SAN FRANCISCO－The last vacation Margrit and Lucio Gonzalez took together began with an ominous delay: a medical emergency on the cruise ship they were set to board.
After a four-hour wait, the couple of 51 years got on the Grand Princess on Feb 11, 2020, for a round-trip voyage from San Francisco to the Mexican Riviera, a decision Margrit Gonzalez came to regret.
"I wish we had come back home. He would still be alive," the 82-year-old said.
Within weeks, the Grand Princess had captured the world's attention and made the coronavirus real to millions in the United States when thousands of passengers on a subsequent trip were quarantined as the ship idled off the California coast.
A year later, some of those who traveled on the Grand Princess remember the pain that followed, others the frustration of shifting directives as they were confined to their rooms. They now realize they had a front-row seat to a historic moment.
Ultimately, more than 100 people who were on the ship were infected with the coronavirus. At least eight died.
One was Lucio Gonzalez, an athletic 73-year-old who had worked maintaining trails in the California Parks system for 25 years. On the sunny afternoon they boarded, the Gonzalezes thought only of their high-seas adventure. But a few days after the trip ended, Lucio Gonzalez started feeling ill. Eventually, he went to the hospital.
"They put him on a ventilator for three weeks and two days, and after that he died," his widow said. "I never saw him alive again."
Hours after the Gonzalezes disembarked on Feb 21 in San Francisco, a new group boarded for a 10-day trip to Hawaii. The Grand Princess was headed for a stopover in Ensenada, Mexico, when officials ordered it to reroute to California on March 4 after a 71-year-old man who had been on the same trip as the Gonzalezes died of COVID-19.
Worried about the virus, officials blocked the ship carrying 2,400 passengers and 1,100 crew members from anchoring at its home port of San Francisco.
On the ship, Laurie Miller, her friend Karen Schwartz Dever and their husbands shared the dinner table and talks of their Hawaii adventures.
Soon, they were ordered to quarantine in their cabins. Meals were delivered to their rooms, where they watched their ship, and at times themselves, on television newscasts.
Even after the ship anchored in Oakland on March 9, the ordeal was not over. Transferring passengers to military bases for quarantine took days, and they were in packed buses for hours.
"There was so much inconsistent information from day-to-day that it felt like we were guinea pigs," said Miller, of San Jose, California.
Dever, like her friends, doesn't blame Princess Cruises for how the ship outbreak was handled.
But Lucio Gonzalez's family are suing Princess Cruises and owner Carnival for negligence and wrongful death－one of several lawsuits by passengers and surviving relatives.
Princess Cruises said in a statement that its response to the pandemic was based on "the directives of governments and public health authorities and consistent with industry standards".