I was tested positive for COVID on day 11 of our 17 day trans-Atlantic cruise. It started with a scratchy throat, which immediately alarmed me because I knew that was a symptom of Omicron. But, the ship was fully vaccinated and boosted AND all passengers had to test negative twice before the cruise began — 1 PCR test required for Bermuda within 2 days of embarkation and 1 antigen test the day before embarkation. The scratchy throat started the day after only our second port of call: Ponta Delgada in the Azores. We’d sailed from New York, had one sea day before reaching Bermuda (our first stop, where neither my husband nor I got off the ship), and then had 4 sea days before reaching the Azores. So, in my naïve mind, the ship and everyone on it was pretty safe, and I was probably experiencing allergies from our garden walk in the Azores. I had no other symptoms except the scratchy throat.
The next morning, in addition to the scratchy throat, I sounded hoarse. I felt ok when I woke up, but as the day went on, it started to feel more like a cold. Except it also felt like someone was squeezing my head and occasionally my chest. It’s hard to describe but it felt a little slightly different than any cold or sinus infection I’ve ever had. At that point, I was starting to get worried. I masked up and decided that if I didn’t feel better the next morning, I’d take one of the at-home antigen tests we’d brought with us. After a less than restful night, I woke early still feeling bad and took the test. The test bar turned pink immediately when the solution made contact. My husband was in the room with me, and he immediately put on his mask as well. He also tested and his, thankfully, was negative. Once we got his results, we called the ship’s doctor. They sent someone down to administer a PCR test, and after a little over an hour, they called our cabin to confirm I was positive, and that they were going to get me medications and move me to a different cabin to quarantine for a minimum of 5 days. After 5 days, they’d start testing me again daily to see if I could be cleared to resume normal activity. At this point, my husband and I discussed whether he should join me in quarantine. If you are traveling with someone and they do not test positive, this is a decision you’ll have to make. We jointly (meaning, I) decided that he should not quarantine with me for 3 reasons: (1) I didn’t want him to get sick. (2) He could be a bigger help to me not being in quarantine. We’d finally reached the point in the voyage where we’d be stopping in one port each day, and if I needed anything not available on the ship, he could get it for me. He could also be my patient advocate with the staff better if he were able to move freely about the ship and talk to people face to face. (3) We’d paid for the cruise, and he wasn’t sick, so he may was well take advantage and enjoy the benefits of it. The protocol for him was that they’d give him an antigen test every day for the next 4 days. We were both stunned that after a good 36+ hours of us being in close proximity of me with symptoms that he was negative, but mercifully, he was, and he didn’t test positive any of the remaining 4 days.
Packing up all of my things to move to the quarantine room was rough. Trying to get anything done when you feel bad is always miserable, and since we’d been in that room for over a week, I was fully unpacked and not well organized. It’s not really a task that my husband could do for me easily, so I just had to power through it. I started as soon as they left after administering the PCR test because I knew it would be positive and I wanted to get out of the room and away from others whom I could possibly infect as soon as possible. I also made the mistake of thinking they’d be in a big hurry to move me. They weren’t. By the time I was done packing, I was ready to get into the quarantine room and just relax. I was almost ready to go by the time they called and confirmed I was positive. On that call, they told me that I’d be getting a call soon from the doctor to discuss symptoms and get medication. That call came about 20-30 minutes later and at that point I was fully ready to go. I forget why, but they had to check on something and call me back, which they did about 15 minutes later. At that point I asked when I’d be moved. They said they would give me time to pack and that I should call them when I was ready. I said I was ready right then and they said they were sending someone down. We waited probably about 45 minutes, which is a LONG time when you’re just sitting around, not feeling well, and worrying about making your husband and your cabin steward sick. Finally, three people in full medical protection gear showed up. I immediately understood why it took so long. One person walked in front of me, one behind, and one person behind them sprayed some sort of disinfectant (I presume) as we walked. They took me through a staff hallway and elevator down a few floors and down a hallway to my new room. Bye bye balcony. Hello small interior room. All of the medicines were waiting for me in the room (another reason it took them a while to come get me). Also provided was a digital thermometer and some trash and laundry bags. They explained the medications they’d given me, which were to alleviate symptoms. (No antivirals.) They said that someone from the medical office would call once a day to see how I was feeling and to get a temperature reading. While I was here, I’d have access to all movies for free (usually they’re $9.99 each) and I’d have unlimited basic internet. Both of those, the latter in particular, was a huge benefit. I could order room service whenever I wanted. There was a small table outside my door where anything I wanted would be delivered, such as food, medicines, extra Kleenex, and the care packages that my husband left for me at the guest services counter.
