Thursday, October 01, 2015

Stranded at Dock: Carnival Liberty September 6, 2015

Cobblestone streets of Old San Juan

Mr. A and I decided to celebrate our first wedding anniversary (can you believe it has already been a year!?) on the endless seas on board the Carnival Liberty cruise ship. After spending two spectacular days wandering around the narrow cobblestone streets of beautiful Old San Juan, we jumped on board the Liberty eager to start our journey of the seas.

That night, after an overly-indulgent dinner at the ship's steakhouse, our resort-on-water drifted away from the Puerto Rican coast and sailed under the starlit skies towards the exotic treasures of the Virgin Islands.
Our first stop was St-Thomas... and the cruise ended there. (Yes, you read correctly!)

Monday morning, around 9:30am, after fueling ourselves with breakfast and coffee, Mr. A and I were off the ship and in a rollercoaster of a taxi ride, up and down the little streets of St-Thomas towards the crystal clear waters of Magen's Bay. Little did we know, a few hours later, the remaining guests on the ship were being evacuated off the Liberty due to an engine fire. My first thought was "THANK GOODNESS this fire did not occur when we were at sea.". My second thought: Was anybody hurt? (The answer is no). And the third thought: Okay... now what?

Old San Juan
More than 4000-4500 passengers and crew were lingering on the sun-sizzled streets of the tiny island. There is a limit to how much shopping (or window shopping in our case as we had left most of our money on the ship) you can do when it is scorching hot, you are tired, you are still wearing your wet bathing suit, are ready-to-eat-lobster-hued red from spending the day under the sun and are lugging around heavy, wet and sandy towels in a beach bag that was literally bursting at the seams. It was crowded, it was hot, people were getting cranky and, of course, we were all getting hungry. "I guess we should board any minute now", I thought. The minutes tick-tocked by and turned to hours.

It was getting more and more difficult to ignore our stomach growls that were getting louder and louder. The challenge now lied in finding a place to eat. You see, we were surrounded by restaurants but after walking up to a few of them, Mr. A and I were ever-so-gracefully turned away pushed away and had the doors locked in front of us because the facility simply had run out of food. Oh, the irony of being in a Water, water everywhere; nor any drop to drink-esque situation! 

Finally, we found a sushi restaurant (Beni Iguana) and, to our luck, a group was just leaving their table when we walked through the doors. We pounced on that table and waited (and waited, and waited...).  The frantically-running wait staff of TWO were trying to stay as cool and collected as possible but were crumbling under the pressure of us Stranded & Hungry. 

Magen's Bay - St-Thomas
Three hours later, taking advantage of the restaurant's WiFi (Ah, the silver lining!), once our stomachs were playing the symphony of the hungry-and-now-impatient (it's not a very harmonious tune), our food arrived. 

We devoured the contents of our plates and quickly put that "hungry symphony" to rest. I don't know about Mr.A, but my stomach suddenly played the you-ate-too-quickly-so-I-will-give-you-a-cramp symphony (also not very harmonious but nothing a little walk wouldn't fix).

Mr.A and I stayed in the restaurant once we were done eating. By this time, the wave of hungry people had ended along with the wave of the sun's heat so we decided to stick around on the comfortable couches of Beni Iguana instead of sitting outside on the pavement (of course, if we could find space on the pavement). 
The Carnival Liberty in St-Thomas

Our table was near the bathroom. There were two bathroom doors both of which had to be opened with a key. I assume that the keys are usually kept behind the hostess stand (which is a step away from the bathroom) but, given the unusual turn of events of the day, the keys were left in the keyholes on the doors. I had a fun time watching people go in and out of the bathroom while leaving the keys still on the outside keyhole when they were inside. Every now and again, another "castaway" would walk in on someone in the bathroom, would let out a high-pitched squeal and would quickly and bashfully close the door. Some people figured out to take the key inside the stall with them; some others didn't and were sometimes faced with an unexpected, apologetic guest while doing their business. I tried to warn a few eager bathroom seekers but realized that I would make a very lousy bathroom-door-warning-person. 
Carnival Liberty engine fire- September 7, 2015
(photo source: Facebook) 

The sun and its scorch had called it a day and had made way for nightfall. Luckily, our bathing suits were now dry and our tummies were full. But our towels were still wet and heavy and my beach bag (that I was now in the obligation of hugging) was ripping left and right. My beach bag was giving up and so were our exhausted, sun-burnt bodies. 

