After nine months of travel lockdown, 2020 hindsight takes on new relevance as we grapple with how things could have been done differently, but then again who could have imagined the havoc that a renegade virus would wreak on the travel industry.
Finishing out 2019 with a Transatlantic cruise from Lisbon to Ft. Lauderdale aboard the Crystal Serenity, Cheryl and I looked forward to the holidays at home before heading out on a banner year of planned cruises in 2020.
Searching to minimize a marathon flight in February to join the Viking Orion in Sydney, we settled on a one stop Air China flight that was routed through Beijing and onward to Australia. That plan was thwarted when news began cropping up in a place called Wuhan, China. Aborting that flight plan and changing direction through Istanbul turned out to be a prudent decision.
Taking a cue from our Editor-In-Chief’s experience on Turkish Airlines, going all in on a business class ticket raised the bar for future long haul international flights. With a gourmet meal under our expanding belts and a good night’s sleep tucked away in the airline’s amazing flat bed seats, a layover massage and shower in the new VIP lounge in Istanbul set the stage for the next 10 hour flight segment.
With international health considerations rapidly deteriorating, arrival in Singapore confirmed that something sinister was afoot. Many of the shops in the beautiful Changi Airport were closed and clerks wearing what would soon become today’s ubiquitous mask made for an eerie sight. With an eight hour final flight remaining, we boarded our Qantas flight, donned the complimentary pajamas and slept like babies, arriving bright eyed and ready to board our Australian and New Zealand adventure aboard the Viking Orion.
Undaunted, we slipped under the Sydney bridge and past the iconic Opera House to begin a memorable cruise of the land down under. Visiting Melbourne and Tasmania finished off the Australian leg but New Zealand rolled out the kiwi welcome mat for the upcoming week but the proliferation of the virus was grabbing headlines generating a mild cause for concern.
We are fortunate to disembark in Auckland and as scheduled we fly to Nadi, Fiji. Little did we know that this would become the last cruise in the country for Viking. We had heard of the lockdown in China and flippantly commented, “imagine if they tried to do that in the United States” but little did we know of what would eventually become international modus operandi.
Fiji had not reported any cases of the virus and we felt safely isolated from the regional pandemic in a remote blissful beach villa. With the five day escape from the other world, Fiji proved itself as a tropical paradise but with another cruise scheduled in the Kimberley, our flight back to Australia is where it gets tricky.
During our late afternoon flight to Perth, we learn that all incoming international flights after midnight will require quarantine. Fortunately we arrive at 8 pm, check into the exquisite QT Perth Hotel, but travel had already been impacted by what is now officially termed the infamous coronavirus, COVID-19. The hotel is approximately at 15% capacity and after soaking up the exclusivity and personalized attention for two days, we fly off to the outback port of Broome. Two nights at The Billi and we board the yacht like True North. This expeditionary cruise highlights our journey down under but midway through the cruise we are advised that trouble is brewing ashore possibly complicating return flights. The virus has immigrated and Western Australia is going to be shutting down.
Being isolated onboard with only 28 guests, the cruise is completed but Qantas has cancelled all international services including our flight home. With flights becoming increasingly scarce diligence pays off and I book a Qatar Airways flight to Miami through Doha. But hold on, a day before flying that flight is also cancelled. Forty five minutes on hold and an understanding agent results in a confirmed flight to Dallas. It’s not Miami but get me to the States and I’ll deal with that later. The airport in Perth is closing at midnight but we sneak out at 10 pm in a virtually deserted plane, celebrating our escape from potential quarantine. After a three hour layover in Doha and a sixteen hour flight to Dallas in the comfort of the airlines double bed Q Suite, we kiss the ground on arrival to the evolving world.
Who would have predicted that this 2020 spring fling would be the last of cruise travel for us and the majority of the world. Suffering through four months of collective lockdown with cruises on hold, California relaxes its stranglehold in July and we find triage in a land based road trip to Napa and Yosemite National Park. They say timing is everything and true to form, two weeks later they close it down again.
Vaya Con Dios, Amigos
In September, we take up Mexico’s bienvenidos and fly down to the country’s Riviera Maya. It’s impossible to get enough of any border open to us and in October we head south of the border once again to discover the unique characteristics of San Miguel de Allende and Los Cabos, Mexico. In November we look forward to a scheduled sailing on Seadream Yacht Cruise out of Barbados, but the dream figures to be a mirage as the omnipresent virus surfaces and the cruise is cancelled. Hesitant to retreat back to confinement, we take advantage of the convenience of short flights to the Virgin Islands and waste away for 4 days at Margaritaville in St. Thomas.
As 2020 comes to a never too soon end, we all look forward to travel relief in 2021. As vaccines are implemented, our fingers are crossed and bags are packed with the hope that cancelled adventures can be rescheduled. Hope springs eternal for the first ever river cruise in Siberia, a cruise on the brand new Avalon View, sailing to Europe on the Celebrity Apex, Aqua Expedition’s Aqua Blu In Raja Ampat and experiencing Madagascar on Ponant. How’s that for a 2021 wish list?
Our 2020 vision may be blurred and future travel plans might be fuzzy and tentative but with eyes wide open we welcome the new abnormal. I’d rather be traveling with a mask on than to sit at home without one. After this past year’s painful pause in cruising, everything we took for granted is doubly appreciated and maybe that’s a good thing. We wish you the very best and invite you to vicariously travel with us and Porthole Cruise Magazine as we sail unchartered waters in 2021.