Northern Europe 2023: Outbound

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 4, 2023, 3:30 PM | comments: 0

The adventure is over, and I'm sad. On the other hand, now I get to write about it, and I'm excited about doing that. I'm going to break it up by country visited, with another post about stuff during the cruise, and maybe even one about cultural observations. We'll see.

I'm pretty sure that I mentioned at some point that we booked a Northern Europe itinerary on Disney Cruise Line last year, choosing to do the one that started in Southampton, ended in Copenhagen, and visited France, Iceland and Norway in between. This was supposed to be a 2021 trip, were it not for the pandemic. Despite the passage of two years, we still wanted to do the cruise because we felt pretty strongly that it would have the best chance of "success" in traveling with Simon at age 13. He's at an age where he still won't entirely appreciate the history, culture and such of visiting another country, but he's also still not great at adjusting to situations that are not ideal. Sampling a bunch of countries where we knew our kid would be able to eat one of his three foods every night was low risk relative to the cost.

I don't want to suggest though that he's the only one requiring accommodations. As an adult I've obviously adapted to figure out how to deal with what I didn't even know was autism and neuroatypical behaviors, but I'm not without my own challenges. I always thought that my travel anxiety was more of a personality flaw and inconvenience for my traveling companions, but it's deeper than that. I don't like to be late for anything or miss out on anything, and it borders on being a compulsion. This is why the local cruises in the tropics are so easy and allow me to turn my brain off. All I have to do is drive an hour and get on a ship and I don't have to make any decisions deeper than what drink to get. Adventure travel, which I do enjoy, I have to do a lot more planning. So I did a lot of planning, and it was worth it. To get off the boat in Copenhagen and know what to expect from the bus stop and train station because I looked at Google Street View is worth it for the piece of mind.

We started the trip with an Uber to MCO, and unfortunately the driver didn't speak much English. So when we asked her to go to Terminal A, where Virgin Atlantic's ticket counter is, she wasn't actually hearing us, and she dropped us on the B side because that's what her phone told her to do. It's not a huge deal if you know that airport, but still frustrating. Virgin doesn't charge you for the first bag, and they're generally more efficient and courteous than US airlines, so we only had to wait about 15 minutes to get our stuff checked in before we headed to the TSA checkpoint.

Diana did a little research, and learned that MCO participates in the "Sunflower" program adopted by some airports and venues around the world to discreetly help people with non-obvious disabilities. I still hate ASD being described as a disability, but Simon hasn't flown since well before the pandemic, and we had no idea how he was going to do. So this at least worked as a means to let the TSA know that yelling at the kid because he doesn't know what to do with his shoes would be a dick move. It turns out it wasn't the TSA that would trigger him.

The TSA doesn't do airport security well anywhere, something I appreciate even more after being in Europe, but it's a special brand of cluster fuck in Orlando. The busier, domestic side, just has enormous queues to wander through. The international side doesn't have the queues, just a bunch of unmarked lines leading to desks with agents checking ID's. It didn't seem like a huge wait, so we decided not to use the disability access, given the number of folks in wheel chairs. That seemed fine, until two people in front of us invited about a dozen more people to join them. The TSA isn't paying attention (that's comforting), and the crowd objection didn't seem to bother them. Simon, the kid who will turn in his classmates, got pretty upset, and before you know it, he's sitting on the ground, hands over his forehead, talking to himself about how wrong they were. I thought we were largely beyond this sort of thing, but we're not. It was a bad omen.

We bailed on the line and went over to the disability line, and it moved pretty quickly. I felt like we dodged a bullet, but I was pretty furious because the whole affair was unnecessary. But whatever, we got passed it. As soon as you hear Mayor Buddy Dyer on the tram, you're in the clear.

Getting the boy settled isn't super easy on a plane, now that you can't just throw a screen in front of him and let him pass out and sleep. We also had been getting up earlier in the morning and trying to go to bed earlier, in preparation for the time change. What this mostly did was create anxiety for Simon about making the adjustment, to the point that he couldn't (I suffered the same problem). The flight itself was around 8 hours, and I was willing to spend whatever it took to get a direct flight to London.

The first, expected difficulty was the lack of tenable food options. Diana had bags and bags of snacks, so that was easy enough. But the plane was noisy, and they didn't dim the lights until about three hours into the flight, with dinner service probably being the biggest reason. Simon also seems to have inherited my periodic restless leg problem, and so being tired and incapable of being still and expecting to want to make the time adjustment, he became a hot mess. It wasn't a loud hot mess, but it meant that we wouldn't be getting much or any sleep either. It was rough. And yes, he fell asleep in the last 20 minutes, even sleeping through the landing.

It was a rough start, and there were other concerns before we even left the house. The day before, they cancelled our second of three Iceland ports, because Isafjordur is apparently dredging or something and the water isn't deep enough. To pile on, the rail labour unions were striking in the UK, which would have uncertain effects on tube and train availability.


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