2020 Travels travel blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poor Side of Town?


SEVENTEEN days at sea. No countries will let us dock even though we do NOT have any virus effected folks on board. So we were forced to skip all the stops and excursions we had been planning to do for almost two years and go directly to South Africa, without passing “GO”.

What to do? Julieann keeps busy with the various craft “stuff” they do on board, plus her exercise/dance classes. She even attends various language classes. What can I say? She’s getting the most out of the cruise and I enjoy watching her enjoy herself.

I would prefer to just have access to FREE, STRONG Wi-Fi, but that doesn’t happen on ship. I’ve

found the best time to connect to the PAID Wi-Fi is between 3 and 5 AM which is usually my sleeping time so I don’t get much on line time. I’ve also mentioned earlier that Wi-Fi on board is VERY expensive (55 cents a MINUTE --- and it usually takes 20 minutes just to go through the on-line procedures).

We don’t starve on ship, but it seems we are “running out” of some things – Milk, Oranges, Apples, bananas, (and other fruit), Oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, (and numerous boxed cereal) various juices (was free in the dining room, but now only the bars have juices @ $3.60 a glass), chips, etc.,etc. Some dinner and lunch menu items are “repeating”, as in “same menu, different day”.

They have eleven restaurants on board. Four are “specialty” restaurants such as the steakhouse, French, Italian and Japanese. Unlike the other seven restaurants that are included in the basic cost of cruising, these restaurants usually “cost” as each item on the menu is priced separately. Last night we had dinner at Cagney’s Steakhouse where my filet was priced at $35.00 and Julieann’s Lamb Chops were priced at $37.00. Since I am a firm believer that the cost of the cruise includes the cost of the meals we have no problem eating in the “free” dining areas. I would not normally go to the specialty restaurants, but in this case we had “coupons” for two visits to Speciality restaurants that covered the entire meal, including desert and a bottle of wine of my choice. Because of our “cruising status” (how many NCL cruises we’ve been on) for each current/future cruise we receive coupons for four dinners in any of the Specialty Restaurants (including a bottle of wine of my choosing), along with a bottle of “sparkling wine” in our cabin, a plate of chocolate covered strawberries, a coupon for a free wash of a laundry bag full of clothes and various discounts of things sold on the ship. This is our “reward” for traveling with Norwegian so much and spending thousands of dollars.

Included in the eleven restaurants above is the two (free) semi-formal dining rooms. This is where you get to sit down, take your time, order from a menu and get served by a waiter. It’s o.k. for those who like it, but I find the service to be generally slow, especially when we’re in a rush to catch the evening’s theater performance. We’ll use these restaurants on occasion just to do something different, but we still prefer the buffet.

Bars & Lounges – they have ten on aboard, but with $3.60 for a soda and an average of $12.00 for a mixed drink, I do not partake often (but, I don’t do without).

Virus – We have been very lucky, compared to other cruise ships we’ve heard about, to have avoided the virus (so far). The crew has been extremely vigilant and are constantly sanitizing the ship. During the day when passengers are eating, most of the dining room crews are meeting passengers at the entrance and offering them a “squirt” of hand sanitizer before they enter the dining area or they are cleaning off tables as passengers leave and/or sanitizing the tables and chairs. I also watched other crew members constantly cleaning the buffet line (because most passengers are either clumsy, sloppy or just don’t care), all handrails, all buttons (as in the elevator) doors, windows – just about anything that could have been touched by someone. Other crew members are swapping out the serving utensils about every 30 minutes. When most passengers are sleeping the crew is sanitizing chairs, tables, handrails, walls, elevators, all door handles, etc. Julieann doesn’t let our cabin steward clean our room very often (she likes to clean it herself), but when he is allowed to clean our cabin, he does a very good job at sanitizing everything. Whatever the crew is doing, it’s working. Keeping our fingers crossed that we make it all the way home.

UPDATE: Today we were supposed to stop at La Digue and then tomorrow at Point Victoria, Seychelles, but the country has “dis-invited” us. Even though all 3000 of us had to parade in front of the ship’s doctor for a temperature reading and complete a health form yesterday in preparation of our visit, all that didn’t seem to matter and just being a cruise ship is scaring the locals (did you hear about the Princess ship that was stoned by the locals to go away?) So now we have additional “Sea Days”. (They are letting us re-fuel, re-supply and swap out some of the crew tomorrow at Point Victoria, but no passengers or crew members are allowed to disembark without special clearance.)

