Belvidere North graduate Julia Whitcomb may finally be getting off a cruise ship that’s been sailing aimlessly around Miami for more than seven weeks.


The 24-year-old Whitcomb is a singer on the ship, which hasn’t had a paying customer on board since March 13 because of the coronavirus pandemic. She is one of nearly 1,000 crew members who have been stranded there because Celebrity Cruises, a cruise line owned by Australia-based Royal Caribbean, refused to sign off on Centers for Disease Control guidelines that would make company leaders liable for crew members until they reached their homes.


On Sunday, the Miami Herald reported that Royal Caribbean was going to agree to the CDC guidelines and assume the liability.


"We have decided that the importance of getting you home is so great that we will sign these documents as written today to help get you off the ships," the company said in a letter sent to news organizations.


Whitcomb’s mother, Lisa Whitcomb, said, as that of Tuesday, Julia had been told she’ll be able to leave the Celebrity Cruises Infinity on Saturday in Miami.


Of course, Julia thought she would be able to leave on April 12 and April 29, only to have those hopes dashed.


"I believe it is the ship’s intention to move people off of the ship, but I’m still not confident," Lisa Whitcomb said. "I will be holding my breath until she is off that ship and on her way home."


Jonathan Fishman, manager of corporate reputation for Royal Caribbean, said the company already is making good on its promise. Royal Caribbean employs more than 65,000 people.


"We have already been able to help more than 12,000 of our crew members return safely home on commercial flights, charter flights and direct sailings to their home countries and thousands more are going home in coming weeks," Fishman said in an email. "We are working with governments and health authorities around the world on our plans, and we very much appreciate our crews’ patience, understanding and good spirit."


Julia Whitcomb’s situation was not unique. As of mid-April, more than 80,000 cruise ship crew members were stranded throughout the world. Since the Register Star published a story about her plight on April 28, Julia has become a kind of public face of those stuck on board. She’s appeared on CNN, had an extensive interview published by Cosmopolitan.com, and appeared in stories in publications from Miami to Chicago as well as in Great Britain, France and the Virgin Islands.


The frustrating thing for Lisa Whitcomb is that the company hasn’t given her any guidance on how much help it will be in getting Julia back to Illinois. She says she can’t plan "until she knows the plan."


"We’ve had countless people say to us, ‘We’ll go down and get her and bring her back,’" Lisa said. "The CDC probably wouldn’t allow that, but we’re truly grateful for the number of people who have offered to help."


Julia’s eventual "release" from her cruise ship adventure really is just the beginning of a new one. Jim and Lisa Whitcomb had arranged for Julia to quarantine for 14 days at a house owned by a couple who didn’t need it until May 20. If Julia’s release date is moved back further, it will make that plan untenable.


Lisa said Julia has been quarantined for so long on the cruise ship without signs of illness that she would be fine quarantining her at home. But the Whitcombs, who have 10 adopted children, have one son living at home who is an essential worker.


"His employer has told him that if Julia quarantines at home then he can’t work for the 14 days she’s in quarantine," Lisa said. "There’s still a lot to work out."


Alex Gary is a freelance correspondent