Monthly Archives: February 2020

End of Cruise Part 2 FEB 14, 2020

We went to bed the evening of Feb 13th wondering how soon we would get our travel details to go home. We knew we had long flights ahead of us. 

At 5:45 AM on the morning of Feb 14th, we heard the dreaded DING DONG chimes. An announcement from the captain this early can’t be good news. But it was!! 

The captain apologized for the early morning announcement and said the Prime Minister of Cambodia was coming from Phnom Penh to welcome the first passengers disembarking and going home. The captain had a special request of us. He asked for all of us to go out on their balconies and ship decks to greet the Prime Minister. And of course it would be a nice touch for us to wear our Cambodian scarves they had given us. After what this man had been through, no one was going to deny his special request. 

A couple evenings earlier we had run into Captain Smit in the hallway and had a chance to personally thank him. Bill said he was our Captain Sully, a reference to the pilot who landed a plane in the Potomac River years ago. Captain Smit had spent so much time behind closed doors trying to find us a port, this was a rare sighting of him. We were so glad we had a chance to personally thank him. 

We quickly dressed and fortunately all we had to do was step out on our balcony. Already the Cambodian press was setting up cameras and microphones. Cambodian officials were setting up a red carpet and tables of flowers. IMG_20200214_062731

We saw the helicopter flying in and it landed right on the pier. The Prime Minister presented flowers to Captain Smit as well as other ship officers. You can see Captain Smit in this picture with his Cambodian scarf. (man with balding head and glasses)  IMG_20200214_063008_1IMG_20200214_065615EIMG_20200214_065615IMG_20200214_065906

Then the first passengers began to disembark and the Prime Minister presented each one with a flower and shook each hand. Some American press later reported this was all a photo opportunity for the Prime Minister and that he had given permission as a favor to China, a close political ally. We didn’t care! We were just thankful to be going home soon. IMG_20200214_070235

We watched enviously as the first passengers loaded the buses to the airport. Our neighbors in the cabin next door told us they had been awakened at 4:00 A.M. with their travel arrangements. They would be leaving at 9:00 A.M. 

Since we hadn’t received any travel arrangements we resolved ourselves to the idea we wouldn’t be going home that day and headed to breakfast. After breakfast we decided to walk around the deck for some exercise. At the last minute we decided to go back to our cabin. Five minutes later there was a knock at our door and it was our cabin steward hand delivering our travel arrangements. I could have kissed him! What a wonderful Valentine’s Day surprise! 

We had thirty minutes to get our luggage out in the hallway to be collected. Fortunately we were already pretty well packed. First we were told we would be on the 2:45 P.M. bus to the airport. Thirty minutes later we were told over the loud speakers our group disembarkation time had been changed to noon. We were going home! 

First we had to fill out a health questionnaire and get our temperature taken. Our group was then taken off the ship and put on buses. We sat on the bus for over an hour before we pulled away from the dock with a police escort. Here is a very helpful young lady who was with the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia checking on us as we sat on the bus. They were easily identified by their bright yellow hats. IMG_20200214_124453

It was about a 45 minute ride to the airport and on the way we got our first look at Sihanoukville. People waved at us as we passed by. We were so grateful to the Cambodian people, regardless of the motivation. IMG_20200214_131825IMG_20200214_131838IMG_20200214_132004IMG_20200214_132134IMG_20200214_132237IMG_20200214_132513IMG_20200214_132516

From the ship, in the distance Sihanoukville looked like a city with tall buildings and developments. We have since learned that over the past few years Chinese nationals flooded the tiny town building casinos and hotels. On August 18th the Cambodian Prime Minister issued a directive banning all online and arcade gambling to keep public order and maintain security. Since then 200,000 Chinese have left Cambodia with the vast majority leaving Sihanoukville. This has left the city with incomplete construction projects and abandoned buildings. Landlords have gone bankrupt and unemployment is rampant. As our bus drove through the center of town along unpaved, dirt streets, we got an up close view of the real Sihanoukville. How sad for these people. I thought about the 400 cases of beer and scarves gifted to us. I looked at the smiling faces of the people waving to us as we passed. I felt sad for them, and so very very grateful. IMG_20200214_132519IMG_20200214_132607IMG_20200214_132622IMG_20200214_132802IMG_20200214_132854IMG_20200214_134713

