Oceania Travel

Cruise Ships Turned Away From Ports

Cruise Ships Turned Away From Ports is part 4 of an ongoing series on my cruise to nowhere.

Read Part 1 here: Cruisenecks

And read Part 2 here: Cannibal Isles

And read Part 3 here: The Doldrums

This time, much of the ship knows that we are not, in fact, heading back to Fiji. Not only have people become more aware of our navigation, but our ship has hit the press. The press contacts me, and myself and a few other passengers become ship celebrities with the news, reporting each change. By the time passengers are told we’re not going to be allowed at port in Fiji, this news has already been published in the press.

This is the one time I try to hold a fire under the Cruise line. I take the article and show it to the front desk agent. It becomes clear that she hasn’t heard, and I realize that unless I find my way to Cruise Director Dan or the captain, it’s useless.

Over the next few days I see Cruise Director Dan a few times. He’s surrounded by people and looking haggard.

His job was to announce bingo and exercise classes, not to wrangle 1800 angry passengers aboard a ship with no destination.

The announcement comes on while I’m accompanying my partner in the free internet line, because he has far more patience than I do. The cruise line caps the internet time. We’re also allowed to use the phones for brief calls. The gating of connectivity chafes in this modern era. It’s enough to be a cruise ship turned away from ports in this day and age of satellites, but being without full connection in this day and age of satellites seems like cruelty.

We’re told we are heading to Tauranga, New Zealand. I send a message to my Auckland friends and they tell me I’m welcome for as long as I want.

Then the logic sinks in. We’ve been refused at port at Suva, Fiji, where we just docked days ago. We haven’t been to any other port since. How could we bring them SARS-CoV-2? Fijians are perhaps not the most logical of people.

The captain regularly reassures us that there not only is no SARS-CoV-2 – but that there are NO viruses on board. He says that in all his sailings, he’s never seen such a thing. Chalks it up to the sanitation measures that we’ve been taking. 

I wonder about Cunard Cough. Sadly named after the cruise line where it apparently was most prevalent, it is, depending on who you ask, either a reaction to 24/7 air conditioning that occurs on cruise lines, or a virus. It is true that I have not seen or heard anyone coughing or sick, other than the smokers’ coughs at the US road themed smokers bar on the pool deck.

One day I’m walking through the dining area and someone projectile vomits across half the room. It covers the floor. Luckily I’m out of range. I freeze and turn around, and squeeze my way through the wall of Indonesian and Filipino dining hall employees running to take care of it. I find myself taking detours around that section of the dining hall from then on.

Along we go on our merry way. The next day we’re told we will be heading to Auckland, not Tauranga.

I contact my NZ friends again and let them know how much easier it will be for me to get there. We all cheer.

It’s fewer than twelve hours before we’re told we will not, in fact, be able to land at New Zealand. For a moment there’s talk of heading to Australia, but that fizzles out. Looking back on this today I am so grateful. By the flip of a coin I was saved from isolation on these South Pacific islands. Had we landed, I wouldn’t have been able to leave for years. As I write this, Australia has locked its borders down again, slammed them with yet another wave of the virus of the day.

The ship slows. Drifts. 

We have no destination. We are a cruise ship turned away from ports.

I take this time to learn some beginning Tagalog, as there’s a cool Filipino woman leading a two part class series on it. I tape the phrases to my stateroom walls – now thoroughly decorated with photos and collage – and practice them whenever I go to the dining hall. They heap special favors on me. I get extra arugula. The crew begins to address me by name. 

The ship powers up and begins heading Northeast, but no announcements let us know what’s going on until the next day. 

We need fuel. We’re heading to American Samoa to get some. They will let us into port and fuel us, but we cannot disembark. 

Walking back from my Tagalog lesson I see a group of Italians sobbing in the corner of the hall near the casino. The virus is tearing through Italy currently, and they’ve received the news.

To me, though, it seems like the majority of passengers are having a grand old time. It’s sunk in for most of us that the rest of the world is in death and danger from a brand new virus, and that by comparison being a cruise ship turned away from ports with no way to contract the virus is a pretty good time. There is a lot of drinking. I don’t participate. 

I’m running out of weed.

I roll the last joints I have and realize I won’t get through another day. Instead of saving them, I smoke them all in a row just before sunset and find a deck chair on the top deck that the Cruisenecks haven’t reserved. I pull it over to the edge of the ship and lie down, watching the water, the sun, the clouds, and the colors for a few hours.

Being on a cruise ship turned away from ports isn’t so bad.

I watch the crew talent show, which includes an amazing performance by the flamboyant Thai creator of “washy washy” doing Thai traditional dance. 

I watch movies in the theater. Almost all the cinemas in the world have closed. People are locked in at home. And here we are watching movies in crowded theaters. Dancing. 

Cruise Ships Turned Away From Ports

I deeply breathe in the sea air. Life has radically transformed on land. That this may be the last time I ever am able to do this.


My partner and I sometimes laze about in bed watching BowCam, which is now the only original content on the TV. We’ve seen all the other movies in their programming lineup. During the day BowCam is in color. At night, it is black and white.

It’s another day to American Samoa and I am out of weed. I drink kava and take a napkin folding class. Where else does one learn to fold napkins?

