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Lost in the Stacks: Cabin Fever


The 1,234 passengers on Holland America’s cruise ship Zandaam were about to embark on a dream vacation: a month-long trip around the tip of South America. They would see penguins and icebergs, orcas and dolphins, and for an extra fee guests could even visit Machu Picchu. As they crossed from the Falkland Islands to the Strait of Magellan up the coasts of Chile and Peru, guests from Europe, the United States, the UK and South America, would not only enjoy shore excursions, but would also delight in the Zandaam’s famous amenities. The date? March 8, 2020. 

In Cabin Fever authors Michael Smith and Jonathan Franklin ominously detail the transformation of the Zandaam from luxury cruise ship to pariah. As COVID fears gripped the world, port after port closed to cruise ships, leaving the Zandaam dangerously low on supplies. Meanwhile, hundreds of passengers and crew became sickened with the mystery virus while an ill-equipped medical staff struggled to keep up with the explosion of cases. Soon the captain ordered all passengers confined to their tiny rooms, forcing the decimated crew to work grueling 14-hour days serving the passengers 3 meals a day. Despite the heavy-handed Titanic references, Cabin Fever is a gripping account of a cruise ship caught in an international crisis. The details of the frantic diplomacy between Carnival Cruise Lines, diplomats and ambassadors to find a port, any port, where the Zandaam could disembark are fascinating. The inner workings of cruise ships, from the laundry workers to the sanitation staff, to the entertainers, is also equally interesting. Smith and Franklin also vividly capture the personal stories of both crew members and passengers trapped on a nightmare voyage. 

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