Almost a year ago, I took a week-long cruise out of San Juan, Puerto Rico (after 4-5 days visiting the cathedrals there) aboard the NCL Epic. Norwegian Cruise Lines has a focus on single/solo travelers, with solo cabins on some of their midsized ships designed for one person in about 100 square feet. These have access to a solos-only lounge, so if more space is needed, one strolls down the hall (and maybe up/down a flight of stairs.)
On the Epic, the group met near the whiskey bar Maltings. We numbered between a dozen and twenty, and a subset bonded, keeping in touch by email (as well as a few one-on-one trips) such that we decided to sail again and found a good itinerary on the Escape.
Thus, on Saturday morning (14 January) I set out in my car for Port Canaveral, about 200 miles across the state, taking Interstates 75 and 4 past Tampa and Orlando respectively. I had an additional objective to visit before embarking: there is an Anglican church in Cocoa/Port St John which had been the seat of the now retired Bishop John, thus is now an ex-cathedral. Email communication advised that it would be closed midday, so I pulled off Curtis Blvd into the large parking area under tall trees and took about a half dozen shots of the exterior. [I am still researching this Traditional Anglican Communion ex-cathedral, to determine dates and where the Diocese of the Eastern United States is currently based (in Georgia with Bishop Bower).]
Then on to parking my car for the week's stay at Port Canaveral Parking (on N Courtney Pkwy, Merritt Island). When pulling in, I was advised to wait in my car for a half hour, as there had been a four-car collision on the causeway, and better to deal with the unusual cool weather in the comfort of the car. Once traffic began flowing, our driver took us to pier 10, depositing us by the luggage drop. Then back to the end of a rather long line which eventually brought us to a single escalator. Up one flight, after documents were checked, we were directed to one of two queues which wove through stanchions,eventually prompting us to be scanned for security. There were 4 scanners, one of which was not functional.
Clearing the electronics, I crossed a huge room to be immediately directed to a sorter, who sent me to position 7 where I was processed into the system and given my room key card. Then through yet another maze (at least I'd pretty much kept moving once scanned) which took me down the pier and then up several levels to enter the ship on Deck 7. Up the stairs to my cabin 12553, where I used the facilities and left a note for my room steward.
Then out and up to deck 16 where I had a tour of the spa and met with the acupuncturist. His proposed 6 sessions at $200 a session, plus free "stim" was a bit too rich for me. With my camera, I tried to get shots of the port and the other 4 loading cruise ships. I then hunted around for the meet-and-greet gathering at the Pool Bar on 17, but was unable to identify any gathering.
Muster sounded on the PA, so I headed down stairs to the Theater on deck 7 and sat with about 800 people was we watched the safety video; this was an extension of the online video I'd viewed twice before leaving home. I ran into Stephanie, our British solo returnee, and we went and sat in the Tobacco Road bar awaiting Susan, another 2022 solo. I'd heard there would be a SpaceX launch just before 6, but as we walked to the stairs to head aft on 16/17, we were advised it had been postponed again due to high winds. After bumping into Susan and then Phyllis (with her cabin mate Mary) to complete the reunion, we headed up to deck 11 and met Cristina, an Argentine crew member who would host the solo group each evening. After we introduced ourselves and chatted informally, we left as a group for The Manhattan, the dining room on deck 7 aft.
Seated at a long table off to the side of the dance floor and small band providing dinner entertainment, the dozen of us perused the menu and placed orders for drinks first, followed by our starters and mains.
For me, three starters: crispy crab and cream cheese wontons, cream of cauliflower soup, and a baby spinach salad. Both the soup and the salad were excellent. A neighbor ordered the artisanal cheeses and fruit platter, and offered me her leftovers, so I enjoyed the blue cheese and the goat cheese. Beef sirloin medallions with broccoli and steak fries (I never really got extra crispy fries despite requesting) were the main dish, which were about standard cruising fare.
Dessert I had great expectations for the warm chocolate lava cake (strawberry compote, stracciatella gelato) which disappointed (not hot, no liquid center) and the salted caramel chocolate tart with vanilla sauce and a chocolate curl, which was a bit too much cake and not much chocolate.
Post-dinner entertainment in the theater was a magician, who cleverly included several of the younger kids in the audience. Afterwards, I headed to my cabin to bring my suitcase inside. The message light prompted me to listen to it, and caused me to return to deck 6 and Guest Services, as I had apparently dropped my billfold (which included my passport and a collection of foreign currency). Back up the stairs (I solely used the stairs to traverse the various decks) I unpacked and read a bit. Rolling seas resulted in a rocky night, but after 7 shots of Scotch (Glenmorangie) it had me sleeping well.
