On the 1st of February 2011, Chicago was hit with the third largest single snowfall in Chicago weather records, stretching back almost 137 years. Jac was at his corporate office in St. Louis Missouri on January 31st and saw the storm coming on RADAR. He knew that because the storm promised two inches of ice followed by up-to six inches of blowing snow for Southern Illinois, that he needed to head back to Chicago immediately if he and Sue were to make their flight to San Juan the following Friday. The five hour drive home on Monday the 31st was sunny, and Jac got home just in time for the Great Blizzard of 2011 to dump 23 inches of snow on his Northwest Chicago suburb on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning. Jac and Sue had planned their cruise thirteen months prior and were anxiously anticipating getting away alone for the first time in their 35 years together. This storm would not stop them; they’re Chicagoans and they’re tough! Jac got the snow blower out on Wednesday morning and worked to move snow through lunchtime in temperatures around 10 degrees Fahrenheit, with winds blowing in excess of 25 miles per hour – at least the sun came out around noon.
Chicago closed its O’Hare International airport on Wednesday and spent most of Thursday cleaning up from the blizzard and getting flights back on track. By Friday morning airport operations were back to normal and Jac and Sue’s flight was delayed by only two minutes. They arrived in San Juan just as the sun was going down then settled into their room at the Caribe Hilton resort just east of Old San Juan. Jac is a Hilton Honors member, so he got upgraded to a premium room facing the resort’s pool and the Atlantic ocean – the view was quite the contrast to what Jac and Sue woke up to just three days previously. Saturday and Sunday were filled with their first enjoyment of the warm Caribbean sun and beach in several years; why did they wait so long to come back? They walked through Old San Juan renewing memories of that great historic town and relaxed on the resort grounds swinging from one of the many tropical hammocks strung between coconut palm trees. Jac’s job keeps him away from home most of every week, so he and Sue had connected in person only on weekends for much of the past few years. Now that their kids had grown and were (essentially) out of the house, this cruise would be their time to reconnect. The Emotional Refreshment Vacation had begun.
Princess Cruise ships board in San Juan on Sunday afternoon and Jac and Sue were understandably anxious to board, so they headed over to the ship soon after lunch. Princess boards at Pier 3 near the airstrip on the east end of the San Juan harbor. They were impressed by how smoothly the boarding process went – they were through pre-boarding and in their cabin in less than 45 minutes. Jac knew that he wanted to experience the Princess Ultimate Ship Tour during this cruise; he had learned from the Forum on CruiseLineFans.com that you had to act quickly once you boarded to get signed up for this unpublished excursion, so he headed to the Front Desk as soon as they had their bags unpacked and got signed up. Lois King, one of the Caribbean Princess Front Desk assistants was very helpful in making sure that Jac would be included on the UST invitation list.
The cruise they chose would take them to St. Thomas on Monday, then to Tortola B.V.I., Antigua, St. Lucia, and Barbados over the next week. They had seen St. Thomas previously, but the other islands would be new to them. Princess ships dock in St. Thomas at a new, dedicated port; Jac learned during his tour of the ship that they do this because Princess operates a restocking station in St. Thomas where all the ship’s stores are housed and restocked to Princess liners. Looking off their balcony in St. Thomas, he noticed truck-after-truck entering the shipyard and unloading their shipments. Throughout the cruise, Jac posted a video Blog and St. Thomas offered several free WiFi sites that Jac “borrowed” from to post to the Internet.