The only thing we could do was wait so we waited for as long as we had to then, finally, like a dream, IT WAS TIME! Everyone was slowly (some people, quite aggressively) huddling towards the narrow entryway. There were people for as far as the eye could see. We maneuvered our way through the small medical stations that had suddenly popped up and long tables that had water coolers and fried chicken on them. One by one, people were passing through the gate and rushing towards the ship. Suddenly, with about a dozen exhausted travelers in front of us, the security man at the entryway decided to close our gate door and suggested we make our way to another door that was further away. On an ordinary day, this second door would have been a two minute walk away but, this day was far from being ordinary! Given the circumstances, the door was clearly not a two minute walk away but instead more than an hour's wait away. Inevitably, this announcement did not sit well with most of the people around us. Their fury raised along with their voices. F-bombs and countless original and imaginative swear words were being dropped left and right (being stranded sure seems to bring out the worst in people!). The security guard was not reconsidering his decision so, suddenly, we were being pushed by the hundreds of people behind and around us. Before we knew it, we had been pushed and squeezed through the narrow gate that the guard had now no way of closing. Cruisers: 1; Gatekeepers: 0. 

The ship did not sail that night nor did it sail the following day. It was not allowed to sail until the US Coast Guard had given its approval. It did not look very positive. From what I heard (but I'm not sure how reliable my sources are), three out of six engines were not functioning and one out of the two generators were down. It looked like our day at Barbados was off the table. As the days went by, we were forced to abandon our whole Caribbean itinerary. Although I was somewhat upset that we were not getting the vacation we had planned and were looking forward to, a part of me was very relieved. For some reason, I have become a ball of anxiety and fear lately. On this trip, I discovered that I am scared of innocent but ugly grey and black birds that walk on the beach (I am telling you, some of them could sense my fear and were teasing me!). I gave the fellow beach-goers a nice show while I was hysterically shooing the creatures away while hiding under my towel and being in somewhat of a ball shape holding my knees as close to my body as possible and hiding my face in my knees. Anyway, staying at the St-Thomas dock meant that we would not have any inconvenient and horrible surprises.

Stairway to...? Old San Juan
Seeing as sailing was not an option, Carnival was under the obligation of gradually sending guests home from St-Thomas on chartered flights. Although we could still explore the little island, we had to remain on standby to see if we made ''the cut'' of the day. We could wake up one morning and be told that we were scheduled to go back home that afternoon. So there we were, on the Liberty ship, waiting for freedom! 

Throughout our stay, the Carnival team worked endlessly to make this vacation the best it could be despite the incredible and unexpected inconveniences. As the Guest Services team worked day in and day out booking flights and answering questions, the animation crew put on their biggest smiles and constantly kept the laughs going. 

    Fort San Felipe del Morro 
    Old San Juan 
Mr. A and I never made ''the cut''. We stayed on the ship for four or five days until it was cleared to sail back to its home port of San Juan where we would remain for two more days and keep our original flights back. We were now only 1500 guests out of the original 3500 (roughly). We continued to discover the ins and outs of colorful Old San Juan and went back to our floating hotel at night. 

Colorful Old San Juan
Ultimately, we did not get the vacation we had planned but, hey! There are much worse places to be stranded than on a beautiful exotic island. We also got a full refund and a discount off our next cruise so, really, we do not have much to complain about.

Once again, Ladies & Gentlemen (if you were on the ship, you are probably laughing-- ahum, Cruise Director Brian)to all the staff who worked tirelessly and endlessly to keep us somewhat-difficult folk satisfied (and to all the staff who is currently answering all our emails and processing the refunds), thank you for all your hard work, patience and effort.

Until next time!