Passengers line up to board a Norwegian Cruise ship.
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Passengers line up to board a Norwegian Cruise ship.

During the first week of March, I did not understand the extent to which many people across the country might have already come into contact with the coronavirus. Instead of stocking up for groceries, a group of students and I, from the University of Georgia, continued on with travel plans for spring break. For nearly a year, we’ve had plans to take a cruise to celebrate our May graduation. As we kept an eye on the news, we did discuss the situation, going back and forth.

In the end, Norwegian Cruise Line didn’t offer alternative options for a refund or a rebooking and so we made our decidion: we would take the trip.

Still, I was worried. 

Making the six hour drive down with four friends, I asked my friend to stop at a Walmart right outside Tampa to pick up Clorox wipes, Lysol, antibacterial soap and a handful of over-the counter medications to stop anything from diarrhea to a fever. Looking back, there were very few items that could have prepared us for what we would need for this pandemic while on a cruise.

Armed with supplies, I felt slightly more prepared for the unknown though. Well, I felt as prepared as I could before boarding a cruise that could end up in quarantine like the Grand Princess.

We were told Norwegian had created a new Peace of Mind policy to ease travelers' minds as time quickly approached debarkation. This new policy had been instituted by cruise operators and allowed guests to cancel their cruise up to 48 hours before departure. Yet, we weren’t able to take part in this policy because it wouldn’t be implemented until March 10, two days after we set sail for international waters. After boarding, we found out the U.S. State Department issued a warning to travelers against cruises due to the coronavirus.

I am an experienced cruise traveler, having taken multiple with friends and family. I thought I knew what to anticipate. We would show up to the terminal and be quickly escorted through security and onto the ship. Straight from point A to point B. Still, there was a sense of ominous worry. 

“Did we make the right choice? Are we going to get sick? Are the people we love and care about going to get sick because of us? When will we know if something has gone wrong?”

Those questions trailed us as we made it to the port in Tampa.  

Once we reached the terminal port, my group of friends and I were ushered into a long line of hundreds of eager travelers, standing inches apart from one another. This part was the same as before. 

Then came the new experiences. A Norwegian Cruise Line employee addressed the crowd and told us there was a delay because the Coast Guard had come aboard to complete a surprise inspection. But this extra step eased my concerns before boarding.

More than two thousand passengers then had their temperatures taken with a scannable thermometer. Some travelers were turned away at the port after their temperatures were over 100.4°F (38° C).  We also filled out a medical form questioning soon-to-be-passengers about the coronavirus, asking if we had traveled to coronavirus hotspots or had a fever in the last two days.   

These extra precautions made me realize there was little stopping people from hopping on a vessel isolating a large group of people in the middle of the water. What if passengers were asymptomatic, I thought. After completing these two extra steps, I still boarded the ship, which ended up being filled nearly to capacity.

Once on the ship, we enjoyed an uninterrupted cruise. The weather was great and we spent time by the pool, played bingo, ate at the dining halls and visited multiple ports with the other 2,000 people, inches away from each other, on the same trip.

Aboard that cruise as coronavirus isolated Seattle and spread in the United States, I was shielded from the cycle of press conferences, tweets, news articles and medical guidance circulating in conversations and group chats.  A week later, making my way home after my international trip, I realized we were one of the final cruise ships to dock in the U.S.

During the week, occasional announcements were made over the intercom reminding passengers they should practice good personal hygiene, and hand sanitizer stations were placed conveniently around the ship and employees used a squirt bottle of sanitizer on our hands every time before grabbing something to eat. On day three, the cruise line decided it needed to add another precaution and stopped allowing guests from serving themselves from any of the public food areas. 

Our ship had no issues docking at ports in Mexico, Belize and Honduras. Many of the local vendors made light of the virus, such as in Cozumel, where I could purchase a T-shirt that said “We survived the coronavirus in Mexico.” Less than 500 feet away, Mexican officials were taking the virus seriously and wearing masks while checking identification of passengers trying to get back on the dock to board the ship. 

On our last day, it took less than 20 minutes to exit the ship. We went through customs back in the United States without anyone asking if we had any symptoms or being screened. Our group hopped into our car and drove back to our respective homes stopping only to grab essentials we would need for the next week or two. 

Now people’s vacations are being halted, students are moving back home because of the virus, families are stockpiling necessities and, in a way, this experience was a way for me to retreat among the chaos we're facing. It all feels surreal. This whole New World that has been created seemingly overnight feels unimaginable. At  21-years-old, this epidemic is like nothing else I have seen in my lifetime. 

Looking back, it was probably a poor choice to travel out of the country. I am thankful to be safe and back with the ones I love most. I have self-quarantined for two weeks as an extra precaution though I have not shown any signs of the illness. It is affecting every facet of the world around us. Coming back to a world that is basically closed, leaving the ship unharmed, I feel very blessed and thankful knowing many other travelers have not been as lucky. 

Global health emergency does not stop travelers from experiencing leisure strolls at the beach in Cozumel, Mexico.
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Global health emergency does not stop travelers from experiencing leisure strolls at the beach in Cozumel, Mexico.
Mexican officials greet travelers trying to reboard their cruise ships in medical masks and gloves in Cozumel, Mexico.
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Mexican officials greet travelers trying to reboard their cruise ships in medical masks and gloves in Cozumel, Mexico.
The sun sets on the Gulf of Mexico as the Norwegian Dawn makes its way back to the United States full of passengers.
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The sun sets on the Gulf of Mexico as the Norwegian Dawn makes its way back to the United States full of passengers.