Hoffman's Houston
corona cruise

Ken Hoffman with a tale of 2 Houstonians stuck at sea due to coronavirus

Hoffman with a tale of 2 Houstonians stuck at sea due to coronavirus

Pacific Princess
A Houston couple has been sequestered on a Pacific Princess cruise ship since January 20.  Princess.com

Two passengers — Robert and Laura Sohns of Houston — set sail that day, on a three-month cruise … a three-month cruise. The difference between their real-life cruise and a TV sitcom: On Gilligan’s Island, the professor and Mary Ann couldn’t get off dry land, while the Sohns’ ship can’t find any port in the coronavirus storm.

The Sohns began their Pacific Princess cruise on January 20 in Los Angeles. The journey was supposed to last 97 days and take them around the world, stopping in exotic ports along the way. All was smooth sailing early on, the ship visited Hawaii, French Polynesia, Tahiti, and New Zealand.

From dream cruise to nightmare
But in early March, the Sohns say their “dream vacation” turned into “a nightmare.” With the ship halfway around the world in the southern hemisphere, about as far from home as geographically possible, the cruise suddenly was canceled.

With 600 passengers aboard, the Pacific Princess started looking for somewhere, anywhere, to make landfall. Because of the spreading pandemic, however, countries around the world were hanging a “closed” sign in their windows. Sri Lanka originally said passengers could get off the ship there, but government officials changed their minds. They allowed the ship to refuel and pick up provisions, but passengers had to stay aboard, and the ship had to leave. 

Stuck at sea
That’s when I got a message in a bottle on social media:

We are currently on a world cruise and trying to find a way to get back home since (our) cruise has been canceled. Trying to find a country that will let us disembark and fly home. Heading for Australia now with our fingers crossed. — Robert Sohns.

Passengers have been stuck on the ship, sailing in circles, for almost three weeks now. Yeah, some “stuck.” The Pacific Princess has nightly entertainment, daytime activities, a casino, library, and a dining room serving 5-course dinners each night. Also a separate steakhouse, burger and hot dog grill, Italian restaurant, and pizza joint.

“We have plenty of food and drink so gorging oneself is always an option,” Sohns said.

Helping combat cabin fever, the Sohns’ cabin has 24-hour Internet (we’ve become email buddies) and satellite TV with news channels, movies, sports, and one channel that plays around-the-clock episodes of the Love Boat.

“We get MSNBC and Fox News, so we can be totally confused as to what may be happening in the world,” Shohns, a retired attorney jokes. “We can watch CNBC and watch our life’s savings dwindle away as the stock market continues to crash. We did have ESPN until around February 1, but that changed to a worldwide sports channel. A rugby game is on now. There is a library for people, like my wife, who want to read all day long.”

Because the Sohns are veteran travelers, members of the frequent cruisers club (75 voyages and counting), they get free laundry service on the ship. They boarded carrying only one suitcase and one carry-on each.

Sohns wrote, “Because I was able to convince my wife to downgrade to a balcony cabin instead of our usual mini-suite,” they paid $75,000 for two tickets aboard the Pacific Princess, not including port excursions, like the safari they had planned, but never took, in South Africa. He reports that despite wandering at sea for weeks, the ship has not loosened the slots in its casino.

Heading home...but to what?
The Sohns finally got word on Friday, March 20 — they can return home, starting Saturday, March 21, which was supposed to be Day 61 of the scheduled 97-day adventure. 

“We will be getting off the ship around 8 am (in Fremantle, Australia). After clearing customs, we will be driven to the Perth airport. We have a 2 pm flight to Melbourne. After a few hours layover, we will head to San Francisco on Qantas. From there we will board a United flight that gets us back Houston on Sunday,” Sohns wrote.

Despite looking forward to getting back home and spending time with family, Sohns says he has “mixed emotions,” about bidding farewell to the Pacific Princess.

“We will be leaving one of the safest spots on the planet,” he notes. “We have medical staff on the ship. We have had no contact with the outside world in several weeks and there is no evidence of coronavirus on our ship. We have plenty of food alcohol and toilet paper, everything is provided for us. We will be returning to a Houston that we may not recognize — no restaurants, no entertainment, no D-Hop [former Houston Texans star DeAndre Hopkins, who was just traded to the Arizona Cardinals], no ‘Stros, no Rockets.

But, seeing the family again is worth it.”