Hurricanes aren’t new for me. I’m a Floridian after all. But being at sea with a major hurricane nearby was a different story.
Last year around this time I was in rehearsals in Miami while Hurricane Matthew was brewing and sending everyone into a panic. You can read about that experience here.
While I wasn’t overly concerned about Matthew (and it ended up only being a bad rain storm where we were), I felt even more at ease being at sea. The only unsettling part this time around is that now I was worried about my family and friends in Florida while a Category 5 is threatened to make landfall in my hometown.
Overall, this was the safest I've ever felt during a hurricane. It's one of those times that we were just winning because we live on a ship. But it was still quite an experience.
Here’s how Adventure of the Seas handled Hurricane Irma:
Before and During the Storm
So, you’re on a cruise ship that’s scheduled to visit the islands in the direct path of a dangerous, Category 5 hurricane. What do you do?
Hurricane Irma was projected to hit many of the islands we visit on Adventure of the Seas like St. Thomas, Antigua, St. Maarten, and St. Kitts. Also in the “cone of danger” was Puerto Rico, our home port.
The good news for us is that we’re on a moving vessel. The storm heads one way and we can head in the other. For example, we were meant to port in St. Kitts when the storm was closing in, but instead we went to Bonaire which is further south and out of harm’s way.
As of then, we weren’t sure whether we’d still be porting in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Saturday for turnaround (Captain Thomas was giving us regular updates as things were changing every day). But the country didn’t sustain much damage and things were relatively normal. We could port in San Juan as normal.
We barely even experienced rocky waters. That's how far we were from the brunt of Irma. Actually, the ports we were at had beautiful weather. We were safe and sound. Obviously, others weren't as fortunate.
Here's when things got interesting.
On Saturday evening, Captain Thomas made the announcement that we’d be changing our itinerary to visit St. Maarten the following morning in a humanitarian effort; Bringing food, water, and supplies to the windswept country and picking up some guests as well.
I thought to myself, "Guests? Who's coming onboard?"
After our tech run on Sunday morning, our cast, the cruise staff, and the musicians got a briefing on how we were going to help with the embarkation process for said guests. We were told that these people had been through a lot and that we just needed to be a smiling face.
I don't really know what I was expecting. All I know is I was not prepared for what we experienced.
Adventure of the Seas welcomed around 300 people who were stranded in St. Maarten. Our ship was their way home and these people had been through it, to say the least.
I was one of the first people they spoke to once boarding the ship. I was down on Deck 1 near the elevators welcoming them, waiting with them, and answering questions. This is when I began to really realize the weight of the situation.
Most of them were vacationing on the island when Irma hit. Many were stuck in hotels for days and days without power and had to band together with, now, friends to board up the windows and make sure everyone had enough food and water to make it through. Some were locals who lost everything and came aboard to escape, go somewhere new, and start again.
Most people were in good spirits. Rejoicing that they were finally in some A/C, shaking their heads gratefully when they realized this wasn’t part of the itinerary even with paying guests on board, and sighing with relief and excitement knowing that a shower would be happening in the near future.
Some were in complete shock. Shaking and crying, probably coming to terms with the intense few days they had just endured. Many were covered in mosquito bites and layers of sweat, completely exhausted. Some were missing important medication, some told stories of horrific encounters with looters. None of them were sure they'd be able to go home anytime soon and essentially we were rescuing them. It was full on.
All of us were helping in any way we could for hours (from about 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) even though we had ice shows and our own production shows that night. The Adventure came together in a way I’d never seen it before. A ship that’s usually pretty unorganized (hey, it's the truth), somehow got it together and did so much good for so many people. I’ve never been more proud to work for Royal Caribbean. I feel grateful to have lent a helping hand, even in a small way just welcoming these people aboard (in between my nerves as the storm pushed on toward Florida, my home).
During my warm up before shows (great thinking time, by the way) I had such a heavy heart for the locals of St. Maarten. Most of the people we picked up on Sunday were non-natives. Actually, most of them were American. Yes, they went through complete shit and I’m so glad they’re making it back home safely but I couldn't help think about everyone who's still there.
The people who live in St. Maarten are still without power (and probably will be for months). Their houses and businesses swept away, and that’s it for them. There’s no getting out and going home. That is their home. St. Maarten is a gorgeous island that I’m fortunate enough to have enjoyed so often this year and I feel for them deeply. All of us on the Adventure have been really affected by it.
It was just an example of how privileged we are as "Westerners". We have so many resources at our disposal that these tiny islands just don't have. Irma did a number on Florida as well but I'm not worried if supplies will reach the people affected. Oh, ship life just continuing to humble me and open my eyes wider to my privileges as an American.
But it's clear that these storms are no joke, even in highly developed areas. You can't buy your way out of a hurricanes path. The destruction in Florida and even in Texas is proof of that.
Anyway, my thoughts are with St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Barbuda, Cuba, really the whole northern Caribbean, Florida, and Texas.
Here's an article outlining how you can donate to Hurricane Irma victims. We're meant to go to St. Thomas next week which also got badly hit so hopefully the Adventure can help out the people there as well.
Updates to come.