The term “new normal” is being bandied about on land. To me it mostly refers to the surreality of sanitation theater, but it also casts light on all our “normal” behaviors. Nothing is “normal”. It’s just as normal as anything else, taking a napkin folding class aboard a ship with no destination.

The sight of land for the first time in a week is shocking. I have never been to American Samoa. I have Samoan friends who have told me tales.

As we pull in to the distinctly shaped island, I feel sadness. I’d love to visit Apia. 

Not only are we not allowed to disembark, the dockworkers are wearing masks. They pull us in as usual, but the sight of them out there, masked, shows me that in the past week the world has transformed. Because I am one of the spokespeople from the ship who is updating the outside world, a “celeb” of cruise ships turned away from ports, Samoans have contacted me online in fear, saying they don’t want this ship full of the virus in their port. No one believes we don’t have it on board. We don’t.

We sit at port for a day and night. Law enforcement is stationed there the entire time. We can even see them on BowCam. They are there 24 hours a day, awake, and watching for anyone that, I don’t know, tries to jump off of the ship? Seems a long dive.

During this time, Cruise Director Dan announces various informative presentations on future cruises. Yes. We are a cruise ship turned away from ports, all cruises in the world have been canceled, and yet still the cruise line is having sales events to advertise and sell future cruises. What’s more amazing? People attend these workshops. People buy cruises. Denial runs deeper than the Pacific Ocean.

I run out of things to do with my time.

I take photos of all the carpet designs on ship, which is a favorite activity of mine in places with tacky carpets. The hallways’ carpets indicate the direction of the ship, they have a school of fish design on them all swimming in the direction that the ship is going.

Passengers speculate on where the ship will go next. The only port that legally has to take us is the port to which the ship is flagged, which in this case is the Bahamas. This would mean a trip through the Panama Canal. Part of me wishes for it, it would be amazing. Another part of me is anxious about the time I am missing from work, and knows that if we took that trip it would take months and I wouldn’t have a job anymore.

It’s finally announced we will be heading for Honolulu, Hawaii.

I smile to myself. I do not want to go to Hawaii, however, of course a cruise ship turned away from ports will be saved by my own country, the United States of America. The ship pulls away from port. Saying goodbye to land again is easier than I thought it would be. I find myself yearning for the open ocean.

I use my ridiculously expensive internet time to peruse news. We are not the only ship heading to Honolulu. There is another ship on another line that is a few days ahead of us. This news travels quickly around the ship. Will they let them into port?

The kitchen has run out of arugula.

I’m certain there are other things we have run out of, but this is the only one I care about. I think back to Obama’s arugula gaffe with the Iowa farmers. I wonder at all the meetings that must be occurring in the “crew only” sections of the ship. How to feed 1800 people on dwindling supplies. I talk to my crew friends and they tell me that the crew food is bare bones. They don’t have enough to go around and are putting on a good front for the passengers. The fruit carving displays disappear from the dining hall. 

I try not to think about what the passengers will do when there is not enough alcohol to go around. Most of the ship is dealing with being one of the cruise ships turned away from ports by drinking themselves into a stupor. I know the demand must be higher than usual already because we were not planning on being on the ship for this long. I witness drunken arguments between passengers and crew over particular favorites. 

“Hey I got that here yesterday! You have it! I know you do!” belted out by a rich, fat, white Australian at a meek Filipino crew member just trying to do their job. It sets me off. I’ve long ago sided with the crew in the civil war that would occur if we really ran out of the basics. I confront the fat, drunk passenger. Remind him of the facts. Hiss in his ear.

“If I hear your voice raise at the crew one more time you’ll regret it. I know where you sleep.” 

He’s shocked. Backs down. I hear a chorus of crew members thank me by name. I slink away through the dining area.

In the dining area, a giant rare moth flies in from outside and lands, of all places, on my face. A wide circle of passengers forms around me. They are all amazed that I am calm. I let them take photos and then walk outside to release it. 

We pass through the doldrums again. This time even more stunning and eerie than the last. Seas of glass as far as the eye can see, the only ripples created by our ship itself. It looks to me like we have entered a magic bog, but no, here we are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

We cross the Pacific from South to North, and from West to East at 23 miles per hour.

I learn about knots and nautical miles and realize that even though this passage seems so achingly slow to me, it’s certainly faster than any ship without giant propellers would go. A racing sailboat can reach top speed of 17mph. Pretty sure the ships upon which my grandparents crossed the Atlantic had no such speed. We have adjusted to instant communications and air travel. The pace of sea travel is maddening.

And then a friend sends me the latest news. The other ship that leads us has joined the list of cruise ships turned away from ports. Hawaii has officially announced it will not take any cruise ships. 

We are now days away from where we left from, and days away from where we are headed. We have no choice but to move forward. The Hawaiian islands are the most isolated land mass in the Pacific Ocean. No longer are we in the South Pacific surrounded by small islands that aren’t actually all that far away from one another. We’ve passed Kiribati – the only country situated in all four cardinal hemispheres. We’re north of the equator.

There is nowhere else for us to go. We are running out of more supplies than just arugula and specialty booze. If we aren’t allowed to at least get fuel there, we will not only be one of the cruise ships turned away from ports, we will be out of fuel. Adrift. 

Lost at sea…

To be continued: Lost At Sea

This is Part Four of my tale of Cruise Ships Turned Away From Ports…

Part One

Part Two

Part Three


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