Cruise holidays are on hold, for the next month or so at least. The global cruise industry will voluntarily enforce a complete shutdown of operations in support of a worldwide effort to contain the spread of Covid-19. Ships will be returned to port, engines stalled, passenger cabins will lie empty, the many bars and restaurants on board will resemble ghost towns and theatres will fall silent.
But what happens when youre on one of the last cruises operating before the global pauseandstill weeks away from your intended disembarkation? Terri Shanks, an independent civil celebrant from Worthing, West Sussex is finding out. She's currently on board Holland America Lines Maasdam and shared the experience with Telegraph Cruise.
Shanks and her son Cameron, aged eight, are stranded in the South Pacific. Shanks, a single mother, withdrew Cameron from school in 2018 and spent her life savings on the ultimate adventure two years travelling the world. They are currently on what was meant to be a 35-night voyage from Auckland to San Diego.
They left Auckland on March 1, and were immediately told that both Tonga and the island of Niue wouldn't let the ship dock. Later, news came that Christmas Island had also refused entry. However, passengers did manage to go ashore in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand; three islands in Fiji; and Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.
Just as we left Rarotonga news came in that French Polynesia were closing all ports for 30 days and this meant missing another five ports," says Shanks.
"Most significant was Papeete, Tahiti as some passengers and crew were meant to disembark or embark there. It was also the port where we were due to restock on fuel and food. We circled overnight before returning to Rarotonga and those passengers who were due to leave us had to disembark with all their luggage, via tender boat, in heavy sea swells. The captain said in his 40 years at sea he had never known a passenger disembarkation like it.
The disembarkation took place over two days, after which the ship left the Cook Islands, making its way towards Hawaii with a rescheduled itinerary and the aim of restocking fuel and food supplies before continuing to San Diego, where they were due to arrive on April 3.
On March 13 it was announced that US ports were cancelling all cruise operations and Holland America Line was suspending all cruises for 30 days.
"Our cruise will now be cut short and is aiming to end in Hilo, Hawaii on March 20 (two weeks early)," says Shanks.
"The reality though is that we dont even know if they will allow the ship to dock in Hilo, or let passengers disembark! There were rumours that the people of Hawaii wanted to send a flotilla of boats to stop us from docking, even though there is no coronavirus currently on the ship.
There are approximately 800 passengers on board Maasdam, with few Britons left, besides Shanks and her son. She says the atmosphere on board is mostly upbeat: Passengers are naturally disappointed, but understand that circumstances are beyond anyones control. There is a huge amount of support for the captain, cruise director and crew who are doing an exceptional job in incredibly difficult and stressful times. At this moment the crew do not know what their futures hold either for the immediate or long term and yet they are going out of their way to keep things going for the rest of us left on board."
Cameron is the last child remaining on the ship: He has gained loads of surrogate grandparents and is pretty much lapping up the attention! says Shanks.
He went up on the main stage with the cruise director and spoke to everyone about his round-the-world travel experience, so that was quite a proud parent moment.
Passengers are being encouraged to form special interest and skills groups. For example, some are giving language, music, astronomy lessons, and so on, to fill the long days at sea.
I am leading a travel chat group every evening in the crows nest, which encourages passengers to come together as a community for a storytelling session about their previous travel adventures," says Shanks.
She has also been busy posting updates on Facebook and Twitter pages. Many of the older people onboard are not electronically connected and have worried families back home struggling for information. I have, where possible, been trying to be the conduit between the two.
And where does this leave Terri and Cameron's overall travel plans?
In absolute tatters! she says. We dont know what the next step is as yet. We were due to have five weeks in the US on arrival before making our way via rail from Los Angeles to Seattle to connect with an Alaskan cruise, but we strongly suspect that will also now be cancelled. We have also been told that we will only be allowed to transit through the US and not stay there, even though we have accommodation and additional onward travel plans all booked and paid for there. Its the unknown and the lack of information which is most concerning at the moment.
But it has not put the intrepid pair off travelling, says Shanks. We appreciate these are unprecedented times and as soon as the coronavirus crisis has calmed down we shall most definitely be planning the next adventure as soon as possible.
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