Cruising Through the Coronavirus Outbreak

A Firsthand Account of Traveling During the World’s Most Recent Pandemic

The morning of Friday, March 13, 2020, started out just like any other day, besides waking up at 4:30 AM in Punta Gorda, Florida to go on a 3-Day Bahamas cruise during what would soon be the worst pandemic since the 2009 swine flu outbreak.

I had flown solo into Punta Gorda to spend the night with family just five hours prior and was running on three hours of sleep for the long day ahead. After loading the car and picking up a few friends joining us on the trip, my family and I hit the road to Miami with no idea what was ahead of us. We knew the Coronavirus outbreak was intensifying, with cruise ships being turned away from ports and international travel being banned all around the world, but we had no idea whether our ship would be let back into United States waters after traveling to the Bahamas, or allowed to leave port at all. Nevertheless, we drove to Miami hoping our trip wouldn’t get canceled and that we would be allowed to board.

After a few missed turns, we finally made it to Royal Caribbean’s terminal at PortMiami. Upon entering the inside of the terminal, we immediately knew that this trip wouldn’t be like any normal cruise: there were Royal Caribbean employees positioned at the entrances with forehead thermometers to screen for sick people, and there were hand sanitizing stations everywhere. We weren’t allowed to enter the terminal without sanitizing and having our temperature taken – those who had a fever, displayed symptoms of being sick, or were over the new age limits placed on cruise travel weren’t allowed to board the ship to prevent the spread of the virus.

After checking in and being given hand sanitizer after what seemed like every 50 feet, we finally boarded the Navigator of the Seas for the fun-filled weekend ahead of us. Just like the cruise terminal, the ship was filled with hand sanitizing stations. The stations were located just about anywhere you could think of: restaurants, by the elevators, next to the pools, and inside every store and stateroom hall. In addition to the abundance of hand-sanitizing stations, there were hand-washing stations located at the entrance and exit of every dining hall on board. To ensure the health of everyone on board, crew members were at every hand-washing station instructing everyone who entered the dining hall to wash their hands. To make this process more fun, the crew members incorporated the songs that played in the washing stations to form parodies encouraging people to wash their hands, as well as making up and performing their own songs. One such song used was “Toxic” by Britney Spears, and the most popular phrase used on board was “washy washy,” which was a lyric in the parody set to the tune of the high-pitched instrumentals in the song.

Throughout the trip, there was a certain lingering tension in the air; all weekend I heard people talking to others about how they were scared to cough, sniff, or sneeze around anyone because of the stress and paranoia surrounding the virus, people in my own travel group expressed this as well. There was one woman at the pool on Cocoa Cay (Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas) who started choking on her drink, and in a split second everyone around the pool went silent and looked in her direction. Although she very obviously wasn’t sick and was indeed choking on her drink, she quickly jumped to explain (while choking) that her drink went down the wrong pipe – “it’s not the virus” she urged over and over through coughs. Because of the fear surrounding the virus, only 1,400 of the 4,000 expected passengers went on the cruise. Of the 2,600 people that didn’t cruise with us, some chose not to go while others were turned away at port the day of embarkation due to pre-existing medical conditions, showing symptoms of illness, or being over the age limit put into place to prevent the spread of the virus. 

Because less than half of booked passengers went on the cruise, wait times for activities such as water slides, rock climbing, and the FlowRider were significantly shorter than usual, and competition for prime dinner times and spots by the pool on the ship and at Cocoa Cay was virtually non-existent. Additionally, we were able to upgrade our stateroom to one with a balcony for a small fee since half of the ship’s staterooms were left vacant. 

Overall, I felt very safe being on the cruise despite the circumstances. My travel party and I had an amazing weekend onboard the Navigator of the Seas, and we were extremely lucky for the trip to have proceeded according to plan and not get canceled, because others were not so lucky. Our ship was the very last to leave Miami just prior to four of the world’s largest cruise lines – Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, and MSC Cruises – announcing on March 13 that they were suspending cruise travel until further notice. We were also lucky that none of the passengers on the ship were sick, and that there haven’t been any cases of the coronavirus linked to our cruise.

Cruising during the Coronavirus, while risky, was a unique experience that none of us will soon forget. With that in mind, good ways to protect yourself from getting the Coronavirus are: washing your hands for at least twenty seconds, practicing social distancing and staying home, and avoiding touching your face.