Huntington figure skating team isolated on Caribbean cruise ship to return home | Coronavirus

HUNTINGTON — After weeks of intense training in preparation to set sail and perform on the Royal Caribbean “Freedom of the Seas” for the next six to seven months, Huntington natives and professional figure skaters JD and Alexis Rappold’s fifth cruise performance contract was cut short amid COVID-19 concerns — but that didn’t mean they went straight home.

Instead, the Huntington couple was isolated on the ship where they have been docked in Barbados since mid-March.

“They sent us to Spain for rehearsals while the ship was out of the water and undergoing renovation in February,” JD Rappold said. “Spain was normal — they had their big carnival festival, which was amazing, and around March 1, we did a crossing from Spain to San Juan, Puerto Rico.”

As the ship made the eight-day trip to pick up its first round of guests for the season, the COVID-19 outbreak began making headlines.

“By that time things were starting to break out, so as a precaution they started taking our temperatures every day and it was just us crew members on board,” Alexis Rappold said. “We ended up doing one cruise with guests on board. The morning of March 15, we were going back to San Juan to drop off our guests, and then normally we would pick up more guests and go back out — we knew we weren’t going to pick up more guests; we were just trying to get these guests home.”

But the port denied the ship entry, and guests stayed on the ship until March 17 when they were finally let off in Miami.

“We were like, ‘OK, they should let us off today, too. We’re U.S. citizens,’ and we didn’t think we would be stuck on the ship this long,” JD Rappold said. “We thought it was going to be a couple-week thing and then back at it because we literally just opened the ship. We didn’t think we were going to also close it. It came out that one ship had all these cases and then all of a sudden Italy got hit hard, Spain got hit, and we thought, ‘Oh, God, that’s not good.’”

The couple said they were first told that the pools, bars and other activities on the boat would be left open for crew members to enjoy after an isolation period of 15 days, but new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instead required those aboard to stay in their cabins for weeks with only a few hours of outside activity permitted.

“We were in our normal cabin — no windows, no sunlight. Luckily for us since we’re married we were able to stay together, but for everybody else they moved one person out of the cabin, their roommate, so they were isolated alone,” Alexis Rappold said. “They were able to move most of the people with inside cabins into guest cabins with windows, so we could see sunlight, then they started letting us out during ‘outside time’ for a couple hours a day. It was crazy, but the ship really did as much as they could.”

Nearly two months later, those aboard are now permitted to roam the ship with use of a face mask, and the couple is hopeful to return to land this weekend.

On May 8, the performers and crew from the United States were moved to the “Vision of the Seas” ship and made a stop in Haiti.

Over the next three days, they’ll tentatively make a stop in the Bahamas before returning to Miami on Friday, where JD and Alexis Rappold said they will take a charter flight to New York City and finally be provided private ground transportation to their doorstep in Huntington.

“We’re not allowed to rent a car, stay in a hotel, go in a restaurant, be in contact with the public, take a public plane — there are a lot of rules,” JD Rappold said. “Once we get home, we’re also going to be quarantining for 14 days.”

Overall, both performers said the Royal Caribbean staff has taken care of them to the best of their abilities, and they’re lucky to have stayed healthy amid the chaos.

“It’s nice to know that we are safe, and if we went home then there’s always the potential of being infected, but we know here we’re all safe,” Alexis Rappold said.

While the couple isn’t sure when professional skating contracts will begin again, they foresee August or September being the earliest they might be able to get back to sea, although they are hoping for news as soon as possible as unemployment for their contract is “virtually impossible to get.”

“It’s up in the air,” Alexis Rappold said. “But we do want to come back as soon as we can.”

Follow reporter Hanna Pennington via Twitter @hpennHD.

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