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Upon my return from a 12-day cruise aboard a new expedition ship, the Seabourn Venture, the first questions from family and friends weren’t about the vessel or the sightseeing or the food or the people. They all wanted to know what it was like to have Covid on a cruise ship. Fortunately, because I contracted it early in my voyage and didn’t get very sick, I could tell them in all honesty: Not bad!
Since I had been vaccinated (again) just three weeks prior to boarding, I felt unperturbed as our driver coughed and coughed all the way from our hotel to the port for embarkation. In fact, I didn’t think about it once — until three days later.
That’s when I first felt the niggle in my throat, which I misattributed to the dust in Lima, Peru, and the arid Paracas National Reserve. Confident that it was allergies and certain the Covid test would be negative, I went to the infirmary for nasal spray — such naïveté! A maskless nurse swabbed my nose, and within minutes her visage turned from “happy to see you” to “quite alarmed to see you — and so close!” Stepping backward from me, she said, “Ohhh, noooo… let me get a mask.” After two years of taking precautions, it had happened: The virus had finally nabbed me, far from home, aboard an expedition ship off the coast of South America.
What came next was the most distressing part of the experience. Never having been in police custody before, I got my first taste of what it feels like to be relieved of your autonomy. Stern-looking nautical officers escorted me to my room and waited outside as I repacked my luggage to move to a special stateroom for a Covid-positive passenger. (I could have stayed with my suitemate, but she hadn’t yet tested positive.) A stool was placed in front of my door as a kind of scarlet letter, warning staff of the sick person inside. Alone in my new room with my luggage still packed, I was bereft. I anticipated a long and lonely four days of sequestration in that suddenly small-feeling Veranda Suite. I made calls to fellow passengers I’d come into contact with to tell them the news. At least I’d had the presence of mind to nab the bottle of vodka from my former quarters.
Little did I know things would start to look up the next day, when my asymptomatic companion, now testing positive herself, welcomed me back. While we couldn’t move about the ship or go on excursions, we could watch the prerecorded lectures with onboard scientists and historians from the Discovery Center on our television. And we had more extensive in-suite-dining menus to choose from than other guests did, so we could order just about anything we liked. Nearly every day we’d get a call from the clinic checking on our symptoms (which were fortunately mild), and a different crew manager would ring to ask if there was anything special we wanted — perhaps a bottle of Champagne or a dessert. Staff delivered gift bags containing cross-stitch kits and New York Times crossword puzzles. Our Wi-Fi worked well, which allowed us to catch up on television series we’d had no time for back home. We got fresh air on the veranda and did yoga to musical entertainment played portside. It wasn’t the cruise I’d imagined, but it certainly wasn’t terrible.