Last year we totally fell in love with Polynesia. This year we returned to do a similar but longer transpacific cruise, returning to some of the islands we loved and taking the opportunity to visit some completely new ones, including those of Fiji, Hawaii and Christmas Island.
This 34 night cruise ‘should’ be the trip of a lifetime for many people, and for us having flown all the way from the U.K to Zealand to join this voyage as a major part of Cameron’s world schooling experience its a pretty big deal to say the least.
However, like a huge percentage of cruise passengers around the world at this moment, when this cruise was booked ‘coronavirus’ was not even a word in our vocabulary, yet all of a sudden it seems to be dominating our every day lives and every news channel we look at.
Our current cruise on Holland America Lines ‘MS Maasdam’ is the first of 3 cruises we are due to do this year and we are currently sailing from Auckland, New Zealand to San Diego, USA.
Another cruise we are due to do in June/July is around South East Asia and I have already had concerns about joining that ship but decided to sit back for a few more weeks and see how things pan out. However with this current sailing across the South Pacific on the Maasdam I had no worries whatsoever.
My tour operator from cruise 118 in the U.K. called me about 2 weeks before our departure date and told me if we were flying (even connecting flights) through mainland China, Hong Kong or Maccu then we would not be allowed to board the ship. We were already in Australia by this time but our flights had not routed through any of these destinations anyway, so we knew we were OK.
I later received an email from Qantas airline saying if we had flown through any of these destinations within the previous 14 days then we would be denied entry into New Zealand full stop.
It was strangely reassuring to know that the country were taking such a stand and it also made me feel completely safe about boarding the ship.
Just a couple of days before we were due to depart we received an email to say our itinerary was being changed and we would no longer be calling at the island of Alofi Niue and it would be replaced by a sea day. This was a little disappointing as we also had this island removed from Maasdam’s itinerary last year as well, as apparently their supplies ship had arrived in port a couple of days early and this obviously took priority over a cruise ship.
By the 2nd day on board we were informed that another port was being cancelled, this time the port of Moorea in Tahiti. However we are to be allowed an extra day in Papeete instead. Not the end of the world but we were very disappointed that we will be missing out on a dolphin expedition that we particularly wanted to do. (French Polynesia are only allowing entry via Papeete was the ship will actually be docked there, where as entry onto Moorea is via tender boat).
Then by day 3 we get another announcement that the Kingdom of Tonga is closing it’s ports to our cruise ship and at least 3 others, meaning we miss yet another two ports of call in Nuku Alofa and Vava U. There are apparently no other islands nearby who will take us, so that’s yet another 2 days at sea. So: Sea day, port, port, port, sea day will now become 5 consecutive sea days.
The bit which irritates me the most is the fact that the announcement is made on the ship as if it is a complete surprise which has just come out of the blue, but it’s public knowledge that Tonga blocked cruise ship entry during February as well, so Holland America knew all of this in advance but don’t tell passengers until they are all on board because they don’t want to have to give out cancellation refunds and they know that extra sea days to them with all passengers onboard simply means more revenue from drinks, massages & other spending!
The cruise port cancellations are obviously not the cruise lines fault, it’s not anyone’s fault, but with zero to do for children on this particular ship, we chose this sailing 1) for the itinerary and 2) for the EXC InDepth programme offered by HAL last year which was fabulous, and a massive part of Cameron’s world schooling experience, only to discover that Holland America have now done away with this and current lectures have been about islands in the Atlantic and general marine biology, absolutely NOTHING to do with the Pacific or Polynesia!! 🤔
We have no suspected cases of coronavirus onboard so the cancelled ports are hugely disappointing, and we are yet to see whether further islands close their borders to us as the cruise progresses. I know it’s easy to have a pity party and I don’t pretend we’re not disappointed, however those I feel truly sorry for are the tour operators and associated businesses on this small pacific islands, who rely on the tourism for their business and many of which have a very short cruise season as they tend only to be visited by each cruise ship once this time of year as they pass through on their re-positioning from Australasia through to the West Coast of America for the next season.
This isn’t an isolated problem in the cruise world though; the Diamond Princess and Westerdam cruise ships have very much been in the news headlines recently. We know of another couple who flew from U.K. to Singapore, boarded their cruise ship, sailed around for a few days but not allowed into any port, so we’re brought back to Singapore and flown home. Thankfully the cruise company have them a full refund. Similar thing happened to a friend of my daughter, she flew to Singapore only to discover her cruise had been cancelled completely, but again offered a full refund.
So far on this cruise all Holland America Line have offered passengers so far is £9.94 refund in port taxes and refund of any shore excursions booked through themselves. I very much hope they will look to compensate passengers further as it’s a HUGE amount of money for passengers to pay out, with an expectation of visiting some beautiful islands, only to find themselves bobbing around on the ocean for days at a time.
The cruise industry is going to be impacted massively by this virus, not to mention travel & tourism in general.
My prediction is that it’s going to get worse before it gets better and for passengers who have already paid in full for their cruises there is little to no option of getting a refund unless the cruise company themselves cancel the voyage. This isn’t just cruises in Asia that are now being affected, but worldwide. The European & Canadian cruise seasons haven’t even begun yet, so no one yet knows how many other countries and borders may close in an attempt to contact C-19 further. We have spent a lot of money on cruises this year, not to mention flights to get to the appropriate destinations, we don’t know as yet what will happen with the Alaskan and Asian Cruises we still have booked.
Cruising is a fabulous way to see the world, but with so much instability I personally wouldn’t be advising anyone else to be making new cruise bookings just yet!