What Happens when You Disembark a Cruise Ship after COVID Quarantine

Written by Mark McElroy

Our escort out of quarantine was swift and uneventful.

Author’s Note: Clyde and I tested positive for COVID while traveling on Holland America’s Koningsdam. We spent a little over five days in isolation in a 250 square-foot cabin (and actually had a pretty good time, all things considered). This is the last entry, then, in a three-part series written to help you make your own best decisions about cruising during the COVID era.

Our long voyage in the Koningsdam’s quarantine cabin ended quietly on Sunday, January 2nd.

Friends kind enough to follow this story online have been curious: what happens at the end of COVID quarantine? How do you disembark? Does HAL burn your sheets, pillowcases, and towels in a big bonfire right in front of you, or do they wait until after you’re gone?

If you find yourself disembarking from a COVID isolation cabin on a Holland America cruise, here’s what you can expect.

Planning Our Escape

The hardest thing about disembarking? Climbing over the handrails of our balcony, stepping gingerly out onto the railings that connect the ship to the tender craft, and wriggling down into the tender craft through the narrow skylight. While Clyde unlocked the cable system that dropped our tender into the water, I revved up the engines … and then we were free, speeding away from the rising sun and into the vast, deep expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

I kid, I kid. Our departure included absolutely zero spy movie shenanigans.

The truth is this: the hardest thing about disembarking was not knowing ahead of time how we would disembark. To be honest, I don’t think they had a plan until just before customer service agents called us on Saturday, January 1st, to give us our choice from a range of possible disembarkation times. Given our situation, we jumped at the first available time: 8:00 a.m. After five full days of isolation in a tiny cabin, we didn’t want to spend a single second longer in quarantine than we had to.

Leaving the Ship

On the morning we disembarked, our early departure prevented us from ordering any breakfast from In-Room Dining. So the head of the dining room called us at 7:00 a.m. just to ask whether he, personally, could bring us some breakfast! We declined, but we appreciated this gesture: another example of how hard the crew of the Koningsdam worked to keep us comfortable.

When our appointment time rolled around, I expected our escorts to be wearing the kind of hazmat suit our terrified porter wore the morning HAL moved us to the COVID suite. But the crew members who tapped on our door at precisely 8:00 sported crisp white uniforms and no protective gear other than masks and gloves. They greeted us, they smiled, and they insisted on handling our luggage for us.

Our exit path took us down the quarantine hall, so we had a good look at the doors and delivery stools of our neighbors. Based on the modest crew breakfasts being delivered, we’re pretty sure we were the only actual passengers remaining on the COVID quarantine floor.

Given how carefully and completely we’d been isolated, we were a bit surprised when our guides routed us into an occupied elevator car. This encounter with other (masked) guests was close but brief; even so, I held my breath for the entire ride … just in case.

And then off the elevator, through the sensors, onto the gangplank … and our COVID isolation ordeal was over. The travel gods must have smiled at us at that point, because we got through the superspreader event they call “Immigration” without a hitch … and right before that system went down for a half-hour or so.

Being Home

Had we arrived via an international flight, we would have been subject to COVID testing before being readmitted to the United States. (And since it’s likely we would have still tested positive, I’m not sure what would have happened!) But as we were arriving by cruise ship, we faced no testing or questions about COVID at all. This is convenient for us, certainly … but this strikes me as a policy in need of some attention.

Once out of the cruise terminal, we stood there, blinking, shielding our eyes from the unbelievably bright morning sun.

Overhead: the impossible blue dome of the San Diego sky.

Surrounding us: the manic “waterfront in the morning” activity of swirling passengers, morning joggers, dog walkers, and panhandlers.

Behind us: the Koningsdam, a massive twelve-story resort hotel that jumps, like magic, from port to port. From the pier, I could easily pick out the verandah room where we spent the last five days.

It looked very small.

At this writing, Clyde and I continue our recovery from two very mild cases of COVID. In the early mornings, the ragged remains of a cough persist, but otherwise, we’re fine.

As previously planned, we’ve spent a few days in San Diego in an AirBnB. After five days together in a tiny space, just being able to walk around places like a park or a zoo (always masked, always distant from others) is a small miracle.

We remain booked on a cruise that’s scheduled to depart Norway in late January.

About the author

Mark McElroy