South America Cruising When COVID-19 Became A Pandemic

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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 left Miami on January 22 to cruise around South America with Oceania Cruises. At that time, COVID-19 (Coronavirus) was mostly in the news in China.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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From TV News

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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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About TravelAtWill 721 Articles
Travel blogger and photographer! Scuba diving, luxury cruising, chocoholic, sea and sunshine addicts, camera attached and just generally curious! Join us on our adventures!


  1. Wow! You are definitely making memories and have an amazing positive attitude. Happy to hear everyone is healthy on the cruise ship. Prayers that you’ll make it home soon.

    • It has been an interesting experience to live thru for sure. We have tentatively been told we will head for Miami to disembark. But so much changes every day. Linda

  2. Waw, this is really something. I hope you will get food in Panama and you won’r run out of toilet paper. If the ship is clean of the virus, than I’d say there’s nothing to worry, just enjoy the trip (as much as you can) because once you’ll dock somewhere, you’ll be exposed again. All the best from us, and keep us updated.

    • Iuliana, Thanks for your best wishes. We are indeed in a pretty safe and luxurious spot right now. Each day there is a bit more information about our fate. And the ship is better than being quarantined when we get home finally. Linda

    • Giselle, Thanks for reading the post about our experiences. It has been another kind of adventure for sure. Each day we get a little clearer about where we will end up. Just not timing yet. Glad to know you still are dreaming of travel. This won’t slow us down, just maybe make us consider a few more packing items. Linda

  3. What a story…..It’s interesting to get an insider view on how the cruise ship reacted and changed to the crisis as your trip continued. I can imagine the worry as new people boarded the boat and a complete nightmare when you were refused to dock in Peru and Chile. Just pleased nobody was infected on the ship like the other one, that must’ve been awful!

    • Vanessa, It has certainly been an adventure. South America was amazing. And then ….. We will know more today since we are just arriving at the Panama Canal. But it is many days before we might get to Miami for the next checkpoint. Linda

  4. Wow that’s so scary! I’m very glad to hear your ship is virus free and that you have some plans to be able to dock and get more supplies. I hope people will also be able to get more medicine. I can’t imagine how to deal with such sudden changes that are out of your control! Do you have trip insurance? I hope that would help cover your flight and hotel cancelations. Wishing you the best and hope you can enjoy the rest of your cruise and get home safely soon. South America is an amazing place to explore and I really enjoyed many of the places you got to see so I’m glad that you have some nice memories of this trip too.

    • Summer, We are so had we had an awesome trip before everything changed! But are learning so much on this trip about how to be better prepared for an emergency. We have travel insurance but not “cancel for any reason”. So most policies won’t cover the costs we have incurred. We now have a plan and timeline to get home.

  5. Ok – that is really an experience. We were lucky , we managed to cancel our travels before going. I can imagine the uncertainties and most of all to handle the cancellations via bad internet! Its great to see the wonderful experiences in South America though. I would love to do that on an Oceania cruise liner one day. Must be super duper expensive! I have the same dilemma on travel blogs – I think I will continue writing about previous travels. After all, we will all travel again and will look for inspiration during our travel down time for now. So I would definitely read new blogs!

    • Adele, We were glad we got to do this trip around South America before everything changed. Although in retrospect we may have wished we chose to head home a bit early before we got stranded. But not a bad place to be stranded. Thanks for the feedback on keeping publishing. We do all need something to look forward to. Linda

  6. I can’t even imagine what was going on in everyone’s head at the time! Thankfully the ship was clean, but what sad way to end your trip. Hopefully you’re able to re supply when you get to Panama. Be safe and I hope you’re able to enjoy what you can while you make your way back home.

    • Joe, It has been a wild ride. We were so happy to get through the Panama Canal yesterday and be running for Miami as fast as the ship can go. We are enjoying what we can while we can. Linda

  7. OMG! This is a scary nightmare! Being away from home, in the middle of a sea, on a ship and getting information once in a while about the pandemic…. I can’t imagine how scary it would have been for you. The ship went onwards, return & then again onwards and nowhere to land…. What???????? You are still onboard, cruising without knowing when or where you’ll land? What??? OMG! Take care Linda. Keep us updated.

