Monday, November 5, 2012

A Hurricane Sandy Cruise

JAXport aheada welcome sight!
After two decades of covering the cruise industry and more than a hundred personal sailings, a hurricane finally caught up to me. As you know, Mel and I spent last week on Holland America Line’s Eurodam enjoying the Malt Shop Memories Cruise. Like our fellow passengers, getting there was quite an adventure.

First off, Mel and I set out for Fort Lauderdale a day earlier than planned, which had nothing to do with Hurricane Sandy swirling about in the Caribbean and Atlantic. We wanted to avoid the traffic headed to Jacksonville, Florida on Friday for the Georgia-Florida football game, an annual event scheduled for Saturday that is called “the world’s largest cocktail party.”

That’s why we arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn near the Fort Lauderdale airport at about 6pm on Thursday, October 25th, just as the heavy winds and torrential rains of Hurricane Sandy were at their worst in the area. And then the power went out. We had a flashlight (courtesy of the hotel manager’s hurricane supply stash) and joined others gathered in the hotel’s lobby where large windows made it a bit lighter than our room in the growing dusk. Emergency lights were on in corridors and the door keycard system also worked thanks to generator power.

When full power was restored we were able to get dinner at our hotel and all seemed well until I got an email on my BlackBerry from Entertainment Cruise Productions advising us that, “Due to Hurricane Sandy, Holland America has moved our embarkation port from Port Everglades to Port Canaveral on Saturday, Oct. 27.” Coaches would take us from Fort Lauderdale to Port Canaveral. That didn’t seem so bad. After a good night’s rest we received another update in mid-afternoon on Friday. This one seemed a bit ominous:
“Holland America has informed us that our ship for the Malt Shop Memories Cruise may depart from one of three ports: Ft. Lauderdale, Jacksonville, or Port Canaveral. We will know later today or tonight which of those ports will be used. Holland America has made arrangements to transport all of our guests from Ft. Lauderdale, if required, to whichever port we will use. In the interim, we advise you to head for Ft. Lauderdale, stay in contact with us by looking at the website and by calling our office. We will make this work!

In our update yesterday, we left out one crucial piece of information. The Malt Shop Memories Cruise Pre-Party will proceed as scheduled tonight from 7 to 10pm.”
Again, no worries as we headed to the Friday night pre-party to enjoy music and the company of our fellow passengers. At about 8pm the announcement was made that our embarkation port would definitely be Jacksonville and a couple hours later we got another email saying, “Holland America has informed us that our ship for the Malt Shop Memories Cruise will depart from the Port of Jacksonville. Holland America has made arrangements to transport all of our guests from the Ft. Lauderdale area as well as Cape Canaveral to the Port of Jacksonville.”

At that point we groaned—we’d just passed through Jacksonville the day before and it’s a five hour drive in coaches. We had several options, but we chose the simplest and parked at Port Everglades after dropping off our luggage, which would be sent to the ship in trucks. Mel and I were assigned number 6 tags for the coach ride and were on the road and headed to Eurodam by 11:15am, along with a convoy of more than sixty other coaches!

Eurodam, at last
Once at the Jacksonville port we had to wait for the Carnival ship at the cruise terminal to leave and we all departed our coaches one by one to go through port security with the carry-ons we’d brought with us. Then it was back on the coaches for a short drive to the cargo area of the port where we actually boarded Eurodam at 6:30pm. On board, check in was swift and we made ourselves at home with what little we’d brought with us. Despite the rather nice box lunch we were given to eat on the coach (according to Florida law, the coaches were not allowed to stop along the way), we were hungry so we headed for the buffet and then the pool bar—drinks were complimentary all evening long courtesy of Holland America Line—and moods improved as the night went along.

Exhausted from the day, Mel and I turned in relatively early so I don’t know exactly what time Eurodam got under way. We were still at the dock at midnight on Saturday, but at 4:30am I awoke and we were at sea. I looked out in the passageway to see if luggage had arrived. It was there so I rolled it inside and brushed my teeth before going back to sleep. Yes, I’d forgotten to put toothbrushes in the carry-ons—they were in what we’d intended to take aboard in Fort Lauderdale.

After a boat drill early Sunday morning we learned that Eurodam would not stop in Grand Turk as scheduled on Monday in order to make San Juan in a relatively timely fashion on Tuesday—our arrival there was a few hours late. Due to spending more time at sea than originally planned, our Entertainment Cruise Productions hosts made lemonade from lemons and rescheduled the show that was cancelled due to our late embarkation on Saturday night.

It was quite an experience, one that I never dreamed we’d ever go through, but I have to give major kudos to Holland American Line and Entertainment Cruise Productions—they handled a very complex situation beautifully and kept us well informed throughout—Holland America Line reps called us and Entertainment Cruise Productions sent detailed emails. The most amazing thing was that only 24 passengers missed the embarkation and once on board we didn’t hear any complaining during the cruise. Everyone we spoke to in the elevators and around the ship had a wonderful time and nearly 50% of those on board booked the Malt Shop Memories Cruise for 2013!

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