JoCo Nerd Cruise: The Final Chapter. March 2023


Apparently, the Universe was granting wishes from my junior high dream journal, because I somehow spent a day walking puppies along a Caribbean beach and then chatting with Wil Wheaton for 30 minutes. Is this real life?!?

Firstly, Boat was super late leaving San Juan, because one of the official Holland America tours was stuck on other side of the island. It was a kayaking in the bioluminescence outing (Reagan had initially wanted to do it, until she saw it was a 5 hour tour and that was too much social interaction for her. Good thing she didn’t book it). Supposed to return at 9pm. There was only one working road to get from their location back to port, and a truck hauling a boat CAUGHT ON FIRE and was blocking the road. For hours! From the onboard forums (and later talking to people on this tour), I can confirm that the large bus had a toilet on board at least. During the waiting, the cruise line is trying to brainstorm other options. There was a discussion of this big walk/hike up a mountainside for a little under a mile, where they could then be loaded onto a different bus and driven back. But understandably, not everyone was up to the mobility challenge so that wouldn’t work. When it became apparent that they wouldn’t be back until after 1am (when the onboard food shuts down), the lovely nerd passengers started crowd-sourcing snacks and food. There’s pizza and apples available in room #. And this other room has granola bars. Etc. And I learned a few hundred people stayed up (were still up) and cheering from the ship when our weary travelers finally returned. I was in my bed at this point. But woke up to the 2am horn announcing us leaving port. And then this boat was HAULING ASS because we were 3 hours late in our departure. Which made things extra “Boat-y.” Totally thought the rocking and rolling ship was going to roll me right out of my tiny twin bed, but happily that didn’t happen, and I managed to fall back asleep. Also, lucky that this was an official tour, otherwise there would’ve been two buses worth of people forced to try to find their own way to our next port of call to rejoin the ship. Eek!

We were late arriving British Virgin Islands, but not too badly. Fun getting to watch us sail into Tortola, as all the different islands we passed were so green and gorgeous.

Then it’s time to try to connect with the dog rescue people. Some lovely nerds had organized a volunteer opportunity ahead of time, with local animal rescue PAW BVI. Where a group of us would meet them to walk and socialize dogs along the beach for a few hours. Reagan had been unsure whether she’d feel safe enough to do this (“what if the dogs have rabies? Or are super aggressive?” Reagan, it’s an animal rescue. They’ll have had medical care, and they won’t be giving volunteers any problem dogs). The drive to Cane Garden Bay was stunning, as Tortola Island is gorgeous and the views from the hilltop of all the waters in their glorious jewel tones…just lovely. Reagan was scared riding in the open sided passenger van/truck. And so just shut her eyes and tightly gripped the seatback in front of her. Others in our group tried encouraging her to open her eyes to see the view, but she was not interested.

Once at the Bay, we found the meeting place and waited. It was so pretty. That’s when we learned they were bringing 9 PUPPIES for the 11 of us to walk and socialize. She started handing out dogs, and I was given Moe. The best dog ever. He was such a sweet cuddler. Bestest boy ever. And while my dog at home would have LOVED a puppy friend, probably, canine/feline relations are already still strained, and adding a puppy wouldn’t help. *wistful sigh* Reagan was given the tiniest puppy, in a halter with skull and crossbones. “We call him Piranha because he bites feet.” Match made in heaven.

And then everyone just got to wander the beach with their dogs. Of course tons of people (tourists and locals) came up to meet the puppies. Note to PAW BVI for next time…with some advanced coordination, JoCo folks could each have a QR code, so tourists could be encouraged to make a donation while playing with/taking photos with the dogs! The rescue was smart enough to have brought Merch along, but only to sell to us afterwards. Let’s bring it down to the beach, and get some tourists buying water bottles and leashes, eh?

Moe loved cuddles, eating garbage, and licking faces, and he was all outta garbage! Cutest pup ever. At one point it was raining and we were cuddling, and he very intelligently snuggled and curled up further under my neck, so my wide brim sun hat would offer him rain protection, too. Some of the other puppies wisely huddled between human legs for rain shelter. So dang sweet.

Later in the afternoon, as I’m walking back towards Reagan and a few of the others, I notice she’s chatting with Wil Wheaton. After a few minutes, Reagan leaves, but a few of us continue the conversation. (He was a guest on the cruise, so it wasn’t like 100% random for him to be there). He’d done the dog rescue volunteer thing a few years previously, and was jealous and happy for puppy time. As nice and down to earth as you’d expect. (I’d made the decision at the beginning of the cruise to not ask famous people for selfies and instead just have a real interaction, if and when it happened. But it was interesting just watching what being a Public Persona is like when interacting with your fans in the world. As people who clearly follow him closely online are asking detailed questions about his dog’s medical treatment (I think it was for cancer) and other things like that. Just, that’s such a strange thing. Those parasocial relationships are strong, and he was very sweet and very used to it, and just ran with it. And occasionally would elaborate or explain to me (as it was clear I didn’t know what was being referenced/asked about). It was just really nice. And we had PUPPIES during all of it.

Later that evening, I remarked upon how lovely the day had been, and Wil Wheaton too. Reagan looked puzzled. “Wil Wheaton wasn’t there.” “Reagan, you were talking to him for like 5 minutes before I came over.” “They guy in the black shirt? But he didn’t look famous.” “Yeah, that’s kind of his whole deal.” She was still doubtful so I did a Google Image Search to show her. She said Huh, and guessed she was doing that thing where she doesn’t really make eye contact with strangers. *laughs*

That afternoon, we got changed for the Formal Headwear Party. This is the event for which I’d created my giant flowered hat. I felt a little sheepish and shy in it, but it was fun, too.

Was glad that Reagan had agreed to attend this event with me. Mostly we were separate on the boat, only meeting up for our assigned dinner and then she’d sit next to me for the first half of the main show each night. But other than that 2 hours, we’re just sleeping next to each other and then off doing our own things all day. I’d expected one of the reasons Reagan had asked me to come along would be to act as a Small Talk Wingman for her, ya know? But she mostly chose to do her own things each day. (I know one of those things involved playing Poker at the casino, where she proudly related going “all in” on a pair. A pair of either 8’s or 10’s (I can’t remember now) and she’s adamant that that was a very good hand. Ha!)  

At the Formal Headwear Party, I enjoyed the dress up and getting to see everyone’s fun outfits and hats (Several nerds even set up tiara lending libraries throughout the cruise!), it wasn’t so much an organized event, in a space that fostered easy interactions with strangers. It was more a “go wander around the outside deck in your outfits” event. And I’m not so much a “parade yourself” person. Reagan did encourage me to take a few laps with her, and we had a few nice and shorter chats with folks. But mostly sort of stood to the side and observed. One sister of darkness and one of light.

There was also a fake moustache component to the event, for those who wanted. Several of the staff wore some of the fake moustaches, even as uni-brows, which was very fun.

Later, there was a Showtunes Karaoke sing-along event, with a live band. It was amazing. A shadow event, put together by attendees, whereas a group were bringing their instruments to be the band. People had to sign up weeks in advance, so the band could learn the songs/get the sheet music, etc. I’d been expecting this to draw the talented kids looking to relive their glory days as stars of their college and high school musicals. But nope. Instead, the majority of the singers had lots of enthusiasm, but not so much talent. And it was so supportive and hilarious and everyone in the audience is singing along and it’s such a lovely safe space. I was in awe at their confidence. This wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. Almost a month in advance, they had to sign up and pick a song. Just, wow! Also fun to hear some deeper cut musicals (two songs from “Heathers” and someone even sang the theme song from that Ewan McGregor “Down With Love” movie).

That evening’s concert featured Puddles Pity Party, which is such a strange but entertaining show. He’s doing his own thing, and you either like it or you don’t. But I enjoyed it. (Reagan didn’t stay for the show, so didn’t get her impression). Some of the folks around me are REALLY REALLY losing it over this show. I found it fun but not to the levels of some. Although the guy behind me does NOT get it, and is super baffled. Ha. To each their own.

