By Tom Blake

It’s hard to feel upbeat during this COVID-19 health crisis, with so much alarming news, and knowing that so many people are suffering.

And yet, my partner, Greta, and I feel blessed, because we know our situation could have been worse. Much worse.

How so? We love to travel. More specifically, we love to travel on cruise ships. Our adopted cruise ship company is the Holland America Line (HAL). All the cruises we’ve taken have been on HAL vessels, except one Viking river cruise and one short Princess ocean cruise.

On HAL, we’re what are called four-star mariners, which means we’ve logged a lot of sea days (245) on multiple ocean cruises.

When you spend an extended time on a cruise ship, you start to feel the ship is your friend. You trust it. You trust the captain and the crew. When a cruise ends, and you say goodbye to the crew, there’s a tug on your heart, because they’ve become your friends, and you realize you probably won’t see them again.

One of the HAL ships that feels like home to us is the MS Rotterdam. In 2010, we rode her from San Diego to Lima, Peru and back over 30 days, stopping in several ports along the way.

The MS Rotterdam anchored off of Lerwick, Scotland in September 2019. Photo: Tom Blake

In 2013, we boarded the Rotterdam again, this time for 32 days, cruising from Amsterdam to the Canary Islands, back to Amsterdam, and then to Russia, Estonia and Sweden.

Our third trip on the Rotterdam was last August, from Amsterdam to Iceland, Greenland and Scotland for 22 days.

Other HAL ships we’ve taken included the MS Zaandam in 2017, for 34 days, from San Diego, around South America to Rio. 

In 2018, we were on the MS Amsterdam, the Rotterdam’s sister ship, for 82 days, a round trip from Los Angeles throughout the Far East and back. We visited 34 ports, three of which were in China, including a visit to the Great Wall of China. We traveled on trains and buses in Shanghai, mingling with hundreds, if not thousands, of Chinese citizens.

As the COVID-19 crisis started to evolve, Greta and I watched closely about what was happening with cruise ships. We visualized passengers being quarantined to 392-square-foot staterooms, some with no windows. Ships in all parts of the world were being affected.

We were saddened to hear that the Zaandam was not allowed to stop in a port in Chile because COVID-19 had infected passengers. Four died. The Zaandam made its way to the Panama Canal, but then wasn’t allowed to transit through to get back to Florida—too many sick passengers on board.

And then, our old pal, the Rotterdam, was sent to assist the Zaandam off the Panamanian coast. Oh, my gosh, there they were—two Holland America ships that had been home to us for a combined total of 118 days—caught in the heart of the virus outbreak.

When we saw those two ships together, we looked at each other, saying, “It could have been us.”

Thankfully, the Zaandam and Rotterdam were finally allowed to traverse the Panama Canal, and received permission to dock in Port Everglades, Florida.

Greta and I have always been impressed with how careful HAL has been with sanitation. Hand sanitizers placed throughout the ship. Constant reminders to wash hands. Staying in your stateroom if sick. Spraying passengers’ hands when leaving and returning to the gangplank. They are perfectionists for health; we always appreciated the crew going that extra mile.

Travel agents have been crushed by COVID-19. Airline travel, down 96%. Hotels, 80% empty. Cruises on hold. When things get back to normal, give them a call. They will be anxious to return to work, as the rest of the world will be.

Greta and I will be traveling again someday, and we’ll be cruising. We hope all of you will give your travel agents the green light to book you on a trip—maybe even a cruise. Trust me, the cruise ship companies will ensure those sea-going beauties will be sanitized from bow to stern and back again. 

Tom Blake is a retired Dana Point business owner and resident who has authored books on middle-aged dating. See his website at findingloveafter50.com. To comment: tompblake@gmail.com.

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