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COVID-19 Documentary “The Last Cruise” Hits HBO Max (Review)

Before most of us were even aware of the dangers presented by COVID-19, a group of cruise ship passengers and crew members were trapped in a living nightmare.

The first cases of coronavirus were reported in late-December 2019. The Diamond Princess set sail from Yokohama, Japan to begin a trip across Southeast Asia on January 20, 2020. With over 3,700 on board from all over the world, it became one of the earliest lessons in how the virus could spread rapidly.

Director Hannah Olson (“Baby God”) has constructed a fascinating documentary almost entirely of footage shot by people who were on board. Some of these clips captured on cell phones are shaky and difficult to watch, but also give us a historic glimpse into how things went from bad to worse. 

The cruise was originally supposed to last for two weeks, but on February 3, 2020, what was supposed to be their final night on the ship, the captain announces that a passenger had been diagnosed with COVID-19. It only goes downhill from there. 

Your anxiety levels will go through the roof while you watch the days slowly pass by as quarantined passengers are first told not to worry but then watch their activities and luxuries disappear while the fear of catching the virus escalates. 

At this point in America, we were not even under lockdown, but Japanese doctors began boarding the ship in hazmat suits to begin widespread testing once 10 people were diagnosed with the virus. And it continues on through the month of February until over 700 people on board are found to be sick and 14 passengers die. 

It wasn’t just passengers who were impacted on the cruise ship. Some of the most compelling footage in the documentary comes from crew members who started breaking their employment NDAs to post online and reach out to reporters about the deteriorating conditions on board. 

Lockdowns to control the virus didn’t begin in earnest in the United States until mid-March. By then, all the guests who survived their time on the Diamond Princess were back home. 

“The Last Cruise” is streaming now on HBO and HBO Max.

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