Hole In The Boat
“Is this your boat?”
The question came in a text from a friend thirty minutes before Chris and I were set to catch the bus that would take us to our Princess Cruise ship docked at Pier 27 in San Francisco. The text contained a link to an online news report. I clicked the link. There, on the front page was a picture of the backside of a cruise ship with a shredded hole. The article stated that at 6:00 AM that very morning, the Ruby Princess cruise ship slammed into the dock while backing in. I blinked my eyes over and over again, hard, and yelled for Chris, telling him that our ship, the very ship that we were sailing on at 4:00 PM today, hit the dock and it now had a hole in it. Now I’m no sailor, so forgive my over assumptions, but how the heck does one sail a boat with a hole in it?
Needless to say, some panic set in for both of us. The excitement and anticipation for this vacation had been building. Chris and I hadn’t taken a vacation in two years. How we happened to forgo time away with each other for that long, I’ll never understand. We decided to do things big this time, and booked an Alaskan cruise. We had only been on one other cruise in our married life, but that was thirty-five years ago. So, suffice to say, we were ready, and very much looking forward to this trip. We even bought matching windbreaker jackets to wear while wandering outside on deck. The luggage was packed and waiting by the front door. Another friend was on her way to pick us up and take us to the bus. Yet, we didn’t feel like we could just leave without knowing if our cruise ship would even be leaving the dock today.
First things, first—I made a call to Princess cruise lines. The result of that phone call was a complicated menu, and a long hold to absolutely nothing. Chris decided the next best call to make would be to the shuttle bus that was to take us to the dock, which would now be leaving in about twenty minutes. The driver of the bus took the call and said she was aware of the “hole in the boat”, and her instructions were to get us to the dock for regular boarding. Seriously? I mean, it's a hole in the boat. Were they really going to sail with that hole? That ragged, torn, scar of a thing on the ship’s stern? Unless we got on that bus and made our way to port, we would never know for certain. So, we went.
Pier 27 was packed with travelers waiting in a long line that snaked all around the docking terminal. Hundreds, and hundreds of people waiting to board, wondering the same thing we were wondering—would we be sailing today? As we waited in line, we were able to get a closer look at the dreaded hole, and yes…it looked worse in person than in the pictures. Even so, we made it through the crazy maze of humanity, picked up our cruise “medallions”, and walked on board our gorgeous ship, where we were instantly greeted by bubbly staff members with great big smiles. Nobody appeared to be the slightest bit concerned. The inside of the Ruby Princess was one big celebration.
Once in our stateroom, which by the way, had a window with a fully obstructed view (looking right into a lifeboat. At least we had a window), we unpacked and settled in. Interestingly enough, our steward and other staff knew about as much as we did. The word was, the hole was above the waterline. The ship was seaworthy, and as far as everyone knew, we would sail at 4 PM.
3,200 passengers boarded the ship on Thursday, July 6, 2023. The festivities on the Ruby Princess began as they should. The bars opened up, and the live music began to play. There were shows to be seen, and games to play. Everything on the inside seemed normal. But on the outside, hello?...There's this hole in the boat. Just before departure time, the captain made an announcement. We would not be sailing by 4:00 PM. The Coast Guard would not approve our departure, and rapid repairs were under way. Our tentative sail time was now set for 8:00 AM the next morning. Passengers were asked to remain on ship. The gangway would remain closed until further notice.
So, what does one do when their cruise ship is stuck in port? The answer is plain and simple. One enjoys the beautiful amenities of the ship without being at sea. Besides, like the captain said, we’d probably be sailing in the morning. I wanted to believe this with all my heart, even though my brain was telling me there was no way that hole would be repaired to Coast Guard satisfaction by morning. Still, we did what everyone else did. We explored our ship, and dined. We met passengers and staff. We went to a show, and then had a good night's sleep.
