For the first 22 years of her life, Julia Lindsey had never seen the sea.
But for two months, that’s all she saw — day after day after day — from her cabin aboard the Celebrity Infinity cruise ship, stuck onboard because of coronavirus concerns, first outside Miami, then the Bahamas.
“I’m very, very frustrated,” Lindsey, 24, a singer working on the ship who grew up in Poplar Grove, about 75 miles northwest of downtown Chicago, said this past week.
She finally was able to disembark Saturday at the port of Miami.
“Yay, I’m free!” she posted on Facebook Live from a bus taking her back to Illinois. “Fifty-seven days on board, and I am off the ship and I am headed home!”
Maybe you heard in March that people were stranded on cruise ships at American ports because of safety worries tied to COVID-19. Though many were allowed to leave in the following weeks, Lindsey, till Saturday, was one of an estimated 100,000 crew members still stuck on cruise ships in or near American waters by the pandemic.
They’d been caught in a dispute between cruise lines and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the cruise companies’ refusal to accept responsibility for making sure the disembarkation process followed CDC guidelines.
Michael Bayley, chief executive officer of Royal Caribbean International, which owns the Celebrity Infinity, told employees the company finally agreed, allowing its workers to go home.
Lindsey had had her bags packed three times, only to be told earlier plans to let the crew disembark fell through.
She took the cruise job because “I’ve only ever wanted to perform.” And she saw this as a way to her dream.
She started work for the cruise line after graduating in 2018 in musical theater from Decatur’s Millikin University. She’d never been outside the United States before. She auditioned in New York after sending a one-minute video singing Heart’s “Barracuda.”
“Half an hour after I left the callback, I had a contract in my email,” she said. “It was very, very exciting.”
She’s gotten to travel to Asia, Europe and beyond — a big change for a young woman whose summers were spent visiting relatives on a farm in Nebraska.
Even for Lindsey, one of the stars of the show, this wasn’t quite Broadway, her ultimate goal.
“The audience members can come in as late as they want,” she said. “They eat, they drink through it, they’ll sleep. They’ll get up in the middle of it and leave.”
But the pay was good, so she could save to move to New York.
“I didn’t think that this was going to be that big of a deal,” Lindsey said of the pandemic, which crew members first heard of in early March.
On March 14, a day after her last cruise ended and passengers disembarked in Miami, she and other employees were told, even though no one had tested positive, they’d have to wait out two weeks of isolation.
“We had free rein of the ship,” Lindsey said. “We were able to use all the pools. We were putting on shows for the crew. We were just hanging out for a long time, just by ourselves, in the middle of the ocean.”
Nine days later, a crew member tested positive. Days later, everything changed. For nearly 2 ½ half weeks, employees were confined to their cabins 24 hours a day, with water and food left at their doors.
“I was going absolutely crazy,” said Lindsey, who shared a cabin with her boyfriend.
Her parents, who live in Belvidere, worried like crazy about her.
“You’re not being given any good information about the when and the how you’ll get out of it — that’s very troubling,” Lisa Whitcomb, her mother, said days before her daughter finally got off the ship.
Crew members eventually were allowed out of their cabins — for three hours a day — to eat in a “big dining hall.” On April 30, the restrictions were loosened more: They could leave their cabins as long as they wear masks and practice social distancing.
Listening to music, strolling on the deck, talking with her family and having her boyfriend, who’s the cruise ship’s music director, with her kept her sane.
“We’ve gotten to know each other very well,” she said. “At the end of every fight, I’ll say: ‘You have to realize I would never spend 33 days alone in a room with anybody. It’s not personal.’ ”
After all of this, Lindsey says: “I’m going to stay away from the water for a long time. I would never even come on a ship as a guest.”