Day 2 - At Sea
Norwegian called it day 2, so I'll file suit. Awakening without an alarm, I was dressed and hiking down to Savor, one of the two "twin" dining rooms on deck 6 aft which served sit down meals from a menu. In addition to my regular oatmeal, I tried the corn beef hash, which, besides being cool, seemed to just be diced potatoes and diced beef. At least the porridge was hot and tasty, with a slight bit of brown sugar, raisins and a banana. Juice and coffee were all the extras I needed.
After breakfast, I headed to the theater (after sticking my head on deck to note the wind and slightly rough seas) where a Croatian gave a talk on the port and tour (excursions) options. My notes indicate I was underwhelmed - I'd heard/seen much better presentations on other cruises.
Climbing up a flight, I then walked through the shops, where a young Indian attempted to sell me a $300 Bulova tank watch. Leaving and passing through the atrium, I found a somewhat quiet corner on deck 6 after I spoke briefly with a South African art staff member. I was able to read on my tablet until I headed to Savor's twin, Taste, for lunch.
With an Arnold Palmer to drink, I enjoyed the Italian wedding soup and the bistro salad. Beef moussaka was an ample portion (I actually didn't finish) and filled with ground beef, eggplant and potato slices. I neglected to take a photo of the flan de cocoa that was dessert.
After lunch, while reading off to the side of the Atrium, I viewed the heads of hospitality doing a Q&A session. I joined several dozen folks at the ParkWest auction, where I committed to purchasing a Thomas Kincaid print. At least this team were more willing to distribute the champagne/mimosas than my previous cruise. My notes skip over the rest of the afternoon, but my calendar reminded me of the second CruiseCritic meet-and-greet, which turned out to be principally a FaceBook group. We chatted a bit, and I suspect I then found a place to read until the 5pm solo group gathering. Per my pictures, I obviously found The District, where beer on tap (including several craft beers!) was offered.
We were a larger group, so Cristina wound up splitting the group when we got to Manhattan, with the 2022 solo's and Mary ("the team") in a booth, with a wall separating us from the longer table of twelve. I started with New England clam chowder and a Caesar salad, followed by the sliced roast beef main with mashed potato and parsnips. At the menu's suggestion, I had a nice glass of Brunello (red wine). No notes on dessert (or picture).
Service was particularly slow, so dinner lasted over 2 hours. I had an appointment at ParkWest for 9, but I showed up early only to find they had no record of the appointment. I made the arrangements for the Kincaid print (unframed, $220) to be sent to Florida, and then joined the team in the theater for the second presentation of Legacy in Concert. Four very talented black males, they harmonized the songs from the 50's to Bruno Mars (that's what the announcer said), dazzling us with dance moves, bright smiles and stunning voices. Jackson 5, the Beatles, ... They covered them brilliantly. All of us exited, exclaiming at how much we'd enjoyed the performance, and how it blew other shows we'd seen.
Howl at the Moon, a NCL feature, involved a pair of pianos "dueling" in a pub environment. The performers on the Escape were a vibrantly energetic woman and two graying 50's men; their instruments were the two grand pianos, a drum set, a flute, an electric guitar, and a harmonica. They entertained. But we'd had experienced three young men on the Epic who were much more involved with the audience, making for a better evening. In fact, we'd been to each performance a year ago, closing out most shows, and hung with the players. This group left us uninspired.
Day 3 - Puerto Plata (Amber Cove)
Awake ahead of the alarm, I headed up to the buffet for breakfast, as I needed to send a text off to my guide advising him of the port change. Of course, the cellular network didn't cooperate, so once I finished my oatmeal I headed to the pier. Still no coverage, I stopped in a coffee shop for a smoothie so I could use their internet. The text went out, and I had a phone call from Milton. I was to exit the property and meet him on the road.
Amber Cove is a Carnival Cruise Line facility, a resort-like option to allow visitors to shop, beach and feel safe. Norwegian had, due to a captain "pulling a maneuver" in the city port and grounding the ship, been banned from the Puerto Plata cruise terminal, so NCL was at the mercy of Carnival. This became apparent when the Escape passengers were advised that while the Carnival ship approached and docked, the pathway to Amber Cove was restricted.
