It happened just at the end of dinner after the ship left Caracas, Venezuela. My friend and I had gone outside to look down at the rear pool, when we felt the ship shudder. After being enveloped in oily, black smoke, we could feel there was no more vibration of the ship. We were obviously dead in the water, and something had happened with the engines.
We walked back inside, but all of the lights had gone out; we could only see because it was still daylight outside. Then came the blaring call to musterwhich is when everyone grabs their lifejackets and goes to the lifeboat stations. In darkness, I went down to my room (an inside cabin on the bottom level) to get the lifejacket, and then I headed to the lifeboat station where I stood with everyone else, and was hot. People were getting edgy; everyone was just standing there wearing lifejackets and there was no information shared by the crew. I was only afraid during these hours, when there was plenty empty time for minds to wander about what was going on.
Around 10pm, everyone gave up on waiting for instructions and my friend and I found a couple deckchairs to sleep on; no one was allowed back belowdecks to their cabins. There was minimal lighting that came on late in the night; the ship must have kicked on the generator. Early in the morning, everyone was allowed back to their cabins, but only to sleep with the cabin doors open.
The next day, we had cold fruit and yogurt for breakfast. Not much was out of the ordinary with food and service, but we didn't have air conditioning! Luckily it was smooth sailing, but then it's not like we were going anywhere until tugs could get to the ship. We drifted at sea from Sunday night until Wednesday morning. Our next port was supposed to be Grenada, but eventually we were towed to Curacao, because they have a harbor with a drydock big enough for our ship there...in the Shell Oil Refinery, of all lovely places to end up.
Then came a choice: passengers could either be flown home from Curacao or stay onboard the ship for free for the rest of the week and use the facilities (and pool and restaurants) of the island's Hilton Hotel. My friend and I stayed! We thought, "we might as well enjoy Curacao, because we'll never get here again!"
Everyone was allowed one ship-to-shore phone call then. My parents never even knew we were in distress for three days, because there was no news about it; it was the pre-internet and pre-cellphone era! Curacao "Airport" was like a metal shack building, now filled with the 80-100 of my fellow cruise passengers who chose to stay the week. We were flown home to San Juan and on to New York, on a rickety airplane I would never want to fly on again.
And that was it. There was no cruise refund for me, but those who had left right after the ship docked in Curacao got refunds for the rest of the cruise, but not the whole thing. For all I know, this story hasn't been reported anywhere. It just wasn't a big deal then, and news was done differently anyway.
[Photo: Reuters/Daily Mail]