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Bonnie Brown: Adventures on the Norovirus Cruise

The long-planned-for cruise to the Caribbean was finally here! What a way to interrupt winter by sailing the turquoise waters of the Caribbean!

We boarded the plane on Friday in Memphis bound for Ft. Lauderdale via Orlando. Yes, Orlando. Why Orlando? Unbeknownst to us at the time my husband Tom booked the cruise, the Super Bowl was in Miami and hotel rooms were not only hard to find but also very pricey! So we spent the night in Orlando, then rented a car and drove to Ft. Lauderdale to board the Caribbean Princess on Sunday morning.

Tom had booked a place to stay that was convenient to the cruise terminal and within our budget. In fact, upon arriving at our “beach studio,” we immediately dubbed it The Resort. As a matter of clarification, we called it the LAST Resort! While it was clean, it definitely had a 60’s vibe to it—and not necessarily in a good way. When we arrived the next morning at the cruise terminal, many fellow passengers were bemoaning their pricey accommodations, saying their space cost then upwards of $400 plus per night and they didn’t have hot water, but did have roaches! So, we stopped complaining about our experience at The Last Resort and boarded the ship. We were at last under way!

The Caribbean Princess is a beautiful ship which can carry 3,142 passengers and 1,200 crew members. Our accommodations on board the ship were very nice and quite comfortable. Tom’s sister, Pam, traveled with us so we were looking forward to spending time together and the allure of the islands.

The Caribbean Princess. Photo provided.

We were at sea for two days before docking at Philipsburg, St. Maarten on Wednesday. It’s a beautiful island very accommodating to tourists. It’s also home to Nick Maley, who is referred to as “That Yoda Guy” because he was one of the make-up artists who helped create Yoda in the iconic Star Wars movies. Yoda Guy is in his 60s and originally from London. He and his wife moved to the Dutch side of this part-French/part-Dutch island several years ago.

Sister-in-law Pam Butalla, Bonnie Brown, and Nick Maley a.k.a. “Yoda Guy.”

After a few hours of shopping and sipping pina coladas, we returned to the ship. Our next stop the following day was Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, a part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. We had booked a tour to visit neighboring St. John, the smallest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, with beautiful beaches. It was an interesting tour with our guide pointing out a private island, Little Saint James, owned by Jeffrey Epstein, just a short distance from St. John.

After purchasing the requisite T-shirt, we were back on board having dinner when the Captain made the announcement that there had been reported cases of the Norovirus and while those passengers who were affected were being treated and monitored, we would not be able to port the next day in St. Kitts as planned. What began as a relaxing 14-day cruise on the Caribbean Princess quickly took on an unexpected and unwelcome turn. We spent the next day at sea en route to Fort-De-France, Martinique. We arrived in a downpour and boarded a small bus to tour the area. We toured the historic downtown area, drove through a rain forest, and stopped to eat a picnic lunch, courtesy of our tour guide, at a beautiful beach. Truly a good day after all.

Later back on board the ship that evening, the Captain announced that while all efforts were being made to contain the Norovirus, Barbados had rolled up the welcome mat and we would not be allowed to stop there and would again be “at sea” the next day, on our way to the next scheduled port, Trinidad on Monday. While not getting to stop at Barbados was disappointing, we were looking forward to Trinidad even though there had been travel warnings about crime related to the drug trade there.

Later that night (Sunday), the Captain announced that the ship would not be allowed to port in Trinidad and that the decision had been made to cancel our remaining ports (Bonaire and Aruba) and return to Ft. Lauderdale. The Captain indicated that the number of cases of the Norovirus was on the decline but there was evidence all around the ship of the ongoing effort to combat the virus—crew members were wiping down all areas of the ship, the dinner menus were being wiped down after usage, elevator buttons were being wiped, everyone was cleaning.

While the Captain did not disclose to us the number of cases of the Norovirus, the information was posted in several online stories. It seems that there were at least 299 passengers and 22 crew members stricken by the Norovirus.

The next three days were spent at sea on our way back to Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale where we arrived Thursday morning, three days earlier than scheduled. We missed five of eight ports. Princess Cruise Lines offered a 50 percent refund and a 50 percent off a future cruise. My travel-happy husband has booked us for next year!

What more could happen? Well, it seems that some very savvy hackers managed to get our banking information, likely over Wi-Fi. Thankfully, our bank’s fraud department called to alert us to the criminal activity on our accounts which included changing our address, attempting to use our credit cards to order stuff in New York and San Francisco, ordering “blank checks” in addition to “new” credit cards! We are all so vulnerable to these kinds of attacks, even more than we realize. We have remedied this unwelcome intrusion and set things right with our accounts.

While it will be a memorable trip for many reasons, I am glad to be home and settling back into my comfy routine. I am grateful that we didn’t get the nasty virus. I sincerely hope that those passengers who started their long-awaited-for Caribbean cruise this past Sunday get to visit all the ports and can cruise without worrying about the Norovirus. We gratefully count our blessings that it wasn’t the Coronavirus and that we weren’t quarantined for weeks.

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