Stuck at Sea

Photo by: Sabygraphy Voyager of the Seas, 2020
Photo by: Sabygraphy Voyager of the Seas, 2020

(Part I)

Many people have been asking me what it’s like to be stuck at sea during this global pandemic. First and foremost, please understand that I am trying to be as politically correct, yet also as transparent as I am allowed to be. I will try to do my best to provide a vivid image of what it’s like onboard, while respecting the company’s privacy policy. I will only share factual information that has already been published by Royal Caribbean International or announced on an official government website, not rumors, or hearsay. I will also try to put it all into perspective and be both positive and accurate with the reality of the situation, and how I’m processing it all.

I kept a quarantine log from the first day we departed Sydney with what’s going on and where my emotions are at each day that initially was meant solely for me. I’d like to put some of those excerpts in here to help paint a better understanding and humanize us all onboard, when appropriate.

During the last voyage with guests, the ship (and the travel industry as a whole) finally realized the impact that this epidemic had on the world in its entirety. The Voyager of the Seas was sailing out of Sydney, Australia for longer cruises, roughly nine to fourteen days. For the last few sailings prior, we had temporary port closures, however we were still able to redirect the ship and port at other locations to have a successful cruise. During the last voyage, the epidemic spread globally like a wildfire and there was no turning back. What the company should have, could have, and would have done is in the past and is not for me to say. But what I can give you, is the facts of what has happened that influenced my situation and how I am feeling now.

On March 14th, 2020, during the last few days of the cruise, Royal Caribbean released an official notice globally suspending cruises until April 11th, 2020. See below:

Miami - Given global public health circumstances, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. has decided to suspended the sailings of our fleet globally at midnight tonight. We will conclude all current sailings as schedule and assists our guests with their safe return home. As with our announcement yesterday regarding U.S. sailings, we expect to return to service on April 11, 2020.” (Royal Caribbean International Press Center)

Following this information, we were under the impression that we would remain onboard during this time, practicing the show, sanitizing the venues, and using the ship as normal, while taking extra sanitation and health precautions put forth by the Australian government and Royal Caribbean International. For myself and the rest of the ice cast, we had about a month and some change left of our contract, and we were told that we would remain onboard until the ship started back up again at this announced date.

On March 17th, the Federal Australian government announced that there were to be no indoor gatherings of over 100 people and no outdoor gatherings of over 500 people at one time. This went into effect the following day, the day the guests debarked. Luckily, we were still able to offload the guests and ensure a safe return home.

March 18, 2020: Day 1

We dropped the guests off to debark in Sydney port. I said goodbye to my family that was onboard, scared and unsure of what the next few weeks had in store. As soon as the guests cleared, we began sanitizing the ship from top to bottom. We weren’t able to get off to get any supplies that we might need during this time in attempt to eliminate the potential exposure and spread of the virus onboard. I completely understood.

We watched as Sydney drew further and further away, sailing out to sea. I think we are optimistic, just happy to be able to get the guests off from what felt like a never-ending cruise of bad news. When they boarded last week, we had no idea of the rapid spread of the virus. Ports had closed on previous cruises, but only temporarily and we were able to relocate and find other great destinations. But on this last cruise, we were denied entry day in and day out, the crew provided entertainment left and right to keep the guests happy. They were frustrated, but very understanding. This was no longer just a problem for China, Japan, or Italy; the world began to realize this was a serious growing pandemic – and there was no hiding it anymore. So, when the guests finally got off today, I was just happy they could go home safely, and we could start to enter this three-week suspension at sea, and hopefully get back to business soon.

No confirmed cases. (Quarantine Log excerpt)

We lived our first two days as normal, just with the ship to ourselves. We enjoyed being with each other. We were able to practice on the ice, workout, watch movies in the theater, take dance classes, and most of the venues were open with service to us.

