Updated: Feb 26
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!
Entertainment Cast day they left the ship after 104 onboard, pictured in Manila Airport.
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.
Social distancing was put in place. Masks were mandatory when leaving the cabin. I don't know the exact date, but it was very early on in the whole thing. Things were very strict up in the eating area. Food was put on our plates. We touched nothing in the whole process of getting food.
There were no confirmed cases the virus onboard the ship, but crew members were isolated who were showing signs of coughs or fevers
Our ship anchored outside the island of Great Issac Cay. We sailed into Fort Lauderdale for supplies twice while being out there, but no crew were allowed to get off the ship. From Great Isaac Cay we sailed out to sea to dump sewage and then sail back to our anchorage.
Its a very odd feeling being so close to land yet not being allowed to get off.
After a few weeks there, our ship was given the go ahead to sail to Singapore, in order to drop crew members off. In this planning, we would sail past Cape Town, South Africa, and be able to drop me and the other South African crew off. My partner is Australian and was given a different itinerary home. Before our ship sailed from Fort Lauderdale, he was transferred to another nearby ship, which would drop him off in London, and he was told would be able to fly home from there.
From then onwards I was alone on my journey. Isolation did take its toll on me emotionally. I needed that support from my partner.
A typical day would be waking up at 8:30am for our morning temperature check. This was done everyday to make sure we were healthy. From there, we could go up to breakfast, then stand in a queue social distancing. Once food was eaten, we would have to go back to the cabin and isolate. Gym on the balcony would be next. I would then go up and have lunch always with my mask on, then back down to the cabin to isolate. Back up for dinner with mask on face. Then back to the cabin. It became very monotonous. But it became a way of life. We just had to follow the rules.
Every single day I would call my family and partner. This was essential for my mental and emotional health. I needed to feel connected and be soothed with the thought that this would all be over.
I would read, watch movies, Netflix, keep practicing French. I need to keep myself busy, that was the only way I could keep myself from feeling to overwhelmed by the whole situation.
When we reached Cape Town I was transferred with all the other South African crew members via lifeboat to the Island Princess. We were given a health check and tested for corona before being allowed off the ship. I stayed on the Island Princess for 3 days until tests came back negative.
I finally stood on land on May 19th after being at sea for 74 days.
It was surreal. Like stepping onto Mars. It was almost like living on the ship was normal to me. Then, I was quarantined in Cape Town for 2 weeks. (Even though I had been in isolation for months on the cruise ship and my tests have come back as negative!)
What this whole experience has left me with the need to love yourself. Being isolated and quarantined for such an extended length of time, the only person you have time to spend with is yourself. If you have any issues they will defiantly come up and you need to deal with them.
I have to force myself to think positive every morning when I wake up to make sure I don't get anxiety and stress about the whole situation. Being positive really changed my outlook.
Even at this point, my partner is overseas and I don't know when I will be able to see him again. I have lost my job and don't know when it will return. If I don't look at the positive side of things I will get very depressed.
Instead I choose to think of Quarantine Period as my 14 days of "Self-love and Acceptance". So, on my calendar each day I've written down what I'm going to focus on that day:
Day 1 of Appreciation.
Day 2 of Emotional Clearing.
Day 3 of Meditation.
Day 4 of Being Aware.
Day 5 of Compassion.
Day 6 of Abundance.
Day 7 of Self-Love.
Day 8 of Being Enough.
Day 9 of being Grateful.
Day 10 of Being Strong.
Day 11 of Love.
Day 12 of Self-Care.
Day 13 of Clearing and
Day 14 of Just Being.
Being in these situations are hard and tough. But the human spirit is strong and we were born to be survivors. I have seen crew members on the ship in such bad situations, but still managed to keep upbeat, come together, have fun, and help one another. It's beautiful to see this and be aware of this in such a time.
10 Days At Port
Contract Dates: February 15th - September 2020
Quarantine Began: March 12th, 2020 (Dubai)
Debarked Ship: March 22nd, 2020 (Dubai)
I first embarked on the ship in Dubai on the 15th of February 2020. The plan was for the ship to travel around the Middle East for about a month and a half before a 30 day crossing, stopping in places like Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore before starting an Asian tour around China and Japan. My contract was meant to end towards the end of September.
It was around the start of March, two weeks into my contract, where things started to change. Different places within the Middle East didn't allow for the ship to port anymore, so for us this meant more sea days and overnight stays at other ports that allowed us to be there. At this stage not a lot of information was given to us, but there were rumours that the itinerary might be changing and we might not be doing the Asia Tour.
At this point there wasn't too much panic around the ship but a lot of talk as to what our new itinerary will look like. It wasn't until the point that I got told I was going home that it starting to sink in, I was just super sad to be leaving the cast that I had only know for roughly a month.
