January 19, 2020
It all happened pretty quick today. The Captain came on the sound system early this morning and told us that we were getting off the ship, loading onto 10 busses, heading to a hotel in Phenom Penh, and then flown home from there. We had 3 hours to get ready. Since all of us had been packed for the last week it wasn’t that difficult. Luggage tags, instructions, and more medical forms were distributed to our cabins. This would be our last breakfast and perhaps an early lunch because we were leaving at noon! Move it!
Our luggage was picked up within the hour and we would wait to load our busses by luggage tag color. Noon rolls around, people start heading out onto the dock where most of the ship crew were waiting for us as a nice send off. All of deck three was filled with staff leaning over the railing saying good bye. We grab a to-go lunch bag they had prepared for us and away we went.
Last night everyone was invited to a gorgeous dinner hosted by the Captain. I sat with two of my guests, their two friends and this fantastic spit-fire of an Australian woman who kept us laughing the entire evening. The Captain came over to our table and we had a really nice chat with him about our entire adventure and he was in really good spirits considering everything he had been through. We all thanked him again profusely. We then chatted up the VP of Operations from Holland America’s corporate office who had flown in a few days ago from Seattle. Finally, we figured out who the ‘new guy with great hair’ was. When you live on a boat this long, you recognize the newbies. He was supposed to meet us on the dock in Bangkok, but we know how that turned out. He ended up at the hotel with us in Phenom Penh later that day.
I grabbed my little lunch bag for the road, gave my girls from Guest Services a hug and headed down the gangway. The Captain and his officers were shaking everyone’s hand, the Cambodian media was there, Cambodian government officials, embassy staff, and a little mayhem thrown into the mix. The Captain gave me a huge hug and thanked me for all the encouragement I’d thrown his way, which nearly made me cry. He is such a great guy thrown into an impossible situation while trying to keep an entire ship safe. Not an easy job. He is already my hero of the year.
As we made our way to the busses the Cambodian Prime Minster’s staff gave us all one final farewell gift. This country wins my Generosity of the Year Award.
The bus ride from Sihanoukvile to Phenom Penh was supposed to by 5 hours, but it was 8. Eight hours, two bathroom stops and a great way to see land for the first time in so long. We ran all ten busses in a massive convoy with a police and embassy escort in the front and back. I can’t even imagine how long this journey would have taken without them. We got quite a few waves and confused faces along the way.
Holland America put us up in a five-star hotel. It was incredible! I lived on the ship those few days at the Cambodian dock, and the rest of the stranded guests lived in this hotel. I’m not sure who got the better deal. I mean it, this place was gorgeous! We were greeted by performers in the lobby, had a relatively organized check-in for several hundred people and we received our documents proving we were negative for coronavirus, just in case we needed to prove to anyone down the road.
I was reunited with my ship BFF, Judy, who nearly knocked me over with a massive bear hug. It was awesome! It was so great having her and her husband, Jim, there as Stranded Partners In Crime. I will certainly miss them, but they are only up in Ontario, Canada, ehh. Not too far.
We have a 9:00 pm meeting with the President of Holland America, Orlando Ashford, welcoming us, giving us information about checking in with our embassy stationed in the lobby, and telling us the big news: Be packed tomorrow morning and come down for a special 9:00am meeting. Great. He told us that we would ALL be going home no later than Friday night, two days from now. They had a secret plan in place! So secret, that we were instructed to NOT SAY ANYTHING on social media about how we were getting out of Cambodia. No flight numbers, now airline names, nothing. If we want to get home, shut up and shut it down. The media was the nightmare in all of this blowing things SO out of proportion that entire countries denied us entry! Done. anything to get us home!
After the meeting, Judy took me on a tour of the property, showed me all the restaurants to use during my hopefully-not-long-stay and then headed up to the roof for an incredible view of the city.
More to come…