Category: 10 – Cruise 12 – Transatlantic & Caribbean (Page 2 of 2)

A bizarre break for the norm in which the Journey into Darkness team travel to several hot, sunny Caribbean destinations in the UK on their second Transatlantic cruise.

Florida Everglades Tour

Part of our cruise deal included some onboard credit – so we traded it in for a Florida Everglades tour. $79 (each) buys an airboat tour and a visit to Flamingo Gardens. Equally important is that the Everglades tour ends at Miami Airport – from where we will be flying home tomorrow night.

Unfortunately this means getting up at 5:45am to ensure we can finish packing and have some breakfast before meeting our tour group at 8am in the Princess Theatre. Leaving Sky Princess is relatively smooth and the Port Everglades terminal works well – until we walk out the door.

Outside is chaos, with people trying to board buses, hail cabs, call an Uber or collect their own cars. Even the process of finding and boarding our tour bus is a complete disaster. It is no small relief when we finally take our seats on the air conditioned coach and pull away from the port.


Top tip: You can pick up a transfer bus from the Port Everglades cruise terminal to Ft Lauderdale Hollywood Airport for $11.50 per person or Miami International Airport for $25pp. You don’t need to book in advance, but the queues are extremely long and chaotic.


Juan, our tour guide, provides a running commentary about Florida, majoring on the invasive and non-native flora and fauna that can be found in the state. Meanwhile Herman, our driver, does multiple loops and double-backs which is a little bit weird. I think Juan was supposed to be telling us about various Fort Lauderdale sights as we drove past – but he was in his flow talking about Florida generalities.

Juan does tell us that the Everglades are not a swamp – they are a river.

Best airboat tour?

After driving around for a while, our coach pulls into the Everglades Holiday Park. Juan instructs us to hang around the shop/cafe/toilet building until our group is called. The area is swarming with cruise guests – unsurprising as I counted five ships in port today.

After a long wait we are ushered onto an airboat by an enthusiastic ‘Captain Dillon’ who insists that the quality of his Everglades tour is directly proportional to the enthusiasm of his guests. I hope for his sake the boat doesn’t contain too many Brits.

Captain Dillon also claims that driving boats on the Everglades is dangerous, so he needs a co-captain just in case something happens to him. For some reason I am nominated Captain Ben, allowing Captain Dillon to pepper his talk with jokes about his co-captain.

Two enormous Cadillac engines power a pair of large propellers mounted at the back of the boat, pushing it along the surface of the water at great speed. Captain Dillon delivers a running commentary about the wildlife of the Everglades and how the canals came to be built. He punctuates each of his points with a loud rev of the engine.

We do two ridiculously fast runs along the canals and several slow pirouettes in between, hoping to see some ‘gators’. In the end, all we see is a buzzard and a heron. The fresh, cool breeze as we speed along is pleasant though.

Was this the best airboat tour in Florida? We didn’t see any alligators, so that was hugely disappointing. At least Captain Dillon was amusing. ‘If you enjoyed the tour, remember me, Captain Dillon,’ he ends, ‘And if you didn’t my name is Captain Ben.

Back on dock, Juan hurries us back to the bus. Apparently we are running behind schedule and two of our fellow guests have to be at the airport by 2pm.

Where is the Florida bear?

A short drive takes us to Flamingo Gardens, a not-for-profit mini-zoo. we have less than an hour before we have to leave, but the park is quite small and we have enough time to look at all of the animals twice.

At least we do get to see two alligators.

There are also several huge iguanas wandering around the park which is pretty cool too.

Then there’s a giant African spurred tortoise who lets us stroke his head.

And some otters that want to show off in their glass-fronted tank.

And a peacock who wants to follow us around the park.

And a talking crow that yells ‘hello’ until you try to video him.

The only disappointment is the Brown Bear who is sulking in his house so we don’t get to see him.

As we re-board the coach, two ladies are handing out ice cream sandwiches which is a really nice touch.

