Amanda Bogen (15) knows how to be a cheerleader. It’s the reason why she came to Morehead State from Richland, Washington, to join the championship-level MSU All-Girl Cheerleading Team in 2011 before earning a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in management in 2015.
However, Bogen, 27, recently found herself tasked with lifting the spirits during a coronavirus outbreak aboard her ship and a global health pandemic.
Bogen is currently aboard Holland America Line’s Zaandam cruise ship serving as the assistant cruise director. This is her second four-month contract with the boat after being aboard during the summer and fall of 2019. When she boarded the ship in January, she was the person responsible for organizing and leading the entertainment activities for the 1,243 guests onboard as the Zaandam was traveling to South America.
On March 22, after an increased number of people on board started coming down with flu-like symptoms, the captain made an urgent announcement ordering the ship’s guests and roughly 586 crew members to all go to their cabins and await further instructions. As a safety precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic, passengers were quarantined in their staterooms for 14 days.
“Everything on board is always just so much more extreme,” Bogen said. “Everything is so much smaller and tighter, so everything that everyone is experiencing at home, it’s so much heavier here.”
By March 27, the ship had two confirmed cases of COVID-19, with a reported 53 guests and 85 crew members experiencing flu-like symptoms. To make matters worse, as early as March 7, the ship was traveling from port to port in South America and repeatedly turned away due to the coronavirus pandemic. Bogen said they were denied entry by 11 countries.
“It became a humanitarian crisis. We couldn’t get our passengers off the ship to go home,” Bogen said. “Some of them were terrified. Some of them called guest services, like, sobbing. Scared for their lives.”
The Zaandam was later forced to link up with its sister ship, Rotterdam, through the Panama Canal so it could stock up on supplies and transfer healthy guests.
While the Zaandam was a ship without a home full of tense and panicked passengers, Bogen still had a job to do.
“I think I knew from the beginning from that announcement, I was like, what can I do to help?” she said. “I can work. I can make a difference. What can I do?”
Passengers may have been forced to stay in their rooms, but Bogen knew they could still be entertained. In addition to responding to phone calls and making an extra effort to meet guests’ needs safely, she brainstormed and came up with 60 different activities ranging from fitness activities and game shows to coming up with themed trivia nights with some assistance from her father, Greg. If passengers wanted to see Bogen working on the Zaandam from their rooms, all they had to do was turn their TVs to channel 26, the ship’s television station, where Bogen was hosting five 30-minute programs a day.
“I really think I got creative and made it fun,” Bogen said with pride. “I think being cheerful and just giving them something to do helped.”
The Zaandam, along with the Rotterdam, eventually docked on April 2 in Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Fourteen of the passengers in the most critical condition were taken to area hospitals. Healthy passengers either returned to their Florida homes or were flown home on chartered flights. The two ships offloaded a total of more than 1,200 passengers. By that time, four people on the Zaandam had died, including two from complications from COVID-19. An additional 90 guests and 143 of the ship’s crew reported respiratory symptoms as of March 22.
While some American crew members were allowed to deboard, Bogen was one of the crew members who were forced to remain onboard the Zaandam with no set date as to when she can return home. Since Bogen is one of the few crew members who wasn’t forced to isolate, the crew of the Zaandam was preparing to undergo a 14-day quarantine in their cabins as of this interview. Bogen was already mentally preparing herself.
“It was easy to be strong when I was busy and have a purpose,” she said. “I’ll find a schedule to make it go fast. I know it will be OK. It’s just not ideal.”
Bogen said she is holding firm to her faith as she awaits what comes next. When she reflects, she is blown away by the determination of fellow crew members and the strength of guests that endured this terrible and testing set of circumstances. She knows when she gets back home, she will take her experience at sea and figure out a way to use it wherever she goes.
“I think I’ve learned the importance of helping people,” she said. “I’ve been given so much like my health and my youth, and when I was asked to step up to help, there’s people that need people. When I get home, I think I’m going to look for ways to help, too.”