When they left, I settled in and started to relax. It wasn’t long before room service called and asked what I wanted for lunch. They hadn’t given me a menu yet, but the person on the phone read all of my options. I was able to order anything and everything I wanted from the “All Day” menu. They provided breakfast and an “All Day” (lunch) menu after a day or so, so I had those on hand. Room service diligently called every day to ask what I wanted for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and menus for dinner (which changed daily) were provided in advance, usually with lunch the same day. They also provided a 1 liter bottle of water with each meal, but you could order juices, tea, and soft drinks as well. Pretty much anything except alcohol. When something was left outside for me, they’d knock on the door or call the room to let me know it was there. I quickly realized that the trash bags provided were for us to bag our own trash and place it outside the door. All meals were delivered in to-go containers and all drinks were also in disposable cups. When I accumulated enough trash, I’d just tie off the bag and place it outside my door beside my table. It was picked up every day.
They assigned someone specific in guest services to be my point of contact. He gave me his name and direct extension and told me to call him whenever I needed anything. He also called me once a day to check on me and ask if I wanted anything. The room service manager also called and gave me his direct extension in case I needed anything. At the time, I couldn’t foresee a reason to call him, but there actually was a small hiccup one day that I felt would be best handled if I went to him directly. Everyone I spoke to on the phone was incredibly kind and I really felt like they tried hard to make the best out of a bad situation. I probably received 5-6 calls a day between room service, medical staff, and guest services, which gave me confidence that if my situation deteriorated, I wouldn’t be left unattended for long.
On day 5, they gave me an antigen test, which was negative. I thought at first, I’d be released that day and still have a full day of the cruise to enjoy. Sadly, they informed me that I had to spend a full 5 days in quarantine and re-test tomorrow to confirm again that I was negative. Therefore, I wouldn’t be released until disembarkation day. I was obviously disappointed but quickly resigned to my fate and used the additional day to continue resting. I think the second test was more a formality than anything else, because my guest services rep said that no one had ever tested positive again after testing negative the day before.
The morning of day 6, we arrived in our final port at 5:30am, and I was tested around the same time. They called me within 30 minutes to tell me I was negative. A medical staff member, again dressed in full medical protection gear, arrived at my door when I told them I was packed up and ready, and she escorted me back to my room. That was it. I was finally free! There was a bit of confusion about the disembarkation process since I was still in/coming out of quarantine the morning of disembarkation. Usually, you have to choose a disembarkation time the day before, and then they give you bag tags and you leave the ship when your bag tag color or number is called. I was not given any of these instructions, but my husband was. I knew they were going to test me early in the morning, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with my bags, so I told him to select the latest disembarkation time possible, which was 9am. He elected to do the self-disembarkation, so we could basically leave the ship whenever we were ready and just bring our bags with us since I wasn’t able to have my bags picked up the night before. I arrived back in the room with all of my bags around 6:30am. We made our way up to breakfast and I took a few laps around the ship just to get outside and see everything one last time.
I heard through the Facebook group for our cruise that the people who were still in quarantine were transferred to a hotel about an hour from where we docked and must remain there for a specified quarantine period. From what I understand, this is at their expense, but I have very limited and sometimes conflicting information about what happened to them.
Having gone through this experience, I wanted to share the following tips that helped me get through the 5 days in quarantine.
- Request replacements for things in the room you need before you run out, especially necessities like medicines, Kleenex, and toilet paper. Don’t wait until you’re out just in case the staff is not able to get the item(s) to you quickly.
- Ask for some non-perishable food items like nuts, granola, whole apples, or dried fruit to keep on hand if you’re taking medications often. Some of the medication you may need to take will need to be taken with food and you may not always have access to it quickly while in quarantine. It’s uncomfortable to have to wait to take your cough medicine or body ache medicine until they can send you a snack or meal.
- If you drink tea or coffee, ask for a personal coffee maker in your room. Again, the less you have to rely on staff, the happier you’ll be.
- Keep any extra plastic utensils, cups, and any other supplies they give you. Don’t throw anything away until you are absolutely sure you won’t use it. You may be eating dinner one night, and your plastic fork may break. If you’ve saved extras, you’ll be able to continue on without interruption. Similarly, I saved rubber bands that were used to hold Saran Wrap over the top of my cups of orange juice. I almost threw them away, but one day, I ended up needing them and was incredibly glad I had them. Basically save everything!
- Tune into the bridge cam channel to get views of outside-especially if you’re in an interior room. If your cruise has a Facebook page and you’re a member of it, you can live vicariously through your ship mates while they’re in port. I realize, this is a possible double-edged sword because it may make you more envious that you’re not able to enjoy it personally.
- Be patient and kind. Know that the staff are trying to make it as good of an experience for you as possible.
- If you cannot afford the extra expense in the event that you contract COVID, make sure that you have travel insurance that covers COVID-related expenses. We use World Nomads (#aff).