BROOKINGS – Chris Buus and Trish Matson Buus are back in Brookings and have essentially self-quarantined following a 10-day Caribbean cruise that had its stressful moments but no untoward incidents. It was the couple’s first cruise together.
They flew out of Sioux Falls to Miami on March 1; boarded the Seven Seas Explorer on March 2; disembarked in Miami on March 12; and flew back to Sioux Falls later that night.
The ship is owned and operated by Regent Seven Seas Cruises, a subsidiary of Norwegian Cruise Lines. It’s 735 feet long; for this cruise, it had 680 passengers and a crew of about 550.
During its 10 days afloat, the Explorer had called at several ports in the Caribbean before returning to Miami.
“There hadn’t been any closures to speak of,” Trish said of the status of the coronavirus when they left Brookings. “At that point it was just news stories but no implications as far as travel.”
As the cruise continued, the couple was able to keep up with the news. They had wi-fi and they were able to view current news stories via their computer. Add to that news channels on television that they were able to watch.
“We had a pretty good idea of what was happening,” she added.
As the cruise continued, Trish noted that they had “an ominous black cloud hanging over us, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of questions.”
They started hearing a lot about other cruise ships’ problems with the coronavirus, such as one off the coast of California.
The couple thought, “Oh, my God, what are we going to be in for?”
However, Trish, who about 20 years ago had worked as a nurse on a cruise ship, albeit quite a bit smaller than the Explorer, said she felt “comfortable” on the larger ship, relative to its “sanitation and germ prevention standards that are so high.”
“There were hand-washing stations at the entrance of many of the restaurants on board,” she explained. “There were crew members standing there to remind you to wash your hands. There were hand-sanitizer stands just everywhere throughout the ship.”
The couple thought well of the sanitary standards and thought they would likely be free from the types of gastrointestinal ailments that have plagued a lot of cruise ships in the past.
“We were feeling pretty good about it,” Trish said. “But as time went on and we started hearing more of the world news, we thought, ’Wow, this sounds pretty scary. There’s just so many unanswered questions.’”
And things did change as the cruise continued.
“It’s not like it was the same at day-one as it was at the end,” Chris explained. “There were things that changed on the boat, because of what was happening.” And the ship’s crew was informed of what was happening in the world of the coronavirus.
“They were getting daily briefings from their corporate office,” he added. “Sanitation-wise, there were certain things they closed on the boat to limit a possible threat, even though there wasn’t anything. They were just taking an air of caution.”
And the ship’s captain kept all onboard appraised as to what was happening.
“There was no mystery about what was going on,” Chris said.
“We knew what they knew, but there were just so many unanswered questions from a global perspective and how things were going to play out,” Trish added.
The Explorer’s 680 passengers came from different nations, and the 550 crew members were an international mix from about 48 different countries. The Buuses socialized with other passengers, and no one was quarantined to their rooms.
Easy end, return home
When the ship returned to Miami, disembarking was routine and the return flight to Sioux Falls via Chicago was surprisingly easy.
“That was the shocking part,” Chris said. “We came back and this was the easiest I’ve ever had going through an airport (Miami) in my life.”
“That really made me concerned,” Trish added. “Just because we had experienced changes onboard, we were aware of the news. We really thought there would be something.
“And literally we didn’t even have to go through customs when we got back to Miami. The day before in Key West (Florida), the customs agents came onboard and then we just filed through in a line. He looked at our passports, saw we were from South Dakota and said to have a good day. No declaring of any purchases or anything like that.”
Having learned what was going on with the coronavirus, the couple was surprised that there were no health checks or questions when they left the ship. And the rest of their trip home was uneventful.
“We really got lucky,” Chris said. “That was the day after the news article about the long lines in Chicago. We did fly through Chicago on the way back home. We really didn’t encounter anything other than normal for Chicago. I think the next day or maybe two days after, that’s when things really got ugly.”
The Buuses consider themselves “extremely fortunate to have finished our vacation before the industry changed so drastically and rapidly.” However, they have some concerns for the crew of the Explorer.
“Our hearts go out to the crew members and the cruise industry right now,” Trish said. “We just had nothing but wonderful treatment, all the safety precautions that you could imagine. This is going to be life-changing for everyone who works in the cruise industry. Our hearts go out to them.”
“There will be people on that ship who are going to be sent home,” Chris added. “Staff and crew, this is their family’s primary source of income. That’s gone. They have no way of replacing it.
“It’s not like they can go to another ship or find another line of employment that would pay them like this. The ripple effect off of this will be very large.”
Contact John Kubal at [email protected]