WARREN, NJ - Thursday morning thoughts from a Warren resident stranded on one of the Holland America cruise ships.
When did you board? How aware of the coronavirus situation were you? Was the cruise taking any special precautions? Was it a tough decision to go ahead with the cruise?
We boarded on Saturday March 7th around 1 pm - we had flown from Newark NJ leaving on the 6th at 5pm - the flight from Newark to Houston felt about 2/3 empty but the flight from Houston to Buenos Aires was packed. We took a cab from EZE to the port - our cabbie was sniffling and a bit congested but maybe it was just our paranoia. I was very aware of the corona virus and had been watching about it from the early days in Wuhan. I was also aware of it given there were delays in a RCL cruise out of Bayonne NJ and of course the Diamond Princess - and hoped that a sister line would incorporate any lessons that should be learned. With that said, there was no cdc warning against cruising before we left and boarded our cruise and South America seemed to be one of the places with the least amount of corona cases. We had received email before leaving that our temperatures would be taken but the reality was no one took our temperatures and it was only a questionnaire that had to be filled out to board the ship. It didn’t give you that warm fuzzy. Btw this is the first cruise I never went into the hot tub or pool- and it was out of corona concerns.
It was a decision that we agonized over but we were reassured by our Holland America travel agent that we would be ok and never put in harms way. Actually the concern even before the corona was the civil unrest in Chile given we were originally to disembark in San Antonio on March 21st - civil unrest seems like nothing after the explosion of corona deaths.
How did you know when things started to get scary? People getting sick etc.? When did quarantine start?
Things were very normal even with our last day being on land which was March 14 when were had done an excursion to Patagonia. I sarcastically noted we certainly were not practicing social distancing on the ship as I watched states of emergency be declared and what seemed to be surreal. The cruise ship seemed one step ahead as I heard Montevideo banner ships a couple days after we had visited. But the first change was Saturday evening when the captain reported that we would not be able to get off in Ushuaia Argentina to do our excursion as planned - I had been in touch with friends in Buenos Aires who had been telling me the country was getting closer to closing its boarders. Saturday evening we set sail in the direction of Ushuaia knowing we could be off - over night a card was slipped under our door and basically the captain had made a decision around 11 pm to turn the ship around and double back to Punta Arenas Chile -initially Chilean authorities had said they would let us disembark if we were back there by 8 am and then supposedly they moved that deadline up to be before midnight. We were anchored off the shore at Punta Arenas for 2 days and negotiations were on going. It was a bit stressful cause our cruise line said we needed to book air from there to Santiago but the Internet wasn’t working very well. All those could do was send a message back to their Seattle office and we got a call at 3:30 am in the morning advising us we could have a ticket home for about 3000 usd
It was a bit of a cruel joke that certainly added to the stress people were feeling.
That Monday we filled out a questionnaire on our health and the ship took our temperatures. Sadly negotiations weren't successful and the captain set sail on Monday evening the 16.
All was still pretty normal as they held normal activities shows meals etc. The comedian was very funny in noting he had a captive audience. We noticed more people coughing on the ship the evening of March 21 - in fact we moved twice during the show as some didn’t know how to use their elbow when coughing. But all was good until shortly after 2 pm on Sunday March 22 - the captain made an announcement that “out of an abundance of caution” we would need to return to our staterooms where we would remain the rest of the cruise. Actually that morning was the first time we had seen any ship workers wearing a mask. They had a bucket and seemed to be sanitizing a room a few doors away from us. Our captain had been providing us with updates and then confinement had supposedly slowed down the new cases of crew and passengers reporting sick. Actually it was people who reported influenza symptoms and we were not quarantined but rather confined. But the mood really changed when the captain announced on Friday that four guests had passed away -and the realization set in this was no longer a cruise but rather a humanitarian case.
What are they telling you?
Our captain was more upbeat last night even giving people champagne but until we are off this ship and able to get home we are cautiously optimistic.
Can you say more about how you feel?
As an American seeing idiotic comments about people who don’t want to allow Americans to disembark is pathetic. The 295 Canadians on board must really wonder after they helped after 9/11. Talk of where ships are registered seems rather unimportant when people may be at risk of dying?
We had dinner with one Aussie who was into real estate - he didn’t like the lack of control you have being on a ship. I had read qantas would stop its international flights and do wonder how aussies will be able to get back home.
Have you heard about the Ruby Princess or other cruises around here?
I have read there are a number of passengers trying to get home but I’m not aware of deaths on the other ships.
Some thoughts I posted tonight Thoughts while confined to a cabin for days...
1) it’s really pathetic to read that your own country might not be willing to let you disembark.
2) it’s embarrassing for my country, that was helped by so many Canadians following 9/11, isn’t willing to help given this has been now called a humanitarian issue!
3) to think for days about the families of those four who have passed away and wonder how they were not offered aid or help by all the countries along the way from Punta Arenas Chile when boarders were closed.
4) to read about the Brits who were allowed to disembark in Cuba and then were flown home. Cuban Authorities allowed such for humanitarian reasons. https://www.maritime-executive.com/article/port-of-mariel-helps-fred-olsen-passengers-return-home
5) to think about the families of all the crew that are on both ships and know how worried their families are and how scared the crew must be here far from home.
6) whether we have learned anything from the Diamond Princess where people stayed on a Petri dish 🧫 for far too long until governments repatriated their citizens.
7) well when you are confined at sea you realize we are all in this world together and you dream for a courageous display of humanity. Time will tell but one thing is for certain you have plenty of time here to think at sea!
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