FINALLY HOME: CQ couples' cruise ship nightmare over
UPDATE, MONDAY 6AM: AFTER weeks stranded in Western Australia, two CQ couples are now thankfully home.
The couples left Perth on February 12 on a 71-day cruise to London but it was turned around due to the coronavirus pandemic rapidly evolving.
They got back to Freemantle on March 27 and have spent the last few weeks stuck in isolation in a hotel room, despite there being no cases of coronavirus on the cruise ship.
They had a few false starts at trying to come home as they were told they could book flights only to have them cancelled hours later by the government or airline companies.
Finally on Saturday, they were able to board the plane and with a stop in Melbourne, made it back to Brisbane and to Rockhampton.
Saturday's flight almost didn't go ahead either - some ticket holders reportedly weren't allowed on the flight couldn't go on due to social distancing measures.
Bill and Karen Spiers from Zilzie were among 800 Australians aboard the ship, 240 of which were from Queensland.
There was also 108 passengers from New Zealand.
UPDATE 12PM: A FLIGHT has been booked for the Spiers to come home tomorrow and after weeks of being stranded in Perth, they are crossing their fingers it isn't cancelled again.
The Zilzie couple are among more than 240 Queenslanders who have been stranded in Perth since their cruise ship berthed in Western Australia on March 27.
When the Vasco da Gama ship left on February 12, there was little discussions of COVID-19 but as the ship continued the planned 71-day trip to London, the outbreak started to evolve.
Bill and Karen Spiers have spent thousands in flights with Qantas and Virgin to fly home to only have the flights cancelled by the company or the government.
This morning, it was announced Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia were able to resume flights on a limited domestic schedule from today.
The couple were able to book a flight to Brisbane, via Melbourne.
There will be social distancing on board and passengers will be assessed on eligibility to travel if they are returning home or an essential traveller.
Rockhampton Regional Council have confirmed flights will resume at Rockhampton Airport as of today.
Virgin flights to and from Brisbane will resume three days per week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, starting today, and Qantas is also expected to release its new schedule of flights today.
Flights are available from all state and territory capitals, along with Albury, Alice Springs, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Kalgoorlie, Mildura, Port Lincoln, Rockhampton, Tamworth, Townsville and Wagga Wagga.
INITIAL: ZILZIE couple Bill and Karen Spiers were on the first leg of a dream trip around the world when coronavirus brought those ambitions to a crashing halt.
They had spent 18 months planning the holiday of a lifetime and were on the cruise ship Vasco da Gama making their way towards locations that included London, America and Canada.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 outbreak had other plans for them.
The last three weeks have been spent in a Perth hotel, the first two under supervised isolation, with not even the opportunity to go for a walk in the fresh air and sunlight.
During that time communication was non-existent, so they had no clear idea of what to do next.
The isolation was finally lifted last weekend and some have managed to get home but many are stranded due to the cancellation of commercial flights.
Many of the cruise ship passengers have made two or more bookings already, committing some thousands of dollars to trying to get home, only to have to cancel when the government changed its original plan and then to have the second round of bookings cancelled by the airways, with no alternative flights on offer.
Despite this, the fares are being held as credits and attempts to date to have the moneys refunded have been unsuccessful.
The Spiers, who are also stranded with another CQ couple from North Rockhampton, have been in constant discussions with Keppel MP Brittany Lauga and Lanie Cook of Michelle Landry's office.
They are among more than 240 Queenslanders from aboard the ship who are stranded.
Mrs Lauga was advised by the Western Australian State Government on Wednesday a chartered plane would be collecting the Queensland passengers on Saturday, however she was notified last Thursday afternoon this had been cancelled.
Mrs Lauga is now in the midst of working out a way to bring the Queensland passengers home.
Mrs Lauga said Alliance Airlines have expressed their interest.
Driving back was not an option for the Spiers as they would have to quarantine for 14 days in each state.
Looking back, their holiday had started so well on February 12 when the Spiers left Perth aboard the cruise ship for the 71-day trip to London.
They visited some ports along the Australia coast including Geraldton and Broome before going across to South-East Asia.
Upon departure, there was very little talk about coronavirus and Bill said the ship was very clean.
He noted there was hand sanitiser every where you went and the cruise ship staff were strict at keeping everything sterilised.
They cruised from Singapore and it was around Thailand they started to come into trouble as ports began closing.
The only time they may have had a problem was when a passenger had to get tested in Phuket. The sick passenger was tested twice which took three days each time. Both times the tests were negative. The ship remained anchored off Thailand for that six days and passengers weren't able to go ashore.
At this point as ports were closing all over the world the ship headed back to Australia. All activities on board continued and passengers were happy the ship was a safe place to be. "We were so happy we were clean on the ship and they had done such a great job of looking after us," Bill said.
"We were more worried coming off the ship."
Cruise ships have been seen to be a source of COVID-19 infection, especially after the Ruby Princess docked in Sydney last month and 18 passengers have since died and hundreds of cases are linked to the vessel.
But Bill spoke more than highly about the Cruise and Maritime Voyages, the operators of the Vasco da Gama.
"It's very unfortunate that they are being lumped with all the bad press cruise ships are getting," he said.
Speaking to The Morning Bulletin from his Perth hotel room, it was a far cry from the world trip they were meant to still be on.
It was going to be four-and-a-half months away and while they have now been away for more than two months - it wasn't quite how they planned.
The Vasco da Gama was scheduled to end in London where they would spend some time in England before heading on the Queen Mary to go to New York.
They were then going to have a few weeks in America before going to Canada and Alaska.
Now, they have all the paperwork and refunds to sort out.
Bill said they have been in touch with some companies and a lot of the tickets were non-refundable.
He doesn't know if they will do the trip at all now after how much chaos 2020 has been.
"There is a lot of money missing, whether we get the money back… maybe in the future we will get enough enthusiasm to give it another shot," he said.
"There was a lot to look forward to but unfortunately it is now history but that is trivial compared to people dying," he said.
"We're very fortunate we are not stuck somewhere remote with sick people all around us, or being sick ourselves."
When he does get home, he is looking forward to normality and even doing chores.
"I never thought I would look forward to mowing the lawn," Bill said.
"It seems to be a lot more fun to what I have been doing."