My sister and I were supposed to sail on the new Disney Wish cruise ship in July.
But when we got to the port, my sister tested positive for COVID-19 and Disney turned us away.
We then received a cruise credit to rebook and were sent to the airport via a Disney shuttle.
I've been anticipating my first cruise vacation since the start of this year.
In January, I scheduled a three-day trip on Disney's newest ship, the Disney Wish, for one of its earliest voyages in June. I invited my sister to join, and we started counting down the days until our sailing.
But one month later, Disney announced it was delaying its initial trips because the ship's construction was not complete. Though we were disappointed, we were able to rebook our standard, inside stateroom for a sailing in July with a 50% off discount, bringing our $3,285 vacation down to $1,632.
Last month, the time had finally come for me to travel to Florida. I packed my bags, left New Jersey, and took an hour-long shuttle from the Orlando airport to Port Canaveral. But it was there that my cruise dreams came to a screeching halt — again.
Before I could set foot on the ship, my sister tested positive for COVID-19. She wasn't allowed to board, and to my surprise, neither was I. Here's how our weekend unfolded.
Disney requires all cruise travelers to be vaccinated and submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test before sailing
The testing process is pretty straightforward. Travelers can purchase at-home tests — which they must complete via a proctored telehealth service — or take a test at their local pharmacy. Both versions can be taken no earlier than two days before sailing.
Once tests are finalized, travelers must submit proof of their results to Inspire Diagnostics' Safe Passage website.
I visited a local CVS drive-thru two days before my cruise and got a negative result back the next morning. I was cleared to sail.
My sister, however, took a PCR test at a Walgreens in a different state that same day and didn't receive her results ahead of our trip. As a result, she needed to spend $75 on another test at the port to follow Disney's policy.
Disney Cruise Line has a medical tent at Port Canaveral where travelers can take COVID-19 tests
When we visited, my sister and I counted more than 60 other travelers in the same situation as us. We got in line, checked in with our reservation number, and were sent to the testing section — a semi-private area where plastic partitions separated each nurse's station.
Once her test was completed, we were sent to a larger waiting room with other travelers and were told that her results would be emailed in approximately 20 minutes.
It only took about 10 minutes to get the results in my sister's case. She turned to me with a nervous expression and quietly said her test came back positive.
It was then that an Inspire Diagnostics employee came to us, brought us to another plastic-covered section, and gave us two options: accept the result and go home, or take a $125 test to make sure she didn't get a false positive.
She also advised that I would not be allowed on the ship if my sister's test was indeed positive, as I'd be considered a close contact — despite traveling separately from different states.
There's a separate trailer across the lot for travelers who test positive
My sister and I had done our best to quarantine ahead of our trip, and we took at-home rapid tests — which came back negative — before traveling, so she opted for the second test.
Once it was completed, we were moved again — this time to a trailer far away from all other travelers. It was there that we were guided to a closed, secluded room with stark white walls, uncomfortable chairs, blasting air conditioning, and an air purifier. We joked that we had been locked in COVID-19 jail.
We waited alone for a few minutes before we were joined by a kind Disney employee who brought us water and shared my sister's positive test result.
She also asked if we'd like a refund or a credit to rebook our cruise, and said we'd get a free ride back to the airport via a Disney shuttle — though we were on our own to figure out travel or a hotel stay from there. In total, we spent about one and a half hours taking the COVID test, waiting for the results, and being sent to the secluded room.
It was devastating to be turned away from our cruise, but I'm thankful Disney didn't let us board
After months of planning and a full day of travel between New Jersey and Florida, I couldn't help but cry inside the medical tent. After all, I wasn't sick.
But by the time I returned home the following day, I was hit hard with COVID symptoms. I was extremely ill for five days, and am still recovering two weeks later. Had I been on the cruise when I'd planned, I would have spent the trip feeling sick in my room, and I would've infected other passengers and employees.
So as stressful as our experience was, I'm happy Disney was diligent and ensured that only healthy travelers boarded the ship.
And now, I'm preparing for my cruise all over again. I called Disney Cruise Line a few days after returning home and was able to schedule a new trip for September.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to reuse the 50% discount I received back in February, but my cruise credit meant I didn't have to pay the entire bill all over again. My sister and I also won't have to take additional tests if we submit our vaccine cards and doctors' notes to prove that we recently recovered from COVID.
I'd be lying if I said there isn't a lingering feeling of disappointment every time I see a Disney Cruise Line advertisement. But at least now I know that I'll appreciate my vacation that much more when I finally step on board the Disney Wish.
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