On every anniversary of the tragedies that occured on September 11, 2001, like many of you I reflect on the victims, heroes and villains of that awful day. But I also relive one of the strangest cruises I have ever taken.
On September 8, I boarded Holland America‘s Amsterdam, sailing from New York to Montreal. It was a postcard perfect fall-like day as we sailed past the Empire State Building and then the twin towers and so many passengers were posing for photos on the port side that I thought Amsterdam would list!
When a photographer asked me if I wanted a photo with the towers in the background, I said no thanks. Living just outside of Manhattan, I could see the World Trade Center anytime.
On the day itself, the ship was docked in Halifax and about 30 of us had gone off on a full-day shore excursion to the region’s pastoral Annapolis Valley and the Bay of Fundy. First stop: A visit to a winery for a tasting and lunch. We were just sitting down to eat (Halifax is an hour ahead of New York) when a young waiter ran in and told us the news. I don’t remember anything more about the lunch — most of us were shell-shocked — but I do remember that the restaurant’s management offered to make its phone available to anyone who wanted to call home. One couple, who was on vacation from their jobs at the World Trade Center, spent the rest of the time out on the restaurant’s deck trying futilely to reach friends and colleagues at their offices.
The tour leader offered us a chance to end the tour and head back to Amsterdam, skipping the Bay of Fundy stop, but passengers quietly voted to continue. Most of us spent the hour or so at the bay sitting on the floor of a souvenir shop where the owner had the radio tuned to Canada’s CBC. It seemed odd that the CBC was more focused on reporting about potential terrorism threats to Ottawa, its capital, than in providing details on what happened at Ground Zero, Shanksville, PA, and the Pentagon, though of course there wasn’t a whole lot known at that time.
Back onboard, the ship’s staff handled the situation as well as it could be handled … formal night was canceled, worship services were held in the main theater and all televisions in all public rooms were tuned to CNN. The bars were packed — but none of the bartenders was serving. It was eerily quiet; I think people wanted to watch communally, rather than hole up in their cabins but no one felt much like talking. A lot of people just wanted to go home, but that wasn’t possible because the borders were closed (and would remain so throughout the duration of our voyage). The only misstep? The manager of the ship’s photo gallery continued to display the images taken of carefree cruise passengers at sailaway, framed by iconic structures that suddenly no longer existed. After some complaints he took them down.
The ship left Halifax as scheduled and headed for Sydney, Prince Edward Island, the Saguenay Fjord and Quebec City. The mood remained somber onboard. It was like cruising in the middle of a massive international funeral, which of course is just what it was.
It was actually a tremendous relief when we debarked in Montreal. During my flight home, I remember the pilot’s introductory words: “This is our first flight since 9/11,” he said. “If you’re nervous, rest assured, we’re nervous, too.”
We’d like to know: Were you traveling during 9/11? How did it impact your experience?