Fortunately, I was heading out the gate when the second ship arrived, so after a bit of a walk, I was able to greet Milton. He is one of 3 ToursByLocals guides active in Puerto Plata; I'd written each through the website and inquired on availability and interest in taking me to the three cathedrals nearby. The first replied he was limited to local guiding. The second confirmed his interest, but proposed such an exorbitant fee that I was uninterested. The third, Milton, replied with an affirmative, however indicated that it would be impossible to see the three, and proposed a 4-hour tour to start with Santiago and then travel on to Puerto Plata to see the two cathedrals. And his fee was in line with those tours I'd recently done with TbL in Ireland and the UK.
The drive to Santiago took about an hour, with Milton giving me insight into both the Dominican Republic and Santiago, the second largest city. A technology and industrial hub, there is a well-regarded university in this wealthy city. As we had been climbing toward the interior (crossing Hispanola to the capitol of Santo Domingo takes 3 hours from Puerto Plata), we skirted the central core and many of the valleys of Santiago de los Caballeros to reach the Metropolitan Cathedral.
Catedral Santiago Apóstol (Cathedral of St James (Major) the Apostle) is set to the west of the Centro, near to a bridge over the Yaque Del Norte River. Narrow streets, many one way, limit parking, but Milton had arranged for us to be given accessed to the closed cathedral, and we were allowed to park in the restricted area next to the barrier fence surrounding the brick plaza. An impressive romanesque building, brilliantly white in the midday sun, I was challenged with squeezing my camera through the iron fence and then climbing a concrete street pillar to shoot over the fencing.
Inside, the color scheme is mostly monochromatic, with the white walls and ceilings contrasting with the black marble floors and burnished gold of the reredos. Highlights of amaranth red (the color for bishops) appear in cushions of the cathedra and some seating, cloaks in the murals. No eye-level windows along the nave walls, yet modern, intriguing clerestory windows in an intense blue are placed over the square columns. Out in the narthex, two side rooms are opposite - one with processional statues, the other with what appear to be stele: bas relief carvings of stone. A staircase descends to the crypt, where the tombs of two deceased bishops rest in a small chapel.
Back to the street, Milton easily got us out and on the road towards the ship. At the point where we crossed the provincial line, we stopped at a small roadside cafe in a strip mall for lunch in Altamira. It turned out to be the town where Milton, his teacher wife and two children reside. I had fried chicken and dirty rice with a side salad and water. Big portions, very filling and good. Passing Amber Cove, we headed along the coast into the city of San Felipe de Puerto Plata as it is formally known.
To the east of the port is Catedral de San Felipe Apóstol (St Philip the Apostle Cathedral). Not far from the Centro and the tourist areas, the Parque Central Independencia opens to the north, a large park/plaza with clumps of trees and formal walkways. The main entrance is to Calle José del Carmen Ariza, but most visitors seem to enter from the park. Sandstone in color, there are two red tile roofed towers bracketing the three entrance doors. Tall geometric grills fill the window openings, with a stained-glass cross over the central portal.
Inside, the light cream colored walls, vault and column keep the nave bright. Mahogany pews face forward, with a red carpet filling the central aisle. Italian stained-glass windows, many with scenes of Christ's life prominently display the donor's names. Built in 1934, the cathedra sits up in the sanctuary behind the main altar and behind the celebrant's chair; it is a simple padded arm chair! Behind, a simple crucified Christ is backed by a mahogany wall with square carved insets. An interesting feature: behind the north side altar is a doorway entrance to the presence chapel. A second tabernacle resides at the south side altar, so it may not be necessary to leave the sanctuary for pre- and post-communion retrieval/storage.
Afterwards, we stopped at a market where I was able to get local chocolate bars and a jar of peanuts for my cabin attendant. Milton returned me to the front gate, managing to get past the initial security at the highway entranceso I didn't have as far to walk.
I checked out the gift shops but didn't spot any hat pins, so strolled back along the pier to the ship. After dropping my camera in my cabin and collecting my reader, I climbed to the pool deck (16) and found a chaise in the shade.
After gathering in the solo lounge, the five of us headed to La Cucina, the Italian specialty restaurant. Not wanting to use my one included dinner, I went a la carte. Keeping it simple, I started with insalata de rucola e grana (arugula salad) and for my main the spaghetti carbonara. The salad was nice, but the pasta was a fail: clumpy and insufficient sauce, it was mildly improved with more carbonara sauce. Freshly grated cheese was available, however the server had to grind with a metal mouli grater, and she struggled. At least the others had good meals.
