We have decided to take a six month cruise around the world utilizing an itinerary which cannot possibly be kept. Where we end up heading and what we end up doing is anybody’s guess. If nothing else, it may allow me to update the travel books I’ve authored to reflect changes caused by COVID.
Well, the good news is that we are the road again, taking a six month “around the world” cruise on
around a half-filled 700 passenger (400 crew) ship, the Oceania Line’s MS Insignia. Considering our
times, a perk of the cruise is that they cover all on-board medical expenses, and have installed an
ICU as well as enhanced the medical suite substantially. The bad news is that we may run out of
road for any number of reasons.
Our last trip ended by spending all of January 2020 in South Africa, culminating with renting a car and driving up their east coast for an incredible ride in a country which has since been hit hard by the COVID-19 virus. In fact, this is the virus which has pretty much kept us cooped up for the two years since and which provides the greatest danger to both ourselves and our trip’s itinerary.
Speaking of itinerary, since a major revision to the first couple of months a while back (basically
replacing Australia, New Zealand and other gems with lots of sea days, an overnight in San Francisco
and some useless piles of rocks and coral sometimes with nice beaches). The balance of the
itinerary hasn’t been changed which puts it in the science fiction category.
That said, while I suspect that any who thought they would be taking the “cruise of a lifetime” have
canceled and gotten their money back, I figure “existing” for six months of food cooked by others,
cleaning done by others and attempts to entertain us can’t be worse than our current existence.
The CDC has announced that cruise ships are VERY dangerous and suggested that, vaccinated or
not, everyone should avoid them. On the other hand, with a COVID positivity rate of 22% in New
York right now, if I look at the person standing behind me on a line (que, for the Brits) and the person in front of me, it is likely that one of us would test positive for COVID-19 right now, and the local supermarket seems more dangerous than a cruise ship where everyone is vaccinated (at least after a few days to test-out the newly infected ones).
We have sprung for the extra bucks to have a small cabin with a decent sized outdoor verandah specifically to make life palatable if we are confined to “solitary confinement” by an outbreak.
So what could go wrong?
Well, we could catch COVID and be unceremoniously tossed ashore – that would be pretty bad.
While the cruise line will (in theory, at least) prorate a refund for the unused portion of the trip, we would be marooned at some unpredictable place with potential requirements to quarantine or worse before figuring out how to repatriate to the States. We’re both vaccinated and boosted, neither of us have a co-morbidity and all of the passengers and crew are vaccinated, so the chance of our having a dangerous case is lower than at home – but that might not stop the ship from jettisoning us if we tested positive along the way. In this context, I’m not overwhelmingly concerned with by the disease itself, but rather by its consequences.
We could be fine, but the ship could have an outbreak of the plague and call off the trip prematurely.
Or, even healthy, destinations could refuse docking privileges which would mean, not only not much
to see, but possibly not much to eat.
Ah, but let’s not dwell on the negative.
After putting a two year cork in what has been a decade of serial international travel for us, COVID
has changed the world and I am curious in how the landscape has changed for the tourist. While it’s
hard under the best of circumstances to keep my primary travel book “Take The High Road – A
Primer For The Independent Traveler” up to date (as it covers over a hundred countries), trying under current circumstances may be a fool’s errand, but as I’ve said in the past, I’d rather be lucky than smart. We’ll see.
The journey begins
We started two days before the trip with a visit to a medical center and again, the day before we left, to get PCR COVID tests which are required to be negative by the cruise line in order to get a
complete refund if we show positive on a “quick test” given at the pier before boarding. (The tests are free in NYC and this way, even if the results of one test doesn’t get recorded in time, the other should.
We’ve learned the hard way that having a contingency backup plan in place can save aggravation
down the road).
The cruise includes some important perks, one of which is picking up our luggage in advance, so we
will be traveling with carry-on only.
We took an early flight from JFK (you have to wake up before the roosters to take a 7AM flight). We
had originally scheduled a flight a day earlier, but the timing of the required COVID tests had us move a day forward and the availability suffered.
