Ever The Optimist

Ever The Optimist

One of my friends recently described a cruise as a floating petri dish. I don’t entirely agree with that summation. My cruise line of choice is Princess, and we’ve been on board a ship, the Coral Princess, that had an outbreak of Norovirus. It was quite spine-tingling to hear the captain announce the outbreak over the tannoy as we sat looking out on the ocean without any land in sight! But my goodness, the lengths that the crew went to keeping that virus from spreading was phenomenal. While reports of outbreaks at the time on other cruise lines affecting hundreds of guest were horrific, to say the least, our ship contained the infection to 12 individuals.

I was so sad when Covid 19 broke out on the Diamond Princess at the beginning of the pandemic last year. Over seven hundred people were infected, and sadly 14 died. This tragedy was the result of the disease being so new and not because of poor hygiene standards on board. Wrong decisions made by governments at the wrong time exacerbated the issue. No-one fully understood the disease’s transmission mode, and the asymptomatic aspects further confused the picture. What happened on Diamond Princess has helped contribute valuable information about what is now known about Covid 19.

In the same way that car crashes (including being in a few minor ones myself) have not stopped me from travelling by car, coronavirus will not stop me from future cruises with Princess Cruises again – after the pandemic – of course.

 Last autumn, when news of the vaccine broke, I was straight onto the computer and pricing up cruises. I can hear you all rolling your eyes as I type. I didn’t say too much about this trip to family and friends because I feared the “are you mad?” conversations. Perhaps I was also a bit embarrassed that I was spending money on this when so many are having livelihoods ruined. But two very special people in my life have special birthdays this year, and well – that’s a whole lot of special, and I am confident of one thing – Princess are never going to make the same mistakes they made with the Diamond Princess again. I was happy to book and pay a deposit with them because if they had to cancel, I knew they’d be decent and give us a refund, no quibble.

Last year, we had no big foreign summer holiday booked, so we didn’t experience the disappointment or worry or financial loss due to cancellations. Maybe this made me a bit rash, but when we spotted a cruise due to set sail at the beginning of June 2021 that ticked our boxes and fit our budget, it was all stations go. Princess Cruises were offering balcony rooms for the price of interiors. I’ve never cruised with a window, never mind a balcony! The running joke in our cabin is that we open the curtains with the TV remote control – the channel being set to the webcam on top of the ship. So for us, this was a great deal. Added to the fact that our ‘special birthday people’ would have adjoining balconies to ours, it felt like the best plan ever.

Ever the optimist, I paid the deposits with a heart full of hope and longing! I even yearned to do the things I don’t really like doing on vacation (like lying on a sun lounger by a pool – sorry, not my thing usually!)

Hotels are easy with hotels.com. Their free cancellation policy and the low cost of hotels right now meant we could reserve a gorgeous spot near the port in Southampton for the night before we set sail.

By the end of October, the news of the vaccine was heartening. We booked the flights to Southampton – not so cheap but really handy. If the cruise is cancelled, we joked, we’d go for a trip to Cornwall, something that’s been on our bucket list.

People I knew were getting the vaccine in the run-up to Christmas. Numbers of cases were rising, but that had been expected with a second wave. Still, January felt like a dark underwater cave, but I kept afloat on the dreams of the summer to come. As I went on dawn walks here in frigid air that held my breath in mini clouds before my face, I dreamed of watching the sunrise from my balcony – or better yet, from my bed with the curtains open! Well, I was on holidays, why get up too early?

Then came the drudgery of February – so many seemed to perish and not just from Covid 19. Some snow days brought temporary relief from the mundane. As the days lengthened, the sunlight seemed to promise brighter days ahead. Snowdrops blossomed, seeds in window sills germinated, daffodils began to nod. In the first few days of March, the number of deaths seemed to half every day – reminding me of the half-life of radioactivity, but hopefully, unlike radioactive half-lives, the death number will one day reach zero.

More people are getting vaccinated every day. And while the government seemed to be moving very cautiously on taking us out of lockdown (why, oh why, couldn’t they have done this 12 months ago?) I still clung to the hope that I’d be sailing away to warmer climates come June.

Then the email from Princess came this week – all cruises from Southampton cancelled until the end of September 2021.

I wasn’t devastated (a much-used word this past 12 months.) I wasn’t even gutted. Yes, disappointed a little, but you know what – things could be, oh, so much worse. I refuse to cry about this or feel sorry for myself. I was tempted to … but really, so many have lost so much that I gave myself a stern talking to and realized I must be grateful for what I have.

Princess offered a full refund – no quibble as predicted.

Hotels.com was an easy fix with its free cancellation.

I worried that the Eastern Airline flights from Dublin to Southampton would be a problem because, well, the Cornwall trip isn’t really an option if travel still isn’t allowed. Even if it were allowed, because the flights were out of Dublin, I wondered if we’d be expected to quarantine for 2 weeks on arrival at Southampton. There was over £1000 worth of flights between 6 of us. Would we have to take the hit? Was this the price of our gamble for a great deal?

But I remembered that the airline had sent a notification a few weeks ago that the flight times had been changed. There’d been something in the small print about getting refunds if you qualified, i.e. if the time change was more than 2 hours. With heart hammering, I did the sums and yes! Our flights qualified for a full refund. We were lucky.

I emailed Eastern Airlines, and within 9 minutes, they confirmed the refund – 9 minutes! I’m so impressed with this little airline. I hope they don’t go out of business because of the pandemic. I also hope that Princess Cruises gets through it too.

I would commend all three companies, Princess Cruises, Hotels.com and Eastern Airlines, for their customer service in these trying times.

Half the fun of travelling is in looking forward to it. I’ve valued these 5 months looking forward to the cruise we won’t have. It shone like a bright beacon guiding me through a dark and scary winter, depositing me on the sunnier side with a heart full of gratitude ­for the things I still have in my life. The simple things – like My Husband – not that I’m saying he’s simple! But I mean the things in life that can often be taken for granted, like good people in your life and the love they have to offer. I don’t need a fancy house and a big car (nor can I justify the carbon footprint they’d have because I spend so much on travel – I plead guilty there), but I do need love and laughter. My health is my wealth and a garden to dig in helps keep me sane.

Everything else is the cherry on top – a giant ship-shaped cherry, perhaps? Who knows what the future will bring… we just have to hang in there until things get better, and they will; I know they will because I’m ever the optimist – it’s what gets me through!

Byddi Lee