UPDATE #2 – Evidently the home office in Miami is getting nervous. When we arrived for breakfast this morning at the buffet all the food was covered and passengers could not serve themselves ANYTHING as had been the standard up to now, including plates, bowls, utensils and condiments. Even the water, juices, coffee and tea had to be served by a crew member. This got me a bit concerned as I’ve only seen this happen twice before and both times it was because the ship was infected by a virus and people were sick. After talking to a few crew members and some supervisors (I trust) they all said the same thing. What they are doing is just a precaution and no one on board is sick. The home office had sent a message to ALL their ships to take these “preventive” measures. Since the message didn’t arrive on our ship until about midnight, the entire crew has been scrambling all night to get things done to be ready for breakfast. I don’t mind the extra precautions, especially with so many idiot passengers on board. Even with barriers up to block access to food, etc. some passengers have apparently determined that these barriers weren’t meant for them and just plow through anyone in line or reach around a servicing crew member around to retrieve what they want. Other “seasoned” passengers (like us) try to educate these folks especially when it comes to the health of all. It may take the rest of the day (week?) to train everyone, but we’ll get there.

As I mentioned, Julieann enjoys being involved with various craft and exercise activities and I’m learning where the best music is playing and when. I also enjoy just sitting by the pool, listening to the band and doing this journal update (for a future posting whenever I can find Wi-Fi). I also like observing other passengers that have absolutely NO business walking around in a bikini or thong, but they do make me feel soooooo skinny ;-)

Today we crossed the equator and the ship makes a big deal of it. We were part of the ceremony while cruising South America so Julieann did not plan to participate in the ceremony today except to take the photos. “King Neptune” and his royal court parades onto the pool deck, accompanied by the ship’s band and the clapping of the observers. The “Poly wogs” are those who are making the equator's crossing for the first time so they get to have a bucket of ice dumped on them and are then called “Shell-backs”, as in “One Who Has Crossed the Equator”. They are also supposed to kiss a fish, but I didn’t see that happening. Do the fish have the virus too?

NOTE: I should have known that Julieann could NOT just stand around taking photos. She ended up having a bucket of ice water dumped on her (voluntarily) and she danced all the way back to the table. One of the ladies at our table told me that Julieann was a “joy” to be around with all her energy, her laugh, etc. IDK about all that; she makes me tired just watching her ;-) (Just kidding; I’m happy for her).

11 March – We dropped anchor outside of Point Victoria, Seychelles to refuel and restock. No passengers are allowed off the ship. Since our tour was canceled this is Julieann’s on-board schedule for today:

0900 Fun Cardio Dance Class

1030 Cake Decorating Demonstration

1130 Language Class – Basic Spanish 2

1215 Latin Line Dancing

1400 Origami Class – Basket

1600 Country Line Dance

1700 Nap

1830 Dinner

1930 Show

2200 TV, play games on cell phone, sleep

My schedule ?

0900 Breakfast, 2-3 cups of coffee, observing other passengers (my favorite hobby)

1030 Sitting poolside with my computer; doing “work”

1200 Listen to Poolside band

1400 Ice Cream break

????????

1700 Nap

1830 Dinner

1930 Show

2200 TV ….. sleep

I also met an Aussie who has been to Seychelles a few times before. He just “had” to tell me how we were missing visiting the BEST beaches in the Indian Ocean. Thanks, Dude, I needed that; we’ve already skipped a dozen ports we were looking forward to visiting and experiencing. We had been looking forward to stopping at various locations around here and even bought snorkeling masks with the intention of checking out these waters more closely, something we have NEVER done, even in Hawaii – VERY disappointed, but we understand.

Took the refueling crew just about all day to refuel us so now that’s it is dark outside, they are just delivering our food. As previously mentioned, our crew members are not allowed to set foot on Seychelle’s land so they just drive the life boats (AKA “Tenders”) up to the dock, the folks on land toss the packages to our crew and then they bring it all back to the ship. I took a few photos, but got tired and went to bed at 10PM. Julieann stayed up to after 1AM watching our crew members working through the night. This has not been a pleasant cruise for them either.

Although we were just re-supplied with food yesterday, we seem to be running out of “necessities” like milk (for drinking – using Soy and Almond Milk for cereals and coffee), out of orange, and cranberry juice in the dining areas (the bars still have, but charge $3.60 a glass), Oatmeal, Cream of Wheat and other favorites of some folks.

NOTE: Just received a letter from the Captain apologizing for all the changes and offering us 50% off any Norwegian cruise for the next year. We are already booked with different events the rest of this year and a short cruise in March of next year so that, basically, gives us a four month window from December 2020 to March 2021 to find a cruise to take. I’m lookin’…….can’t pass up a 50% discount, can I?

