Updated: Feb 26, 2021
4 Dancers, 4 Stories
10 days to 104 days Isolated : What Happened to Cruise Ship Dancers in 2020
Recalling the First Months of the Pandemic
Dreamy cruise ship contracts dissolved over-night into startling isolation for dancers around the globe. For dozens of entertainers, February and March began the unimaginable journey of returning home amidst international travel bans, health regulations, and the new threat of the corona virus.
Meet Adrian, from South Africa, whose ship chartered an unprecedented voyage from Miami to Singapore via Cape Town, dropping him off along the way. He spent 74 days at sea, unable to leave the ship.
Meet Janine, from England, whose ship circled Southeast Asia for more than 3 months, shunned by ports because of fears that they would bring the virus back from China.
Then there is Emma, from Australia, the lucky one who was able to board the final flight leaving Dubai before airports and international travel shut for the next 3 months.
And Nico, from Monaco, who launched his own fitness course and social justice campaigns while isolated onboard for 88 consecutive days.
The world was unprepared to respond to a global pandemic of this proportion. Disorder, fear, panic, politics, and a few brave leaders shaped the logistics of getting crew home. To the leaders, we are thankful.
The slow dawn of the pandemic rose on every country. 45 Days after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic on January 30th, 2020, cruise companies around the world abruptly stopped their services and shifted to getting passenger and crew safely home.
At sea, the crew's first obligation is to the passengers, then to each other. And often, the staff and crew are put in the position to make crucial decisions, in a small amount of time, often with limited information, to ensure the safety of all. Heroics and bravery can be witnessed daily when working aboard cruise ships. It is no small feat then, for these self-sufficient vessels to coordinate the return of crew during the massive disruptions of port and international authorities.
Dancers are a part of this history and serve witness to the first seismic quakes of the pandemic in every corner of the globe. Here are their stories, as written, in late May, 2020.
The video above depicts how cast and crew of the ship were allowed to leave the ship, by tender boat, to enter the port or be transferred to a different ship that would perhaps take them home.
104 Days At Sea
Contract Dates: 3rd of November 2019- 4th July 2020
Lockdown Began: February 14th, 2020 (Singapore)
Fly Home Date: May 27th, 2020 (Manila)
104 days onboard
Because we were in Asian seas, docking in and around Asia, 90% of passengers were Chinese. The cruise before that only allowed passengers that hadn’t traveled from China. Normally, the ship holds over 4,000 passengers. That week, there were only 1,000 passengers onboard who could prove they had not travelled from China.
We stopped service completely on February 14th. It was the beginning of our lockdown.
We were told on the 12th of February that we were suspending cruises for a ‘few weeks’. It was too expensive to travel with so little passengers. It wouldn’t cover costs. This was starting February 14th, so, we had one days notice to get off in Singapore and stock up on toiletries and snacks. No one knew that would be our last chance to stock up on supplies.
To start with we were excited. We didn’t know much about covid-19 as we didn’t have many News channels. It was seen as a mini break. No work for a week or two and rest for our bodies from the shows. We did crew activities, the pools were open, we put on shows for the crew, movies all around the ship and we were allowed to eat in passenger areas where normally we weren't aloud. We had no cases onboard and we were free to move around.
We went into a ‘practice quarantine’ for three days at the beginning of March. This was for the medical team, food & beverage team, and crew, to practice incase we ever had a case onboard.
So, in March we were confined to our cabins. The food and beverage team created an app for us to order food on 3 times a day. After the three days we all came out of cabins happy and ready to carry on enjoying our days of being able to go out... but the next day we were told that to get into certain ports of call and to be able to fly home, we needed to prove we were clean. We had to do a new quarantine of 14 days.
That 14 days passed and we got 72 Filipino crew off in Manila. But Manila would not let International crew into the country to fly home. So we stayed onboard and had to wear masks if we left our cabins for the rest of the time we were onboard.
The communication was great from managers and the captain. It was just frustrating as weeks went by. A definite date was impossible to pin down, whether starting back up or going home. It started with ‘end of March’, then mid April, then start of May...
There was one moment of hope when we had two members of the cast leave one day in March. The airport in Singapore was still open then.
We felt forgotten about. Our company created lists to show where each ship was and which crew would be flown home. The list was sent to all the crew which were stuck onboard. Our ship had trouble finding a port willing to let us travel from to their airport. The port and airport of Manila was willing to help, but the flights kept getting cancelled by the airlines because, we were told, "We were in Asia where the virus started and were seen as a risk."
It was a weird feeling of being happy to be safe and healthy, but frustrated to be at the bottom of the priority list.
Our ship stayed in the South Asian seas the whole time. We docked for food and fuel once a week in South Korea, Singapore, Manila, or Shanghai. We were never allowed to leave.
I became very lazy during this time. The gym was closed so I couldn’t burn off energy or exercise. Most of the venues around the ship were closed. It was hard to find things to wake up to do with purpose.
It was very repetitive- wake up and do a temperature check with my manager, eat, watch movies/series, eat again, and temperature check for a second time every day, take a picture of a beautiful sunset at sea, then sleep.
There was never a confirmed case aboard.
I debarked via lifeboat in Manila on May 27th. I traveled for 26 hours.
I had been on a lifeboat, then on a bus, in three airports, and then on a tram to the hotel I booked. Lots of public transport with a mask and gloves on at all times. At no time onboard did I get tested for covid-19. I only got a temperature check at the first airport (Manila, Philippines). I was surprised it wasn’t stricter to travel.
Then I decided to quarantine myself (the UK didn’t expect me to quarantine but I took it upon myself to.) I have parents over 60 and my grandma is in her late 80s. She lives a few houses away and my mum cares for her daily. I wanted to make sure I didn’t have symptoms.
I am still in quarantine now [written May 30th]. Food never tasted so good after eating such basic food onboard! And I can’t wait to walk in a park and see family!
I broke down crying once in the 104 days quarantine stuck at sea - just due to lack of nutrients, friends getting flights and mine being cancelled, pay being stopped, and just a build up of emotions.
I learnt to stay away from negativity. The situation sucked, but it was out of our control and dwelling on it made me miserable. It was better to just get fresh air when we were allowed out of our cabins. I would be grateful to be healthy and to listen to positive music and to try bring everyone up and check-in on people. It made me realize how amazing my friends and family are checking in each and everyday!
It made me realize I am strong.
Janine submitted her interview on May 30th, 2020, mere days after returning home.
74 Days At Sea
Contract Dates: March 6th - August 25th
Quarantine Began: March 12, 2020 (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
Touched Land: May 19th, 2020 (Cape Town, South Africa)
My contract started on the 9th of February for rehearsals and onboard from March 6th 'till August 25th. We were meant to be traveling through Europe and the Norwegian Fjords. (I cant believe it all got cancelled!)
We got onboard on March 6th and we had one week of normal cruising with guests. We got to perform one show to an audience for all the months we had been rehearsing. What a shame.
At that stage, the only information we were given was that passengers needed to be disembarked as there was a virus going around. Nothing more than that. All seemed to be okay at that stage, we had no idea of the severity of it all.
The feeling of uncertainty was very clear. No-one knew what was happening.
There was no panic as the atmosphere was still really fun onboard. We all got moved to passenger cabins. We could all lay out by the pool. We could get pizzas and spend time with friends. Very good leadership was shown by the company. I have nothing but good praises for how they conducted themselves throughout the whole process.
It was a few weeks in that things started to change. We were all told to wear masks, our eating times were scheduled, no social interaction was allowed. We were then all isolated to our cabins and only allowed out to eat. At this stage we started to realise that this was serious.