TORONTO (NEWS 1130) – “So I woke up and we were docked in Fort Lauderdale. And we were like ‘Land-ho!'”
That’s how North Vancouver singer Michelle Joly describes what happened Saturday morning, following 60 days at sea.
“I feel awesome!” she says. “Although it’s a little cold.”
She and 48 other Canadians and five permanent residents, all employees of the cruise industry, landed in Toronto Saturday afternoon, after they were whisked away from Florida on a chartered flight.
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It’s been a lengthy ordeal to get to this point.
Joly’s journey started on February 20th with a gig on the Sky Princess in the Caribbean. In mid-March, the cruise industry in essence shut down, and passengers were off-loaded.
But cruise staff weren’t so lucky, as they were ordered to stay on ships. There were eight other Canadians with Joly on the Sky Princess at that point.
She says the crew spent the next two weeks entertaining themselves onboard.
“We had all sorts of entertainment. I actually performed for the crew every second night. We had band nights, movie nights, bingo.”
But self-isolation was imposed when some staff became sick, although they tested negative for COVID-19.
Shortly afterwards, a decision was made to put Canadians from all cruise ships onto one vessel – the Emerald. The ship and about a dozen others remained in the Caribbean, but couldn’t dock.
“Our ship was anchored outside the Bahamas since about March 15. We would sail around a bit and then go to Fort Lauderdale to get supplies then we’d go back and we’d anchor,” Joly explains.
She says the US Centre for Disease Control required that everyone on board continue to self-isolate before they were allowed to go home. Altogether, she spent 38 days confined to her cabin. Luckily, crew, by this time, were assigned to guest rooms with balconies.
Joly made the best of that time. “I’m not a big movie buff, but I watched so many movies. I started learning Spanish. They also had this Sky TV-Radio that they did everyday for the cruise staff.”
She even managed to post a song she sang in her room called ‘Last Summer Day’ on Facebook.
On May 5, a chartered flight had been arranged to pick the Canadians up in the Bahamas. Problem was, the ship had no permission to dock there.
She credits Princess Cruises and its parent company Carnival for doing what they could to get the people back to their home countries.
“Our company was so awesome. Some things were out of their control. They fed us, they kept us updated.” She says the company even paid for the flight and a hotel room in Toronto.
She shudders to think what would have happened had Saturday’s plans fallen through.
“If they couldn’t get the Canadians off the ship, they were sailing to India, because there are about 800 Indian nationals on the ship.”
Global Affairs says in addition to the flight from Florida, another 18 Canadians and a permanent resident on board the Koningsdam vessel were flown out of Los Angeles on Friday.
Joly says after a brief stay in a hotel room in Toronto she is off to do her 14-day quarantine at a family member’s home in northern Alberta.
She says this hasn’t put her off from continuing her career in the cruise industry.
“I do love it and it doesn’t change anything because our company was so awesome. Morale was good,” she says, acknowledging it could be a while before ships are up and running again.
Some 200 Canadian staff are still on 70 cruise ships at sea.