The cruise line has put us up at the Four Season’s Beverly Wilshire hotel for a night (involuntary or I would have made other arrangements) and the first order of business is caching our valuables in the hotel safe, followed by taking the empty wheeled carry-on for a wine trip to the supermarket (there is a Whole Foods across the street from the Beverly Hills Market & Deli, both having different selections of moderately priced wines, at the corner of Dayton Way and N. Crescent Drive).
The hotel is, as expected, a posh place with a good mattress. The staff is obsequious, the building
fancy and the toilet paper is thin and rough like sandpaper. The neighborhood is pretty ritzy – Beverly Hill’s Rodeo Drive is notorious amongst world-class shoppers.
Lunch was at Walter’s Café, 153 S. Beverly Drive – a great place for salads and sandwiches – as well
as having a wide variety of breakfast dishes.
We’ve booked advanced (free) tickets to the amazing Getty Center Museum (which was closer to us
than the newer Getty Villa Museum, in the Pacific Palisades at the end of Malibu, which holds their
Greek and Roman art collections in the midst of tranquil gardens).
Dinner was some tasty Indian food at Anarbagh (Farsi for a Pomegranate Garden) at 138 S Beverly
Drive (across the street from Walter’s Café). They successfully created their dishes in non-spicy
versions (suitable for my wife, who doesn’t like “hot” food), while retaining their flavor.
The morning saw us breakfasting at the Chaumont Bakery and Café, 143 S Beverly Drive, for some
great almond croissants and coffee (I wasn’t hungry enough to launch into their omelet list).
board a bus supplied by the cruise line for the drive to the Long Beach pier. We were processed and
then given a rapid COVID test. After it “matured” we went to the next stop where we were given our
cabin key-cards and our passports and some pre-filled visa applications were taken in exchange.
The ship we are traveling on is the Oceania Cruise Line’s MS Insignia, a petite but lovely ship. It
started its life (along with many of the other Oceania ships, as well as all of Azamara Cruise line’s ships) as a member of the now defunct Renaissance cruise line fleet. While the small size of the ship has many advantages (such as the ability to walk its entire length in a minute or two) it lacks the water slides, ice skating rinks and rock climbing walls a larger ship might have. The food is excellent – even the quality of the buffet rivals that of fine dining and is served, rather than self-taken. The shows are also petit, with a small cast of about eight, rather than the dozens found on a larger ship.
But, of course, there are also few (if any) children.
There are some ships which, for a king’s ransom, include alcohol and excursions. There are also
less expensive lines which are coin-operated and everything costs extra. The cruise we are on is
somewhere in the middle (like Goldilocks) which includes all non-alcoholic drinks, unlimited Wi-Fi,
free laundry, included gratuities, included medical care (if needed) and, in this case, they ship our luggage for us.
Anyhow, we’re hoping the trip will be fun, but have few expectations of the stops being either frequent or interesting – but we’ll see, as hope springs eternal.
Well, in what looks like the beginning of a chaotic trip, the captain announced that, instead of heading to San Francisco, the ship we go to San Diego instead. The reason given was that SF had decided that all passengers aboard cruise ships docking there must get PCR COVID tests every day –
awkward and time consuming to say the least. It messed up my plans to get together with my Friend
(and bridge partner) John, who I hadn’t seen in a number of years.
San Francisco was added as a “time wasting” stop when Australia was removed, and it pulled the
ship all the way north – at which point it would have made a U-turn to go south to Hawaii. San Diego
saves a lot of fuel and mean the ship will likely travel at a slower speed (as the distance is much
Except for a large number of homeless on the streets, San Diego gave the impression of being an empty city. COVID seems to have shut down a good deal of the activity. We took the blue trolley line to the 5th Avenue stop (two stops from the Santa Fe train station), bought some missing socks at the Ross’s shop, and walked to The US Grant hotel on Broadway, between 4th and 5th Avenues. This hotel was rescued from the wrecking ball, stripped down to its skeleton and rebuilt to mimic its original glory.
The walk back to the port takes about twenty minutes (and is about a mile).
Tomorrow is another day – and a day closer to the unknown.