Melbournian retirees Jeff Norton and wife, Dianne have booked a 73-night cruise from Fremantle to London in February next year, unfazed by their eventful cruise on CMV’s Vasco da Gama.

The ship was turned away from several ports, including Fremantle, because of COVID-19 fears.

“Our enthusiasm for cruising has not at all been dented by recent events. We thoroughly enjoyed our time on board Vasco – the food was great, the entertainment amazing and the crew was brilliant. We even watched Bohemian Rhapsody in the theatre one night and it was fabulous,” Mr Norton told Cruise Passenger.

The Nortons’ original cruise on Vasco was meant to be an adventure of a lifetime – a 45-night voyage from Singapore to London. But it turned out to be a cruise with too many sea days and no port calls at all.

They suspected something was amiss when Vasco was first refused entry to Penang because of the pandemic, so the ship headed to Phuket instead.

Again, the ship was refused entry and the Nortons spent the next six days at sea off the coast of Phuket. As reports from India and Italy started to filter through that more ports were closed to cruise ships, CMV decided to cancel the itinerary and head back to Australia.

Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama

But before that, CMV made a radical decision to exchange passengers from another of the line’s ships, Columbus, which was on a world cruise. A total of 239 passengers were transferred between the two ships in mid-sea, about 12 nautical miles off Phuket so that British and European passengers could return safely home in the UK on board the Columbus and all Australians and New Zealanders would stay with Vasco and cruise back to Fremantle.

The switch included 500 pieces of luggage and provisions, all carried by tenders between the two ships from 6.30 am to midday on 15 March.

“It was a brilliant operation. The whole process was effectively done, considering that many of the passengers who did the switch also had a lot of disabilities. It was a real credit to CMV to exchange so many passengers and get them home as fast as possible,” Mr Norton said.

Unfortunately, that was not the end of their problems.

When they arrived at Fremantle on 27 March, they learnt they could not disembark and only the 200 Western Australians were able to spend two weeks in self-isolation at Rottnest Island, a holiday resort, about nine kilometres off the coast of WA.

“By the time we arrived in Fremantle, we had been at sea for at least 13 straight days without any disembarkation or contact with anyone else who was not a passenger or crew member on board Vasco. But we were told we still have to self-isolate for another 14 days in a Perth hotel,” Mr Norton said.

Now in their first week of self-isolation at the Crown Metropol in Burswood, Perth, the Nortons feel like prisoners with no fresh air or outdoor exercise.

“I love to swim, while Dianne loves her golf which we can’t do now. The hotel food could be better but we are not really complaining,” Mr Norton said.

They are looking forward to going home to Melbourne and meet up with their two grown-up daughters. But before they can do that, they would have to undergo another two weeks of self-isolation in Victoria.