A four-night cruise in the Bahamas was the destination for Floridians Jeff Moulton and his fiancée, Jane Spiess. They were filled with anticipation and excitement. Five days of relaxation and enjoying each other’s company would find them with a third, uninvited guest, however. Hurricane Irma crashed their vacation and she changed their lives forever.
The cruise was due to return before Hurricane Irma made landfall.
Moulton and Spiess set sail on September 4, well aware of Irma. The massive hurricane wasn’t too much of a concern because Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas was scheduled to return to port in Cape Canaveral, Florida before Irma hit land, so they were confident that Irma would not affect their trip.
Mother Nature, however, does not run on Royal Caribbean’s schedule. On September 7, the day before the ship was scheduled to return to port, all passengers were told that an adjustment to their itinerary was indeed being made and they would return one day early to allow everyone enough time to travel home safely.
Passengers could disembark or were given the option to wait out the hurricane on board.
Passengers were given the option to stay aboard the ship if they chose, and wait out the storm near Cuba; 76 of them did. Among them were Moulton and Spiess.
“We’re adventurous like that,” Moulton said in an interview with TODAY. “We knew if we stayed on board, we weren’t going to have to be in any bad weather.”
Their decision to stay on board was supplemented with an extra adventure. After Irma passed through, they were told that the ship would be rescuing others, bringing supplies and food, and providing any other type of relief asked of them, to St. Maarten and St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They would first head to Puerto Rico to stock up on all they would need to do so.
In addition to the 76 travelers who stayed on board, there were also 900 crew members. “They treated us like kings and queens,” said Moulton. “The 76 of us bonded pretty quickly and grew really close.”
Irma’s destructive force was evident.
When the ship arrived in St. Thomas one evening, Irma had already unleashed her wrath.
“The island looked brown,” described Moulton. “All the leaves were blown off the trees. The trees were all brown, like the desert.
“It was pretty devastated. Once we woke in the morning, we could see people getting in line to board the boat.”
The ship’s crew left the citizens of St. Thomas food and supplies and took 300–400 people who wanted to leave on board.
Moulton said he’d never forget seeing the faces of desperation on the evacuees transform to relief as the crew did all they could to help them. “There was a real message of ‘We’ve got your back,'” he said, “from everyone from the ship captain to the passengers. The little gestures of kindness were good to see.”
Then they were off to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
This was where the Moulton and Spiess decided to stay for the weekend before flying home to Florida.
“San Juan was beautiful. Everyone was so nice to us there — the governor of Puerto Rico even came to the port and waved to us from the docks,” Moulton said.
They were devastated to hear about the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria to Puerto Rico this week.
“When we talked to the people who were working there, just doing their jobs, they were really worried about Hurricane Maria,” said Moulton. “Now I think about their faces and the people we met and I am really just devastated for them.”
Hurricane Maria had completely devastated the island, hurting infrastructure and wiping out communications across Puerto Rico.
Currently the Navy and Marine Corps are providing around-the-clock relief work in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
“This is a long-term effort, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, so DoD will continue to support them as long as support is needed,” said Col. Rob Manning, director of Defense Press Operations.
Private companies are chipping in to help as well—AT&T and T-Mobile are waiving cell phone charges, JetBlue is flying in emergency supplies, and millions have been donated to help the efforts.