Tom and Marilyn Schuck had plans for sightseeing and spending time with friends on their cruise in southeast Asia, but fears over the Covid-19, the new coronavirus, threw a wrench into the plans and they ended up having their cruise cancelled.
The first part of the cruise on the MS Westerdam, from Jan. 15 until Feb. 1, went well without any problems or incidents as they visited Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Hong Kong.
The problems began when about 800 passengers disembarked in Hong Kong, and they took on new ones there, which caused the port in Manila in the Philippines to refuse entry two days later. The ship had sailed most of the way to the Philippines when word came they would not allow the Westerdam to dock due to the ship taking on passengers at Hong Kong.
The refusal was based on the coronavirus, even though no one on the ship had contracted the illness. The first death due to coronavirus outside of China had occurred in Manila, and the government moved to bar any travelers from China, Hong Kong or Macau.
This threw a wrench into the Schucks’ plans, as they had made arrangements with friends to give them a tour of Manila once they reached there, said Tom, who also noted a number of the crew members were Filipino and had also made plans to see family when the ship docked there.
This rejection of the ship was the first of five ports that turned away the Westerdam, in spite of the fact that none of the over 2,200 passengers and crew had the virus, which was confirmed by screening carried out once the passengers were finally able to disembark.
The other ports which refused entry included Hualien, Taiwan, which moved them on to Kaohsiung, Taiwan. They spent one night there and were then ordered to leave, and were not allowed to dock at Taipei.
They were then refused entry to Ishigaki Island, Japan, Guam, and then Bangkok, Thailand, where the Schucks had tickets to fly home — but Bangkok became the final port to refuse the ship entry.
Finally they were allowed to dock at Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The Prime Minister of Cambodia paid a visit to the cruise ship, giving gifts of scarves to every passenger, a visit that the Schucks missed as they were catching up on sleep before their scheduled departure off the ship.
The missed stop in Taiwan ruined another plan for the Schucks, as they had made plans to visit with last year’s Rotary exchange student, Vivian Huang, in Taiwan, and she was going to give them a tour of Taipei.
“After Taiwan, they were just looking for a place to dock so we could fly home,” said Tom, noting that the ship’s captain had announced the cruise was cancelled after the second port denied them the right to dock.
The fun continued on shore, as the Schucks were put on a bus at Sihanoukville to their regional airport, where a chartered plane then flew them to Phnom Penh to catch their flight home to Canada.
“When we went on the bus, there were people out taking our pictures, and there were all these guys in uniform. They were really trying to impress us,” said Tom.
The first flight they were booked for was to take them to Shanghai then to Toronto and Regina, but Canada cancelled the flights from China, and their tickets were not recognized when they got to the airport.
The couple then had to be put up in a hotel along with seven other couples, paid for by Holland America. The next day they were bused to the airport, but they took the couples on the wrong day, so another night in the hotel was needed.
After getting a test for the coronavirus by medical staff, they were eventually able to get on a flight with a night departure on Feb. 17, and they flew to Seoul, South Korea, where a flight went over the Arctic ice cap and down to Toronto. They had a four-hour wait there before taking a three-and-a-half hour flight back to Regina on Feb. 18, a total of about 45 hours.
At first, the Schucks had to self-isolate themselves at home because one woman had apparently tested positive for the virus in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. After she was retested, however, the results were negative, and the Schucks were informed on Friday they no longer had to self-isolate themselves, and everyone from the ship was cleared.
Looking back on their experience, their life on board the Westerdam was very comfortable with plenty to see and do every day. The main disappointment of the vacation were the cancelled plans in Taiwan and Manila, along with any other opportunities for sightseeing they were hoping for.
The Schucks had been able to spend some of their time with a couple from Calgary that Tom had attended university with. The couple had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year, and on August 29, the Schucks will be marking their own 50th anniversary, so this cruise vacation was in part a celebration of that milestone.
“We really didn’t sign up for all this extra stuff, but we’re glad to be home, and in good health,” said Marilyn.
“It was all enjoyable,” added Tom. “I only realized it was more serious when we were told about the lady who had tested positive in Kuala Lumpur, and I thought what would’ve happened if that lady really had the coronavirus?”