An Inside Look at Our Cruise of the Great Lakes (Part 3: Post-Cruise)

(This article turned out to be way too long, so I broke it into three parts. Part 1: Pre-Cruise is the preplanning and the three days we spent in our embarkation city. Part 2: The Cruise is all about the ship and the cruise. Part 3: Post-Cruise is the three days we spent in the disembarkation city and our mishap getting home.)

Day 10 (Toronto, Canada)

Today we awoke to the alarm again to find ourselves docked in Toronto. We were required to be out of our room by 8 am and off the ship by 9 am as everyone disembarks today following a great cruise. So, we dressed and went to breakfast. After which we returned to our room to put the last things in our carryon and vacated our room and the boat at 8 am.

Surprisingly, we never went through customs. We filled out a Canadian customs form during the trip and I suppose they just looked those over and contacted only those people who needed extra screening. Unfortunately, after disembarking the ship we found everyone’s luggage just sitting out on the dock. Good thing it wasn’t raining. 

We contacted an Uber and headed for our hotel in the business district of Toronto. Of course, the room was not ready so early in the morning, so we checked in, dropped off our luggage and headed out on the town for the day. 

We walked around town and toured the old City Hall, the nicest city hall building we have ever seen. It has been replaced and is now only used for traffic court, but what a beautiful building. 

Then we took a picture of the Toronto Sign on the next block and headed to the Hockey Hall of Fame. We don’t know anything about hockey, but the museum was great. I was surprised to recognize names of famous hockey players from my teen years. Wayne Gretzky, the highest scoring hockey player in history with 1487 goals, was quoted in my award winning/best-selling book, The Doctors Guide to Eliminating Debt

We took a break at mid-day to eat lunch and then returned for the rest of the day. At 4 pm we walked through the PATH, an underground pathway through the city filled with stores and eateries. It is basically all the basements in the area connected together. Underground walking is a great thing to have in a snow-covered city during the winter. It turns out the PATH ends at the front door of our hotel.

We changed clothes for the evening, walked to dinner and then to the play; Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, only three blocks away. On our stroll to the play, we again had someone comment that we looked like a cute couple walking hand in hand. We must be getting cuter as we age as we have never had these comments before.

Day 11 (Toronto)

Today we slept in. The day was predicted to be a rainy one, so we decided to stay in and just chill for the day. We read and watched TV for most of the day after catching the free continental breakfast in the hotel. It was a very relaxing day. It was the first time I had read an entire newspaper in a very long time.

In the late afternoon, after the skies cleared, we set off for our evening event by walking four miles to the Shania Twain Concert, stopping off along the way to eat dinner. Shania put on a great show. Afterward we walked four miles back to our hotel. We passed a man who hailed a cab. The driver quoted him a high price for the ride and the man said, “Fine, I’m not walking for an hour Dude.” We enjoy walking, but it was interesting to be reminded that many people would never consider walking eight miles round trip to a concert. We walked about 17,000 steps that evening. After walking 450 miles across Spain, this concert jaunt was a piece of cake. It was well after midnight by the time we arrived back to our hotel.

Day 12 (Toronto)

Another day to sleep in. We awoke to a beautiful sunshiny day with an expected high of 79 degrees. I took time this morning to give this article a once over edit. I had been writing each day at the end of the day to summarize what we did while it was fresh in my mind. That usually took about five minutes. The editing today took a lot longer, but we weren’t planning to take the Hop On Hop Off bus ride touring the city until after lunch. 

I usually ride a Hop On Hop Off guided bus tour on the first day in a new city to gain the layout and learn about the city. Often, I find something interesting I want to go back and see. This time we did it on our final day in town. I jotted down a lot of ideas to check out for the next time I am in Toronto: Museums, a castle, a fort, an island to explore, and the tallest tower in North America. 

After sitting in the sun on top of the open bus for over two hours, we were hot and dehydrated. We got off the bus and found an ice cream shop and sat in the shade eating our ice cream. We then took a hand-in-hand stroll through town back to our hotel. 

Once we were hydrated and cool, we walked to a great vegan restaurant for dinner. Afterward we walked back to the hotel to shower off the salt and sunscreen for the night.

Interesting that United Airlines did not ask us to check in 24 hours ahead of our flight like they usually do. I suspect that feature is not used in Canada, only in the US. (The next day, a few hours before the flight, we got the summons to submit a photo of our passports.)

Day 13 (Travel Day)

We were able to sleep in again today since I booked a 4:18 pm flight home. A little earlier would have been better but c’est la vie. We packed our bags and checked out of the hotel before our noon late check out and left our bags with the bellman while we went out for lunch.

After lunch we retrieved our bags and took an Uber to the airport. When we touched down for our connecting flight in Denver and turned on our phones, we found out our next flight was delayed by a little over five hours. Some things you can’t control. 

We had a leisurely dinner at the airport and spent the extra time catching up on email, reading and writing. After dinner the airline sent us $60 worth of vouchers for meals. What timing. The vouchers don’t expire for two years so we will use them on another trip. 

Our flights were originally scheduled to land at 9 pm in our home airport. We landed around 3 am. Then another adventure began. At this hour in a small town, nothing is happening. Taxis aren’t out and Uber drivers are home in bed. 

