• Rachel Anne Baer

Cruising home to quarantine

#covid19 #crusinghometoquarantine #Norwegian #hometofamily #safeathome #stayhomestaysafe

#cruisingduringcovid19 #vacation

Please note that while reading this, some was written while still on the cruise vacation during March 2020, I finally got back to finishing this on June 1st 2020. So much has happened since then, wearing masks to go grocery shopping or anywhere you may come with six feet of other people is now the norm, just this past week there has been rioting in the streets in most cities across the nation. It's a scary time, a time of change, I'm looking and hoping for some positive changes. I choose to believe that most people are decent human beings just wanting to live a peaceful and safe life. Let me know what your experiences are during this year of social distancing. We are all living through the same times and yet experience it so differently.

It’s Friday March 13th, I’m traveling with my husband in the homeward bound leg of an eight day cruise, heading into NYC.

We had been looking forward to this vacation for months, to escape the cold winter dreariness of South Eastern CT, however just a few days before leaving for this long awaited trip I was on the phone with the cruise line trying to decide if we should cancel the trip. The swift spread of the corona virus had got my nerves & anxiety up & running on a high level almost overnight. I was not so much concerned about catching the virus as I’m not in a high risk group, (although since writing this back in March we now know that the virus doesn't necessarily discriminate on age as was first thought) we now know that even healthy & much younger people can be infected and even die. There are too many tragic stories of this already.

At the time I was more concerned, ok let’s say extremely fearful of being trapped on board the ship for weeks or months outside of our vacation time. We had responsibilities, jobs, a home and our son to get back too. Moreover the thought of potentially being trapped inside a tiny cabin away from all the comforts of home would quite possibly drive me crazy with stress & worry. The fear of being kept out of our country, home and away from family.

It soon became clear that we were unable to cancel the cruise without losing all of our booking fee, a considerable sum of money for anyone who vacations. We decided to go ahead & hope/trust that all would be fine. Then just the day before we were due to leave an email arrived from the cruise line to say that from Tuesday 10th March we would be able to cancel with a full credit being applied to our account. I jumped at this lifeline, once again spending what seemed like ages on hold to speak to customer service, we tried, insisted, reasoned with the company that just a few days made not much difference, but no, the answer was still the same, we would still lose all our money if we cancelled now, unfortunately missing the full credit option by just a couple of days.

My husband who is much more laid back than myself assured me that it would be fine, we'd have a great time, enjoy the warmth and sunshine and come home having had a wonderful time. I was torn in my decision, I hated the thought of wasting all that money, although the possibility of being stuck on the ship was terrifying. If it had been left up to my anxiety the trip would have been cancelled.

We made our decision, packed our bags ready to leave the next day, intending to make the most of it, to enjoy each other’s company when usually we seem to just flit past each other each of us busy with our own agenda. Rarely connecting to talk much except about practical details we needed to make each other aware of.

We certainly made time to talk on the cruise, quickly settling into the laziness that the days onboard ship are made for. Sleeping in, leisurely breakfasts, coffee followed by an afternoon mojito and so on, the height of luxury & indulgence. This is of course all wonderful, however I am always aware of an underlying anxiety bordering on fear. Whatever could possibly go wrong my mind considers it all. I try to explain to my husband how I feel. He doesn’t understand, his brain works in such a different way from mine. In conversation I compare myself to Mittens our part feral adopted cat, although we’ve had her for four years now she’s almost as nervous as the day we brought her home.

The slightest out of place sound & she flinches, jumps in her skin, rushes to hide, always waiting for the other shoe to drop, in at this moment in time I feel as I imagine she does.

Whenever the captain comes on over the intercom I feel myself freeze inside, straining to hear every word, terrified that this is it, he’s about to announce that we can no longer dock early Sunday morning. I am sure others are feeling the same, I’ve had brief conversations with other women who are tense and anxious too. Desperate to dock, get off the ship & make it home to where we feel safe, to be on the same soil as our families and the safety of our homes.

Yesterday my tension rose to new heights with the news of the travel ban. Our youngest son was due to fly out to Athens for a few days that very day, then travel on to Barcelona to see his dream soccer game. He had discovered just the day before that the game would be played behind closed doors, although devastated about missing the game he was still intending to go ahead with the travel plans due to such cheap flights & to enjoy a much anticipated trip.

Our son is of an age to decide for himself on matters of safety and has much better access to all the current news than we do on our ship although we had him on speakerphone while in Port in Nassau so that we could both talk to him, strongly advising him to cancel the trip. Perhaps we could get back some or even most of the money, more important than that to me was his safety, I wanted the security of knowing he was safe at home, not potentially stuck in another country with no way of getting back, or worse having to go through quarantine at some awful military base, he would hate that possibly even more than I would.

