10 Years After: Memories of Cruising on 9/11

September 9, 2011 | By | 9 Comments

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?
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    9 Responses to “10 Years After: Memories of Cruising on 9/11”

    1. Lois Aliotta
      September 9th, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

      I went on a cruise 2 1/2 weeks after 9/11. The airlines had just started flying again and until Wednesday we didn’t know if we had a cruise. The best thing I remember was all the goodwill towards America we saw in Grand Cayman. Posters and T-shirts honoring the NYPD & NYFD, flags and pics of the towers. It felt good to know other countries respected the USA.

    2. Mari-Anne Mahlau
      September 9th, 2011 @ 8:34 pm

      Wow, thank you for sharing your story of that day. Oddly, as a New Yorker who lost far too many friends that day as well as a piece of the heart of her city, I enjoy reading these accounts of where people were and how they found out. It comforts me in a strange way. I’m sorry that your beautiful vacation was altered from what it should have been, but at least you had people around you to be with. It must have been frustrating to be so far away from home.

    3. Diane Neste
      September 9th, 2011 @ 10:28 pm

      These are the words of the last page of our wedding website uploaded at the end of September 2001:
      We would like to thank our family, friends, co-workers and all of the businesses involved for their help and support when we had to rebuild our wedding plans so quickly.
      What happened to us is insignificant to the loss of lives on September 11, 2001. Our blessing continues for the families and friends of the victims.
      Chuck proposed to Diane on February 15, 2000 at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. In May of 2001 we decided that since most of our family resided up north, getting married on ship in New York would be most convenient. Royal Romance’s wedding packages on Royal Caribbean ships proved to be the easiest way of planning a wedding in New York while residing in Atlanta. After conversing with Royal Romance for a couple months, everything was planned. We were to be married on the Nordic Empress in the Viking Crown Lounge at 1:00 p.m. on September 23, 2001. The wedding invitations were mailed and those traveling by air to New York had confirmed flight reservations.
      And then everything changed . . .
      The New York port was closed to cruise ships and the Nordic Empress was being docked in Philadelphia when it returned from Bermuda. So, ok, we’d get married on the ship in Philadelphia – all we need to do is get our wedding guests there. Until we were advised that, because of security reasons, no one could board the ship unless they were sailing passengers. After communicating (pleading) with the president of Royal Caribbean, we were allowed to have our guests board the ship for the wedding. Our wedding day was getting close.
      Because we were now going to be getting married in Pennsylvania instead of New York, we needed to get a Pennsylvania marriage license, which requires a three-day waiting period. Royal Romance believed that they could get a waiver due to the circumstances, but their sincere efforts failed. We had one day to decide whether to drive to Pennsylvania to get the license or to rearrange the wedding on land. Our decision was made when we were advised that due to the heavy security and customs procedures for the ship, we could not be assured that by the time we got on the ship that there would be enough time to have a wedding before sailing.
      With three days to spare, we started planning the wedding all over again from Atlanta,
      to take place New York . . . from a place to get married to someone who would marry us, from flowers to tux to organist, from reception to transportation (I need not mention all of the flight cancellations and rescheduling), and everything else in between.
      We did it ! On Saturday, September 22, 2001 at 8:45 p.m. we were married.
      A special thanks to:
      The guests for being patient with us,
      Royal Romance for helping us above and beyond what is called for,
      Camela and Patricia in New York for giving us ideas and helping in so many ways, and
      Pastor Puls for understanding our special circumstance and breaking all of his rules to marry us.
      Everything did not go as we had planned. In fact, there was only one thing that went as planned. The most important one – we got married. It’s as basic as that. We love each other very much and we wanted to be married. Although the terrorist acts and threats against our nation gave us some huge stumbling blocks,
      it did not stop us.
      Thanks again to everyone for your support and for making this happen for us.

      We will be celebrating our 10th anniversary with a Carnival Elation Cruise (9/19/ll-9/23/ll) and vow renewal in Cozumel. Our souvenir from our honeymoon in Bermuda a/k/a our 9 year old daughter, will be cruising with us :)

    4. Sabrina
      September 10th, 2011 @ 12:18 am

      Diane – what a wonderful story! Thank you so much for sharing!!!

