Don't Miss the Boat

Winter weather can torpedo the best-laid plans

by Will O'Bryan
Published on December 6, 2012, 5:23am | Comments

Once winter really takes hold, when the cold wind chafes cheeks and the thickest layers can't keep out the chill, that's when Washingtonians really want to get away. It's also when some of the weather most detrimental to travel likes to come visit. Case in point: February 2010.

In local lore, it was known as ''Snowmageddon'' – or any number of other pun-loving variations. To Robbie Shore, it was the Grinch about to steal his vacation.

The plan was to fly out of D.C. to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Thursday, Feb. 11. A couple hours later, he'd be poolside with a couple days to spare before the Saturday late-afternoon departure of RSVP's 2010 gay Caribbean cruise. At least, that was the plan until Feb. 10 when he was advised that his flight – every flight in the region, essentially – had been canceled.

''I'm not one to freak out,'' says Shore, saying he kept a cool head and assessed his options. ''I knew that I could get a car.''

So, along with a couple friends who found themselves in the same boat – figuratively and literally – he rented a car.

''What was funny was that the snow was horrible. The roads were very hard to navigate, very slippery,'' Shore recalls. ''The cars that were out were sliding all over the place. But after we got out of the city, the snow disappeared. After 45 minutes, the roads were absolutely clear, like there hadn't been any snow at all. We made good time.''

And they made the ship. There was, however, a stream of tiny headaches to overcome before and after. The hotel in Fort Lauderdale left him sitting in the lobby for a couple of hours, trying to re-accommodate him. There were credits to work out for the missed air travel. And that's with having purchased travel insurance, something Shore forgoes when it's a minor trip, but insists upon for something as expensive as a week-long cruise. He also grants, however, that planning can be a better safeguard than insurance.

''It's just being aware of the situation, being nimble,'' he explains. ''I never fly down the day of. If you push everything to the end, if you have a lot of steps – connecting flights, flying the day of the cruise, cabs, security – if everything's really tight, I just think you're asking for trouble. Take an extra day and decompress.

''That ship is going to leave no matter what. What do I need to do to ensure I'm there to catch that boat? If that means taking an extra day off, it's worth it. Arriving day of departure can be very hazardous. What's Plan B?''

When it comes to planning and trip insurance, Brian Van Wey, of Minneapolis-based Brand g Vacations, takes a similar tack. When the price point starts to make you nervous, go ahead and buy it – though that's no guarantee of a happy ending.

''More often than not, with insurance, you would probably just not go on the trip,'' he explains. ''You're going to get your money back. You won't go, but you wouldn't have lost money. The whole purpose of trip insurance is to mitigate those risks, but it's a crap shoot.''

When it comes to getting to the port in time for departure, he's still singing Shore's song.

''If possible, we always recommend coming in a day beforehand,'' he says of Brand g clients heading to his company's cruise vacations. ''With air travel, the slightest thing can throw it off. … Whether it be a family member that passes right before your trip, maybe you and your boyfriend broke up, or you might get a job promotion, there are a lot of factors that may impact a well-planned trip.''

The bottom line is that when you make those plans to head to the sun, keep in mind that bad weather is even more likely in winter. In blizzard season, a little extra time and insurance can go a long way.

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