A hush fell over the bus as we pulled up to this small, third world airport. Our five buses of passengers crowded into the tiny terminal where we eventually managed to get checked in for our flight. After a wait of over an hour we boarded our flight on Malaysian Airways. IMG_20200214_135612IMG_20200214_135439IMG_20200214_142208

Now this is where it gets strange. We had been told everyone was flying by charter from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh. From there we would all board traditional commercial flights home. After a two hour flight we landed, a very rough skidding landing I might add. Bill turned on his phone GPS and said, “We are not in Phnom Penh, we are in Malaysia”. I proceeded to tell him his phone was wrong. Umm, no it wasn’t. We were in Kuala Lumpur International Airport Malaysia and not Cambodia. 

After departing the plane our temperatures were scanned by the local medical staff and we were escorted into a waiting area and left there. The first sign of trouble was when I heard someone say, “I don’t know why we are in this room but there is no way out”. The only way out was the door we had entered from, and that was closed and guarded.

After a while some airport officials came and said we hadn’t been cleared to enter the country and couldn’t leave the room. People started getting agitated because they were going to miss their connecting flights. At this point Bill and I weren’t too upset because we knew we had a thirteen hour layover and were supposed to be taken to a hotel for the night. We were in no danger of missing our connecting flight. Because we had come in on a chartered flight we were all supposed to go to the baggage area and get our luggage to check in for our next commercial flight. The airport officials told us we couldn’t leave and couldn’t go collect our baggage. 

Remember Susan, the nurse who helped the ill lady on the bus and stayed with her in the emergency room? Susan was in our group and stepped up again and took over. She called the ship and a number on a letter that had been given to us when we left the ship, just in case we had a problem. Now we had to wait to hear back to see what help was being sent. 

Bill and I started to worry when the airport officials started handing out blankets followed an hour later with a boxed meal. Inside was a small cup of apple juice and a small cup of water. Bill and I immediately decided to ration the water to be sure we had water to take our medication later. IMG_20200214_210920

The room was cold. We were tired. We were getting more and more apprehensive. The airport officials wanted us to turn over our passports. We all refused. 

We were in the room for four hours before Susan received word that the U.S. Consulate General to Malaysia would be there within an hour. At this point we were told we were being escorted to a better room or lounge. We trudged through the airport following the escort with our carry on luggage, blanket and boxed meal. We were herded onto a tram that took us to another part of the airport. We had no idea where they were taking us or why. 

We were taken to a much nicer airport lounge, similar to a Star Alliance Lounge, with hot food, cold drinks and nearby restrooms. But we still faced a long night sleeping in chairs. Not the hotel room we expected. We were not allowed to leave the lounge or collect our luggage. The airport officials told us they would “try” to get our luggage on our flights. Since we had a flight to Tokyo followed by a flight to Los Angeles, we didn’t have a lot of hope we would ever see our luggage again. 

The Consulate General and an aid arrived within the hour and we spent the night watching her work the phones to resolve the situation. Around 3:00 A.M. we were told someone would be there to get us at 5:00 A.M. to escort us to the gate for our 8:00 A.M. flight. Those who had missed their flight were stranded, awaiting details of possible new flights. 

At 5:00 A.M. we lined up but no one came to get us. Finally at 5:30 an airport official arrived and the Consulate General sent one of her assistant’s with us in case there were any problems. We told Susan goodbye. She was one of those who had missed her flight the previous night and was waiting for a new flight. 

At the airport check-in things were very disorganized with lots of red tape and waiting. The Kuala Lumpur International Airport is a pretty and modern airport but we did not have time to explore it. IMG_20200215_052609IMG_20200215_062703

But finally we were on the plane to Tokyo. We breathed big sighs of relief. 

Our flight to Tokyo left late which meant we almost had to run to make our connecting flight to Los Angeles. The airport was very busy and our large airplane was unloaded down stairs and then buses to take us to an internal airport entrance. Another big sigh of relief when we made that final flight to California. 

