Deana Harries (née Manser) of Travel Club Elite shares how her dream trip fell to pieces and how she eventually got home. Ben Ireland reports.
Q. What were your original honeymoon plans?
A. Rhys and I got married at Pacific Resort in the Cook Islands on March 15. We were supposed to stay for three nights, then travel to New Zealand, Tahiti and California and go on a Regent Seven Seas cruise. The wedding went ahead as planned – it was just the two of us. Then our tour operator said we needed to get home by March 20. At Cook airport we were told we wouldn’t get through US security. So instead we booked a flight via Hong Kong, but within 48 hours we were told we weren’t going on that either.
Members of our family contacted MPs to try and get us home, and each week we visited the Air New Zealand office, but flights were too expensive – people were paying £5,000. We were offered a flight with a 25-hour layover in LA, but that would have caused issues with US immigration as it was over a day. We ended up staying in the Cook Islands for eight weeks.
“We were supposed to stay for three nights, then travel to New Zealand, Tahiti and California and go on a Regent Seven Seas cruise.”
Q. How did you feel about the rest of your planned honeymoon trip not going ahead?
A. It was a bit of a rollercoaster. When we found out our original honeymoon was cancelled, I was absolutely gutted. I’d planned every single detail over two years. I’ve worked in travel for 22 years and booked so many customers their dream trip, but I was just watching mine fall to pieces.
I still don’t know if I’ll get my money back for parts of it. But there are some great positives. We spent eight weeks in the wonderful Cook Islands (see box) and basically had them to ourselves, which is an experience not many people will ever have.
Q. How did you eventually get home?
A. We flew via Auckland and LA. When we got to our second change at LA, it was like the apocalypse – there was hardly anyone at the airport. We waited at the Virgin Atlantic desk for four hours and no one arrived. It turned out the flight was cancelled. United had a flight, but tickets were $3,500 each. Then I remembered I’d added the Air New Zealand staff from the Cook Islands on Facebook, so I messaged them and within hours they’d sorted us a BA flight to Heathrow the next day.
We found the cheapest hotel near the airport, but had to go straight to our rooms and order food on Uber. On the flight, there was 54 of us on a 255-seat aircraft. We were upgraded, and only four people were in economy. It was the first time my husband had been in First class, but they didn’t serve any hot meals so it wasn’t quite the same experience people pay thousands for.
When we got to Heathrow, there wasn’t one single check – which makes the quarantine rules seem ridiculous now. We live in Hereford, and there were no trains, buses or car hire when we got back, so my dad picked us up. It was bizarre; he wore full PPE, sprayed us with disinfectant and made us both sit in the back. He had to get a letter to say the trip was essential.
“It was the first time my husband had been in First class, but they didn’t serve any hot meals so it wasn’t quite the same experience people pay thousands for.”
Q. Are you back at work now?
A. I had messaged my manager and she was brilliant, trying to help us get home. She even contacted the UK government about repatriation flights, while the shop was really busy dealing with everything else going on with customers’ cancelled holidays. Being away for all this was so strange.
There’s not much you can do from the Cook Islands and I was watching the industry I love falling apart and all the borders closing. In the middle of all of this, the furlough scheme was announced. We didn’t talk about it directly but it was a given I’d be furloughed as I was on the other side of the world.
Q. Would you travel again soon?
A. Our second honeymoon is booked for South Africa in September. Let’s hope we’ll be allowed to go.
How did you spend your eight weeks in the Cook Islands?
When we got to the airport the first time, there were TV cameras and we ended up on the local news. After we found out we were going to have to stay in the Cook Islands, they moved us to the Edgewater Resort. There were 20 of us in a 280-room resort, so social distancing wasn’t a problem. As the weeks went on, it reduced to six guests. They upgraded us to a three-bed ocean-view villa and gave us a reduced rate, which was a lifesaver.
“One family invited us to spend Easter Sunday on their terrace, and we sang with them. It was an experience we’ll never forget and the island will forever be in my heart.”
They really looked after us too, and we basically had the beach to ourselves. It was all a bit surreal, but we loved it. We hired a scooter to get around the island and we were still able to do things like a turtle spotting tour. We found a regular coffee shop that was actually really busy with locals.
They recognised us from the news, and we became friends. So few of them were working because the island is very reliant on tourism. One family invited us to spend Easter Sunday on their terrace, and we sang with them. It was an experience we’ll never forget and the island will forever be in my heart. We’ll go back, without a doubt.
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