"They treated us like we paid $10,000 for the trip," Sandra Rivera said.
Following the devastation Hurricane Maria wreaked in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, Royal Caribbean International canceled Adventure of the Seas' Sept. 23 voyage and instead sent the ship on a three-stop humanitarian tour. Last Thursday, Adventure sailed from San Juan with 1,791 evacuees to pick 864 more in St. Croix and 681 people in St. Thomas before heading back to Fort Lauderdale.
The voyage, free of charge to evacuees, was part of an unprecedented effort cruise lines have made this hurricane season to bring relief to the islands they typically visit year round.
"We try to help as many people as we possibly could and I think, in nearly all circumstances, pretty much everybody that showed up we took on board and we helped them," said Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International.
And human guests weren't the only cruise guests on Adventure. Also on board: 120 cats and dogs, three birds, a guinea pig and a hamster.
"It was like Noah's Ark of people all coming together," Bayley said from the port Tuesday.
The Miami-based cruise line also delivered about 900,000 cases of food, water, medical supplies and other relief supplies. Bayley said that, long term, Royal Caribbean plans to offer volunteer opportunities for free to employees or guests who want to help in cleanup efforts on the islands hit by Irma or Maria.
The rescue mission closely resembled another the cruise line had taken after the passage of Hurricane Irma in the eastern Caribbean. In early September, the line dispatched two cruise ships, Adventure and Majesty of the Seas, to pick up evacuees in St. Thomas and St. Maarten. In all, 1,700 people were evacuated from those two islands and thousands of supplies delivered, including more than 25 pallets of medical supplies, 29,571 gallons of water, 13,050 pounds of animal supplies, 9,355 gallons of milk, 7,000 pounds of ice, 110,500 garbage bags, 4,200 rolls of toilet paper, 450 power generators and 30,504 batteries.
While a majority of passengers aboard Adventure of the Seas have connections in South Florida, Royal Caribbean said, the cruise line is working with the United Way of Broward and Miami-Dade counties to gather necessary resources for evacuees while they're in Florida. Kathleen Cannon, president and CEO of the United Way of Broward County, said the organization has set up a relief fair to aid evacuees who need housing, disaster relief, behavioral health and other social services.
Adventure of the Seas will go back to San Juan for its next scheduled sailing from Puerto Rico on Saturday loaded with 150 pallets of relief supplies.