Home at Last

Richard Quinn

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, when we were heading into Port Everglades, Florida, hoping to disembark in a few hours, there were mixed emotions. Sure, we wanted off the boat and to be home. But we had been at sea for nearly a month and we humans easily fall into routines. Once home, no one would be setting a tray of food at our condo door three times a day. Our last meal on the ship was filet mignon and lobster tails. Most likely, it’s going to be canned soup for the next few days.

But my wife and I are indeed home. On April 3, we were loaded on a bus bound for Fort Lauderdale airport, where a chartered plane waited. Police escorted the buses, with no stopping for red lights. What followed were flights to Atlanta, then Charlotte, then Newark, New Jersey. There was one highlight to report. Have you ever seen a flight attendant drop a can of soda, which then explodes all over the cabin and on the passengers?

I found it curious that, after weeks of being quarantined, we were packed on a bus with 50 other people from the cruise and then on a plane with 200 of the same people. So much for social distancing. As soon as we were on the bus, the scammers started. I received a text from someone claiming to be the driver who was picking us up at the airport in New Jersey. I later learned others did, too. I hadn’t made any reservations. Upon landing, I and others received phone calls from Germany. I ignored the call, but a few travelers answered and found another car service scam. At least one traveler lost several hundred dollars by giving his credit card number to a bogus car service.

Our welcome home was not as expected. A few residents in our condo community had kept others informed of our plight. As a result, we were treated as if we were lepers. Our building was designated for extra cleaning. We were asked not to use the elevator, pick up our mail or leave our unit. Yes, I get it, people are scared. But other folks on the same trip were treated differently by their friends and neighbors.

In 2020, we have been inundated with information, much of it inaccurate or misleading. That’s nothing new, of course. During my working years, I occasionally gave newspaper interviews. A misquote on the front page of The Wall Street Journal almost got me fired. Unfortunately, much of what was reported about our cruise was inaccurate, some of it media hype and some of it individuals misusing social media. Stressful situations bring out a variety of qualities in people, not all of them good. Earlier this week, I gave an interview to a New Jersey newspaper because I wanted to set the record straight. I hope I don’t regret it.

Once the emotional issues pass, the practical ones must be handled. Holland America has said it will refund much of the cost of the cruise. But there’s another major expense I’m still grappling with.

We were initially told our cruise was ending in Punta Arenas, Chile, and that we needed to book flights home from there. But then Punta Arenas refused to let us dock and those flights had to be canceled. I had booked flights with two different airlines for our group of five travelers. United Airlines promptly credited my charge account. But Latam Airlines has been ignoring my calls, as well as my claims submitted via its website.

Now, I hope my credit card won’t charge me interest on the $3,100 I refuse to pay. I’ve formally disputed the charge, but nothing has happened. These days, it’s impossible to talk with customer service representatives. My insurance companies, bank and the airline all say they aren’t taking calls.

We were among the fortunate travelers. Some are still quarantined on the Zaandam, anchored 12 miles off the Florida coast. Many in the crew are also trapped and haven’t been home in months. Some of our fellow escapees missed flights home. A few foreign travelers were denied a flight to their home country.

I look back on all that’s happened, our cruise ship that countless ports turned away, the time spent quarantined in our cabin, the deaths on board. I recall how I was initially concerned with the stock market and with the decline in my net worth. What fools we mortals be.

Richard Quinn blogs at Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. This is Dick’s fifth and final article about his ill-fated cruise. The earlier articles were At SeaSeasickBarely Afloat and Shore Thing. Follow Dick on Twitter @QuinnsComments.

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