Metro-East Living

Luggage disasters: Cruising with the clothes on their backs

Marybeth and Brad Smith were ready for the trip of a lifetime. Their luggage wasn’t.

“Last June, there were eight of us going on a Mediterranean cruise for eight days, plus four extra days sightseeing in Istanbul and Rome,” Marybeth wrote in an email about their adventure. “It all started when we left St. Louis without our luggage. Long story ... Bad idea!”

Marybeth’s long story includes Turkish underwear with no fly, tuxedo coats with khakis and tennis shoes, and laundry day every day.

Hold on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

But first, you need to check the passenger list: Marybeth, of Smithton, is a legal administrative assistant at Sandberg Phoenix & Von Gontard P.C. Her husband Brad is a senior systems engineer at UniGroup. Brad’s parents, Roger and Lois Smith went, too, along with Brad’s sisters and their husbands, Cindy and Ron Schaefer and Sue and Bob Tyler, all of Belleville. They left two days early just in case there was trouble.

“We were on the runway in the plane, a direct flight from St. Louis to Toronto, when an emergency light came on,” Marybeth said. “They made all of us get off. Turns out it was a light in the luggage compartment, so they had to take the luggage off the plane.”

Brad’s mom, Lois, had a bad feeling when she looked out the airport window. “Is that a fire truck by our plane?” It was.

“Somebody had triggered the fire alarm in the baggage compartment,” said Roger. “I saw the pilot giving somebody hell on the ground.”

After about a 3-hour delay, they were cleared for takeoff.

“They assured us our luggage would be on the next flight,” said Marybeth.

It wasn’t. Toronto to London. No luggage. London to Istanbul. No luggage.

“Certainly, you’ll have your luggage before you go on your cruise,” the airline people told them in not-so-fluent English.

“We had left on Wednesday. Now it was Friday and we had no idea where our bags were,” Marybeth said. So they set out in downtown Istanbul. “The men went one way. The women went the other. We needed everything — shorts, swimsuits, underwear. All we had was what we were wearing and a little that was in our carry-ons. We found a store kind of like a Turkish Macy’s and got a few things.”

On Saturday morning, they were on a tour of Istanbul when a caller told them the airline found one suitcase.

“We paid the tour guide to take us to the airport. Then men went back to the luggage area — they wouldn’t let the women back there — and found two more suitcases,” Marybeth said. “They had sent another one to the hotel.”

The cruise ship, Celebrity Equinox, was great, she said. “They offered us free laundry service. I had two pair of underwear. I washed underwear in the sink every night.”

And it looked bad for the two formal captain’s dinners on the schedule. But ship employees gave the husbands tuxedo coats.

“They were a sight in tuxedo jackets, khakis and white shoes,” Marybeth said. “I wore mine over sweatpants,” Roger said. “But we all had fun.”

It was a long trip home, but it ended with a surprise at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

“When I saw my lost suitcase come shooting out of the tube, I did a happy dance,” Marybeth said. Her father-in-law didn’t get his till the next day when Federal Express delivered it to his home. One after the other, all the missing bags were delivered. One brother-in-law got his 10 days later.

If Marybeth knew about all the hassles, would she still have gone on the cruise?

She thought for a few seconds. “Yes. We had a great time.”

Was this your first cruise? “No, it was our second. We’ve been to the Caribbean.”

Why did you choose a Mediterranean cruise? “My father-in-law really wanted to see Greece, and we all wanted to see Rome.”

What was the high point of the trip? “The Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy. It was beautiful, breathtaking. And we loved Rome.”

Was there any part of the trip you wouldn’t do again? “I wouldn’t start in Istanbul. Maybe it’s because of all the luggage problems.”

Any advice for other cruisers? Don’t leave without your luggage or you may never see it again. Give yourself extra time. Buy trip insurance. “And pack as much as you can into your carry-on. Extra outfits, underwear, swimsuits, toothpaste and toiletries, whatever you can fit.”

Any souvenirs worth talking about? “My husband bought some Turkish underwear. He loves the feel of it, the soft fabric.” There’s just one problem. “There’s no fly in Turkish undewear.”

— Patrick Kuhl