In Los Angeles as we stepped off the plane we were met by an airport representative holding a sign with our name. What now! 

He told us our luggage hadn’t made the connecting flight and would be sent on a flight the next day. We were thrilled they even knew where our luggage was! It was delivered to us three days later by Fed Ex to our campground in Yuma. 

We picked up our rental car and drove five hours home to Yuma, AZ where we had left our RV. From the time we boarded the bus at the ship to our arrival time at home, 46 hours of travel had passed, most of it without sleep. We were exhausted but so very happy and grateful to be home. 

Thank you for following along with us on this journey. I told Bill I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t lived it! 

On March 15th we will be leaving Yuma and beginning our 2020 U.S. travels. Can’t wait to share that with you! 

End of Cruise Part 1 FEB 10, 2020

After being turned away by the Philippines and Taiwan governments, we headed toward Japan. We still had five ports in Japan and one in South Korea for the cruise. At this point we felt it was unlikely Japan would let us in, and sure enough the next day the captain announced we had been denied entry by both countries. Holland America had no choice but to terminate the cruise early. IMG_20200207_191310

The captain said the ship would open up the ship to shore phone lines and internet would be provided free to all passengers. Bill immediately began the chore of contacting our airline to cancel our flight out of Tokyo. With everyone trying to do the same thing, it took hours to get a free phone line. Another complication was the twelve hour time difference 3 P.M. on the ship and 3 A.M. in the US.

The captain said the home office in Seattle was working 24/7 to get this resolved and everyone safely home. The ship, which had been steaming toward Japan hours earlier, came to a stop in the South China Sea, waiting for instructions. Passengers were very disappointed but more concerned about the next steps. IMG_20200208_190337

Meanwhile the wonderful hardworking staff and crew continued to work hard to make our final days on the ship as comfortable and fun as possible. An open bar Happy Hour with appetizers was provided one day, a “Chocolate Surprise” Happy Hour another day. IMG_20200128_180649_MPIMG_20200128_180605

Speaking of the crew, 70% of the crew are Filipino. They keep our cabins clean, serve our meals, cook our food and do maintenance on the ship. They work an eight month contract. During that time they are away from their families. They were all so excited at the prospect of visiting with family the one day we were due in Manila. When the port was canceled, so was this opportunity. Some had newborn daughters and sons they were planning to see for the first time. Yes, we were disappointed to miss Manila. But can you imagine their disappointment. Our hearts broke for them. In spite of all this they put on a planned show for us one evening. IMG_20200209_150006IMG_20200209_151400IMG_20200209_151729IMG_20200209_151732IMG_20200209_153927

Another evening the Indonesian crew put on a wonderful show. Our favorite dining room waiter, Zacky, is seen performing here, second from the right, wearing a vest. IMG_20200210_231648IMG_20200210_231706IMG_20200210_232004

A few days went by and we were given the encouraging news there were two promising ports where we could disembark and fly home. We were told the US government and US Navy were working to get us home. A low point for us was when we learned Guam had denied us entry. Guam, a US territory refused to help us. Wow. But we still had those two promising ports according to the captain.  This picture taken of our in-room tv shows we were close to the south end of Vietnam and the captain had not revealed what two possible countries would let us disembark. IMG_20200210_121204IMG_20200206_114856

Another day went by and the captain announced that we would be docking in Thailand. We would be taken by bus to Bangkok for our flights home. The captain said for everyone to immediately begin making flight arrangements as we would be in Thailand in two days. Bill had to wait a couple hours for a phone line for this, our third flight change, all with different airlines. Earlier when he had changed the flight from Shanghai to Tokyo, some airlines quoted a price four times what we had paid to fly from Shanghai. He managed to get a flight for two and a half times as much and we were grateful.  Now we had to book a flight from Bangkok at last minute pricing. He was able to get a flight for about the same price as the Tokyo flight. The new Bangkok flight had a 24 hour free cancellation. Hopefully we wouldn’t need it. 

