“We booked our trip in late December and at that point we really didn’t know the severity of things. Even as we were boarding the ship, there wasn’t widespread public concern about the virus in the US but by the time we got home the world had changed,” said Montgomery County native Rachel Maretti.
Maretti and her mom, Kim Noyes, of Hillsboro, embarked on their annual mother-daughter trip right on the cusp of the COVID-19 pandemic’s spread throughout the United States. Both women are avid travelers, but Maretti had never been on a cruise and the duo decided to book a Panama Canal Cruise aboard Princess Cruises’ Island Princess ship late last year.
“It’s our tradition. Rachel and I plan a plan trip every year and we usually go in March. I had been on a cruise before. My late husband and I went on a Princess Cruise to Alaska for our 20th wedding anniversary in 2006. Rachel had never been on a cruise though and I really wanted for her to experience one,” said Noyes. “We did our research and felt like the Panama Canal Cruise offered the most variety, with beautiful beaches and rich history and culture.”
Noyes and Maretti took their first mother-daughter trip, a ten day vacation to Guatemala, in 2015. The trips became a yearly tradition when Noyes’ husband, Bob Noyes, passed unexpectedly in 2016.
“It started after Bob passed away as a way to get her out of the house and keep her mind off of things. We went on our first trip a year before he passed away. It was something we had always talked about doing but life gets busy and there was always a reason not to go.” Maretti explained. “When Bob died it really reminded us of what is important in life. It’s something we both look forward to, spending that week together.”
After some discussion, the duo decided to take their trip as planned and embarked on their ten day cruise on Saturday, March, 7. The Island Princess was one of Princess Cruises’ last ships to go out, following the ships departure the cruise line began cancelling trips and calling departed ships back.
“A few days after boarding was when things seemed to hit a huge turning point. We began to notice the crew really cracking down and they had a look of uncertainty on their faces the entire time,” said Noyes. “The meal times changed. The first night dinner was self-serve but after that each meal service got progressively more strict. Everyone was required to wash their hands with antibacterial soap for 20 seconds while a staff member surveyed. The crew served all the food, guests could not even get their own drinks. We were not allowed to take books or games from the library or have salt and pepper shakers on our table.”
The local travelers found that the changing tides extended far past the ship. Additional precautions were being taken at the scheduled ports as well. Passengers were monitored for any sign of virus-related symptoms and were required to have their temperatures checked before being allowed to board the ship at the initial departure.
The Island Princess’ guests were only allowed to disembark the ship at two out of five of the scheduled stops. Their first scheduled stop was Jamaica, where the ship was refused entry to the port due to rough weather conditions. They continued on to the port at Cartagena, Columbia, where they were allowed to leave the ship and take a tour that night and again the following day. They later arrived at the Panama Canal, where they were all required to have their temperatures checked and were ready to disembark when Panama officials suddenly decided not to let them off the boat. According to Noyes, they were not given an official reason for the change in stance but guests felt it was related to concerns about the COVID-19 virus. They were allowed to get off the boat at their following stop, Costa Rica, but were refused admittance at their last stop, Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands.”
While concern was growing, the guests remained in vacation mode. The cruise line had welcomed each passenger with a $100 credit on the first day of the trip, as a thank you for keeping their reservation, and later gave guests additional on-board credits to be used for entertainment, since the majority of the scheduled ports were closed.
“We did start to get more concerned as we got closer to home and began hearing more and more stories about worsening cases and how rapidly the virus was spreading. We were minutely concerned that they may not let us back into the country,” Maretti said. “The crazy thing is that after getting off the ship to return home, no one checked our temperatures. It was so odd that after so many protocols while on the ship, no one checked us (outside of the cruise line) when we returned to the US.
Despite the fact that no signs of illness were present on their ship, Noyes and Maretti opted to self quarantine. They both agreed that even though they were not showing symptoms they didn’t want to take the risk that they may be asymptomatic and could potentially pass the virus on to their family, friends or community.
“The cruise industry is getting a lot of negative publicity right now, but we really feel that they were being honest and open about what was happening,” said Maretti. “We definitely plan to go on another cruise when it is safe to travel.”