Getting Us All Home is a Challenge

Day 76, Grand Half-World Voyage 2020

Friday, March 20, 2020; At Sea – Indian Ocean

I looked at my original grand world voyage calendar this evening and saw that we should have spent the day in Bali, Indonesia. Instead, our Indonesian and Filipino crewmembers entertained us with their always-popular crew show, which included a Balinese dance. They put their hearts into these shows and rehearse late into the night after long days of work.

The highlight was the finale; I only wished I had a better camera at the show.

Elaine and I got seats early right up front, and we loved seeing the people we have come to think of as family. We know we will be leaving the ship in a couple of days; many of the crewmembers are heading into the unknown as the ship sails back to Fort Lauderdale. That trip will take about 30 days, assuming the ship finds ports that will provide fuel and provisions. And with the cruise industry at a “pause,” crewmembers are unsure about their future employment. Regardless, they continue to cater to our wants and needs with a quick smile. I indeed will miss them.

A day or so ago the Amsterdam sped up on our journey to Fremantle. We are one of a number of ships that are making port there to disembark passengers and send us on the way home. I’ve read that cruise ships worldwide are racing to repatriate nearly 100,000 passengers. Our scheduled day at the pier was Sunday, March 22, but now we are allowed to dock a day early.

Late this afternoon we detoured, heading closer to land, so a helicopter could evacuate a passenger with a medical emergency. I’ve twice watched similar evacuations on cruise ships, but this time officers closed all forward facing decks and venues to the public. During dinner we saw the helicopter approach and said silent prayers for the ill passenger. We also toasted Captain Jonathan Mercer, who is retiring at the end of this cruise.

We are among the lucky passengers who have known our travel plans for several days. Some still don’t know. Initially, Holland America said it would schedule flights only for those who booked air through the cruise line. That excluded the many passengers who live in Florida and drove to the port. Others, like my sister and I, made our own air arrangements.

Many passengers struggled to book international flights — a challenge made more difficult by the unreliable internet service — or tried to reach their travel agents. Our agency’s cruise hosts on board the Amsterdam coordinated the travel for its nearly 300 clients.

Several cruise ships are disembarking all their passengers in Fremantle this week, so flights have filled up fast. Those who booked on Delta had to start all over as the airline suddenly canceled all flights from Australia a couple of days ago.

At that point, Holland America stepped in and said it would help book flights for all passengers and then monitor the flights to rebook if they were canceled. Not everyone has received travel plans yet, and passengers are waiting with varying degrees of patience. The guest service lines are long, but the staff is quick to help.

Our travel agent stepped in last Sunday and booked us on Qantas, leaving late this Sunday night with a 7-hour Sydney layover before a nonstop Dallas flight. Fortunately, Qantas said it would not cease international flights until the end of the month. Of course, we have our fingers crossed that our plans will go as scheduled. I’ll leave one bag on board, which Holland America will ship home to me once the Amsterdam arrives in Florida.

We understand we will return to a world that is very different than the one we left on Jan. 4. But meanwhile, the sunsets just improve.