I Fought the Law

And the law won. Murphy's Law, that is. Like many travel lovers, I book trips months in advance then savor planning every last detail. I research, make lists and check them twice, confirm arrangements and leave a detailed itinerary with family and neighbors. I anticipate what could go wrong and make back-up plans whenever possible. But as my husband and I would discover on a recent Windstar cruise, all the planning in the world is not enough when Murphy decides to sail along with you. Here's a rundown of the lessons we learned...

LESSON 1:No matter how full your carry-on, always make room for a bathing suit and change of clothes. Somewhere between Washington-Dulles airport and our destination, Barbados, Murphy decided that our luggage would be happier in Trinidad without us. It took hours of phone calls to the airline and the cruise line's representatives to locate it. We spent our one pre-cruise day in Barbados sans vacation clothes, unable to participate in any of the activities we had planned. And, to add insult to injury, stores in Barbados are closed on Sundays, so an emergency shopping spree was out of the question. Since this was the first trip for which I didn't pack a change of clothes in my carry-on, I began to suspect that Murphy knew we were at our most vulnerable and capitalized on any opportunity to make mischief.

LESSON 2:Arrive a day early in your port of embarkation. We arrived in Barbados a day early, which enabled our lost luggage to catch up to us before we sailed. Others on our cruise, who arrived on departure day, endured two days on the ship without a change of clothes before their luggage caught up with them in Nevis. Under the best of circumstances, you'll have a day to unwind and arrive on the ship happy and relaxed. And if Murphy is plaguing you, you'll have a day to sort out problems before you head out to sea.

LESSON 3:Start on an anti-seasickness regimen before you sail.Even if you think you never suffer from motion sickness, it doesn't pay to become too complacent about mal de mer. I've been sick on small boats, but never on a cruise ship, so I felt it was safe to forego the pills and potions. I forgot that the Wind Star is a much smaller ship than I am accustomed to, and I didn't consider that Murphy was along to whip the seas into a pre-hurricane frenzy. Suffice it to say, the first day out was a challenge, but a combination of Bonine, ginger ale and chanting "I'm not going to be sick," did the trick and I found my sea legs in short order. Not everyone on our sailing was so lucky.

LESSON 4:Take along a guidebook that covers the entire region you plan to visit. I've heard experts recommend that you should copy only the guidebook pages you need for your planned itinerary or rely solely on the shore excursion desk for information in order to avoid lugging a heavy book around. Believe me, Murphy will sense this vulnerability and enlist the help of Mother Nature to ensure you are rerouted at every opportunity. Due to Hurricane Jose, we missed three of our scheduled ports and visited two unplanned islands we knew little about, Grenada and St. Lucia. Though the Wind Star staff provided us with some information, this was also their first visit to Grenada and they had little advice to offer on beaches and snorkeling spots. The potential disappointment of missing out on sights you may never have another chance to see far outweighs the inconvenience of packing a guidebook.

LESSON 5:Rely on the locals for help and advice. If you still refuse to stuff that guidebook into your bulging suitcase (which according to Lesson 1 might not make it to your destination anyway), island residents are your best source of information. Most port areas have a tourist information kiosk, and taxi drivers and merchants are often quite knowledgeable and willing to help. On Grenada, we hooked up with two water taxi drivers who took us to a beach with great snorkeling, a restaurant/bar and two playful dogs who loved to swim. Murphy finally decided to give us a break! We had the place to ourselves and on the return trip, the drivers gave us an informative tour of the island. For $20 (plus generous tip) we had the best day of our trip and discovered an island that we will visit again when we have more time to savor its riches.

LESSON 6:Murphy may rain on your parade, but only YOU are in control of your response to disappointment. Overall, there were few party-poopers on the Wind Star, but there were a few who made each minor lapse in service seem like a personal affront or tragedy. At the end of the trip, I'm sure their predominant memories were of problems they encountered rather than the people they met or the places they experienced. On the other hand, one woman we met survived the entire cruise without her belongings, which Murphy and the airline inexplicably misplaced. This shining example of a great attitude never failed to have a smile on her face or a kind word for someone else. All this despite the fact that she was forced to rely on borrowed items (including underwear) for the first few days and spend some of her precious port time scrambling to buy essentials. Murphy tried, but even his most determined efforts couldn't prevent this lady from having the time of her life.

It's a fact of life. Murphy is everywhere and you will encounter him at some point in your future travels. The challenges outlined above were just a few of those we faced on this trip, yet we managed to have a wonderful and memorable time. An important lesson I learned was to follow my own advice and do all the smart things I would advise other travelers to do. No matter how heavy my carry-on becomes, I will always squeeze in that change of clothes, bathing suit and guidebook. Even more importantly, I will remember that a positive attitude plays a crucial part in determining the success or failure of a cruise experience, ESPECIALLY when Murphy is along for the ride.

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