The next day we were relaxing in our cabin when the captain announced that a Thailand warship was “escorting” us to a naval base and there was nothing to be alarmed about. It was right outside our balcony and sure looked ominous. Rumor among the passengers was we were being escorted to the base to only receive humanitarian aid of food, water and fuel. At this point we had a couple hours left on our free airplane ticket cancellation. I think you know where this is going. IMG_20200212 EFFECTS

We went to dinner and an hour after our free cancellation time frame ended, we heard the dreaded chimes. The captain announced Thailand refused us entry. All plans are off. We later learned that Thailand did not offer humanitarian aid. According to Thailand, our ship had never received permission to enter the Bay of Thailand. This was our second low point. It must have been incredibly frustrating for the captain and Holland America. Permission granted one minute can be swiftly snatched away the next. We had been following news reports on the TV and internet and had heard the Westerdam being referred to as a ghost ship or a pariah. Great, just great. IMG_20200212_191512

At this point the captain said they were still waiting on the second promising port AND Holland America would make and pay for everyone’s flight home. That was a huge relief because the credit card charges for flights made and canceled were piling up, not to mention the stress of trying to get a phone line. But first Bill still had to cancel the Thailand flight. 

Days passed with no news. It was a good thing the carpets in the elevators told us the day because one day blended into another. IMG_20200212_203701

We passed the time on the ship with ship lectures and entertainment. A favorite of ours was a young lady and man who played dueling pianos and sang. One night they sang John Denver’s “Leaving On A Jet Plane” and everyone cheered. One day they played “What a Wonderful World” and when they “sang of trees of green, red roses too” I felt choked up. We all wanted to go home. 

The Westerdam crew continued to work hard with cheerful smiling faces. Each evening at dinner the last week we were greeted with complimentary wine or champagne. 

Now you are probably wondering what happened with all those airline charges and if we ran out of food on the ship. Out of the three airlines, two gave us a full refund. The other airline, Delta, would only give us a voucher for future travel. Bill has asked them to reconsider and is waiting to hear back. One airline charged us a change fee which Holland America will reimburse us. We actually came out ahead because Holland America paid for our flight home. But for awhile there we had a pretty scary credit card balance! 

We did not run out of food. Well actually they ran out of ketchup, soy sauce, lemonade and honey. We could live with that. 

After wandering at sea for ten days, good news finally arrived in the form of Cambodia. They would allow us entry. We would arrive at the port of Laem Chabang outside of Sihanoukville where we would be taken by bus to the local airport for a charter flight. We had all guessed the mystery port was in Vietnam. We were wrong. 

The captain announced we would be arriving late the next day with the first passengers disembarking the following day. That evening all the staff and crew crowded the main stage to say farewell. All the passengers gave them a standing ovation and plenty of cheers that went on and on. There was no doubt how everyone felt about all of them. IMG_20200212_104047IMG_20200213_170112

The next evening we arrived in the port of Laem Chabang, and land never looked more beautiful. After dinner we were walking the deck and saw a white van pull up next to the ship. After a conversation with ship security, four young men hopped out of the van and unloaded 400 cases of Angkor, a Cambodian beer, a gift to the ship. Yes, 400 cases! Some other people brought bags of Cambodian scarves, another gift to the passengers. Later that evening two scarves were delivered to our room by our cabin steward. We don’t know what happened to the 400 cases of beer but we are hoping all the staff and crew enjoyed them after all the passengers departed the ship. IMG_20200213_192657IMG_20200213_193424

We were so anxious to find out our travel details. We had been warned it could take two or three days for the Seattle home office to make flight arrangements for over a thousand passengers who were flying home to destinations around the world. Complicating matters was the remoteness of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. We went to bed wondering, is tomorrow the day we are finally going home?? 

At 5:45 A.M. the next morning we heard the all too familiar dreaded DING DONG chimes. 

To be continued…. 


Kaohsiung, Taiwan FEB 4, 2020

And so the trouble began… . When we left Hong Kong we were scheduled to visit Manila in the Philippines. We sailed south all night and all the next day. Still in the South China Sea, the seas were very rough during the day. The dishes were clattering on the tables in the dining room at breakfast. Bill was fine but I had to double my motion sickness medication. People were getting seasick medication at Guest Services. I spent the day lying on the bed trying to sleep and ignore my queasy stomach. I started to feel better at dinnertime as the seas calmed. 

