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Wild Ride on Freedom of the Seas Cruise Ship
We Sailed Freedom of the Seas in Stormy Seas
As we boarded Royal Caribbean's beautiful Freedom of the Seas cruise ship that day, little did we know we were in for a wild ride.
Boarding was slower than usual was because the upper gangway was unusable due to windy conditions. Still, it wasn't long before we were on board and enjoying lunch in the Windjammer Cafe.
The weather had been nasty in the area for a couple of days, but weather reports called for the storm to subside to nearly nothing by sailing time. Preliminary indications seemed to bear that out.
Little did we know that a vicious storm at sea would change that dramatically . . .
Photo: my own
Unless otherwise noted, images on this page are mine
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Only Freedom of the Seas Sailed That Day
Two Other Cruise Ships Were Held in Port
As we stood on deck at muster drill*, it was windy and rainy. The date: October 9, 2011.
It was not howling wind or heavy rain. In this picture of the ship berthed next us, you see gray skies and raindrops hitting the water. Nothing dramatic. It's a photo taken upon dismissal from muster.
The bow of the Disney ship was pointed at the port (left) side of our ship, so she was facing a different direction than we were. This would figure into her being retained in port for the night, as you will see.
*Muster Drill: An exercise required of all passengers on every ship, usually held at the beginning of a cruise. Includes instructions on procedures to follow in the event of an emergency.
Freedom of the Seas Makes Her Way - Up the Ship Channel to the Open Sea
The sea became more agitated as we approached the east end of the jetties marking the sides of Port Canaveral's ship channel.
Those little black dots near the jetties are pelicans. In this picture taken from our stateroom on deck seven, they look like tiny wrens.
Note the tilt of the buoy.
The pilot boat had quite a time in these rough seas, as you can tell from the following short video.
Hard Ginger Candy for Seasickness: Gin Gins
Sailors have long used ginger to ward off mal de mer, or seasickness.
Although I am not prone to seasickness, I usually carry several bags of Gin Gins hard ginger candy with me when I cruise to give out to shipmates who feel queezy. They came in rather handy on this particular voyage.
Pilot Boat Tossed in Rough Seas - en route to Freedom of the Seas - October 9, 2011
Large ships are taken into and out of port by a pilot who knows the channel. Pilots are delivered to, and retrieved from the big ships by a pilot boat.
The small boat from the port pulls alongside, and the pilot leaps to or from the larger ship.
Can you imagine making that maneuver in seas like this? Those are some brave guys!
Rain Soon Started and Wind Picked Up
The Sea Got More than a Little Choppy
Just a moment later, it was a little worse.
Here, we're at the end of the jetties, and I've pointed my camera back at land.
The rain is heavier now - so heavy, that you can just barely see suggestion a huge launch tower at Kennedy Space Center.
This was not long before we would be eating dinner in the 11th deck Windjammer Cafe, where real "adventure" awaited.
The Weather Forecasters Got It Wrong
Weather forecasts had said the storm was ready to weaken.
THEY WERE WRONG. Instead of getting weaker, it intensified.
Freedom of the Seas was to soon encounter torrential rain, 40+ foot waves, and wind gusting to category 3 hurricane strength.
The Sea Gets a Little Rougher - As the Ship Heads Out into the Open Atlantic
Another 21 seconds of video... you can see that the ocean was getting stirred up here. It got even worse later on, but by then it was too dark for videos.
The Freedom of the Seas Saiied in Stormy Seas
I Saw Two Ships NOT Sailing by
On October 9, 2011
Three big Cruise Ships were to sail from Port Canaveral that afternoon. Only one did.
Freedom of the Seas set sail. The Disney Magic and the Carnival Dream stayed in port all night. Why? The little bit of research I did indicates this:
1 - The Freedom of the Seas left first. It encountered unexpectedly severe weather.
2 - The Freedom's berth is east-west oriented, with Its bow pointing to sea. The other two ships do not berth facing east. They need to navigate turns in the confines of the turning basin before heading out to sea. Winds picked up, making those turns more risky.