Off to the theater to see The Choir of Man. With no preparation, I was totally unprepared for this show! Nine singers and four musicians, the setting is a pub house called The Jungle. The performers were in constant motion, their songs were in perfect harmony and told the tale of British/Irish young men and their struggles. Knocked my socks off! Just brilliant. I was so surprised to have a second show be even better. Truly deserved the standing ovation that ended it, and the encore song was somber and moving. @thechoirofman #ChoirofMan
Susan and Stephanie took me on a pub crawl, as they had discovered "mini beers". (Liquor 43 and cream - something that smelled like amaretto) As we left the DJ at Skyline and were passing the elevators, we ran into the 4 men from Legacy. Returning to Skyline, after getting them each a drink, three peeled off onto the dance floor, making more impressive moods. Justin, the leader, spent time talking with me, and then with Stephanie. I finally split and headed back to my stateroom and hard mattress.
Day 4 - St Thomas
After losing an hour with the time change, I was still supposed to be up and down for breakfast at 9am to dine with the team. An 8:50 call got me up and quickly in gear. However, on arrival at Taste, they weren't visible. (The long line apparently discouraged them.) I had my usual breakfast order, adding a side of bacon. The bacon arrived very crispy, and probably 3 times what I wanted. Afterwards, heading back to the cabin to prep for my excursion, I got a shower, packed a long sleeve t-shirt (sun protection), bathers, hat and sunscreen along with the camera and phone and my voucher. With my reader I sat in the solo lounge until the cruise director announcement.
We arrived a bit before noon in the Charlotte Amalie port, and after clearing US Border Control and Customs, we were permitted to debark. After scanning my key card, I was on the pier and queued up with about 20 others for the Champagne Catamaran and Snorkeling excursion. All accounted for, with a few opting out due to a warning about potentially unclear waters (it was windy), we boarded an open-air extended jeep-type vehicle.
The driver took to the climbs and descents of the island's hills as if it were a LeMans course, so most of my pictures show the overhead tarp and sky during the ride. Probably 20-30 minutes and we reached the marina where we boarded the Dancing Dolphin.
The three man crew explained that we'd be motoring to Great Saint James Island where we'd spend about an hour snorkeling near the wreck of a 45-foot powerboat which was becoming a reef. Life vests, snorkels and masks, and fins were provided, along with brief instructions. Initially I was just going to take pictures, but I changed into my bathers and dove off the steps to swim a bit. Once all were back on board (having seen fish, turtles, rays and the wreck), the ship was put under sail and the bar open - bubbly, rum or a rum punch. A tray of salami and cheese slices with crackers was also provided.
Back at the pier in the marina, we reboarded the jitney vehicle and began another white knuckle trip along the southern coast of St Thomas. Our driver seemed intent on getting us to poop our pants, albeit we all returned to the port safely.
After passing through the gates to the pier, I skirted the merchants catering to the tourist traffic and boarded the Escape. After a shower to get the salt off, I joined the women in the solo lounge. We compared our excursions with the few other solos, and then Cristina walked us down to dinner at Savor. Two young Canadians, Katrina and Aiden from St Catherines, Ontario, Mary and Phyllis, Brit and Stephanie from DC were at the table with me. For my meal, I started with the white cheddar and potato soup, the chicken lettuce wraps and the roasted beet salad. Bang bang chicken and shrimp was my main, and I finished with a double chocolate tart. I obviously either forgot my phone or forgot to take pictures.
After dinner, Mary, Phyllis and I found seats at the Howl at the Moon venue, staying for about 75 minutes before we bailed. I climbed a flight to The District and had two beers, and finally got horizontal about midnight.
Day 5 - Tortola
We were docked in the British Virgin Islands by 6am. I recall the original itinerary was for Virgin Gorda, however we were docked for a 7 hour stay at Tortola, the larger island to the west. No interested in a "crack of dawn" excursion, I opted for breakfast at Savor: 2 eggs over easy, wheat toast, turkey sausage, juice and coffee.
Leaving the ship, I walked down the pier to the duty free shopping area. Unlike my experience a month earlier in Nassau, there were few independent vendors, most hustling taxi rides to the beaches. I exited through the chain link gate, walked up to the traffic signal, turned right and walked past the churches up on the hill to my left until I reached a traffic rotary. Making a right, I continued through a rundown area until I reached the road back to the port. No hat pins for sale in the port, I reboarded the ship after my 45 minute jaunt.
