We've all heard the rule, "Don't miss the boat."
My family almost broke that rule while on a cruise at Freeport, Bahamas, recently. It was a scary few moments outside the states.
My wife, Edith, and I sailed from Port Canaveral, Fla., aboard the Carnival Glory cruise ship for a week to the Western Caribbean Sea. Our 9-year-old daughter, Audrey, tagged along.
The first six days of our trip went without a hitch. We enjoyed the food and entertainment on the big boat. The ship staff pampered us with service at the dinner table and in our cabin. We entered our stateroom one evening to find a towel monkey swinging from the cabinets.
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The Mayan city of Tulum, Mexico, was our first destination. The excursion by taxi boat and bus from the ship docked at Cozumel made for a long, hot day, but it was awesome to see the stone temple ruins up to 800 years old.
Colorful fish and a big eagle ray swam at the coral reefs off Roatan Island, Honduras, where we snorkeled twice with a guide. We saw a small crocodile sunning by a cove.
Water ran cold in the river we floated down near Belize City, Belize. We drifted on inner tubes through two dark caves, seeing only with headlamps while inside. As a bonus, we ate live termites while we walked through the rain forest to the river. They tasted like mint.
The morning of Friday, July 4, the Glory docked at an industrial port near Freeport. Travelers who didn't want to stay on board the ship, or didn't have an excursion booked, took a taxi van for $5 per person to a market several miles away.
The cruise director had told guests to be back on the ship by 5:30 p.m., because the ship would leave at 6 p.m.
We paid $15 to our taxi van driver as he dropped us off at Port Lucaya Marketplace. We shopped for a silver charms and some cheap souvenirs. Afterward, we swam for hours at a beach across the street.
Back at the market, Edith, Audrey and I tasted some local drinks. Audrey liked the Goombay punch. Then, at 4:45 p.m., we caught another taxi van going back to the ship.
The taxi van held about 10 people, but there were only three of us. So, the driver, Robert, drove around the market for a few minutes soliciting other tourists going back to the Glory. No problem, man.
Robert even played a CD of his band's original Calypso music.
A family of six joined us, saying they were going to the boat. But as we started back, we found out that this family was not cruising on the Glory. Rather, they claimed to have a private boat docked near the Glory.
A few moments later, the family decided they wanted to go to a different location. The taxi driver turned from our course toward the ship and took the family to a mall instead. We started getting a little nervous.
When the family got out of the taxi, they argued with the driver about the fare. They paid him less than the $5 per person he had originally asked for, and they headed quickly into the mall.
The driver cut off the taxi engine, took the keys, and ran after the family into the mall.
Edith looked at her watch. It was 5:15 p.m., almost time to freak out.
The three of us were alone in a taxi van at a mall somewhere near Freeport. We didn't know when the driver might be back, whether he might be too mad to take us to our port when he did get back, or how long it might take to get to the port if he did come back and take us.
I jumped out of the van and approached a family with an SUV in the mall parking lot. I asked if they would drive us to the ship's port. I think I talked too fast for them to understand our situation. No luck.
It was time to freak out.
We saw several other taxi vans parked near the mall. But these taxis did not have special permits to service the gated port where our ship was docked. We begged the drivers to take us back anyway.
One driver offered to take us to the port entrance for an inflated price. Although we weren't in a great position to negotiate, we declined.
Finally, after additional begging, one sympathetic driver named Charles said he didn't want us to have bad memories of Freeport. He offered to take us back to the port entrance for $15.
We jumped in his taxi van. He rushed us straight to the port and let us off outside the gate. We paid him and thanked him while the guard told us to hurry. We ran by foot to the ship, arriving at 5:31 p.m.
Except for two ladies standing around aimlessly on the dock, we were the last folks to board the ship.
In our backpack, Edith still had her charm purchased that morning at the market. It had a cruise ship design in the center, along with the words "Freeport Bahamas" around the top edge.
We should have bought a charm with a taxi van picture on it instead. That's where our real adventure happened on Grand Bahama Island.
Either way, it turned out to be our lucky charm!