|Looking from the Carnival Magic toward Galveston|
Say it isn’t so! Our last morning on the Carnival Magic and then we are off to the airport in Houston to catch our return flight to Boston. We woke up when we no longer felt the ship moving and we realized we had arrived back into the port of Galveston. Since we had set our bags out the night before, we didn’t have much left to pack or carry with us and what was left to do was shower, eat, and wait for our debarkation number to be called. As my husband and I tend to be slightly obsessive compulsive, this meant that he not only checked every drawer, closet, the safe, and under the bed, but so did I. Meanwhile, as might be expected, our son was hoping to sleep in a little longer, but that wasn’t going to happen. Once everyone was showered, my husband and son decided to make the trek up to the Lido Marketplace to grab a quick breakfast for all of us.
|Pastry basket at the Punchliner Comedy Brunch|
The guys returned with a few plates and of course, my son had his last omelet from the ship and a plateful of pastries like croissants, danish, and muffins. It wasn’t a fancy breakfast like what we had during the Punchliner Comedy Brunch, but it was a filling breakfast nonetheless. I was just dying for a cup of coffee and I was glad my husband was able to swing that for me. There is an entire process to getting off the ship so make sure you acquaint yourself with what will happen before the final day. We were reminded a few days prior watch the TV for information on debarkation and that takes all of a few minutes to watch. Unlike our recent Carnival Glory experience, staying in a suite did not provide us with priority debarkation, but at least we were in group 3. Carnival’s VIFP Platinum and Diamond members were in groups 1 and 2 and were allowed to leave the ship first as was anyone who chose self-disembarkation. If you’re a light packer and/or are strong and able to carry all of your bags off without issue, this is probably the best way to go as you can leave early before the crowds. My cup of coffee and my family kept us company as we waited for our number to be called. There was no real rush to get off the ship as we had arranged for a driver to pick us up at the port at 9:30 am so we had time or so we thought.
|Walking through the lobby to get off the ship|
Finally, we heard our number and started the trip downstairs. Snaking our way through the ship to get off was interesting as everyone was crowding into elevators. As always, we chose the stairs, which was a great option but for the fact that the central spiral staircases were closed off. When we arrived on deck 3 we noticed that people had begun to congregate and so we had to carefully walk around them to make our way out. Prior to even leaving our cabin, I had my Carnival Sail & Sign card, passport, and the US Customs form completed and in hand. I handed my Sail & Sign card over to security and they let my son and I pass. However, this is where the complications began. My husband handed his card over and they not only took it, but they told him to take a seat in the tiny little area between the two security stands. When he asked what was going on, he was told he was going to be escorted off the ship. What? When he asked why, he was told that they didn’t know why and to just have a seat. We weren’t going to leave my husband there alone, so we walked back and sat for a few minutes. Without any answers as to what was going on, we tried finding out what exactly this was all about. Was this a suite amenity? Were we in trouble? What was going on and why?
|US Customs Form|
No one had any answers. We sat there quietly while subsequent debarkation numbers were called off and people were allowed off the ship. The minutes ticked by and still we sat without any information about our situation whatsoever. I saw the assistant cruise director and grabbed her and filled her in on what was going on to see if she had an answer. She had no idea, but said she would try to find out. A few minutes later she came back and said she didn’t know either but that someone would be there to escort us off. At this point I’m thinking the absolute worst despite the fact that I know 100% we have not done anything to warrant my fear. Finally, a Carnival representative from the port appeared, Shane, and he walked us off the ship. I asked him what this was all about and he said that if you made a purchase onboard, you would be escorted off to take you to Customs to pay tax. Now I can’t imagine this is the first time this has happened and it won’t be the last so why all the secrecy? All it did was add stress to the end of an otherwise great vacation, which I think was completely and totally unnecessary.
Shane helped us locate our bags in the terminal and with his assistance, we were able to bypass the long lines in Customs. We were the first ones to this area and all I can say is thank goodness. Other people came after us and were told to put their bags up against a wall and take a seat in a small room. I don’t know how others felt, but it was akin to being taken in for questioning by the police (not that I would know personally!) and it was not the type of experience most people want at the end of their vacation. The Customs officer went over our paperwork, allotted us our duty free allowance ($800 per person) and then we had to pay tax on the balance. It’s not a difficult nor scary process, but for some reason they have chosen to make it that way. Please note that should you make a purchase that goes over your duty free allowance, they will take checks or cash for the exact amount and not credit cards. As I never carry checks and very rarely write them, I had to produce cash, but it had to be for the exact amount. Luckily, our customs officer was able to make change otherwise we might still be there. While we were working with the officer, we saw a man in handcuffs from the ship go by with an officer into a room. Yikes! That is what it felt like for us, but at least we weren’t in handcuffs.
|The view from the Harbor Hotel as the Carnival Magic pulled into port|
I couldn’t wait to be done with that and get out of the terminal, which by this point was crowded and extremely hot. We got outside and I called our driver again from Elite Limousine of Houston only to find out he was on his way over. I had tried him earlier and he had a small delay, which worked out great with the whole Customs snafu. There really isn’t a passenger pick up area for limos at the Galveston port and people are constantly loading and unloading in multiple lanes, which causes delays for everyone. Hopefully, they will come up with a system that can allow easier through access and a separate drop off area to improve congestion. It always seems somewhat surreal to step off the ship and realize that only one week earlier we first caught a glimpse of the Carnival Magic pulling into port from our hotel and our excitement and vacation began.
Relief was what I felt once I got in the limo and headed away from the port. Normally, I feel a little sad that vacation is over, but the stress of that last hour really got to me. I wish Carnival would have advised their Security staff as well as other employees to simply share with those guests that need to be “escorted” off the ship of why they are being detained instead of keeping them in the dark. It seemed like an unnecessary mystery when we had absolutely nothing to hide.
The just over an hour ride to the airport in Houston was a smooth one and our driver was kind enough to call ahead to the curbside porter for United Airlines. This allowed us to check our bags curbside and get our tickets before we even set foot inside the terminal. Once inside the terminal, we went through security and headed toward our gate. We were early, but all was good with the world. Although vacation ended on a strange note, it was a vacation and an opportunity to spend time with my family and that is really all I ever want to have happen in the end.
Can’t wait to pack my bags again and hit the road so I can share more of my travels with you. If you’ve read any of my blog before, you know that I try to share hints and tips with you while also being brutally honest about my experiences. I don’t do it to be mean, but there’s no need to sugar coat the experience for you. Feel free to share your thoughts with me and I would love to hear where you think I should go next!