It was the quest for a cheap vacation that led to my wife, Shelley, and me climbing a rope ladder slapping against the side of a moving cruise ship like Captain Jack (and Jill?) Sparrow.
Back in 1990, we were struggling newlyweds looking for a cheap getaway.
On the geologic time scale, this was the pre-Expediazoic era (the period before the existence of online travel sites), so, taking the advice of a friend, we met with a travel agent named Ziggy — a name which admittedly should have immediately given us pause. He did, by the way, have a last name but it looked like the bottom line on a physician’s eye test chart and was, at least to me, unpronounceable.
We told Ziggy we were looking for a grand vacation at a cost slightly more than staying home, and he began shuffling through invoices, airline tickets, food wrappers and handwritten notes that littered his desk. “Aha!” he shouted, and held up a Princess Cruises flier announcing discounted last-minute voyages to Mexico.
There was more good news — an airline fare war had erupted and flights between California’s Bay Area (where we lived) and Los Angeles (where the ship was) could be had for as little as $29, or just slightly more than what airlines now charge to hurl your $300 Vera Wang wheeled duffle into the baggage compartment. Most of the cheap tickets had been snapped up, but Ziggy somehow found two empty seats on a Pan American flight.
The Dawn Princess was to sail from the Port of San Pedro at 5 p.m. We arrived at San Francisco Airport two hours before our 11 a.m. flight. Around 10:30 a.m., a Pan Am agent announced that our flight was overbooked, and any passenger willing to relinquish their seat would receive guaranteed reservations on the next flight to Los Angeles, plus a free ticket to any U.S. city served by Pan Am. Exciting destinations beckoned — New York! Chicago! Wichita! Since the 1 p.m. departure would still get us to the ship before sailing time, we turned in our tickets.