The next day’s costume theme is “Retro Day” so feel free to interpret as you will. I just wore a nice dress but decided it was a good opportunity to get a second use out of the giant hat. The Boat was being very Boat-y again, and having this large heavy headwear on a rocking ship did lend a new challenge to your friend with a balance disorder. Ha! That afternoon, Reagan had agreed to meet up with me for tea (basically she had agreed to be my Boat buddy for two events: those involving my Big Hat, the formal headwear party the day before and the fancy afternoon tea with Schmanners podcast this day. So those are the shared Boat activities we did, other than dinner and sleeping next to each other). It was fun as a few other people dressed up for afternoon tea, but most folks were just in their regular clothes or their interpretation of Retro Day (there were some pirates next to us). I’d kind of thought there’d be more of an Event happening. But it was just the nice staff serving tiny pastries and sandwiches with some tea. I’d been hoping for some Travis McElroy interactions, but he wasn’t there (I know he’d missed a previous event due to illness). His wife/co-host Teresa did walk by all the tables to say hi. I’d been planning to break my “don’t ask for selfies” rule to ask for one with Travis, but it was not meant to be. Ah well. Yay for tiny pastries, I guess. Spent a relaxing time poolside finishing up my bookclub book “The Swimmers” by Julie Otsuka. I hadn’t read the back of the book, so was unprepared when the final third was an adult daughter dealing with her mom’s dementia and eventual death. And that’s how I became the weird crying lady next to the pool. Really beautiful book, though, just hit on my personal experiences more than I’d anticipated. I sort of expected that someone (staff? Another guest?) might feel the need to ask me if I was okay, and I was prepared to say it was because of this stupid book! (Not stupid book. Just hit home). But nobody did. Which was just fine. Occurs to me that someone quietly crying on a cruise ship is probably not entirely uncommon. It ended up being a nice way to feel some emotions with a gorgeous view and some fresh air. Stupid emotions! (not stupid).

It’s now our final full day, and we’ll spend the morning in the Bahamas, at Half Moon Cay (a private island owned by a few cruise lines). The ship was a little behind schedule, darn it. Reagan had signed up for a Jet Ski tour event (not my scene) so all the early morning tour people had to go line up first, to make sure they had time for their tours. I went in the regular people line, and met some nice folk on the smaller boat that ferries us between Ship and Beach. The water and sand were gorgeous, of course. I’d been told (correctly) that there’s not really any shade on the island, so we’d rented the little sun shade things from Holland America. Worth it! Picked a spot, claiming two chairs and a shade clamshell. Gorgeous view for some relaxing.

Reagan found me, per our plan, after her jet ski tour. Previously she had not been interested in doing any swimming, which is fine. I just asked that she would keep an eye on me while I went to swim in the Sea. Then asked if she just want to try wading out there and see if she liked it. She came along, and had so much fun! (Enough fun that she asked if we could do it again, after lunch!). Water was gorgeous. Waves gentle. I swam out to the rope border (Reagan was somehow convinced that that rope was a shark deterrent, or at least a shark demarcation, and while the other side might be dangerous, our side was safe. Ha. I mean, our side WAS safe from shark attacks, but not because of the rope. Because of the local fauna distribution. No fish in this part of the Cay (I’d researched the areas where you could go snorkeling, but it involved watching out for Fire Coral!! Also, Reagan wouldn’t go, and I wasn’t sure if I could find a snorkel buddy on the boat, so decided to skip it). Anyways, a very lost Needlefish showed up. I first thought it was someone’s cooling bandana or something floating in the water, until it swam past me, then jumped out of the water towards my sister. Which resulted in one of Reagan’s famous screams! So good! It was just a lovely time spent playing in the ocean, hiding from the sun (me), and relaxing.

