OTTAWA -- A "nightmare cruise" is ending for two Ottawa residents, who had been trapped aboard a ship for days after an outbreak of COVID-19 sickened and even killed passengers.

The Zaandam and its sister ship, the Rotterdam, were given permission to unload passengers at Port Everglades, Florida on Thursday. There are 247 Canadians on board the Zaandam.

Ottawa resident Chris Joiner spoke with CTV Morning Live's Annette Goerner Friday morning.

"We have a flight scheduled to leave at 10:30 for Toronto, so we're on our way home," he said.

Joiner said Chilean ports began denying the ship entry in mid-March. Since the 22nd, he and his wife had been confined to their cabin.

"It's been a long, long haul," he said.

The ship departed Buenos Aires, Argentina on March 7. By March 14, Chile began denying the ship entry to ports.

Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam told Canadians on March 9 to avoid cruise ship travel because of the risk of contracting COVID-19. 

Joiner said he had planned to take the cruise after retiring from his job with the federal government after 34 years.

"It's a ship I wanted to take," he said. "My wife wasn’t keen on going to South America but, to me, it was like an exotic destination. So, we picked this 31-day cruise because it seemed interesting, it seemed exciting. Are we going to cruise again? I don't think so."

Joiner says he's feeling happier knowing he will be coming home soon, but there were some tense moments when he didn't know how long he'd be at sea.

"It's really hard keeping your spirits up," he said. "For the first couple of days, we didn't know if any port would take us. We heard rumours that we'd be out at sea for two to three weeks, even a month."

Joiner said he and his wife left the boat Thursday for a health screening and to pass customs, at which point they returned to the boat to await the chartered flight home. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said any Canadians showing symptoms of COVID-19 will be denied boarding on any chartered flights bringing Canadians home from abroad.

Under the federal Quarantine Act, all travelers returning to Canada must quarantine themselves for 14 days, regardless of whether or not they have symptoms of COVID-19. That means they must stay in their homes and not leave for any reason, though the government says asymptomatic Canadians can go into their yards or on their balconies for fresh air and exercise. 

The Canadian government said in March that it was monitoring as many as 4,000 Canadians about 70 cruise ships that were still at sea.

With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press.