A few days into our voluntary fleet wide sailing suspension however, the company came to realize that this period would be longer than expected, and we were informed that all nonessential crew members would be going home at the first possible chance. That meant all of the cruise division besides three people to keep things in order. I was included in this group that would be going home. Royal Caribbean also announced the following that day:

“Given global public health circumstances, Royal Caribbean International has decided to suspend all sailings across our fleet globally. We expect to return to service on May 12, 2020. Because of announced port closures, there are other itineraries we will be suspending. Ships sailing out of Singapore, and ships sailing through Canada have all been impacted differently due to port closures. (Royal Caribbean International Press Center)

- Canadian ports will remain closed until July 1, 2020.

- The port of Singapore will remain closed through May 2020.”

In the days that followed, radical changes began to snowball, naturally mirroring the mentality and morale of most of us onboard. First and foremost, a fleet-wide initiative was put forth for mandatory twice daily temperature checks for every crew member onboard. We were required to follow all of the quarantine and social distancing initiatives put forth by the Federal Australian Government including the number of people allowed at a gathering. This initiated the shut-down of most of the venues on the ship for our use.

We would not be performing for the crew, both casts were unable to officially “close” our shows, which to a performer, is quite a big moment. The last time skating together, the last time dancing together, performing these shows, in this place. For us at that time, we were crushed, but life goes on and more changes took over this being that much of a “big deal”.

Social distancing began to take place on our ship in light of the Australian government’s guidelines. The ship heightened sanitation procedures to ensure the health and safety of the crew members including food being served instead of individually taken, to minimize contamination spread. No more than two people to a table when eating, and no more than five people in a group at a time. We roamed the empty ship trying to fill up our days, as distant as we could be from one other.

The days passed, in and out, waiting around, wandering, nothing new. Eat, temperature check, sit, temperature check, eat, sleep, repeat. The ship was taking extreme precautions; anyone having a fever out of the range of 35 to 38 degrees Celsius, had a runny nose, cough, sore throat, or body aches; was confined until further notice when the cause could be confirmed. At this point we had hopes that we would be able to return home between April 2nd and April 5th after our two-week ship-wide quarantine was finished, of course, depending on our flights.

If we were not a part of the skeleton crew, we would be allowed to go home, provided that our county’s boarders were open and there were flights to get there. The company also gave us an option to stay onboard if we felt unsafe to go home, didn’t have a secure place to stay, or there were no flights. However, in deciding to remain onboard, we would be agreeing to an unknown sign off date and location. For me, I just wanted to go home and be with my family, be confined on land like everyone else, not confined in the middle of the ocean.

On March 26th, the State Government blocked anybody from disembarking cruise ships in New South Wales until new border protections were in order. Strict border controls were put in place for all access points, by rail, road, air, and sea. This all came to head after Ruby Princess debarked all of its 2,700 guests to Circular Quay in Sydney, Australia without testing. The details, I can only gather from the news articles, but from what I understand there was “a gaping hole in biosecurity networks when it came to the coronavirus” (The Guardian, 03.28.2020)

This new implementation left our ship, and many others in limbo on what to do and where to go next.

March 29, 2020: Day 12

I wasn’t really motivated to log anything today. Just trying to settle in with the idea that I’ll be here for a while.

Update: this day took a major turn. If feeling trapped at sea walking around the ship was overwhelming – all of us are in for a surprise. We heard over the PA system from the captain saying that there are 4 confirmed cases onboard and in that instant, we were told to go straight to our cabins and wait for further instructions; we would be placed into total ship-wide quarantine (this information has been shared officially already). They took samples of the crew members who were previously put into isolation and were in contact with the guest who tested positive onboard (which we just recently found out about). The ship didn’t have kits onboard so they used kits supplied by the public health authorities in Sydney (to my knowledge).

This total lock down means that we would be placed in single cabins and food would be delivered to us. We were all to remain in our cabins for two weeks (later made into an official fleet wide initiative announced by Royal Caribbean), except those on duty who would work then return immediately after to their cabins. Throughout the day, we were moved, one person to a cabin. We were told to pack up everything. I am lucky enough that I was placed in a guest cabin with fresh air and sunlight. Time to move…

4 confirmed cases. (Quarantine log excerpt)

For now, we would be sitting on anchor in Australian waters with our 1100 crew members. Soon we would port to get fuel and provisions and wait for further information on where we will be going and when.