In the afternoon everyone had to report to the main stage to have our temperatures taken, a requirement of the Philippines government. Everyone passed and we were all set. We were looking forward to our private excursion the next day which was a tour titled “Manila: Old and New”. 

Just as we sat down to dinner, we heard the ship-wide DING DONG chimes which always announced the captain was about to speak. Usually we heard the chimes daily at noon as the captain announced our current location, speed and weather conditions. But this time it was not a weather report. It was bad news. In the days ahead we would come to dread those ding dong chimes!

This time the captain announced the president of the Philippines had denied us admission into the country. The denial was because the ship had docked in Hong Kong and was now “compromised”. 

The captain cheerfully announced he had secured a berth for the ship at a new port in Hualien Taiwan and we would enjoy two days there. The ship turned away from the Philippines and headed north towards Hualien. IMG_20200203_123317

Once again we sailed all night and day. The next night just before dinner we heard once again the dreaded chimes. The captain announced that Hualien had denied us entry because it was a very small port and they were ill-equipped to handle the necessary screening. We were now sailing to Kaohsiung, Taiwan where the captain had secured a berth for two nights. Originally the cruise was to stay nine hours at this port. At this point Bill and I started calling it “The Cruise to Nowhere”. 

The next morning we docked in Kaohsiung, which is Taiwan’s largest port and second largest city. Every passenger had to pass through Immigration and a temperature check. We made it through immigration and headed out to explore Kaohsiung. It was good to be on land again! IMG_20200204_104609

We had become acquainted with a very nice couple on the ship and we decided the four of us would explore the area together. We started walking and must have looked a little confused or lost because a lovely family enjoying the nice weather asked if we needed help. IMG_20200204_125351

After some discussion they suggested we take a taxi to the Dream Mall. Opened in 2007, it is the largest shopping mall in Taiwan and the 15th largest in East Asia. 

But first we walked to a nearby pier shopping complex, mainly looking for souvenirs. We did find some Chinese knock off Lego kits of American attractions. IMG_20200204_130615IMG_20200204_130622

Finding no souvenirs, we stopped at the information desk to see if they could exchange our large Taiwan dollars for smaller bills to pay for the taxi. After finishing that business we asked where to get a taxi. One of the workers called a taxi, walked us to the taxi pickup location and told the driver where we wanted to go. Very nice! IMG_20200204_151218IMG_20200204_151236IMG_20200204_151504IMG_20200204_134757

The seven floor mall was huge and we discovered malls around the world are pretty much all alike. The curved and automated entrance doors were pretty cool. IMG_20200204_144022IMG_20200204_144023

We walked around for a couple hours, finding no souvenirs and after stopping in several pharmacies we found no masks or hand sanitizer. We were so glad we had brought both from home.  And of course no visit is complete without a stop at McDonald’s in the mall for an Oreo McFlurry. The $55 Taiwan price was equal to $1.83 US. IMG_20200204_143618

Directly next to where the ship was parked was a carnival. We enjoyed seeing the colorful lights from the rides at night. IMG_20200204_153058IMG_20200204_205020IMG_20200204_205034IMG_20200205_134858

The next day we had booked an excursion in Kaohsiung to visit a large Buddhist Monastery. About 4:30 A.M. I got up to use the bathroom and noticed a letter had been slipped under our cabin door.  A letter arriving in the middle of the night probably wasn’t good news, and it wasn’t. The letter announced that the Taiwan officials had held an emergency meeting and decided we were not going to be allowed off the ship the second day. All excursions were canceled. IMG_20200205_134903IMG_20200205_134903aIMG_20200205_134911

At breakfast the dreaded ding dong chimes brought the announcement that we were also not welcome at our next port, Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. The captain said we would continue on to Ishigaki, Japan. At this point we could all see the writing on the wall. A hush fell over the ship. Little did we know how difficult the days ahead would become. 

Next up: A ship with no home!