    • Thanks Bhushavali, We are racing for Miami after going through the Panama Canal. Glad to know I have a confirmed flight. And hope that nothing changes before we arrive on Monday. Linda

  8. Hats off to your positive attitude amidst the uncertainty. So happy to know that the virus has reached the ship and all of you are well. You should certainly keep posting and keep us abreast about you all and the beautiful places that you have already visited.South America has always fascinated me and would love to know more about your experiences.

    • At some point we decided we could only worry about what we knew but not what we didn’t. We are in a great place to be stuck. And after clearing the Panama Canal yesterday we are heading to Miami and the next hurdle. Thanks for the feedback on continuing to publish. We do all need some distraction these days. Linda

  9. Although I am sorry for the uncertainties you are going through, it definitely has turned into one great adventure, ofcourse, thanks to not getting infected. You should definitely keep writing these posts as it gives an insider information as to how travellers like you are coping with such dramatic situations. Stay healthy and safe, and, wish you reach home soon!

    • Meenakshi, It has indeed been a great adventure. With lots of things learned that I am sure will feed into future travel planning. Thanks for saying we should keep publishing. We are happy to be past the Panama Canal and headed for Miami and our flight home to Toronto. Linda

  10. It is unfortunate how your adventure turned due to the Coronavirus crisis!
    We planned to travel 6 months in 2020 and all our plan were quickly forgotten as we got locked in France for an unknown period and it now seems unlikely we will be able to get the visa we require!

    It’s good to see your positivism! Best to keep writing so we can all us it to plan our next adventure whenever this is over.

    • We have also cancelled all of our plans for the coming year. We felt it was better than not worrying from month to month. Thanks for the feedback about continuing to post. We know we will be thinking a lot about travel when we finally make it back home. Linda

  11. Hello, we are living a similar experience. We are on the Celebrity Eclipse sailing to San Diego. We should arrive on March 30th. We were supposed to leave the ship on March 15th at San Antonio, Chile and then take the Air Canada flight Santiago-Toronto on March 16th. The Chilean gouvernement did not let us disembark. They finally agreed to let us go to Valparaiso on March 17 to get food, fuel and medication. We left Valparaiso on March 20 at 2:00 a.m. No COVID19 case on board so we are enjoying the ship and the activities. Celebrity is going to find flights for all passengers, even if we did not book our flights at first with them. The WIFI is excellent and free to all passengers. Also, as we read in the news, the Canadian government seems quite active in repatriating Canadian citizens. There are 450 Canadians on board and we are part of a 50-persons group from Voyages Traditours. There is also another group from CAA. I will let you know what happens when we arrive in San Diego, but at the moment, I can not complain.

    • L Dion, We would have been denied boarding at about the same time! I am sure our captain considered the west coast. But glad we raced for Miami. We are currently racing to Miami. Land on Mar 23 and should fly out to Toronto on that day. I hope all works well for your plans to get to port and home. Our time to get home felt so long. And yours is so much longer. Good think you have great WiFi so at least you are not cut off. Good luck on your return. Linda

  12. I never tried cruising and I wish to experience it! I always believe it gives a unique experience especially docking to many ports and exploring. And I agree that this pandemic of Covid19 is something scary and unexpected, something that I don’t want to experience while onboard.

    Anyway, that wouldn’t stop me to dream for more travel opportunities. I read many good travel story about cruising to South America, just like you did, and I reckon it is fabulous!

    • Blair, We love to cruise as a taste test to see new places. And then put them on the list for a longer return visit. Too many places are getting added. South America was indeed a great place to cruise. We especially loved the segment from Buenos Aires to Peru! Tons of blog posts to write. Linda

  13. I’m so glad that you got to enjoy your trip for the most part despite all of the craziness surrounding COVID-19. I feel like we know so much more now than we did even a few weeks ago. I can only imagine how in the beginning, things must have been very confusing and you probably faced a number of challenging emotions – especially due to lack of information about the virus with it being so new. I can only imagine how I would feel with new people coming and going from the ship. This step by step walk through of what you experienced is so interesting! What a unique story that you will ALWAYS remember!

    • Stephanie, We had the most amazing cruise around South America. And even the trip home through the Panama Canal was an added bonus. Hard to complain from a luxury cruise liner. But it was disconcerting to not know what was happening. It is a story we won’t forget.

