Coronavirus Diaries is a series of dispatches exploring how the coronavirus is affecting people’s lives. For the latest public health information, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. For Slate’s coronavirus coverage, click here.
This as-told-to essay from Linda in Ohio has been transcribed and edited for clarity from a conversation with Shannon Palus.
We were booked to go on a Regent cruise from Bali to Hong Kong. We were going for our 45th anniversary, my 65th birthday—everything happened this year, and it was a big thing. The cruise was leaving Feb. 12 and returning on March 1. The World Health Organization made that announcement that coronavirus was a global health emergency on Jan. 30.
I ran an emergency room for 10 years, and my husband was a SWAT team commander, so we never had a panic response. It wasn’t so much that we were concerned we were going to get coronavirus, but about what kind of trip we were going to have. In a three-week period, one person on the ship getting a fever or the regular flu is likely. Then what? Does everybody get quarantined? Are we going to even get to finish the trip?
Regent wasn’t putting out much information about how it would handle a change in ports or what would happen if someone got sick. Each day the coronavirus became a bigger concern. Regent is a high-end cruise line—the cruise was over $24,000 for the two of us. We had questions.
Before we even left, we found out the port in Hong Kong, the endpoint of the trip, was closed. The cruise line was saying, “Everything is all right. We’ll get you home from another port. We don’t know where that will be yet, but the cruise is going.” We kept asking, “Can’t we just get a cruise credit?” It was either: You go, or you lose everything. We had trip insurance, but insurance doesn’t cover anything to do with the coronavirus. I was very angry—just mad. That was my mode. When the company wasn’t acknowledging anything or changing, we reached out to everybody. I called my congresswoman and senator. I called the news. There was a young lady that was supposed to bring a film crew, but the more I thought about it, I didn’t want to get on the news and be all, “Poor me, my $24,000 cruise isn’t going to go well, or may not happen at all, or I may lose my money.” A lot of people would like to have my problem. We are blessed to even be in this situation.
We were literally on the phone with the cruise line on our way to the airport. But then we’re like, OK, this is happening. We need to try to shift gears, try to be positive, and try to focus. It’s going to be fine! Go ahead and go!
We get to the gate to check in, and we tell the agent we’re going to go on a cruise. “Oh my aunt is stuck on that ship in Japan. She’s on the Princess Cruise,” the gate agent says. “I FaceTimed her this morning. She’s stuck in her room.”
Then we get on the plane. There were people with masks; we decided we weren’t going to wear them. I am a nurse, and for the most part, masks keep you from passing things on to other people. We were really diligent about washing our hands. At that point, we’re trying not to be negative.
We got to Korea, where we were going to stay before flying to Bali, and it was masks as far as the eye could see. Also, they lost our luggage, so we had no luggage. We had to get our temperatures taken to go into a restaurant.
At that point, we found out they were finally offering a future cruise credit. I haven’t booked anything yet—with all the uncertainty of what’s going to happen, I could be back in the same pot I just got out of.
We had to go back to the airport the next day to get the luggage. It was an hour and a half drive from the hotel back to the airport. We could have stayed in Seoul, but we were spent—emotionally and physically. We considered just going home to Ohio, but we were like nope. You know how you always talk about how, “Wouldn’t it be fun to just go to the airport and not know where you’re going? And just go, ‘Yeah, I’m going there!’ ” We got to do that.
The logical places, like Japan, were just a few hours away—but that felt like continuing the problem. Then we thought about Hawaii. We’re like, Hawaii, yes, we’re flying right over there. There was a flight leaving in a few hours, in a different terminal, so we got on a shuttle bus. There we are with all of our luggage. As my husband will tell you, I had 80 pounds of luggage. We were going to be gone a month. We were not luggage-light.
I have Marriott points, so when we were in the airport in Korea, I got on my app and was like, we can stay at the Royal Hawaiian. I’d booked what I had enough to cover with points—five nights. We thought, that gives us some breathing time, to chill. The Marriott manager ended up helping us stay extra. He comped us three nights! He never said he was doing that. There were some wonderful things that happened, without a doubt.
In the meantime, the ship went ahead. Most of the other passengers we had been talking to chose not to go. There’s a website called VesselFinder.com that allows you to track the movement of any ship, and I was keeping my eye on it to see what happened. It went about eight days out of its planned 18.
In the scheme of things, people have so many more issues. But it scares me to death what this could be on a world level—certainly the illness, but the whole social and financial impact and people out of work. Even though this was a cruise, I don’t like to take their excursions, so I had lined up tours with local people. I read an article on Hong Kong airlines having to cut 400 jobs because of the coronavirus. If everybody is scared and cancels all of their trips, it’s a domino effect. It just goes, goes, goes.