Well, at least the weather is holding up – bright and sunny every day, so far. We will be shedding a bunch of passengers in Tahiti. While everyone is acting more or less normal, there is a continual undercurrent discussion about COVID – avoiding it, catching it, recovering from it, itinerary being constantly changed by it and so on.
Times are becoming ever more “interesting”.
As we were a day away from our first landing in French Polynesia (at Nuku Hiva), we were given PCR tests. I would have thought we would have been given them earlier as a handful of passengers became COVID positive and were quarantined for ten days, but the cruise line seems to have waited. All of the cases I’ve heard of we asymptomatic or relatively mild (although one passenger is complaining of fatigue after her isolation). For some reason, those who are being tested after leaving COVID positive isolation are being tested in the ship’s medical office instead of with the rest of the passengers. So far, it appears that few new cases turned up during the latest testing (and, the following morning we received documentation of negative results rather than the Spanish Inquisition wearing space suits and carrying butterfly nets).
For those who are interested, the major visitors to Nuku Hiva were Herman Melville, who jumped ship and stayed her for a while and Robert Louis Stevenson who stopped here. Both the locals and the passengers are equally afraid of catching COVID from each other and everyone is masking.
We landed on the island by tender, along with the ship’s chief chef and the Purser. He proceeded to choose three 50 pound +/- yellow-fin tuna from a local fishing boat while the Purser bargained over the price (offer was $4 per kg and asking was $5 per kg). They then proceeded to the local fruit and vegetable market to buy local provisions. The following night will see those fresh foods prepared into an al fresco meal cooked on the fantail behind the buffet restaurant.
I should explain that Oceania’s main restaurant is not large enough to contain all the passengers. In order to spread the load, while the specialty restaurants (two on this ship, four on their larger ones) require a reservation, they do not cost additional. Many people are attracted to the buffet because, besides the same food as in the main restaurant, it offers such delicacies as grilled jumbo shrimp, lobster and lamb chops nightly, as well as a sushi bar and specialty foods (like the fresh tuna). Contrary to how many other lines handle things, all the food in Oceania’s buffet is served by stewards, rather than taken by passengers which results in a far more sanitary environment.
I’ve been asked where masks could be removed (in addition to in our cabin. With the caveat that other ships on other cruise lines/routes may differ:
Yes, we can lie on a lounge near the (outdoor) pool without masks. They can also be removed at the table when eating, when drinking at a bar and when walking in circles on the outdoor deck. Up to six passengers can eat together at a “shared” table if desired.
That said, passengers have generally been very responsible and careful when it comes to masking and are constantly weighing the risks.
There are no children aboard and only one teenager (a young lady from the Netherlands traveling with her mother), so there are no wild parties breaking out.
The CDC has announced that a number of the Caribbean stops on our new itinerary have been changed to “Level 4” – Extreme COVID risks. Let’s see if the cruise line avoids them.
COVID Note: It is easy, and not uncommon to catch a respiratory ailment from rental scuba regulators which have not been sterilized (usually just washed down in fresh water) since their last tenant. During a COVID or other pandemic, make sure you carefully evaluate your risk before using rental mouthpieces.
Anyway, the extreme itinerary change has created a paperwork challenge for me. The way I prepare for a trip is to:
Create a color-coded Microsoft Outlook calendar of all the stops reminders to post on our cabin wall
Print out the pages having to do with each port chronologically from my book (“Take The High Road – A Primer for the Independent Traveler” and put them in a folder. Any new ports are researched and a pro-forma page created which is then modified after we visit the port to include new first-hand information for future insertion into the book
Contact friends, museums, restaurants, hotels, sites and such to have appointments and reservations waiting along the way.
With the sudden massive itinerary change, all of this work has to be re-done and re-structured to make it easy to handle each stop.
The new cruise itinerary is a combination of the following individual cruises all strung together:
Mexican Riviera and Panama Canal
Atlantic Crossing (southern route)
Mediterranean (including Israel and Istanbul)
Atlantic Crossing (northern route)
I think the best way to approach the project will be to take them on one at a time so I don’t over-burden my welcome of using the ship’s color printer.
Yesterday we ate with a couple who also participate in the ship’s duplicate bridge game. It turned out that, earlier, they had been diagnosed with COVID and quarantined for ten days. They were released a couple of weeks ago. He still tests positive and they have not been permitted to leave the ship in French Polynesia and, frankly, I don’t know if that means he is contagious.
As we finish our stay in French Polynesia at Papeete, Tahiti, about 80 of the passengers are disembarking and no new blood is coming aboard, so the passenger count for the nine sea-day (tail between our legs) run to Los Angeles will be carrying about 300 (about 10 of which are still in COVID isolation) passengers and about 450 crew. The COVID isolation lasts 10 days, but some who are released after that time still test positive and are not being allowed ashore (but are mixing with, and eating with, and playing bridge with, the rest of the passengers (which is making me a bit unnerved). They are tested in the medical office, rather than by the contractor used by the cruise line to test the rest of us.
Both all departing passengers, as well as those staying will be getting another PCR COVID antigen test before we leave Tahiti (presumably to isolate any additional passengers who test positive during the long string of sea-days).
It is rumored that our future itinerary has already been tweaked to substitute another stop in San Diego for one in Ensenada, Mexico (to dump any passengers in the US who are too sick to travel?).
I have requested Russian visas from the cruise line (a stop at St. Petersburg is scheduled on the revised itinerary and they are supposed to provide all visas as part of the fare) as that might require us to stop at a Russian consulate in the US – we’ll see.