Maria Crashed My Party

Excitement built as my family and I planned my birthday celebration in Puerto Rico. The day we left for our trip, we briefly heard about a tropical storm and thought, worst case scenario …a few days of rain. Oh, how I wish Hurricane Maria had skipped our celebration.

We arrived in Puerto Rico and were greeted by humid weather and tropical scenery. Before Hurricane Maria’s unexpected arrival on the island, we walked the streets of Old San Juan, sampled “Monfongo,” a delicious authentic Puerto Rican dish, and enjoyed experiencing what we had spent months planning. The only irritant was the annoying family of iguanas that would get way too close to my pool chair.

On Tuesday, September 19, we received a letter from the hotel asking us to join the hotel staff for dinner and a mandatory meeting to discuss the impending weather. During dinner, the general manager introduced himself and the rest of the management team. They assured us we would be safe and secure, and they instructed us to gather at the designated shelter area at 4:00 AM with our pillows, duvet and a small bag of necessary items. The staff at the hotel did an excellent job of providing specific instructions, managing expectations, and securing a safe place for us to take cover while Maria hit Puerto Rico.

Following our instructions, we arrived at the shelter area (a banquet room) at 4:00 AM the next morning. We laid our pillows and duvets on the floor with many other guests, hotel staff with their families, and even refugees from St. Croix and St. Thomas. During the storm, we could hear the force of the wind and rain as Hurricane Maria made her appearance. Thanks to the hotel staff’s preparation and clear instructions, we didn’t fear for our safety. After the storm passed, the hotel staff inspected guest rooms to make sure they were still safe. Any guest whose sleeping room sustained damage was moved to another room. Fortunately, we were able to return to our room, however, during the night, the hotel generator stopped working. This was when things got interesting.

From Thursday, September 21 through late afternoon on Saturday, September 23, we were without electricity, air conditioning, running water, flushing toilets, Wi-Fi, cell service, and elevators. The hotel staff continued to remain positive and worked hard making sure our needs were met. Many of the employees had lost their homes and did not know if their family members were safe, yet they still focused on guests’ needs. Whenever we were frustrated or disheartened, we would pause and remember what the hotel staff was going through.

We were initially scheduled to depart on Southwest Airlines on Friday, September 22, but our flight was canceled. With the help of an Aladdin Travel advisor, we were confirmed on a Delta flight departing Saturday. This flight was also cancelled. Travelers not working with an advisor stood in very long lines for hours only to be turned away and told that the airport would be operational on Monday.

The airport was chaotic. Long lines extended out the doors and many people stood in the hot sun. It wasn’t better inside as it was dark and lacked air conditioning. Once again, an Aladdin Travel advisor helped us secure space on another Delta flight departing Monday, September 25.

Upon our successful departure, we said our goodbyes and grateful “thank you’s.”

I was thankful for all of the assistance we received from our Aladdin advisors. My family and I are stronger for having gone through this experience together, and we are truly grateful and very blessed. I believe we always need to make the best of any situation. No matter what the circumstances I am facing, I try to remember it could be worse. Maria put a damper on my birthday celebration but for those in Puerto Rico, life has changed forever.

November 2017 Compass

About Theresa Coffey

I joined the Aladdin Team in 2011 with 24 years of corporate travel experience, and I work in Client Services and Corporate Reporting. My husband, Barry, and I have twin daughters who currently attend school at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Chloe, a West Highland White Terrier, keeps us from being empty nesters. Our most recent trip to Puerto Rico was an unforgettable experience.

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