3 - The weather at sea worsened significantly right after Freedom's departure.
Erring on the side of caition, the other two ships were kept in port overnight.
List! Freedom of the Seas Listed to Port
She first listed to port, righted, and then later listed to Starboard.
Our party was having dinner at a large round table in the Windjammer Cafe, and most everyone had been dealing pretty well with the motion - even motion sickness prone niece Robin was bearing up.
The storm was raging. The wind was howling, rain was coming sideways, lightening was popping. The ship was now pitching, then rolling as the Captain kept her headed straight into the ever changing wind - no easy task.
Then it happened ---> List!
Have you sailed in stormy seas?
A 12 Degree List
Is some serious business!
The ship listed to port
Our Sue, ever the trooper, grabbed for every dish within her reach, and held on to them. The rest landed on the floor.
Mighty clattering and banging came from the kitchen as dishes, glasses, cookware, and goodness knows what else crashed to the floor.
Dishes, even full drink pitchers, slid off wait stations in the dining area.
Anyone standing desperately tried to stay that way.
Later on, there would be listing to starboard, too.
We would later learn the list was a significant 12 degrees!
Kudos to the Crew
Even as many passengers were still gathering their wits, the fabulous crew of the Freedom of the Seas was already in action, doing what was needed: seeing to the safety and comfort of their guests.
Their priorities were in order. They paid special attention to young children and the elderly.
At a table near us was a large family group, including several young children. The table was pushed back. In all of the hubub, the chairs got arranged in a circle, occupied by adults, with the the little ones placed in the middle of that protective circle.
Crew Thank You Cards
The crew was just fantastic all week. This, in spite of the fact that they had to work a lot harder than usual, and put up with a huge number of grumpy, complaining passengers. The extra amounts we slipped into their envelopes on the last night was well deserved.
CREW THANK YOU CARDS can be used instead of the standard tip envelopes that are provided. It's a nice touch, especially when a crew member goes 'above and beyond' like the ones did on our wild ride on Freedom of the Seas.
In the Main Dining Room - Announcement for Passengers to Go to Their Cabins
Video is in the main dining room during dinner... notice there are already things on the floor.
You'll hear the announcement from the bridge for everyone to return to their staterooms. Near the end, people gather near the elevators, waiting for the doors to open. They don't. In high seas, standard procedure is to shut down elevators for safety.
Finally, a few grumbles are heard as someone calls out that the elevators aren't working, and everyone realizes they must climb multiple flights of stairs on a rocking ship.
Evacuating the Dining Room (video)
Evacuation of the Windjammer Cafe
As I mentioned earlier, we were the Windjammer when the ship listed and the "Return to your staterooms" announcement was made.
Being on deck 11, we probably experienced a more severe 'lean' than they did in the dining rooms on decks 3, 4, and 5. But we caught a break in that we only had to descend four decks of stairs to our cabins. It's easier going down!
I must again mention the valient members of the crew, who were incredile during the storm, and throughout the week.
As we made our way out of the cafe, the staff formed a human chain. standing arms outstretched, fingertip to fingertip, ready to catch anyone who might fall. I saw swaying and stumbling, but no falls.
Cruise Accessories - Travel Accessories for Cruisers
Very handy! I use one of these when I cruise. (Though I bought mine on board, and paid a little more for it.)
Perfect for formal night, don't you think so?
We Saw Great Waves of Water Blown About
Winds whipped huge sheets of water out of the children's pool and across the deck.
On our way out of the Windhammer, we got a good view of what was happening in the H2Ozone just outside the Windjammer.
The water in the children's pool (far left in this photo) was bouncing up to about six feet, pausing in mid air, thenblowing about 8 to 10 feet toward starboard, in sheets.
The captain later told us that the pools had been emptied completely, then refilled again by the rain, and emptied out again by the wind and waves.
It wasn't possible to get a picture that night during evacuation, but perhaps you can use your imagination with this picture I took on another day of our cruise.
