What Daily Life is Like in Cruise Ship COVID Quarantine

Written by Mark McElroy

The limits of quarantine don’t have to define the limits of our experience.

Our days in a COVID quarantine cabin onboard the Koningsdam have been pleasant enough, but they are repetitive, and they do begin to blur together. It’s like living in that movie, Groundhog’s Day, except the small town Bill Murray is trapped in is a 250 square-foot cabin. (Since Clyde’s here, I’ve been tempted to start each day by playing Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe.”) Here’s how we pass the time:

We Get Around

We start the morning with a trip to our private dining hall: the tiny love seat by the sliding glass door to the cabin’s verandah. We then retire to the library: the bed, where we read the news and catch up on email, tweets, and Cruise Critic messages.

Housekeeping (that’s me) makes the bed and tidies up, while our personal meal planner (that’s Clyde) scours the daily menus and jots down our choices. I go to the gym, also known as our verandah, where I squat and do push-ups, jumping jacks, knee-lifts, and step-ups to get my heart racing … and then go to the spa for a luxurious steam session and a facial (really, though — it’s just the shower in our tiny little bathroom).

After lunch, I usually head for the business center (either a chair on the verandah or the seat at our cabin’s little desk) to read and write. I’m taking this opportunity to do a deep dive into my Obsidian graph (a kind of database, where all the things I read, write, and think about are linked together), and I’m appreciating how that tool helps me discover patterns in the ideas I’ve preserved over time.

By two o’clock, I go to my private theater (my iPad) and watch episodes of shows I like but that Clyde does not (The Expanse, for example). Clyde goes to his private theater (his iPad) and watches episodes of shows he likes but that I do not (Big Bang Theory, for example). Four o’clock? Nap time.

After another trip to the dining hall around six (that poor little love seat is going to need some serious vacuuming when all of this is over), we meet friends for drinks (that is, our friends call us on the cabin phone, and we sit on the bed and sip hot tea and ice water while chatting). After this happy hour, we go to the Showroom at Sea (the love seat again, but with pillows and blankets) to watch some of the shows we enjoy together (HBO’s Station Eleven and Netflix’s YOU, these days). When Clyde starts nodding off, we take one last walk around the promenade deck (the narrow space between our bed, the wall, and our bathroom), draw the drapes, and go to sleep.

We do this over. And over. And over. And over. Before we leave, we’ll complete this cycle two and a half more times.

We Have Lots of Time to Think about COVID

We are reasonably confident that, while we did test positive for COVID on the Koningsdam, we did not actually contract COVID while on board.

As required, we tested negative for COVID on December 24th before departing for our cruise. That said: after doing some contact tracing and personal sleuthing, we understand that several people we glimpsed on Christmas Day have now also tested positive … and we are fairly certain which one of them gave us a little something extra for Christmas.

On the one hand, I want to be really angry at folks who know they have symptoms, refuse to get tested, and insist on going about their business, unmasked, infecting everyone around them. On the other hand, I also feel a little angry at myself: for failing to have the gumption to refuse to associated with unvaccinated loved ones, for believing we could have a pretty normal Christmas in the middle of an Omicron spike, for refusing to listen to my own intuition about what and what not to do.

People these days should be responsible enough to be doing the right things: getting vaccinated, wearing masks, avoiding indoor gatherings, getting tested at the least little sniffle or throat tickle, and quarantining themselves when they test positive. These are the things decent human beings do, even when it means canceling plans you’re enthusiastic about.

And I should be responsible enough to say, “I love you, but if you can’t do these things, we can’t be around each other.” Going forward, that’s what I’ll do.

We Love Mealtime

We are free to order any food options we like from the in-room dining menu, the main dining room, and the ship’s restaurants. That food tends to arrive in about forty-five minutes if it all comes from the same place.

But if your meal pulls together items from more than one venue — say, the In-Room Dining menu AND the Dive-In hamburger bar — you won’t be eating for at least ninety minutes. So: eat from one venue at a time, and order as soon as that venue opens, because delivery times are just gonna get longer as other in-room diners start dialing in.

Our lukewarm meals, instead of being served on Holland America’s distinctive china, arrive in several recyclable cardboard boxes, accompanied by nearly worthless balsa wood sporks and knives. (One time, we got the china and real silverware, and we squealed like little girls at a tea party. I imagine, though, this was a mistake, and fully expect that our china and silverware, having been here in the Plague Room, was tossed overboard in Puerto Vallarta.)

Last night’s dinner from the excellent Tamarind restaurant is pretty typical: soba noodles and veggies in Box A and steamed dumplings and more veggies in Box B. The boxes work pretty well, but meals with sauces or runny sides (like, say, Asian food with soy or chili sauce) won’t fare as well since a) sauces slosh around a lot during delivery and b) they begin eating away at the integrity of the box before it makes its way to you.

