Enjoyed ‘mystery cruise’ while it lasted

By Donald R. Tremblay
This item appears on page 22 of the August 2020 issue.
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Lili and Don Tremblay enjoying a fiesta at a private hacienda in Montevideo, Uruguay.

My wife, Lili, and I spent a year and a half planning and paying for our 180-day ’round-the-world cruise aboard Oceania Cruises(855/335-2588, www.oceaniacruises.com) MS Insignia, which started from Miami on Jan. 8, 2020, and was scheduled to end in San Francisco on July 4. It was a repeat of a trip we took in 2016.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.
Lili and Don Tremblay enjoying a fiesta at a private hacienda in Montevideo, Uruguay.

My wife, Lili, and I spent a year and a half planning and paying for our 180-day ’round-the-world cruise aboard Oceania Cruises(855/335-2588, www.oceaniacruises.com) MS Insignia, which started from Miami on Jan. 8, 2020, and was scheduled to end in San Francisco on July 4. It was a repeat of a trip we took in 2016.

The basic cost of this cruise was $120,000 for both of us. We booked it through our excellent travel agent, Linda Costa, at Altour (Los Angeles, CA; 800/425-8687, altour.com).

Looking back, I can only label this as the “mystery cruise” because the itinerary kept changing.

Before we even started, the port of Havana was removed from the list. Once the cruise was under way, the substitute port of Key West was bypassed because of a storm, and rough seas over the next three days prevented us from visiting Santa Marta, Colombia.

It was relatively smooth sailing for a while after that, first through the Panama Canal, then up the west coast to Mexico and San Francisco. Heading south again, the ship stopped at the published ports until we reached Cape Horn, which, because of bad weather, we bypassed through the Straits of Magellan on our way to Ushuaia, Argentina.

Don and Lili Tremblay in a parliamentary park in Montevideo, Uruguay. The statuary symbolizes the foundation of Uruguay.

We then learned that we could no longer visit Southeast Asia or China because of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Other ports had to be found, and they were. The ship was to head for several ports in Australia and New Zealand, then stop at many places in French Polynesia that Lili and I had visited on previous cruises. Not the best outcome, but we could live with it.

In fact, at this point, Oceania gave everyone the opportunity of either aborting the cruise when we reached Cape Town — with a generous 100% rebate on the unused portion of the trip — or continuing to French Polynesia and eventually San Francisco with a 50% rebate. We chose the latter because we, and many other loyal Oceania cruisers, were willing to see it through.

We enjoyed Argentina, even though we couldn’t stop off at the Falkland Islands due to inclement weather. We had a good time in Uruguay and were looking forward to Brazil, the jumping-off point to West Africa. However, fellow passengers were becoming apprehensive. Should we go on? Should we bail out at Cape Town? It was an uneasy feeling.

Suddenly, the decision was made for us. On March 13, while in Rio de Janeiro, everyone received a notice to vacate the ship by the 15th! After 67 days of sailing, we were going no farther. Chaos!

As a sop to calm our nerves, we were informed that all would receive a 100% cash refund for the unused portion of the trip or 125% credit for a future cruise. We chose the refund, and our credit card account was eventually credited.

The rest was not as easy as one might imagine, however. With a single day’s notice, we had to repack six suitcases and find a flight out of Rio back to the US. By this time, and it became worse in the days to come, air transportation anywhere was scarce.

Passengers who had availed themselves of Oceania’s plan to both fly them from home to Miami and then back at the end of the cruise were in good hands because the company had already arranged their flights. But we were on our own.

One reason we like dealing with reliable travel agencies is they can come to our rescue under such circumstances. Even then, though, things can go wrong.

Artwork at the dock in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by Lili Tremblay

Although Linda succeeded in booking us on a LATAM flight, Rio-Santiago-Los Angeles, our Visa card was not initially honored for payment. How else were we to come up with nearly $11,000? This was on a Sunday. Any wasted time and we’d be residents of Brazil for who knows how long? After several phone calls, Visa finally came through with an “OK.”

During this time of uncertainty, the ship and its crew were exceptionally helpful. They went all out to see us through the coronavirus-produced predicament.

One thing they could not do for us, however, was ship our four heavy suitcases to our homes (they had picked them up for free before the cruise) because the local government would not permit it. Consequently, instead of traveling with one suitcase apiece, we were burdened with a total of six plus our carry-ons. We managed, even though I was 89 years old and Lili was 86!

The ship had offloaded our luggage to a warehouse in Rio, where we were able to find a porter, who took the luggage to a bus that transported it to the airport. At the airport, we checked our six suitcases, paying $200 in overweight charges. (We were told by an Oceania rep that they would eventually refund this. It was included in the refund to our credit card account.)

The bags followed us all the way to Los Angeles, where we arrived at an almost empty terminal at 7 a.m. Monday, March 16, and were mercifully met by prearranged transportation, again thanks to our travel agent.

So it went for our “mystery cruise.”

DONALD R. TREMBLAY
Santa Monica, CA


Mardi Gras dancers in Montevideo, Uruguay. Photo by Lili Tremblay
Don Tremblay at Hacienda La Caravedo distillery, famous for its pisco, in the Ica Valley of Peru. Photo by Lili Tremblay
Lili and Don Tremblay at an outdoor museum in Chile.