August 29, 2017
(8:35 a.m. EDT) -- Some passengers aboard Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas are beginning to call this "the never-ending cruise," followed by somewhat nervous laughter.
Today begins Day 10 of what was supposed to be a seven-day cruise beginning and ending in Galveston. But in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey which closed the Texas port (and forced the cancellation of several cruises), the ship has instead diverted to Miami.
Some passengers have purchased tickets to fly home today, assisted by the cruise line with free airport transportation to Miami and Fort Lauderdale. The rest of the passengers, including those scheduled to fly out of Houston airports (which are closed), have been encouraged to remain on the ship until it returns to Galveston, which is expected Friday morning.
After an initial sense of shock following the Sunday announcement about changing course to Florida, passengers settled into the task of making alternate arrangements — changing flights, alerting family and friends back home, etc. Some cried; others celebrated.
By Monday, ship operations had returned to normal. Royal Caribbean is footing the bill for all passengers' remaining days on board due to the inclement weather displacement, including gratuities for wait staff and room attendants. Activities and meals proceeded as they had the prior week, and the mood was fairly upbeat. The cruise line offered a variety of half-off discounts, from drink packages to specialty dining, spa, internet and laundry services.
In the late afternoon, Captain James MacDonald hosted an informal question-and-answer session with passengers, addressing a variety of concerns about the continued impact of Harvey. But several questions remain unanswered due to the unpredictability of the weather pattern.
One passenger wanted to know: What happens if we have the same situation when we return to Galveston? Several people have been watching Houston weather reports with dire predictions for more rain coming into an already flooded city. Another passenger was concerned about getting her kids home to start school. "When does this end?" she asked.
The captain maintained that Royal Caribbean will only allow passengers to disembark when it is safe, and that the hope is for a Friday arrival in Galveston.
"I wish I had a better answer for you," he said. "It's a big storm, it's a big issue. And it's a big mess."
As for my family of four, we enjoyed a day catching up on some of the activities we missed the prior week, such as ice skating, on what should have been our son's first day of first grade in Austin.
We plan to remain on the ship for the return to Galveston, where our car is waiting to make the drive home. Most moments of the day, I feel a deep sense of gratitude to be together with my family on a lovely ship, safe for now from the storm's impact.
But now and again, anxiety creeps in about what is waiting for us back in Texas. Reality is starting to set in: we are now on track to lose several days of work and school, and there is no definitive answer about when we will return for sure.
The images we see from back home are devastating. We know our current situation could be far worse, but the unknown gnaws at us anyway.
We just have to keep hoping for the best.
--By Cynthia J. Drake, Cruise Critic contributor
Want to help? Make a donation to the Red Cross Hurricane Relief Efforts.