As Sandy grew, Disney cruise became a harrowing trip home
By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY - For five days, their eastern Caribbean cruise on the Disney Fantasy was a spectacular journey for Angela and Curry Zunk and daughters Abigail and Ashlyn.
After stops in St. Martin and St. Thomas, they were churning toward the third leg of the cruise - the Bahamas.
They never anticipated the vacation would be cut short and their 14-story, high-entertainment ship would soon be tossed around in the seas like a rubber duckie in whitewater rapids.
When the Zunks left Port Canaveral, Fla., on their seven-day Disney cruise with fellow Rowan Countians Bumper Hopkins and her husband, they had never heard of Hurricane Sandy.
Now they know her well.
"At midnight Friday night, the ship was rocking and rolling," Angela Zunk says. "... It was really scary."
By 1 a.m., Curry Zunk was worried enough to get out the life vests in their cabin and prepare them for use. Luckily the girls, 9 and 7, were able to sleep through the worst.
Bumper Hopkins managed to sleep later, too.
"If I had to guess, the swells were 50 feet," Angela says, "and they reported winds were 100 mph at the worst part."
The ship's captain had instructed all passengers to stay in their cabins when things got rough. Both the Zunks and the Hopkinses were on the sixth floor.
Bumper Hopkins said anything not bolted to the walls or floors was sliding side to side in their cabins and on the ship's decks. Things were falling off shelves and the tops of cabinets. Doors were flying open if they weren't secured, and they could hear things overturning and glass breaking outside their rooms.
The tossing of the big cruise ship was so pronounced that the families had to remove the door hangers from their closets because they were making so much noise.
When the seas calmed enough the next morning for passengers to see some of the damage, they were taken aback.
The ship's gift shop was destroyed. Dishes and glass lay scattered over the floors of its upscale restaurants. Deck chairs had crashed through doors. Water from ship swimming pools had emptied out into surrounding deck areas and down hallways
But no one was hurt, and Bumper Hopkins saw that as a blessing and a miracle.
"We were lucky and fortunate that we all walked off the ship," she says.
The new cruise ship, which made its first trip in March, was supposed to arrive back in Port Canaveral at 5:30 a.m. Saturday, but getting through Sandy pushed back its arrival until 10:30 a.m.
"A lot of people were very upset," Bumper says, noting that many of the passengers missed their plane connections home. (The Rowan Countians had driven to Florida.)
For what they went through, Disney gave the passengers 25 percent discounts on Disney World or for their next Disney cruise, Angela Zunk says.
She adds that her husband has declared he's not going on another cruise after the harrowing night caused by Sandy.
"I feel very bad for how much the Disney cruise line lost on the ship," Bumper Hopkins says. "Going around and looking at it, it was really sad."
The first time the Rowan Countians heard of Sandy was late Wednesday afternoon, when the ship's captain made a surprise announcement.
The Fantasy would not be going to the Bahamas as planned because of a sizeable hurricane building in the Atlantic, he reported. "He didn't really say a whole lot," Angela Zunk remembers.
That evening during the nightly entertainment, the captain came on stage and shared weather maps on a big screen, showing passengers where the hurricane was. Had the ship continued to the Bahamas, it would have been in the eye of the hurricane.
"At that point, a lot of people were relieved," Angela says. "He was actually trying to keep us safe."
On their way back toward Florida, the ocean began getting rougher on Thursday. The captain was steering the cruise ship toward Cuba, trying to keep a safe distance from the expanding hurricane. But Angela Zunk says the weather system slowed down, and the ship kept feeling more and more of the storm.
"Friday, the swells were huge," she says.
The ship has a capacity for 4,000 passengers. It's 125 feet wide and 1,115 feet long.
Zunk says her Christian faith proved to be a calming influence for her. "I felt like God would take care of me and my family."
Bumper Hopkins expressed the same sentiment. At times Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, through all the wind and grayness, passengers could see three to four rainbows at a time.
"I took it as a sign from God, letting us know everything was OK," Hopkins says.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263,or firstname.lastname@example.org.