The growing coronavirus outbreak has forced cruise ship passengers in Florida to face a difficult dilemma — cancel their trip without refund or risk getting infected.
Ana Trevino, 29, of Orlando, was supposed to set sail Thursday on a family trip with 12 others to Mexico from Port Tampa Bay. But when she arrived to board Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas, her voyage was downsized to just six.
The remaining travelers had tried to cancel their cruise due to COVID-19 fears, but after hours on hold with the cruise line, they were unable to reach company reps to cancel ahead of a 48-hour window, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
This left Trevino and her family with a traveler’s edition of Sophie’s choice: Get on the ship headed to Cozumel against State Department recommendations or lose out on their paid vacation altogether.
“I’m excited, but also terrified,” Claudy Berrios, 30, told the newspaper before hopping on the vessel. “I really tried canceling.”
Trevino, Berrios and four others in her party were in a playful mood when they arrived port-side in matching T-shirts — “Oh, Ship! It’s a family trip” — but the levity subsided after Trevino’s father-in-law decided not to join them despite being unable to cancel his ticket in exchange for a credit.
“Except, a lot of the actual family isn’t here now,” she told the newspaper.
Crystal Matos, 33, said her mother also canceled because her medication for rheumatoid arthritis impacts her immune system, making her more at risk of picking up severe diseases.
Another relative who is pregnant also pulled the plug on the trip, the newspaper reports.
And Trevino’s family wasn’t alone. Other families were met with the same quandary Thursday, including Debra Williams, a 32-year-old mother-of-five from Missouri. She stopped trying to cancel the cruise after spending hours on hold with Royal Caribbean reps, she said.
A message seeking comment from Royal Caribbean was not immediately returned early Friday.
The US State Department is advising Americans — especially those with underlying health conditions — to avoid cruise ships entirely.
“This a fluid situation,” a State Department directive reads, citing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“CDC notes that older adults and travelers with underlying health issues should avoid situations that put them at increased risk for more severe disease. This entails avoiding crowded places, avoiding non-essential travel such as long plane trips, and especially avoiding embarking on cruise ships.”
Trevino’s family, meanwhile, tried to make the best of the difficult situation Thursday. Fewer people on the 962-foot ship with 13 decks, 3 pools, and 3 hot tubs could give it an exclusive feel — and Matos upgraded her room due to plummeting rates fueled by cancellations, the newspaper reports.
Another woman, Jessica Montes, a geriatric physician in Tampa, described a similar experience, saying her bachelorette party on a Royal Caribbean cruise to the Bahamas was supposed to depart from Miami on March 6. She was also unable to get a refund in time, even a partial one, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“I’m not canceling just to cancel,” Montes told the newspaper. “I’m not allowed to go and I’m not going to put myself or my patients at risk.”
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