Disconsolate passengers stuck on a cruise ship moored in Lisbon's port for five days due to a COVID-19 outbreak began disembarking early on Monday, focused on clearing the final hurdle of a negative test before boarding homebound flights.
The AIDAnova, carrying 2,844 passengers and 1,353 crew, had docked in Portugal's capital on Wednesday.
The ship was en route to the island of Madeira for New Year's Eve celebrations, but its German operator decided to cut the cruise short after COVID-19 was detected among what it said was a fully vaccinated crew, 52 of whom tested positive between Wednesday and Friday.
By Monday 68 positive cases, including a handful among the passengers, had been detected, port captain Diogo Vieira Branco told the Lusa news agency.
Passengers who had tested negative in the past 48 hours started to disembark before dawn and were being transported by bus to the city's airport in an operation expected to last most of the day.
"We're living in this situation and it can always happen. Of course it's not nice, we imagined something else," one calm but disappointed passenger said as he disembarked.
"We all want this to end. We're going home," added another.
The company, AIDA Cruises, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp, did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment.
(Reuters - Reporting by Miguel Pereira, Pedro Nunes and Catarina Demony; Additional reporting by Victoria Waldersee; Editing by Aislinn Laing and John Stonestreet)