  14. What a terrible story during the dream cruise! But it was an adventure for sure, too. Good that you are healthy! That’s the most important now! For us, pandemic interrupted the journey of our life. After 8 months of travel, we had to come back to Poland, and we are just quarantine. So, take care of yourself in these hard times. You have great memories. I think it’s still worth writing about travels, sharing memories, and tips. We must live hope that the situation will be controlled, the borders will be opened again and we will be able to travel soon! Take care and be safe!

    • Agnes, So sorry that your dream trip was interrupted. But at least you were able to get back and are healthy and safe. That is the part I will always remember. This too will pass. But we will have some reminders. Linda

  15. Holy crap, this is hell of a story and it continues to unfold! I can’t believe you guys are still out at sea–at least you’re a seasoned traveler who knows how to roll with the punches–even a Mike Tyson uppercut! Way to keep positive and not fret! Re: sharing travel stories, I think it’s really important to keep sharing–armchair travel has healing powers and that is now more important than ever as we are locked down! We need these reminders that the world is still a kind and beautiful place and that there is light at the end of this tunnel!

    • Mike, We have finally made it home. The blog post on our travels home and lessons learned will post soon. It was definitely a wild experience. One we won’t forget soon. Linda

  16. I don’t know whether this is really what you wanted to hear, but your story really had me on the edge of my chair! Wow! I hope you are safe now still and I also hope that this will be over soon. I really enjoyed your photos, depicting that “nice” part of your cruise. I hope you made incredible memories and that, one day soon, you will laugh at all the adventures. I think you should continue posting. In times like this, as Albus Dumbledore (I know, I am quoting a fictional character, bear with me) said: Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light! I believe your blog posts are that light! Keep safe!

    • Iulia, We certainly had a challenging end to our amazing South America cruise. We made some amazing memories. We are home now and the update will be posted soon. Thanks for supporting our continued posting. Linda

  17. What a crazy experience. It would have been so worrisome as the world started shutting down. Glad though that you got back ok. Hope you are also, self quarantining yourselves. Stay safe, As far as your question on new posts – I don’t see any harm in positing them. All of us can do with some armchair travel or virtual tours. Looking forward to seeing more of them now.

    • Ami, It was definitely good to get home. And we are indeed self quarantining. Even though we may be the healthiest people given how long we were stuck at sea. Spending the time working through so many pics and draft blog posts. Linda

  18. What a coincidence! I was in South America too around the same time. I was traveling to Peru, and was there from Feb 16 to Feb 28. I got out before they closed the borders, and i feel so lucky about it.

    I too was hesitant about posting about my travel, but then decided to just go ahead. God knows how long the Covid restrictions will be in place, and a little escapism never hurts.

    I need to know the end of your cruising story. What happened eventually?

    • Nish, It was a wild time as we got turned away from port after port. But once we knew we could get to Miami, a bit of the stress went away. And we were after all on a great cruise ship that had no infection. If you want to read more, there are two more follow on blogs (you can search “South America” or pick the “South America” category to find these). Linda

  19. Wow, what an adventure & it’s great that you remained so positive & that the staff were so professional throughout. I was travelling in the US when everything kicked off & the uncertainty of when & how I would get back ti the UK I believe has made me much more cautious to start travelling yet. I’m so glad you got to enjoy so much of this amazing continent beforehand. Now I want to read the next instalment!

    • Sue, It was indeed a fascinating time to be cruising. Things changed so much over our cruise. And we almost made it to our last port. But it too made us more aware of how challenging travelling will be during this pandemic. We won’t be the first ones booking international travel! Linda

  20. It sounds like you guys made good out of a bad situation. So many people freak out and scramble to make alternative plans. But if you remain calm and just go with the flow, you can always find a silver lining. I love how your cruise started out. I just added seeing pink dolphins in the amazon to my See Pink in Nature bucket list item because of you! Love your attitude and love for fun in Argentina, the Falkland Islands, and Chile. It stinks that Peru was a miss but you can always return for another fun time!

  21. I think we’ll all have some stories to tell where we’ve been when this madness began and how we went on. Nobody expected this, hence, neither of new what to do. I was in Argentina beginning of last year and since I had a bag cough, some fellow travellers asked jokingly whether I had been to Wuhan before coming to Patagonia. At that time, it was still a big joke to us. Two months later…..

    • Renata, It was lucky for both of us to be travelling in South America when the pandemic was in the early stages. We lucked out and almost got to finish all of our ports. Good thing you got to experience Patagonia before you went home … for a long haul! Linda

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