Jensine Morabito took her daughter on a month-long cruise through Asia because she thought it would be simple.
“It was going to be an easy vacation. Uneventful. We would just follow a schedule,” said Morabito.
However, Morabito’s planned itinerary covered in scribbles with port after port crossed out shows it was anything but. Due to fears of COVID-19, Holland America’s Westerdam was turned away by Japan, the Philippines, Guam and Thailand.
According to the Johns Hopkins CSSE map, as of Feb.27, the virus has infected more than 82,500 people around the world and killed 2,810.
Although none of the Westerdam passengers had tested positive for the virus, since the ship originated from Hong Kong on Feb. 1, few countries would let them dock. The virus is thought to have originated in China.
At times, Morabito said the ship seemed more or less adrift at sea.
“Because we had nowhere to go.”
The Westerdam had 1,455 passengers and 803 crew on board.
|In Taiwan, the Diamond Princess docked beside Holland America. As of Feb. 24, four people from the Diamond Princess have died from the virus and hundreds more are infected. (Submitted)|
Near the start of the cruise, Westerdam was allowed to dock in Taiwan, right beside the Diamond Princess. However, the two ships didn’t stay long and left abruptly. Morabito didn’t know at the time, but there were confirmed cases of coronavirus on the Diamond Princess.
As of Feb. 24, four people from the Diamond Princess have died from the virus, with hundreds infected.
Each day, the captain on board the Westerdam would get on the intercom to explain a change of plans and to reassure passengers that the ship had enough food, fuel and water.
“For days we didn’t know where we were going. Just south. Cruising and cruising,” said Morabito.
“People on board were nervous. They were nervous about the virus.”
Yet, Morabito said there are far worse places to be marooned then on a fully-catered boat.
After two weeks, the ship was finally allowed to dock in Cambodia and it arrived with fan fair. Even Cambodia’s Prime Minister came to greet the passengers and gave everybody on board a gift.
Although the cruise was supposed to continue, Holland America decided to send everybody home. Soon after, a 83-year-old American Westerdam passenger was en route home and tested positive for coronavirus while transferring flights in Malaysia.
|The Canadian embassy in Cambodia brought Tim Hortons to quarantined Canadians. (Submitted)|
Quickly, the rest of the passengers from Westerdam were put into quarantine. Morabito and her were daughter were confined to their hotel room in Cambodia. Various embassies set up shop in the hotel to help passengers, even the Canadians brought Tim Hortons. Holland America’s president Orlando Ashford also came for a visit.
Although the passenger’s temperatures were frequently taken on board the ship, Morabito and her daughter were fully tested in Cambodia for the virus.
“The testing was horrible,” said Morabito.
To test for the virus, health officials put swabs as far as they could up Morabito and her daughter’s nose.
“I had to pin my daughter down, she was just screaming,” Morabito said.
Several days later, it was announced that the American woman did not have coronavirus and the prior positive result was a mistake.
Regardless, results for Morabito and her daughter came back negative and the two were allowed to return to Canada. However, it was challenging as there are no direct flights from Cambodia to Canada and few countries would allow planes with former Westerdam passengers to land, even just to refuel.
Morabito said it’s strange to arrive back in Canada, where no one is wearing a mask.
“In Asia, everyone has a mask. We wore them everywhere.”
Throughout the ordeal, Morabito said Holland America went above and beyond.
“It was amazing how they handled it. How they kept 1,500 passengers calm was unreal.”
Holland America refunded the cruise, paid for extra hotels, flights and also provided the Westerdam passengers with another free cruise.
The cruise was the end of a year long trip for the mother and daughter. Morabito said it’s important to show her daughter the world outside of Revelstoke. Before the cruise, they had been to Morocco, Egypt, Netherlands, Italy, Mexico and Greece.
Out of all the places they visited, Morabito said the cruise stands out.
“It’s a trip I will always remember.”