An Experienced Jazz Cruiser’s Guide to Jazz Cruising, Part 2

Yes, there’s more! so join me, ladies and gents of the jazzy-and-cruising persuasion, for some more inside info on jazz cruising. Or, at least, have a giggle at my trials and tribulations.

So I started packing for the Capital Jazz Supercruise already. 

“But wait!” you say. “It’s still September! You’re not leaving for another month!”

Yes, I know that, and I’m also an accountant who is running headfirst into deadlines, and my calendar contains other things as well. Whether or not I want to admit it, that cruise is literally around the corner, and it’s going to gobsmack me well before I’m ready for it. So hell yes, I’m getting ready now! I’d rather have only my camera left to pack after everything is said and done, as opposed to running around the day before I’m set to fly out, and end up forgetting stuff I actually need.

I’m set to shoot a Long Island fest, jaunt really quickly to Phoenix for a private event, shoot two back-to-back NYC shows the following week, and guess what! the cruise departs two weeks from the city shows. And another major work deadline is two days before my departure time! This is not counting the meetings I have scattered between those things. That cruise is a blink of an eye away, and I know it.

So what are the lessons du jour?

1. Don’t be afraid of the Second Checked Suitcase when you fly.

Believe me, I know how counterproductive it sounds. However, as I’m now discovering, I may not have a choice, and who’s to blame – none but my own self. 

How so?

Well, story goes like this. After three or so years of heavy duty travel, my Big Suitcase started coming apart. So I replaced it with a nice strong one of a similar size – key words – and brought it home. Until I actually dragged it out and began to pack, I didn’t realize that it’s actually smaller than the suitcase I had to dispose of. Expandable or not, it’s just of a smaller capacity.

Houston, we have a slight problem here. 

I’m efficient like nobody’s business when it comes to packing. If I had to push it, I could be ready for a trip like the Capital Jazz Cruise in 24 hours to departure. However, that is wildly counterproductive. Last-minute packing is a guaranteed way of forgetting something. This is why I pack in advance. This is also why I am glad like hell that I started packing a month ahead, because if I discovered this size disparity in my big suitcase any later, I’d be in a world of financial hurt.

In other words: airline overlimit baggage fees

I’ll wait for y’all to stop cringing. 

This is the thing for me this year: my flights are paid for by the airlines themselves. My return flight, with Delta, is paid for with my miles. My American Airlines’ disaster last year, where they tried to bump me off my flights, ended up in me being issued a $300 voucher, which has paid my flight to the pre-cruise hotel in full, with pre-boarding and extras, such as the coverage for the first checked bag. I still have a little left over from that certificate, and while I’m not too likely to use it, it’s still something that could come in very handy – such as, well, checking a second bag. However, I checked the terms of service, and nowhere did it indicate that the first-checked-bag fee makes the bag exempt from weight fees. That is a problem. Also, seeing as I tend to go over the weight limit when I pack, this creates A Problem, because those fees are from $75 to $125 each way. I speak from experience, that is to say, a very ouchy wallet. 

So I figured that I would do a lot better if I were to pack a smaller suitcase for a second bag. This way, neither of them will go over the weight limit, and instead of about $100 each way, the max I’d pay is….. $40. Each way. 

Better? Oh hell yes. 

Also, it’s more practical. Explanation as follows.

Think of the logistics of your trip. Just the basics of when, where, why, and how.

If you’re going on a music cruise, the common-sense thing to do is to arrive to the port city the day before your departure. I don’t say this idly: you have no idea what can happen to your flight on a good day, never mind in inclement weather. Most of the time, if you’re leaving out of Florida, the ship departs at 4pm. It may not be a problem for you, per se, but again: expect the unexpected. Suppose your flight gets delayed. Suppose you’re rerouted. Suppose you’re stuck on the tarmac waiting for someone to shovel snow (if your cruise leaves in January, this concern is valid). Whether or not you like it, the ship will leave at the suggested departure time, on the dot, regardless of whether or not you’re on it, and it’s in your best interest to be on that ship. And if you want to get aboard the ship early and you want to get there day of departure, guess what this means: 6am flight! Are you up for waking up at 3am for a cab call? 

Yeah, I didn’t think so. 

So fly in the day before. One, you get to chill for a whole day before your big cruise, and believe me when I say, stock up on your sleep now, because if I were you, I wouldn’t plan on sleeping on the big trip. Too much music. 

Now, what does this mean in terms of your packing? 

Suppose you’re me for a second. You have your big suitcase, and it’s stuffed to the gills with all the Party Essentials for 8 days. Swimsuits, check. Cover-ups, check. Show attendance clothes, check. Comfy clothes for in-between, check. Toiletries to last, check. Sunscreen, check. Shoes, check. Hair dryer, check. Makeup and jewelry, check. All of that adds up to a LOT of stuff, and even if you take a tip out of How To Pack Like An Engineer, you would still have to dig into that case when you arrive to the hotel to make yourself comfortable, etc. And you know what that means? Repacking when you go to the pier.