Dropping my camera in my stateroom, I took my tablet up to the pool deck and read until it was lunch time. As I'd skipped a banana at breakfast, I walked through the Marketplace (the buffet) and snagged one, and then took the aft staircase down 10 flights to Taste, where I was seated next to a couple from South Carolina. Deborah, a seasoned cruiser, was with her male friend who was on his first cruise, but not yet a convert. I started with corn chowder and shrimp fritters, followed by Cuban rotisserie chicken. Healthy portions, I was near full when my peanut butter cup cheesecake arrived.
Leaving lunch, I headed to the Atrium where I hung out for 10 minutes until a queue began to form for the CruiseNext desk. Second in line, I was soon speaking with Tyler Storm, a South African, when Mary and Phyllis joined me. I purchased more than I needed, but used two to book our next January sailing (Punta Cana, 9-days) as both women also got theirs and the same cruise. We split and I headed to The District - I found that I was preferring craft beer to double shots of neat Glenmorangie Scotch.
At the Solo gathering at 5 in our lounge, a half dozen of us elected to use out Specialty Meal option at the Brazilian steak house Churrascaria. A heavy protein dinner, we started with a delightful salad bar where I went heavy on the asparagus vinaigrette. Servers then began approaching with long epee-like skewers of grilled meat. Using tongs, we held the meat as it was sliced off to place on our plates. Three cuts of beef (tenderloin, flank steak, picanha (sirloin)), chicken drumettes and breast, lamb, pork loin and belly and linguica (sausage) were completed with slices off a grilled pineapple. For dessert, chocolate coconut tres leches cake, with a taste of the banana caramel meringue tartlet. In discussion with Stephanie and Susan, we all thought the quality had slipped from what we remembered aboard the Epic.
We'd heard the hype for the Syd Norman's Tribute to Rumors at the Pour House. The band of seven covered the eleventh studio album of Fleetwood Mac, telling the story of the 1976-7 romantic trials the group faced. Too loud and a poorly presented venue, we all left tired and feeling blasted.
Day 5 - At Sea
Awakening to a kid running in the hallway (which shouldn't really happen where all the cabins are solo adults), I walked down to deck 6 and had my oatmeal and banana with a couple from Kentucky. Susan and Stephanie were at the CruiseNext desk as I passed, so we all chatted while Tyler Storm (that's his full first name) was able to get them points and update their cruise next January. About the time we finished, Phyllis and Mary arrived and we decided to head up a flight to have lunch in O'Sheehan's.
After pasta e fagioli soup, a hot dog and fish and chips (where I skipped the roll and chips) was lunch. Over the meal, we agreed to meet up on the pool deck and queue up for the slide. There are two "adult" slides, the drop, which is actually a pair and involves being encased in a capsule (jewelry et al must be removed), while the second uses a tube to get you twenty feet lower.
While Susan waited at the bottom for us, we climbed the tower in a slow moving queue, eventually getting seated in a large tube. Rushing water pushed us through the 4-foot diameter, twisting and turning through lighted sections and a dark bit or two before splashing into a stop. Cameras and phones weren't permitted, so not much photo documentation. Not wanting to wait as long, we tried the kids slide which Phyllis and I had to push ourselves along as we stalled on the decent.
Heading aft to the adult section, we found a few chairs and spent a bit of time in the hot tub. I even broke down and had a froufrou drink (Mudslide). We parted to our cabins to change.
The next port was at Stirrup Cay, a private (NCL) island in the Bahamas. No pier, a visit would require taking a tender from the cruise ship to the island. As I had an excursion booked, I check at the desk to determine the process. (The excursion ticket was an "anytime" tender ticket.)
With plans to join the SRO line for a second viewing of The Choir of Man, we met again at O'Sheehan's. I had arrived ahead of the women (including Kim and Marion) so had ordered two appetizers to share. (Nachos and pretzel bits.) I started with a cobb salad, and had a blue cheeseburger. We left and walked through the elevator bank to join a queue of cruisers who, like us, didn't have a reservation. While we waited, I made a dash up a deck to get a craft beer at The District.
We were admitted, and found four seats in the back. Phyllis, Mary and I had lost the other pair, but we spotted them down front on the stage, engaged in conversation with the cast and having a drink. Although it was the same show, we all still thoroughly enjoyed the performance - I for one was able to see more, as my focus was wider, watching the side activities rather than the active performer.