A handy thing to have, though not an absolute necessity. Would make a nice gift for a frequent cruiser or traveler
I'm getting one of these before my next cruise. It has netting to hold everything in place!
Meanwhile, on the Bridge
Captain Rob was manning the helm.
Captain Rob Hempstead, Master of the Freedom of the Seas, was at the helm. He did a truly masterful job of keeping us safe in perilous conditions.
THANK YOU, Captain. Your performance that night was nothing short of phenomenal.
Perhaps the best compliment that I can give is to say that my husband and I slept well while he fought the good fight. First, I laid out things we would need if things took a turn for the worse: Our passports, wallets, and meds, all in plastic; warm clothes; and life jackets.
Then, we went to bed, and slept so soundly that we never even heard the announcement (about 11:00 pm) that a buffet had been laid out for those who had missed dinner.
We were, however, awakened in the middle of the night by a knock on our door. It was an officer doing a bed check and verifying that we were well and uninjured. They checked every single cabin that night!
The Master of Freedom of the Seas SPEAKS
Here, the Master of the Freedom of the Seas, Captain Rob Hempstead, speaks to the Crown and Anchor Society, about the events of the night of October 9, 2011
This man is one impressive human being. We owe him a debt of gratitude.
Captain Rob Hempstead Adresses Crown and Anchor Members
If You Had been on this Cruise . . .
If you had been a passenger on this cruise, would you book another cruise or not?
Would a cruise like this make you think twice about cruising again?
Yes - I don't think I would cruise again after an experience like this
The Next Day Dawned Calm and Sunny
And Freedom of the Seas Called at CocoCay
Freedom of the Seas anchored off CocoCay,
Royal Caribbean's private island in the Berry Islands.
I took this picture the morning after the big storm, from the tender area on the island.
After all that happened, we were just an hour late arriving!
By the next day, there wasn't a hint of the massive mess the storm had caused throughout the huge ship - except for the wet carpets as high up as deck 9. Crews would be woking on replacing carpets all week.
Some of the other things that the crew worked most of the night to clean up included:
Over 1,000 bottles of liquor that crashed to the floor in the duty free shop
Displaced furniture and decorative elements
Dishes, glasses, and flatware strewn about numerous dining venues
Souvenirs and other items strewn all over the shops on board
Pool and deck furnishings that had had to be tied down lest it go overboard, though some did
Partitions that had separated balconies were in pieces on balcony floors
They spent all night cleaning up, then greeted us with smiles and helpfulness come morning.
A Wonderful Family Cruise
In spite of the slight inconvenience of the first night's stormy weather, we had a wonderful family cruise.
Will we be cruising again?
You bet we will!
We all agreed that we thoroughly enjoyed our week on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, thanks in large part to the wonderful captain and outstanding crew on this fabulous cruise ship
The fact that my husband and I squished on wet carpets in our stateroom until Friday didn't diminish the value of our cruise! We had a wonderful time.
Before the cruise, I had made up stateroom door markers - one for each cabin booked by our group. Those little magnetic mementos will remind them of a very memorable time we spent on a ship at the mercy of mother nature.
Freedom of the Seas Sailing in Beautiful Weather
Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas is a beautiful ship, and I don't know anyone who hasn't thoroughly enjoyed sailing on her.
Here's a picture of Freedom sailing on a day with lots better weather than what we had on the day in this story.
We're Ready to Cruise Again!
We're ready to cruise again! (Actually, we're always ready)
In fact, we've already booked our next two cruises - short ones. (A cruise is still a cruise, after all!)
One of them WILL be during hurricane season ... on a ship about half the size of the mamouth Freedom of the Seas.
Can't wait to cross that gangway, and get on board!
UPDATE: The short cruises referenced above were uneventful, from a weather standpoint. We'll be on the Enchantment of the Seas during the 2014 hurricane season, and we already have plans to be back on the Freedom next year during the peak weeks of tropical activity.
What do you think about cruising in stormy seas? Have you ever? Would you risk sailing in hurricane season when there is a better chance of something like this happeningt?