The elephant in the room has finally spoken in the voice of Captain Jonathan Mercer. He gave his normal sail away announcement and then paid tribute to the medical staff who negotiated with the Tongan officials to let us land on Tonga. We had heard this story from our guide on a tour. It took an act of Parliament and the concerted effort of the staff to allow us to dock in Tonga, including some very thorough ways to help us prevent spreading germs.
The captain paused. When he came back, he announced that we would be skipping 7 ports, all 4 in Indonesia, Singapore, The Maldives, and Mombasa. I think part of the reason for the cancelation of Indonesia and Singapore is the reactions that other ports may have to a ship coming from East Asia. The Westerdam sailed around for 14 days before Cambodia finally took her in. The Maldives have decided not to accept any cruise ships from anywhere. Mombasa was scratched because of “civil unrest.”
To fill up the itinerary we will be stopping at an extra port each in Sri Lanka and the Seychelles with extra overnights in Colombo and Zanzibar. If they can pull it off, we will add three days in Mumbai, India. I say “if they can pull it off” because of visas. Indian visas are “fussy” and Holland America has to negotiate with the Indian Government some way of working out the visas.
This takes Suzi and I back to our early days of travel when we set off for the Black Hills and ended up in Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson’s Bay. I joke we took a wrong turn but followed the right whim. Then there was the time or tried to get to Istanbul and ended up in Montenegro. That diversion was caused by a smallpox outbreak in Serbia in 1972. Some internal borders were blocked in Yugoslavia. Our car and me as driver, were commandeered by the Yugoslav army to drive a frightened US Public Health Service Doctor and vaccine to a village in Montenegro where they were trying to stop the smallpox spread. It turned out to be an unexpected adventure but it took us 22 years to get to Istanbul.
We got a letter in our cabin because we had told the front office that we would be leaving the ship for a night in Singapore. It was written in a friendly but lawyerly way, telling us that if we left the ship and traveled through any of the countries dropped from the itinerary, or certain other East Asian countries we would be denied re-boarding.
This all leaves HAL with a huge headache. They re-provision the ship in Singapore. I would guess some of those provisions are already on the way. They shift entertainers and some crew in Singapore and it’s a breaking point where some passengers leave and others join. Re arranging this will be a headache, especially rotating in new crew, many of whom live in areas we are skipping out of fear of COVID-19.
HAL had a scheduled overnight in Bali where Indonesian crew could spend an evening with family and where there would be a party on board for staff families. This has to be a disappointment for the crew.
The shore excursion folks are busy. HAL has to refund shore excursions, (in fact we got or refunds between when I first wrote this and when there was enough internet to send it) and arrange new ones for the new ports.
Some passengers are left holding a big financial bag. Some had planned overland excursions in Indonesia to look at Orangutans in Borneo or booked safaris in Kenya not through HAL. Many had private excursions arranged in skipped ports or ports where we are changing dates. Some have non-refundable tickets or fast approaching cancelation deadlines. There was a mad scramble to deal with these problems.
And this brings us to the Internet, which is not working at all well on the ship. To complicate matters the cell phone system was down the day after we left Tonga. Suzi and I need to cancel overnight and overland arrangements ourselves for three ports. For instance were planning an overnight train trip in Kenya. I went on line to make cancelations or changes. The page comes up, the internet goes down, the page comes up again and you click to cancel but the internet goes down and I have no idea if I have canceled or not. (Where it really gets bad is you try several times to get onto a webpage, and because of the crappy internet you try too many times, the website cancels your password and sends you an email that you have to use within 10 minutes to get a new password, you can’t get back on line in time to use the rescue password from the email. This happened to a friend of mine.) This problem is compounded by almost EVERYONE needing to make changes. Fortunately, I have a window of time to fix our arrangements. I can do that in Auckland or Sydney.
There may also be a problem with some visas. Our Sri Lanka visa only allows us a one-day transit. Now we are calling at two ports, one of them for 2 days. We got a note from the front desk giving us the URL for Sri Lankan visas. Internet? Yeah right! Now I learn that Holland America is talking to Sri Lanka trying to get all of our transit visas to be good for three days. They will let us know (they are working with the same internet we are.)
The most desperate cruise mates may be the ones madly trying to contact their brokers with buy-sell-trade orders. Treasury notes anyone — before the Fed lowers the rates again? I overheard one woman say “I have an attachment from my financial advisor but I can’t open it.”
These are the small problems that when added up contribute to the larger economic havoc caused by this disease. But compared to the plight of people sickened and killed by COVID-19 they’re small. Most people on board are taking this well — but not all. In the elevator Suzi wished a woman a good day. She snapped back “How can I?” But hey! We’re on a ship going to unexpected places. I like unexpected travel and I love sea days and we are adding bunches.
Carnival Corporation offers on-board spending credit for people who own 100 shares of its stock. One guy said “I wish I could get on the Internet now. With the market stock falling this may be a good time to buy Carnival and claim my $250 credit. It’s the best return I can see in the market right now.”