When the Spirit of Norfolk ship caught fire on Tuesday, many people in Hampton Roads and beyond watched as the site of some of their fondest memories went up in smoke.
The 187ft vessel, built in 1992, has hosted weddings, graduation parties, proms, birthdays, school outings, even Easter egg hunts and visits from Santa – and has been the selected setting of countless marriage proposals. In many stories of past guests, the ship’s crew played a major role in making their memories special.
“When I saw the ship on fire, I was completely devastated. Years and years of memories came flooding back from the people I met, the relationships I built,” said Marisa Eagle, who has met her husband, Jonathan, while working on the Spirit in 2010. “I still have friends working there and it works. become a second home to us, it’s like looking at your home It was the most fun job I’ve ever had, and there were so many unforgettable memories, not only for me and the other workers, but also for the hundreds of thousands of guests that ship saw .
The Spirit of Norfolk is likely a “loss”, meaning it will not be salvageable, according to Scott Smith, senior vice president of the Hornblower Group, the ship’s parent company. The investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing, but it appears that the fire started in the engine room.
City experiences, the ship’s management company, posted on its website on Friday that all confirmed bookings for the Spirit of Norfolk through Sunday would be rescheduled, or canceled and refunded, and promised more information to come early in the week next.
Future group bookings in Norfolk are suspended until June 30, according to a City Experiences spokesperson, and these events will take place on a replacement ship, the Freedom Elite.
“We look forward to resuming operations as quickly as possible,” the notice read. “We are actively exploring moving another of our boats to Norfolk to accommodate our summer bookings.”
It is unknown how many events were affected by the Spirit’s disappearance.
Skylar Jinar, 20, discovered the site of her September wedding was on fire as she and fiancé Tanner Harbeson, 21, enjoyed a day at Busch Gardens. Jinar was waiting for Harbeson to be done with a roller coaster ride when she received a text from a friend about spirit fire.
Her first thought was to worry about the people on board, and soon after she emailed their wedding planner to see if there would be any effect on their wedding plans. She quickly received a response that said, “We’ve got you covered,” and an assurance that more information would be forthcoming soon.
The Spirit of Norfolk has been Jinar’s dream wedding venue since 2016, when she attended a family friend’s wedding. The ceremony took place on the upper deck at sunset, with dolphins swimming alongside the ship, before guests proceeded to the lower deck for the reception.
As high school sweethearts, Jinar and Harbeson shared a senior cruise on the Spirit with the class of 2019. They snapped photos posing as Jack and Rose in the iconic “I’m Flying!” scene from “Titanic,” which they plan to recreate at their wedding, but now it won’t be on the same ship.
People on social media invoked superstition, telling Jinar to take it as a “sign” of some sort, but she said she and her family were used to that sort of thing. Plus, the quick and confident response from the wedding planner reassured her.
“My family is pretty well known for any big event — something always goes wrong,” she said. “We have a ‘Jinar curse’, something always goes wrong – which makes for a fun story and it all works out, so that’s what we’re hoping for.”
Lauren Van Petten, 32, of Columbus, Ohio, grew up in the Midwest, so she never had a passion for the ocean and certainly didn’t want anything “nautical” part of her wedding. But COVID forced her and her husband Tim to switch locations just weeks before their wedding day – which had already been pushed back from May 23 to July 3, 2020 – because restrictions didn’t allow them to host their guests inside.
They had the whole ship to themselves.
“A lot of venues here really play in the water and that wasn’t my preference. I was convinced then that it was the only option! said Van Petten. “Everyone was so accommodating and made the day so special and fun. Sad to hear it caught fire – hope it’s not an omen for us!
The Van Pettens had planned to take a picture with their new baby in front of their wedding site to celebrate their second anniversary, and they’re still looking forward to it, even though it’s not the same ship.
The fire deprived Virginia Beach natives Joy and Joseph Suits of the opportunity to relive Joseph’s proposal as planned in November 2023, three decades after he went to his knees. Joy recounted the moment as if it happened yesterday: her ‘perfect’ dress, black velvet with a satin bow, the anticipation that her then-boyfriend had something ‘big’ planned for the first birthday from the day they met.
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“Dinner was amazing, but Joseph was nervous, seemed distracted and certainly wasn’t in a talkative mood. At some point during the meal, he got up and something fell on the floor. ‘It was a box of rings? No…certainly my mind was playing tricks on me,” Joy recalls. “He quickly retrieved the item, and went back to his seat. got up, looked at me, knelt on the ground and asked me to be his wife!
“Such a treasured memory and such a piece of our love story. My heart breaks knowing that our iconic ship is gone, but she lives on in our memories and in our love story every day.
When asked if they would move forward on a replacement ship, Joy replied, “We could always consider it, but I don’t know if it would be the same nostalgia.”
For Judith Cleaver, 52, of Virginia Beach, the ship has been her family’s choice for years, as they have always loved boats and the water. She recalled her rehearsal dinner on the Spirit in 2008, one of the highlights of which was that her mother and father, Roy and Virginia Nevans, were named ‘king and queen’ of the ship that night. and had watched them dance slowly in their crowns.
Cleaver’s daughter, now 25, has never forgotten the Easter egg hunt they went on the Spirit in 2006. She got upset because she couldn’t find any eggs until what one staff member catches his eye – “Pssst!” – by the way.
“He was still, like a statue, except for an outstretched hand that held an Easter egg. His thoughtfulness revived her and at 25 she still remembers that moment of kindness,” Cleaver said. “(The Spirit) was a place where we could all come together, eat, drink, enjoy a beautiful cruise on the water, and celebrate love and family.”
Gavin Stone, [email protected]