How I Boarded a Plane for Cuba and Ended up in Australia
Amanda and I, my BFF, got to Houston with every intention to go to Havana, Cuba, for a visit. Both of us have traveling jobs, and we were each coming from other trips and didn’t have much of anything planned for Cuba. We had a Lonely Planet guide, a place to stay, cash, clothes for a warm place, and that’s it. We had been talking about going to Cuba for a while, but we’re last-minute planners and tend to just arrive and go with the flow. Remember this.
Amanda and I met up in Houston and made our way to the gate E22, with direct service to Havana, Cuba. Honestly, I had never felt so nervous about going somewhere. We knew we wanted to go, but there was something that was making us totally freak out. We were flying Standby, and the loads were looking iffy. We watched as boarding commenced, and we stood sketchily around the corner, wondering if we should even go after all. Near the end of boarding, we decided we didn’t come all this way not to go, so I went up to the gate and there were indeed two seats left. We quickly purchased the necessary visas, were issued our boarding passes, and went to scan in. As the last passengers on board, they had to check our bags, so we bid adieu to our carry-ons and walked on board the plane.
This was THE most chaotic boarding experience I have ever seen. It was stressful just being in it! Everyone was speaking Spanish. Everyone was talking loudly. There were a ton of babies and they were all screaming. People were in the aisle. The flight attendants looked like they needed to go home and sleep for a week. Nothing was calm, cool, or collected at all. Amanda and I took our seats, updated our Facebook statuses, and sat in trepidation as we waited to take off.
The safety video started. Then it stopped.
The safety video, once started, means the aircraft doors have shut, the cabin is secure, and everything is ready to go. It only stops if: someone is in the bathroom, something is wrong, or there is some other extenuating circumstance.
The video stopped, and the doors opened. A gate agent came on, and according to his list, approached passengers, whispered something to them, and the stood up. I knew we were going to be next. He approached me, kindly told me to gather my belongings and exit the aircraft; the plane was over-grossed.
Over-grossed! The plane was too fat to fly! Ha! I was so relieved. We didn’t have to go to Cuba after all! We were not even mad, lol. Gate agent suggested we catch the 2:20 flight to Panama and fly COPA to Havana from there. But first, remember how they took our bags? Yeah. We had to exit security, wait at special handling baggage, file a missing bag claim, and wait for nearly 2 hours before we were reunited with our carry-on. But hey, at least they didn’t go to Cuba without us!
And then, we waited
Around 3:00, we got our bags back and were determined to go somewhere. We missed the Panama flight, but weren’t really feeling like playing plane tag to get to Havana. There weren’t any other flights that day or even the next from Houston to Havana, so we moved on to Plan B.
Naturally, we didn’t have a Plan B. And we were pretty hangry after having spent all day in the airport (not to mention having to fly to Houston that morning before any of this even happened), boarding and deplaning a plane, having to collect our luggage, and going through security AGAIN.
We got some food and tried to figure out where we could go next. We had to have a reservation to get through security, so we listed ourselves to fly to Quito, Ecuador that night, because if nothing else, we could holla at the fam down there and at least go somewhere. But, we’ve explored that whole country, so we wanted somewhere new. Belize and Managua were possibilities, but we also weren’t REALLY feeling those. Also to note, we were limited to destinations with warm weather, since we were packed for the beach and Cuba. I was fine with going to Quito because it was a familiar option, but Amanda kept insisting we go look at the Departures board and just see what flights were leaving from Houston that night. So, that we did.
I told Amanda to “just pick a place” and all of a sudden, I hear “OHMYGOSHKRISTIN!!! SYDNEY!!!” There was an 8:00 flight direct to Sydney that night. We all know Amanda and I are crazy, so it didn’t make sense NOT to just up and fly to Sydney when there were 94 SEATS OPEN OMG.
I listed us for the flight. We had 4 hours till takeoff. Neither of us had ever imagined we’d go to Australia, much less under these circumstances. Next order of business was to get our Australian visas (thankfully an easy, instant, online purchase!) and then some reading material, those travel neck pillows, water bottles, and melatonin. ;) I also hopped on Expedia and made hotel reservations for Sydney. We ended up losing out on the AirBnB in Cuba (also a last-minute booking), but again, not even mad.
At the gate, we called our parents and informed them we were not, in fact, flying to Cuba, but were about to board he Dreamliner for AUSTRALIA. Plot twist of the century.
I still couldn’t really believe all of the events of the day, but really, nothing should surprise me anymore, lol. We would aim for travel to the Caribbean and land on the other side of the world.
The longest flight I had been on prior to this was as a working crew member to Honolulu from Dulles, about 10 hours. Flight time of 16 hours and 52 minutes seemed like a looooong time. We were super fortunate to have landed our own row in Economy Plus, each of us at the aisle, so we had the middle seat open for all our stuff. After the meal service, Amanda and I passed OUT. Granted, it was about 9:00 Houston time, so 10pm our time, and we had been up since 4am that day just starting the whole trip. We slept for about 11 hours straight. Wish I could do that every night…
The flight was nice and easy thanks to that. Because we were literally traveling to the other side of the world, the time change is bizarre. We took off from Houston on a Saturday night, and landed at 7am in Sydney on Monday morning.
One of the bummers about being a flight attendant is that when you travel internationally as a crew member, they don’t stamp your passport! (Unless you ask, in certain places. Mexico, Canada and Dublin have been kind enough to stamp me upon request; Zurich flat out said no. *eyeroll*) Australia is all sleek and modern, and they scan your FACE. No messing with ink and paper for the Aussies. So, no stamp for me.