Post show, I headed back to the brew pub and listened to the Rod Stewart-lookalike who entertained singing at the piano. When I folded, I headed through the solo lounge, finding a small group there chatting.
Day 7 - Great Stirrup Cay
For breakfast I opted to eat at the buffet, in hope that the oatmeal would be hotter. (Slightly) I read for a bit in the lounge and then, after leaving my tablet in the room, headed to the theater on deck 7 to await a tender. I was supposed to meet Mary, as we both had booked the Osprey Zipline excursion, but we must have passed one another. After about 45 minutes, I was on the top deck of a tender and heading to shore. As my scheduled time was near, I headed along the red path until a gray path broke to the left, which took me to the base of the lighthouse.
Checking in required leaving anything which might fall to be left at the desk, and it turned out (despite being told otherwise aboard), I needed to rent "closed" shoes as my flipflops weren't allowed. So the camera, phone, backpack and slippers all went into a bag. We were put into a harness and donned a helmet, slipped on gloves and listened to a safety lecture. Our group were too large (or too heavy) so we were broken into two for the lift to the top. As the straggler, I was in the second group and last in line. A clip was immediately fastened on exiting the elevator, and we had to slip it along a line and through a mounted fastener as we circumnavigated the building up a level.
Once on top, the staff clipped the harness onto the two cables, checked your rig and I was told to squat and sit, at which point I was whisked off to a tower a short distance away. (The gentleman in front of me opted to return to the ground by the lift, as he couldn't face "jumping".) At the second station I was unclipped from the line, and clipped back to the tower structure with the purple cord. Around a bit, and much more quickly, I was soon whisking along, twisted a bit on a longer run. Another turnaround, and the zipline brought me back to the base of the lighthouse.
After retrieving my gear and checking out the merchandise, I wandered a bit, taking photos primarily of the zipline activity. Noting that the dining concessions appeared to be limited, I decided to return to the ship for lunch. Having just missed a tender, I had about 20 minutes to hang out in the island port, I took a few pictures before another tender from the ship arrived and I was hailed by Phyllis, who'd remained to play bridge.
While I didn't add another note to my journal for the rest of the cruise, my pictures show the near deserted ship along the walkway through the deck 6 art gallery. I apparently had lunch at O'Sheehan's as Savor and Taste were closed. Up to The District, I sat at a window and read my tablet, until it was time to join the solo group in the lounge. Returning to The Manhattan, I ordered the Stilton cheese soup and roasted vegetable salad with goat cheese (both wonderful), with parmesan crusted turkey escalope for a main. Dessert was a Nutella crème brûlée .
Legacy was performing twice that evening, so we headed to the second show. When we'd met earlier that week, they'd insisted that we sit down front so they could see us. While not at packed, the men had a different show, and the two rows in front of us were filled with (more than mildly inebriated) female groupies. It was another excellent show.
Afterwards, I headed up and had another beer, and then returned to my cabin to pack. With my effects ready to be collected, I sat and read for a bit before lights out. We would gain that hour back overnight.
Departure and return home
Announcements in the hallway over the PA system alerted that we'd arrived at Port Canaveral, but were awaiting Border and Customs clearance. The second time it happened, I resigned myself to getting up. I showered and dressed, climbed the 4 flights to the buffet and had oatmeal and a banana. Back to the cabin to wash down my pills, I gathered the few items I'd not packed and headed to deck 8, where, after finding the outside seating was restricted, found a chair at Tobacco Road to read until 9am when the light blue tagged passengers were able to leave. Giving those chaffing at the bit a lead, I headed through security to be scanned off the ship, then joined a long queue as it sloped down to the large cavernous warehouse space where luggage was set out by color tags.
I found my bag, wheeled it past the US officers and out to the pickup area. I called the parking lot, was told to head right and look for an American flag. A jitney van had finished loading, but the driver allowed me to stand, and I was soon back walking towards my car. Surprised, the water bottle I'd left was still there, beside the rear wheel. Bag in the trunk. I was off. A wrong turn out of the lot required a bit of backtracking, but soon I was heading west.
Once past both Orlando and Tampa, as it approached noon, I decided to stop for lunch in Ruskin. Pita Kabob had a clean restroom (very important) and the chicken gyro lunch combo just hit the spot. Back out to I-75 south, I exited in south Sarasota so I could provision at Trader Joe's, and followed the Tamiami Trail back to Venice and home. I was turning the water on, flipping the switch for the hot water heater and watering the plants by 2:30.