trio" jogged "elderly-like"; panting, wheezing and sweating for a half mile to the gate. Passengers were in the process of boarding. At any moment, any one of the three slow-motion "joggers" could have keeled over with a heart we staggered toward the passenger lineup. Our East-Indian saviour received a generous tip and wished us safe journey. He saved us from being stranded in Dallas. Of all the "glitches", this was Oceania's most injurious. Would Oceania have provided any assistance if we had missed the flight...because of their incompetence?

We arrived in Vancouver at 7:30 p.m.; proceeded through customs hauling luggage on the long hike to the Air Canada-Victoria check-in counter. The AC agent provided boarding passes and tagged our luggage which was placed on the luggage belt. Through security screening and another hike to the Victoria boarding gate. At 10:10 p.m., the AC flight left Vancouver for Victoria. At 10:40 we were standing at the luggage carousel. At 11:10, we were alone, having retrieved only one bag. All the other passengers had left with their luggage. The airport baggage agent "smiled knowingly", asked for the luggage tag for the missing bag in order to initiate a trace for wherever it went...Grandpa's assumption, likely back to Dallas. "Hopefully, your bag will be delivered in the next 24-hours, Mr. Devion. If not, give us a call".

A taxi took us home, exhausted, extremely disappointed with Oceania's sloppy attention to detail and customer service that spoiled a bucket-list vacation.

And guess what was in the missing bag?...but of course monsieur Ronald...IT WAS YOUR NEW MADE-TO-MEASURE BLUE JACKET WITH THE FANCY BUTTONS, STITCHING AND LINING NOBODY WILL EVER SEE.

                                                                      THE END