Connect-Bridgeport's 2017 Top Feature Stories: #8

By Julie Perine on December 30, 2017 via

Editor's Note: Some people are known for their positive outlook. Included are Bridgeport's Jennifer (Hood) and Joe Koreski. A six-day cruise through the Bahamas turned into a nine-day adventure when - while at sea - Hurricane Irma made her appearance. The Koreskis, who maintained a positive outlook, despite the circumstances, are featured in this Oct. 1 story which has been named one of Connect-Bridgeport's top feature stories of the year. 
"Out at Sea During Irma: Bridgeport's Jennifer Koreski Shares Vacation to Remember"
Jennifer and Joe Koreski had already cruised the Caribbean twice. A third Carnival Cruise Line excursion – visiting ports in the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and the Dominican Republic – seemed just perfect for the celebration of their 29th wedding anniversary.
Thanks to Hurricane Irma, it is a trip they will never forget. A six-day cruise turned into nine days at sea and the ship was completely rerouted, visiting instead Cozumel, Honduras and Belize, then back to Cozumel to refuel and stock up on food.
“We were supposed to get back Saturday morning, but ended up getting back Wednesday evening because we spent two days going up and down the coast of Central America, then another 12 hours up and down the coast of Florida because they weren’t ready to take us at the port,” said Jennifer (Hood) Koreski.
Some of their fellow passengers considered the experience a huge inconvenience. A couple thousand of them even departed the cruise ship in the port cities and flew home from there.
The Koreskis, however, considered it all an adventure and had an enjoyable time despite the extremely rough seas and widespread sea sickness.
“One day, coming back past Cuba, it was really rocky and they had to close a pool on the deck because water was sloshing out, clear up over the deck,” Koreski said. “Several people got dizzy enough to pass out.”
It was Friday, Sept. 1 when the couple boarded the ship in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. for their fun-in-the-sun vacation which had been booked since July when ironically, their original travel plans – a cruise through the Greek islands – fell through and they lucked into a good deal on the Caribbean cruise.
A retired school teacher and current employee of West Virginia Birth to Three, Koreski said she planned a week of basking in the sunshine at each of the original port destinations. A hurricane had been forecast, but priding themselves as being optimists, the couple didn’t believe the storm at sea would affect their cruise.
“We knew Irma was coming a week and a half out, right after the hurricane hit Texas,” Koreski said. “People said there was one coming toward the islands and I said, ‘Let’s not talk about it. It will dissipate. We knew the cruise line wouldn’t take us where there was danger and I figured we would be able to do everything except maybe the last stop – in the Dominican.”
The Koreskis entered the ship confident that all would go as planned. They soon found out that wasn’t the case.
“We got on the ship at about 1 p.m. and it wasn’t scheduled to leave until 4:30,” Koreski said. “We hadn’t even pulled out of the port yet when it was announced they were changing the itinerary.”
The cruise would now include a visit to the rainforest and a tour of the Mayan ruins, both which ended up being a lot of fun, she said.
“I got to see a monkey in its environment – and even a tarantula,” she said.
The troubled seas made for some challenging maneuvering, but again, the Koreskis made the best of it.
"It was hard to walk. You had to hold on," she said. “Several people we talked to later said they stayed in their room the entire time, but we didn't."
It was an odd sensation and felt like the floor below was pulling away, then back – over and over.
When the ship docked in Cozumel and Belize, passengers were given the option to unload and make alternate return plans. Koreski said she is glad they stayed put.
“The flights were expensive and we found out some people were detained in Cozumel because they didn’t have passports,” she said.
By sticking it out, Koreski knew she would miss scheduled appointments with clients, but she was able to communicate with her son via Facebook Messenger and he made cancellation calls for her.
Some family members with whom she was not able to make contact were quite panicked about the couple’s fate.
Once the Koreskis got phone service, the text messages started rolling in.
“They said they were praying for us,” said Koreski, “but everything was under control and we were safe. Never did we feel like we were in any danger.”
During the latter days of the cruise, the cruise line did its best to entertain passengers.
“The casino was closed, but you could walk through it and there were a few little games you could play,” Koreski said. “But they still had activities going on. We played trivia games and there was a show every night with music from different eras – the ‘70s and ‘80s – so that was nice. And they put costumes together for one of the extra nights – kind of spur of the moment.”
But there was quite a bit of uncertainty.
“For a while, the hurricane was supposed to hit Miami before it turned and hit the west coast of Florida. Another option discussed was the ship going to New Orleans, but then a hurricane was headed to the gulf, too. We were basically surrounded by hurricanes; one to the northwest in the gulf, Irma and the one behind that – Maria,” she said. “They kept telling us we would get back Saturday morning, then it was changed to Sunday, then to Monday, then it changed to Tuesday. They really didn’t know.”
After finally being able to pull into the port at Ft. Lauderdale, the escapade continued. The approximate 2,000 passengers remaining on the boat all exited and were routed through a customs line – a process which took much longer than anticipated.
“It was just packed. Getting off the ship was a waiting game because the line wrapped round and round the building. Then they put us in an enormous room where we sat for two hours in the heat. There were like 2,000 of us in there and it was so hot, people were passing out.”
Once through customs and security, passengers were given the option to get back on the boat until their it was time to travel to the airport to catch their flights.
“They were allowing people to stay on the boat until Thursday because there were no hotels and no power,” Koreski said. “We got a flight out Wednesday night and Carnival helped to get taxis to the airport.”
Even the commute to the airport was a surreal experience. In addition to seeing fallen and uprooted palm trees, minor flooding and quiet darkness due to power outages, the main roadway was sand-covered and the road that was open was practically desolate.
“They were telling people to stay in so there wasn’t much traffic,” she said. “That seemed pretty odd at 9 o’clock in the morning.”
Once into the airport and an eight-hour wait, the Koreskis were on their way back to Bridgeport. With three clicks of their heels to commemorate their third Caribbean cruise – which was anything but a charm - the couple decided, without a doubt, that there’s no place like home.

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