The next morning, Friday, July 7, the captain made another announcement. The ship would not be sailing at 8:00 AM. He reassured us that repairs were continuing and that the ship was seaworthy. He anticipated a new departure time of 4:00 PM. He thanked his wonderful crew, and praised the patience of the passengers, and encouraged us all to continue to enjoy our time on the ship. That’s just what Chris and I wanted to do. Not being regular cruisers, this was exciting for us. The ship was magical, even sitting at the dock. But, not everyone felt that way. You could feel the attitudes of some of the other passengers slipping, and by 4:00 PM, the captain's announcement came. This time, his tone was not as upbeat. It lacked in its previous positiveness. With regret he told us that the Coast Guard was not approving our departure, and that full repairs would need to be made. At this point we were looking at a departure time of 4:00 PM on Sunday, July 9. The cruise would now be a modified seven day trip. Two days of sailing with only one stop in Ketchikan, Alaska, and one stop in Prince Rupert Canada. Then, a two day sail back home. They would be sending out compensation package letters to all the passengers within the hour.
With that announcement, my excitement tumbled down to the ground…or the deck, I should say. At that moment, the discouragement became real. This meant we would not be experiencing the majority of our Alaskan cruise. No whale watching excursion. No Glacier Bay. Oh how sad…how disappointing. How was this happening? Our little hearts were breaking. We could feel it. But, the captain did say something about a compensation package. The word around ship was that Princess cruise lines were very generous when it came to compensation.
Back in our stateroom, our compensation letter waited for us. And yes, it was generous. If we decided to stay on ship and take the modified cruise, we would be refunded the majority portion of what we had already paid for our cruise. On top of that, they would give us 75% off of a future booking. Full refunds would be given to people that decided to leave the ship with a 50% off a future re-booking. With that offer, our decision was an easy one. This was our vacation, so we would stay on ship and take the modified cruise. Then we could book the same cruise as a “do over” for next year. It was a win, win for us. But then, my brilliant husband had a wonderful idea. We knew that there would probably be a good number of passengers that would decide to leave the ship and take the full refund. This would open up rooms. Why not request an upgrade to a balcony room? So he did. They were more than willing to accommodate us, but we would have to wait until all departing passengers had left the ship.
On Saturday, July 8th, the gangway was opened and the departures began. Passengers, some of them not very happy, packed up their luggage and departed the ship. Other’s, the ones who decided to stay on board, took San Francisco excursions that the ship had arranged for them. Chris and I relaxed on board, watching all the activity. We were happy and satisfied with our decision, excited for our new departure date and time.
Sunday, July 9th. All disembarking passengers had left the ship…around 600 of them. The numbers went from 3,200 to around 2,600 passengers. I loved that so many decided to stay. The captain made a new announcement. The Coast Guard had cleared us to sail. We would depart at 4:00 PM. You could hear the gratefulness and joy in his voice. So many people worked tirelessly around the clock to do what needed to be done so we could sail. As the time drew near to depart, Chris and I waited at the top level of the very front of the ship. The upper decks of the ship surrounding the pool areas were packed with happy, excited passengers. There was music playing, and people dancing. We felt the engines start and the ship slowly moved away from the dock. Car horns honked and dock onlookers waved bon voyage. Soon, we were cruising out into the San Francisco bay, making our way towards the Golden Gate bridge. As we neared the bridge, the ship's horn blew until we sailed underneath and past it. We yelled and waved goodbye to that beautiful, golden work of art, with all the cars and people crossing back and forth, and made our way northward on the Pacific Ocean. The feeling was exhilarating, overwhelming, indescribable.
Back on deck, in the middle of the ship at the pool area, the celebration was raging. Every square inch was filled with passengers and staff, tipping toasts of champagne and dancing to the sounds of the D.J. spinning the Macarena and Cha Cha Slide. Some of the staff told us they’d never seen a celebration like this one. The hope and anticipation of fixing the hole and actually leaving made the celebration that much sweeter.
During our first night, dining at sea, we were able to watch whales out in the ocean while we ate. Then, on Monday, July 10th, we were upgraded to a balcony room. It was glorious. We were able to sit on our private balcony and watch whales and sunsets every night. Our one stop in Ketchikan, Alaska was wonderful. We took an E-bike ride to a beautiful lake. Of course now I want an E-bike. On our stop in Port Rupert, Canada, we walked to Safeway, of all places, and bought a few things. During our last two sailing days, we booked our “redo” Alaskan cruise for next summer. We will be sailing on the Crown Princess this time, in a mini suite with a balcony, thanks to our generous Princess compensation package.
The hole in the boat actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. That hole, initially unfortunate and disappointing, ended up benefiting us in the end. There is a wonderful proverb in the bible that sums it up beautifully. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But when the desire comes,it is a tree of life.”