Also, all those “classes” for dancing and exercising that Julieann has enjoyed so much have been CANCELED. Just about anything that allows passengers “social contact” within three feet of each other is gone, but they still have the nightly “dance party” – go figure. The craft classes are still going on as well as the “mass” dances so she still has stuff to do.

So today, change number “whatever” to our schedule and itinerary, we are NOT stopping at Port Louis, Mauritius on the 13th as previously scheduled. Mauritius has requested that we come by on the 16th (reason unknown, but blaming the virus).

BREAK BREAK ---- Just as I was typing the latest changes, MORE changes came down. As of now, ALL port stops (with passengers disembarking) have been CANCELED in addition to the next leg of our cruise that would have taken us from Cape Town, South Africa to Athens, Greece. We are now heading straight to Cape Town, South Africa with NO stops on the way and everyone will be disembarking there to find their own way back home.

The earlier change which killed our stop at Singapore cost us almost $6,000 in plane tickets from Athens, Greece to Hawaii plus the hotels I had booked. Now we aren’t even going to Athens. Yep, we have some more decisions to make.

Received another note from the Captain apologizing for the delays, changes, etc. The company is now offering 75% off a future cruise (withing the next 12 months) plus a 125% credit for a future cruise 24 months out. I’ll have to take advantage of this as soon as I can figure out what is sailing and when. This on top of trying to get home from Africa when my planes tickets to Hawaii are sitting in Athens, Greece. Yep, THIS has been an adventure. More later…..

17 March – Had a fairly good day considering the ship is still “dancing” back and forth. Got dressed up (a bit) for the “wearing of the green” (some passengers didn’t need to wear green. The ship is tossing a little so we’re seeing some green faces). We had dinner in the bigger, “fancier” dining room, attended an EXCELLENT big show of the ship’s singers and dancers in the theater and attended a “St Patrick’s Day” party, which was basically no different than all the other dance parties they’ve had, run by a DJ playing back to back disco music. Ran into some friends who told us about a passenger’s meeting the next morning to discuss common problems to get home. I’m thinking about attending We finally hit the bed around midnight.

18 March – I attended the “meeting”, which turned into a shouting match between/among around 300 Germans, Canadians, Aussies and Americans, some of who have had some contact with their embassies and had a little more information than the rest of us. None of the crew/bosses attended or were probably even invited. After a lot of yelling, cussing, building frustration, etc. we ended up breaking up into smaller groups, which didn’t seem to help. I saw some folks there who are very detailed and experienced at organizing and hope they get involved so I plan to hook up with them later to find out if “we” have any plans. I also (finally) got through to a hotel via internet and made reservations for four days next week in Cape Town so at least we have a place to stay IF and WHEN we dock there. Our plane reservation in Athens, which I do NOT plan to cancel until things straighten out, isn’t until 20 APRIL so we have time to make some kind of arrangements to get out of Africa. We’ve been hearing a lot of rumors that Cape Town may not allow us to disembark there, that South African officials are going to place us all “somewhere” in a two week quarantine, etc., etc. We are not hearing ANYTHING official from the Captain, the crew or anyone in with any authority as they are also waiting for information and/or directions from the home office in Miami. Four more days of confusion, frustration and fear.

18 March – Well, shoulda known. This morning I finally broke down and made hotel reservations in Cape Town, “just in case”. And, of course, tonight another letter was in our cabin stating that the S.Africa gov’t has passed a directive that yes, we can dock and disembark from the ship on the 22nd of March, but EVERYONE must be taken directly to the airport and leave S.Africa immediately. Did I mention that our four-day hotel reservations were non-refundable? Also, when all these changes were taking place, folks who had originally planned (some as long ago as a year) to disembark at Cape Town, spend a few days doing tourist’s stuff there and taking a Safari were in good shape; better shape than the rest of us who needed to scramble to find a way to continue our travels. Now that the S.African gov’t has told us ALL to leave their country as soon as we land, those folks are now in the same boat with us. What a MESS !!!!

19 March – The ship’s crew set up some computers and phones for our use in one of the dining rooms not being used this morning. They also gave everyone 60 free minutes on the internet. That much computer time goes like 10 minutes; it’s that slow. I found a friend who bought the unlimited internet package and had done all that she was going to do, so she gave me some of her time. Three hours later I still had not contacted the airlines to change our 20 April flight to Hawaii, but I did find another hotel in Athens and booked a few days. I’m hoping that I can contact the airlines then.

