A San Clemente Couple’s Cruise Takes an Unexpected Detour Due to COVID-19

Orange Coast shares stories of how people in our county connected and coped in the early days of COVID-19: tales from the helpers and heroes, tips for surviving stay-at-home orders, shifts local businesses made to adapt, advice going forward, and a community displaying hope and resolve. You’ll find plenty of reasons to be proud of where we live and how we’re rising together.

When Craig and Ruth Strickland set sail in January for a 14-day, five-country tour of Asia, they were excited to explore the world the way they have more than 20 times in the past 25 years: aboard a luxury cruise.

“You unpack once, you wake up in different countries, and all from a floating five-star hotel,” Craig says. “You feel like you’re on a real adventure.”

Boy, were they.

The couple’s ship, MS Westerdam, launched from Singapore with about 1,500 passengers.

“As we walked along in Singapore, we saw lots of people wearing surgical masks,” Craig says. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s a little disconcerting.’ ”

“There was a kind of ominous feel to the city,” Ruth agrees.

But everything seemed normal on board, and the recently retired couple explored Thailand, Cambodia, and four ports in Vietnam. Despite growing fears regarding the novel coronavirus, everything seemed on track.

And then: “They announced some itinerary changes,” Craig says, recalling early signs of a shift. Two other ships in the area reported confirmed cases of the virus on board. “We were still getting daily ‘all clears’ from the captain, but the increasingly bad news about the Princess ship put us immediately on the radar.”

Passengers aboard Westerdam realized the third cruise ship appearing on the latest CNN report was their own. Craig’s next Facebook post read like a message in a bottle: “Manila found out we were in Hong Kong and wouldn’t let our ship in. Now Taiwan is kicking us out after only one night after a ship which docked next to us was found to have a coronavirus victim.”

The Stricklands were determined to stay positive, and the ship’s captain and crew encouraged that. “The crew and staff were wonderful,” Craig says. Holland America offered free internet, free use of the ships’ telephones, and free pours of wine at dinner.

Tensions on board mounted as various ports denied them entry. Thailand even sent a warship to intercept Westerdam. Craig and Ruth were walking on deck at the time. “We saw it coming toward us,” Ruth says. “It definitely looked like a military ship. You could see the big guns.”

The cruise ship had been stranded at sea for more than 10 days. There was no mention of a new destination. Finally, Cambodia allowed passengers to disembark and took them to the nearest airport.

It took 50 hours, four flights, and two days for the Stricklands to get home, where they spent the next two weeks in self-quarantine. “We didn’t think we’d been exposed,” Ruth says. “But why take the chance?”

Would they go on a cruise again? “Hell yeah!” Ruth replies.

“Sometimes getting used to less gives you more happiness in the long run,” Craig says philosophically. “And right now is definitely a time of less.”

Read more from this issue at orangecoast.com/together.

Facebook Comments