|Five AM the next morning came fast. Since Justice didn’t return back to the room until exactly 1 AM,
we knew he would be dragging.
Being Diamond cruisers, we were able to get luggage tickets (color and number) that allowed us to depart the
ship in the first wave going ashore (after the express people leave). If you elect to carry off all your own
luggage, you can chose the express option and leave the ship first after docking. For some people,
this is a great option but it certainly was not for us.
Anyway, we all got up and dressed for going home. With one final quick look about the stateroom, we gathered up
our carry-on luggage and headed to the Windjammer Café for one final breakfast onboard ship. We were
scheduled to actually leave the ship between 7:15 and 7:30 so we wanted to eat and then relax
before they called our color and number to depart the ship.
After breakfast, D elected to stay in her wheelchair at out designated departure point while Justice and I went
up on the Pool Deck for one final look around. We had actually arrived about 3 AM and had quietly eased into our
berth there at the cruise terminal at Port Canaveral. It was just beginning to be light outside and the terminal
area, the ship, and the harbor scenes all around us were magically beautiful in the early dawn light.
Soon, we were back down with D and then we heard our color and number called for departure. With a quick rush
through U.S. Customs, we were past the first of two major hurdles that you have to endure to leave the ship
completely. Customs always scares me -- afraid they won’t let me come back home -- but
the next hurdle scares me even more.
Baggage claim! Most of the time, you are let into a room the size of the largest airplane hanger you have ever
seen and you have to search through 10,000 pieces of luggage all stacked up on its end -- row after row after
row! We lucked out this time. They had recently installed a luggage carousel type device (like the ones at the
airport) so you can basically stand in one place and watch for your luggage to come by.
Low and behold, ours came out not 2 minutes after we had entered the claim area. I was impressed -- it was only
7:40 in the morning and we were basically heading out the door and home. We quickly gathered up our luggage,
found a porter, and were out the door to find the shuttle bus that would take us back to the
Radisson Hotel so we could claim our car and head home.
As we rode the bus back to the hotel, we noticed how sad and quiet Justice had become. It broke our hearts to
see him this way, but knew that with just a bit of time and a few calls, and/or Facebook messages, etc., he would
get back into the swing of things and move on. We knew that would happen and that he would be OK, but we also
knew from first hand experiences of our own, how lonely and sad he felt inside as the
bus pulled away from the terminal area.
Seeing my beautiful black Suburban parked there at the Radisson Inn Hotel made me feel good and anxious to
hit the road and return home. We were off the shuttle bus in a flash and after packing all our worldly goods into
the Suburban, we said our goodbyes to the Radisson, the Freedom of The Seas as we drove back past the
terminal area and Port Canaveral as we zoomed over the bridge and headed for I-95.
We had decided to take a different route back to one, avoid all the crazy toll plazas over near Orlando, and two,
we love to travel by car and wanted to see more of Florida by going a different way home
(at least so for the first 200 miles).
We reached I-95 and headed north to Flagler Beach where we picked up State Route 100 and followed it up and
across Florida to Lake City where we picked up I-75 and headed for Atlanta.
The trip on FL 100 was great and we were so glad we had decided to come this way. The beautiful countryside
and small towns just made for a great diversion to the monotony of the long Interstate travel
that we knew was ahead of us.
At Lake City, we joined the parking lot headed for Atlanta. We thought I-75 was busy last week when we had
driven down on Saturday to Port Canaveral. If there were four million cars headed south last week for “Spring
Break” in Florida, then there were at least 16 million cars heading to all points north AFTER Spring Break!
I swear, you could run out of gas or have a flat tire at the GA/FL line and not have to worry about it until you
reached your turn off, wherever that was -- you would have been pushed at no expense to you the entire way!
I have never, ever seen so much traffic on the road at one time.
While it was interesting that so many people were going home, it was also scary. Driving at 70 miles an hour in
heavy traffic does not bother me but when it gets to be 70 mph, 3 lanes wide, bumper to bumper
hour after long hour, it starts to get to you. People get tired, do stupid things, and
get angry, scream, holler, and drive crazy, whatever.
All that came to a dramatic and traumatic event right before our eyes about half way back to Atlanta. For
whatever reason, all three lanes of I-75 North were coming to a sudden stop. Some bozo in the left lane driving
with their head up you know where “doesn't notice this” and slams into the car ahead of him so hard that it made
it go airborne and land on its side in the southbound lanes of I-75 on the other side of the concrete barrier.
All hell broke loose as other cars were hit by these two and traffic started swerving to the right to avoid
colliding cars. Right in the middle of this melee was a Harmon Brothers charter bus carrying school kids from
Gwinnett County (right by Atlanta) in the right hand north-bound lane.
To avoid crashing into the cars ahead of him, the bus driver swerved to his right and ran off the Interstate,
down a slopping hill and then back up the side of an embankment that supported a bridge overpass at that point
on the Interstate. The bus slammed into the concrete structure and then bounced back about 2 feet.
This is when it really got bad because the bus was now leaning dangerously to its left on the uphill slope. By the
time we got up beside the bus, the driver was already out on the ground and being attended to by people out of
their cars and helping. People were up on the bridge screaming at the passengers on the bus
to NOT move for fear the bus would tip over on its side.
Over in the southbound lane, people were now up on the side of the car frantically trying to get the driver’s door
opened to extract the people inside the car that had been sent airborne over the barrier wall. I could see their
possessions scattered all over the roadway -- clothes, shoes, a camera, a laptop, sand buckets -- it made me sick
to my stomach. Someone’s fantastic vacation in Florida was now shredded apart and scattered all over the
highway. I prayed all the way home that those in that car survived.
As we slowly drove by the bus, we could see all the frightened passengers onboard. Near the rear of the bus, a
young boy was crying and was scared to death with his face smashed up tight against the window. The vision of
that boys face still haunts Deanna. Just past the bridge and off to the side was one of the
first cars hit when the original collision started.
After seeing the young boy on the bus, I was devastated inside. My mind was racing with all sorts of things like
just 3 minutes earlier -- three small, innocent, inconsequential minutes -- and that could have be us lying there on
the other side of the barrier wall with all our hopes and dreams possibly shattered for life and
scattered without cause or respect all over a busy Interstate.
After a few miles of driving slowly past all this and having time to calm down, I called Fox News (*5 on my cell
phone) in Atlanta and reported the accident. I told them there were no police or ambulances on the scene nor
had we seen any on the way since we had left but with that bus about ready to tip over, could they use their
resources to get in touch with the proper authorities.
About ten minutes later, we finally saw first responders and police heading south on the Interstate. Traffic had
just gotten back up to speed when we could see miles ahead of us something burning (looked like it was on the
Interstate) and traffic was coming to a complete halt. I was approaching an exit and at the last minute, took it
and decided to find a way around this latest road block. Using the GPS unit built into my car, we found a route
around all this and about 20 miles later, rejoined the cars on I-75 headed towards Atlanta,
then on to Marietta and home.
To make a long, slow drive home story short, our drive home from Port Canaveral took about 13 hours versus
the normal 8.5 hours. We were bone tired, we were safe, and we were home.
As soon as we got in the house, I sent an e-mail to Fox News in Atlanta to ask about the bus full of people since
we had heard nothing about it on the radio. The news desk responded back that all had been safely removed with
one having to be air-lifted away for treatment and about 12 taken to local hospitals but were all soon released.
I told them that I had photos of the accident if they were interested. They immediately responded back for me
to please send them and for about two days, the four pictures that I took were used on their
TV broadcast every time they ran the story.
Anyway, back to our cruise.
Deanna and I especially enjoyed the week that we got to share with our grandson and see him flourish in a new
environment, grow stronger as a young man, make new friends, and grow to have an even stronger desire to
succeed in life and to do the things that he wants to do.
As the week wore on, I began to realize how our time with Justice was being spent. As things worked out, we
basically had him during the dinner hours at night and when we went ashore in the various ports we visited and
then for the rest of the time, he belonged to the ship and all his new-found friends.
The cruise also allowed Deanna and I to relive in a very magical way, a lot of the memories that we created when
just four years ago, we sailed on this same ship with our entire family, except for Justice, and visited the same
countries as we did this time. We found ourselves constantly remembering something that one
of us did or said on that cruise.
As I ambled around the ship on my daily sojourns while D took her naps, I felt like I was constantly running into
ghosts from times past. I smiled inside and felt at ease for I could see the smiles and hear the laughter of my
kids, grandkids, son and daughter-in-laws, and Deanna as we all enjoyed a Fantastic Voyage of the Caribbean.
Spring Break 2011 on the Freedom of The Seas cruise ship with our 16 year old grandson was now a done deal. It
was fun, exciting, and we all made memories to last us a lifetime.