At approximately 7:30 pm EST on September 5th, Commodore Tom made an announcement from the bridge stating that the Disney Fantasy will be canceling the rest of the current cruise. We are changing course to sail back to Port Canaveral and will arrive by 2 pm on September 7th. At which point, Guests will disembark and once cleared, the ship and its crew will head right back out on the Atlantic. An effort to remain a safe distance away from the deadly category 6 hurricane, named Hurricane Irma, which was headed straight for us. All Castaway Cay residents were being evacuated onto the Disney Dream and there was no guarantee either ship would be returning to Cape Canaveral, depending on the damage it might sustain during the storm. The next cruise scheduled for September 9-16 had also been canceled.
In the weeks leading up to the hurricane-affected cruises, our ship had reversed the order of the Western Caribbean ports of call in an attempt to avoid any major tropical weather. The cruise that was shortened started off just like all the others, trying to outrun the rain, and I remember being glued to the news about Irma since we were projected to be in its direct path. There were many rumors going around among the crew, maybe an hour before the official announcement was made, but it was requested that we not say anything to the guests until they were told via captain’s announcement.
The pools had been closed due to bad weather multiple times throughout the cruise because, again, we were sailing through a hurricane. On this particular evening, we were in our secondary rescue positions, undercover and away from the pools due to lightning, when the announcement was made. It was in between the dinner/show time, so we had a few guests come up and ask us what was going on or if we knew anything more. We weren’t told anything other than what the guests had heard in the announcement, so we weren’t much help other than providing our own thoughts on the matter.
Instead of sailing to Cozumel, the next day was to be a sea day, and DCL made it the most magical sea day they possibly could. Characters were walking around the pool deck, the food and beverage team was handing out Mickey bars, etc. The next day we pulled into Port Canaveral and it was treated like a “half day” schedule since we weren’t going to dock until 2 pm. Pools and Aquaduck were open until about 30 min before debarking. Once the guests were off, we got to work packing up chairs, tables and anything loose on the deck and either putting it in storage or strapping it down.
Nobody really knew what was going to happen for the rest of the day let alone for the next week or so. It was recommended to us that we take everything off the shelves in our cabins and if you slept on the top bunk, to bring your mattress down on the floor. It never did actually got to that point but I appreciated being prepared for the worst. I was really nervous about what could happen to us because there was no real certainty about what we would be doing for the next week or so. I’ve never been in a hurricane, or even a major thunderstorm for that matter. Easy to say, I was a little scared.
What ended up happening was, next 8 days at sea consisting of us doing absolutely nothing but screwing around and partying. The first day was full of a lot of nervous energy. For the most part, we were all pretty excited to experience the ship with no guests on board for, at the very least, a week. We were told we were still expected to “work”, clean and complete lifeguard trainings for the same amount of hours we would have normally worked but by day two that was definitely not the case. I will say we had it the best over most departments. We had just taken on four new hires that week, so we did focus some of that time on their training, which typically takes two weeks to complete. In addition to the new hires, we also had two guards from the island, Castaway Cay, sailing on the ship to renew their visas in the United States.
The CAM, Crew Activities Manager, was then promoted to be the “Crew Cruise Director” for the week. They even printed out navigators, informing us about events and activities around the ship, as if it were a normal cruise. Our team did a lot of what was called “product knowledge”, which involved watching the new Spider-Man movie in the theatre with other crew, playing the Midship Detective game against other lifeguards to see who could finish first, Mini golf & Dodgeball tournaments, guided tours of the ship by the cruise staff team, character meet & greets, and exploring the kids club activities. We did have the pools and slide open during designated times throughout the day and evenings for everyone. We even had a pool party, with a movie on the funnel vision, the Aquaduck and Donald Pool open and characters walking around the deck.
That was probably my favorite moment because watching crew members, that have been working on the ships for years, get to ride the Aquaduck for the first time is the coolest thing. In addition to those activities, we were also allowed to eat and drink in a few select guest areas.
It’s been a little over a year since this all happened and the details of what went down during those 8 days are a little fuzzy. I can honestly say it was, without single a doubt, the best week of my entire Disney Cruise Line career. As scary as it was to be out in the middle of the ocean with one of the most deadly hurricanes of my lifetime, the lengths the captain and crew went through to not only keep us safe but made sure we had the time of our lives.
TLDR; I worked on a cruise ship during a hurricane and it was the best week of my contract.
Thanks for reading and go drink some water