Well, it had to happen and today it did. Our wonderful cruise of 2008, the transatlantic voyage, came to an end when we docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico and were forced to disembark from the ship. Unfortunately, it was not a pleasant experience.
The Celebrity Summit docked in San Juan a little before 5 AM in the morning. Expecting some immigration difficulties, the disembarkation proceedings were not scheduled to begin until 7:30 am. We arose about 7 so that we could clear out of the room and get some breakfast at about 8. We were not scheduled for disembarkation until 9:15 since we were staying in San Juan for a night.
We managed to hook up with our new found British friends Roy and Jennifer in the Waterfall Cafe for breakfast. We reminisced a bit about the cruise and the great times that we had on it. It was nice to see them again from breakfast and make sure we said our goodbyes. We exchanged some contact info and hopefully will run into them again some day.
After breakfast we took one last trip around the cruise ship snapping a few pictures of San Juan and getting once last good look at the Celebrity Summit. We gathered our carry on luggage and reported to our disembarkation station. They were running well over 30 minutes late in the process due to Customs issues.
It was finally about 10:00 or so when we got the word to disembark. We did not get far off the ship when we ran into a huge line at the Customs check point. Disembarking in San Juan is a complete mess. They had a whopping 4 lines open for Customs. That’s 4 lines for a cruise ship of almost 2000 folks. Simple math tells you that means and extremely long wait – in a non-air conditioned warehouse/hanger. The facilities were amongst the worst I have seen in cruising and the utter lack of stuff was incomprehensible.
It took us about 75 minutes to reach the actual Customs window. And only about 30 seconds to be waved on through. This was the case with most US Citizens. It took much longer for the foreign nationals who had to be fingerprinted and photographed. Why they didn’t have different US Citizens and non US Citizens lanes like every other Airport or Cruise Terminal I have been in around the World (or citizen vs visitor) is beyond me. The embarkation process for the next set of passengers looked to be just as fouled with the lack of normal pre-thought planning. It’s a safe bet that the disembarkation process in San Juan left a bad enough taste in our mouths that it is unlikely we will every start or end a cruise in San Juan again.
On the good side though, once through Customs we were able to fly out of there. Finding the bags was pretty easy and they were all there. We gathered them up, went outside and hailed a van tax right away. Suzanne had booked the Sheraton Old San Juan hotel for the night using points from my business travels. Plus, she thought it was right across from the pier. Well, actually it is right across the street from the Continental Pier which is used by Cruise Ships for day visits. But, since we were disembarking, we docked at the Pan American Pier on the other side of the harbor. Not a big deal as it was a simple $20 cab ride to the hotel with our 10 pieces of luggage.
We had thought about doing some touring of Old San Juan but everyone was pretty exhausted. The kids just wanted to swim in the rooftop pool and Suzanne and I really didn’t feel like walking around another town. The one place we did want to go was Fort Cristobal but we could see it from the hotel window, so we called it good enough. Yeah, cheesy, but we had been on the go for almost three weeks now.
We even grabbed lunch at the hotel restaurant, A Chicago Burger Company establishment. For dinner, Suzanne walked two blocks down the road and got Subway sandwiches for everyone. The kids swam for hours and we got a bit of hot tub time in. Basically, it was about the right ending to a wonderful, but long trip.
The Celebrity Summit was supposed to set sail from San Juan at 10:00 that night and we wanted to see her sail (unfortunately, without us). The girls were unable to stay awake though and crashed early. Sean and I were on the roof to watch the departure. We say the Royal Caribbean Adventure of the Seas leave at about 9:50 but the Summit remained docked. Finally, at about 10:20 we gave up and went to bed.
I suspect Celebrity was waiting for some additional passengers to arrive. They did the same thing in Barcelona when a plane from Denver with almost 30 passengers was delayed. There was as many passengers on the same plane for the Royal Caribbean ship that was leaving Barcelona at the same time as us too, but Royal Caribbean didn’t wait. It was odd to perhaps see a similar replay of waiting vs not waiting in San Juan. I don’t know if the Celebrity passengers booked their air through Celebrity and the Royal Caribbean passengers didn’t or what but strange how one waited and one did not.
Anyways, tomorrow we fly back home and the vacation will be over. It will be hard to go back to work on Monday.