Home Cruise Preparation This couple caught coronavirus on the Ruby Princess but can’t wait to...

7.30 / By Angelique DonnellanPosted 1dday ago, updated 1dday ago

Ursula Steinberner and Leon Sharp sit on the deck of a boat.
Ursula Steinberner and Leon Sharp had their first cruise on the Ruby Princess and say it will not be their last.(Supplied: Ursula Steinberner)

Ursula Steinberner and Leon Sharp were passengers on the Ruby Princess cruise ship in March and both of them caught coronavirus.

Key points:

  • Ruby Princess passengers Ursula Steinberner and Leon Sharp are keen to set sail on a cruise ship again
  • Ovation of the Seas passengers Cathy and Bill Kleinmuelman already have their next cruise booked
  • The cruise industry will need to change the way it operates, according to tourism researcher Dr Sarah Gardiner

Ms Steinberner spent 10 days in intensive care and thought she was going to die.

It was their very first cruise and despite the serious health scare, they are already planning their next voyage.

“We can’t wait to go on another cruise,” the couple told 7.30.

“We’ve already been down and seen them at Helloworld where we booked our last one,” Mr Sharp said.

“A lot of people said, ‘You got rocks in your head. Why?’ I said you’ve never been on a cruise. This was our first cruise and it won’t be our last.”

Ms Steinberner said the Ruby Princess “was beautiful”.

“It was something like being in Las Vegas,” Mr Sharp added. “It was just like a floating hotel. Magnificent.

“Everything on board was just a highlight. The shows, the staff were fantastic, couldn’t do enough for you.”Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap.

‘Never been so sick in my life’

Leon Sharp and Ursula Steinberner stand on the deck of the Ruby Princess.
Leon Sharp and Ursula Steinberner both fell ill with coronavirus after travelling on the Ruby Princess.(Supplied: Ursula Steinberner)

When they returned home to Port Augusta, South Australia, it was Mr Sharp who fell ill first.

“[I] just started to perspire, I was wringing wet. Ursula saw me and she said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ And I feel that hot I’m burning up.

“I’ve never been so sick in my life.”

Ms Steinberner fell ill days later. A kidney transplant recipient, the virus hit her hard. She spent 10 days in ICU at Royal Adelaide Hospital.

“I did at one stage think this was curtains for me. You only get so many chances,” she told 7.30.

The Ruby Princess became the largest source of COVID-19 cases in Australia after its 2,700 passengers disembarked in Sydney on March 19.

The ship has been linked to almost 700 cases and at least 22 deaths.

Ms Steinberner and Mr Sharp said they do not blame the cruise company for what happened to them.

“It was I think a big case of bad luck, and if you live your life worrying about what you’re going to get while you’re travelling, you’re not really living your life, are you?” Ms Steinberner said.

“You’ll never go anywhere and that’s what we want to do. We’re going on another cruise.”

They said the next cruise they are planning will take them from Singapore to Thailand, Cambodia and Bali.

‘We have rebooked’

Cathy and Bill Kleinmuelman sitting next to each other on a sofa with Bill's arm around Cathy's shoulders
Cathy and Bill Kleinmuelman are hoping to do a world cruise next year.(ABC News: Anthony Scully)

Ms Steinberner and Mr Sharp are not alone in wanting to set sail on a cruise ship again.

Cathy and Bill Kleinmuelman were travelling on the Ovation of the Seas when the coronavirus pandemic hit.Coronavirus questions answeredBreaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast podcast.Read more

After disembarking in Sydney, they spent four days back in their community near Newcastle, New South Wales, before being told to isolate.

“On the fourth day, we got a letter from NSW Health telling us we had to quarantine because there had been people with the virus,” Ms Kleinmuelman told 7.30.

But the experience has not put them off. They were meant to be cruising around Sri Lanka at the moment as part of a 100-day world cruise, but have rebooked it for next year.

“We have rebooked but we will not do that cruise unless the world has reopened and maybe there’s a vaccine or the virus is under control,” Ms Kleinmuelman said.

“We love travelling, we love interacting with people, we like the social environment on the ship, not having to change accommodation every night. It has a lot of pluses.”

“It would be sad if that industry died,” Mr Kleinmuelman said.

A lot of work to ‘rebuild consumer confidence’

Cruise ship passengers disembark from the Princess Cruises owned Ruby Princess at Circular Quay in Sydney.
The Ruby Princess docked at Circular Quay, Sydney, on March 19.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

Phil Hoffman’s travel agency books about 10,000 cruise holidays a year. He said he expects the industry to recover fairly quickly and that most people were rescheduling cruise trips rather than cancelling.

“The negativity that we often get, that I can get sometimes, is [from] people who have never cruised,” he said.

“They’ve read the paper or seen the news and they say, ‘Well, people will never cruise.’ That’s not the case. We’re seeing a lot of people now just waiting for the green light to cruise again.”

Mr Hoffman compared the situation to plane travel after September 11.

“People said, you know, ‘I’ll never get on a plane again.’ Well, that lasted about a month.”

Mr Hoffman said he hoped cruise ships would be back in business by late September or early October “because that’s the prime season”.

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But infectious diseases physician Professor Peter Collignon, from the Australian National University, warned against rushing an industry restart.

“I wouldn’t personally go on a cruise ship at the moment until I had a better feeling as to why it’s occurred,” he said.

“Fundamentally we need to know how we can get better circulation of air in enclosed spaces so we lower the risk … and we make sure surfaces and hands are adequately cleaned.

“I think in the short term even over the next six to 12 months cruise ships will be at an increased risk compared to other sorts of holidays, where you just go to a hotel for instance near the seaside.”

Tourism researcher Dr Sarah Gardiner, from Griffith University, said the cruise industry had suffered significant reputational damage and must make changes.

“It’s going to require quite a lot of work by the industry to rebuild consumer confidence and really address some of the concerns some of the passengers have [about] maintaining their health and safety while they’re on board the ship,” she said.

The industry’s peak body, the Cruise Lines International Association, declined 7.30’s request for an interview but said new health and safety standards were being developed around passenger screening, cleaning and medical treatment.

Mr Hoffman said he expected significant changes to be made.

“I think we may see a 40 to 45 per cent decrease in numbers initially to get all the things right about crowd, social distancing, going to the shows, how many people allowed in shows, going to the buffet. I think buffets will disappear,” he said.

“There are many things they’re working on to provide a virus-free environment.”

Dr Gardiner said it would take a lot of work to make cruises COVID-19 safe.

“I think cruise ships are like other places where you’ve got high levels of social gathering. It’s going to be quite challenging to completely eliminate all risk of virus transfer or transmission,” she said.

Watch this story on 7.30 tonight.