Hong Kong, FEB 1, 2020

Originally we were supposed to be in Hong Kong for two days. Due to the corona virus and the fact that many tourist attractions were closed, the Holland America corporate office in Seattle made the decision to only be in port for one day, arriving at 6:00 A.M. and leaving at 5:00. I think the main reason Holland America stopped in Hong Kong was because some passengers were due to get off. They had only booked two weeks of the voyage. We also picked up passengers who were doing the final two weeks of the cruise. Our thirty day cruise was really two contiguous 15 day cruises. 

We got up earlier than usual to see the sail in to Hong Kong. The cruise ship terminal is on the mainland area known as Kowloon. Our excursion today is located on Hong Kong Island and is accessed by a tunnel under the harbor. IMG_20200201_060926IMG_20200201_060843IMG_20200201_072734IMG_20200201_111918IMG_20200201_113247IMG_20200201_160015_MPIMG_20200201_150127

While some were leaving the ship and new passengers embarking, we took a Holland America excursion in Hong Kong. Wearing our masks, we took the 45 minute bus ride from the pier into Hong Kong. Also included in the cost of the excursion was a ticket on the Hop On Hop Off bus, and transportation back to the ship. IMG_20200201_085356IMG_20200201_085932_MPIMG_20200201_085957_1_MPIMG_20200201_091404IMG_20200201_101005IMG_20200201_101047

We had heard so many things about Hong Kong and our expectations were high. We expected something similar to Singapore. We were sorely disappointed. We have ridden Hop On Hop Off buses in many places, including Singapore and many large cities throughout the United States. This was the worst Hop On Hop Off bus we have ever taken. Usually you hop on a bus, hop off when you want and then can catch another bus after a short wait. The Hong Kong buses ran a route and then waited 45 minutes before running the route again. We struggled to even find the stops and once we missed a stop we had to ride to the end of the line and wait 45 minutes to ride the route again. And it was miserably cold on the upper deck! In retrospect there were very few people moving around the city so The Hop On buses may have been on a reduced schedule for this reason. The big buses were empty except for cruise passengers. IMG_20200201_105631IMG_20200201_112457IMG_20200201_112806IMG_20200201_112833IMG_20200201_115152IMG_20200201_115207IMG_20200201_115322

Right before we arrived in Hong Kong the captain announced that because of the corona virus we would not be ending the cruise in Shanghai mainland China as planned. Instead we would be flying home from Tokyo. Bill spent part of his time in Hong Kong on the phone with American Airlines trying to change our flight. Little did we know it would be the first of many flight changes in the days to come. 

We got off and walked to the Hard Rock Cafe so Bill could add to his Hard Rock t-shirt collection. We stopped in several pharmacies looking for more hand sanitizer but every store was out of stock. At one little marketplace a woman was charging over $6 US for one of those tiny purse size bottles. I left in disgust. I had three bottles on the ship, I didn’t need it that bad. IMG_20200201_134201IMG_20200201_132132_MP

Hong Kong has many public toilets throughout the area. You had a choice between a toilet with a seat or a squat no seat stall. IMG_20200201_091301IMG_20200201_130421IMG_20200201_103735IMG_20200201_115833IMG_20200201_115834_MPIMG_20200201_130401


The largest Man Mo Temple in Hong Kong, built in 1847


From 1904 The Hong Kong Tramway Company Runs All Electric

The city was dirty with trash everywhere. I kept thinking how this would never be tolerated in Singapore.

There was a lot of Hong Kong we didn’t get to see. We didn’t have time to ride the Green or the Blue Lines of the Hop On Hop Off buses because we had to meet our bus back to the ship at 3:30. Between hunting for bus stops, waiting for buses, eating lunch, being on hold with American Airlines and looking for hand sanitizer, the day passed quickly and before long it was time to head back to the ship. On the positive side we saw absolutely no protesters even though it was a Saturday. Before leaving the United States we had worried a little about the Hong Kong protests which had been reported constantly on the news. Little did we know it would be a virus and not protests that impacted our visit. IMG_20200201_131230IMG_20200201_131240_MP

We may visit Hong Kong again but it is not high on our list of places to return. 

Next up: A stop in Taiwan and the beginning of the end.