Then back to the ship to shower and change. I heard several moans of pain while Reagan was showering and I figured her sunburn was hurting. But then she hollered through the bathroom door, asking me to Google what to do if one gets shower gel in their eyes. I tell her I’m pretty sure you just have to flush the eye, but I’ll check. And yep. I read to her that flushing her eye means holding eyelid open under the streaming water for several minutes. And that unfortunately it can keep hurting for awhile. Bummer. Then I take my shower. But when I’m done and dressed, she’s grumpy and still freaking out about the shower gel she got in her eye. Declares she needs alone time so won’t be seeing me anymore today. Ah well.

The final mainstage concert was great fun. Robyn, our Red Team leader did a whole tour of the balcony and mainstage audience. Then went on stage to encourage our team in some further shenanigans. I learned it’s tradition that all the performers sing songs from musicians who passed that year, which sounds maybe more sad than it was. It was celebratory and silly and great fun, and in the end the stage was so crowded with everyone singing along. A really nice note, and the folks seated around me were friendly and we all joined in with the singing.

It’s an early morning the final day, as we’ll be disembarking. Reagan decides to forego getting breakfast on the ship (even though she picked the latest “get off the boat” time for us of 9:30am, and we’ll need to customs and get a ride to our hotel and all that busy work first). We actually could’ve picked an earlier time, because she ended up being packed up and ready to leave sooner. So we just had to wait in our room. Ah well. The way that these giant cruise ships turn over the entire ship in one day is phenomenally fascinating. Truly impressive.

We get to the hotel to store our luggage (because it’s way too early for check in). Reagan’s found a place she wants for breakfast and we order a Lyft. Oldschool diner vibes with some outdoor tables. As part of her campaign to eat more vegetables, Reagan orders the side of spinach along with her meal “Oh honey, it’s from frozen,” but she tells the waitress she wants it anyway. *shrug* Then Reagan can’t find her phone. After going through purse and all her pockets, realizes she must have left it in the Lyft car. So that’s a stressful 30 minutes, using the internal messaging system to alert him, and then having me call and just let her phone ring a lot, in the hopes the driver will hear and answer (because Lyft’s “I left something in the car” messages won’t go through while the driver is taking rides, so the wait could be long). Happily the nice man does eventually answer and he drives over to deliver the phone. Reagan gives him a good tip for his troubles. Then we’re off to walk in the mid-day Florida sunshine to a CVS a mile away. I learn this is why Reagan chose this restaurant, because it was near-ish a drugstore that she needed. While she went inside to buy some more at home covid tests (hadn’t packed enough), I start googling for things to do or visit in the area (as we still have several hours before check in). Find a cool park, that has lots of great walking trails (to see iguanas!) and a butterfly garden and an offleash dog area watering hole. We head over and watch the doggos having the time of their life. It’s great.

After a bit, I ask if she wants to go on one of the walking trails, but she says not right now. I ask again 20 minutes later and no, she just wants to go back to the hotel lobby because her backpack is too heavy. So sadly I only got to spy one iguana from far away. But hotel calls to say our room is ready early (yay) so we head back to get our luggage and get settled. Then she’s off to do her computer things for a bit. Back in the hotel room to strategize for dinner, and I present her with a few outdoor dining places I found, including this Pirate Restaurant that looks kind of insane, but had a nice view and available reservations. Reagan: “Am I gonna be disappointed because I want there to be some pirate themed décor, and there won’t be any?” Me: “Um, they call their Mai Tai an “Arr-tai,” which is unfortunate because it doesn’t work as a pun at all. But yeah, they are ALL IN on the Pirate theme. There will definitely be decorations. And oh boy, were there ever.

And it was a lovely river/canal view. Fun watching all the varieites of boats floating by. One even docked at the restaurant to pick up takeout. And if anyone’s looking for a franchise opportunity, apparently you can buy into a floating Tiki bar on a motored raft.

