Part Four of our Hurricane Irma in St. Maarten Experience
We had arrived at the cruise ship port only to be told by the guards that the ship was full. This was one of my lowest points of our hurricane experience. To be so close to being evacuated from the devastation of Hurricane Irma in St. Maarten, to be at the cruise ship gate only to be turned away. To be told that the ship was full, and that we had to go back. Back to where? And, our bus was out of gas.
BUT WAIT! Our bus driver was not to be deterred. He called the person who had confirmed that we were to be on the ship. She told him what to do, who to contact from the ship, and to tell that person that we were confirmed to be on the ship, that we were included in their number. When that person came to the bus and waved us in, there were shouts of joy from all on our bus! I can’t remember another time that I had felt such despair and such joy in the same few minutes.
We disembarked from the bus, went through security, collected our bags, and then were led to the cruise ship to board. The walk from the bus to the cruise ship was surreal. This was the first time that I allowed myself to believe that we were really being evacuated.
Mike getting ready to board our evacuation ship, Royal Caribbean’s “Adventure of the Seas.”
There was still little information. The only thing that we were told was that once we boarded the ship to go to the ship conference room.
In the conference room, the first things I saw were snacks and soft drinks. That was the beginning of Royal Caribbean feeding us literally and figuratively. We were also given an information sheet. On the information sheet was information about how to connect to the internet, and that internet was complimentary for us for the length of our stay. This was the first time in days that we were able to connect by email, or to connect at all. Also on the information sheet was the fact that we were given free laundry and dry cleaning for the length of our stay. Wow! How did they know that these two things, to be connected to our families and friends and to have clean clothes, would meet two of our basic needs? To have come from what we had left, to now being on a beautiful cruise ship cared for in such a manner was almost beyond belief. There was still no mention of any cost that we would incur for this evacuation. After we were checked in and given our stateroom assignments, we were then taken through a safety demonstration. We were then able to go check into our staterooms.
Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas is a large cruise ship. This ship of 3000 guests and 1000 crew members was on an existing cruise that rerouted through St. Maarten to pick up 300 Americans to take us to safety. This was clearly a humanitarian effort.
Our first day on the cruise/evacuation ship.
We were finally told that there was no cost to the 300 of us being evacuated, other than if we ordered special services or special meals. Our room and board, internet, and laundry were all complimentary. A phone was even made available for us to use to call home, book flights, or for whatever we needed. All of this was provided for us by Royal Caribbean at no cost. Contrast this with those who evacuated by military plane. We were told they had to sign a promissory note to repay the U.S. government the cost of a one-way plane ticket from St. Maarten to San Juan.
The Adventure of the Seas cruise originated in San Juan, came to St. Maarten on Sunday, September 10th, and was to return to San Juan on Saturday, September 16th. From St. Maarten, the ship was going to Curacao, then to Aruba, Bonaire, and back to San Juan. I had not been to any of those areas except San Juan. Those of us being evacuated were encouraged to take the entire journey, again, at no cost, although we were able to evacuate at any port from which we could get a flight home.
Mike and I wanted to be home. Our daughter, Tara, had been in frequent contact with American Airlines trying to get us home. Now, Mike was as well, since we had internet access. The problem was most flights from the cruise ship ports went through Miami, and the Miami airport was still closed. Our best option was to fly from Aruba to Charlotte and then to Raleigh.
Although we were on a cruise ship, to me it was an evacuation ship. I was not able to enjoy it as a cruise. The accommodations were lovely, the food was delicious, and the service was excellent. But I still wanted to be home. I was not able to do much more than sit and relax. Most of the cruise ship activities were wasted on me. I did schedule some spa services for Mike and me, as much as anything, to pass the time.
It seemed to me that those of us who had evacuated from the Royal Islander, our St. Maarten resort, were now in a special club. There were approximately 10 couples/families of us. While we might not ever see each other again, for this point in time, we were bonded. I decided to ask all of those who I could find if we wanted to meet for dinner on Monday night. Most all wanted to do so and did. We had a wonderful time of connecting and sharing.
Our resort friends with whom we are now bonded forever.
From that point on, we would be going in different directions, although most were taking the cruise ship all the way to San Juan. Mike and I had decided to disembark in Aruba on Wednesday afternoon, September 13th.
Our first port was Curacao. While Mike and I did go ashore there, we only ventured forth to the shopping area closest to the ship. We went to a restaurant and had a snack, then returned to the ship.
Mike and I enjoying a snack in Curaçao.
The next port was Aruba, where we arrived on Wednesday morning, September 13th. We were successful in getting a flight from Aruba to Raleigh through Charlotte, although we would have to spend the night in Aruba and fly out the next day. Mike booked us a hotel room at the Aruba Hilton.
When we left the ship late afternoon in Aruba, I had conflicting emotions. I was glad to be getting closer to home, yet aware that I was leaving behind people with whom we had shared a unique experience. These were not family nor even friends, other than through this shared experience. But we would be a part of each other’s history forever. While there was excitement about being closer to home, there was sadness about leaving behind this time and these people.
I was also aware that we were now on our own. For the past few days we had been cared for by Royal Caribbean, who fed us, made our beds, washed our clothes, and made sure we had connection with the outside world. All of that would now be up to us. I was not so sure that we were up for it.
Our peaceful oasis in Aruba, the Aruba Hilton.
The Aruba Hilton was a lovely hotel. After having a nice meal and a good night’s sleep, the next day we headed to the airport in plenty of time to catch our flight.
Mike at the Aruba Hilton, waiting for our transport to the airport, to begin our journey home.
We boarded our American Airlines Flight around 4:00pm on Thursday, September 14th. After the usual pre-boarding and boarding details, our plane was ready to take off. We began to taxi down the runway. But instead of ascending into air, our plane came to a screeching halt. I wondered, did we hit another plane, although it did not feel like a collision. Perhaps we had a flat tire?
I have flown many times, and have never had such an abrupt stop. It was not clear what was happening. After a few minutes that seemed like much more, the pilot came on the intercom and told us to stay seated, that we were returning to the gate.
My heart sank.