I was sitting in the aisle seat for 14 hours over the Pacific Ocesn yesterday and after they put the lights back on, was chatting with a lady who had been on the Pacific Princess with its 550 passengers on its Wolrd Voyage that was also cancelled abruptly.
We had quite an interesting conversation and when I have time, I will follow up with Cruise Specialists, Holland America and Carniva, the parent company who made the decision to cancel the cruise and force us all off the ship halfway around the wotld.
This couple live on Islamorada in the Florida Keys and are heading there to hopefully arrive today. She is a travel agent and said that they are closing down all the Keys to all non residents and look to closing all hotels and restaurants.
Her story is quite different from ours :
She said that Princess handled it all very well as compared to us and made very generous offers as well.
They, like us, boarded in January, but on their much smaller world cruise ship that usually sails out of Los Angeles and were going to go through the Suez canal I believe and were not going to Antarctica as we were.
They were in Freemantle 20 days ago and had a lovely day there onshore and then set sail for Ceylon and got there, at least to the port. They left for a leisurely 8 or 9 days for Ceylon, but were refused permission to disembark passengers so they filled up with gas, got on supplies and left going very slowly until they got word from the captain that their world cruise was cancelled at the same time, as ours was as we were approaching Darwin. They in all took 19 days to leave and return to Freemantle yexterday the 22nd.
But It was handled much better.
As soon as an announcement was made, there was a letter waiting in their rooms about it and also any further changes and promises unlike us where written notification were delayed.
With us, it sometimes took 2 entire days to tell the 1,113 passengers in writing what was happening so the ship dealt in rumours for the past 8 days. Rumours everywhere made the worry and sometimes panic worse.
We received our news and messages from the captain over the PA system and sometimes as on the 21st and 22nd with contradictory messages within an hour of each other. The captain did read us the letter from the Carnival president cancelling the cruise but we never got got a copy of this letter.
We had a message from the Holland America President about 3 days ago on our televisions saying how it was impossible to safely bring ANYONE home from Freemantle on the Amsterdam and learned YESTERDAY from a passenger on the Pacific Princess that 85 of its 550 passengers are sailing back from Frermantle while our ship is just leaving on the 23rd we ith the crew slowly for South Africa and then on to Fort Lauderdale for May 12th with some of vhf our luggage ! It is costing me $ 260 to send just one suitcase back to Can.ada as I did not believe that I could handle two big suitcases on the many flights.
The 550 Princess passengers were given free internet access as soon as the cruise was cancelled.
The Amsterdam passengers were only all given free internet access two days later as many did not have access at all without paying. I did get a rebate to my ship account for the unused days. ( We also received a credit on our account of $ 995. For the port charges for the 24 ports of the 48 that we are not going to get to)
The Princess passengers were given free transportation to their homes and the ship arranged it it all at the Pricess` expense no matter how the transportation was first arranged to the West coast and embarkation in January. Many passengers on both ships are not computer savvy.
When we heard through the grapevine that a petition was being organized to stay on the ship even though it meant no more ports, I went to the library to sign it at 10.00 P.M. and it was gone, so I went early to the front desk to add my name electronically and they said that there were 217 cabins on the list at 8.30 A.M. but not to expect to hear anything for 2 days as it was the weekend.
The Captain did come over the P.A. system later in the day to acknowledge our petition but that it would take a day or two to get an answer back but that his orders were to keep on going to Freemantle and deposit all passengers on the dock on March 24th, later changed to March 21st and 22nd and later changed again to March 21st, 22nd and 23rd.
The Amsterdam passengers were told that the ship would get them home by air and arrange their transportation home ONLY if they had booked their original flights to Fort Lauderdale via Holland America.
ALL the other Amsterdam passengers, and this was well over half the passengers, were told that it was completely up to them how to get home and only that we were arriving in Freemantle on the 24th and all passengers had and to get off that day as the ship was leaving with the crew on the 25th.
The company would reimburse those passenger for reasonable expenses up to $ 1,250
If we submitted them with proper documentation and were given a form in our staterooms which we would have to fill in and submit to Head Office with our receipts.
This caused a frantic attempt by many passengers to try to contact their travel agents over the weekend from the ship other side of the globe or try to attempt to make reservations themselves with very slow internet. Being the weekend and on the other side of the world meant that many passengers could not get even a reply for two days.
Any hotel reservations had to be made by the passengers themselves in Australia at various cities. Some passengers made reservations in Perth or Sydney as their flights were going on the 23, 24 or even the 28th. Some were going to stay for a week or more.
Some airlines and destination cities had shut down flights from Australia. passengers who had made reservations were getting e-mails saying their booked flights were cancelled and panic was setting in for many, as even Qantas was shutting down all flights out of Australia towards the end of the Month, which was narrowed down to March 29th and as of yesterday our Qantas pilot announced as we were flying over the Pacific that they were shutting down on the 24th.
Some of the elderly passengers did nothing until the captain finally announced on the 20th over the P.A. system that they would help those passengers make hotel and travel arrangements if they would go down to the excursion desk,
One first time world cruiser made her own first class reservation home to New Hamshire for over $ 7,000 for the 24th only to have to change them all when were told two days later that were arriving on the 22nd and all would have to be off the ship that day.
Another couple who live in Sitka, Alaska had to make their own reservations to get home at a cost of $ 2,500 each.
Another lady by herself living in Northern New York said she was worried about U.S. West coast airports being closed and made her reservation via South Africa to Kennedy at much more than $ 1,250.
