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Get Over It: A First-Timer’s Guide To International Flights

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What to expect on that flight from the United States to someplace across the pond for your first European cruise vacation.

That’s really the focus of this post; to address the concerns of those who have not flown internationally, choosing the safe and convenient Caribbean, Mexico, Alaska or other close-by areas of the world instead.   Not that there is anything wrong with that; being safe.  Safety is good.  Comfortable is good.  Safe and comfortable both are really good, thus the huge popularity of cruise vacations.

We watch on TV as daring adventure travelers climb mountains on the National Geographic Channel.  We see them brave the elements on the Discovery Channel and even watch as Travel Channel hosts cover the globe, all against great odds. But never really think that these are things we might want to do, you and I.

Hey, guess what?  An international flight is a huge, quantum leap from a drive to your local homeport or short flight around the U.S.

Simply put: Taking that leap to international travel can literally open up the entire world for us.

Have I got your attention, at least briefly?   Then follow along as we head from Miami to Barcelona, Spain to board what promises to be a fabulous new cruise ship, the Carnival Breeze, for a 12 night Mediterranean sailing

American Airlines flight 1463 was an overnight flight from Miami to Barcelona, non-stop.  It’s kind of funny in a surrealistic sort of way, how the plane boards about like any other flight.  Take off goes about like any other plane. Once in the air, passengers are allowed to use electronic devices then the beverage cart service starts.

And right about there is where the difference sets in.   We will be on this plane overnight plus a six-hour time difference.   Leaving at 6:15 on a typical Miami Summer night, we will end in Spain at 9:15 the next morning.  Do the math; that’s 15 hours later and, to most people, it feels like it.  Actual flying time is about 9 hours but that 6 hour time difference is huge.

The food cart replaces the drink cart and it’s chicken or pasta, or something that resembles it.  Adequate is about it.  I’ve done this several times and am about to just plan on bringing a nice sandwich from a local deli.

Like any other travel option, we get better at it the more we do it.  A long fight is no exception.   We come packed with snacks and stock up on bottles of water prior to boarding.  Those are a couple of tips we read someplace and there are a lot of good ones out there.   But kind of like a cruise packing list, no one seems to have the perfect tips that work for everybody.   Still, some time-tested long-haul air travel tips ring true and can be of great benefit.   We’ll have a list of those later.

After dinner, solidly over the Atlantic ocean, cabin lights are dimmed and passengers watch onboard programming that ranges from mediocre to bad for the most part.  Reruns of television programs or movies of drive-in theater quality are standard fare.  Some passengers will read, some will work, others will watch their own (good) movies that they brought along.  Then one by one, most all drift off into some level of sleep.

I rarely sleep on the way over but almost always sleep the entire time on the way back.  If you’re one of those people hooked on cruise vacations that can’t sleep the night before (me),  an international flight just makes that excitement last longer.

Make no mistake: this is a tough travel day.  This particular flight is better than others we have done as it is non-stop between the U.S. and the final destination in Europe.  That’s rare.  Most will stop someplace else on the way over which is great for greedy frequent flyer people or those wanting to collect passport stamps.

Still, once in Barcelona we follow the signs to baggage claim, quickly passing through customs then connect with pre-arranged transfer to the ship.   It’s been a long day and by now somewhat of a blur but finally we board Carnival Breeze and find rather quickly that even in our jet-lagged state, this is one heck of a ship.

A quick look around verifies the “breezy”, Caribbean-themed décor promised by press releases that came out months before.  Onboard we see and meet old friends and begin making new ones.  Crew members are friendly and can’t do enough to help us get settled in, a process that will continue into tomorrow.

At dinner, we are greeted by familiar Carnival fare ranging from Shrimp Cocktail to their signature Warm Chocolate Melting cake dessert, a fitting end to a wonderful meal and a reminder that we have returned home.

We’ve said it before and will say it again right now; there is something to be said for traveling with a friend.  By “friend” we mean not only the humans we travel with but the Carnival brand which is here, on board, in what appears to be one of the very best representations we’ve yet experienced.

That’s great news.  Better news is that after just a few hours on board we are just as comfortable on new Carnival Breeze sailing in the Mediterranean as we might be sailing to Cozumel, St Thomas or any other Caribbean port.

First-Timer Tips for International Flights

  • Book as far in advance as possible and with as few stops as possible– That just makes the long travel day a bit shorter.  At the same time the booking is made, find out any special documentation you might need to board the ship.  In our case, a valid passport is all we need.  We have those so this is an easy item to check off the list.   Still, on other itineraries one might be required to satisfy special entry requirements.   Best source to figure that part out: The U.S Department of State’s Safe Traveler Program which offers all the information needed to enter and experience any given country in the world.
  • Start focusing on getting plenty of rest and eating right several days before the flight. Sure, maybe we can’t “bank” sleep but starting a long flight with a full tank of rest is always a good idea.
  • Finish packing (at least preliminarily) a week in advance– that offers the opportunity to be sure critical items are packed and allows time to get source those items if they were not packed first time around.
  • Consider your one personal carry-on item your “flight bag” and have everything that might be needed during the flight in it.  More on that later but unless we’re flying first class, space to move around will be limited.  Having everything needed right at hand, under the seat in front of you, is huge and a must-do for all international flights.
  • If flying in the day of sailing, make no solid plans for the first day or two.  Have some plans in place but have the flexibility to spend the first day overseas adjusting to the time difference and getting used to new surroundings.  If everything goes well, you may be able to hit the ground running.  If a few parts of your travel plan don’t come off as anticipated, all is not lost, just a bit behind schedule
  • Enjoy the experience that international flights can offer in and of themselves.  Flight attendants or other passengers have wonderful stories to tell when they have some time that can add a richness to our travels.

 Photo Matt Hintsa via Compfight

 

Stay tuned for more on our day-by-day account of sailing the Carnival Breeze.  Look for daily entries of what we do and see along with travel experiences we create along the way.   We’re doing this trip a bit differently this time, focusing not only on the new Carnival Breeze and all it has to offer but on off-ship experiences as well as the whole notion of Mediterranean cruising vs. Caribbean cruising.  That’s a match up that reader questions and comments seem to give a high priority to and one we hope to address fully before this is all over.

Chris is being hosted by Carnival Cruise Lines on this voyage but the information shared here is his own and a direct product of what he experiences on the voyage.

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Hi, this may be of interest to you: Get Over It: A First-Timer’s Guide To International Flights. This is the link: https://cruiseradio.net/get-over-it-a-first-timers-guide-to-international-flights/