Friday, December 30, 2005

Cruising through Katrina (The #2 event of 2005)

Three weeks before we found out we were expecting Jackson, Michelle and I found ourselves in staring into the eye of the storm. Little did we know that the storm that caused us a little inconvenience and a lot of adventure would create such devastation just a few days later.

There is a reason that Atlantic and Caribbean cruises are a lot cheaper in August than they are most any other time of year: the threat of hurricanes. We knew that when we booked the 3-day cruise to Bermuda, but we figured the chances of a hurricane hitting the Florida coast that very weekend weren't particularly high. And I wasn't even sure I would enjoy a cruise. It didn't matter how big the boat seemed to be, I expected that I would feel like I was, well, stuck on a boat. So I certainly wasn't going to pay twice as much to go in February. So we gambled on August.

Our cruise was scheduled to sail on Friday, August 26 and it became clear by Tuesday night that there was a good possibility that Tropical Storm Katrina was going to mess with our plans. We were planning on flying to Ft. Lauderdale on Thursday so that we would be in town in time for our departure.

We'd been told that cruise lines run their ships on time and don't cancel excursions until the latest possible moment, so with the storm winding up we had two options: Wait until the storm passed and hope the ship didn't leave without us (it was becoming clear that we wouldn't be flying Thursday) or get to Florida ahead of the storm, so that if the storm passed Thursday, we'd be in town for a Friday departure. We decided to try to leave Wednesday and after a mad scramble to change our flight, pack and get to the airport, we made it on what ended up being one of the last flights into town before the storm.

Thursday morning, we awoke to a couple of startling reservations. First, we must have landed in the worst Ramada Inn in the US. Seriously, it smelled, the AC barely worked, the TV didn't work, and security had to let you in and out of the lobby after hours. Second, the ship wasn't going to be coming back to port as scheduled-- the storm had slowed and was now scheduled to hit in the evening, instead of the early part of the day--and we weren't going to be able to embark until Saturday afternoon.

Well, we weren't staying in that sty for two more days (they didn't even have wireless internet in the rooms, the indignity!). So we scrambled to find a better hotel with available rooms, get back to the airport before it closed to rent a car, and did what any sane couple would do--drove straight for the beach to watch the storm roll in.

Watching a hurricane roll in was pretty cool. Besides TV reporters (including the Telemundo correspondent pictured above), there were quite a few surfers and tourists running around. In one little community that was otherwise boarded up, one beachside bar remained open and was full of vacationers and locals who decided that was the place to watch the storm come in. We stayed at the beach for a while, until I realized that wearing shorts at the beach when the wind was blowing at 60 MPH was not the most comfortable option. I was finding sand embedded in my legs for weeks.

We got back to our hotel just in time for the power to go out, so Michelle and I spent the night in the dark, reading by flashlight. We were smart enough to go to a local Wal Mart (and you think it's busy at the stores here when we get!) and get water and a flashlight, but not smart enough to get food. So around 8:30pm, at the height of the storm, we set out for the Moonlight Diner--only restaurant around that stayed open throughout the storm. Dodging treetops as they rolled like tumbleweeds down the road was a little hairy--not to mention the call from my mother that came while we were at the restaurant telling us not to go out because there were reports of two deaths in the city--but we survived to tell about it.

After another day running around Ft. Lauderdale looking for something to do (there was little power the day after the storm) we finally got to the ship for our cruise Saturday afternoon. The cruise was fantastic. It really was as relaxing and entertaining as everyone said it would be. I had a lot more fun than I expected. Too bad it was cut a day short because of the hurricane. On Sunday, we spent the day at a small island called the Blue Lagoon snorkeling, swimming, and laying in a hammock. We also spent a couple of hours in the spa getting massages, lost a few bucks in the casino (I had been ahead, just not by enough to quit), and generally had a great time (the photo above is from dinner on the ship Sunday night). Easily one of the most adventurous and relaxing vacations I've ever had.

It was sobering, however, to sit in the airport on Monday waiting for our flight and watch the first reports of the devastation in the gulf from the same storm that we had--dare I say--enjoyed just three days earlier.
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