Storm cruisers: Hurricane prolongs cruise vacation for Wilson seniors

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Relief. Jubilation. Exhaustion.

Those were just a few of the emotions expressed by 48 Wilsonians who arrived home Wednesday — several days later than planned after Hurricane Irma rerouted their cruise ship.

“We were just cruising around, running from Irma,” said Mary Reason. “It was very nail-biting and scary as we were wondering what was happening to our friends and family back home.”

The group headed to Florida on Sept. 3 and boarded Carnival Conquest on Labor Day with stops planned in Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios, Jamaica. The ship was supposed to return to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Saturday, but the storm changed the plan.

Carnival notified the passengers on Friday that it would be prolonging the cruise to avoid the storm. The company added three days to the itinerary, including a stop in Cozumel, Mexico. Patsy McCullen said she enjoyed the extra time.

“Honey, we were on a cruise. We were partying, drinking, seeing shows and eating,” she said. “Carnival was really good to give us the extra days until Florida got straightened out.”

Carnival added on-board entertainment to fill the time and helped passengers with access to phones, internet and laundry supplies. The delay was not as easy for Tony Scott and Terrance Smith, the drivers with Goldsboro Bus Co. who took the group to and from Florida.

Scott said the duo was in a Fort Lauderdale hotel when a mandatory evacuation was ordered and they returned to Goldsboro to wait for the all-clear.

They hit the road again late Monday and fought traffic nearly the whole way down. The boat docked Tuesday afternoon and the Wilsonians got off around 4 p.m., but traffic jams forced the group to head to the airport to await the bus.

“Just as soon as the bus left the airport, we were on the bypass. We couldn’t really see damage, but we saw millions of cars coming toward us,” McCullen said. “Traffic wasn‘t bad at all coming back, but I could understand why it took the bus drivers so long to get to us.”

The group was glad to be back home, but thankful for the professionals who made the most of the hand Mother Nature dealt.

“All I can say is God is good,” said Phillip Hamilton. “He put us in the best hands he could.”

As for the weather, the passengers said the trip was primarily smooth sailing.

“There was no rain or wind. When the ship was getting close to bringing us back to land, it rocked from 6 p.m. on Monday until the next day,” said first-time cruiser Rosalyn Canady. “It was an experience.”

Most of the passengers said despite the issues, they’ll sail again.

“You can talk about this trip for years,” said Wilson County Senior Activity Center Director Sandra Carter.

The trip was coordinated through the center, but paid for by participants.

“Clearly Hurricane Irma caused much anxiety for all of the southeastern United States, including here in Wilson,” said Assistant County Manager Ron Hunt. “While cruising this time of year carries the risk of these storms, we are glad that everyone is safe.”