One man from London thought the best way was by Dubai airport to London.
The worst case we heard of was of a 93 year old lady we know with her daughter living in Idaho who has a bad heart and who uses a walker all the time, who was told her doctor not to fly more 6 hours ever and was so worried that she actually went to Fort Lauderdale on the ship from Los Angeles in December.
Her flights to the U.S.A. were booked by her son in Canada was over 14 hours for the longest leg and she went to speak to Henk Mensick, the ship's hotel director, about this and was told by him that she should take a shorter flight ! She was dumbfounded at the comment and went away.
The insensitivity of this was just apaling to me.
Many passengers simply did nothing as some did not know how to do it and the ship did not offer any help at all until the 20th as we were approaching Frermantle. Some were just hoping that the company would relent and waited to hear about the results of their online petition before starting to panic.
The Princess passengers were given free shuttle service from their ship docked in Freemantle behind us to the airport in Perth.
The first thing the Amsterdam passengers were given was an order form for us to pay $ 59. for our shuttle which was quickly charged to out ship account on March 20th. It is not a lot of money but shows how Holland America treats its customers compared to Princess.
The biggest difference between the ships other than providing no help to their often very long time passengers was in the compensation offered for cancelling the cruise just before Darwin :
The Princess passengers were first offered in writing a prorated cash credit of their full fare from March 1st onwards which would amount to a little over half their fare PLUS a credit of 100 % of their cruise fare towards a future cruise.
This was later amended in writing to the same cash credit PLUS a credit of 125 % of their cruise fare towards a future cruise.
The Amsterdam passengers were offered by the captain over the P.A. system a choice of :
1) 50 % cash credit of our cruise cost and a credit of 50 % of their full cruise fare towards a future cruise.
2) No cash credit at all and a credit of 125 % of their full cruise fare towards a future cruise.
We had until Aptil 1st to decide. The letter confirming this was only finally delivered to our cabins two days after it was told to us over the P.A. system
The captain did come over the P.A. system to tell us that the company had decided to let us have until June 1st instead of April 1st to decide which offer to take. This change did not come to us in writing. We wonder if this credit is transferable to out heirs?
So the Princess deal is significantly better than the Amsterdam deal !
The captain kept on repeating that we had no option at all about staying on the ship.
EVERYONE had to get off the ship on March 24th Later on this was changed to March 21st or 22nd and later changed again to the 21st, 22nd and very early on the 23rd.
News came over the P.A. system to say that the government had suddenly decided that no one from our ship could stay in any Australian hotel and if they did, they could be fined $50,000. so the ship had cancelled all the hotel reservations that they had made for passengers flying later and that all the other passengers had to do the same asap. We could thus stay on the ship if we had to until early in the morning on the 23rd but could not go off the ship for any reason. Once we left the ship we had to take all of our belongings. We could not come back.
This caused a new absolute panic as many had booked hotels on their own and in fact had been at one point encouraged to do so even for a part day and there were a lot of flights leaving between 10.00 and 11.00 p.m. and others leaving at 5.00 A.M. We were shown where all the hotels were and normal rates etc etc.
People were trying to cancel desperately via slow or on down internet. If they had flights later, they had no idea what to do.
The captain came on later over the P..A. system that the Autralian government had relented and that we could again stay in hotels if we wanted to.
Many passengers just gave up. I know of one couple who were booked to fly to Sydney to stay there for 4 days before their flight over the Pacific home. Many got the dreaded e-mail from their airline cancelling their booked flight.
The people who could not fly were sort of told over the P..A. hat they might be taken care of somehow but the captain came on the P..A. system an hour later to say that many people people had rushed down to the doctor and even threatened her and for us not to go downtown the doctor except for a CD current emergency?
This P.A. call said that ALL passengers were going to be put off the ship no matter what their condition.
The Pacific Princess had a meeting of all 550 passengers and they could opt to stay on the ship as it returned via Hawaii to the West Coast. Many passengers could sign up to go back by ship and were called down one by one to the doctor and 81 of those were allowed to stay on the ship. Many more were not.
Plus another 2 couples who said that they had rented out their house until May and had nowhere to go until then, so they were allowed to stay as well. So the ship was due to sail with 85 of the 550 passengers. They were told that absolutely no one from the Amsterdam would be allowed to come to their ship.
Rumours abounded in the airport that some passengers from the Amsterdam were allowed to transfer to the Pacific Princess but I do not know if this is a fact ,
One passenger did say that every passenger from the Princess ship had to get off the ship for 5 hours with all of their luggage in the terminal on the 22nd but that the lucky 85 were allowed to reboard. this may be why we were delayed until 4 p.m. in anyone getting off the Amstedam. We were never told why.
There was an altercation when one passenger who was a lawyer on the Princess ship absolutely refused to get off the ship but was told that if he did not get off in 10 minutes they would call the police to remove him. He left. He said that he was going to launch a class action against Princess when he got home.
I do hope that all the Amsterdam passengers will all get home safely somehow and that our settlement is as good as that for the Pacific Princess as our distress and uncertainty over the future was a good deal worse. They were at least given a choice on how to get home.
Our passengers were left in the lurch especially those who were afraid of flying, let alone flying for 14 hours and all those with medical worries. There were a lot of passengers with many walkers, canes and motorized scooters on the Amsterdam where the average age has to be in the high seventies range going up to the high 90's. Many including myself took the cruise because it was returning to its home port and there would be minimal or no flying.