Miami Airport Transfer and a Shoddy Sheraton

At the end of our Florida Everglades tour, Juan and Herman drop us at Miami International Airport, pointing us in the direction of the local hotel shuttles. After a short wait, we spot the Sheraton shuttle and clamber aboard. The driver collects a few more passengers from the other airport terminal and then drives us over to the Sheraton Miami Airport.


Top tip: Many of the local hotels provide free shuttle buses – just wait at the bus stop outside your terminal until you see one for your hotel. You will of course be expected to tip your driver.


At ~£160 GBP per night, this hotel is not cheap, particularly as breakfast is not included. It’s also not particularly good value – I would say the quality is somewhere between a Travelodge and a Premier Inn. The room is big, but quite basic, bar the provision of USB charging points everywhere. The furniture feels a little dated and tired and the double-glazed window unit has blown, so we don’t have a good view out the window which is a blessing and a curse.

It’s a blessing because the rolling green fields of the golf course at the rear of the property have been ripped up in the last few weeks so David Beckham can build a new stadium/hotel complex for Inter Miami FC. A curse because jumbo jets and A380s keep flying low above our room – and we can’t see them clearly.

There is one main reason I chose the Sheraton – it’s just across the road from the Miami Airport metro station. This means it should be easy to get into downtown Miami tomorrow when we go out to explore. We also have the option of catching the MIA Mover train to the airport tomorrow if there are any problems with the hotel shuttle.


Top tip: All public transport in central Miami is free of charge until December 31st 2023. Read more here.


Rather than try the Sheraton’s in-house restaurant, we take a gamble on GrubHub and order a KFC delivery. We end up with a sharing meal for two that includes four pieces of chicken, four dips, a pile of crispy fries, some chicken bits and four ‘biscuits’. Or as we Brits call them, scones. Despite my cynicism (deep fried chicken and scones?!) they are very tasty and I would definitely eat them again.

Tomorrow we will visit the local Hard Rock Café and probably try and find a Bath & Bodyworks while we’re at it.


Please note that although we may earn a referral fee or bonus points on some of these services, we never recommend anything we wouldn’t use ourselves.

Miami Bayside

There’s only really one item on our to do list – the Hard Rock Café at Miami Bayside. In fact, back when we first planned this trip, the only reason for staying an extra day in Miami was to visit the HRC.

This gives us the opportunity to waste the morning, watching Tottenham lose to Aston Villa on TV before we have to check out of the Sheraton at 11am. Down in reception, we leave our suitcases with the concierge, promising to collect them this evening.

Outside, the heat hits us like a wall. Thankfully it is only a short walk to the metro station, although we have to take a couple of elevators to get to the platform.


Top tip: Don’t forget – all public transport in Miami is free until December 31st 2023


When we arrive on the platform, there is a train already waiting, so Linda launches her scooter through the nearest door just in case it is about to leave. It isn’t. Shortly after the journey begins, our driver informs us that the trip will terminate at the next station. So we disembark at Earlington Heights and wait for a ‘Green’ line train to take us the rest of the way into the city.


Top tip: The gap between platform and Miami Metro train door looks large but Linda found in most cases it can be crossed on the scooter – with a decent run-up.


At Historic Overtown/Lyric Theatre we navigate another couple of lifts back to street level. Then it’s a half mile walk/scoot east towards the sea. The buildings here are tall and uninspiring. There is also quite a few roadworks and diversions to navigate on the way.

Crossing several roads and navigating the traffic jam caused by the five cruise ships docked in the Port of Miami, we finally make it to Miami Bayside. It is extremely touristy, packed with people trying to look like they are having a good time. There’s plenty of restaurants and bars, along with a few different stores (clothing, cosmetics, shoes, cigars, souvenirs etc). After messing around with lifts, we finally make it to the upper level and drop into the Bath & Bodyworks store. Linda succumbs to the hand soap again and buys five – at least our bathroom will smell good for a while.

