August 27, 2017
(11:30 a.m., EDT) -- “Ladies and gentlemen, enjoy your night. It could be your last one [on board]; there could be one more, you never know!”
That announcement came a few minutes before 11 p.m. Saturday night from the cruise director of Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas, as the ship sailed in the Gulf of Mexico for Galveston, waiting for word on whether the port would reopen in the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s tropical storms. Our vessel is just one of several that were supposed to come into the storm-battered Texas coast this weekend; Carnival Breeze, Carnival Valor and Carnival Freedom are also affected.
(Cruise Critic is monitoring all information pertaining to cruises and Hurricane Harvey and is continually updating.)
When you book a cruise during hurricane season, of course there is a risk of encountering adverse weather. But when Liberty left Galveston for a seven-day itinerary last Sunday, no one seemed particularly concerned about the forecast.
That was certainly the case with my Austin-based family -- me, my husband and our two sons were looking forward to a last-minute getaway before school resumed. We weren’t bargaining on the uncertainty that awaited us even now, up to the last minute of our scheduled port arrival back in Texas today, thanks to Harvey.
Our latest Saturday evening update from Captain James MacDonald is that conditions look favorable and that we are on track to port in Galveston as planned. However, the port of Galveston is currently closed, and we have heard reports of flooded roads around the port. Early Sunday morning, I-45 -- the main highway connecting Galveston to mainland Texas -- was closed, and Houston airports are either closed or have canceled most flights.
Captain MacDonald has maintained that his priority is to ensure the safety of everyone aboard, and that he will only pull into port when it is safe to do so.
But many passengers continue to have unanswered questions: “Should we pack our luggage for departure?” “Will we be stranded at sea for another day or more?”
That prospect isn’t necessarily a bad one for some passengers wishing to extend their cruise vacation, but most are simply concerned about how they will return home and uncertain about what that journey will hold. Royal Caribbean has offered passengers with affected travel plans the opportunity to stay on the ship through Monday.
Smooth sailing throughout the journey
Surprisingly, the journey has so far been a smooth one -- a route basically untouched by the destructive forces of Harvey, which was always well ahead of us. Most days were completely sunny, and the seas have been smooth.
In fact, aside from the daily weather from the bridge, the words “Harvey” and “hurricane” were pretty far from most passengers’ minds as we made our way to Roatan, Costa Maya and Cozumel.
It wasn’t until Wednesday that murmurs of Harvey’s potential destruction were starting to be heard throughout the ship. The eventual category 4 hurricane, which would touch down on the Texas coast near Corpus Christi early Friday morning, lost some of its punch, but continued bands of rain spelled trouble for passengers as they scrambled to make plans for their return based on little information.
Royal Caribbean offered 30 minutes of free onboard Wi-Fi access to each passenger to help with coordinating plans.
On Thursday morning, after hearing some grim forecasts, I opted to have my car towed from the private lot near the port to a higher location on the mainland. So far the island lots appear to have weathered the storm well, but continued rain and winds may change the picture before we arrive in port, not to mention the condition of the roads.
People with scheduled flights out today needed to make new arrangements due to the delays -- but again, the uncertainty of when the port will reopen creates complications. With the highways and airports closed with no sense of reopening, problems for cruise passengers will continue, even after the ship manages to dock.
In the meantime, we’ll continue to do our best to enjoy the time we have on board and keep those who have suffered far greater problems due to Hurricane Harvey in our thoughts.
--By Cynthia Drake, Cruise Critic contributor