At this point, we had been out at sea without shore leave for a total of 18 days. For easy understanding, I restarted the quarantine day count as we had officially gone into full cabin quarantine now.

The first day of full cabin quarantine began on March 30th, 2020. I rested well in a big bed, was woken up for breakfast and again for my morning temperature check. Announcements were going off like crazy, with the ship trying to get everything in order. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were not the best, to put it lightly. Just to give a little bit of a picture, we were delivered breakfast by a knock and a plate placed on the floor by crew members in full hazmat suits, gloves, and a mask. I tried not to let the image of being an animal creep into my head, but I couldn’t help to feel like they had just put down my dog bowl. I was scared and anxious. I tried to over-ride these feelings by breathing in the fresh air, and reminding myself that it is a global problem, and I am lucky to be taken care of by a company that is giving me food and a place to stay. I am grateful.

The captain also took notice of the food issue and informed us that the meals would get bigger in proportions and delivered in more of a timely manner, which they definitely did. I can’t blame them; they were just getting the hang of it, working out the kinks. I tried to stay positive for the most part, giving my day a purpose, staying motivated and wiping thoughts of the heaviness of the situation I am in.

Before I continue, I would like to say that throughout this quarantine process, Royal Caribbean has been doing everything they can. From our captain and senior officers to the shore side Miami team, they have constantly reassured us that the health and the safe return home of the crew is their main priority. This is a difficult process for us onboard, but I will definitely say that I appreciate and can see the constant efforts made to keep this promise. I am extremely grateful to be employed by a company that in disastrous situations makes sure to keep me safe on the Voyager of the Seas, my "home away from home" as Mark Tamis (Senior Vice President, Hotel Operations) says in our daily crew outreach message. Unfortunately, in times like these, even the most successful of companies have to be puppets at the hands of the government's regulations and restrictions, and adapt as best they can every day. The company is at constant battles to comply with the Australian government, various port boarders, limited to no international flights, and each crew member’s individual country’s boarder restrictions. This is a battle that has no pretense on how to combat. Each day, the food service gets better. They have just begun to organized how to do the laundry, change the towels, and throw out the garbage for the crew members every 72 hours. They’ve been adding services daily to try and give us what we personally need. They have worked to put everyone into a guest room that was previously in a double bunk cabin. And, for at least my division, one of the crew members still on duty calls twice a day to check in and make sure we have the essentials that we need. I stay busy, I give my day purpose, and I work to keep a positive mindset and outlook. The beauty in all of this is to see everyone on the ship pulling together and supporting one another. Day in and day out, we are all reminded to be thankful for the simple things, and it is helping us get back to the basics.

The second day of quarantine was actually quite a great day. I had a facetime group session with my family, I was productive, I worked out, learned some Spanish, and breathed in the fresh air. When I sat down to eat my dinner that was just delivered to me, I paused for a moment, I thought, and I wrote about my current frame of mind.

March 31, 2020: Cabin Quarantine Day 2

They are doing their best with the food. The company is putting out surveys taking into consideration dietary needs, food restrictions, and preferences (i.e. vegetarian, pescatarian). They are trying to accommodate those that can’t eat pork or beef because of their religion by giving alternative meat options. They are working on the quality of the food since day one, getting the hang of something they’ve never had to do before. I’m trying to imagine I am someone that’s ordering luxury room service 24 hours a day, living on the balcony at sea, but sometimes I cannot help but to feel like a prisoner or an animal. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, served at a knock by people wearing full body hazmat suits, placed in front of you to scarf it down, if you like the food this time, knowing that everyone on this ship is sitting down eating their meal just like you, alone. Now I know this attire is for our health and safety and recommended by health authorities worldwide, but the image to the receiver is hard to digest.  It starts to spiral, builds a lump in my throat. I try to look at the water and see the beauty, but sometimes when I look out I just feel panic and desperation.

