My First Cruise: The JoCo Cruise

While it was definitely one of our more spontaneous ideas, it still seemed like a great idea back in September.  That’s when my husband and I decided to book our first cruise (The JoCo Cruise 2020) to celebrate his 40th birthday and our 20th wedding anniversary.  Like I said, in September, there was no such thing as Covid-19.  Social distancing was not a thing.  There was more than enough toilet paper for everyone…

Oh my, how things have changed.

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What is the JoCo Cruise?

My husband and I are not what you might consider, cruise people.  I get horribly motion sick (even driving my own car).  We’re both introverted and prefer our own little family over most get-togethers with others.  And the idea of spending days on a boat out in the ocean has always kind of freaked me out thanks to the combination of Jaws, Titanic, and an overactive imagination.  So why would we go on a cruise?

Because we like creative, funny and talented people.  Jonathon Coulton is an internet musician and the house musician on the NPR quiz show, Ask Me Another.  He writes quirky songs about computer programmers, video games, zombies, and many other things geeky.  And he has a fun group of musicians, comedians, writers, and comic book creators that join him on the JoCo cruise every spring.  The JoCo Cruise travels to through the Caribbean with stops that change from year to year.  While you’re on the boat you can enjoy board games, video games, logic puzzles, crafting, as well as seminars for lock-picking or photography or learning new role-playing games, as well as a ton of other wild and creative ways to spend your time.  It’s a cruise for geeks and creatives who love learning interesting things and keeping busy.  That is the JoCo Cruise.  Each evening there are concerts or comedians.  There are a variety of interesting and famous people who join the cruise to hang out.  Ken Jennings (Jeopardy champion and author) came on the cruise- I got to meet him and he’s super nice!  You can read more about the JoCo Cruise in this article.

There are a few other writers who had to miss this JoCo cruise thanks to this little pandemic situation that popped up.

snapshots from Joco Cruise 2020

if you look carefully, you’ll see my husband sharing a little about Faith Across the Multiverse as part of the Shadow Cruise.

A Cruise During the Corona Virus Pandemic

OK, in all honesty, when we started the cruise, it was not an official pandemic.  That came about on Wednesday or Thursday- I’m not sure because just like you lose track of time during quarantine, you also lose track of time on a cruise ship.

Our cruise left Ft Lauderdale on March 6.  At that time China and much of Asia were locked down.  Italy was a recent hot spot for the virus and cases had cropped up at a nursing home in Washington state.  Yes, we were concerned about things.  We were concerned about getting sick on the boat but mostly we were concerned about not being allowed off the boat when we returned.  At this point, what we knew of the virus was that it primarily affected the elderly but myself and my husband being on the younger side of old, we weren’t super worried about being sick.  Well, maybe it was more that I wasn’t super worried about it.  My husband happens to have a Ph.D. in microbiology and infectious disease research so he has a different understanding of diseases and viruses than I do.  That said, we still felt pretty safe getting on the boat.

At the dock, they were checking everyone’s temperature before boarding.  People who had traveled from or through Asia were not allowed to board.  One of the guests who had recently been to Italy had opted to not come as a precaution for keeping everyone else on the boat safe.  There were hand sanitizing stations everywhere and each evening the passengers and guests on the cruise would cheer “Wash your hands!” “Don’t Touch your Face!”  If you’re going to be out on a cruise with a group of individuals, this group of rule followers was a good group to go with.

Leaving Florida

Port Ft Lauderdale, Joco Cruise 2020

Out at Sea

Our first day and night were a little challenging.  As I mentioned earlier, I have a lot of trouble with motion sickness.  I was prepared though with my sea bands and Dramamine.  And yet, I’m not sure anything could have truly prepared me for the first night.  We apparently endured some of the worst seas the cruise had ever encountered.

We opted for the early show and later dinner.  The boat rocked, as we walked to the theater.  It reminded me of walking through Noah’s Ark at Kennywood Park.  We found seats on the upper level of the auditorium and sat down.  I could still see and feel the boat moving and within 5 minutes, I knew I was not going to be able to stay.  So we headed back to our cabin.  Fortunately, all of the concerts were simulcast on our cabin TVs so we curled up in bed and enjoyed the show.  As it turned out, watching the show, I wasn’t the only one struggling with the motion of the boat.

Haiti viewed from the cruise ship, Joco Cruise 2020

Lensball at sea on the Joco Cruise 2020

The next morning we were to be at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas.  Unfortunately, the seas were not cooperating and due to the choppy water and high winds, we weren’t going to be able to visit the island.  So we sailed to our next destination, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Santo Domingo

The seas calmed and I was able to manage walking around on the boat but I was really looking forward to visiting Santo Domingo.  My first visit to a country besides Canada. We got up early to make our walking tour excursion of historic Santo Domingo. We visited the Columbus Lighthouse. Then it was to the house of Don Diego Columbus, the Pantheon of the Fatherland, and then the Basilica Cathedral of Santa María la Menor (the oldest cathedral in the Americas).

Columbus Lighthouse

Columbus Lighthouse, Santo Domingo, Joco Cruise 2020Columbus Lighthouse, Santo Domingo, Joco Cruise 2020

Alcázar de Don Diego Colón and Plaza

Colonial district, Santo Domingo, Joco Cruise 2020

Santo Domingo, Joco Cruise 2020Columbus Lighthouse, Santo Domingo Joco Cruise 2020stairway, Santo Domingo, Joco Cruise 2020

Museum of the Royal Houses

Plaza de la Hispanidad , Santo Domingo Joco Cruise 2020Santo Domingo, Joco Cruise 2020

Basilica Cathedral of Santa María la Menor

Basilica Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, Santo Domingo, Joco Cruise 2020Santo Domingo alleyway, Joco Cruise 2020

There was an evening concert on the plaza with Jonathan Coulton (the JoCo of the JoCo cruise).  As we walked back to the ship, it was gorgeous to see the buildings lit up.

Santo Domingo at night, Joco Cruise 2020

The Virus Changes Plans

After our visit to Santo Domingo, the JoCo cruise was off to Grand Turk.  The coronavirus had different plans.  We were still all healthy on the boat.  Everyone was super diligent about washing and sanitizing hands but the government of Grand Turk did not want to risk having a cruise ship potentially bring this serious virus onto their island.  It’s certainly understandable.  Fortunately, our captain and cruise director arranged for the ship to head back to Half Moon Cay for a final beach day and as you’ll soon see, it was a gorgeous day!

Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Holland America, Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, Joco Cruise 2020Beach, Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, Joco Cruise 2020Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, Joco Cruise 2020Bone Fish Lagoon, Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, Joco Cruise 2020a path to the sea, Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, Joco Cruise 2020

Back on the Boat

sunset from the cruise ship, Joco Cruise 2020

Then it was time to head back to Florida.  We had one final JoCo cruise concert (including a bunch of covers of The Cars songs) and enjoyed a gorgeous sunset.  First thing in the morning, we would be grabbing breakfast and heading back to Pittsburgh.  In the meantime, coronavirus was officially a pandemic and our kids would be off of school for at least the next 2 weeks.

We were coming home to a completely different world.  Coming home to the new normal that is now daily life.  We’re on lock-down.  Online school.  Working from home.  Activities and lessons either canceled or done remotely online.

But ultimately, hearing the stories of so many people stranded overseas or on cruise ships waiting and hoping to get home, we know that we’re lucky.  We enjoyed an amazing trip with an incredible group of people.  As far as we know, no one got sick on the ship.  We did our best hand washing.  And while it wasn’t the most relaxing trip for us, we had an amazing adventure.  The JoCo cruise was an experience we will never forget.

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