If anyone told you that you were going to have an extra week added to your cruise, at no extra cost, you’d be delighted – in normal circumstances! However, if you think about the date we left on this cruise and what was happening globally with Covid-19, you might realise the extra week wasn’t all it might have been…..
We’d really been looking forward to a cruise around the Caribbean, and it was only by chance we chose this one in 2020, when we might easily have chosen a year or two later. The itinerary started in Barbados, sailing south to Tobago, westwards to Bonaire and Aruba, then back northwards to Grenada, St.Lucia, Antigua, St.Kitts, St.Maarten, Tortola, ending in La Romana in the Dominican Republic. With 11 ports in a two-week cruise, what more could we ask for?
We flew from Gatwick to Barbados on February 13th, when there was a tiny number of Covid cases in the UK. We weren’t tested at Gatwick, but had our temperature taken on arrival. That was the only test we had during the whole experience! We chose a balcony cabin on a high floor, which was quite comfortable overall although we found the bathroom rather cramped. We tried not to compare it too much with our cabin on the Spirit of Discovery, as basically it came nowhere near to the luxury of the new Saga ship. We were allocated a table in their main restaurant on a lower floor, contrary to our request, but did manage to swap to the smaller, quieter restaurant on the top floor, from where the views were marvellous! The food also was excellent! I’d recommend this to anyone on one of Fred’s cruises. Even those with limited mobility can easily get around these ships, as there are lifts at both ends and mostly flat floors thereafter.
Our voyage went very well and without a hitch. We chose to take shore excursions in some ports, but to explore independently in others. For us, the highlights were the visit to the forts on Tobago, the catamaran cruise to see the Pitons in St.Lucia, the stunning views in the south of Antigua and the visit to Nelson’s Dockyard there, the trip on the scenic railway in St.Kitts (although comfortable it wasn’t!), and the tour of dual-language island St.Maarten which ended with ice cream during a carousel ride! (Strange, but true!).
On board the ship, we found the entertainment very good, and all the staff we met very friendly and efficient. Overall, we thought the ship a little old-fashioned and somewhat ‘tired’, but that didn’t prevent us enjoying the trip. We were ready to get home, however, and to disembark on the final day in La Romana. What we didn’t realise was that the situation with Covid had become much worse during the fortnight we were away, and that some ports in the Caribbean were becoming wary of accepting cruise ships.
One of these was La Romana. We packed our cases, the ship docked, but nothing happened. They refused us entry, on the grounds that one or two of the crew had “flu-like symptoms”. There were no cases of Covid on board, but we were turned away, sailing to who knows where? Any port that would take us! That didn’t happen until three days later, back in St.Maarten, when two aircraft would be ready to fly us home. It’s easy to think how nice it would be to have an extension to your cruise, but we had been concerned about exactly WHERE we could get off and HOW we would get home. It was a relief to know we would finally get home from there!
We didn’t however. There weren’t enough places on the planes for everyone, and Fred Olsen passengers were given priority. We, having booked through Saga, were excluded, and had to remain on board and continue sailing around the Caribbean searching for another port that would accept us, and from where flights home could be arranged. This finally happened a few further days later, in Kingston Jamaica. It was a pity that what had been a very enjoyable two weeks’ cruise had ended in an extra very stressful week and we had never been so glad to get on the plane home. We were very disappointed in the treatment we had from Fred Olsen, who obviously had not made proper arrangements for ALL its customers, and how we had been penalised because we hadn’t booked directly with them. My advice to anyone cruising in the future is to book directly with the cruise line, or ensure there is a rep. from your company on board.
As a footnote, we flew back to Gatwick without any Covid testing at all, and got home to appreciate that there was by that time a world-wide pandemic and that, given what has since happened with cruises, we had been very lucky to squeeze in our trip, to have the extra week, and to get home when we finally did! Phew!!