I am grateful today for fresh air and sunlight – some are confined to cabins without windows or balcony doors. I stay active, I try to stay positive; I write, I read, I call my family, I try not to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and ungrateful. I know this is a world problem. I am aware that everyone is going through this, some more intensely than others. People are sick, people are dying, people are getting beaten for leaving their houses in some countries. I lighten up.

But when I have my family on facetime and I open the door to a knock, they see for the first time what has been normalized for me; they see the crew in full hazmat suits covered head to toe, masks, and gloves. I turn back smiling, taking my food un-phased by the attire just happy to have a moment of company, and I see my families faces dropped, shocked and hurting for me – I realize this situation I am in is scary and it is extremely different from what others experience isolated in their homes, with their loved ones. I try not go get overwhelmed again.

I repeat to myself: I am healthy, I am fed, I have sunlight and fresh air.

When I call a friend, and they say “it’s not so bad, everyone is going through the same thing” then proceed to leave their apartment, walk outside, get into their car and drive to get coffee and groceries, the difference is staring me in the face. When I think about what is actually going on, the heaviness grows in my heart and I feel the anxiety shaking in my fingertips.

I am confined to my room unable to leave.

I am stuck in the middle of the ocean.

Everything is out of my control – no matter how much I want to change it.

As much as I try, I cannot go home to be with my family and make sure they are okay.

No port will let us dock and return home

More boarders are closing every day.

More flights are cancelling every day.

Pause. Breathe.

It’s not the two weeks in the room that scares me, it’s the aftermath. It’s the unknown of when and from where we will be able to go home. Again, I don’t blame the company, they are doing the best they can, but I know they are under the hands of the government and countries.

I feel guilty for feeling this way sometimes, and as I am writing this I feel selfish about being sad. Sometimes I think I’m not allowed to feel these things because I am fed, I am alive, I am safe. However, the reality of it is beyond that, being stuck out in a body of water is terrifying, and I can’t change that. I try to cling tightly to the thoughts that keep me grateful, but a part of me is always anxious.

So instead, I shift my focus to the lighter things; I work out, post a picture on the gram, wiping my anxiety for social media – and say it is all okay. (Quarantine log excerpt)

Well there you have it. I cannot speak for everyone on the Voyager of the Seas, but this is what it has been like for me living out at sea during this global pandemic. People process situations differently, so I do not want to claim that everyone on the ship is feeling this way. But here you have the facts and realities about what is going on around us (which have been posted on official sources only) and the pure transparent feelings of what is going on within.

To everyone, wherever you are in the world, whatever you are feeling, however you are processing this situation; it is entirely valid because they are your feelings. You can be scared. You can be sad. You can be numb to what is going on around you. The most I can ask is to try and not be ignorant to what is going on around you; watch the news, listen to your government’s and states guidelines and follow them to keep everyone as safe and healthy as possible. I do believe every country is doing the best they can and taking actions how they see fit, and although it is stopping me from going home at this moment; I might not like it, but I respect each individual decision.

As for me, we’ve anchored in Port Kembla, Australia for bunkering and provisions, and now we wait for official news to see where we can go from here.

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5 Comments

  1. Rafael Pineiro
    April 26, 2020 / 5:06 PM

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Love your positive outlook. My wife and I are frequent cruisers and with you the very best

  2. Kim
    April 26, 2020 / 2:49 AM

    Wow amazing , thinking of u all

  3. Daniel P Lariviere
    April 26, 2020 / 1:56 AM

    Very touching, thanks for sharing part of your journey onboard of the ship. Big hugs. I’m Daniel Larivière front Canada

  4. Ian
    April 8, 2020 / 8:49 PM

    Hi Samantha, thank you for sharing your thoughts and intimate details of what life is like for you under quarantine… I hope this all stabilizes soon enough, and you’re able to return home to family.

    Love and Aloha,
    Uncle Ian

  5. Perry
    April 8, 2020 / 6:07 PM

    Thankk you for posting this! A very heartfelt honest article. I feel you girl. Love you, Dad

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