The Questions Post: July 2020

I’ve been home on land for just over three weeks now. Life in VT is kind of like it normally is – except that whole coronavirus thing. People normally find out that I just got back when they ask me where my husband is. When I tell them he’s still onboard and they do the sympathetic, “Oh my goodness! So when was the last time you saw him?” And, I say, “well, actually just a few weeks ago. I was lucky we got to be together for most of the shut down.” Needless to say finding out I just returned from months on a cruise ship has tended to result in some combination of these questions:

  • Wait, there are still people cruising?
  • Did you quarantine? Are you sick? Were you sick?
    • Was the COVID test painful?
  • So if you could leave why couldn’t your husband leave?
  • What was it like being stuck onboard? Was it awful?
  • Why couldn’t you get off the ship anywhere?
  • Is it weird to be home and on land?

Now, not that everyone that I ever meet or interact with reads this blog, but alas, for those of you that do, I’m going to take this opportunity to answer these pressing questions!

Q: Wait, there are still people cruising?
A: I infer nearly always that the “people” being referred to in this category are passengers and not crew. There are no passengers currently sailing on any cruises operated by the line that my husband works for. There are some cruise lines that have restarted some cruising and the EU has released new guidelines to follow should they decide to start cruising. The passengers disembarked the ship I was on March 21-23rd in Fremantle, Australia where they then flew home. Why yes, that means that for the last few months the ship has been sailing with no passengers and just crew onboard.

Q: Did you quarantine? Are you sick? Were you sick?
A: Yes. I quarantined for a total of 10 days. In VT the guidance and requirements are two weeks quarantine or after 7 days you can get a COVID test done and once those results come back you can be “released” from quarantine. I put that in quotations because no one even remotely checked that I was quarantining. It was entirely on the honor system.
No. I am not sick to my knowledge, but since I got my negative test back I have interacted with other people and thusly I cannot 100% answer that I am not sick as I could be an asymptomatic carrier. If anyone asks if you are sick you cannot 100% answer it unless you have had no contact with anyone that has had no contact with anyone else that could have been exposed. While I was on the ship I could 100% say that I was not sick. From the second I left the ship I could not say that.
No. I was not sick, the ship I was on did not have any cases of COVID onboard. Not all cruise ships are diseased. Ugh.

Q: Was the COVID test painful?
A: I don’t want to belittle everyone’s individual pain threshold. If you have had painful sinus surgery or have some deep rooted aversion to cotton swabs then I guess I’ll give you a pass on this one. Getting a giant cotton swab stuffed up your nose is not comfortable, no. But, that discomfort lasts for like 6 seconds while they are doing the test, and then maybe like 2 minutes after. Seriously, everyone needs to calm down on this. To write it in a sentence you wouldn’t even say, “It’s not even not that bad”, but rather, “it is not bad”, because, well, in life, not every single thing is going to be super comfy and cozy and feels like floating on a pillow made of cotton candy. Seriously, a paper cut can be more painful with longer lasting discomfort. If you think you should get a COVID test (and realistically if testing capacity allowed to truly kick this viruses tushy I would be all for the majority of people getting one every few weeks) don’t let the fear of the test be what stops you. It is not bad. Get over your own fears and do it for the sake of society as a whole.

Q: So if you could leave why couldn’t your husband leave?
A: A cruise ship is not something that you can simply turn the key, shut off, and leave. There needs to be about 100 crew onboard in what’s referred to as “Minimum Non-Operational Manning” or MNOM for short. Stuart is in this category of crew member. As I wasn’t working, I am, well, not. This is crew required to keep the engines, propulsion, generators, electricity, and plumbing of the ship going, as well as some general maintenance, navigation officers so when the ship does have to sail they can get there safely, security officers, as well as the people necessary to make sure all those people are taken care of. Think: cooks, housekeepers, laundry attendants, medical staff, dishwashers, and the all important bar tender.

