4 weeks on board the MS Maasdam during the global coronavirus pandemic. (PART 1)
Despite the title of this blog, if I am completely honest I don’t think I ever really felt ‘stranded’ on the Maasdam because despite the emotional rollercoaster we have all been on during the past 4 weeks I feel that pretty much everyone has still come away with positive memories. Obviously I can’t speak on behalf of other passengers and can only really write about mine and Cameron’s personal experience.
Original schedule – 34 NIGHT TRANSPACIFIC CRUISE from Auckland to San Diego with 17 ports of call, to include; Fiji, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Christmas Island and Hawaii.
When we boarded the Maasdam in Auckland on 1st March everything in that part of the world was pretty normal and we had absolutely no idea how quickly the coronavirus crisis was going to escalate. Cameron and I had already spent 5 weeks travelling in Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, but even in Singapore although there were more people than usual wearing masks, it was still very much ‘business as normal’ although much quieter than we had experienced in previous visits because incoming flights from China were all grounded. Even Chinese New Year in China Town (Singapore) was exceptionally quiet.
Our travels through Australia and New Zealand were not interrupted in any way by the virus outbreak, locals were just saying it was much quieter than normal in many places without the chinese tourism. We had friends who sailed on South East Asian cruise from Singapore in February who very quickly had to return back as ports were denying their ship entry, I also knew of another colleague who was quarantined on the Diamond Princess in Japan, however it all still seemed to be very much a problem situated within the Far East Asia region.
I had received a telephone call from our travel agent about a week before we were due to board the ship asking about our flight plans from U.K. to Auckland, when I told them we were already in New Zealand but had come through Singapore a month earlier I was told that it was no problem at all, but if we had flown through China, Hong Kong or Maccau in the 14 days prior to embarkation date we would not be allowed to board. We were fine.
We were informed by the cruise line that additional health screening would be done at check in, but all we did in reality was to fill out a travel questionnaire and once again so long as we hadn’t travelled through the areas mentioned above we were fine. I was surprised that at no stage did we even have temperatures checked prior to embarkation.
We sailed out of Auckland on the evening of 1st March without a care in the world and started our journey up towards Bay of Islands in a more northerly part of N.Zealand, before heading onwards to Fiji where we were still able to enjoy 3 different islands over 3 days.
Before we had boarded the ship we had been given notification that we would not be docking at Alofi Niue, this was apparently due to a damaged wharf, however within a couple of days of sailing the Captain announced that the Kingdom of Tonga was denying us entry which meant that now we lost another two ports and now instead of our itinerary after Fiji being 1x sea day, 3xports, 1x sea day, we were facing 5 x sea days. The Captain did say early on however, that they would look into the possibility of finding alternative ports for us. The cancellation of Tonga did not come as a huge surprise to me as this had already been all over social media a week or so earlier that ports had closed to cruise ships through to the end of February, although we had previously been given no notification from Holland America Line.
Then came the news that we were going to lose the port of Moorea (Tahiti) as well, as all incoming ships had to obtain clearance in the major port of Papette first before going anywhere else in French Polynesia. So less than 48hrs into the cruise we had already been denied entry into 4 ports and we were starting to suspect there would be further uncertainty ahead as the voyage progressed.
You can see from my Facebook updates that as we sailed away from our third and final island of Fiji on 6th March we were already embarking on a bit of a mystery trip and our next confirmed port of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands was still 6 days away and no one, not even the Captain at this stage knew if or when we would be able to dock in between. I have to say that with so much uncertainty ahead for the Maasdam by 6th March, I still ask the question as to why Holland America Line still allowed the Zaandam set sail on 7th March??
However as we sailed away from Fiji into the sunset that evening we were still hopeful that despite the current disappointments and unscheduled sea days immediately ahead, we would still be looking forward to visiting numerous ports in French Polynesia and Hawaii. Little did we know what was still to follow………