Where in the World Will the Amsterdam Go?

Day 55, Grand World Voyage 2020

Friday, Feb. 28, 2020; Nuku’alofa, Tonga

Tonga was great (and hot) today, but more about that later. Our bigger news is changes in the itinerary, mostly due to COVID-19, aka the coronavirus.

The Amsterdam will skip our Asia stops — four ports in Indonesia and an overnight in Singapore. We will not stop in the Maldives, which has closed its port to cruise ships. And due to security concerns unrelated to the virus, we will not stop in Mombassa, Kenya.

There is good news, though. We will spend three days in Mumbai, India, assuming visa arrangements can be made. We are adding a second stop each in Sri Lanka and Seychelles. We also will overnight in Zanzibar, Tanzania, rather than just spend a day there.

It’s a logistical nightmare, I’m sure, to develop and implement our new itinerary. We pretty much have the luxury of just exercising our patience. But I would imagine that passengers and crew who were scheduled to depart in Singapore, and others who would join the voyage there, are anxiously awaiting new plans. Many members of our Indonesian crew were looking forward to seeing their families while we were in Bali, Surabaya and Semarang.

We also are seeing changes in when we will arrive in other ports. After Darwin, Australia, we’ll have seven sea days (fine with me, as I love them). Then we will arrive in Sri Lanka a few days earlier than originally planning, with the additional port of Hambantota. I’ll have to Google that one.  I’ve already contacted our independent tour company to see if we can change our Colombo day with a batik master to match our new schedule.

I’m excited about going to India, a country I’ve not yet visited. With three days, I’m sure I will look into an overland trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. But the first issue is getting a visa on short notice, which I assume the guest services office will facilitate. Some passengers already have a 10-year Indian visa, but in an old passport they didn’t bring on this voyage.

Then we will head for the Seychelles, where we’ll first stop in Praslin before going to Victoria on Mahé as originally scheduled, but a day later.

My biggest disappointment is that we’ll miss our overnight safari trip from Mombassa to the Maasai Mara. That was our one safari planned for Africa. I’m waiting to hear whether we can join a later overland trip to Kruger National Park in South Africa, or whether a safari is an option now that we have an overnight stop in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

These changes come as no surprise. Just like everyone, we have been following the news about coronavirus and specifically its effect on cruise ships, including the Diamond Princess and the Westerdam. Many of us wondered recently whether we would actually stop in Singapore, although the cancellation of all four Indonesia ports (Komodo Island, Bali, Surabaya and Semarang) was a little surprising to many.

Here’s what I assume: We’re not stopping anywhere in Asia because stops there might cause some African nations to later deny us. A second notice stating that anyone who makes independent travel arrangements to visit Indonesia and/or Singapore will not be permitted to return to the ship just reinforces this opinion, not that it really matters why.

I’m sorry my sister will miss seeing Bali and Borobudur, and that we won’t be able to have our planned lunch on the Skydeck of the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore. But we might get to see the Taj Mahal.

Just about everyone on the ship is a seasoned traveler and knows that things happen and plans change. That’s part of the adventure of travel. And of course we want to stay healthy and avoid being quarantined. So we will go wherever this adventure takes us.


Meanwhile, we had a nice day in Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga. We were lucky to dock here; the country gave us permission only last night, after denying scheduled stops by the last four cruise ships due to concerns about coronavirus.

Tonga is the only country in the South Pacific that never was colonized, and it still has a royal family. After the previous volcanic islands with their ragged mountains, we were surprised to see that Tonga is pretty flat.

My lasting memory of the day will be of children singing. As we walked by the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua, the Tongan Catholic church, we heard the melody. So we peaked into the second-story sanctuary to see it full of elementary school-aged children enthusiastically responding in song during a service.

We sat on a bench in the shade just outside the open-air building for at least 20 minutes just soaking in their beautiful voices. They sang with joy and passion, showing how church singing is an integral part of the culture here.

Nuku’alofa is not primarily a tourist town. Our rather short walk took us by small stores, pizza and ice cream shops and the city market, where venders sell produce, crafts and clothing. A group of students studying for tourism jobs interviewed Elaine, curious about where she was from and her impression of Tonga.

One universal sight, it seems, is that of young children entertaining themselves with electronics while their parents work.

Signs of Chinese investment reminded me of similar U.S. AID signs when I traveled in Moldova (a former Soviet republic) a decade ago.

The heat and humidity were oppressive if you couldn’t find a breath of wind, so we were thankful for the ceiling fans when we sat down to try the local beer in a café full of other passengers.

I loved some of the tapa cloths, jewelry and handmade baskets I saw in the local handicraft market, established in a white cottage by the queen to promote Tongan handicrafts. It took self-discipline not to buy anything, but as I’m living in my sister’s guest room, there really isn’t room. I’ll settle with taking home memories.