Darren and Claire Vaughan thought they would be in the Caribbean by now, enjoying the warm weather.
But they’re stuck in Bayonne, waiting and waiting for their Royal Caribbean cruise to set sail.
The couple flew into Newark from the UK on Thursday, planning to board the Anthem of the Seas in the New Jersey port for a week-long cruise to the islands the next day.
But their dreams of sunny skies and warm weather turned into a nightmare, when a disease from the other side of the world sidelined the ship, leaving them nowhere to stay and unsure of what to do.
“This is a total disaster, a massive disaster,” said Darren, 38, an accountant from Wales.
The Vaughans saw news clips on television of the ship docking Friday and four Chinese nationals being removed by paramedics, including one who fell ill with a fever on board and later tested positive for influenza. The four were taken to University Hospital in Newark, where they were tested for the novel coronavirus that has killed 725 people worldwide, most in China, where the group traveled from.
An additional 23 passengers from China, who had been kept in isolation for much of the 12-day cruise, were taken straight to Newark Airport and sent home.
No one aboard the 18-deck, 2,090-stateroom ship is known to have the coronavirus, but until the tests come back to confirm that, the ship is staying put.
That’s left expectant passengers like the Vaughans stranded and frustrated, complaining of spotty information from Royal Caribbean, the ship’s owner. Adding to the frustration was that the company initially said the ship would sail on Saturday.
The Vaughans gave up their hotel room and showed up ready to board, but ended up stiffing it out for hours in a McDonald’s near the dock before learning they must wait until Monday.
“I’m angry, devastated and let down by a company that puts profits before their customers,” Darren said.
Attempts to get help with a place to stay or a way to spend their time while waiting for the ship to sail produced autoresponses telling them to use their “favorite search engine” to find lodging and entertainment.
“I was so furious. I got off the phone with them and my hands were shaking,” said Claire, 36, a government worker. “It was like talking to an automated response. Every time I asked her a question, she just gave me the same answer as well, ‘Oh just look on the internet.’”
Worse, they’re packed for a week in the Caribbean, not a weekend in New York in February.
Darren also wondered why, if the ship is contaminated, the 4,000-plus passengers who were on the boat were allowed to leave?
“If they believed one or more passengers on the boat could have the coronavirus, why let [them] disembark and go home and potentially carry the virus?”
Royal Caribbean did not immediately respond to a query from The Post regarding that question.
A series of other ships have also been affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
At least 64 people from all over the world, including 13 Americans, have tested positive for coronavirus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was docked in Yokohama, Japan, for days before heading out to sea for 24 hours. Passengers on the ship are quarantined in their rooms, allowed to leave for only an hour at a time, and crew members are delivering food and other items, including prescription medication that was delivered to the ship, to their cabins.
The Holland America Westerdam was refused docking in Japan, Hong Kong and other cities in the past few days despite no reports that anyone on board was sick. It was still at sea on Saturday.
Another ship, the 1,800-passenger World Dream, was quarantined in Hong Kong. All 35 crew members and nine passengers who had earlier reported fever or respiratory symptoms test negative for deadly coronavirus, according to local reports. The ship may be cleared to leave by Tuesday after additional tests on crew members who may have had contact with eight infected travelers who had been on a cruise in January
The workers cleaning the Royal Caribbean Anthem of the Sea on Saturday were not wearing masks or hazmat suites. Nevertheless, one Bayonne dock worker who showed up to load luggage said he wouldn’t go on board.
“I wouldn’t get on that ship for free, because I am afraid,” said the dock worker, who was expecting to load luggage on the ship but was sent home because there was no loading to be done.
“It’s unfortunate,” he added, predicting that Royal Caribbean is “going to take a hit” from prospective passengers scared away from the cruise line. “A lot more people are going to think as I do.”