cover image Cabin Fever: The Harrowing Journey of a Cruise Ship at the Dawn of a Pandemic

Cabin Fever: The Harrowing Journey of a Cruise Ship at the Dawn of a Pandemic

Michael Smith and Jonathan Franklin. Doubleday, $30 (272p) ISBN 978-0-385-54740-6

A deadly virus stows away aboard the cruise ship Zaandam on its trip around South America in this gripping chronicle of the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Journalists Smith and Franklin (A Wild Idea) recount how nearly 200 passengers and crew members fell sick as the Zaandam remained at sea for 21 days in March 2020. Though Holland America executives were monitoring Covid-19 before the Zaandam set sail on March 8, they believed the 781-foot-long ship was “immune to such threats,” and took almost no precautions. There were no temperature checks upon boarding, no policies regarding masks and social distancing, no test kits, and only two doctors and four nurses to care for the crew and the largely retired and elderly passengers. As the ship’s medical center filled with patients struggling to breathe, the crew—following corporate mandates—continued to promote group activities, causing more people to fall ill. Refused entry by port after port as the world awoke to the dangers of Covid-19, the Zaandam’s passengers and crew members hunkered down in their cabins and were horrified to learn that several of their shipmates died. Extensive firsthand testimony and the authors’ brisk, matter-of-fact style enrich this propulsive account of how a holiday cruise turned into a nightmare. Readers will be riveted and appalled. (June)