What you may or may not know about the cruises, it’s this: on board the ship, delivery of your suitcases takes quite a bit of time. Think about it: 6,000 people all surrender their bags when they’re at the port, and this does not include the musicians’ instrument and gear cases. The ship has 12 decks total, of which 7-8 are strictly the residential decks. That is a lot of work for the crew. Last year, my suitcase didn’t arrive until about 6-7pm, which meant that I had no way of changing into gig clothes for the first show of the night – and I was lucky as hell that I chose early dining that year and just caught a quick meal while I waited, because I don’t know about y’all, but if I’m on a cruise, I don’t much like showing up to a main-theatre concert in my traveling clothes. Cargo pants and a tee are cool for airport and portside, but not cool in the front row of a show – at least that’s my opinion.

How does an extra bag help matters?

When you go on board the ship, a small wheelie will be your second carry-on – and if you set up your packing right, it’ll tide you over A-OK until your big bag is delivered to your cabin. 

So how to do this efficiently?

Well, first tip is to see the link above for the best Youtube video on the subject. 

Second: think. Think very carefully. Think of your clothing, think of what you’re taking, and think of what you’re most likely to use when you’re in layover at the pre-cruise hotel. Do you plan to sleep? Pack a set of comfy clothes to serve as pajamas (or if you’re me, pack flannels). Dressing up for dinner? A nice oufit; pants and top, or dress, and shoes, makeup as you like it. Lounging at hotel pool? Swimsuit, beach towel, sunscreen. Going to pier tomorrow? Pack another set of comfies. And pack a spare set of all the toiletries you’re putting into your Big Suitcase. 

Altogether, you’ll have just enough clothes for 2 days, and it’ll be just enough to fill up a small wheelie case and still leave packing room for souvenirs, shopping, and so on. And best of all: when you’re packing your suitcase back up at the end of the trip, that little tote for Night Before stuff I talked about in my last jazz cruising post? Goes right into your wheelie, which contains that spare set of travel clothes. 

And, you’re covered for your overflow. Ever had that moment where you ask yourself, “How the hell did I pack all this when I was departing?” I have. And rather than asking a friend to sit on your suitcase to get it to close, have a little extra room for overflow.

All of this talk about flying out, though, reminds me:

2. Watch your itineraries carefully!

I run into this dilemma routinely, I hate to say, and I’m not at fault this time. Unfortunately, I run into this because I do a lot of flying.

I think you know this, but if you don’t, I’ll happily reiterate: airlines often change their flight times, and depending on whom you fly with, you don’t get notified before you’re bumped off onto another flight. 

I am a creature of habit. I stay with the same hotels if the price is right and they treat me well. If I like a particular airline, I stick to them like glue until they do something that makes it difficult for me to stay their client (hasn’t happened yet). If I like a particular flight for how I can time my day, I’ll take that same flight year in and year out. So when I got the American Airlines voucher last year, I went with the same flight I always book when I fly American Airlines to Florida – which was a 10am NYC-MIA. Why Miami, when the cruise leaves from Ft. Lauderdale? 1. It’s a direct flight, while NYC-FLL isn’t for that particular airline, and 2. dirt-cheap. It’s an early wakeup call, but not too early, and I land in Florida at around 1pm, which means I can write, relax, sun myself, read a book, and enjoy the hotel for the rest of the day before vamoosing to the port the next morning.

You can imagine, then, the look on my face when I got an email from American Airlines, wherein they notified me that my new flight time was…wait for it…

6.35am. 

They changed the time again to 6:55am since, but to say I’m less than pleased is an understatement.

I took the 6am flight all of once, when I was leaving to Montego Bay in 2009 for Jammin’ in Jamaica. If I had the choice, I wouldn’t repeat the experience, even if sunrise in NYC is absolutely gorgeous, and reminds me of why I like window seats. I absolutely detest early wakeup calls enough as it is, and if you consider a half-hour to get to the airport, plus about the same time for security and check-in, plus having to be there at least another hour beforehand, I generally look at a 3:30am cab call with a 6-odd am departure time. Not happy. I wasn’t a fan of all-nighters in college, and even less of a fan of waking up at a time that I not-so-lovingly refer to as ass o’clock.

But nonetheless, it’s a flight that I paid nothing out of pocket for, and my bitching about the asscrack-of-dawn wakeup call will be limited. Plus, if I’m landing in Miami, I get to have papas rellenas for lunch, and there’s nothing I love more than good Cuban food when in Florida – which, in MIA, is easy to find. 

There is one  good thing about that sort of an early-morning flight: I can catch a long nap on the plane, and when I get to the hotel, I have most of the day ahead of me. So I can get some more sleep and more writing done this way.

 

One kind of similar incident about flight changes took place not a couple of days ago, and I have to hand it to the DeltaAssist twitter crew. (If you’re a Delta customer and have a problem, tweet @DeltaAssist and they help you in 15m or less).

Yep, it was another schedule change. The problem? It was such a change that made it impossible for me to make the connecting flight. My route was NYC – Tucson, two hours’ layover in Salt Lake City. Except the SLC-Tucson flight was now scheduled to leave a solid hour before I was scheduled to land in SLC. 

Problem.

Cue some tweets to the DeltaAssist account, and fifteen minutes later, I was rerouted through Atlanta instead, and set to land in AZ a whole three hours earlier than I planned. Good? Yes, but even better on Delta for notifying my schedule change with an alert of “Call customer assistance, for you may not make your connecting flight”. 

 

What are our take-aways from the day?

Plan ahead! If it means you have to spend money, then find a way to spend less of it. 

Oh, and make sure you have very good alarm clocks for the early flights. 

K.G.

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