When we booked our December vacation we discussed the many options for getting to our destination. We could have flown. We could have driven. We decided to take a Greyhound bus.
With five children going with us, the airfare was going to be a significant expense, and driving was decided against because we have one daughter who gets car sick. We thought if we went on a bus, we could forego stopping every forty minutes for her stomach to settle. We also thought it seemed kind of fun. And my husband, who usually does most of the driving on road trips was thinking it would be nice to not have to drive 14 hours. Instead, he could sit back, relax, maybe listen to an audio book or two, play games with the kids, etc.
So when we started talking about booking it, my husband looked into the cost and it was STEEP. It was higher than I imagined. We are talking $1800. But, that was still less than airfare for the 7 of us, so we decided to go for it.
But then, we started second guessing that decision, so I asked on facebook whether any of our friends had taken a Greyhound bus before.
Then, their horror stories started pouring in
“Bus so late I missed the event”
“People on the bus passing a joint around”
We heard all those, but by this point, we had already purchased tickets. So, the only thing we thought we could control was if the bus was late…so we called and paid a lovely $400 to change the tickets to one day sooner. Giving us an extra 24 hours to get to our destination on time. (Before our cruise ship left the port.) In case you’re not aware, if you are late, they do not hold the ship for you.
Then, we decided to talk it up to the kids, make it into a grand adventure, make sure we took snacks, books, games, etc in the bus to keep everyone busy. We talked to them about the fact that there would probably be some dodgy people on the bus, but that we would do our best to be kind, to just love people, and make the best of it. Plus, 2 of our girls are teens, and not tiny ones, so we felt that with our numbers, we would be fairly safe.
Little did we know, the people my children became fearful of was NOT the other passengers, but the security people.
First, we arrived at the Louisville, Kentucky terminal. It was fine. Not clean. But I did not lose my mind over it or anything. We were told to arrive early, so we were there about an hour early.
We had in total 13 bags. Each person had a backpack for items to use on the bus ride. One bag for snacks. The rest of the bags were “checked” meaning we carried them around to the side of the bus and they threw them underneath. We boarded roughly on time, If it was early or late, it was not significant enough for us to take note.
We sat in the bus a long time without moving. We were warned through reading blogs to bring blankets. Apparently the buses are usually FREEZING. Ours was certainly NOT freezing, It was a balmy 80 degrees in that thing. I immediately started taking off any layers I could, then decided to just get over it.
The bus boarding was interesting. We had five children with us. Traveling with children does not qualify you for early boarding, but frankly, early boarding meant nothing. When we got into the bus, it was already mostly full. There were no two seats together. So my children were spread out throughout the bus among strangers.
Fortunately, I went to the far back seat which was empty of people because it was piled up with luggage. There was no other seat available for Daniel and I, so I asked loudly whose luggage it was. No one answered. I tried to move the luggage to the above the seat storage, but that storage would hardly hold a purse, much less a huge piece of luggage. So I had to chuck it into the aisle and sat down.
The seats, walls and floors of the bus were filthy, sticky, dusty and gross. I shook my head, and told myself that this was a “first world problem” and was temporary. So, back to quietly ignoring the bad conditions.
The promised Wi-Fi and “electrical outlets at most seats” was grossly exaggerated. The Wi-fi worked neither at the bus stations nor the buses. There were no working outlets at our seats. And the website showing “extra leg room” was a flat out lie. Again, first world problems, right? I was not really counting on those since I had read SO MANY reviews that said it basically never worked.
So the bus finally pushes off and we are on the way. Rebecca, true to form started complaining of her stomach hurting, so from across the aisle and one seat forward, I handed her her first dose of Dramamine and a small snack. That seemed to settle her down, but being seated next to a stranger who seemed annoyed by our interactions made her less and less comfortable. The bus was dark, but each seat had a seat light. No one used these, and if you turned yours on (to deal with a child needing assistance) you were met with loud sighs and glares. I just ignored those, did what I needed to do and quickly turned the light back off.
We arrived 5 or so hours later in Nashville.
We were told we were taking the same bus, for the leg to Atlanta, but that everyone had to disembark, taking all our luggage with us. So, the 7 of us plus 13 pieces of luggage entered the terminal.
Here is where things went off the rails.
The terminal in Nashville was PACKED. We tried to stack all our things together and gather our children around us (for what we thought was to be a very brief wait) and were immediately greeting by the PAID SECURITY people with screaming and orders. “MOVE AWAY FROM THIS AREA WE HAVE TO KEEP IT CLEAR” they boomed. SO we moved. All the children and luggage and two parents- to a place between two rows of people sitting. There was not two seats available together anywhere in the terminal. Then, the screaming continued. Anyone in the terminal who dared to walk through certain areas were screamed at. Going to the restroom my children were screamed at. Finally, one guard started SCREAMING that EVERYONE was to take a seat. Meaning my five children were expected to spread out all over the terminal to sit yards and yards away from my reach (no two seats were together, remember? He kept yelling over and over EVERYONE IN A SEAT.
Finally, he was glaring me down and I finally said: “LOOK, There are SEVEN of us. I am NOT sending my children to go sit halfway across this station alone. I am not having them outside of my arms reach.” At this point, his voice faltered, and even though he was a LARGE man, he cowered down a a bit and stopped screaming at me.
