It has to be said that our ships master, Captain P.J. Van Maurik worked tirelessly to get us into ports, as I know many people in Holland America Line were doing for us behind the scenes.
After several days of negotiating with both the Cook Islands & Papette port authorities it was agreed that the Maasdam would be granted permission to call at Raratonga in the Cook Islands a day earlier than scheduled, this would mean that we could then also arrive in Papeete a day earlier to gain the additional clearance we needed for French Polynesia, then continue to Moorea as planned and then return to Papette again the next day (as per original itinerary). This is. where sector 1 of the cruise would terminate on 15th March where some passengers would disembark the ship and others would be joining. Hurrah, some good news at last, Moorea was going to be back on the itinerary and the shore excursion team on board worked hard to reinstate all the excursions which they had had to cancel just a few days earlier!
On March 11th we had a wonderful day ashore in Raratonga, Cam and I took a boat trip, we snorkelled in crystal clear waters before enjoying a barbecue and cultural show on a neighbouring island (Courtesy of Captain Tama’s Lagoon Cruizes) It was a pretty idealistic day
When we returned to the ship and sailed away that evening we were looking forward to one day at sea before arriving in Papeete on 13th March. In the interim period we had also learnt that our scheduled arrival into Christmas Island on 22nd March was also to cancelled, but we can only have been sailing for a couple of hours when the Captain came over the tannoy with further bad news. French Polynesia were closing ALL of their ports with immediate effect, including Papeete which was the major stop where not only were some passenger & crew due for disembarkation/new embarkation but also where we were supposed to re-stock on food and fuel. For passengers like ourselves doing the whole transpacific crossing this meant we suddenly lost another 4 ports of call including scheduled overnight stops in Papeete (Tahiti) and Bora Bora. I must admit that personally I was most gutted about missing Bora Bora as we had booked a one night stay in an over water beach bungalow which was a to be a big tick on the bucket list. Thankfully the hotel did agree to wave the charges.
The wifi on the ship was painfully slow and didn’t enable me to upload blogs such as this whilst we were sailing, however I was able to keep my Facebook and Twitter going, and in keeping these updated I realised that many people were receiving more information from me than they were from the cruise line! I was receiving messages from incoming passengers who were sat on the runway in Auckland just about to take off for Papeete, others who had already arrived there. I was also received numerous messages from family members of passengers & crew onboard who couldn’t make contact with their loved ones (many didn’t have wifi onboard because its incredibly expensive and there was also no phone signal). It was a worrying time for everyone but especially those people due to either join or leave the ship in Papeete. Once again our poor Captain was left in charge of a ship with no known destination whilst the staff in the Holland America Line HQ back in Seattle went into overdrive to try and find a solution.
We spent that night circling Rarotonga and rumours were starting to circulate among passengers that we would turn back to Auckland. Personally I really wish we had as we could have disembarked and quarantined there before the New Zealand borders were closed. Instead, the following morning we found ourselves back at anchor in Raratonga. I was excited for a moment as I thought we were going to have another day ashore whilst HAL decided our next move, but alas although we didn’t know it at the time, we were not going to be going ashore again for the rest of our voyage! It was now March 12th and the passengers due to disembark in Papeete were expecting to leave the ship on the 15th. However they were suddenly told “starting packing your suitcases and re-arranging your flights, we will start disembarking you here in the Cook Islands from 12noon today via tender boats. The disembarkation will take two days. You MUST have a flight booked before you are allowed to leave the ship as you will be taken immediately to the airport, those who do not reschedule flights on time will have to now stay on board until we reach Hilo in Hawaii” (At the time still scheduled for 25th March on the itinerary).
So with just a couple of hours to pack up and leave, the lifeboats were lowered and half of our passengers tendered ashore along with all of their luggage into what was now pretty big sea swells. Although lifeboats are regularly used to tender passengers ashore for day excursions, even the Captain said that in his 40+ years at sea he had never known a passenger disembarkation take place this way with all the bags having to go ashore on the tender boats as well. It has to be said that considering the weather was closing in and the sea swells getting rougher the crew did an absolutely incredibly job getting everyone from ship to shore.
This disembarkation was naturally a slow process and took around 24 hrs over the days of 12/13th March. In the meantime to compensate for our 5 additional cancelled ports (Christmas Island & 4 French Polynesian Islands.) the Captain and HAL staff had once again re-negotiated our itinerary and now came back to us with an extended stay in Hawaii which included an earlier arrival and two overnight stays on the islands.
So we left the Cook Islands around lunchtime on 13th March, sad for the passengers who were missing out on joining us in Papeete but still hoping ‘some’ of our cruise would be salvaged as we sailed on in anticipation towards Hawaii…..