FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Wendy de Pinho jokes that the police escort made her feel famous — or maybe infamous.
“But when you see the guys in the hazmat suits, that’s when you feel really special,” added her husband Rick.
The couple from New Jersey was among the 1,211 Holland America cruise ship passengers who are finally headed home after a seemingly endless saga at sea.
The Zaandam and Rotterdam docked at Port Everglades on Thursday afternoon. Thirteen gravely sick passengers and one crew member were taken to Broward Health Medical Center and Larkin Community Hospital. Another 26 sick passengers will stay on board, quarantined for the next 14 days.
The other 1,211 passengers are heading home Friday and Saturday. From the ship, to buses to chartered planes at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, it’s been a methodical process.
And it follows weeks of uncertainty after more than 200 people on board were sickened with flu-like symptoms, Nine had confirmed cases of COVID-19, and four people died.
“It’s just exhausting,” Rick de Pinho said.
Four flights left with passengers Friday, heading to Atlanta, Toronto, San Francisco and Paris.
The unified command in charge of Port Everglades had reached a deal with Carnival Corporation, the ships’ parent company, which allowed the ships to dock while addressing concerns about passengers further spreading the new coronavirus locally.
“As the foreign nationals leave, they’re going to be leaving on chartered planes. They’re not going to come into contact with the general public. It’s going to be a very controlled exit,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said.
The de Pinhos are flying to Atlanta, where they are scheduled to then take a commercial flight back to New Jersey.
“Hopefully people who are flying with us for a couple hours on that Delta flight to Newark don’t feel uncomfortable being with us,” Rick de Pinho said. “I think it’ll be just great to sleep in my own bed and be back at home.”
Another ship coming in?
The Coral Princess, carrying 7 guests and 5 crew members who tested positive for the new coronavirus, will not be allowed to dock at Port Everglades on Saturday.
The U.S. Coast Guard has ordered the Princess Cruises ship to provide a plan for treating and evacuating the ill people on board before entering U.S. territorial seas.
The ship is in the southeastern Bahamas with more than 1,800 people on board. Its passengers have been told to self-isolate in their rooms as they await clearance to dock somewhere.