So back to us standing there, with all our luggage huddled between us. Our five minuted became fifty. We were ALL STILL STANDING. Then, we understood why. No drivers had shown up at the station. People had been waiting five or more hours for their buses. The bus driver who was assigned to our bus got moved to another route that was six or seven hours later. We were there for five hours. The food in the place was never open in all that time. The place was relatively clean at least, but we had been in transit now for 11 hours. It was 3 in the morning. And none of us had slept since seven the morning before. We stood for that entire time until the last hour, when a bus finally left and cleared enough chairs for all but three of us to stand, The kids shared the chairs, and Duncan stood.
(SIDE NOTE) When my 5 year old daughter and I passed a security guard on our cruise ship, she clung to my hand, and nervously said to the guard: “We are just going to the bathroom to wash our hands.” and diverted her eyes. I have never imagined that my children would be frightened by the sight of a security guard. UGH!
My children, praise the Lord simply did not complain. They were exhausted beyond belief, dirty, hungry (the snacks I packed were not really a meal) and yet, they sat or stood patiently. This was an act of divine grace from the Lord on my frazzled nerves.
Finally, our bus was boarding (again with much angry screaming from the guards about who was and who was not allowed to get in line for the bus). We loaded all our things, and climbed into the bus. Again, already half filled with people, and so all the kids were spread out around the bus. We were so glad to be moving again and this bus was not super hot. It was slightly warmer than comfortable, but we were so glad to be out of that station, we really did not care. I hoped to sleep some, but that never happened for any of us. The bus was too crowded, and I was trying to keep my eyes on my children. The seats were tight and uncomfortable. We were close to the bathroom and the nauseating smell was enough to keep me very much alert.
We got to Atlanta. This was, pardon the pun, a total train wreck. It was absolutely the filthiest place I have been in my life. I have worked in homeless shelters. I have been downtown to some pretty dirty places. This place took the cake. The floor was covered with what looked like vomit that had been spread all around and dried up on the floor.
The place was putrid. The food area had slime and gross oozing liquid all over the floor in slick dangerous piles.
Again, we had our luggage, our children, and no place to sit. At this point, the older kids spread out into seats around the terminal, the younger kids sat on a pile of our luggage.
The bathroom had four stalls. Two were permanently broken, one had a person literally living in it. I mean moved in, living in it. The other was so filthy, that my teenage daughters told me to hold it if I could. I did.
It was now 6 am. We had been traveling for 23 hours, to go from Louisville to Atlanta. It’s typically a five hour drive. We had no sleep, and only a few snack foods. Here are the heroes in this story. Look at those two. In spite of hunger, exhaustion, and misery, they were just goofing around, and playing games that did not require Wi-Fi on their kindles. I had brought a charger with me that could charge a device 4 times. so we still had some devices with a charge left.
Duncan came to me with the news that our bus had left 30 minutes prior to our arrival at the station. I already knew this was coming because all around us people were complaining that they had been stranded at this terminal (SOME FOR MORE THAN 24 HOURS!!). I could see the writing on the wall.
This meant we had no ride to our next stop. The next bus that could take 7 people was not SCHEDULED to arrive until 11 AM. Five hours later. IN SPITE OF US LEAVING 24 HOURS BEFORE WE HAD ORIGINALLY PLANNED, there was no way we could take that bus and make it to our cruise before departure. We were stuck in Atlanta. We were a nine hour drive from Ft. Lauderdale. We had no choice but to rent a van from a car rental place and drive the rest of the way.
But guess what? They do not give refunds. We were handed a piece of paper and told to mail our tickets in and they would SEE IF we qualified for a refund. We were told it could take 7 – 8 weeks. We were also told that if these tickets were lost in the mail, no refund would be given. Even though we were STANDING AT THEIR COUNTER WITH ALL OUR TICKETS IN OUR HANDS, no refund could be given. Even though the buses were late because their drivers were not at work that night in Nashville. We were responsible to make that next bus on time.
Calling yields no answers. We considered calling our credit card company to dispute the charges because the service was not rendered, but we paid for the tickets in October for traveling in December. We have missed that window.
We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale via van, and did indeed make our cruise on time. My husband, with three hours of sleep in 48 hours did all the driving. My teens carried more than their share. Everyone helped one another. As far as family dynamics go, the kids were absolutely a dream. I am so very thankful. If anyone had melted down, thrown a fit, cried, screamed or fallen apart, I would not have blamed them. But they are strong people, and I am so very glad.
It was a lovely cruise. But our rental van to get us back home ended up costing us close to $600. This was certainly not in the budget.
I am ranting. But let me tell you WHY I am ranting. If you are ever considering taking a bus trip I want to spare you and your family all this drama. This was an expensive lesson. And to all my friends on facebook who warned us, I have to apologize. We heard your advice, thought we planned for the worst, but had absolutely no idea just how terrible it was going to be.YOU WERE RIGHT.
And it was not the dirty buses. It was not the broken Wi-fi, uncomfortable seats, or sweltering bus. The others travelling just seemed like regular folks to us, albeit some were less fortunate financially.
But the horrid conditions at the bus depot, the insanely loud and angry security guards, the drivers flat not showing up in Nashville, causing 1000 people to be stuck there with no ride to their next stop, the deplorable conditions in the restrooms, the disgusting food service stations that were only opened for less than an hour in all the time we spent in those stations, and their inability to give a refund even though they clearly could not get us to our destination in any reasonable time frame makes greyhound bus a NO forever in my book. PLEASE learn from OUR VERY EXPENSIVE MISTAKE and take ANY form of transportation besides a Greyhound bus. If we ever get a refund, I will update my post and let you know.
Please share this post so that everyone can be warned. I am sick over the amount of hours my husband and I have to work to earn that much money, only to have to spend so much more just to get where we needed to go.