Who Would Know We Would Be South America Cruising When COVID-19 Became A Pandemic
When we left home on Jan 10, who would have known we would be South America cruising when COVID-19 became a pandemic! Nor that there would be so many lessons to learn about travel and cruising!
For those of you not following RetiredAndTravelling on social media, the last you may have heard was when we set sail to cruise around South America for two months. We are now a ship at sea without a defined end point or end date for our cruise!
We finished most of our amazing South American cruise. There are some great blog posts and pictures in draft. But just when we headed for our final port everything changed.
We want to thank all the people who have reached out to us for their support and offers of help! And thank all the staff and crew onboard Oceania Cruises Marina for customer service excellence in good times and in crisis!
The First Part Of Our South America Cruise Went Off Without A Hitch
We started by cruising up the Amazon River and then cruised through Brazil ports into Rio without any issue in any port. It was an awesome start to our South America cruise.
Soon after we boarded, the ship implemented some tighter health measures “in an abundance of caution”. Food was no longer self service. Plastic wrap was put around all food displays. And staff handed out all food. Increased cleaning happened on the ship. And we were encouraged to wash our hands regularly. And use the hand sanitizer located everywhere.
We arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with no problems and no health issues onboard. In Rio there was a turnover in staff and passengers before we continued south to Buenos Aires. By that time, there was enhanced screening in place. Boarding was denied for people who travelled in China or Asia in the past 30 days.
We had great port stops all the way from Rio and we landed in Buenos Aires with no Coronavirus on board. Only one port was missed due to weather.
The next segment of our South America cruise started in Buenos Aires. There was another change of passengers and staff. Enhanced screening covered new geographical areas of concern. But at this point, we started to worry about anyone new coming onboard.
The incidence of COVID-19 in South America was very low. We felt we were still cruising in the best place in the world. But little did we know that soon we would be South America cruising when COVID-19 became a pandemic!
And Then COVID-19 Became A Pandemic
The next leg of our trip was from Buenos Aires to Lima, Peru. It was my favourite segment on this trip. We got to the Falkland Islands for penguins, circumnavigated Cape Horn in good weather and then had the most amazing cruise from Ushuaia in Argentina and through the Chilean Fjords. We entered and departed without incident both San Antonia and then Coquimbo in Chile. In both ports we had great wine tasting excursions.
And then the ship headed for two sea days to our next port in Pisco, Peru. Our excursion tickets to Balestros Island to see the Peru version of the Galapagos Island were issued. All our forms were completed to get into Peru and we set our alarm for an early excursion. We were excited about our first port in Peru.
When we got up in the morning we looked at our position on the tv map and realized the ship had missed Pisco, Peru. It appeared we were heading directly to Lima, Peru.
Several things happened just as we headed for Peru. Trump announced he was closing the airports for Europe flights in light of the situation that had spread from Italy. The cruise ship companies announced one after the other that they were suspending operations “in an abundance of caution”. And the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a pandemic.
We heard that Peru was going to be suspending flights to Europe. So we figured the ship wanted to get to Lima as early as possible to get passengers and crew on planes.
But before we reached Lima, the ship was told that we could no longer land. Peru closed all cruise port entries. Since we had recently landed in and left Chile, the decision was made to take us back. But it was a 2 day cruise to get back.
After sailing for one day south, we felt the ship make a sharp turn. One glance at the tv map showed we were again pointed back north. Chile received two problematic cruise ships and denied us re-entry. We were now South America cruising when COVID-19 became a pandemic! And there were so many lessons about travel and cruising to learn.
And Then All Hell Broke Loose
When the ship originally announced a day for arrival in Chile, everyone needed new travel plans. For those that let Oceania Cruises book their travel, they just had the uncertainty of knowing the timing of their travel. The cruise line booked transportation for everyone to get to the airport in Santiago, Chile.
But we never let the cruise line book our transportation. We often started or stopped our trips days or weeks before or after the cruise portion. And of course, we wanted the loyalty points for booking on our own! So it meant we scrambled to rebook or cancel our own travel plans. With unknown compensation from the cruise line for total costs we bore for changes.
We cancelled our Lima hotel bookings. And after many hours on hold, changed our Avianca flights to now leave from Santiago, Chile rather than Lima, Peru. And booked a hotel for Santiago. But then once Chile refused us entry, we made changes all over again.
Air Canada was great about cancelling our flight using Twitter. We could not cancel on Avianca’s online site. It required many hours on bad ship WiFi and Skype to finally get the Avianca flights cancelled. And we smartly booked our Santiago hotel as cancellable. Easy to do through the hotel website.
After everything was cancelled, we breathed a sigh of relief. We minimized as much as possible the cost to cancel all our travel reservations. But our costs continued to add up. We will not rebook anything until we have 100% certainty that we know where and when we will land. Things changed almost by the hour when South America cruising when COVID-19 became a pandemic. Who knows what the situation will be like days from now.
Our Future Plans Are All Unknown At This Time
So we sailed north towards the Panama Canal. We hope we can go through the Panama Canal on March 18. A day after that we may be in the Caribbean Sea. And we have absolutely no idea where or when we might be able to land.
So far it appeared that our ship was clean of the virus. We expected to get fuel and food in Panama. Luckily, we personally don’t need any medicine. But other people are running out. Not sure how that is being addressed.
The ship is trying to operate as normal as possible. There are still enhanced hygiene processes in place. Some of the group activities have been cancelled. But there was still lots to do onboard our ship floating at sea. We heard that specialty restaurants will be closed as food supplies are drawn down. Limited menus will be put in place. And we should be re-supplied in Panama. The ship is still making drinking water. And there is toilet paper on board!
All we can do at this point it take advantage of the bad situation. We are onboard Oceania Cruises Marina, a great luxury cruise ship with excellent customer service delivery. The ship is virus free. The sun is out and the seas are calm. At some point we will land. And then have to deal with getting home to Canada. No point in worrying about that until we know more.
If we sail through the Panama Canal, we will have circumnavigated South America. And what an amazing trip this South America cruise was for most of the journey.
A Question For Our Readers
Before we left home for 66 days to cruise around South America, we scheduled a ton of blog posts that covered our travels at the end of 2019. They have posted regularly during our South America travels. You can check out the blog for our Utah adventures and Arizona travels.
We sent out a newsletter to our readers for input. And are asking for input here too.
We wonder if it is insensitive to keep publishing new blog posts in the midst of this crisis. Do people really want to hear about travel? Or is it a great distraction to enjoy? And to help plan travel when everything restarts.
Should we keep publishing new travel blog posts. Or just pause and re-start at some point in the future? We paused the blog posts on the Utah National Parks and California travels pending some insight from our readers.
Please feel free to write to us and let us know your views. You can use the contact form on the blog or comment on this post. Let us know on social media if that works better for you.
A Real Experience Cruising In South America When COVID-19 Exploded
When we left Toronto to cruise around South America, we were excited. As we cruised, the COVID-19 situation became a real concern. But it had little impact on our cruise. There were some amazing cruise port excursions and great cruising days. We almost made it to our final stop in Lima, Peru. And then we felt the full impact of South America cruising when COVID-19 became a pandemic.
We learned so much through this experience. It will all be shared in a future blog post once we know the end to this tale. But we thought we would update the many of you who may not have a first hand view of what it is like to be trapped at sea. And how it happens.
Did you experience cruising in South America when COVID-19 exploded? Or were you travelling somewhere else and had your travels impacted?
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