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Hurricane changes honeymoon plans

By Catherine Godbey · 340-2441

As Stacey Mullican and Alicia Baer prepared for their wedding Saturday, more than 1,200 miles away, Tropical Storm Dean steamed toward Jamaica, their honeymoon destination.

On Aug. 16, four days before their flight, the National Hurricane Center officially upgraded Tropical Storm Dean to Hurricane Dean, the first major hurricane of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season.

The couple, who arranged their honeymoon through Elite Travel in Decatur, realized the storm could affect their honeymoon plans.

“We figured it out early on that there could be problems,” Stacey Mullican said. “We kept in touch with Roger (McWhorter) at the travel agency, and he assured us he would be on top of it.”

With Hurricane Dean closing in on Jamaica, the couple’s focus turned from finalizing wedding plans to searching for alternate honeymoon locations.

When the couple exchanged their wedding vows, the eye of Hurricane Dean passed 150 miles south of Jamaica. The storm, which dumped 20 inches of rain on Jamaica, caused landslides and flooding.

“Dealing with the hurricane definitely added some extra stress to the wedding,” said Stacey Mullican. “We know that the important thing was the wedding, but we were very excited to go on the honeymoon.”

The responsibility for rearranging the travel plans so that the location met the couple’s demands of an all-inclusive resort fell under McWhorter, owner of Elite Travel.

Communication between Mullican and McWhorter began Saturday morning when all involved realized the hurricane would strike Jamaica. McWhorter informed the couple that until the airline canceled their flight, their options were limited. American Airlines canceled their flight Sunday morning, opening up possibilities for the couple to change their reservations.

After spending four hours Sunday morning negotiating with Sandals Resort and American Airlines, McWhorter finalized the couple’s arrangements without any added expenses.

“Our customers are important to us and we get involved in their lives,” McWhorter said. “I just feel sorry we couldn’t get their flight out on Monday.”

Instead of traveling to hurricane-ridden Jamaica, the couple will honeymoon in the Bahamas, 500 miles north of Jamaica.

“For a while I thought we were going to have to go to a friend’s bay house,” Alicia Mullican said. “I’m just happy we’re getting to go somewhere.”

At 7:15 a.m. Tuesday, the couple were to embark on their honeymoon. Leaving from Huntsville International Airport, the couple will have a brief layover in Dallas and then land in the Bahamas. Stacey and Alicia plan on spending the next five days enjoying the serenity of the Bahamas.

The Mullicans say they might consider arranging another trip to Jamaica but that depends on the weather, something they know they can’t control.

After passing through Jamaica, Hurricane Dean is scheduled to arrive at the Yucatan Peninsula and Cancun, Mexico, on Tuesday, two years after Hurricane Wilma.

One local couple experienced the wrath of Hurricane Wilma firsthand. When Kevin and Amber Stuart arrived in Cancun for their honeymoon in October 2005, they had no idea the turmoil the next week would bring.

“Monday and Tuesday were good days,” Kevin Stuart said, “but on Wednesday we received a letter telling us we needed to return back to our country.”

The Stuarts relocated from their hotel to an elementary school where they shared a classroom with 28 other stranded tourists. After five days of not bathing and a limited supply of food, the couple endured a 10-hour bus ride through the flooded streets.

The couple arrived at Huntsville International Airport eight days after their ordeal began with everything they carried to the school. The luggage they left in their hotel room was never returned.

“We’ll always remember this experience and tell stories about it,” Kevin Stuart said, “but it’s something you don’t want to go through ever again.”

As Hurricane Dean’s estimated landfall time draws closer, Cancun can only wait to see how the high winds and rain will affect the buildings undergoing renovations from Hurricane Wilma.

Unlike the Stuarts, the Mullicans will escape the hurricane experience.

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