I first encountered Christine Beehler when we became kindred spirits, so to speak. We were among a group of cruise enthusiasts interviewed by CNN.com during the pandemic for an article about our interest in cruising as soon as possible, “Cruise Fans Explain Why They Can't Wait To Cruise Again,” by Francesca Street (July 24, 2020). All of the cruisers interviewed were “off-the-charts” eager to get back on the ocean again; well, all except yours truly! I came across as the most cautious of the bunch, in stark contrast to Chris. The article began with a depiction of Chris’ last cruise which took place in March 2020 on the ill-fated Princess Cruises Coral Princess, which was denied docking during the pandemic declaration and then was stricken with a Covid-19 outbreak. That opening to the article immediately caught my attention; then it said, “…Beehler returned home on April 6; she also tested positive for coronavirus. Beehler is 72, with a partial right lung. She also suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema..…”
Most remarkable of all: Chris can’t wait to cruise again!
..... Chris initially planned a 14-day cruise departing San Antonio, Chile, rounding Cape Horn, and then up the east side of South America and ending in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she would then fly back to the US. Ultimately, Chris decided to extend her time on Coral Princess, and booked the 32-day cruise itinerary where the cruise continued on from Buenos Aires to Fort Lauderdale.
I asked Chris if she had any apprehension about returning to Coral Princess at that time in the face of the burgeoning coronavirus story abroad. “No, I wasn’t concerned. The coronavirus was confined mostly to China and Italy. There was only one reported case in South America at the time I left New Hampshire. A good friend suggested I not go. I downplayed her concern. I said ‘It’s South America. I’m going to be fine, they’ll take care of us.’ I did, however, during the days leading up to the cruise have fleeting thoughts about the news out of China—that if I ever did catch the virus I might have a hard time. I probably would need a ventilator. I might not make it. Yet I got on that airplane with complete confidence that nothing was going to happen.”
“On the plane over to Chile on March 3rd, word spread regarding a second case reported in South America—this one in Santiago, which was our destination. You could sense a bit of panic on the plane. The thinking back then was that this was a virus that was just connected to China and Italy. Even the one case in South America was supposedly someone who had come back from Italy. And there were a few cases on the west coast in the US that had kind of escaped. The concern level rose—even though it was only two cases on the entire continent—especially when we got to the airport in Santiago and they were taking a lot of precautions: the airport workers were in Hazmat suits, we had to complete multiple health forms and have our temperatures taken. It was nothing like that when I left Boston. At the port the personnel very deliberately went through our passports to make sure we hadn’t been to China or Italy, and then we boarded the ship.”
The cruise was uneventful for the first week.....
A few weeks later.....
..... That evening, the first of quarantine, March 31, Coral Princess stopped in Barbados for what Princess referred to as a service call. Chris said, “We had to detour to Barbados for what we were told was to pick up medical supplies. It was so interesting going into Barbados because there were all the empty ships with crew only anchored at the port. It was pretty eerie—distressing. At Barbados we saw an ambulance at the dock and someone was taken off the ship. Supposedly, he was airlifted to Florida. After we returned home I heard he passed away from the virus. So now things moved from stressful to ominous. We were confined to our cabins, and then we see someone taken off the ship.” A couple of days later, Princess reported publicly that Coral Princess test samples processed in Barbados confirmed 12 positive cases of coronavirus. On April 2, the Captain informed the passengers of the results. That same day, for reasons not entirely clear, the U.S. Coast Guard announced it would not allow Coral Princess to dock in their home port of Fort Lauderdale on April 4 as scheduled. Chris told me, “Two infected Holland America ships were just ahead of us and were docking the day before us. We heard that Fort Lauderdale didn’t want additional Covid-19 cases to take up their medical facilities.”
On April 3, Coral Princess met up with its sister ship, the Regal Princess, in the Bahamas to pick up additional medical personnel and supplies. There were no passengers on Regal Princess, just crew. Said Chris, “At this point we had been turned down by several places. There was a collective sense that nobody wanted us. So when our sister ship met us, we received a wonderful welcome from the crew on the decks of Regal Princess and in tenders.. They started their horns and the Coral Princess and the Regal Princess were communicating with each other, playing The Love Boat theme. When Princess ships leave port, their horns usually play out The Love Boat theme. It was…oh my gosh…I think everybody out on their balcony was crying......”
Read the entire stirring chapter in Cruising Interrupted, available now!