We spent the next day apart. I didn’t find any more lizards, but did get a chance to eat more plantains! That afternoon, we took the shuttle to the airport for what would turn into an unending string of complications and frustrations. Also, FLL had 8 (eight!!) signs leading up to security screening warning travelers that it was illegal to bring guns into the airport. Hey Florida, your Florida is showing. Alaska Air is seeking 50 (fifty!!) volunteers to spend an extra day in Florida in exchange for $350 because of some delayed/canceled flights from earlier. That credit amount felt low for a cross country flight when you needed 50 people (considering flights are $500+ these days) but they managed to find enough folks. The inbound flight was over an hour late. A few people initiate conversation with my because of my multi-colored Merrill shoes. After a few minutes of chatting, we realize we were all on JoCo. One group was flying home to Colorado, and the other to Portland, but via Seattle. Two of the women had been on the stuck Puerto Rico bus tour, so I was able to get all kinds of good gossip about how that went down. Then we get to board finally. After a little bit, I see the captain come over, talk with flight crew, and go to use the announcement phone (not a good sign). He explains that one of the flight crew has fallen ill with food poisoning, after we started boarding, and isn’t in a position to travel. But, the AMAZING news is we had an employee deadheading on the flight who has volunteered to work it. It would take approx. 45 min to file all the appropriate paperwork, but we should be good to go. And please excuse Madison for being out of uniform.” And that’s how I got a safety briefing from someone looking comfortable in jeans. Then we’re off to the tarmac. And we’re waiting for awhile. LONG line of planes. Then the plane starts turning around. Oh no! Overhead announcement is it’s expected to be another 90 minutes before we can take off (due to some storms in central florida) and we don’t have enough fuel to wait that long and still make our flight. So it’s back to the gate to refuel, and they’re trying to find a new flight path and we’ll hopefully be taking off within the hour or two. Unfortunately, we’re eventually given the announcement that our flight crew has timed out, so we won’t be leaving Florida tonight. BUT they’ll be sending this same plane, passengers, and crew sometime tomorrow. Please get off the plane to get hotel arrangements and updates on when tomorrow’s flight will be. Ugh, but glad for the hotel, at least.

Waiting for luggage. Told it’ll be 45 minutes. Hotel says 1 hour for the shuttle. Airport is chaotic (as very few flights have taken off since 4:30pm, we’ve been there since 2pm and it’s now after 9.) The different hotel shuttle waiting areas are full of tired and cranky humanity.

But we eventually get our ride. The shuttle is shared between 5 properties, and ours is last. We finally get there, and I’m commiserating with the front desk woman about how crazy things have undoubtedly been for her, and how happy we are to finally be here. She’s nice, and then types a bit and says, “Oh no. I don’t have a room for you.” Wait, what? But we have this reservation confirmation here. She agrees, but there are no rooms available. None at their sister properties either. Reagan asks if we can stay in the lobby while waiting for our dinner to be delivered (We’d ordered some Cuban sandwiches to be delivered at 10pm there). So there we are, like some sad orphans, surrounded by all our luggage and sadly eating our sandwiches, while Reagan’s on hold with Alaska trying to figure out what else to do. Eventually we’re given the okay to just book our own hotel and Alaska will reimburse. Eventually Reagan finds us a place, a ways away from the airport (Because those had all filled up over the last 7 hours of canceled flights). It’s after midnight before we get checked in. And we’ll be getting up at 5am for our flight. Still, glad to have a shower and a bed!

The next day’s flight is relatively uneventful (yay) except that everyone was given new seat assignments. Even though it’s the exact same plane, passengers, and crew. Apparently when the Alaska Air system cancels a flight, all of those seat assignments are lost. And nobody thought to do a screenshot or take a photo or something. We were stuck in the bulkhead now, which is less pleasant, but not the end of the world. Some people were separated from their partners and families. And others were removed from premium economy to back of the plane. What a seemingly avoidable and unnecessary hassle. With new flight time, we’re landing mid-day, so no longer have a ride from the airport (Because Kevin would still be at work) so it’s one final line for the Taxi queue and then finally home. Sheesh.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *