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‘The worst trip I’ve ever been on!’ Coronavirus cruise ship passengers finally home

We all should have a dose of Carolyn Wyler’s spirit.

The 60-year-old Sacramento resident, a former nurse and now self-described world traveler and future lottery winner, just got home from a memorably bad journey – 14 days in coronavirus quarantine at Travis Air Force Base after five days in cabin lockdown at sea aboard the ill-fated Grand Princess cruise ship.

That makes her and her husband among an estimated 900 former cruise vacationers being released this week from the air base and heading home.

And what is she looking forward to? Another cruise. It would be her 10th.

“We love cruises. It’s our favorite way to travel with family and friends,” the retiree said, speaking to The Sacramento Bee on the first day at her North Natomas home in more than a month.

Wyler and her husband, Ken Welton, took off from San Francisco on Feb. 21 for a 15-day excursion to Hawaii and Mexico.

But when 21 people aboard tested positive for coronavirus, they found themselves in a five-day purgatory at sea, isolated in their cabin while state and federal officials negotiated over what to do with them.

Ultimately, the roughly 900 healthy California residents on the ship were bused from a secluded dock at the Port of Oakland to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, where they were held in a fenced and patrolled camp for another 13 1/2 days.

She and her husband handled the shipboard experience and the weeks in quarantine with a few tears, but also humor, some of it dark: She rewrote the lyrics to the Beach Boys “Sloop John B,” and turned it into a video, sung by a friend. She didn’t have to rewrite the song’s famous coda though: “This is the worst trip .... I’ve ever been on.” (That’s her and Ken dancing in their cabin. Call it dance therapy.)

On Monday, the quarantined group members got word they could finally go home. Wyler was overjoyed, but fearful. She and her husband are healthy and they served their federal 14-day isolation period, but they had heard rumors that people on the outside might be afraid that they were carrying the virus and that there may even be a crowd of protesters at the spot where the bus from Travis would drop them to meet their ride home.

That didn’t turn out to be the case. Friends picked them up and drove them home to Sacramento. They wore their masks in the car, and didn’t take them off until Tuesday, when they had hit the full 14-day mark. Neighbors gathered to sing them a welcome song Monday evening.

Wyler is delighted to be free at last. No perimeter fence, floodlights and patrolling black Suburbans. But, in fact, it’s not the world that she left in February. Now, it’s a shelter-in-place existence, with some walks in the neighborhood.

“The real world, it’s not that real right now, it’s kind of surreal,” she said. “As much as I am excited, I am also anxious.”

But one thing she knows she will look forward to: Princess Cruises has offered them a free vacation if they book by next March. They will, but not until they see what happens over the next year with the coronavirus.

“Maybe the Mediterranean,” she said, dreaming ahead. “I’d like to go to New Zealand, too.”

Tony Bizjak has been reporting for The Bee for 30 years. He covers transportation, housing and development and previously was the paper’s City Hall beat reporter.
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