On April 1, 2019, just five days before our cruise was set to sail, I received the following text message from Jessica, “A crane landed on our ship”.
Confused, I messaged back and received no immediate reply, and turned to the internet for clues. The crane in reference was not at all a bird or bad April Fools joke, but a very large piece of machinery that fell on the Royal Caribbean ship Oasis of the Seas while dry-docked in the Bahamas. Video of the incident captured by a dock worker soon circulated on Twitter, which appeared to show a crane resting against the 1,200-foot-long 6,300-passenger ship. Narration from the man recording the event captures the emotion and magnitude of what he had just witnessed, as he repeats, “Big, big, big disaster.”
Comments from would-be customers began to trickle in on Twitter and soon flooded the Royal Caribbean account. People like myself but far less patient wanting answers. Many asking for details of the damage. Within minutes, news outlets reported no deaths although eight people sustained non life threatening injuries.
A short time later, Royal Caribbean announced that following an assessment of the ship, they would inform expectant passengers within 24 hours about the status of their upcoming cruise. “Our” cruise. The result was not favorable. The cruise was cancelled.
Long story short, we still had our non-refundable round trip flight to Orlando, we still kept our plans to see Universal Studios and Harry Potter World, but there still remained an entire week to plan on a limited budget, given the unanticipated circumstances. Strange coincidence is that my aunt, uncle, cousin and his family, had booked the same cruise. We were all now scrambling to either find another cruise from a nearby port or scrap the cruise idea altogether and make the most of a rare visit to the east coast. They were all able to find another cruise, Jessica and I would have to find an alternative plan.
Initial disappointment turned to excitement, as I not only look forward to planning trips but relish in the opportunity. Nothing says “Superstar Travel Planner” like a collection of travel books hoarded from second-hand stores for even the most obscure situations. And although the books did not make the 3,000 mile journey to Florida, the brilliant mind who read them did. However, what I don’t recall from the books were any mention of severe spring weather patterns or April tornadoes in the south. No worries. The less we know the better. Regardless, I didn’t hesitate to question a stranger to get the native perspective. Short answer: Tornadoes do happen and have been known to frequent the area, but the Hertz rental attendant who was not from the region had ever seen one. Good enough. Only other questions now were not just what to see, but how much we could see on the road in eight days until our return flight back to Oregon on April 16.
The goal was to drive from Orlando to visit our friend Devon in Mount Juliet Tennessee, who had just received news in the weeks prior her cancer had returned.
Here is the itinerary, map, and a few notes from our 1,700 mile road trip that was planned in our hotel room on the night of April 6, 2019.
April 7, 2019/ DAY 1: Universal Studios Orlando and Harry Potter World.
April 8, 2019/ DAY 2: Drove from Orlando to Tifton, GA. Reports of golf ball sized hail in Alabama. Weather moving east. 2-hour traffic delay and detour around Gainesville.
April 9, 2019/ DAY 3: Tifton, GA, to Warm Springs, GA, to Senoia, GA, to Chattanooga TN. Visited Franklin Roosevelt’s home “Roosevelt’s Little White House” in Warm Springs, and The Walking Dead set in Senoia, where we stopped for lunch. Precarious drive north around I-75 Atlanta during storm and eight lanes of heavy rush hour traffic with drivers who don’t use turn signals.
April 10, 2019/ DAY 4: Breakfast at Maple Street Biscuit Company in Downtown Chattanooga and visited Lookout Mountain historic site and Chattanooga Choo-choo (made use of the location’s well-maintained and fashionable historic bathroom). Lunch at The Goat in Mount Juliet and arrived at Devon’s house at 3:30 p.m.
April 11, 2019/ DAY 5: First full day off the road. Visited the home of the 7th U.S. President Andrew Jackson a short distance from Mount Juliet. Didn’t know at the time, but April 11, would be the last time we were able to visit with Devon before her passing on January 14, 2020. She and Jessica had been friends since high school, worked together, and was a bridesmaid in our wedding in 2006.
April 12, 2019/ DAY 6: The worst sleep ever. Woke up sweating. Plan of driving east through Knoxville and the Smoky Mountains derailed by tornado warnings. Traveled back south through traffic-heavy-no-blinker-using Atlanta, and then east toward South Carolina with a brief shopping venture in Augusta while Tiger Woods worked on winning his fifth and final green jacket a few minutes up the road. [NOTE: Avoid certain exits in Atlanta for restroom stops.] Traveled Highway 78 east, scenic route, through South Carolina at the recommendation of the State welcome guides at the Georgia/SC border. Arrived in Summerville, SC, around 8 p.m., concluding the longest leg of our road trip at 517 miles.
April 13, 2019/ DAY 7: Took a ferry from Charleston to Fort Sumter. Our visit happened to coincide with the 158 year anniversary of the 34-hour battle, which started on April 12, 1861. Visited and had lunch in downtown Charleston before driving two hours south toward Savannah.
April 14, 2019/ DAY 8: Loved Savannah and the oak trees draped in Spanish Moss like something from a vampire novel or pirate hideout. Coffee from an old building downtown, “circa 1859”, Gallery Espresso, where Forrest Gump sat waiting for the bus in Chippewa Square. Visited the ginormous Bonaventure Cemetery where you can get lost if you’re not careful. Helped a couple from Tennessee who couldn’t find their car. Visited the Wormsloe Historic Site… just the entrance. Headed 18 miles east to the Tybee Island before making our way back to Orlando, and stopping halfway from Savannah, at Palm Coast, Florida. Heard over radio that Tiger won the Masters, minutes before driving through the biggest downpour we had ever seen. Bumper to bumper traffic due to terrible visibility in downpour. Severe tornado warnings, and six deaths reported in Texas as a result of tornadoes. We also learned of tornado damage in Colquitte, GA, a short distance from where we stayed on April 8.
April 15, 2019/ DAY 9: Made it back safe and sound to the Marriott Orlando Lakeside hotel, where we saw an alligator for the first time in the wild. “Safe and Sound”, minus a sunburn and a gash on my shin from slipping in the bathroom in the middle of the night.
We returned home to Springfield, Oregon, on April 16, with a newfound appreciation of our weather in the Northwest, and a new perspective of an area once only familiar to me in history books and media. Experiencing the history of Fort Sumter, Lookout Mountain, Savannah, The Hermitage, and Charleston firsthand was awesome, and although we traveled almost 1,700 miles in eight days, seeing the photos makes me anxious to venture back out for another trip. Not to mention, for the first time, we were able to see an alligator in the wild and Harry Potter World, and for us, an uncommon sighting of a groundhog and armadillo. Most of all, we love Devon and miss her terribly, and are thankful we got a chance to see our dear friend one last time.