Cruise 2020 Episode 4, July 6: The Chariot Turns Into a Pumpkin.

Note the date above, July 6. I have not posted since June 27—nine days ago. What is going on? Why no posts?

The first peculiar observation on board ship that was a harbinger of what was to come appeared on the day before my last post, that is, on June 26. In walking back to our stateroom I was blocked from going down the corridor by a huge door that had a big sign on it saying “no  admission, staff only.” In trying to maneuver around it by taking another hallway, I realized that about a fourth of the entire deck 5 was now off limits, which would translate to between 50 and 80 staterooms. I asked one of the stewards about it who replied, “Water pipe issue, they are working on it.”

Odd, I thought, and wondered how the passengers in the affected area were dealing with it. There was not so much as a word on the loudspeaker from the captain or anyone else about an emergency that would shut down 50 or more staterooms. Could it have something to do with covid? At no point so far in the journey had the “C-word” been uttered by anyone. It was taboo on this vessel. People had signed up for a good time, and the Holland America people were determined to do all in their power not to worry people needlessly and ruin their vacations.

Just to ease my curiosity, later in the day I asked another steward, who said he was not sure but thought it was an electrical issue of some sort. Still no official word: All fun and games, jewelry shows, piano bars, playing the slots, weight loss and wrinkle reduction classes, and all sorts of other fun stuff. And during this time, practically the only person wearing a mask in common areas besides all of the crew was one Embry Howell, henceforth to be referred to as “Iron Lady” for reasons soon to become apparent.

The next two days, June 28 and 29 involved stunning and spectacular land excursions to wild and scenic Iceland—towering cliffs, snow capped peaks, tiny fishing villages, long underground tunnels, majestic waterfalls—everything you would expect from one of the most isolated and magical spots on the planet.

Two events of note occurred on those two days. First, on June 28 I started feeling a little weak and had a slight cough, but, hey, no problem, just a normal cold. I took a covid test that afternoon to be sure, and it came out negative. So far so good.  Also that day we discovered that yet another hallway on the ship had been shut down and cordoned off, this time on level 4, effectively taking offline another 50-80 staterooms. Still no announcement and no mask protocols other than “masks recommended  but not required.” The Iron Lady was one of the few paying attention and wearing her mask all the time in common areas when not eating or drinking.

When I asked a steward pushing a cart of dishes as the door blocking level 5 opened, my inquiry was answered truthfully for the first time. “That is where they put the covid people.”

Mystery solved, but what did this mean, and why no information from the ship?

Then on the Iceland excursion on June 29, I probably should have stayed back because I was feeling worse; but since I had tested negative the previous afternoon, I decided to go on the excursion with Embry  to see glaciers and geysers. To my embarrassment, I coughed under my mask almost incessantly. When we returned to the ship, the cruise director came on the speaker announcing that masking was now mandatory in all common areas. By that time I was feeling terrible.

There was no mention of the dreaded word, “covid,” but  there was not a person on board who did not know exactly what was going on.

Party over.

That evening the symptoms set in—a throat so sore that it was painful to swallow, an incessant hacking cough, occasional chills, aching muscles, at times minor issues with breathing, and near total exhaustion. The next morning I called the medical center, and within an hour the PCR test was administered and the results conclusive: Covid 19.

No surprise.

 The nurse informed me of the rules: I  was now officially quarantined and would remain quarantined for at least five days; and following that to get off  quarantine I would also need to have a negative covid test. Room cleaning would be suspended, and no crew allowed in the room. Meal delivery would continue. At the end of the cruise, all covid passengers still quarantined would be transferred to a hotel exclusively for covid victims.

The good news was that since Embry’s test was negative, she was free to come and go as she pleased. The idea of a covid free person having to go to a covid hotel, however, was for her not a pleasing thought. It is still a mystery why she did not pick up the disease from me. In any event the Iron Lady’s persistence in wearing masks in common areas, even though not required, paid off.

The nurse almost apologized that because the ship’s covid isolation areas were totally full I would have to remain in our stateroom rather than relocate. When I asked her how many people  had covid on the ship, she said that she was not allowed to say. A couple  of days later I asked the same question to a person I presumed was a doctor who paused, took a deep breath and replied “Not above ten percent of the passengers but counting.” Six staterooms surrounding our room all were eating delivered meals.

Catastrophe, I thought. That would mean at a minimum 150-200 passengers with covid. Embry and I were the lucky ones. We have been on a lot of cruises and have seen a lot of the world. What about the people who had never been on a cruise before or those who had saved up for an experience of a lifetime? Plus, by some miracle, Embry, the Iron Lady, was fine and able to continue going on excursions and enjoying the amenities. What about the people whose spouse or partner was also sick or people traveling alone?   

