Cruise passengers say Travis AFB 'vast improvement' from being held at sea

Evacuation of the Grand Princess Cruise ship passed the halfway point on Tuesday, with 1,406 passengers now removed and about 1,000 remaining. 

The huge vessel has been docked at the Port of Oakland since midday Monday, so that its guests can enter quarantine for possible exposure to the coronavirus. 

By Tuesday evening, many of the balconies where people stood waving the day before, were empty. 

About 400 people disembarked the first day, but the pace picked up once medically fragile passengers were gone.  

Passengers were released in groups with Californians first, then other Americans, then foreign travelers. 

As people exited the gangplank, health workers took their temperatures as part of a final screening process. 

Then they board buses, some headed to charter flights at Oakland Airport, others to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield. 

"When we got there, they said, 'Welcome to Club Med,'" described passenger Denise Stoneham of Novato. "So they are trying to keep it humorous and our spirits up, and we had a great bus ride."   

Stonehm and her husband, Pete, found the Westwind Hotel on at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield a vast improvement from being cooped up in their ship stateroom. 

For seven days, they could not leave the room to do laundry or get ice, and they received limited food and beverages, which they rationed. 

Having a balcony and fresh air made all the difference for them.

Docking in Oakland was a happy turning point, but they found the process of off-loading frustratingly slow, after so much time circling off the coast. 

"Knowing we were coming in, they had four days to prepare," said Stoneham, "and maybe to them it's not long enough, but we felt they could have streamlined stuff a bit quicker." 

Now the next leg, not freedom by any means, but the hotel quarantine offers more space and more socializing.   

"We get to roam around, we get to walk on the grass, I can take my shoes off and be barefoot, talk to other passengers, share our experience," she said.

Knowing their Hawaii vacation inadvertently became part of an international story seems to make the hardship easier. 

"We're all in this together and there's nothing we can do so we're just going to play it out," said Stoneham, "but we've got 13 more days and we're coming home."

In addition to the remaining passengers, there are about 1,100 crew members, most of whom will remain on the ship for a quarantine period, as the ship relocates.

All but two of the 21 on-board who tested positive for COVID-19 are crew members.