The diamond in the rough

DESPITE enduring weeks in lockdown on board Diamond Princess, home-based agent for Your Travel Centre, Kareem Abdelmaksoud, said he would have no qualms about going on another sailing in the future — only his preference might be a river cruise next time.

The Canberra-based travel advisor found himself at the centre of the media’s gaze when the vessel was quarantined by the Japanese Ministry of Health in early February, after a passenger aboard tested positive for COVID-19, a dilemma which presented he and his wife with a host of professional and personal challenges.

“Usually I take my laptop with me when I go travelling, however as this was only going to be a two-week trip I did not bring it with me and this limited my capacity to be able to finalise bookings and invoicing as I didn’t have all of the relevant software on my iPhone or tablet,” he said.

Outside of the obvious work limitations, Abdelmaksoud also noted the reality of being restricted to a confined space wasn’t initially easy to come to terms with.

“It is difficult to prepare for a circumstance where you are confined to a cabin for two weeks, for the first five days we were not able to leave our cabins and then we got one hour a day and towards the end including up to two hours access to outside decks.

“Luckily we had a larger cabin so we could do activities at a table and had room to pace or exercise a little”.

In order to soften the blow for its guests, Princess Cruises provided its affected passengers with unprecedented internet bandwidth on board during the crisis, an ad hoc policy that Abdelmaksoud believed proved “vital” in facilitating steady contact with his family, friends and customers, despite some download limitations.

However, the biggest personal obstacle for Abdelmaksoud was not knowing how at risk he was of contracting the virus.

“Being confined was frustrating and my wife and I discussed what we would do if either one of us were diagnosed with the virus.

“Getting information from the media prior to being informed by the cruise ship was also difficult at times,” he lamented, however, the overall impression of the way Princess Cruises’ crew handled the challenging situation was a very positive one.

“The staff were quite exceptional in very difficult circumstances, after the initial chaos of the first few days when we were not sure when and what food was being delivered it settled into a more regular pattern.

“In the last week in particular we got lots of treats delivered to our rooms, on Valentine’s Day, which my wife and I do not usually celebrate, we got a single red rose, lots of chocolates and lollies, face masks and other treats.

“There were even hearts on the dessert, each night following that there was a small surprise each evening…staff tried to be as helpful as they could, there were additional movies uploaded and exercise videos on screen within our room and we got games such as cards and Scrabble delivered to our room.”

Despite the taxing situation, the stoic agent said he learned a lot from the experience, advising agents and travellers to make sure they take their laptop on cruises if they rely on it, check the fine print in the travel insurance policies, and have contact details for embassies and airlines.

The silver lining to being stuck in quarantine on a cruise ship during a health crisis?

Abdelmaksoud said it was learning more about viruses and how to stay calm in the face of adversity.

“I learned lots about protecting yourself from the transmission of viruses and I realised how critical the internet can be for keeping in contact,” he said.

“As a couple we have been able to support each other through anxious times and keep our sense of humour”.

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