A bride-to-be who has been “dreaming of her wedding for decades” is struggling to comes to terms with the fact that her big day may not go to plan – or even happen at all – amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m trying to be mindful of the fact that there are people who are much worse off in this situation,” Jill Schildhouse, 42, tells PEOPLE of the coronavirus, which had been contracted by at least 1,442 people and killed 38 patients in the U.S. as of Thursday afternoon, the New York Times reports. “It’s just a wedding, but it is my special day, so it’s weighing heavily on me and I want to make sure I make the right decision for all of our guests, so that none of them are negatively impacted.”
Schildhouse and her fiancé Ryan Nalepinski, 42, were planning to tie the knot on Princess Cruises in October with 20 of their closest friends and family, but now that dream may be crushed in the wake of the cruise line temporarily suspending all sailings.
“I’m super stressed out,” says Schildhouse. “I think every bride has some level of stress planning her big day, but this is one that nobody would’ve ever expected. It’s very unsettling.”
“I always had these images of this amazing cruise ship wedding – me and my husband standing on the ship with my dress flowing in the wind, and the water behind me – just that quintessential image and it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh. Are we gonna be wearing masks now?'” she adds.
Nalepinski popped the question in January 2019 but Schildhouse says she didn’t start planning their wedding until last October. Almost immediately, the freelance journalist knew she wanted to do a destination wedding on a cruise.
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“Cruising has been a part of my life since my teenage years,” she explains. “I’m a travel writer, I travel a lot in my personal life, as well as for work, so when I started thinking about what type of wedding I wanted to have, it became very obvious that I was going to do a destination wedding.”
The couple did their research, ultimately deciding on Princess Cruises, and then invited a small group of their loved ones to the week-long celebration down the Mexican Riviera.
So far, 14 out of 20 guests confirmed their attendance, and Schildhouse says she put down a $3,000 deposit for the ceremony – all of which is refundable except a $400 administrative fee – and a separate deposit on her cabin.
However, things took a turn for the worst in recent weeks when the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) began to spread more rapidly in the U.S. and abroad, including two outbreaks – and subsequent quarantines – affecting guests on the Diamond Princess and Grand Princess.
As a result, Princess Cruises, along with Viking Cruises, announced on Thursday that they were temporarily suspending all sailings worldwide for the next 60 days in order to help stop the spread.
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Schildhouse says she immediately reached out to the cruise line following the announcement to learn of her options, but Princess maintained their stance and said they would only refund her deposit if she chooses to cancel her trip.
When contacted, Princess Cruises directed PEOPLE to its updated cancellation policy but confirmed that Schildhouse’s wedding would not be impacted, as the suspension only affects voyages departing between March 12 to May 10.
Though it may not directly impact her dates of travel, Schildhouse can’t help but wonder where her October wedding day fate currently lies.
“At the end of that 60 days, my guests have to finalize their bookings and make their final payments by July 13,” she explains. “Some of them are like, ‘Should we get out now? Is the cruise going to happen? Is the cruise line even gonna be there in October?'”
“There’s a lot of concerns,” Schildhouse adds. “I have a guest who has multiple sclerosis, so she has a compromised immune system and has one foot out the door already, and then a lot of my other guests are older. My parents, a few of their friends, their cousins, all in their 60s and 70s, so they’re already a higher-risk class of people.”
In the event they do choose to sail in October, Schildhouse admits she’s worried about a potential two-week quarantine once they return, which many cruisegoers have already been mandated to do.
“They’re already taking a week off of their lives to come to my wedding, and they can’t afford another two weeks for a terrible quarantine vacation,” she says.
If the couple opts to cancel their wedding, Schildhouse and Nalepinski will have to make a decision whether to push their wedding date back or find an alternative plan for this year, which the journalist worries may be impossible.
“There’s not much time if we decide I wanna have a plan B and have my wedding somewhere else,” she explains, adding that her biggest concern would be finding an available venue “at this late stage” that fits with their budget.
“My budget for this wedding was really small and that was one of the reasons I had zeroed in on a cruise ship because they’re affordable,” Schildhouse explains. “People secure venues a year ahead and we’re running out of time for this year, so it would probably have to end up being delayed until next year, which is not ideal.”
“It’s so hard to know when to make that decision and it’s constantly moving and evolving,” she adds. “Every hour we have new information.”
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Despite not knowing what decision she’ll make – something that will hopefully emerge by the end of the month – Schildhouse is attempting to maintain an optimistic perspective on the situation.
“I feel like when things are supposed to happen, they’re easy, they’re effortless and they happen the way they’re supposed to. When they’re not, nothing can make them happen,” she adds. “It’s like you’re fighting an uphill battle constantly. Right now, that is what this is starting to feel like, so maybe there’s a different wedding venue out there waiting for me.”