ST. LOUIS — Jan Miller arrived in Santiago, Chile, with her husband, Tom, and his two sisters on March 2. Three days later, they boarded a ship with about 1,800 other passengers to embark on a month-long cruise with stops around South America.
"We contacted our travel agent, and we contacted Princess as well," Miller said."They both assured us that everything would be fine and that we could not cancel without losing the amount we paid for the trip.”
Miller, who is from Fairview Heights, Illinois, said they were able to stop at several ports and experience excursions for about a week.
"After the 13th, everything changed," Miller said.
They were told Princess would end their cruise because the company was stopping all of its ships as the number of COVID-19 cases continued to climb.
Miller said some passengers were actually able to get off in Buenos Aires because it was an original stop where some of the passengers were scheduled to fly home. However, after those passengers got off the ship and got to the airport, the Argentinian government announced anyone who was not out of the country before midnight that night would not be able to leave for several weeks. Miller said Princess decided to bring the passenger back from the airport, to the ship to sail out so that none of the passengers were stranded.
"Once people had left the ship and had been sitting in the airport for some time, our concern level went up because they had been exposed," Miller said.
Aside from stopping for supplies, their ship was unable to dock and disembark passengers at ports in Brazil, Urguay or Barbados because the countries were turning ships away and hundreds of flights were being canceled.
"We ended up canceling three flights over the period of a couple days," Milelr said. "Our children were trying to get us to come but they kept canceling left and right.”
After days of reports of no COVID-19 cases on board, Princess announced on April 2nd that samples had been sent from the ship to labs in Barbados out of an abundance of caution. The results: 12 people on board tested positive for COVID-19. Miller said passengers were alerted about the cases on March 31 and were quarantined to their rooms at that time.
Following that announcement, the ship sailed for Ft. Lauderdale with hopes of disembarking, but that was cut short when they were blocked from the port. On Saturday, the Coral Princess was able to dock in Miami. That morning, Miller said passengers were informed of the news they had all feared.
"We were notified that two people had passed away," Miller said. "There were several more that were sick."
Miller said they were preparing to undergo the anticipated three-day process of getting off the ship, when they were notified that the CDC changed its guidelines, preventing passengers who needed to book a commercial flight to leave Florida from getting off the ship.
Princess chartered flights for hundreds of passengers who were traveling to California, Australia and the United Kingdom. However, Miller said there are more than 300 American passengers who are still stuck on the ship.
"We think that's interesting because many states have not even sheltered-in-place," Miller said. "Some of the beaches in Florida are open. Now, we're on the ship wanting to get home and there are special rules for us and many states are not following those rules."
Miller said they are willing to go through any testing to prove they are healthy so they can rent a car and drive home. With more than a dozen passengers testing positive for COVID-19 and two deaths, Miller said they are desperate to get off the ship.
"The reality is, the longer we stay on this ship, the more likely something is going to happen to more people," Miller said.
Currently, Miller said she receives more up-to-date information from her children who are in Missouri than from the crew on the ship.
"We don’t know what the number is now," Miller said. "No one has ever told us, except for the captain told us two people passed away. We are lacking information."
Miller said she and her relatives are healthy and have no symptoms. They are all quarantined to their room where they have to wear masks to retrieve the food that is delivered to them, and they can only go out on their balcony.
They are contacting their local officials to hopefully get assistance.
“We don’t know how much longer we are going to be on here, and the longer we’re on the here the more the likelihood that somebody else is going to be sick," Miller said.
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