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My Turn: Cruising uncharted waters during the coronavirus pandemic

Saul Schachter found himself aboard the Norwegian Bliss

Saul Schachter found himself aboard the Norwegian Bliss in early March when a national emergency was declared. Credit: Saul Schachter

When the COVID-19 outbreak began and President Trump declared a national emergency in early March, businesses shut down, citizens began staying home, cities looked like ghost towns … and I was on a cruise ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean heading to the Bahamas.

Not the best timing on my part.

“You’re on a cruise? Are you nuts?” were the email messages I received from my closest friends and family members.

In my defense, I must point out that when I left on the Norwegian Bliss on March 8, no one, not one person, expressed concern about me going on a cruise. I was concerned, calling my travel agent, calling Norwegian, only to be assured that, yes, the cruise was still on.

I left from Manhattan so I didn’t have to travel by plane or get a hotel for the night before, a plan that turned out to be a good move. I took the Long Island Rail Road to Penn Station and walked the 40-plus blocks to the dock, where passengers had their temperatures checked before boarding the ship. I was healthy.

The first two days at sea were fairly uneventful. I was enjoying the food, the entertainment, the friendly crew members, but aware of the ominous situation outside, washing my hands often.

When the president issued his proclamation on March 13, our world changed. No longer could we help ourselves to the buffet — the crew would dish out our food. The library was closed. We were encouraged to wash our hands ALL the time. And, yet, I felt pretty calm despite the fact that I happened to be on one of the biggest ships in the fleet: We had 5,000 passengers and more than 2,200 crew members.

On March 12, we landed in the Bahamas; it was a beautiful day — but not for everyone. President Trump announced that travel was being suspended to most European countries, leaving our 39 European cruise companions scrambling to find flights to Miami, then back to their home countries across the Atlantic. Things were getting chaotic.

I had three more days to go before returning to New York. But now I was worried. If one person among the 7,200-plus folks on this cruise came down with the virus, we would have all been quarantined. My initial thought was: Hey, this could be fun! I wouldn’t be too upset to be on the ship for another week: Delicious, unlimited food. Nice pool. Terrific entertainment (the singers and dancers weren’t going anywhere). Back home, I’d be stuck in my house.

Nevertheless, what gnawed at me was not knowing when I would be allowed to return home.

Each day I prayed no one got sick.

We returned to New York early on March 15. Upon disembarking, my temperature was taken — I passed! — and I got out of the terminal quickly lest it be discovered that someone else hadn’t passed.

I walked through the abandoned streets of Manhattan — it really was a scene out of an apocalyptic movie — and caught my nearly empty train at Penn Station back to Sea Cliff. I walked home, self-quarantined for 14 days, then started thinking of my next cruise.

I hope my timing will be better for that one!

Saul Schachter,

Sea Cliff

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