‘It was like we landed in a disaster movie’: New book details being trapped on cruise ship during pandemic

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CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. (WFLA) – A best-selling novelist from Florida had quite the story to tell after surviving a coronavirus outbreak on a cruise ship overseas early in the pandemic.

“It was like we landed in a disaster movie,” said Gay Courter of Tampa Bay, before Tuesday’s release of her new book, “Quarantine! How I Survived the Diamond Princess Coronavirus Crisis.”

The book documents the experience of Courter and her husband, Phil, on the cruise ship in Japan during the virus outbreak. That was followed by a U.S. Department of State-led evacuation and quarantine at a Texas Air Force base before they finally returned to their Florida home.

“The reason I wrote the book is to show how little we knew in January, how the sequence really developed because now there’s all kinds of myths and stories about it, how dangerous the virus is — and also the value of speaking up when you’re in trouble because people will listen,” Courter said.

She expressed the fear she and her husband felt while confined to their cruise ship cabin: “I think the scariest thing for us was not just getting sick, but not being able to have each other to help through it.”

Courter said she remembers the ship’s captain announcing the first positive test just before they were about to disembark.

“Eventually, over 700 people got it,” she said. “Fourteen people died.”

She said she sounded the alarm about the unsafe conditions in a series of interviews with WFLA and other news outlets.

Courter dedicated her book to the people who lost their lives, the passengers who became ill, the captain and his crew, her husband and their children.

Twelve days into a two-week quarantine on the ship, the U.S. government sent cargo planes to evacuate the Americans.

The Courters traveled from Tokyo to Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas, where they kept testing negative for the virus while having to quarantine again.

“It was unpleasant. It was difficult,” Courter said of the living conditions on the base. “We felt putting up with the quarantine, we were keeping America safe.”

Courter recalled the phone conversation with her son that inspired her to start writing the book: “‘You have the best deal any writer ever had,’ he said. ‘You’re locked up for two weeks with nothing to do, and you have a great story to tell.'”

Nearly 50 days after departing for what they had hoped would be a dream vacation during their 53 years of marriage, the Courters finally returned home in early March.

“We get here on the beautiful Crystal River… and said, ‘Why would we go anywhere else?’” Courter said.

Courter said she and her husband won’t be ready to get back on a cruise ship until there’s widespread distribution of an effective vaccine and more access to therapeutics.

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