Our original plan was to leave our car at my parent’s house, 1.7 miles from the airport, and my dad would come pick us up after we landed so we could get the car and drive the 30 minutes home. This saves the cost and risk of leaving our car in the airport parking lot for two weeks. In Denver, when we knew we would be arriving sometime after midnight, I called my 82-year-old father and told him we would not want him picking us up at some unknown time after midnight. We would catch a ride to his house and pick up the car so he could stay in bed. 

During our long layover in Denver our flight time and loading gate kept changing. We weren’t even sure we would arrive home that night so we couldn’t set up a time for a taxi service to pick us up. At 3 am, all the taxis in town had assignments to pick up and drop off people for their early morning flights. There are never any flights scheduled to arrive at this hour. My Uber app showed no moving cars in the area. I could not find a ride! I even tried asking a few people who were dropping their relatives off if I could get a short lift. They looked at me strangely and went on their way. I don’t think I would have given a stranger a lift either. 

There were several stranded travelers in the same boat as us. One lady needed to go five miles to reach her hotel that she thought had a shuttle, but that turned out to be incorrect. I don’t know what she did but she was supposed to be at work in three hours. The one taxi I reached by phone said he couldn’t get to me for more than an hour.

So, I changed into my walking shoes and started an early morning hike. It was ideal hiking weather of 61 degrees and clear skies. It took me a half-hour to reach my father’s house, after which I got the car, and came back to pick up my wife and our luggage. 

The silver lining is after pulling an all-nighter, it was now 6:45 am Toronto time, the brisk walk woke me right up so I was wide awake for the 30 minute drive home. We got into bed at about 5 am local time, which was 8 am in the time zone we were acclimated too. I worked hard to be sure our flights gave us normal sleeping hours only to be tripped up by a late airplane.

Day After (Home)

I have previously written about the importance of keeping the day after arriving home from a vacation devoid of obligations. Before I figured that out, early in my career, I would have had a full workday scheduled for this day. After having things go wrong in the past, I learned not to work on the first day back from vacation. Today our schedule only had a birthday dinner with a friend at 6 pm.

Pulling an all-nighter getting home and then working all day blows the entire concept or recharging your battery on vacation. 

We were wide awake by 10 am after only five hours of sleep. This was 1 pm Toronto time and not the hour our circadian rhythm wanted our bodies to sleep. I got up and weighed in. I was not looking forward to the five to seven pound weight gain people often get on a week of all you can eat and drink cruising. I was happy to see I had only gained 1.8 pounds. The walking and gym time paid off.

I had breakfast and then went to get the mail. Our mail was waiting in our Fort Knox mailbox which can hold two months’ worth of mail under lock and key. This mailbox has been such a great improvement over our old, unlocked mailbox, especially when we started traveling frequently. It is a pain to start and stop the mail service. Now we never stop the mail, and we can retrieve it whenever we return. Even when we are home, I only get the mail about once a week. If we are gone a significant stretch of time, one of our kids can get the mail and send us anything important.

There were lots of packages to open that were shipped while we were gone in addition to the two weeks of mail to read. It was nice to have our son living at the house while we were gone. He was able to look after things and bring in the packages left at the doorstep before someone could steal them. We unpacked, started the laundry, caught up on mail, bills, and settled back into our usual routine. 

Never schedule your trip to end a few hours before you must start a full day’s work. Take additional time off, or return a day earlier, so your return can be smooth and enjoyable. This hectic return day is why many physicians hate to leave for a long trip. By early afternoon our life was back to normal. I was also surprisingly refreshed for the lack of sleep we had. The relaxed return schedule helped with that.

I hope this glimpse into our vacation style is helpful. It may not be the same as yours, but you can see that sightseeing, rest, recovery, and adventure can all be had in the same vacation. You might not like walking eight miles to see a concert like we do (most would take an Uber), but your trip should reflect the things you like to do. Leaving plenty of space in your first day back for catching up is a great transition back to work.

When we were vacationing with our young children our schedule looked a lot different. We avoided museums and sightseeing and subbed in amusement parks, water parks, zip lines, caves, beaches, jet ski rides, para sailing, fast food, miniature golf, escape rooms, and whatever else came along that the kids, my wife and I all wanted to do to have a good time. After all, we were ALL on vacation. 

The kids liked cruising with us as we picked cruise lines that catered to kids and had lots of stuff for them to do. If you don’t want your kids buried in their phones, make the vacation more exciting than social media. Keep them so busy and excited that they forget about their phones. Hint: kids don’t like sightseeing or visiting relatives the whole time.

Plan ahead, get tickets to things you want before you go and don’t pack the days so full of adventure that you will need a vacation from your vacation when you get back home. Plan to arrive home in a rested and relaxed state. Leave room for problems that might arise. Involve your children in the planning process so they own the vacation as well. Remember why you are traveling. Make your time away about having fun and getting the required rest needed to continue your busy life as a physician. Avoid making your vacation about checking the most things you can off your travel bucket list.

For those who are interested, the total cost of this adventure was $21,599.09. Most of that was paid in 2019 since this cruise replaced a canceled cruise originally scheduled for the spring of 2020. Interesting note: The canceled two-week cruise of the Danube River in Europe was almost an exact straight across trade for this one-week Great Lakes Cruise three years later.

I hope to see you at the beach, on a ship, at a timeshare, or an RV park sometime in the future. If you see us, say HI!

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