It wasn’t until six that evening that we were finally able to speak to him again, hearing with relief that he had taken our advice to heart. Although I knew he was deeply disappointed he would at least be safe at home. I cried with relief, now it’s just us that need to get home. To leave this ship that should be a peaceful haven of relaxation & get our feet on solid ground, pick up our car & drive home. While waiting on board to depart Nassau a group of German travelers had to hurriedly pack their bags and leave the ship with just a few hours notice due to changing travel restrictions. If they hadn't left right then they would have been unable to get a plane back home.

I heard earlier today that the president will be making an emergency announcement at 3.00 this afternoon. Although we were back at sea before hearing any announcements, my heart was beating a little faster in dread of what other statements and ideas he might come up with.

It’s beautiful here on board, we have had a wonderful change of scenery and the chance to have proper conversations, uninterrupted by phone calls, work commitments & EMT calls. There's been the chance to read a couple of books, work out in the gym and enjoy wonderful meals without having to think of what to eat or preparing dinner. I have consumed more than my share of fancy cocktails to help manage the anxiety, both my body and my mind are ready to get home to where I feel safe.

The last few days of our cruise, although it was always clean we noticed greater measures in place to help keep people safe. Drink menus were removed from the bars (that was fine with us as we had already memorized our favorites) there were significantly more employees wiping down surfaces and there was no longer any self service at the breakfast dining area. This last measure was not such a bad idea, better to have one pair of hands on a serving spoon than many, it also made a difference to the portion sizes that were being served, for the better for most passengers waistlines.

On our last evening while enjoying a wonderful meal we overheard some of the staff talking, most of them would have to disembark and go home, not sure if they would be able to book flights, not sure when or if they would be able to come back to their jobs. I could feel their uncertainty and fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of what was really going on in the world. Some staff would be kept on as the ship sailed out at sea for a month while they did deep cleaning and any repairs. I imagine that ship is super clean by now. I wonder where it is and what happened to all the wonderful staff members that we chatted to each day. Our ever cheerful housekeeper who left the towel animals on our bed, the always smiling and welcoming bar tender at the mojito bar. As this crisis goes on I often think of them and hope that they were able to make it home to their families and aren't stuck in limbo somewhere. I hope that eventually they are able to return to their jobs and support their families.

Sunday morning came and we had docked much earlier than anticipated. Our bags were packed, we were ready to disembark as soon as we were given the all clear. Making our way to the breakfast area of the ship, it was the last day and everyone was up early. So many people, many looking around anxiously, straining their ears as the captain came over the speaker system making the announcement that we had been been waiting for, we were now cleared to disembark. I sighed with relief, thank goodness, I met eyes with others who obviously felt the same.

Overall we had a good time away but nowhere near as relaxing as you would anticipate a vacation to be. No one was to know that we would arrive home to New York City in a lock down, Broadway lights turned off and the whole city pretty much shut down and in fear, not really knowing where all of this would lead.

As we disembarked people were much quieter than I would have expected. We all lined up to go through customs, usually a quick procedure especially with the new facial recognition stations they had installed. I had not seen those before, it certainly sped things up but it was a little unnerving. The addition of everyone having their foreheads or under the throat scanned for temperatures before we were allowed through was disconcerting. Although I felt totally healthy I found myself worrying that they might detect a high temperature in either of us. I was so close to home and safety I just needed to make the final couple of hours drive.

Relief, we made it out of the terminal. I engaged in conversation with four other families as I waited for my husband to retrieve the car from the parking lot. The wives of all four families had just picked up voice messages on their phones telling them that they were out of work for the next two weeks. Some worked in daycare, others in schools. Despite seeing virtually no news for the past week it was becoming clear that the world we had left behind just seven days earlier was drastically changing and not for the better. (I am writing this update now on June 1st 2020, we are still in quarantine, only a few businesses have reopened, riots are happening in every city due to protests at the murder of innocent black lives. The world feels unsafe right now for so many people. Holding out for a hopeful and dramatic change to life as it is today.

We drove home listening to NPR catching up with the changes that had occurred. Closed doors on schools and businesses would become the norm, the term "social distancing" would be how we would have to relate to everyone for the foreseeable future, including our close friends and family. The unemployment rate would go from an all time low to almost an all time high within six weeks. It would become all too common and hard to watch seeing the lines of cars at food banks across the country as more and more families were without income.

On the positive, all animal shelters in our area were cleared. Pets were adopted or fostered out as families quarantined had time to spend on a new family pet. I just hope that when we eventually return to some form of normal that these new pets are not surrendered back to the shelters or worse.

It wasn't until a few days after we returned home, speaking with a friend over the phone, she informed me that the evening we left for our cruise all future sailings of cruise liners were prevented from leaving port. We missed the deadline by just a few hours. I am so pleased that I didn't know this while on board the ship or I would have worried so much more than I did. Having limited news access was truley a blessing at that time.

I am grateful to be able to now look back on this experience knowing that for us it worked out, eight weeks after we returned I heard on the news that the last cruise ship had just been allowed to dock, I don't remember in which country. On the day after we arrived home there were still thirty cruise liners out there on the ocean unable to come into port. We really did scrape in just in time.

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