This cruise is going to be something approaching normality for us here on the Adventure of the Seas. On the back of two weeks that has been a truly unique experience, providing aid and transportation for those who were effected by Hurricane Maria. Itinerary changes, an extended cruise and a cruise cancelled for paying customers is a brief summary but doesn’t begin to cover a few weeks where most of us haven’t known what would be happening the following day.
Voyage 841 began as a normal one week cruise but the path that Hurricane Maria was taking meant that we would avoid the scheduled islands of St Kitts and Antigua which had both already suffered from run ins with Hurricane Irma a few weeks before. Our first port was St Cruix, a port replacement for the ruined St Martin and after that we took a safe route down to Bonaire and Aruba. St Cruix would get hit by Maria a few days later and we would return a week later to evacuate hundreds of residents and stranded holiday makers.
The vibe onboard was strange. The world-class entertainment that can be found on all Royal Caribbean ships around the world continued, meals were served in our various restaurants but there was an air of uncertainty. Guests, the majority of whom came from Puerto Rico, knew that there was a category 4 hurricane aiming for their home. On the one hand they might have felt grateful that they were safely away from danger but on the other, friends and family would still have to face that danger, as well as thinking about a home with all of their belongings left to the mercy of mother nature.
News stories began coming in showing the destruction Puerto Rico had suffered. Reports suggested that there would be no electricity on most of the island, maybe for as much as 3 months and the airport was closed meaning those not from our home port would be stranded. Captain Thomas, a Puerto Rica resident himself, kept the ship informed of the plans as regularly as possible and the decision was made to sail to Fort Lauderdale where guests could choose to disembark or remain on board a further three days and return to Puerto Rico.
I must commend my employers Royal Caribbean at this moment and everybody onboard Adventure of the Seas who rolled with the punches helping in any way possible during this time of uncertainty. Over 3,000 guests were seen personally to find out if they would remain on the ship or disembark in Fort Lauderdale. Assistance was provided (in many cases financial assistance) to reschedule flights with many airlines that were unhelpful and even extortionate. I heard of one family who were being quoted $5,000 to return to Mexico. Free internet was provided so guests could follow the unfolding events and contact family where possible and the everyday running of the ship was maintained, with prices dropped to half-price, to keep spirits high and try to give what ever comfort possible.
After two days at sea we arrived in Puerto Rico. Our usual dock had received a lot of damage, and still today two weeks later is looking battered. We docked in the spot where our ships that are visiting the island mid-cruise usually dock, in old town Puerto Rico. Old town didn’t look to badly effected but as we were in the capital we were looking at some of the most solidly built buildings on the island and news stories had already made it clear that other areas were badly effected. We remained overnight and looking out there were very few buildings with the lights on and it was a very eerie atmosphere. With no guests on board we crew were given the opportunity to use the water slides and the pools that night and it was nice to relax before the crazy few days to come.
Royal Caribbean had made plans to evacuate people from Puerto Rico, St Cruix and St Thomas over the following days. The line outside the ship the following morning was huge but the government already had a manifest of people who would board our ship. Throughout the day people arrived on buses, with dogs cats and birds. Crucial supplies for the island were taken off the ship and tired looking people got on. A similar scene awaited the following day in St Cruix. Where we docked there aren’t many buildings so the damage wasn’t evident to the naked eye but the day after in St Thomas battered structures littered the hillside, strong metal had been left twisted and dented and the swimming pool outside the bar Senior Frogs looked derelict as if it hadn’t been cleaned in years. In contrast to the sad-looking landscape, loud carnival music was being played from somewhere just off the ship and some of the islanders were out there partying. It left a smile on my face to see those people getting on with their life despite what they had been through.
The following two days at sea on route to Fort Lauderdale were draining. There were many different types of people onboard, far from our usual clientele. The majority showed true gratitude for the help they were receiving but laced in there were some whose attitude showed an entitlement to help and could even be rude. There were rumours of others who didn’t even require evacuation and sadly just took the opportunity for a free cruise. We had many children onboard who come from undisciplined backgrounds so running games at points was impossible in a room containing up to 60 kids. children played rough together, argued and required extra vigilance but it is an experience that I would never want to change. It was easy for me to keep my temper as I only had to imagine what some of these kids had witnessed, in some cases just throughout the hurricane, in other cases through life.
We arrived in Fort Lauderdale and Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley came onboard to deliver a ship-wide message, wishing the best to all guests (including their dogs, cats, birds, hamsters and the single guinea pig onboard). Off the ship media coverage witnessed the arrival of the Adventure and when I got off later in the day there were still a lot of people around the terminal, some with messages of thanks written on posters. Some of the most cynical people may whisper that Royal Caribbean has provided so much help in order to get positive news coverage but what I have witnessed with my own eyes goes way beyond any media coverage. From things as small as our housekeeping team having to clean up dog crap from all over the ship all the way up to cancelling a cruise so that we could evacuate those in need and deliver crucial supplies.
When we debarked our guests it was time for us to take a couple of days to relax. We would remain in Fort Lauderdale overnight (with a midnight curfew) followed by two days back to Puerto Rico with no guests on board. We arrived in Puerto Rico yesterday on Friday and begun slowly embarking guests for the cruise starting today, Saturday 7th.
From Fort Lauderdale a group of us decided to make the 45 minute drive to Miami for a well deserved day out. Myra, Jasmine and me went out to rent two minivans whilst other people finished debark and other jobs. We returned to the ship with two big white Chrysler, 7 seater, ‘soccer mum’ vans. I always thought driving an automatic would be easier than a manual but it was a very weird sensation to cruise down the freeway, on the wrong side of the road, my left foot twitching as it wanted something to do.
We had a great day out on Miami South Beach. We took a walk to the beach, which was still recovering from the effects of hurricane Irma. We then found a really cool beach bar for food and drinks. Some of the group went to a shopping mall and others took a walk around before re-joining at the original bar ‘The Clevelander’. It was a quiet evening as it was a Tuesday night and the weather was windy with sessions of heavy rain but our group of crew members were determined to have a good time and there was such an awesome vibe in the place.
Over the next two quiet sea days, we did deep cleaning of working areas during the day and partied at night. Our pool party was postponed due to weather but the pyjama party in the bar usually reserved for guests followed by the party down the Royal promenade helped us all unwind ready for getting back to normality.
Outside the ship, our usual turnaround-day dock is in ruins. The steps to the deck four gangways are twisted and ruined, the roof is missing in places and it all looks derelict but still guests arrive, using the deck 1 gangway. Just past the port, the usually quiet small airport is buzzing with activity as military planes and helicopters fly supplies around the island. We remain in hurricane season, with Nate heading for New Orleans right now, but I feel very safe onboard Adventure of the seas. Thankfully we have taken no unnecessary risks messing with storms and have been on hand to provide aid to those in need. I feel quite proud to be a part of Royal Caribbean at this time.