Cabin Fever – Trapped On Board A Cruise Ship When The Pandemic Hit- Michael Smith and Jonathan Franklin

In early 2020, the world was on edge. An ominous virus was spreading and no one knew what the coming weeks would bring. Far from the hotspots, the cruise ship Zaandam was preparing to sail from Buenos Aires loaded with 1,200 passengers – British, American, Australian, European and South American tourists, plus 600 crew. Most passengers were over the age of 65.

There was concern about the virus in the news but that was oceans away. Escaping to sea at the ends of the earth for a few weeks seemed like it might be a good option. The cruise line had said the voyage would go ahead as scheduled and it would be safe.

Within days, people aboard the Zaandam began to fall sick. The world’s ports shut down. Zaandam became a top story on the news and was denied safe harbour everywhere. With only two doctors aboard and few medical supplies to test for or treat Covid-19, and with dwindling food and water, the ship wandered the oceans on an unthinkable journey.

Cabin Fever is a riveting narrative thriller, taking readers behind the scenes of the ship’s complex workings, and below decks into the personal lives of passengers and crew who were caught unprepared for the deadly ordeal that lay ahead. It is a story layered with moments of peril, perseverance and kindness. A remarkable tale that is filled with individual acts of heroism and the struggles and the tragedies of the crew and passengers.


Cabin Fever is a non-fiction book about a cruise ship hit by a Covid 19 outbreak as the pandemic hit countries around the world. It found itself sailing from port to port, being denied access, out of fear they would bring the virus to countries yet to feel the full force of this terrifying new threat. It is a story of heroism, of survival and it speaks to all of us, as the terror we all experienced, is played out on the small stage, in the agraphobic confines of a ship wandering the ocean in search of a safe haven.

What I loved is that although it is a non-fiction account, it has all the elements of a thriller, full of tension and anxiety. Anticipation around the fate of the crew and the passengers and their battle for survival. When reading, you could almost feel like you are turning the pages a great novel about terror at sea and yet this is a true story, one we all watched unfold on our TV screens and wondered how those locked away in their cabins were feeling. By reading Cabin Fever we learn not only about the events on the ship, how they effected everyone, we feel both their terror and the terror of the countries they appealed to help for. It doesn’t always make far easy reading, but it’s honesty, shows us the resilence of mankind and the kindness of all those fighting to bring them safely home.

The detail of the research pays dividends, because you really feel as if you are there on the ship with them all, so real does it all feel as you are reading. The atmopshere the writers create is quite astonishing, you can feel the frustrations of the passengers as they realise the cruise company are not being truthful with them. The building fear as they realise Covid 19 is onboard the ship and the terror of being locked in their cabins, ill, with dwindling medical supplies and little hope of help. The crew worked to exhaustion, falling ill with Covid themselves, were a remarkablle group of people, having to carry on working while ill. Some so overworked, the virus took a terrible toil on them.

It is a remarkably honest account and a very moving one. But it is the honestly of the account, the tribute paid to all those that helped those stuck on the ship that makes it a very rewarding read. Many that ran the cruise company didn’t cover themselves with glory and the book is rightly honest about this and that made me feel angry. That was then tempered with the bravery of the passangers, of the crew, of the pilots who boarded the ship to guide them through the Suez Canal, that was the beating heart of this book.

It is a very thrilling read, all the more because it is non-fiction and though we were not on the ship with them, the stories, the events are so vividly recreated we feel we are. We all lived through the terror as covid hit and it makes this story all the more emotional to read.

About the authors

MICHAEL SMITH is a Miami-based investigative reporter at Bloomberg Businessweek. He’s written about financial crimes, corruption, narcotics and human trafficking, and environmental and labor abuses in supply chains. Recently, he reported extensively on COVID outbreaks on cruise ships. Smith’s national awards include the prestigious George Polk, Maria Moors Cabot, Robert F. Kennedy, and Gerald Loeb awards. Cabin Fever is his first book.
JONATHAN FRANKLIN is a journalist and TV commentator based in South America for the past 24 years. Franklin’s most recent book A Wild Idea (HarperOne, 2021) chronicles the rollicking life of The North Face founder Doug Tompkins, who moved to a shack in Patagonia, gave away his riches, and became one of the world’s greatest land conservation activists. Franklin writes about conservation, organized crime, and survival at sea. His work is featured at –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


4 thoughts on “Cabin Fever – Trapped On Board A Cruise Ship When The Pandemic Hit- Michael Smith and Jonathan Franklin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s