Up to 20,000 cruise passengers were stuck at sea and other ports
Carnival Breeze forced to stay out of Galveston an extra week
A 19-year-old woman from San Antonio shared her time stuck at sea among the 3,690 cruise ship passengers during Hurricane Harvey. Sarah Halverstadt was on the Carnival Breeze when the captain informed them on a Friday that the port they were supposed to return to in Galveston, Texas was closed because of Harvey.
Halverstadt’s initial hint something might be concerning was on Monday, August 21, 2017, the first full day aboard the Carnival Breeze after it left the Port of Galveston’s cruise terminal on Sunday.
The Breeze’s FUN TIMES newsletter that day warned: “Safety first! Remember that you are on a moving ship. For your safety take extra precautions, use hand rails and watch your step. Outdoor decks can become slippery due to humidity and pool water…”
A solar eclipsed that day prompted the newsletter to provide another important caution about “ECLIPSE VIEWING SAFETY: Do not look directly at the sun. Unfiltered sunlight will damage your eyes and could cause permanent blindness…”
There was plenty of information and notices about safety on the ship, but the emphasis was on pleasure. “ENJOY YOUR FUND DAY AT SEA!” was the headline. Sunrise was at 6:28 a.m. and sunset was scheduled for 7:16 pm. “Tonight’s attire: Cruise elegant.”
Halverstadt scanned the bulletin for all the scheduled fun. At 12:30, auditions began for Lip Sync Battle. At 2 there was $1,000 Jackpot Bingo. There were seven locations to watch live music performed throughout the day, and two movies: Boss Baby and Sing would be playing that night at the Carnival Seaside Theater.
She had driven to Galveston with her “Aunt Amanda for the family’s annual cruise,” Halverstadt said. “The weather news was more about the eclipse and not so much about a tropical storm. We parked at the terminal parking lot and joined our large family. In all, the Allen family had 14 cabins reserved on the ship.”
Among her family was noted Houston area children’s book writer, Crystal Allen, author of The Wall of Fame Game (The Magnificent Mya Tibbs #2), Spirit Week Showdown (The Magnificent Mya Tibbs #1), The Laura Line, and How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won A Bubba-Sized Trophy!
“Crystal spent much of her time on ship writing another book,” Halverstadt, who works at Fair Oaks Ranch Golf and Country Club, said. “Outside, it was constantly windy. On that first day, I looked up from the deck at the water slides and became nervous for the kids climbing up so high. With the strong winds, I kept thinking someone is going to fall or blow off.”
“Each morning the Captain would give us updates on a PA (public address) system,” she said. “Originally, we were to go first to Cozumel, then Belize and afterwards, Honduras. But he explained the tropical storm had caused a change in plans. We would go the backward route—Honduras first, Cozumel last.”
“I enjoyed the entertainment, food, casinos and food,” Halverstadt commented. “But I was ready to go home by the time we were due to be finished and return to Galveston. An announcement from the Captain changed all that. When Harvey hit landfall, the Galveston Port was closed. It wasn’t safe so we would be staying extra days in Cozumel. The port was very crowded with ships.”
The captain and crew hosted a “Meet and Greet with about a thousand people for a Question and Answer session. Like most of us, I felt sad to hear the news about so much destruction, the flooding and even the rescues. In some ways, I experienced guilt. Here I was on a cruise while people were trying to just live and survive. One lady was very upset and wanted to get off the ship. She found out her father in Houston had died in the flood.”
“News and weather was available on televisions, on the big screen on the main deck—all over. Carnival’s staff were accommodating and answered everyone’s questions. My aunt washed a load of clothes in the ship’s public laundry and it cost $15. There was no wait and it was leisurely. But when we found out our trip would be extended indefinitely, it was a mad house. The lines and waiting was very long. They provided one complimentary laundry load for each cabin. That was very helpful.
Wi-Fi became available for free. Normally it would cost $135 for the week we were out, but it was important to us to be able to communicate, send and receive news. They also kept the entertainment, restaurants, casino and other activities active. I saw a magic show and a comedy show. There was sadness as so many on board lived in east Texas and the Houston area. They were worried about their family, friends and homes. I decided to try to make the most of it and stay positive as much as possible.
We were turned away from going to Galveston on August 25 because it would be too dangerous once we arrived. We were safer if we just stayed on the ship. They took very good care of us. Eventually, we would be the last of four ships to make it back to the Port of Galveston’s terminal. One news report said there were up to 20,000 people stranded at sea. By August 27, the day were originally supposed to be in Galveston, we had already been sent to New Orleans where we docked on the Mississippi River. “
The U.S. Coast Guard closed ports at Houston, Galveston, Texas City, Freeport and Corpus Christi. Most ships were sent to Miami or New Orleans more food and supplies stock. The Carnival Valor, Carnival Freedom, and later Carnival Breeze were routed to New Orleans.
“My aunt and others were worried about their cars at Galveston, but we were told they were all safe. They did say some of the cars were moved up to higher flowers because the lower parking areas had water.
Christine de la Huerta, manager of corporate communications for Carnival, told the media that because of Harvey, “Carnival’s three Galveston-based ships all deviated course to New Orleans and stopped there to allow guests to disembark if they wished to make independent arrangements to return home or travel to another location. If their schedule allowed, guests could elect to stay on board the ships. On Carnival Freedom, about half of our guests chose to remain on board and on Carnival Breeze and Carnival Valor; slightly more than half elected to remain on those ships.”
On the tenth day of the cruise, Halverstadt was sitting on an outside deck overlooking the exterior Dive-In Theater. “The wind was fierce. Earlier we had seen rain, choppy seas, even some smaller water spouts and lightening. Suddenly, a board strip from the trellis type ceiling above my head broke off and fell on the table right in front of me. It scared me and I wondered if the ship was falling apart. It was time to get back inside and I was relieved we were finally given the okay to go back to Galveston.”
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