We cleared customs, exchanged our money (Fun fact: the Australian $2 coin is the size of a US dime, and their 50 cent pieces the size of a silver dollar, AND they have a 20 cent coin so it’s all very confusing) and got in a cab to our hotel, it was around 10am.
Our place for the next four days was a cute little European-style hostal called Greenwich Inn. Our friend at the front desk, Ravi, was extremely friendly and accommodating. He even let us check into our room at 10am instead of 2pm, so we had breakfast, got settled, grabbed some brochures, and we were off! We were a 15mn walk to the nearest train station, and then an easy 20mn ride into Circular Quay, where the Opera House and Harbor Bridge are. We did make a pit stop to buy an Australian outlet converter though, and the kid who sold it to us we would meet again later on.
We took the train into the city and spent the majority of the afternoon taking photos around the Harbor. We also visited the Sydney Sky Tower for some extra cool #views.
It took us 3 hours, but we made it to the boonies to the Ferndale Wildlife Park! Remember the guy who sold us the outlet converter? Well, we missed our stop on the train by 3, and when we got off, he was also there and recognized us! We were a good 2 hours outside of the city at that point, so it was crazy to have run into him again, but he helped us get back on track. Yay for friendly Aussies!
So Ferndale. This is where we got up close and probably little too personal with the wallabies and koalas. And some other cool outback animals. I liked this place much better than any zoo because there was no one there and the animals were literally just hopping around, like they lived there…huh.
After our #kangarookick, we made our way back to Sydney proper and hopped on a ferry that took us to gorgeous Watson’s Bay, where we walked around for a bit and had some really Instagrammable fish tacos. The last boat out was at sunset at 7:35, so we caught that and headed back to chill by the Opera House for the rest of the night. Dude- it was so awesome. The weather was perfect, we got dessert, they were playing 90’s throwbacks, and the view was just incredible. Just relaxing there at nigh was the highlight of the trip for me. What a sight.
Wednesday morning, Amanda and I made our way to the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb experience. Yes- we climbed the thing. No- we did not do any crazy stunt jumping.
Here’s a #smallworld story for ya. We were (*Amanda was) chatting up this really good lookin’ dude about our age who happened to be in our tour, and conveniently strapped onto the bridge in line next to us, when we learned that he is from a town 45 MINUTES AWAY FROM MINE IN WEST VIRGINIA. Get out. We were on the other side of the world and this guy has friends who went to my rival high school. L. O. L. We then invited our new fitness model (yes, really) friend to hang with us the rest of the day. ‘Course he obliged. ;)
Anyway, this tour was SUPER cool because our guide was so personable and the weather was perfect, the views from that height were just incredible, and it was just an absolute THRILL to be climbing a bridge. Would recommend if you ever go down there.
Post bridging, we hopped another ferry with our travel boyfriend for the day. (I really hope he never finds this lolol.) (But if you’re reading, Tyler, Amanda’s single ;)
Manly Beach was sold to us as a "better, less touristy beach" than the famous Bondi Beach in Sydney. We arrived just in time for about an hour in the water and setting sun, and got to see some Supball played- this water sport on paddleboards that’s like soccer/hockey on water sort of, because you use your oars to hit the volleyball on the water and I guess score a goal? Fun to watch, because some teams were getting really into it, tackling each other off their boards and everything. Water rugby? Someone Australian, help me out!
We said goodbye to fitness model Tyler after dinner and gelato, and made our way back to our hotel in the ‘burbs.
Our last dayyyyyyy! Touring the Sydney Opera House and visiting Bondi Beach were the last two pressing items on our hit list. Fun facts I learned from the Opera House Tour:
1: Theatres in Australia do not have rows “O” or “I.” This is because they don’t want patrons getting confused between “1s” and “0s.”
2: Eero Saarinen, designer of my own Washington Dulles International Airport, (also of Missouri’s Gateway Arch fame!) was on the panel of judges that chose the design of the Sydney Opera House. It was Saarinen who insisted in looking through the designs in the reject pile- where Jørn Utzon’s iconic design lay. #TheMoreYouKnow
Post-SOH tour, we had to visit the aquarium to get our money’s worth from the tour tickets we had bought. Saw some sharks, saw some fish…standard aquarium stuff. Turned out to be pretty cool.
Next, we hit up Madame Tussauds’- again included in our ticket price. This turned out to be super weird. I had never been in a wax museum, and it was pretty trippy trying to figure out who was real and taking pics and who (what?) was the wax figure. We got some fun pics out of it.
THEN WE HEADED TO BONDI BEACH! Amanda had been dying to see the famous pool at Icebergs Club, where the waves crash into the pool. Gorgeous. That concluded our mini tour of Australia!
We had to leave, sadly, but not before taking pictures with the nice couple who ran the hotel, Ravi and Thilly. #Casual. Then it was back to the airport and 16h 32mn of air time back to Houston for us. We were again fortunate enough to have the same seat setup as we did on the way down- whole row with the middle open. Score! The flight back was not as easy as the one going there. It was hard to sleep and we had steady light turbulence. Then we were grounded in Houston after arriving (back in time lol) at 9:45am Friday because of the freak winds the East Coast was having! My flight back to Dulles that night was one heck of a bumpy ride. But I’m a Flight Attendant, so turbulence is my thing. ;)
PHEW! Best Cuba trip ever! Maybe one day we’ll actually make it down to Havana.