Aimee Focaraccio boarded the Norwegian Gem on Jan. 9 for her 10-day birthday cruise from New York. But the celebration ended Thursday when Norwegian let passengers know the cruise would be canceled due to COVID-19-related issues. By Friday evening, Focaraccio learned she was staring down several days at sea with no early return even though the cruise had been canceled.
Focaraccio, who had spent the day in St. Maarten Friday, sent USA TODAY a recording of an onboard announcement.
"We will arrive as per schedule on the 19th in the morning," a voice is heard on the recording, noting some bad weather was expected in the coming days.
"Without the islands and ports to break up the sea days, this is turning into a nightmare. I really can’t imagine four more sea days back to back without much to do," Focaraccio told USA TODAY. She noted earlier in the day that the ship had already opted to skip port calls in Grand Turk, St. Thomas and Tortola before it arrived in St. Maarten and before the decision to cancel was made by the cruise line.
Christine Da Silva, senior vice president of branding and communication for Norwegian Cruise Line, told USA TODAY in a statement earlier Friday that the ship would overnight in Philipsburg, St. Maarten, and would return to its port of origin, New York, "shortly."
At the time, she did not have an estimate as to when the ship would make its return to New York.
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"As we continue to navigate the fluid public health environment while focusing on delivering a safe experience for all on board, today, we made the difficult decision to cancel Norwegian Gem’s current Caribbean sailing, due to COVID-related circumstances," Da Silva said.
Early Friday evening, when asked about the ship returning to New York as scheduled but spending the remaining days at sea, the cruise line said there were no updates on its estimated return.
While the sailing was canceled due to "COVID-related circumstances" according to the cruise line, Focaraccio said she isn't aware of any official announcement regarding cases on board.
Once she learned that the Gem would not be returning to New York early from its canceled sailing, Focaraccio expressed more frustration. Initially, she'd had mixed feelings about the cancellation and was grateful for the compensation the cruise line offered.
"This changes all that," she said. "To have 4 full additional sea days is extremely unsettling. Tomorrow will really be the only nice day to enjoy the outdoors and after that, we will be stuck inside. With limited shows, small crowds, and nothing to do I’m upset."
Anthony Bivona, who self identifies as a frequent Norwegian cruiser, told USA TODAY that his experience on the Gem has been a positive one, in spite of cancellations.
"They did NOT fail to meet my expectations at all," he said in an email, complimenting the ship's staff.
When port visits were canceled, Bivona said he was only slightly disappointed but he knew the risks.
"We all knew when we booked during such difficult times due to COVID that there would most likely be changes to our itinerary," he said, noting that he was surprised and pleased with the compensation provided by the cruise line for the inconvenience. "It was not the exact itinerary we signed up for but has still been an absolutely amazing cruise."
Passengers on the Gem's canceled sailing have been given a full refund in their original form of payment (or in cruise credit if that is how a passenger paid for the cruise), plus an additional cruise credit equal to 50% of the voyage fare for this sailing that can be applied to a future cruise by May 31, 2023.
"This was kinda the cruise from hell," Focaraccio said. "Not that we didn't make the best of it but the uncertainty was frustrating. I'm a frequent cruiser and shareholder, so I will rebook but I'm definitely going to wait a little."
Norwegian canceled sailings on multiple ships this week and last week. With the Gem's canceled sailing, Norwegian has canceled sailings on 12 ships total due to the current COVID-19 surge – that means the majority of ships in Norwegian's fleet have faced cancellations.
And Norwegian isn't the only cruise line to cancel sailings. Royal Caribbean International last week canceled some sailings too.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Norwegian Cruise Line cancels sailing on Norwegian Gem mid-sailing