When I think of the stereotypical honeymoon, I think “tropical island beach,” “carefree,” and “all-inclusive.” When I think of my late September honeymoon, I think “natural disaster,” “shipwreck,” and “security threat.”
Our National Lampoon’s Honeymoon had humble beginnings. Since we had purchased a house, thrown a wedding and paid for all associated costs in the first nine months of 2017, we weren’t interested in spending somewhere between $7,000-$11,000 on a honeymoon. So, we went the thrifty route. My wife’s aunt and uncle offered us their home on Florida’s Space Coast as lodging. We booked the cheapest flight we could find, and used about-to-expire airline miles to book a rental car at no cost.
Our plans started coming undone a week before the trip even started, thanks to Hurricane Irma. (Let’s acknowledge that the storm altered a lot of things, my honeymoon the least important.)
As news of Irma’s toll trickled in the week of our wedding, we learned our relatives’ home was habitable, but had no power, no water and, in part, no roof. We did what any Florida resident would do in this scenario: booked a room at a Disney World resort.
We arrived to our temporary home at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge a week later, and were welcomed with pins that said “Happily Ever After” and a room with a view of the hotel’s savanna. The wildest creature we witnessed during our three days there was not the zebra, giraffes or gazelle outside our window, but the woman in the room next to us who spent two hours on her balcony one afternoon loudly attempting to get her salon coworker fired.
Still, our time in Disney World was pleasant. I left firmly believing that all couples should honeymoon there—mostly in case all the post-wedding prodding (“So, when are you two going to have kids?”) romanticized the notion of offspring. Disney lays bare the stark reality of parenting—a lot of joy, a lot of temper tantrums about overpriced hats shaped like BB-8.
From Disney, we moved on to the Space Coast for the rest of our trip. Our delayed arrival allowed the roof to be tarped, the power to come back on and water service to return. We were the first people to enter the home since before the storm, and we discovered the reports our family had been receiving from afar regarding their house were a bit on the sunny side. The damage was worse than they’d been hearing.
So, we sprinkled into our itinerary the usual honeymoon activities, stuff like “document water damage and mold growth,” “meet with an insurance adjuster” and “clear debris from the yard.” (My wife’s aunt and uncle asked us to do none of this. And they were upset when they found out we had.)
There was no escaping reminders of Irma. On the A1A highway, buildings were missing roofs and roadside signs had come crashing down onto restaurants and gas stations. Palms stripped from trees were strewn across roadways and front lawns. Everyone we spoke to felt lucky the damage had been limited to this.
An unusual reminder of the storm washed ashore a few days into our trip: a 45-foot sailboat. Onboard were a large velvet rose and a mannequin holding a sign that read, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” Authorities said Irma had taken this “ghost ship” from where it was docked in Key West, carried it hundreds of miles up the coast, and deposited it in Melbourne Beach. Last I heard, the ship was still there—the owner is in jail awaiting trial on a number of serious charges unrelated to the vessel, leaving removal of the boat to the government.
‘When we didn’t die from dysentery, we awoke the next day to the reality that our honeymoon had concluded.’
Estimates at the time said it could take months to get rid of the ship, not least of all because government had plenty on its hands in Florida.
But once they have the time, government officials probably ought to check out Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in St. Augustine, where we discovered even the staff aren’t too keen about the fountain.
The water coming from the Fountain of Youth smells a bit like sweaty socks that have been left outside to ferment for days in the humid Florida summer. Despite this, my daring wife still decided to take a swig. She choked, looked at me, and—unable to speak—mouthed, “Don’t drink that.” I didn’t.
I shouldn’t single out the park because all tap water in St. Augustine tastes like rotten eggs had been stewing in it for weeks. My parents, who lived in Florida for a year, had warned us of this but I stubbornly thought the city government had perhaps improved things in the 33 years since they visited. (Still, St. Augustine is a gorgeous city, and the only place that has ever made me question my college choice. Go Flagler!)
When we didn’t die from dysentery, we awoke the next day to the reality that our honeymoon had concluded. We departed from Orlando International Airport, where I couldn’t escape Florida without twice making a scene. First, while walking toward security screening, I began choking on my own spit directly in front of a man playing a Latin-flavored Coldplay cover on a guitar. He had a crowd assembled around him—people whose attention he lost to me. Let’s just say questions of science and progress did not speak as loud as my hack. (That’s a Coldplay joke, for the uninitiated.)
Then, after waiting an hour to get to the front of the security line, I joined a mob who began sarcastically calling a woman at the very front “Supermom” because she had a sparkly princess rolling suitcase filled to the brim with hundreds of fun-sized candy bars. We know this because a TSA agent forced her to open the suitcase and then empty the contents, one by one, into a plastic tray.
That tray was sent through the x-ray machine, where, at the other end, another agent analyzed each bar and rubbed the wrappers with a substance. Then, the agents watched as this poor, flustered woman placed each and every piece of candy back in the pink, sparkly rolling suitcase.
I thought this to be very stupid, until 30 seconds later when I was pulled aside and scolded because four slices of white bread had stowed away in my backpack. My wife—surely questioning the vows she had made a week earlier—stood across the room during this exchange, as if to appear not associated with me.
Once reunited with me, she asked, “Four slices of white bread? Was it worth it?”
When we got home, I could definitively answer “yes.” Because like the four pieces of delicious toast I made with that TSA-screened bread, my honeymoon wasn’t typical, but the result was unforgettable.