Performance Shock, Coronavirus and the South Pacific on Holland America's Grand World Voyage

This morning Craig and arrived in Auckland, New Zealand — otherwise known as the “City of Sails." It has been nearly four weeks sailing across the South Pacific on Holland America’s Grand World Voyage aboard the Ms. Amsterdam.

(Above: Auckland, New Zealand, as seen from the top deck of the Amsterdam)

Our second Holland America contract began in Punta Arenas, Chile. While we are only contracted to work 50 days, the Grand World Voyage is Holland America’s premier itinerary and lasts 128 days. About 1200 guests begin in Fort Lauderdale and stay on for the full journey around the world. Our production manager best described the environment and culture of the world cruise — “this is not a vacation for these guests, this is their home.”

Performing for 50 days for the same group of guests has proved to be a particular challenge for us. On our previous ship, the Ms. Zaandam — the average cruise itinerary was 17 days. On these shorter itineraries, we were able to spread out our repertoire without much problem. Arriving on the Amsterdam, we worried we would not have a large enough repertoire to meet the guests' expectations. (Note: if you haven’t read our previous blogs, our position as the ‘Adagio Duo’ for Holland America does not provide any of our music. This is in contrast to the more well known Lincoln Center Stage position which provides all material. Also, read our previous blogs!)

Regardless of this stress over our repertoire, we were well received by our experienced guests on the first night and over the course of the first week, our reception reputation continued to grow. As the only classical ensemble on our ship, we did begin to gain a sort of “celebrity” status amongst the guests. Next thing we knew, we had a list of guests who had asked us to join them for dinner and other meals. We regularly meet for breakfast with good friends we've made as well as attend knitting club on sea days with our Amsterdam "squad." As we did begin to repeat repertoire it seemed guests did not mind and we realized that quality musicianship can overrule repetition.

Moving now to the coronavirus, this has been a major source of conversation on the ship. Leaving mainland Chile I thought it was quite interesting and bizarre to be heading towards Asia. As the virus began to make further headlines our manager called and asked if we could stay on the remainder of the cruise until May 12th.

Shortly after, we were told that the company could not find a replacement contract for the next duo and that we would still need to disembark in Singapore (“If we make it there” guests often joked.) Further rumors began spreading over possible changes to the itinerary — one guest insisted we may skip Singapore and go to Vietnam (as the Westerdam infamously did after being denied port to port in Asia amidst growing coronavirus fears.) Our Voyage began to feel like a mystery cruise, with an itinerary that could shift at any time.

It wasn’t until February 29th (the afternoon of our port of call in the Kingdom of Tonga) that we received word that our ports in Indonesia and Singapore had been canceled. To make up for the time, the ship would sail from Darwin, Australia, over to Sri Lanka with seven days at sea. This changes the final day of our contract to our arrival in Colombo, Sri Lanka. As of now, we do not know if we will be flown home via Colombo or if the worsening spread of the virus will force our stay for the remainder of the World Voyage.

With all of the gossip, rumors and changes happening to our itinerary, we were still blessed with the most incredible fortune and beautiful weather during our voyage across the South Pacific. Our first island port was the famous Easter Island. It is said that ships have less than a 50% chance of being able to stop here due to the rough seas surrounding the island. This is a "tender port," meaning the lifeboats are used to get guests and crew to the island while the ship anchors offshore. It is for this reason that most ships do not end up stopping here, as the tender loading process is complicated by rough seas. For our day on the island, we experienced light winds and mostly sunny skies — making for near-perfect conditions as we rented a taxi and hopped around to various sights on the island.

(Above: Moai statue on Easter Island.)

(Above: Craig and I will a Moai statue on Easter Island.)

Our next port — Pitcairn Island, isn’t technically a port. Three days west from Easter Island, Pitcairn has its own deep history (Look up ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’). Pitcairn has just over 50 inhabitants, most of whom are related to one another. The reason I say Pitcairn is not really a port is that the island's little infrastructure cannot support a cruise of 1200+ people, and so we do not get off the ship. Instead, a boat with most of the island's inhabitants comes to us, and they sell their goods such as honey, jewelry and stamps. The thing that struck me most about Pitcairn is how simply and minimally these people live their lives. With tourism as their primarily source of income the residents primarily spend their days crafting for the next ship.

(Above: Pitcairn Island from the Amsterdam.)

From Pitcairn, we sailed for two more days to the French Polynesian island of Tahiti. Of all the South Pacific ports on our itinerary, this was the one we looked forward to most. That morning Craig and I got on a ferry over to the nearby island of Mo’rea to find a beach for the day. We ended up getting more than we bargained for when we stumbled into a beach resort, Sofitel, that sold us $70 day passes which included snorkel gear, paddleboards, private beach access, views of the bungalow suites, and lunch. The weather was perfect on Mo’rea while across the ocean we could see heavy rain in the mountains of Tahiti.

(Above: Sofitel Resort, Mo'rea.)

(Above: The island of Mo'rea as seen from the port of Tahiti.)

Next up was the island of Rarotonga, part of the Cook Islands. Rarotonga is a small oval-shaped island with tropical mountain peaks. I felt like I was on a tropical island version of New Zealand and it is a popular vacation destination for Kiwis and Australians. The country even operates under the NZ dollar. We spent our day out at Muri Lagoon, where you can swim through the shallow, crystal clear waters to small islands nearby. It was nothing short of the ultimate beach paradise. If someday I come back here, I would definitely make it a point to hike across the mountains.

(Above: Muri Lagoon, Rarotonga.)

(Above: the Avarua District/Port of Rarotonga.)

(Above: Island on Muri Lagoon, Rarotonga.)

And this brings us to our final, and most recent tropical island port — the Kingdom of Tonga. Our taxi driver on the island described Tonga as the only island nation in the South Pacific to have not been colonized by another country. Geographically, the island stuck out from all of the previous ports because it was almost completely flat. There were no dramatic mountain peaks on this island. At times I almost felt like I was in Florida with the combined soaring temperatures and flat terrain. The infrastructure on the island was also in contrast to the other island ports, as it did seem to be less developed. Tonga is dominated by the First Adventist Church and the churches throughout the island feature unique architecture. I found this island to be the most interesting of all of our island ports because it is not a standard vacation destination, yet it still possessed a unique culture and vibe all its own. As for our activities in Tonga, we spent part of our day at a beach across the island with a nearby cave. Inside this cave was a deep pool, and there we encountered a few local teenagers who were smoking and jumping (diving) into these creepy cave waters. I jumped in too — when else could I say I swam with Tongan kids in a cave while they smoked some questionable substance?

(Above: Anahulu Beach, the Kingdom of Tonga.)

(Above: Another view of Anahulu Beach, Tonga.)

Anyway, we will be in NZ and Australia for the next couple of weeks. Fingers crossed we are allowed to get off at the rest of our ports in these countries. Following Sri Lanka, we have no idea what will happen. We are just trying to enjoy the ride — there is something oddly adventurous about being on a cruise ship around the world during the coronavirus outbreak. One of our pals, Ruth, keeps referencing us as potentially being the "Last Ship."

Next stop: Waitangi, New Zealand

Until Next Time,


Duo Vis-À-Vis

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