    5. Margaret Gradwell
      September 10th, 2011 @ 4:54 pm

      From Miami to Southampton on board the SS Norway (ex SS France) it was due to be an exceptional trip.
      We sailed into NY 5/09/01 the morning promised to be sunny and the sky soon turned a pure blue. Our little group boarded the opentop buses and even had a giggle at the tour guide who told us that the World Trade Centre, which towered above us, had a small bomb go off in the basement.
      “Well, we had a bigger one in Manchester” was my glib reply.
      600 people came on board and we left NY in a stunning early Autumn sunset. The next days passed in a blur of warm sun, calm seas and relaxation.
      Halifax & St Johns were exceptional and we visited the graves of the victims of the Titanic and a rather corny activity of throwing a Star Of the Ocean in their memory.
      This was our first Trans Atlantic and we wondered what we would do at sea for 4 days.
      “Put a message in a bottle” a friend had said before we left home. Knowing it was against all rules I took a chance the date 9/11.
      As usual lunchtime is a bit of a madhouse, sit anywhere, we particularly noticed a lady, with Southern accent, and a huge granite cross.
      “There has been an accident in NY, a plane has flown into the tower of the World Trade Centre.” Calmly said the Captain.
      Said lady with the cross, ‘It’s a terrorist attack,”
      Yeh, Yeh! What was she talking about!
      Gradually the truth came out and we ran down to the cabin, through every door a tv was blaring out the disaster that was happening in NY.
      We sat on the cabin floor and stared in disbelief as the ‘Disaster Movie’ unfolded on the screen.
      Eventually we made our way to the upper decks and NCL made the phone and internet free so we couple contact our loved ones. Once established those in the greatest need were looked after by NCL. We were cut off physically from the west of the world.
      The mood changed to who are these terrorist to stop us enjoying our trip.
      We joined together in a non denominational service, I can never hear Amazing Grace without thinking back to that day.
      Later on in the cruise tribute was paid to the those who lost there lives. A black guy, with Parkinsons, sang the Paul Robeson song O’l Man River. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.
      When SS Norway Docked on the Clyde my husband was the first passenger from sea or sky to land back in the UK.
      Picking up our hirecar we took 2 American friends to the banks of the Clyde and stood in silent Remembrance.

    6. slimster
      September 10th, 2011 @ 6:11 pm

      I’m a facebook junkie and I’m trying to find the like button on Diane’s post. What a great story.. In spite of all the obstacles you were determined to get married. That determination will go a long way in your marriage as it already has. Happy Anniversary and Best wishes to all your family. Oh,and have a great cruise!!!

    7. Host Caroline
      September 10th, 2011 @ 8:49 pm

      We were supposed to leave from Boston on 9/16/01 on the Crown Princess. Even though that was the first day planes flew again, we canceled. I simply couldn’t fly and especially not into Logan Airport that soon. About 6 weeks later we went on a cruise on the Grand Princess.. we got aboard and turned on the cabin TV where they were announcing that the US was bombing Afghanistan and by the time we returned a week later, security at Port Everglades was something to see! All the cutters and small police vessels, divers. Flying and travel had changed forever

    8. Wendy
      September 11th, 2011 @ 8:47 am

      Thank you for remembering.

      I had gone to our hospital to find out what was wrong with my husband. He was in sever pain. While in the waiting room I had just turned on the tv when the report of a plane crashing into one of the towers was being shown. I am in the middle of Canada but we have been to New York many times. Just as I as going to go back to the room the second plane struck the other tower and I new this was going to be bad. Many people including nurses and doctors starting coming in to see what was going on in New Your and other places.

      My husband passed away in Jan 2002 from cancer (which was what was causing the pain)but I will never forget 9/11/2001.

    9. Dennis Snyder
      September 11th, 2011 @ 10:56 am

      We were in the midst of a Trans-Atlantic cruise on the Grandeur of the Seas. We were one day out of our last port of the Azores. We had boarded an elevator to go to the Lido deck for the horse races when a gentleman said he had heard from his brother that a small plane had flown into the WTC. Little did we know how that would change our cruise. Shortly afterward we heard from the Captain about what had really happened. All the happiness left in a heartbeat. We had no television due to being in the middle of the Atlantic. So the only news we had was from the computer, and it was pitifully short. That evening we had a worship service that it seemed that most of the ship attended. The crew continued to provide fantastic service, but it became a very somber cruise. We did not have the info overload that most did, and for that I am thankful. Our arrival in Boston was delayed as the ship was stopped outside the harbor for inspection. We obviously could not fly home so stayed in a Boston hotel for the night. We stayed glued to the TV. One thing I did not know until later, was that 2 American Airlines Aircraft were involved. I lost friends on those flights.

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