Editor’s Note: Here is the latest dispatch from Vicki Shurly, Director of Peninsula Community Library, who has been on the Norwegian Jewel cruise ship in the Pacific Ocean with her husband Bob – a dream trip on which they embarked in February before the COVID-19 virus pandemic spread across the globe. The ship was turned away from several ports across the ocean, but the tide, it seems, has turned.
Previous Installments: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5, Part 6. Read on for Part 7 of their story, and feel free to leave encouraging thoughts and comments for Bob and Vicki in the comments section at the bottom of this story. Vicki wanted to be sure and thank everyone for all their prayers and well wishes as they navigate their way home.
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Hawaiian vacation – all expenses paid! Great views, pools, spa, fitness room, lovely accommodations, complimentary childcare, maid service, entertainment, fantastic weather. All meals included. Fine print – you may not leave the premises!
We have definitely learned to expect the unexpected on this trip! We woke up this morning in time to have coffee with our Australian friends. We compared notes – one of their their daughters is Tia. Our grandson Henry calls his aunt, our daughter Alise, Tia. They have a son named Alex. We have a son named Alex. Their Alex’s birthday is the same day as Bob’s. Trivia perhaps, but it makes a connection.
It turned out that their flight and every other flight that had not departed by 1 a.m. was delayed. Vali and Peter were eager to let their daughter in Australia know of the delay, but the computer and call center on the ship has shut down. I let them use my phone to email her. As we sent it through, their color group was finally called.
We hugged goodbye – yes, knowing that we must keep our personal distance once we leave the ship, asked a crew member to take our picture together and watched them go off. We promised to let their daughter know they had left the ship for the health inspection and the shuttle bus. Then we waited.
Yet Another Delay
Mostly, time has passed quickly on the ship, even on all those endless sea days. You find things to do – make small talk with fellow passengers, walk the promenade deck knowing that 2 and 2/3 times around makes a mile. There are in-room movies, but we have seen them all and avoid all but the basics of outside news now. There is entertainment, of course. We are our own little cocoon, although there are far fewer of us now. We read, listen to music and stare out at the endless sea or, here in port, the city of Honolulu and the cargo barges being pulled by tug boats in the harbor.
Today, however, time dragged. We had lunch – wow! There was lettuce! We haven’t seen that in a long time! A few hours passed with no final call for the last set of passengers – the purple group. Finally, there was an announcement. FAA regulations would not allow for the last chartered plane to leave for Los Angeles today. What??? Why??? We have been patient for so long. We have made reservations and cancelled so many that some people have airline credits enough for a world tour once the crisis has passed.
We had packed our bags and set them outside our door last night. We now literally have only the clothes on our back and the change of underwear in our backpacks. Thank goodness we kept our toothbrushes out as well! Finally, we told ourselves that it is just one more day. Anyway, it is not like we have a choice. The crew – they have been wonderful – quickly pulled together and promised entertainment and meals tonight for all left behind. Still it is an eerie feeling. We are truly the boat people.
Like a Stephen King Novel
There are now five crew members for every passenger on board. There are only about 200 of us – one last plane full. You can walk any given deck and not see anyone. Our cabin steward told us that we and another couple are the only people left in staterooms on deck five. That could make for a great Stephen King novel!
No one is in the pools. If we only had our luggage and hence swimsuits, Bob and I could each have a pool to ourselves! Most of the children are gone. They were German and left in the wee hours after midnight. No one minded their running around the reception area, oblivious to all that has gone on. On one of the many “last” days, no one even minded the teens rolling balls up and down the aisles of the theater. One of them would sit down at a piano now and again and play beautiful music when no staff were looking. The ship is too quiet!
Bob has gone to take a nap, and I am sitting on the sun deck. In the mean time, another man from our plane has told me that one of the red groups could be returning to the ship from the airport because the flight might not take off until tomorrow. We shall see. There is a little bit of communication from one passenger and another and another and we all piece it together to get a story, which is sometimes accurate and sometimes not quite. In any case, Bob and I are still aboard, as Captain Kenneth tells us every morning, the beautiful Norwegian Jewel!
Later in the Evening
A smaller buffet was served for dinner in a portion of the Garden Cafe with the staff still serving to keep food handling to a minimum. The mood was subdued. It turns out that there are only about 130 passengers left on the ship. We are anxious to know if our chartered plane will be waiting in the morning. The word going around is that the Honolulu Airport will close tomorrow to passenger flights. I am assuming we will be okay. Everyone wants us to get home.
The chartered planes had to come from the mainland, mostly California. There were a few glitches, but hopefully, everyone else is close to home safely by now. The red group never came back. We are all that is left on a ship that ordinarily holds more than 2000 passengers. Several small music programs were offered, but it didn’t appear that many of us were up to it. I think we are all hoping for a morning call off the ship and toward home.
The Jewel feels like a ghost ship now. Bob and I walked the outdoor deck after dinner and could hear the ropes holding the ship to the dock creak as we rocked in the harbor. No one else was on deck. Even the staff was scarce. We are days beyond the scheduled end to the cruise, and they have worked so hard to keep us healthy and safe from both disease and mechanical failures. Wherever they are on the ship, they deserve a break.
There is always something on the ship to make you smile, and tonight was no exception. As Bob and I were going to dinner, a woman on the stairs wearing nothing but a towel asked us frantically if we had hot water in our room. We didn’t know. We hadn’t been there in a bit. She marched past us and up to the service desk where in her towel and bare feet she accused them of turning off the passengers’ hot water.
The staff actually laughed – you couldn’t help it. We didn’t stay to see what happened, but when we took showers later, the water was hot. Tomorrow, hopefully, we will be on a plane headed toward L.A.!
Editor’s Note, March 25, 2020, 1 p.m. ET: The latest word from the “Families of Norwegian Jewel Passengers” Facebook group is that the purple group – Bob and Vicki’s group – were on the shuttle bus headed to the airport in Honolulu at 4:50 a.m. PT this morning. If all goes well, they will be headed towards LAX in Los Angeles sometime today. We’ll keep you posted!
From Vicki, March 25, 2020, 1:43 p.m. ET: “We are through a security process set up for us and are on the plane!”
A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers like the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and magazines like Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So of course, I started my own newspaper. Because the Gazette is mainly reader-supported, I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks my way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the Old Mission Peninsula. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb