Missing a port stop during a cruise is a fairly common occurrence. But the passengers on Pacific Explorer’s first sailing since her refurbishment ended up in an unusual situation, writes Honida Beram.

On Friday 13 March, P&O’s Pacific Explorer departed Sydney for a three-night cruise, heading to the NSW South Coast town of Eden, with lots of eager passengers.

Avid cruisers Kellie Johnson, who travelled from Cootamundra with her three friends – Jess, Louise and Vanessa – even had t-shirts made up with the letters of Eden, to show their support and love for the town.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic – port closures, outbreaks and cancellations – passengers boarded the ship at Sydney’s White Bay, affectionately known as ‘Dora’, for a relaxing weekend away.

This was her first sailing since undergoing a multimillion-dollar refurbishment where she had upgrades to her public spaces as well as suites and staterooms.

And the passengers were eager to see the changes onboard.

While there were some new pre-boarding procedures (we were informed via text the day before that there would be enhanced health screenings at check-in), the mood was still convivial while we were getting on the ship.

It was business as usual – a quick look around the ship after dropping the bags off in my stateroom, and then off to muster.

But not long after we completed the drills, a broadcast from Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that all non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people would be suspended from Monday 16 March.

This raised lots of questions among cruisers: what would happen in places like the Marquee Theatre which has a 550 person capacity?

Would we have to be sashaying in The Atrium a metre apart from one another during Bianco Night?

Despite the news, many passengers still hit the top deck for the traditional Sailaway Party. While the mood was more subdued than normal, people seemed to take an ‘enjoy it while it lasts’ attitude.

The next day was filled with the usual ‘at-sea-day’ activities: bingo, trivia, entertainment and exploring the eateries of Dora.

But in the afternoon, as we were all about to start getting ready for my favourite of P&O’s themed night, Gatsby, we were told by Dora’s Captain Paoletti, that P&O would be halting all cruises for the next 30 days, which would mean we wouldn’t be able to visit Eden.

“After we heard the announcement from the captain, everyone went dead silent,” said Kellie.

“My friends and I really wanted to get off and explore Eden. None of us had been. We know the locals are doing it tough so we wanted to show some support.”

During his announcement, Captain Paoletti added that all guest would receive $17 in on board credit each. This was met with an audible chuckle with some guests commenting ‘well, at least that’s a cocktail’.

But just a few minutes later, the Captain made a second address, correcting the onboard credit amount to $75 per passenger, resulting in a loud cheer throughout the ship.

“There was such a loud cheer from everyone. And we definitely enjoyed a few more cocktails. Thank you, P&O,” said Kellie.

Explorer’s cruisers continued with their holiday, making the most of what we knew, would be our last cruise for 30 days. Drinking, dancing, dining and making friends. That’s what the cruise community is about.

“We were so grateful to the crew who were facing a month in dock. They continued to smile and offer exceptional service for the remainder of the cruise. Sunday vibes were happening, sunshine, plenty of laughter and a helpful, happy crew,” said Kellie.

While we knew our cruise that was bound for somewhere, became a cruise to nowhere, everyone stepped off, knowing that we had a great time.

In a video address, P&O’s President Sture Myrmell yesterday articulated exactly what every cruiser is thinking: “We are ready to get back into cruising, just as soon as we can.”

P&O cruises are on a 30-day halt ending April 12. But to keep up your spirits, here’s what life is like on board: