March 9, 2020, The morning after Sydney, Halfway home.
Sydney marks the halfway point in our journey. The second day in Sydney was the 64th day of our 128 day ‘round the world cruise. Marked in time zones we’re 9 zones west from where we started, 14 left to go. If the math seems wrong it’s because we left Ft. Lauderdale on standard and will return on daylight time. The first half of the cruise went pretty much as planned. We were weathered out of the Falklands, that happens about half the time, and we made it into Easter Island, which is little better than a 50/50 proposition. We could not call at Palmer Station in Antarctica because they were concerned that if their small staff were exposed to the COVID-19 virus, it could be bad news in such an isolated place. We got into Tonga after 3 other ships were turned away by an act of parliament.
The second half I’ve dubbed as the MS Amsterdam Magical Mystery Tour. Our next three ports are as scheduled in Australia, then we deviate to 4 more Australian ports before we cross, we hope, the Indian Ocean to visit the previously unscheduled port Reunion. Then, we hope, to pick up the schedule as advertised. No one thinks that things will go that easily. We made it in and out of Sydney but the rest of this trip has a big asterisk next to each port, “subject to change.” Australia has seen its first cases of COVID—19, there was an outbreak in a nursing home in Sydney. Who knows how this will affect us. In Sydney now some people are hoarding stuff in case they are homebound for 14 days. The big shortage seemed to be toilet paper. A cab driver told us you couldn’t get it anywhere in Sydney. The papers reported fights breaking out in stores over the remaining rolls. Not alcohol wipes, not face masks, but toilet paper.
In Sydney we sailed in with the Harbor Bridge (The Coat Hanger) and the sails of the Opera House backed by the rising sun. We docked at White Harbor. When Glenn-Michael announced where we were docking the room broke into boos. The convenient Circular Quay cruise terminal seems to be reserved for those big ships that don’t fit under the Coat Hanger. No one, it seems, likes White Harbor. The residents near the port don’t like ship announcements or ship bells and horns during drills. Cruisers don’t like it because it’s near no place cruisers want to go, there’s no public transportation to White Harbor and a cab ride to Circular Quay is about $28, to Central Station, $30. (If you can get one, more of that later.) There’s a shuttle bus provided by HAL to Darling Harbor, a nice place, but the bus is inadequate at the time most people need it, in the morning when everyone wants off the ship at the same time. The line is long and so is the wait. The first day in Sydney we felt time was more important than money and sprung for the 30 bucks to take us to Central Station.
Getting a cab back is sometimes difficult. Two years a driver flat out refused to take us there. Too far away from possible return fares. This time, when we were getting back late (the shuttle runs until 10:30) the cab driver got lost, in sight of the boat. He followed the signs for White Harbor Terminal but our ship had moved from the terminal to an adjacent berth (ships clear customs at the terminal, and if there are more ships coming, they move.) It looked like we should be able to drive from the terminal to the white tent hear Amsterdam. Nope, the gate was closed and locked. Our driver decided to follow another cab who led us to another cul-de sac. Our driver took the lead and it looked promising. We were really close to the ship, but a security guard told us we could not walk to the ship from here. He said it in a weary way that led us to believe he had been saying that to cab drivers all night. He told us it was simple, drive away from the ship until we found railroad tracks, follow those tracks (this used to be a freight port) to the white tent. We found the tracks and got to the ship. The meter ticked up an extra $2.30 from the time we entered where the sign told us to go, to where we got out. White Bay sucks.
The half way point marks kind of a changing of the guard. It used to be that the entertainment staff, the piano bar player, tai chi instructor, the classical musicians, the dance hosts, the pastors, priests and rabbis were on the whole cruise. Most of us liked the consistency of the same person on the whole cruise because this group of people form part of the cement of our travel community. But Holland or Carnival or someone made the decision that entertainment staff were not crew but contractors. Under some sort of contract regulation contractors can only be on the ship 80 days, there is some flexibility if you are not in a port on day 80. Diane, our piano bar entertainer from Ketchikan, got on in San Diego for the positioning cruise through the canal to Ft. Lauderdale and then was with us until Sydney. 80 days and out. We’ll miss Diane. She did a great job of bringing people together. She had open mic nights, and on those nights not only did she get us to sing, play or tell stories, but she got other musicians who were off duty to jam with her. The classical pianist did 4 hands with her, the Polynesian uke player sang along with her (yes, he did do tiny bubbles, with a great story about “Uncle Don.”) But the best thing, I think, is that Diane kept it real. Everyone else working on the ship keeps using adjectives like “beautiful” and “wonderful,” (or “star” or “great”) like “Our beautiful ship is pulling into this wonderful port.” Or “Our wonderful ship is pulling into this beautiful port.” (Or he reached stardom when he was understudy for Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar.) On the other hand, Diane talked about floating around in a tin can and wrote “port songs” pointing out highlights of her experience in each port. They were respectful but funny, pointing out some of the snafus and inconsistencies we encountered, as well as some of the good people we met and the fun we had. I’ll miss that.
We are also switching out clergy and I was very pleased to have Rabbi Gan greet me at breakfast. He joined in Sydney. I asked him if he was repeating his course “Judaism from Mesopotamia to Manhattan.” He said “No, I’m shortening it, Judaism from Babylon to Broadway.” This is one goy boy who’s happy.
The pictures above are sailing out of Sydney. Today we learned that both the State Department and the CDC advised against cruise ship travel for everyone and long airplane flights for elderly people. We are on a cruise ship. If we get off it’s a long airplane flight. We are elderly. One or the other? More leg room on a ship.
Right now, our plans are to stay the course and see where the ship takes us with one deviation. We are planning to leave MS Amsterdam for 4 days to do an overland trek to the outback, rejoining in Broome.*
*Subject to change.