We Face Reality, and We Are Sad

Day 73, Grand Half-World Voyage 2020

Tuesday, March 17, 2020; At Sea – Indian Ocean

Three days ago I was simply disappointed that we were ending our wonderful voyage early and crossing my fingers that Holland America would see its way to letting us stay on board back to Fort Lauderdale.

Things have changed. There’s no chance of continuing on, and now we have lost two more days as we skip ports in Western Australia.

I realized this morning that I was feeling blue, almost depressed. Things really were cascading – the cruise was ending sooner than we thought, the much-promised details of our departure still hadn’t arrived (no doubt being reviewed by lawyers), the news that Canada is shutting its borders had us worried about whether Australia might do the same soon.

Finding myself in the dumps, I decided to go to my happy place – which is to lose myself in painting. I settled at a table near the Lido Pool, but close enough to the automatic door to the buffet to get a breath of cool air when they opened.

The Urban Sketchers worldwide organization is using the hashtag #USkatHome to share sketches of views from our windows or even everyday scenes at home. As my home is on the ship, I painted yesterday’s sketch of the Sea View Pool. It was a calming way to pass a few hours.

No one seems to have slept well last night. When I woke up a little before 4 a.m., I checked Twitter. The news of the Canadian shutdown, myriad closings and other drastic measures caused me to rethink our return plans. I wondered if it was just half-asleep panic (I once ordered eye masks in the middle of the night for an upcoming cruise, only to remember the next morning that we had a cabin with no windows).

But when I saw an email from my travel agent giving us an option to leave for home the day we land, with her suggestion that we take it rather than stay a few days in Australia as planned, I replied to book it. The 16-hour time difference normally made real-time email back and forth difficult. And while I was looking forward to a few days in Perth and Sydney, Elaine was much more interested in just getting home. Now I agreed.

Let me back up a bit to explain the changes.

As I wrote last, a few days ago Captain Jonathan surprised us by announcing that the cruise would end in Fremantle (Perth’s port) when we arrived there on March 24. Holland America, like all cruise lines, was taking a 30-day “pause” in cruising. Most passengers thought that, while that might make sense for Caribbean cruises, it didn’t make sense to try to get everyone on flights home from halfway around the world when the ship would be returning anyway to Florida. Many don’t fly, for personal or medical reasons. So someone initiated a petition asking the line to make an exception for its world cruise and let us sail straight back to Fort Lauderdale with the ship. The captain announced the next morning that they heard all of our pleas and had forwarded them to the Seattle home office.

But our cautious optimism was quelled with the announcement around noon yesterday that we would skip our remaining Australian ports, sail directly to Fremantle and disembark everyone there on March 22, two days earlier than scheduled — no exceptions.

Now being a planner by nature, after the first announcement I had booked our return online using airline miles, allowing for a couple of days in Sydney in order to get the first available business class seats.  If we stuck with that plan (my preference at the time) we would have a couple of days in Perth in addition to the Sydney days.

My sister and I didn’t have to travel together, and she looked for an earlier return. I sent an email to our travel agent, knowing it was the middle of the night in the states. And that’s why, when I woke up in the middle of our night, she had a plan. I’ll be able to reclaim my miles, and between the $1,250 Holland America will give us toward travel plans and my trip insurance, we might come out even.

If all goes as planned (and most of us expect at least one more wrinkle), we will arrive in Dallas the afternoon of March 23.

The mood on the ship has taken a turn, as you might expect. The ship offered free drinks during yesterday’s two happy hours, and drinks flowed more than freely. Gallows humor also flowed.

The captain (who is ending his career with this voyage) and senior staff joined us, and everyone put on a happy face. Jeri offered free hugs. We went to a late dinner, even though we weren’t hungry. (All of this might have had something to do with a sleepless night….)

It wasn’t until noon today that we received the anticipated letter outlining what the cruise line would do about compensation, luggage delivery and travel arrangements. Unfortunately, it leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

For compensation, Holland America gives us two options. We can get 50 percent of our base fare for this cruise refunded and an equal amount in credit for a future cruise. Or we can take no monetary refund and take 125 percent of our base fare for a future cruise credit. The latter makes sense for me if I can use it on a cruise I’ve already booked. But we didn’t get the fine print that would have that detail.

We ended the day with a wonderful dinner in the Pinnacle Grill with Nancy and Aileen, also sisters. Upon the first announcement of an early end to the cruise, I had immediately booked the free dinner that is a perk of being a 5-star Mariner. The highlight was the “clothesline candied bacon,” but our meals of steak, scallops and crab legs were just as good.

I anticipate I will sleep a bit better tonight.