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Former EKU Pres. Doug Whitlock, wife finally return to mainland on cruise ship impacted by COVID-19

By Ron Daley
Special to KyForward

Former president of Eastern Kentucky University, Doug Whitlock and his wife Joanne, finally reached the Miami port Saturday after a roller-coaster cruise caused by the COVID-19 virus and a forced quarantine.

Doug and Joanne Whitlock at Fin Del Mundo near Argentina

Whitlock retired as president of EKU in 2013 after over four decades of service.

Their beautiful cruise aboard the Coral Princess started in Chile on March 5 but was upended when the Argentinian government refused to allow them to disembark at their destination in Buenos Aires, Argentina on March 16.

Fears of the virus caused officials to allow only Argentinian citizens and passengers who had flights leaving that day to disembark. The Whitlock’s flight was scheduled for later in the week and they were prohibited from leaving the ship.

On March 21 Whitlock posted on Facebook: “We have spent our second day in port in Montevideo. But we now know our future. Early in the morning, we sail. Somewhere along the way we will pick up some travelers from a ship that has been to Antarctica. 14 days later we will be at Fort Lauderdale, and from there home, either by air (I hope) or by rental car.”

The ship was scheduled to stop at Rio de Janeiro on March 24 where some passengers with confirmed flights from there were to disembark with the remaining on until Fort Lauderdale.

“This is my first view of the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer. However, we never went into port in Rio as the authorities denied our disease-free ship into their COVID ridden city. There were some heartbroken Brazilian nationals who wanted to disembark.” Whitlock explained.

Wearing masks on the ship’s balcony. (Photos provided)

After several days at sea they were diverted to Miami from the planned port at Fort Lauderdale, Florida in hopes of having remaining passengers disembark there. On April 4 Whitlock said that, “The port of Miami never looked more beautiful this Saturday morning,”

“I write this morning with mixed emotions,” he posted on Facebook. “We are relieved to have been allowed to come into port in Miami. There were apparently some serious negotiations overnight. On the other hand, we were saddened to learn from the Captain’s morning message that two our fellow passengers had died. It’s a very sobering feeling. We have already put our bags in the hallway. Later today we will undergo a health screening, leave the ship to go through customs, and then return to our stateroom. Today the very sick and Florida residents will disembark. The rest of us, except for those who have symptoms who will remain on the ship, will be flying home on Princess arranged flights on tomorrow (Sunday) and Monday. When we started this cruise, we had two good friends on board. Now we have many to whom we will most likely not be able to give a proper goodbye.”

Miami skyline was welcome sight.

According to this Facebook posts, the Whitlocks expressed optimism that the ship was virus free on March 27.  “Our last port was the Falklands two weeks ago,” Whitlock said.  “I am not sure where the Zaandam (another ship) was before people started getting sick. Anyway, there is no sickness on our ship, and we are supposed to reach Fort Lauderdale on April 5. Our biggest worry is getting home from there without getting infected.”

On April 1 the Whitlock’s fears increased. “Our luck has taken a turn for the worse. Joanne, our friends, and I are fine, but there are some with flu-like and norovirus symptoms on board, so the captain ordered yesterday afternoon that everyone self-isolate in their staterooms. He said, ‘out of an abundance of caution.’ Making the best of that, Joanne and I enjoyed dinner al fresco on our balcony. Just finished breakfast out there. We continue to pray that the Coral Princess has remained COVID-19 free.”

However, on April 2 Whitlock wrote on FB to his friends, “After weeks of believing we were on a ship insulated from COVID-19, we learned last night that an undisclosed number of crew and passengers had received positive test results on samples left at Bridgetown, Barbados, Tuesday evening. Since we left San Antonio, Chile on March 5 and more than three weeks passed before any symptoms were reported, it’s a safe bet the virus was carried aboard at one of our stops.

“We remain self-isolated in our staterooms and have been issued masks to wear any time we open our door. Looks like some progress has been made at Fort Lauderdale about letting cruise ships disembark. We anticipate being shuttled directly to the airport on sanitized busses and wearing the masks we are modeling in this photo. Joanne and I deeply appreciate the outpouring of good wishes and prayers,”

The welcoming committee in Miami.

Whitlock said there were “many thrills on this cruise have included seeing glaciers in Patagonia, sailing around Cape Horn, being at Ushuaia, Argentina, walking among the penguins in the Falklands, and crossing the equator again. We have also enjoyed sailing with old friends and making many new ones. While it was interesting, we were concerned about the political unrest in Chile. The graffiti on so many beautiful buildings was hard to understand. One night we could not reenter our hotel through the front door because of the protesters. The downers have included missing three ports we wanted to visit and not getting to go to Uguazu Falls.”

Among the positives, they witnessed and enjoyed included “the remarkable entertainment, especially Crooners’ Bar guitarist and singer Matheus de Camargo. We also enjoyed playing a lot of trivia with old and new friends. That lasted from our last port in the Falklands on the 13th until Tuesday the 31st when we were put into self-isolation in our staterooms. The behavior of our fellow guests in remaining calm and polite has been reassuring of our humanity as was the cheerful service of the ship’s crew.”

“The free Wi-Fi and our ability to use social media helped keep us sane by making us feel less isolated,” Whitlock added.

Despite the bad experiences caused by the virus, the Whitlocks intend to cruise again, just not this year. They have a cruise booked for March 2021.

Ron Daley resides in Lexington. He was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 2017.

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One Comment

  1. Ron Daley says:

    Whitlock posted on FB at 1:30 pm April 7 that they were boarding bus to take them to the airport for a charter fight headed to Louisville.

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