We then trundle down to the Miami Hard Rock Café on the other side of Miami Bayside which involves more lifts, but eventually we are seated at a table. The service is fast and attentive, although I swear these are the smallest burgers we’ve had at any HRC in the world. What happened to the legend about super-sized portion sizes in the USA? Linda is quite excited to see the Electric Blue cocktail back on the menu – it seems to have disappeared from all the European restaurants. I enjoy my vanilla milkshake for dessert.

In the gift shop Linda gets the ubiquitous pin badge – and a Christmas tree decoration. For some reason everything in store is 20% off – just don’t forget to add tax to the ticket price when trying to figure out how much something really costs.


Top tip: At the time of writing, the sales tax rate in Florida is 7%. So don’t forget to add an additional 7% to any prices advertised on goods for sale at Miami Bayside.


We dither for a while, trying to find something else to do. We still have a few hours before we have to collect our luggage from the Sheraton and go to the airport. Finding nothing however, we meander slowly back to the metro and return to the hotel to sit in the air conditioned lobby for a while.

At this point, the first major snag of the day occurs – I have lost the ticket for luggage collection. It takes some negotiating (and a $5 bill) to convince the concierges that the specified suitcases are ours.


Top tip: Snap a pic of your luggage receipt on your phone – that way you have always have a copy, even if you lose the paper slip.


The hotel shuttle drops us right back where our Miami adventure began and I manhandle three suitcases into the terminal. At check-in we go through an extensive bureaucratic process to get Linda’s scooter on board. There’s questions about the battery type, its Watt/Hour rating, whether it can be removed, where it will be dropped off and collected etc etc. The check-in team are very friendly, but everything seems to take forever.

When we finally offload our cases, we’re directed to the American Airlines Flagship Lounge which Linda’s BA Executive Club Silver status grants us access to. But before that we must first navigate TSA security.

I have heard legends about how bad TSA is – and most seem to be true. The process is slow and inefficient, making Stansted look half capable. Here are my complaints:

  • The trays that pass through the x-ray scanner are too damn small – we needed five and that still didn’t fit all of our stuff
  • You have to take your shoes off and then do a full body scan
  • You can leave your liquids in your bag, but you have to remove your laptops and iPads
  • Even with my pockets emptied and belt removed, the TSA agent still felt the need to give me a quick grope

I guess my biggest complain is the arbitrary nature of these rules – they just don’t make any sense. This is especially true when you consider that they are not applied consistently across the world.


Top tip: You can leave your liquids in your bag when passing through Miami Airport security. Just make sure they still fit in your miniature plastic bag.


It’s a bit of a trek to the American Airlines lounge (find it opposite gate E30), but there are plenty of seats when we get there. The buffet choices are very limited though. Linda has a chocolate mousse of some kind while I have a little Temari & Honey Glazed Mahi with rice. It’s ok. On the plus side, they serve Piper Heidseck champagne which is a nice touch.

We leave the lounge in Zone D and trundle across to Gate 25 in Zone E where our British Airways A380 is waiting. There is even more confusion about mobility scooters and where they should be dropped, whether passengers should be pushed up the boarding ramp in wheelchairs or if they should walk, whether batteries have been disconnected blah blah blah. In the end, Linda rides her scooter to the door of the plane and we dump it for the ground crew to load into the hold.


Top tip: Leave plenty of time to make the trip between the AA lounge and the E gates (where BA flights depart from). There’s a bit of a walk and a train ride to get there.


We’re on the top deck of the plane, right at the back – similar to the seats we regularly choose on BA’s 777 fleet. This is our first time on an A380 and I’ve always wanted to fly one of these unfeasibly large beasts.

British Airways A380 MIA -> LHR

The British Airways A380 is a wondrous beast, even in economy. We watch in awe as the huge bird lumbers along the runway, straining all four engines to lift its enormous bulk into the night sky.