The next five days were not happy ones for me or Embry. I was as sick as I can ever recall, and I have had a lot of bad respiratory viruses over the years including three bouts with pneumonia. I thought having had two vaccinations and two boosters was supposed to keep the virus at bay even if you got it. But, hey, I am alive, and that could well be the saving grace of the vaccine. Without it, for me  and probably many other covid victims on the ship (No one was allowed on the cruise who was not fully vaccinated), the ending could have been truly tragic.

It was not an easy time for the Iron Lady either. Embry was exhausted trying to take care of me plus overwhelmed by the thought of having to cancel and rebook at least three flights and one B&B. She has spent the better part of the last two days trying to get the flight from Edinburg to Washington rebooked only to be hung up on several times by the travel agent.

Worried about their elderly parents, our two children, Andrew and Jessica, with help from their spouses, staged an intervention where they informed us they were now in charge of getting us home immediately after the cruise was over, which involved cancelling a side trip to Edinburgh to visit old friends and then to depart from Copenhagen rather than Edinburgh. Embry and I are so proud to have such responsible and caring children. The only wrinkle was (and is) that there are no flights from Copenhagen to Washington or anywhere else in the U.S. due to a pilot strike by SAS pilots. We are still trying to figure this one out.

We are now at a very nice airport hotel and have a flight out tomorrow morning to Edinburgh.

Stand by for the next post.

12 thoughts on “Cruise 2020 Episode 4, July 6: The Chariot Turns Into a Pumpkin.

  1. So sorry to hear this; take care and get well soon. Cheers for Embry, and your helpful, responsible kids. I know it’s hard when you have to let them take charge, but be gracious, and thankful you raised them to be so caring.

  2. What a story. Relieved to learn you have passed through the valley of Covid. Awaiting the next post and your safe return. Your bout of Covid sounds like our October 2020 experience.

  3. What a fright and ordeal! Thank you so much for this report – beyond relieved you are doing better. Waiting with bated breath for next installment!

  4. This truly sounds like a bad horror movie. People disappear behind barred doors. Officials prevaricate. “Pipes.” “Electrical issues.” Slight cough. Ominous music. Trays appear up and down the hallway and disappear behind doors that are quickly opened and closed. Still no official information. One brave doctor privately admits the truth. (Unless he speaks to media, or some enterprising journalist finds your blog, this’ll still be hushed up.) And STILL no official information. Just “masks are now mandatory.” But nobody’ll utter the taboo word, COVID.

    It’s like FL’s “Don’t say gay” except the word is COVID, COVID, COVID.

    I look forward anxiously to your return.

  5. Joe,
    As you know from the email thread I was not totally surprised that SOMETHING had happened. Such a long silence while traveling is just sooooo UN Howell. So glad that you were able to slip the noose, albeit not without significant illness. You tale of woe was part of the reason I decided to cancel our plans for a trans Canada train trip. I can’t think of a better super spreader environment than a train or a cruise ship.
    Thank God for the children. Tell Embry I feel her pain at the thought of having to make all those travel rearrangements. The pits.
    Heretofore Holland America got high marks with me. No more.

    Safe homeward travels.


  6. Like your reference to Embry as “the Iron Lady.” They used to call Margaret Thatcher that.


    1. I admired Maggie Thatcher (not necessarily her policies), so I consider this a compliment. I remember when there was a bombing once and she was nearby when it happened. She brushed off her dress, and just moved on to her next appointment for the day. I would probably do the same. But can any of you doctors explain why I didn’t get Covid?

      1. One guess:
        Your strict masking reduced your intake of virus enough to keep it below what your very strong immune system could handle. Not so on both counts with Joe.
        I too admired Thatcher and was in sinc with her politics. Same with Reagan. And it was a compliment, albeit with tongue in cheek. I can’t imagine being in your shoes with ALL of the responsibilities for both of you and a nigh-unto-death spouse on a cruise ship away from all familiar medical care. So incredibly glad y’all are home.

  7. Hope you are feeling better Joe. We just read your latest post. Hope you return home safely or have a wonderful and health restoring stay in Edinburgh.
    The Hundleys

  8. The word “ordeal” doesn’t come close to
    Describing your June-July. We’re hoping you are back to strength soon. All
    The best to you both! Hank and Mell

  9. Dear Joe, what a trip saga! Sorry you were so sick. No doubt Embry approved of your calling her the Iron Lady (HA!!) It’s understandable in this context however.

    We’re supposed to go on a Viking-Rhine Cruise end of August that goes to Oberammergau, we shall see what happens with IT! It’s reassuring to know that our adult kids will step in on our behalf, even when we still think we can handle it all…

    Hope any future plans work out better! Love, Karen and Rick

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