They got stuck on a cruise ship in 2020. Here’s why they went on a Honeymoon do-over

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(CNN) — It wasn’t the honeymoon they planned. Instead of exploring the South Pacific on the cruise of a lifetime, newlyweds Jay and Carmen Martinez found themselves stuck at sea with no end date in sight.

The Martinezs boarded the Norwegian Jewel on February 28, 2020. Pre-departure, the couple — two twenty-somethings from Texas — had hesitations. Coronavirus was becoming increasingly omnipresent, and was also already synonymous with cruise ships — earlier that month, the 2,666 passengers on board the Diamond Princess ship were quarantined in Japan amid fears of hundreds of Covid cases on board.

Jay and Carmen looked into changing their plans, but Norwegian Cruise Line said they were locked in.

“Up until the day that we left, that was not an option,” Jay told CNN Travel in March 2020. “And with us having so much money invested into our honeymoon, we had no other choice but to board the ship.”

Less than two weeks after the Martinezs boarded the Norwegian Jewel, cruise industry body Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) — which represents 95% of the global cruise fleet — announced the suspension of operations from US ports of call for a 30-day period. A day later, the CDC issued a No Sail Order for cruise ships in the United States.

Ships scrambled to get passengers home. Many vessels were turned away from port after port, as nations closed their borders and viewed ships with suspicion.

The Norwegian Jewel was refused entry into French Polynesia, Fiji and New Zealand.

The vessel spent nearly a month at sea in limbo. Unlike some ships, the Norwegian Jewel didn’t have any reported cases of Covid, but those on board were still panicking.

“The world stopped, and it just kind of became floating at sea,” recalls Jay today.

Jay kept himself busy by working remotely from the ocean, and trying to raise awareness of the ship’s plight to media and politicians. And both he and Carmen, as some of the younger and more social-media-savvy guests on board, helped the ship’s older passengers to connect with their loved ones back home.

The voyage’s unexpected twist led, in turn, to unexpected connections. Friendships were forged, and when the ship eventually disembarked in Hawaii and passengers went their separate ways, they swore to stay in touch with one another and with the crew.

At the time, Jay said the experience was “a cruise and a vacation and a honeymoon like no other, and for great reasons and for terrible reasons.”

Back on the ground, the couple focused on their jobs — he’s in public affairs, she’s in public health, so they were both thrust into responding to the pandemic.

Some two years passed, and vaccines and new safety protocols reignited the dormant cruise industry. And as 2022 rolled on, Jay and Carmen started to consider a honeymoon do-over — they’d been given 110% cruise credit in acknowledgment of their disrupted voyage, which was set to expire in March 2023.

The couple settled upon a South Pacific tour aboard the Norwegian Spirit cruise ship. This November 2022 voyage promised to take in some of the stops they’d missed in March 2020.

“We were comfortable enough with having been vaccinated and taking additional steps and precautions on this ship, that we thought that this was going to be a good chance for us to take that once-in-a-lifetime cruise and give a second try to this honeymoon,” says Jay.

Twice in a lifetime

Jay and Carmen enjoyed their Honeymoon do-over on board the Norwegian Spirit, pictured here docked in Moorea.

Jay and Carmen enjoyed their Honeymoon do-over on board the Norwegian Spirit, pictured here docked in Moorea.

Jay Martinez

From the minute they stepped on board the Norwegian Spirit, both Carmen and Jay were hit with déjà vu. It was surreal.

“I mean, just being back on a cruise ship and a Norwegian cruise ship was quite an experience,” says Jay.

And while in so many ways the world has irrevocably changed since March 2020, the ocean views remained unchanged.

“I just remember the uncertainty around it all in 2020. And this time, just a little bit more joyous, but always with just the lingering doubts of ‘Okay, I really hope that something unforeseen doesn’t come this time around, because I’m really enjoying myself,'” says Jay.

While the pandemic doesn’t loom as large as it once did over cruise ships, vessels can still be hit with the virus — in November, the Majestic Princess ship docked in Sydney with a reported 800 Covid-positive passengers.

And the cruise industry is still recovering both reputation-wise and financially from the pause in sailing. In 2020, crew members reported mental health struggles as they remained on board long after travelers disembarked, while some passengers struggled to be reimbursed for canceled cruises.

The return to cruising was also pretty stop-start in many regions, as cruise lines and passengers adapted to new safety protocol and ways of operating.

Jay took this photo of the sunset from the Norwegian Spirit.

Jay took this photo of the sunset from the Norwegian Spirit.

Jay Martinez

Jay and Carmen say they’d kept abreast of cruising’s bumpy waters over the past few years, but they ultimately didn’t have any concerns about cruising again. The couple enjoyed cruises before the pandemic, and while they had some frustrations associated with their 2020 experience, they have nothing but praise for how Norwegian crew handled the situation on board.

They say the same was true of their recent journey. When they mentioned their honeymoon do-over story to staff they ended up with surprise Champagne delivered to their specially decorated room.

The couple joked about the irony of still being “honeymooners” almost three years since their wedding.

“I like to say, this point forward, we’re honeymooning forever,” jokes Carmen.

The couple were also prepared for anything, packing plenty of Covid tests. Jay also took multiple laptops — just in case he ended up working remotely from the ocean once again.

But their honeymoon do-over remained Covid-free. There was an itinerary change due to the Hawaii Mauna Loa volcanic eruption — with the cruise line opting not to stop at Kahului in Maui — but otherwise everything proceeded as planned.

Unexpected connections

Jay and Carmen took this selfie on the Big Island in Hawaii.

Jay and Carmen took this selfie on the Big Island in Hawaii.

Jay Martinez

Jay and Carmen’s second honeymoon trumped the original in mostly every way — the couple got to see all the destinations they’d dreamed of, including Bora Bora and Fiji. They swam in turquoise waters, surrounded by sea creatures, and enjoyed spectacular sunsets. And they weren’t plagued with health or travel anxiety.

But over the course of the second voyage, Jay and Carmen realized there had been some unexpected bright points to the first, disrupted cruise.

On the second trip, there was only polite chit chat with fellow passengers, not emotional quests to help stranded strangers connect with loved ones. The two realized that sometimes emergency situations bond people together in a way that doesn’t happen when everything’s smooth sailing.

“We didn’t really connect with people how we did during our 2020 experience,” says Carmen.

In turn, the couple realized how much the unlikely connections had meant to them on the first cruise. They’ve stayed in touch with many of their fellow stranded passengers, with Jay saying they see them as “life-long friends.”

“It wasn’t only just other passengers,” adds Carmen. “We made friends with the staff, too.”

On the second cruise, the two focused on each other, enjoying the breather from their busy jobs, and taking a moment to reassess their lives, almost three years on from the unexpected beginning to their marriage.

Carmen says Jay’s commitment to getting the couple home on the first ship reinforced her feelings of safety and security in the relationship — a feeling she says she’s felt ever since the two first met at college, then started dating after their graduation.

“He was up all day and night with that laptop and the phone just calling people and trying to get us home. I had a brother who was battling cancer at the time, so he’s having these surgeries and their families asked when we’re coming home and we just don’t know,” she says.

The two now think the way they tried their best to make the most of their disrupted first honeymoon, and to support each other and other people on board, set the tone for what was to come.

“That’s kind of been a recurring theme of what these early years of our marriage has brought,” says Jay. “We’ve had heartache and significant changes in our lives. We’ve lost family members, and it hasn’t always been easy. But through the love and support that we’ve had for each other, we’ve been able to kind of weather those storms.”

“I think we set the tone, like one month into your marriage, if you are walking into a global pandemic, and you’re stuck at sea — if you can kind of get through that if you can weather that storm, I think that you’ll be in good standing.”

Top photo of Jay and Carmen on Bora Bora taken by Stephan Debelle / Bora Bora Photo Video.



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