Why Did Freedom of the Seas Sail Into a Storm Two Other Cruise Ships Avoided?

October 11, 2011
freedom-of-the-seas (5 p.m. EDT) -- Rough seas and high winds had the Dramamine flowing, souvenirs tumbling from gift shop shelves and dinner canceled on Freedom of the Seas, as it departed Port Canaveral on Sunday afternoon. Yet why did the ship sail into a storm, when two other vessels -- Disney Dream and Carnival Sensation -- delayed their departures until weather conditions calmed?

According to Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez, Freedom of the Seas was the first ship scheduled to leave Port Canaveral on Sunday -- making it something of a guinea pig. "When Freedom of the Seas departed Port Canaveral, the port was still open and the pilots were still taking ships out," explains Martinez. She says the weather the ship encountered, which occurred at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday and resulted in 13 passengers seeking medical treatment for cuts, bruises and scrapes, was much worse than forecast. In fact, Martinez says that the ship experienced wind speeds three times stronger than expected. "Based on information gathered by our Captain and the pilot while the ship was departing Port Canaveral, a decision was made by the pilots to suspend all other departures," she notes.

Not so, says Port Canaveral's CEO Stan Payne. "The Port remained open throughout the storm ... This was a freak storm, a bit reminiscent of Tropical Storm Fay in 2008 with the huge amounts of rain, very much like a tropical system with rain bands mixed with periods of calm, and certainly not your typical Florida summer afternoon thunderstorm. Just odd."

Disney Dream and Carnival Sensation, also scheduled to depart Sunday afternoon, decided to hunker down until the system blew through. Carnival Sensation overnighted in Port Canaveral, departing at 8 a.m. Monday. "We felt it was best to keep the ship in port until conditions improved for the comfort of the guests and crew," explains spokeswoman Jennifer De La Cruz. Disney went the same route. "The wind was severe, and we made the decision in talking with the harbor pilot to wait," reports Disney Cruise Line spokeswoman Rebecca Peddie.

It's important to note that, according to De La Cruz, Carnival made its decision to hold Sensation overnight before Freedom of the Seas encountered the worst bout of weather.

We've also reached out to Port Canaveral for an explanation; its spokesperson has to yet to expound on the aforementioned statement.

In news just in, Martinez confirmed that Royal Caribbean is compensating passengers who endured what the line has called "severe ship movement" that left some public areas and passenger cabins damaged. Those in inside and outside cabins will receive $200 in onboard credit; balcony passengers will get $300; and those in suites will receive $500. Passengers who received water damage to their cabins will receive a 50 percent off future cruise credit.

The seven-night Eastern Caribbean sailing is proceeding as scheduled. Some repairs will be completed throughout the voyage, and subsequent sailings should not be affected. Cruise Critic members onboard the ship are sharing their tales from the wild ride on the message boards. Join the conversation here.

--by Erica Silverstein, Features Editor and Dan Askin, News Editor