Something Cleveland Browns fans long for season after season are the words “Touchdown CLE!,” but these words took on a very special meaning for us as we made our way through the 42 hour journey from the Viking Sun to our home. Spoiler alert…we made it home, but the way forward, like life itself, didn’t turn out exactly the way we planned.
Armed with face masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, all of our luggage, and a printout of our itinerary taking us from Dubai to JFK to Cleveland, we arrived at the Dubai airport on 3/22 at 11:00 pm and passed the first checkpoint health assessment. Since Dubai was not on our original itinerary and we didn’t have a visa, Viking had arranged for single-use transit visas that would allow us to get through the airport. We verified who we were, found our name on their list, made our way to the Emirates Airline ticket counter, and gave our printout to the ticketing agent. We were getting closer to being on our way! As she searched and searched, she began to look perplexed. “I don’t have a reservation in my system for you at all,” she politely said. In complete disbelief…after all, we had our printout that clearly said we had flights from DXB to JFK to CLE…we asked her to call her supervisor, who confirmed that we were, in fact, not in their system. Holding our ground, as well as our place in line, Denise whipped out her cell phone and called the Customer Service Desk at the Viking Sun to explain our dilemma. The ship got in touch with the folks at Viking Air who said they could see our reservation in their system, but Emirates simply didn’t have it. Going back to the ship wasn’t an option because we had used our one-time visa to get into the airport, so Denise went into “Denise mode” and that can get ugly for the target. “After all, we had our printout!” After much back and forth on this three-way call, the folks at Viking worked their magic and got us a reservation. However, when the ticketing agent pulled it up, it was for DXB to LAX to JFK! Trying to keep her cool with her head ready to explode, Denise told them to stop thinking about JFK and just figure out a way to get us to CLE! After much back and forth, they finally got us a reservation for a flight on 3/23 at 8:30 am. We checked our bags, got our boarding passes, grabbed our hand luggage, and found a quiet corner and some lounge chairs to wait the 8 hours for our flight. Under different circumstances, we would have enjoyed wandering around the many interesting shops in the Dubai airport, but by then we just wanted a quiet place to rest.
At around 6 am we decided to make our way to our gate. Just when we could see Gate 19, the hallway to it was cordoned off and the 500+ people in the airport were herded from wherever they were into a big room for “thermal screening.” Unsure of what that even meant, we followed the leader to a very crowded, disorganized area and waited…and waited. We were definitely NOT keeping our social distance as little kids wailed, tempers flared, elderly people struggled, and chaos prevailed.
We made it through thermal screening, and arrived at our gate. Again, the scene was pretty chaotic but we knew we were at the right gate and getting close. All of a sudden, the crowd began to move forward and Doug figured out that they were beginning the boarding process without any announcements, organized groups, etc. We got close to the gate and were told that because we had first class seats, we had to find the elevator to the second floor to board. Once again, herding cats!
This, however, is where, for the next 18 hours, the story takes a completely different turn as we entered a parallel dimension. First Class on Emirates is something everyone should experience at least once in their lives, and given the cost of the tickets (which were included in our cruise price) we won’t likely have this experience again. We were shown to our individual, private cubbies that were equipped with every amenity one could imagine. We hardly noticed that the plane remained on the ground for about two hours after pulling away from the gate, as it took that long to acclimate to our surroundings. The photos don’t do it justice, but there’s fresh orchids, an individual mini-bar, yummy snack basket, lighted vanity mirror with high-end lotions and oils including a sleep oil, gourmet food and beverage service on demand, a complimentary swag bag with soft, comfy pajamas, slippers, and a little travel bag containing every amenity one could need from toothbrush to hair brush to Borghese lotions, etc. When we were ready to sleep, the flight attendant turned our seats into actual beds with feather mattress, coverlet, and pillows.
And then there’s the food! The entire menu, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks is available 24/7. During the course of our journey, we enjoyed caviar and Dom Perignon, a delicious Arabic mezze (an assortment of Arabic delicacies), fresh prawn salad, and breakfast. In between, we sipped on tea, cappuccino, and biscotti. Everything is beautifully served on a white tablecloth and lovely china. After a restful sleep, we were able to take a shower, again with all the amenities. Each passenger is given 25 minutes in the spa-like shower room, and nothing could have been more refreshing. When we got back to our cabins, there was a fresh fruit plate waiting for us. And tiny chocolates are the final treat at the end of every meal.
Upon arrival in LAX, US customs and immigration were pretty straightforward, and with the airport so empty, we got through without too much hassle. We were surprised that although they asked a few questions about where we were and how we felt, there was no real health screening. We found a United Club with an outdoor seating area, and waited the 6.5 hours until our red-eye flight. It was comforting to see our plane just below, knowing that we were getting closer to home. The plane was almost empty, but it got the job done!
As we touched down in CLE in the early morning hours, we were a bit emotional (OK, Denise was more emotional than Doug.) We had left this airport almost three months ago with dreams of an incredible four month world cruise. We experienced 81 days of some of the highest of highs along with some low points to keep us grounded. The things for which Cleveland is known gave us comfort. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Superman, Duck Tape, the guitar that Denise’s former employer sponsored for Guitar Mania, our world class health, education, and cultural institutions all have airport signs to welcome us home. Indeed, there’s no place like home!
Gina and Matt brought our car to the airport for us, and we couldn’t have been happier to see them. Although our real embraces will wait til we know we’re healthy (we feel fine, by the way, but who knows what we might have come across during the past 42 hours!), there is very real joy in our return. Gina might have a future with Emirates, as she thought of EVERYTHING! She filled our fridge with staples, prepared food, yummy snacks, and even some frozen beef from Matt’s dad’s farm. She sorted our mail into neat piles, kept almost all of our plants healthy, and put beautiful yellow tulips on our table. And our grandson Lewi made us the best sign ever, which we shared at the top of this post!
We are grateful for our wonderful family and friends. We know we gave you some moments of heartburn over the past few months, and we thank you for your prayers, thoughts, and love. We’ll be staying home for a while, and happily so. Hints of spring are all around us, and with that comes the hope that someone will find a cure for COVID-19 soon. Cyclones, a world pandemic, rough seas, and political realities intervened, but nothing can take our experiences away from us. We were happy to share them with you, and looking forward to our next adventure! Since the primary categories for this blog are travel, family and friends, and food, be on the lookout for some future posts that cover these topics…probably just food in the foreseeable future!