Port couple describe how dream cruise trip shattered


A once-in-a-lifetime cruise aboard the Vasco da Gama has turned the lives upside down of a Port Douglas couple who now cannot wait to return home.

Ron and Maggie Kelly, who booked their trip 18 months ago, would have returned from their voyage richer for the experience and with lasting memories.

Instead, the coronavirus put paid to an itinerary which was attractive and enticing to even the most seasoned traveller: after departing Melbourne on March 5, they boarded the Vasco da Gama in Singapore four days later and the plan was to travel to Penang and Phuket; through the Indian Ocean to Sri Lanka, India, Oman, Egypt, Jordan, through the Suez Canal to Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Sicily, Italy, France, Spain, Gibraltar, Morocco, Portugal and onto London.

“That was the plan. Maggie had misgivings about commencing the trip. By the time we were due to leave for Singapore, COVID-19 had started to spread from China. But, I was determined that we would be OK,” said Ron.

However, when the virus took hold, everyone on board was unsure of their fate. And finally on March 30, the passengers disembarked state-by-state off the coast of Western Australia. The West Australians were taken to Rottnest Island.

Ron and Maggie were taken to the Crown Metropol Hotel in Perth in a bus convoy with police escort for two weeks in quarantine, and this is their current location.

And here is their story.

“Before we left, we were eventually able to track down and purchase antiseptic wipes, gloves, antiseptic hand sanitiser and masks for protection.

“We departed Melbourne on March 5 and flew directly to Singapore. The airport seemed very quiet and there was not a lot of traffic around as we drove in our taxi to our hotel.

“Across the road from the hotel was a shopping centre with lots of little cafes, with a choice of Japanese, Chinese, Singaporean and Vietnamese food. There were many people about, but only a few wearing masks. Going into breakfast at the hotel, everyone had their temperature taken and every time we returned to the hotel, our temperature was taken.

“One morning we caught the underground train from a station under our hotel. The train wasn’t busy and again only a few people wore masks.

“We enjoyed a wonderful afternoon and evening at Gardens By the Bay, which was not at all crowded. By this time tourism had slowed in Singapore.

“On March 9 we boarded the Vasco da Gama and immediately found out that our itinerary had already changed as the Malaysian Government had denied entry to any ship that had been to Cambodia within 30 days: so no Penang.

“On March 11, we arrived in Phuket, but no-one was allowed to disembark. A passenger with bronchial pneumonia was taken off the ship and had to be tested for Coronavirus.

“The next day, the passenger’s test came back negative but a second test had to be done, so the ship had to sit in the harbour some way off shore for another five days. During this time we were informed that we would be returning to Australia.

“The ship’s captain had been negotiating with Vietnamese authorities as he wished to exchange passengers with another CMV ship, the Columbus, sending the English passengers on board our ship onto the Columbus, and we would get the Australians off Columbus.

“The Vasco da Gama would return to Australia. Denied access to Vietnam, we sailed 12 kms out to sea to await Columbus and on March 18, we went on deck to see the other ship some distance away. Luggage, provisions and passengers were moved between the two ships by tenders which took until 2pm, when we were finally underway back to Fremantle, Australia after nine days at sea.  

“Most passengers settled down to enjoy cruising back to Australia, knowing that there was no alternative as most ports around the world had shut their ports to cruise ships.

“We docked on March 27 in the evening; but at this stage had no further information. The next evening the Kiwis disembarked and were taken to the airport to fly home. A number of people were getting very angry as we could not get any information.

“Rumours were still flying around as to what was happening to everyone on board. Could we fly home? Would we be quarantined at Rottnest Island?!

“Eventually on March 30, we disembarked state-by-state. The WA passengers were taken to Rottnest Island and we were taken to the Crown Metropol Hotel in Perth in a bus convoy with police escort for two weeks in quarantine.

“At this stage we had not had a health check or our temperatures taken. We had been at sea for over three weeks and not had any illness on the ship. In fact the ship’s doctor said that he had never been on such a healthy cruise.

“Everywhere on the ship staff had hand sanitiser and we were constantly reminded to wash our hands for at least 20 seconds.

“Now, we are not allowed out of our rooms. Food is delivered three times per day and left on the floor outside our room and we are advised via a knock on the door. The food is outsourced and is very much like economy airline food, but without a choice. So even though we are in a five-star hotel with a magnificent view looking over the Swan River to the city, we are not enjoying a la carte menus.

“A change of linen and towels is delivered outside our door in blue plastic bags every three days and we replace the linen in the same bags and left outside the room. Our room rubbish is placed in black plastic bags and put outside the room.

“We received a phone call yesterday informing us that we are due to leave the hotel on April 13 and taken to the airport. More details are to follow. At this stage we have no control over our lives.

“We also had a phone call from a mental health nurse checking on how we are and if we need any help. We had heard on the grapevine that someone had been taken to hospital with mental issues.

“We spend each day very quietly, catching up with the news on TV in the morning. Then we like to put on a channel with video clips while we do some exercising or walking back and forth in the room.

“The days slip by as we catch up with friends on the phone or emails, reading, waiting for lunch, having a nap, watching a movie, or watching the outside world as people go past exercising by cycling, walking or water skiing.

“Maggie emailed the hotel manager suggesting that receiving our drinking water in 600ml plastic bottles three times per day, and thinking of how many people are in quarantine all over the country, perhaps it would be better to give the passengers a large cask or bottle of water at the beginning of their stay.

“Plus, being given plastic cutlery three times per day, could the hotel not supply the rooms with cutlery for their stay?

“The virus will eventually be contained, but in the meantime our environment is still being trashed. The hotel manager thanked us for the feedback and is looking at finding a contact within the system so a change could be made for the ongoing future.

“We are looking forward to the next step in our adventure, being able to return home to Port Douglas and eventually in the future, being able to enjoy activities with our friends once again.”  

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