20 March – NO MILK?? Actually, we ran out of regular milk a week ago and they have been serving Soy Milk, Almond Milk, condensed milk and something else that they call “milk” that I cannot identify. This morning I found that only the “unknown” milk was available. So, I went without milk in my coffee. Another passenger sat at my table and was eating something out of a bowl that was dark brown. I asked what it was and he told me that he was eating cereal with CHOCOLATE milk. I tried it for my cereal, another new experience; tasted better than it looked. After breakfast I’ll be heading back to the dining room/computer/phone area to try and use the free phones the ship has set up for us, to call the airlines to change our reservation. I don’t really expect any good news since I’ve used up all my 800 Wi-Fi minutes over the past two weeks trying to contact them without luck. When I tried again yesterday I was number 723 in the queue and only had 21 minutes left in my Wi-Fi account. Guest Services spent about two hours trying to help me by calling six different phone numbers listed for the airlines without getting through to ANY humans. Following the directions of the Guest Services folks, I stood in line to see the Wi-Fi guru and get some more FREE minutes; he gave me 35 minutes and told me this was the best he could do for me and, basically, “don’t come back”. Well, I know I won’t be using the minutes to contact the airlines, but least I can check email and Facebook today and tomorrow. If all goes according to plan, we’ll be in the airport terminal on Sunday and have access to free Wi-Fi.

21 March – You silly rabbit. Just when I thought we had a (small) handle on what was going on, the “stuff” hits the fan….again. Reference yesterday’s attempt to use Wi-Fi or phone to contact the airlines to re-schedule our Athens flight on 20 April --- went no where. But, on the bright side, because the phone lines were down and ALL my Wi-Fi minutes were gone, I asked a friend to use some of her minutes to help me contact Lona, my #3 daughter, who had “volunteered” to work our problems from her end (in Texas). By this time I’m thinking that this may be the best option, so I want to email her for help. I’ve bought, paid for and used over 700 internet minutes and 120 phone minutes trying to keep up with the (almost) daily changes of our (the Ship’s) schedule, but I am stuck now with the flight from Athens, Greece to Hawaii for 20 April. I made that reservation after Norwegian canceled the last leg of our trip to Singapore six weeks ago. Spent a lot of money on airlines and hotels that are now in limbo. Now, more changes were handed to us. Are we having fun yet??

The South African government has allowed NCL to berth in their harbor (more than we got from other countries), but they insisted that no one get off the ship until the 22nd. I had already made a few other hotel/plane reservations for Cape Town, figuring that we would spend a few days sightseeing and maybe even take in a Safari. But, NO! The next day the gov’t then said that we can leave the ship ONLY to go directly to the airport and leave South Africa the same day. Of course I lost what I paid for the hotel we won’t be using, but suck is life. I also needed to get a plane reservation to go from Cape Town to Athens. Got that without any problems so I should have known that we weren’t going to Athens.

So, we were now “set” to have a company bus take us from the ship to the airport. They plan to be doing that at 0800 in the morning even though our flight to the Johannesburg In’t AP isn’t until 1500. So we then get to wait around in the Johannesburg terminal for a few (?) hours waiting for our flight to Athens.

I mentioned that I was/am completely out of internet minutes so I asked a traveling friend to use some of hers so I could send an email to Lona (daughter #3, who had volunteered to assist) to help me contact the airlines to try and get our Athens departure moved up to sometime around the end of March. Instead of just giving me the internet minutes my friend started to create an email to Lona for me. While doing so she also surfed the web and found that the Greek government had just issued a directive CLOSING all the hotels for the next 2-3 weeks effective just hours before we were scheduled to arrive there.

Yes, rightfully so, PANIC set in – we are about to leave our very comfortable ship quarters to fly to Athens and possibly sleep in the terminal? My friend, collective and cool under pressure, found another flight leaving out of Cape Town the day after we were originally scheduled to leave. The only drawback was that I needed to pay another $6,000 right away. We discussed the problems this would cause with (1) the ship, who already had our schedule and expected us to be transported to the airport tomorrow and would probably frown on us extending our stay on the ship, (2) I had already paid for four nights in an Athens hotel and (3) I had already paid $1,000 for the flight from Cape Town to Athens. By buying the new tickets that would take us from Cape Town, South Africa to Dubai, UAE, to Tokyo and then to Hawaii I would probably lose the money I had already paid for all I had previously. My friend convinced me that I would most likely spend a lot more if I keep waiting to get home with all these constant changes. Made sense, so I bought the new tickets.

I then told the ship’s Guest Relations that our flight had changed to the next day and asked if we could stay on the ship another day. That was the easiest part of this whole mess. They were very accommodating.