Food is delivered by mysterious crew members who have been instructed to place our tray on a stool outside our cabin, tap on the door, and run as though they’re being pursued by the Devil himself. A few, though, have paused long enough to melodiously purr: “Here’s your breakfast! It’s lunchtime! It’s time for your dinner!”

That tiny little human connection means more than they can know.

We are Thankful to the Koningsdam Crew

To order our food, we dial 90 or 92 and chat with guest services.

Because we can’t leave the cabin to fend for ourselves, we call these numbers a lot. I imagine the crew must picture us as large, helpless toddlers who are just smart enough to operate a phone and howl for attention.

But let me say this right up front: the crew of the Koningsdam is amazing. The staff knows we’re in a COVID cabin, and in the course of taking our order, they almost never fail to ask how we’re feeling. When we order hot tea, they are likely to say, “Oh, why not some cookies, too, just in case?” Indeed! Why not?

Everyone we speak with is pleasant and sympathetic, and those patient voices soothe and reassure us. And, boy, are these people willing to go the extra mile.

When I’m sick, I crave my favorite comfort food: pepperoni pizza. As it turns out, there is a pizza joint on board … but their pizzas are not listed on any of the in-room dining menus. During a phone exchange yesterday, I happened to tell Wesley and Rainer, the guest services staff members we’ve spoken with most often, how much I was longing for a pepperoni pie. They took the hint … coordinated with the proper people … and the next thing I knew, a masked chef (complete with a puffy white hat) had delivered my dream pizza directly to my cabin door.

I almost cried. And then I ate the entire thing in less than four minutes. Thank you, Rainer and Wesley!

All of this to say: whatever need we’ve expressed, the wonderful crew has bent over backward to fulfill. They’re amazing — every single one of them.

We Get Wonderful Messages

As of this writing, more than 2,200 people have read the post we made two days ago on What Happens When You Get COVID on a Luxury Cruise. Many of those people — some of whom are on this very ship — have also been kind and thoughtful enough to send us tweets or email, wishing us well and thanking us for the information.

Let me tell you: when you are locked in a Quarantine Cabin for days on end, every little email and tweet is like a gift made of pure gold. Thanks to all of you, we feel a little less alone and a little more connected to the ship and to the world.

We’ve heard from multiple people that the good crew of the Koningsdam is getting weary of having to constantly play the role of mask police. We’ve heard that many guests on board — especially younger guests — simply refuse to take masking requirements seriously. Night before last, friends of ours were accosted in a bar by an unmasked, drunken floozy of a gal who wanted to get all up in their faces and spray them with unwanted invitations to dance.

I know that policing the mask situation is tiring. I know it seems harsh. But if the cruise industry is going to survive the pandemic, y’all have got to keep up the kind of “no nonsense” approach to mask wearing and testing that you have toward people throwing things overboard or arriving late to port. People who have to be told to wear a mask in public spaces more than once should be confined to quarters and ushered off the ship at the next port to get home at their own expense — world without end, no exceptions, amen.

We Watch the News

We’ve also heard about the CDC warning, issued yesterday, to avoid sailing on cruise ships at all costs. To this, we can only say:

1) Regardless of government policy, cruise ships should require testing as passengers come aboard … require random testing during the cruise … and require testing again upon disembarkation. The industry has an opportunity to set a standard for testing and safety that transcends anything the American government is doing back on shore. Step up — and shut them up.

2) If the American government were more focused on making free rapid testing broadly available to all citizens, enforcing mask mandates, and providing adequate health care for all Americans, they’d have a lot less time to demonize single industries (and a lot more clout when they chose to do so).

Right now, today, even as we’re sequestered in our cabin, our cruise ship has a far lower incidence of COVID per capita than the county where we live. (For that matter, the ship also has a lower incidence of COVID per capital than our own Christmas get together apparently had!)

The inability and irresponsibility of those who cannot follow simple rules, paired with a lack of free, widespread testing are far more to blame for the latest spike in cases than the cruise industry ever will be.

We’re Still Dressing for Dinner

And now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s about time to start getting ready for tonight’s New Year’s Eve Gala.

Clyde and I will be dressing up, ordering our cardboard boxes full of steak and lobster, and toasting each other with paper cups of champagne. This will be the 29th new year we’ve been blessed to spend together … and while it’s not quite the new year’s eve we planned … it’s the one we’ve got, and it will certainly be among our most memorable.

Here’s hoping your 2022 will be healthy, happy, and safe. Thanks for keeping an eye on us … and for taking the time to let us know you care. Happy New Year!

About the author

Mark McElroy