Finally, it’s Saturday morning, and the Adventure of the Seas is back where we started in Puerto Rico, just one week ago. It’s time to go home and, inevitably, the sense of regret and loss I always feel at the end of my trip sits as uneasily as an unwanted side order on my breakfast plate.
A long couple of days lies ahead; the inevitable downside to whooping it up for a week in winter on the other side of the world. But, truth be told, both Royal Caribbean and their partner airlines do their best to make the process as smooth and painless as possible.
Thus, our luggage already awaits us ashore, and I had been able to check in for my Delta flights the night before. I’m flying from Puerto Rico back to the UK via New York, but there’s plenty of connecting time. Finding my luggage is easy once off the ship; it goes into a separate, sealed van that follows our transfer coach to the airport. We enjoy a curbside reunion under sullen, humid skies. The warmth and wonder of those islands in the sun already feels a lifetime away.
Despite my flight not being for several hours, I’m glad to be able to check my luggage right away, and all the way through to Heathrow at that. Those last few hours pass in a blur of retail therapy, a couple of beers, and the attempted consumption of an armour plated hamburger that’s as spiky as an Armadillo. And, I might add, just about as edifying.
I’ve lucked out with an exit aisle seat on the four hour flight back to JFK, and it’s on a brand new 737-900 with seat back TV’s for everyone. The plane lofts into a flaring purple twilight, and I lapse into some obviously much needed sleep. Not long before landing, some very welcome (and free) Starbucks coffee gives me that vital caffeine lift that I need. As first legs of a long journey go, this was actually a damned pleasant flight.
JFK is rain lashed, with pools of light shimmering on the tarmac as we rumble to a halt. The Delta staff on our flight have been perceptive enough to inform us at which gates our onward flights will be waiting. It takes me all of fifteen minutes to debark and arrive at the gate for my next flight.
I’m on a Boeing 767 back to the UK, and my initial dismay at being on an ‘older’ plane fades when I see the smart, obviously newly refreshed interior on this one. Again, I luck out with an aisle seat (the 767 flies in a 3-3-3 across configuration in economy) and there’s more than enough room for me to hunker down for the next seven hours or so.
Manhattan falls away below us in a rain soaked, neon smear and, before I know it, the first drinks run comes through the cabin. I cradle a vodka and orange- Delta serves free spirits, wine and beer on all international economy flights- and decide on the chicken from the three choices on the dinner menu. I flick through a choice of more than ninety boxed seats on offer to watch, and that’s before I get to the films, when the main meal arrives.
It’s hot and plentiful, with some taste to it. At 36,000 feet, it’s realistically as good as it gets. Wines on offer are white, red, rose and even sparkling. The pours are generous too, from full bottles into plastic glasses rather than the small, quarter bottles that most airlines offer. Somehow, this just seems more satisfying. And, by the time I have munched my way through the meal and then gorged on four episodes of The White Princess, sleep finally creeps up and coshes me. I sag into a gentle, three hour snooze and, as I do, we cross the Atlantic, and dawn breaks once again over old Europe’s beckoning shores.
London is sunny enough as I transit through Heathrow in around thirty five minutes on a Sunday morning- something of a personal record. Both Delta flights have been agreeable, hassle free experiences; in fact, the crew on the overnight flight in particular were outstanding. But now I’m off to Terminal Five to surrender myself to the tender mercies of British Airways for the last, short leg home.
Check in is painless enough, and I have ample time to grab some lunch at Terminal Five. It’s over priced, over rated, and served up in hugely over crowded surroundings. At least Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a mask. But, needs must; because BA will offer you nothing in with the price of your ticket, not even a coffee. Nada. Zilch.
The hour long flight passes in a blur and, before I know it, we land with a gentle bump. The warm, welcoming lights of Newcastle’s passenger terminal glint on the rain sodden runway. The air is shockingly bone chilling. Even my luggage has made it home with me; something of a win-win situation these days. I sag with genuine gratitude into the back of my taxi, and recoil from the cold, oppressive darkness looming just outside my window.
So, those are the actual, physical logistics of the long journey home laid bare. It wasn’t too bad of an experience at all; long, but not interminable. And, for once, I didn’t actually feel jet lagged, either.