After 100 days at sea I left the m/s Amsterdam on a Sea Princess tender in Manila Bay, Philippines. Stepping on that tender was the first time that I had left my ship since March 12th when we were in Cairns, Australia.
It all came about fairly quickly. Now, I wasn’t technically “stuck” on the ship, but my husband was and as I was already onboard the ship when the shut-down happened I was allowed to stay. Last week that policy changed and suddenly what had felt like all of the time in the world was shortened to just about a week.
Initially they booked my flight to Scotland. That’s where my husband and I were planning on going when we left the ship. See, right now I don’t have residency in Scotland, and he doesn’t have a residency in the US. As he works at sea six months per year we had been fine relying on basic tourist visas to go between the countries while we work out what our long term. In a pandemic though that set-up is a bit less than ideal due to additional travel restrictions, but we had worked out that we would both be able to get into the UK with the visas we currently have. However, without him I didn’t much feel like going to quarantine in Scotland for two weeks on my own. Thankfully the company was both able and willing to rebook my flights, and instead of flying to Scotland on Tuesday I would be flying to Vermont on Saturday. Not only was flying to Vermont far better for me personally, it also gave me an extra couple days onboard to get a bit more organized about going home.
My last few days onboard were pretty similar to what your last few days anywhere would be. Trying to make sure you get as much time with your friends. Packing. Re-packing. Double checking the luggage requirements for my flights. Making sure I got everything. As Stuart’s future contracts are unknown at this point I tried to bring as much stuff from our trunk onboard as I could. I’ve been bringing things onboard and leaving it in our trunk for over four years. That trunk was full, thus, my suitcase was full. It was the usual packing challenge for me of, “should this go to Vermont or to should I put it in Stuart’s suitcase to go to Scotland?” This inevitably results in me bringing a dress to the wrong place and then not having it for something we were supposed to go to. This is certainly one of the challenges of this lifestyle. The people onboard tried to make it a bit special for me. I’d been onboard with these people for months and I’ve known most of them for years. It was little things like the chef preparing my favorite sandwich for me at lunch, but the big thing was that Stuart got the afternoon off of work. Considering the circumstances it was a really nice last few days onboard.
After packing and repacking again that morning, then making a few more extra face masks for some of my friends onboard, making the reminder announcement that it was time for the morning temperature check, I got called down to meet with the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ). These are officials that come onboard to ensure that you are healthy before you’re allowed to disembark the ship. They take your temperature, ask you a few basic questions, and then sign off on a piece of paper that will later be given to the immigration officials to allow you to enter the Philippines to go to the airport. They also are able to check your temperatures prior to disembarking as your temperature is taken and recorded every single day. At various points it was once a day but a majority of the time it had been twice a day. This is to satisfy government agencies that want to ensure that you truly are healthy before going ashore. Mind you, our ship had been healthy with no cases at all, ever. How many places on land could say that? And yet, how many places on land do you get your temperature checked twice a day?
I was told to be ready for my tender at 1:00pm. This was great as it meant I could have lunch onboard before leaving. It was also nice as my flight wasn’t until 11:50pm and this would give me less time sitting and waiting somewhere shoreside. On Saturday at 1:00pm a tender from the Sea Princess pulled up, and after some confusion as to whether I was going in that tender or one of the Amsterdam’s, the sailors loaded my luggage on, I gave my dear hubby a kiss goodbye, and full on ugly crying got into the tender.
You may be wondering why it was a tender from another ship. In Manila Bay for the last month or so at any given time there are likely to be at least fifteen to twenty ships from a Carnival Corporation cruise line. During this time, those ships are banding together to get crew home. On the day that I was going home there were “international” (non-Filipino) crew from 5 different ships going home. Rather than have a tender from each ship make the half hour trek from our anchorage locations to the port (and pay the extra port fees) it is more efficient and less expensive to have us all go on one tender together. It was a bit like a bus where we would stop at the next stop and pick up another passenger, the difference being the next stop was a cruise ship. The reason there was some confusion as to which tender I was going on was that there were also a group of Filipino’s going home, but BOQ requires those two groups to be separate and the timing of when each group was allowed to disembark had changed (remember when I wrote about how things kept changing constantly? Well, that is most definitely still happening).
As I got onto the tender I stepped off of the Amsterdam for the first time in a very long time. At that same moment the reality that it will be the last time I am onboard that ship, or any ship for that matter, for an even longer time sinks in. Cruises on my dear ship have been cancelled up until December, so who knows when I, or passengers, will be back. I squint to see if I can see Stuart waving on the tender platform still and the reality that I don’t know when I’ll see him again also sinks in. Ugh. I hadn’t even gotten to the traveling part and this day was already not great.
I had my head out of the window to see the ships all around us and to get the one last look at the ship. It was raining slightly and it was a rare Manila day that wasn’t scorching hot.
We stopped at the Queen Elizabeth (Cunard) and at the Noordam (HAL). The Volendam had dropped off one crew from the Volendam at the Noordam so we got two for the price of one there. After our stops we made our way to the port. Here’s a few time-lapse videos of my tender rides between each of our “bus stops” as well as our final approach to land in Manila.
And, then, after 100 days of not having my feet on dry land, or 100 days of being on the water, on a boat, out to sea, I was on land again. In those hundred days life had changed entirely, and aside from what I saw on the news I had no idea what I was about to encounter. Throughout my journey home I went from flight attendants wearing gloves, gowns, masks, protective glasses, and face shields, to a flight attendant with no mask on at all (guess where that was?!).
I had no idea what the next 37 hours of my travel home would be like or even what life at home would be like once I got there. Our life onboard was pretty good. We knew everyone was healthy. Having been ostracized onboard for months with crew so often unable to leave or join because cruise ships were stigmatized and called “petri-dishes”, what was it going to be like in the rest of the world where you never know if the person next to you is an asymptomatic carrier or has it but does not yet have symptoms? I’d heard about the challenges with people not wearing face masks and not taking things seriously (cough, cough, USA, cough, cough); how would I feel when I saw people out in the regular world going about their lives when my husband and so many of my friends are literally stuck on a ship on the other side of the world because governments still won’t let some cruise ship crew change?
Over the next couple weeks I’ll be continuing on the story of my journey home, looking at what it’s like at home versus onboard, and reflecting on those hundred days onboard.
Check back in later this week for Part II to find out what it was like to fly, and the differences between in protocols that I encountered, plus other tid-bits from the 38 hours of travel it took to get from the ship to home.
Disclaimer: As always, the views expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Holland America Line or Holland America Group.