Exclusive: Harvey couple recall cruise terror
A chilling announcement on the Costa Victoria cruise ship in March sunk the hearts of 240 Australians on-board.
Among those were Harvey residents David and Brenda Rondo, who had been celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary when a coronavirus outbreak wreaked havoc in foreign waters.
The buffets were banned, the dance floors were vacated and passengers were confined to their rooms for seven miserable days.
Their “holiday of a lifetime” diminished before their eyes and passengers were left scratching their heads as to how they were going to get home, with the cruise ship headed for the epicentre of the pandemic at the time – Rome.
Looking back now, the only thing that got us through was the support from our family and friends back home in Harvey, the help from the Australian Consulate in Italy and the solidarity between other passengers stranded on the ship.
The cruise veterans had been invited on the ship by another couple they had met from a previous holiday in Africa.
Upon departure they checked travel advice and were told to just “take the usual travel precautions”.
“It was looking fine when we left for our holiday and in a matter of two weeks, the whole pandemic just blew up around the world,” Mr Rondo said.
After hearing coronavirus reports on the news channels, Australians on-board the Costa Victoria started to become anxious.
We kept asking the captain ‘is everything OK, what is going on?’.
“Many ports started to close their borders and we were unable to dock.
“We weren’t receiving any information so we decided to form an Australian committee on board to figure out how we were going to get home.”
The “Escape Committee”, as they called it, met over a period of days before receiving some positive news.
“The captain said ‘we were on the safest place on earth’ and promised to get us all home.”
Mr Rondo said everyone cheered and the committee disbanded.
“They even made doctor appointments free and said there were no coronavirus cases on board,” he said.
Mrs Rondo said it was “very strange” because people were coughing, spluttering and becoming ill.
The doctors kept saying there were no cases
At pre-dinner drinks one night, a shock announcement sent tremors through the ship.
COVID-19 had been traced back to the cruise ship and passengers were in immediate danger.
A sick passenger that had been taken off at a previous port had tested positive for coronavirus.
“We were told to go directly to our rooms and not to leave under any circumstance,” Mr Rondo said.
“We were worried because we had no windows and had to buy internet data to keep informed.”
The pair were locked in their cabin for one week. Guards were patrolling the corridors and food was dropped off three times a day.
“It was a frightening situation,” Mr Rondo said.
No ports would welcome the ship, so the Costa Victoria had to dock in Rome, where thousands of coronavirus infections were being detected each day.
All along, the captain had promised us he would not take us into the ‘eye of the wolf’ being Venice, instead he delivered us into the mouth of the wolf being Rome.
The Australian Consulate in Italy helped organise a charter flight for the hundreds of stranded Australians when they reached Rome.
However, they were mixed in with passengers from other cruise ships, where there had also been confirmed coronavirus cases of COVID-19 on-board.
“They did not have anyone in business class and packed everyone in economy,” he said.
Upon arriving in Perth, they were ushered to Crown to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine stay.
“We had our temperature taken, however, we did not receive any COVID-19 testing, which we thought was strange,” Mr Rondo said.
Mrs Rondo recalled “feeling like a leper”.
“I remember one day, I thought I heard a knock at the door for our food drop off, I went to open the door and a cleaner screamed and jumped back,” she said.
The pair celebrated their ruby wedding anniversary with a quarantine Uber Eats date night. Mr Rondo had ruby earnings delivered to Mrs Rondo to mark the occasion.
They also gazed out the window each day, watching the swans play by the river.
We were so envious of the people on the outside.
It comes as no surprise that when the exhausted travellers finished their quarantine period, the first place they ventured was down to the river to see the swans.
Upon returning to Harvey, the pair found out that two of their dogs had been bitten by a snake.
“It was very sad, but we were happy to be home,” Mr Rondo said.
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