22 March – Woke up in the same room, same bed and went through the same routine adding to that routine all the “goodbyes” to traveling companions who are leaving today. I then decided that I needed to at least try to contact the airlines and hotels to see if they could cancel our reservations, but I have to buy more Wi-Fi from the ship for $125.00 and hope that it works.

While waiting for the “internet guy” to show up to sell me more minutes I overheard a very loud conversation of a group of Brits talking about their flights being canceled and how NCL is chartering planes to take Americans to Miami, Brits/Europeans to London and Aussies to Sydney. Someone finally mentioned information on the flight that was canceled. Yes, but of course, MY FLIGHT. Since I did not have access to my emails without Wi-Fi I could not verify what I was hearing. Now, I was getting REALLY nervous about this whole thing.

Nope, cannot buy more minutes. The system is “down” indefinitely. I explained my situation to the Internet Guy and he hooked me up to his (personal) Wi-Fi. Found out the rumor mill was totally wrong. Our flight has NOT been canceled.

Just to muddy the water more, those three charter planes that NCL leased to get passengers without plane tickets out of Africa and closer to “home”, were not full. So they began offering seats to anyone who wanted to leave with a warning that this offer was a “One time good deal. IF your scheduled flight was changed or canceled, NCL would not be providing any other transportation home.” Yeah, NOW you tell me after I just spent another $6,000 for plane tickets to get home and I would not get that money back if I took the deal. This kept me on pins & needles all the day, through a tossing and turning night and a cold sweat waking up wondering if our plane was still flying tomorrow. If our flight was canceled, again, I’d be back to the starting gate. Someone who cares about us sent me the State Department’s 800 number, “just in case”. Other options were getting to be slight to non-existent so I found a nice, quiet corner and had a chat with the “big guy”. Normally, I leave praying and talking to the boss up to Julieann. After all, it’s a long distance call for me, but a local call for her (or so I’m told). Well, He obviously came through for us (probably because Julieann added this to her nightly prayers and He knows her more than me).

Up until today the only view we had of Cape Town was a mountain called “Table Top” and that was the last sight we had of the harbor area. The bus picked us up and drove an hour to the airport. We passed one neighborhood that has to be one of the poorest in the world. Our driver told us that the “state” owns the land, put in some electricity and the “tenants” build themselves some sort of “shelter” made of just about anything they could find. The attached photos (not taken by me) tells the story. These shelters are exactly what we saw, and there were a LOT of them.

Then we arrived at the airport, stood around for over an hour while we waited for the employees to open the lines (guess no one told them that a few hundred folks would be showing up for flights this morning). Oh yeah, one more parting shot thanks to the “virus”. I bought Business Class seats, mainly because we were not looking forward to a 30 hour trip in coach, but what is “supposed” to come along with those $6,000 Business Class seats was access to the airline’s First/Business Class Lounge. Since we had a four hour wait for our plane, we were looking forward to relaxing, unwinding and enjoying the breakfast bar, Bloody Mary bar, good Wi-Fi, comfortable furniture, etc. But, once again…. Noooooooo. Emirates Airlines has closed down all their lounges worldwide because ……… wait for it ……….. the VIRUS! All the other airline lounges were open, but we couldn’t use them. O.K., it was shot. At least the terminal we had to wait in was EXTREMELY quiet, as in “almost zero” passengers and we had a very good Wi-Fi reception. Julieann finally got to shop, but I still don’t know what she bought.

We started out this year expecting a very busy traveling schedule. Well, that’s not going to happen. After NCL moved the schedule around we lost the last 30 days of a 90 day scheduled traveling with them. Then we were scheduled to spend three weeks in Las Vegas, but I’ve been receiving notices that the shows I booked to see in May have been canceled. I also saw the new where Las Vegas is turning into a Ghost Town. Guess I’ll be canceling all our reservations for Vegas.

We both have a number of medical appointments so I shoved then into June. We were scheduled to fly to China in July to visit, among other spots, the Panda Research Center; something I’ve been looking forward to for years and this is the THIRD time the trip has been canceled. This was actually the first cancellation we received. We have another cruise (with NCL) in September and October that may also be canceled.

On a final note, we feel so blessed, lucky and fortunate to have what we have and to do what we can do and especially for all the relatives and friends that care about us. Watching the news everyday is very depressing when we see so many people in trouble physically, mentally and financially. Sure, we have our own problems, but nothing like what others are going through.

Our prayers are with you all. Thanks for traveling with us. Please stay safe and healthy.

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