More than 1,500 of Royal Caribbean's Florida-based employees and their dependents are evacuating the state in a novel way: Aboard one of the company's very own cruise ships.
With Hurricane Irma bearing down on the Florida coast, the Miami-based company on Friday morning opened up the 1,142 cabins on its Miami-based Enchantment of the Seas to employees and dependents wanting to flee the region. The ship will sail out of the storm's path later in the day.
Enchantment is available this weekend because its regularly scheduled voyage to The Bahamas with paying passengers has been canceled. Royal Caribbean, Carnival and other lines have canceled almost every sailing out of Florida scheduled through Monday.
Royal Caribbean is opening up Enchantment's cabins to employees and their dependents at no cost to them. Employees and their dependents also will have access to free food and entertainment while on board.
"We knew many of our South Florida employees would need a safe place to ride out the storm," Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez told USA TODAY. "It was just the right thing to do."
Speaking from the Port of Miami on Friday morning as Royal Caribbean employees were arriving to board Enchantment, Martinez said the line also has opened up the ship to passengers from its previous sailing who have nowhere else to go.
What the evacuees will experience on the ship should be much different than what lies in store for Florida in the coming days. Built in 1997, the 12-deck-high Enchantment features three pools, six whirlpools, a splash deck, a rock climbing wall, bungee trampolines and other fun zone amenities as well as multiple lounges, bars, restaurants and an 870-seat showroom. Perhaps more importantly for those escaping Irma, it also has a multi-day supply of food and water.
Martinez didn't say exactly where Irma would sail but said it would be somewhere with calm seas and blue skies. She said Enchantment will return to Miami once Irma has passed the region and it is safe.
Royal Caribbean's headquarters is located along the Miami waterfront just across from the Port of Miami cruise terminal where its Miami-based ships dock.
As of 8:00 a.m. ET Friday, Irma was about 450 miles southeast of Miami and moving to the west-northwest at 16 miles per hour. It had maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour.
The National Hurricane Center projects that Irma will be near the Florida Keys and the southern Florida Peninsula Sunday morning.