All of us who were in Cancun, Mexico during in October 2005 will never forget when Hurricane Wilma came to town. We have our own stories of the fury of this powerful storm and the destruction she wreaked; examples of courage and fortitude we witnessed; the friendships that were forged in shelters and the spirit and resilience of the Mexican people who immediately set about restoring their beloved city.
Cancun may have been battered but it was unbowed and it soon bounced back better than ever.
It’s been 10 years since Hurricane Wilma. Over the next few days we’ll be looking back at one of the most destructive storms the world has ever known and telling the stories of Royal Resorts members and staff caught up in the event.
On October 20, 2005, when it became clear that Wilma was heading straight for Cancun, the Mexican government issued a mandatory evacuation order for the Cancun Hotel Zone.
Some 2,979 Royal Resorts Week 41 members and guests, who up until then had been enjoying a relaxing vacation in Cancun, were bussed to hurricane shelters at schools and the Taxi Union building downtown, where they were looked after by teams of staff from the resorts. Little did anyone know then that the storm would come to a standstill over Cancun and that these shelters would be their refuge from Wilma’s wrath for four days.
Adversity brings out the best in people and an extremely challenging situation was weathered with distinction. In boarded up classrooms with Hurricane Wilma raging outside, friendships were made that endure to this day.
On the evening of October 15, 250 Royal Resorts week 41 members and staff who endured Hurricane Wilma together were able to meet up again at Hacienda Sisal Restaurant in Cancun for a Hurricane Wilma 10th Anniversary Party, also known as the “Hurricane Wilma Survivors Party.”
Remembering Hurricane Wilma 10th Anniversary Party, October 15, 2015
After lining up for commemorative group photos and to receive their souvenir t-shirt or cap, guests at the Hurricane Wilma Party 10th Anniversary Party were greeted with a special welcome cocktail.
Living up to its name of Wicked Wilma, the innocent looking fruity signature cocktail, which was colored turquoise with a dash of Blue Curacao, delivered quite a punch! Guests then helped themselves to an array of tasty dishes on the buffet and settled down to enjoy the evening.
The party started with a moving video to set the scene. It relived Hurricane Wilma with footage shot during the storm and photos sent by members documenting their experience in the hurricane shelters, what they saw on their journey through Cancun and when they returned to their resort home.
It also featured interviews with staff describing the additional measures implemented as a result of the Wilma experience to reinforce the Hurricane Contingency plan at the resorts.
A slide show was also screened during the evening and members were able to see themselves, friends and the staff that looked after them during the storm, and back at the resorts.
Appropriately dressed in a yellow raincoat and safety helmet, Jorge Lopez from the Sales Department and Pepe Hernandez and Ramon Arguello from the Activities team were the event hosts for the evening. They kept everyone entertained with raffles, contests and quizzes.
Groans of no more tuna, a Wilma memory from the hurricane shelters!
One of the things people always remember about Hurricane Wilma is their staple diet in the shelters: canned tuna and crackers and how any variation, whether eggs, beans, fruit or Spam, was a welcome respite from “atunafish!” A fun contest pitted three volunteers from the audience in a race to make the best tuna sandwich under duress, with storm conditions recreated by a giant fan on stage.
Some members remember forming chains to help unload food arriving from Merida. Staff in the Royal Resorts corporate office had worked tirelessly for 10 hours to load trucks with supplies.
Braving fallen trees and flooding (up to four feet of water) on the Cancun-Merida highway, the Royal Resorts convoy was one of the first to arrive in the beleaguered city after the storm had passed.
Members at The Royal Sands and The Royal Haciendas Lynne and Georgia H. then shared their memories of the shelter, the staff that watched over them and the local people who befriended them during Wilma, offering them food despite having very little themselves.
They mentioned the can-do attitude and resourcefulness of the Mexican people; the determination to make things happen that they saw over and over again during the clean up of Cancun and at the resorts.
As Royal Resorts week 41 members and guests waited in their villas for Cancun Airport to reopen and flights to resume, they watched as staff diligently mopped, swept and polished, clearing storm debris and preparing for reopening in record time on November 5.
In the weeks that followed, a trickle of returning members became a steady stream and they helped sustain the Cancun economy in times of need.
Royal Resorts will be eternally grateful for the friendship of its members and guests, their love for their home away from home and their enduring affection for Cancun.
Stay posted for more Hurricane Wilma memories to come
Royal Resorts members and employees have sent us photos and reminisced about their experience and we would like to thank them for doing so. You’ll be able to read more Hurricane Wilma experiences in the next few days, stay posted.