Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Nightmare Vacations


The Philadelphia Inquirer

South Jersey Neighbors section

Aug. 1, 2004

A cruise seemed like the perfect vacation for my boyfriend and me in August 1992. We were in our early 20s then and didn't have a lot of money. The travel agent at the Oxford Valley Mall convinced us that a cruise would be a good bargain because meals and fun activities were included.

A cruise ship seemed big and safe. My boyfriend at the time, Jamie, had been on a cruise before and talked about how much fun it was.

Too bad we didn't know our cruise ship would sail right through Hurricane Andrew, a Category 4 storm that caused death and destruction across Florida and the Bahamas.

I lived in Bucks County back then and was not too concerned about storms. But when I heard something about the looming hurricane, I called the cruise line. They assured me that the ship would still set sail from Florida and would steer far, far away from the storm.

Jamie and I flew to Florida and boarded the cruise ship after getting the obligatory picture taken on the ramp. Our room was small but clean. We set out to have some fun.

The first night on the ship seemed a little choppy, but not terrible. The crew mentioned the hurricane only in passing. As in, it was passing us by. Nothing to worry about.

But on the second day, the ship started pitching and rolling, and the sky looked really weird. We were off the coast of Florida, near the Bahamas. The cruise director told us we would not be stopping in the Bahamas the next day, but instead, would be going "out to sea" to stay out of the way of Hurricane Andrew. He made it seem like no big deal. This was before the Internet and wide use of cell phones, and there were no up-to-date newspapers on board.

But the weather started getting rough, and the not-so-tiny ship was tossed. Up and down. Up and down. The crew started lining the railings of the ship with barf bags. Then a bunch of them got seasick. This did not strike me as a good sign.

It was a tough night. The next morning, I was green. I found the ship's doctor. He gave me a shot of something. I don't know what it was. But I loved that doctor.

Eventually, I felt less green. Eventually, the rolling got less and less. The cruise director mentioned that Hurricane Andrew had passed over Florida. He didn't mention the death and destruction. Instead, we played bingo. I won $50.

It wasn't until we came ashore in Florida that I realized something bad had happened. I called my answering machine, and there were about 25 messages: from my mother, my father, my boss, my friends. All wondering how I was and if we were in the path of the hurricane. Oh yeah. We were. But at least I won $50.

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