I think we are far enough along in this pandemic now that it’s safe to admit we were on one of the last few cruise ships out of Miami the weeks before the shutdown. There were no cases of coronavirus on our boat, but one case of Influenza A was enough for ports to turn us away and the MSC Meraviglia to make international news!
Before we share our experience, something to know is that this was our honeymoon. While I love to plan trips myself, in this case planning a wedding and a vacation was too much. So we enlisted the help of Lori Osgood with Cruise Planners to book the vacation. Whether or not we ever plan to cruise again, our one big takeaways from this experience is that travel planners are essential when you are booking a packaged vacation. We’ll explain how she saved the day later on – and if you are looking for vacation plan help, we highly recommend her!
The MSC Meraviglia
Our cruise started our pretty normal. I had been following the news of the Diamond Princess in Japan, but wasn’t too concerned about our own trip. All cruise lines in America were still at full operation at this point. We did bring along some preventative measures though including Zicam, extra hand sanitizer and – funny enough- disposable masks.
The boat was beautiful. Weighing at 171,598 tons, the Meraviglia has 2,244 staterooms and can hold 5,714 passengers. Its piece de resistance is the Galleria with a two story Swarvoski diamond staircase and 315 foot LED ceiling that constantly changes into different images.
The ship also has multiple pools outdoor and indoor, a ropes course and entertainment including two Cirque du Soleil Shows at Sea. If I had realized this would be the last live entertainment I would see for seven months, I would have appreciated it more.
We had splurged for a balcony suite in the private Yacht Club area for this celebration. This area required a special wristband to access and had its own bar, restaurant and pool located at the front of the ship. We felt very elite, and as we experienced extra days on the boat, this area even became its own close-knit community of travelers. A special shout out goes to the couple from St. Louis who Brad fondly knick-named The Mayor and his wife. Being MSC aficionados they were a wealth of knowledge and great at engaging the people around them in conversation. We enjoyed our time with them immensely.
The first day at sea was completely normal. We spent our time exploring the ship and visiting the thermal spa for a couple’s massage. I only had a glimmer of concern in the back of my mind when I realized how many different nationalities where on this one boat. Each announcement was given in six different languages and as you walked the promenade the variety of languages being spoken was amazing. With that many overseas guests, my caution was heightened, but we had all passed additional health screenings to board and you could see extra cleaning protocols were in place.
We were having a great time right up until we docked in Jamaica this next morning. And then we sat. And sat. And sat. Our balcony had a view of the gangplanks and I’m not ashamed to admit that I had a panic attack when they began to pull the bridges back in and roll up the carpets. Brad did a wonderful job of calming me down and talking me into heading to the restaurant for an early lunch. The captain eventually came on and explained that the Jamaican authorities had denied us entry because of a crew member that had tested positive for Influenza A. At this time, COVID-19 tests were still not readily available so we did not have them on the ship, and the Jamaican authorities were not willing to come on board to administer one. Our captain decided we couldn’t be bothered to continue to sit around their port and took us back out to sea on the way to Grand Cayman Island.
Brad and I continued to make the most of our day. (The free drink package we had was very helpful.) After dinner, we headed down to the lounge which was mostly deserted. Grabbing our drinks from the bar, Brad struck up a discussion with a gentleman who said he had already heard via Twitter that the Cayman Islands had denied us entry. He then went in search of crew member who verified the information and said the announcement would not be made until the following morning.
After filling me in on the information, we decided the only wise thing to do was run down to the spa before they closed and book another couple’s massage! We felt very smart the next morning as we bypassed the lines coming in for our appointment.
So by this time we had made international news. Thanks to the Wi-Fi program we’d paid for ahead of time, we had emailed or had FaceTime conversations with parents and significant family members. Our travel planner, Lori Osgood, had also sent an email asking how we were and if she could help us in any way. With each announcement being made (in six languages) you could tell how frustrated the captain had become. We were assured though that Mexico had granted us docking privileges, so the ship was on its way to arrive there early.
The next morning we wake up to the landscape of Cozumel, Mexico, and the site of Mexican officials arguing with our crew on the gangplank. We soon learned from our new trusted source at the lounge that there are two people sick with the flu on the boat, one a crewmember and one a passenger. They each need a COVID-19 test before we will be allowed to disembark. The testing process at this time takes 24 hours, so we’re not getting off this boat anytime soon. The Captain eventually announces that we will be extending our stay in Mexico for another day and cancelling our last stop, MSC’s private island in the Bahamas altogether.
We spent our day walking every deck of the entire boat and waving at the tourists gathered on the dock snapping pictures of us now that we are an international sensation. Around midnight, we are awoken by an announcement from that the ship has been cleared to disembark. Stepping out on the balcony, we see about a half-dozen people leaving the ship. Some look like crew members in search of supplies, others are guests with their luggage who have clearly had enough and are flying home. (An option we had briefly considered.)
How Our Travel Planner Saved the Day
At breakfast the next morning, we realize we are finally going to step foot on dry ground and that we have no plans! Having both been to Mexico before, we had planned to enjoy a day on board the boat resting after Jamaica and Grand Cayman. Now there were no shore excursions and neither of us knew the area outside of the marketplace. I emailed Lori on the chance she might have an idea. I had a FaceTime call back within minutes.
“You’re getting off the boat?” Lori asked. “Feel like going to the beach?” We said we would go anywhere. “Ok, hop in a cab and ask for Mr. Sancho’s Beach Club. I’ll have your reservation emailed to you before you get there.”
We followed her instructions and had about a 15 minute cab ride out of Cozumel. Our priority reservation was at the desk, all we had to do was pay and mentally give Lori a high-five. Walking into Mr. Sancho’s was like entering a quiet, empty, gorgeous paradise facing the ocean. This day resort was all inclusive with food and activities, and we got set up facing one of the many pools. As the day continued, more guests and shore excursions arrived from other ships. At one point, the people next to us (from a Norwegian boat) began talking about the MSC ship and how those people should never have been allowed to go ashore. That’s when we decided we were done and ready to head back to the ship.
Our last day at sea was uneventful – at least for us. It turns out late that night some Italians had tried to take over the grand piano in the Galleria and a fight had ensued that ended with security pulling out pepper spray. The Mayor and his wife had seen the conflict first hand and filled us in at breakfast the next morning. Good thing too, because when we returned to Miami, our boat was delayed in disembarking. The FBI now needed to investigate.
Once we finally were off the ship and safely back in our car, there was a sigh of relief. I don’t think we truly relaxed until that moment. As far as honeymoons go, it was an interesting test on our relationship, but one I think we handled well. Our story ends with us riding off into the sunset with an impromptu day trip to Key West before heading home – but that’s another travel blog.
Unfortunately, when we returned home, the world we reentered was completely changed. The very next day Florida identified its first positive coronavirus cases, and the performing arts industry I work in would be completely shut down within two weeks. We are more grateful than ever that our cruise did not turn into an extended stay – or that anyone aboard our ship was ill.
One additional note: MSC graciously refunded the money of all guests on board and offered us a discount for a future cruise. That was the down payment on our travel trailer so that we could land cruise instead.
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