Punished by Panama, but at least we're through

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Central America Caribbean » Panama
March 30th 2020
Published: March 30th 2020
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Sabbath 28 March – Panama

We passed the temperate check – yay! We were given an afternoon slot for transfer and made our way across. We arrived at the Rotterdam and expected to be in our same room but were told we were given another room. It was still a balcony but it was a downgrade on what we had. For those in the know about cruise categories, we were in an A category and moved to a B category. This meant a smaller room at the back of the ship under the outdoor pool, as opposed to a lower deck in the middle. The thing I miss the most? The dividing curtain between the lounge area and bed is missing, and the bathroom is smaller and shorter, meaning Dwayne’s head sits on the bathroom roof and he has to almost kneel to get under the showerhead.

I called Guest Services to understand why the manifest wasn’t mirrored from Zaandam to Rotterdam, placing guests in the same cabins. The messaging was that it was a first come first served deal and that because we were later in the day, the priority was to allocate balcony rooms to inside and ocean view guests first, and we got what was left. So those who paid less got an upgrade, and we got the downgrade.

I’m also not a fan of the new captain. He’s polite but transactional, with little warmth in his manner. I want our Zaandam captain back.

Whilst I tried to maintain some sense of rest for Sabbath, Dwayne was reading news stories that if the Rotterdam had healthy passengers, that Panama would let us pass and she’d make her way to Ft Lauderdale whilst the Zaandam would sail to San Diego. I guess that’s why they did the transfer between the ships. By dinner time, several news articles were reporting that the Rotterdam had been given approval. This buoyed our spirits.

Dinner was our first meal and it was pretty disappointing for a fully staffed ship. As a vegetarian, I got a single square of spinach lasagne with nothing else on the plate. No vegetables, no side salad, nothing. Dwayne got chicken schnitzel on a bed of veggies. There was a salad to share. No drinks.

After dinner we discovered that our friends who had an ocean view on the Zaandam, had been moved into their identical ocean view cabin on the Rotterdam. So much for prioritising balconies to those in ocean view rooms.

Just before we went to bed, our hopes went from the top of the roller coaster, down another descent. Media were reporting that the Zaandam, which was approved on Wednesday and denied on Friday, had again been approved to transit through the Canal due to humanitarian reasons. This was crushing news! Hours earlier we were too sick to pass through Panamanian borders. Now it was too sick not to. The number of sick had not changed. Instead of 1 full ship being stranded, we now had 2 half ships stranded. There is nothing reasonable about any of this. Every decision is political and arbitrary.

Sunday 29 March – Panama

Breakfast came and it was clear that they were struggling with 400 passengers. We got 2 small boxes of rice bubbles, coffee, juice and Danish pastries. No fruit or hot food. I’d also asked Guest Services to note our dietary advice from the Zaandam, that I am vegetarian and that Dwayne is normal except for no pig or shellfish.

I did an 11am fitness class on the activities channel, run by our entertainers. It was their toughest class yet and I doubt anyone under 50 did it. They are going above and beyond running fitness classes when singing is their usual craft. All power to them for trying to keep us in shape and motivated!

We were starving by the time lunch came, and it had one dinner size plate to share between 2 people: two small slices of quiche Lorraine, ½ cup of glass noodles, 1 egg sandwich cut in half, 2 flan tarts. No drinks. Given it had ham, which neither of us eat, we consumed the noodles and half sanger, as well as dessert. Contacted Guest Services again.

Mid-afternoon and the only announcements were from the captain telling us to stop opening our doors, scolding us like little children. The difficulty is that when you hear a knock on the door, you think it’s for you and when you open the door, the staff yell at you to close the door because they were knocking next door. You ask them for a bottle opener for your beer, and they tell you to call Guest Services. So you call them, and the captain makes an announcement asking not to overwhelm GS with normal requests. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

Still no announcements about the Canal.

One of the stark announcements was that they are no longer offering a cruise service, but this has become a humanitarian venture. That means food, safety/shelter, medical. Nothing more. No laundry, clean towels, clean sheets, beverage requests, no deck exercises. We wash our own clothes with whatever is available in the room (soap/shower gel etc). If we run out of deodorant or toothpaste, touch luck. It’s detention without the communal showers and exercise yard.

Apparently when the staff on the Rotterdam found out on Friday night that they were taking passengers on Sabbath, half the food team decided to self-isolate rather than help. So the Rotterdam has 800 guests with a similar number of working staff as the Zaandam. The staff don’t want us here and they don’t hide it. We may be all be healthy, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

Dinner came with a prawn salad. I emailed Guest Services again. The Food Manager called me straight away, so I think we’ve finally got it sorted.

Just before dinner we noticed that the Zaandam was pulling up anchor and we thought “This is it. We’re going through the Canal!” You could hear people around the balconies getting excited as they drunk their sundowners, although we were disappointed that it was at night so we wouldn’t see much. In the weeks of low lights, as things got progressively worse, going through the Canal kept everyone in good spirits as we anticipated the only highlight since the Chilean Fjords. The captain came on confirming that we were both going through under the cover of night, but what came next was something no one saw coming.

The Panama Authorities, who were allowing us through on humanitarian grounds, stipulated that no one was to be on the decks or balconies. This included staff and guests. Furthermore, everyone is to remain in their rooms for the duration of the 12-16 hour transit, with the blackout curtains fully drawn at all times.

We were gutted!! In one foul swoop the authorities had not just taken away our child-like joy, but they had well and truly bashed it multiple times in the head until it lay unconscious on the ground. We came to Panama with nothing, being turned away like dirty street urchins up the South American coast and now these supposed humanitarians were telling the papers how they were helping with one hand and slapping us with the other when no-one was looking. What a mental and emotional act of cruelty on their part. We were no threat to their citizens and watching the process was no threat to them either. Still, they demanded that we be blindfolded like prisoners of war, and the reality is that this is the world of 2020…

…where ordinary humans used to run into burning buildings like 9/11, or confront knife-wielding terrorists, facing certain death but willing to take the risk anyway to help their follow man.

…today, ordinary humans turn away from helping others at the risk of facing potential illness. It’s dog-eat-dog, fend for yourself, dob in your neighbour. Darwin’s theory that only the strong survive is now king.

Who knew that ordinary people, people of courage, would stand up in the face of death, but run for the house in the face of a virus.


30th March 2020

What a disaster...
the Panamanian authorities are sadists. They are now on my do not go list should I visit Central America. I don't think much of Holland American either...no Federal bailout for them since their ships aren't registered in the U.S. to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

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