I didn't really know the great ordeal of what was going on around the world. Sometimes, you can get caught up on living the dream of performing and travelling on a ship. When I became updated about what was happening in my own country - about things starting to shut down and that borders around the world were closing - was when I started to think this is more serious than I thought.
We finished performing our last show on the 12th of March while we were stopped at the port in Dubai and by the next day we were told that the ship will stop operations. All the passengers disembarked in Dubai by the 14th of March and the company started sending crew members home.
At this stage I had been given a possible date of when my flight home will be, but it was not set in stone. Many times I saw crew members get called over the PA system that they were disembarking that night. They would pack their things, get the required documents, and be ready to leave the ship - then learn their flight had been cancel. Some people even made it to the airport and then had to get sent back to the ship.
Once all the guest disembarked the ship on the 14th of March, all crew members were required to get a temperature check every day, guest areas were off limit and closed, no access to gyms. We started having a set time for each department as to when we could eat food from the crew mess.
A couple of days after stop of operations, no one was allowed on or off the ship unless they were disembarking. More and more crew members started wearing face masks. During the time I was onboard there wasn't any confirmed cases.
I'm so grateful for the cast of dancers I had onboard. For the majority of time I was onboard during stop of operations, we were still able to train in some areas on board and spend time together. A typical day for me was eating food at the allocated time in the crew mess, participating in group training classes/sessions with my cast for a few hours. We would also set up to watch movies, play card games, and just enjoy each others company.
My ship was at the Port of Dubai from the 13th of March and that is where I disembarked the ship on the 22nd of March.
I was the only crew member disembarking that day, so I was a little nervous to be travelling by myself. I didn't know what the extent of what the social distancing rules would be like at the airport or even on the plane, but I was glad that I was able to get a flight home only a week after stop of operations.
I was able to get a direct 16 hour flight home from Dubai Airport into Sydney, Australia. Once I arrived home I had to undergo a 14 day quarantine in isolation. Because I still lived with my parents and they were fortunate enough to still be working, we were very strict with our social distancing protocols. I basically lived at the back of the house and my parents, the front.
I feel super lucky and grateful that I was only on the ship for a week after stop of operations, unlike some of my friends who were in lock down in isolation on the ship for a longer period of time. I never got officially tested for covid-19, only did a temperature check.
Although, because of the pandemic I ended my contract early and the awful tragedy it has and is still causing around the world, it has given me more time on my hands to sit back and create new goals and desires. I've been able to do things that I haven't had a chance to do before and create some new hobbies and interests for myself.
88 Days Onboard
Contract Dates: January - June 2020
Lockdown Began: March 12th, 2020 (Miami)
Flew Home: June 2, 2020 (Miami)
88 days onboard
Social Media Post Archive
March 11: I will be in and out of Miami for the next three months so hit me up.
March 12: Guys I want your opinion, what are your thoughts on the #coronavirus?
March 15: I still don't know where to go from here and how to handle this crisis but on the bright side I am thankful for being healthy and hope you are too.
Nico did an Instagram Live with author of Bird in the World Blog in mid-May of 2020. Together in front of a digital audience of over 200, Nico updated us about his life stuck on the ship. He had accepted a one of kind contract on the maiden voyage of a new ship, the newest and most luxurious in all the seas. The ship left Europe in mid-February determined to sail it's inaugural voyage across the Atlantic. Once there, the United States restricted cruise ship personnel movement into the USA. Thus, Nico found himself forbidden to enter the USA, a situation unfathomable! No one could have expected the events to unfold as they did. The travel chaos and health regulations held him onboard until travel authorities found a way on June 2nd to secure him a ticket home to Monaco.
What is remarkable about Nico is what he chose to do with his quarantine. Like all of the dancers in this article, hope, positivity, and resilience took root. Nico launched his own fitness program during quarantined - answering the call to help the thousands of dancers left unemployed and without class. Nico accrued hundreds of attendees across the world. In his isolation he created a social bubble which kept everyone afloat!
Nico channeled his energy into helping others by building a resource for performance needing to stay in shape. He offered 100 days of free 10 minutes, twice a day, HIIT fitness classes. You can still join his program here. He was featured in the Resilient Artist series as a light to other artists in these dark times. Upon his return to Europe he continued his fitness program and has since opened a new show in Monaco, helping artists work and audiences enjoy themselves.
January 30th, 2021 signals the one year anniversary of the official pandemic. The course of events that followed will be with us until the end of our days. These will be the stories we pass to the next generation.
All of the dancers featured in this article have since re-shaped their lives and careers. I believe their experience places them in the position to be the next leaders in the industry. They now know first hand the gravity and seriousness of health crisis situations.