Thornfield couple experience COVID-19 chaos as cruise ends

Thornfield residents Dean and Joanne Knapp, shown here in a Christmas photo, recently enjoyed their eighth trip on a Princess Cruise line ship – right up until they were close to docking in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and endured an anxious day-long wait and a chaotic re-entry due to a COVID-19 virus scare.

The eighth delightful Princess Cruise that Thornfield residents Dean and Joanne Knapp had enjoyed – this one in the eastern Caribbean – was coming to an end Sunday, March 8, when it seemed for awhile that their ship and its 3,500 passengers and 1,800 crew members were going to become the next quarantined cruise-ship horror story.

Asleep in their cabin, Joanne was awakened that Sunday about 4 a.m. by a strange vibration in the ship. “I thought, ohhhh, that’s different,” she said Monday. “The ship was vibrating, shaking, kind of like an earthquake. I looked outside and realized we were stopped in the water. The vibration was the motion of the current. Dean woke up too. I told him, ‘Something’s not right. We’re stopped, and I can see lights in the distance.’”

She thought the lights were shining from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where they were scheduled to dock a few hours later. Instead the lights were coming from Miami, several miles south. 

“At 4:45 a.m., the captain came on – and first, I want to say, of all our cruises, he was the best captain we’ve ever had. He was over the top. He said we were just floating, and we weren’t allowed to dock in Ft. Lauderdale because two crew members on our ship had been transferred from the Princess Cruise ship that had been quarantined off the coast of San Francisco. The crew members were past the two-week quarantine period and had no symptoms of coronavirus, but the CDC wanted them tested – and wouldn’t let us dock until they were,” Joanne said. 

  The captain told the passengers the Coast Guard was bringing test kits to the ship, and the two crew members would be swabbed and the samples would be returned to shore for testing.

“We saw the little Coast Guard boat come up to the ship, bringing the tests. The results were supposed to be back by noon, but noon came and went. The captain kept saying, ‘No results yet’ over the loudspeaker. He kept us informed, but the anxiety was growing,” she said.

The passengers were allowed to move about the ship while they waited – unlike the passengers on two other California-based Princess Cruise ships after the COVID-19 virus erupted among their passengers and crew. Those ships were forced to circle offshore for several days or stay docked in port without allowing the passengers to disembark while authorities figured out housing arrangements for the passengers’ necessary quarantine period after arrival – and also how they would move ill passengers to medical facilities. During some of their final days on those ships, passengers were confined to their cabins to help stop the spread of the virus.

The Knapps and another Ozark County couple they were traveling with waited restlessly throughout that Sunday, hoping the crew members’ test results would be announced – and of course that they would be negative so that the ship could dock and they could catch their flight back to Springfield. The ship’s dining venues were open, and the four Ozark Countians were having dinner in the ship’s dining room when an announcement said the crew members’ tests were negative, and the ship was scheduled to be back in port by 9 p.m. “The whole ship cheered and clapped,” she said.

However, there was a glitch. The captain had to sign off on all the paperwork related to the crew members’ tests, and that apparently took a long time. Finally, about 10 p.m., “we started moving toward the dock,” Joanne said. But the delay meant they wouldn’t get off the ship until close to midnight. Another announcement said passengers could stay onboard ship if they preferred and disembark the next morning. The ship had also offered vouchers for the Marriott Hotel if passengers wanted to spend the night ashore. 

“The four of us decided we needed to get off the ship before they found anything else,” Joanne said. 

Then, unexpectedly, as they left the ship, “the dock people we had to go through for screening were screaming at us, yelling in our faces: ‘Get your passports out! Put it on the table! Get your passports out!’ It was horrendous,” she said. 

“Then, we finally get through this sea of 3,500 people, and we’re supposed to have transportation to the airport. No transportation. We waited three hours in line for a taxi. People were cutting line, and people were yelling at the people cutting in line. It was starting to get violent!” Joanne said. “Now I’m hearing all the advice about ‘Keep your distance,’ and we were standing there three inches away from the next person to keep people from cutting the line.”

Now it was 2 a.m. The foursome had learned that, although they had flown into Ft. Lauderdale on United Airlines, the cruise line had rescheduled their return trip on an American flight that would leave from Miami, 20-some miles away. So when they finally got to the front of the taxi line, the four of them headed out on a $140 cab ride. “But we were so glad to get a ride at that point, we were happy to pay it,” she said.

They caught their flight out of Miami and connected in Charlotte, North Carolina, to their flight back to Springfield. “We were 40 hours without sleep at that point. When we came out of the airport, I kissed the good Missouri ground,” Joanne said.

And so, for the Ozark Countians, a wonderful cruise with a chaotic conclusion came to an exhausted end. 

For their luggage, though, not so much. It’s still out there somewhere.

“We paid $125 extra for what they call ‘easy air,’ which means we put everything in our big suitcases Saturday night, the last night of the cruise, and leave them outside the door of our cabin, and the cruise line takes the luggage to the airport for us. We had done quite a bit of shopping on the trip, and we put everything we could into those suitcases because we didn’t want to have a carry a heavy bag onto the plane,” Joanne said. “So we put the suitcases outside our door Saturday night … and we haven’t seen them since. We have claim numbers from United, but we flew on American. So who knows where our luggage ended up?”

The Knapps are working on the lost-luggage problem while maintaining a positive attitude about their experience. Besides, the search gives them something to do while they self-quarantine themselves, just in case. “And our two weeks aren’t up yet,” she said.


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