What’s good about the BA A380

The A380 has some great features:

  • The seat-side storage compartment is brilliant.
  • Seat 83J is actually comfortable and I do manage to nap for a while.
  • Despite being full, the economy World Traveller cabin does not run out of overhead locker space.

What’s wrong with BA’s A380

Despite being an engineering marvel, there are a few problems with BA’s A380 economy World Traveller offering:

  • The armrests in seats 83J and 83K cannot be raised. This is a massive issue for Linda who cannot edge sideways – especially once the seats in front have been reclined.
  • The headphone sockets in seats 83J and 83K have both been damaged, rendering the inflight entertainment (IFE) system borderline unusable.
  • There are no adjustable air vents on the plane, so you have one temperature for the whole cabin – unlucky if you’re stressed and sweaty when you board (me).
  • The food is pretty pants – particularly the cheese, ham and egg bagel we are served for breakfast.

In the middle of the night Linda and I have to trade seats because she cannot get back into 83J – there’s simply not enough room to move (and she hurt herself getting out in the first place). Other than that, the flight is pretty good – as is usually the case when we fly British Airways.

What the hell Heathrow?

Arriving at Heathrow and we’re straight back into airport hell. Rather than fight with the masses, we hold back until everyone has disembarked and then make our way to the door expecting to find Linda’s scooter waiting for us as promised in Miami. But it’s not there.

Instead, a porter collects Linda in a wheelchair and takes her down the ramp, desperately running behind in an attempt to not lose control. At the bottom he sends me back to collect her scooter. Which is not there.

After waiting a few minutes he’s had enough and loads us into a golf buggy-style vehicle. It’s very narrow and cramped as the porter steers us through various lifts and tunnels below the Heathrow Airport taxiways. We get to use a dedicated passport control lane which is nice – and much, much faster than the dreaded ePassport gates that never work properly.

Reaching the porters’ station, Linda is decanted into another wheelchair and a female helper wheels her to the luggage collection belts. We wait. And wait. And wait. And wait.

A full hour after we landed, suitcases finally begin to circulate along the conveyor belt. It takes an age before a luggage handler appears with Linda’s scooter. And another age for our bags to emerge between the plastic flaps that hide the inner workings of the airport. We are among the last to leave the carousel and one woman is still waiting for her scooter to reappear.

It feels like Heathrow is in a race to the bottom with Luton and Stansted.

Fortunately we have time to kill; our National Express coach doesn’t leave until 14:40. Luggage secured, we have to kill some more time sat in the Arrivals lobby of Heathrow Terminal 5.

5.5 hours of Express

At the appointed hour we spot our coach at the same time the driver spots us. By some miracle, National Express has delivered on their promise. They have actually informed him that a lady with a scooter will be boarding – and he’s ready and able to help load luggage. Then it’s off into central London to catch a second bus to our final destination and waiting lift – Braintree.

Again, both legs of the coach journey are pretty good and almost on time. Our route takes us through the centre of the City of London, so we get to see some more familiar sights, including Parliament, Whitehall and the Bank of England. We have interim stops at Stratford (where the driver is involved in a row with a random man who demands access without a valid ticket) and Stansted Airport (where he enters a heated discussion with a passenger about Hungarian President Viktor Orban’s policies).

The downside of the journey is that by the time we finally get home, we’ve been travelling for nearly 24 hours – and it feels like it too.

Final thoughts on the MIA-LHR journey

  • National Express coaches are a feasible transfer option for both cruise terminals and airports – just make sure to pay for extras in advance. Linda says she would definitely use National Express again.
  • The British Airways A380 is an amazing plane – but it has some serious design flaws for mobility-impaired passengers.
  • Airports have absolutely no idea what they are doing in terms of security or transport of mobility aids.

Please note that although we may earn a referral fee or bonus points on some of these services, we never recommend anything we wouldn’t use ourselves.

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