I had previously been allowed to stay onboard but there were some potential challenges in upcoming ports (that they were going to try to do crew change in) that said the ship needed to be on MNOM to enter the port. I got shipped home and Stuart can’t leave the ship until his replacement comes onboard. Thanks to the combination of these lovely factors in the past three weeks that we’ve been apart we missed being able to celebrate both our first wedding anniversary and Stuart’s birthday. Yay job security?

Q: What was it like being stuck onboard? Was it awful?
A: It was interesting. It was odd. It was like Groundhog Day but unlike the movie you couldn’t just become a better person and worry about others and suddenly snap out of it. There were parts that were pretty frustrating. It was a lot of waiting and uncertainty. It was frustrating and expensive internet (I still haven’t used Zoom). It was really strange to be onboard without passengers. To have everyone able to walk around in their normal clothes anywhere onboard.

The good part though was that our ship did not have to quarantine (for the most part) as we were a healthy ship and I was there with my hubby. It felt a bit like a ghost ship with so few people and you got to know the people that were also stuck onboard pretty well. It was a lot of togetherness. But, after that long onboard my husband and I still got along, so wahoo! That’s got to be a good sign.

Q: Why couldn’t you get off the ship anywhere?
A: 1) No one would let us. Countries closed their borders to cruise ships at insane rates. Even when I disembarked I wasn’t allowed to be in the country other than to transit to the airport. Countries treated cruise ship crew and passengers like we were all carrying the plague. 2) People on land are sick! Why would we want to bring their illness onboard? Contrary to popular belief if you are on a healthy ship it is one of the safest places you can be. You are in a confined space where not only can you control and know who you interact with, you also know exactly who everyone you come in contact with interacts with. Contract tracing in a closed loop! Boom!

Q: Is it weird to be home and on land?
A: Have you ever focused on the sound of the wind going through tree leaves? My first day back I was sitting on my little back deck and I could not get over that sound. Coupled with the feel of the breeze and being able to look up and see the leaves moving in the wind I was made so aware of the lack of natural world that I was able to experience while stuck onboard the ship. During normal cruising I get off the ship regularly and go for a walk or go for a hike – you get in nature somehow. When you can’t get off the ship you don’t have that option.

I was hungry so I made myself food. I didn’t have to wait for a meal time. Or in between meal times hope that there was still milk at the coffee station to maybe be able to have a bowl of cereal (that I had stolen from breakfast). I had options of things to eat for a snack other than cereal, Cup Noodles, or potato chips. I could choose a healthy snack in between meal times if I wanted to. While I couldn’t do my own grocery shopping when I first got home I had a real choice in what I would eat and when.

I went to sleep all by my lonesome knowing my husband was literally on the other side of the world and having no idea when I would see him again.

I woke up my first morning home to the sound of birds chirping.

I had to do dishes for the first time in 4 months. I didn’t miss that part.

I get to feel the temperature be hot during the day and cool off at night. Where we were anchored for about a month and a half was hot and humid all the time. Even at night it didn’t truly “cool off” like what I’m used to with Vermont summers.

I have different clothes to wear other than what would fit in my suitcase – and, if I had a tear in my socks I could go out and buy new socks.

I don’t have to get my temperature checked every single day. Considering I now have a higher chance of exposure to the virus doesn’t this seem odd?

I can use the internet without having to login to an account and or switch between the free WhatsApp account and my paid internet account. I can watch Netflix and my life wasn’t designated by megabytes.

Remember how at one point I was like, “if I was at home I would totally be renovating something?” Yeah, I might have taken that too seriously. I completely tore apart our master bedroom to install a new larger window. That project has snowballed a bit. I helped my brother’s girlfriend re-do the bathroom floor at their house. And, once I get through those I have an apartment to remodel. Yeah, not sure I should have made that wish.

I can call my grandma/mom/brother without having to figure out the time difference and without worry that the Wi-Fi signal onboard wouldn’t be strong enough. Instead now I get to try to figure out the time difference to talk to my husband.

And, lastly: people are still stuck on ships around the world because countries won’t let crew change happen, yet on land people (and I am looking directly at you USA) aren’t wearing masks and taking this seriously. It is infuriatingly frustrating!

Do you have any other questions for me about what it was like onboard? If so, respond in the comments!

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