We sailed out of Miami on Monday Sep 4th for a 4 day cruise to what was supposed to be Nassau, Coco Cay, and The Keys. At that time the hurricane was in the Atlantic and we were not too concerned due to the uncertainty of how it was going to behave in the coming days. Besides, we were confident the captain and RC's meteorologists were watching the storm closely, and we would just change itinerary if needed.
On Tuesday Sep 5th we docked in Nassau and spent the day at Atlantis. We got the package on RC's website and it was a better experience than we were expecting! The slides, pools, and facilities were extensive, and we had access to their private beaches, casino and aquarium on site. We got to spend the entire day there from 9am to 7pm with shuttles leaving every 30 minutes to take us back to the ship. It was well worth it in our opinion! Unfortunately later that evening, the captain came on the intercom to tell us Coco Cay and The Keys were being evacuated, and we would be staying in Nassau overnight.
Everyone on board was obviously disappointed, but the tension and nervousness could be felt for the entirety of the cruise. There was a huge line at guest services after the initial announcement, partially for refunds and partially questioning our safety. For us, we decided it was out of our control, to trust the captains judgement, and enjoy ourselves as much as we could.
The next day (Wednesday) we got another announcement on the intercom from the captain. We would be staying another day in Nassau but would cut our cruise short. We would begin our return to Miami that evening as the city was beginning evacuations. Commence another ship-long line to guest services with people in varying degrees of distress. Everyone had their own situations, but for us, we were planning to stay in Miami through Friday and fly home Saturday afternoon. Hearing forecasts that the storm would hit Friday or Saturday, we were almost positive our flight would be cancelled, not to mention our hotel closed. RC opened all the phone lines for us to make international calls without being charged. They also offered anyone who could not make travel arrangements to stay an additional night docked in Miami through Friday morning, the original time we were supposed to leave.
That night we got a notification that our flight was cancelled and there were no room on earlier flights. Our hotel called us to say they would be evacuating and could not honor our reservations. I'll admit I felt the panic welling up at that point. We were being dumped in an evacuating city with no where to stay and no way to leave. After calling home to my dad, he went online and arranged a car rental from MIA to drive home to Cleveland, Ohio.
In the moment, I was angry we were going back to Miami. We overheard angry cruisers saying we should have left Nassau for Miami earlier, or they should have sailed away from the storm, not in the path of it. How would it make sense to drop a bunch of tourists in an evacuating city with no where to go with a hurricane coming? Later I realized there were Florida residents on the ship that had to prepare their houses and meet with their families. Others that drove from other places that had their car parked by the dock. I came to the resolution that we took a risk taking a cruise this time of year and once we disembarked, I alone could be responsible for my own safety.
Thursday morning we chose to disembark, everything riding on the car rental. Sailing up to Miami was eerie. Few cars were on the roads, resorts and beaches were deserted. We joined the line to get through customs, people in line still calling their airlines and trying to make arrangements. Once we left the terminal, there was a roped off area of taxi companies yelling at us like paparazzi that they would take us to the airport. They were playing off our fears, but it was working. It was chaos and the air started to feel panicked. We jumped into a nearby taxi and decided anywhere would be better than staying there.
We drove through nearly empty roads to get to the airport car rental area, which was very busy, but to our relief, had a car reserved for us. We set off and ran into some serious traffic by Daytona Beach. Hundreds of thousands of people trying to go North. The first time we stopped for gas, they were empty. Nervousness set in as we drove off the beaten path a bit to find a gas station that had just been filled up, the worker starting to open pumps again. We got lucky. There was a line of cars waiting and people filling red gas containers. To avoid traffic, we drove through the night until we couldn't stay awake anymore, pulling into a rest area literally packed with cars. I don't think I'll ever forget what we saw there. We saw people with elderly and disabled parents, children, babies, dogs and cats. People with U-hauls and trailers. All these people prepared to lose everything. I could no longer complain. We drove up onto the grass and slept for about 2 hours. The drive home ended up being 26 hrs with traffic.
I was grateful for my time spent at the beach and in the sun. I enjoyed the drinks and food on the ship and appreciated everything the staff did to make our trip fun despite the circumstances. We got refunded for the day we missed and the excursions we didn't go on. The staff remained professional and calm in the midst of stressed and angry customers. I will definitely be going on another cruise to get the complete experience, just not during hurricane season.