There are very few ways of getting to the mid-Atlantic Island of St Helena and flying there is not one of them (yet).
If you are want to be sure that you will get to St Helena and have more than a few hours visit you will have to arrive by the RMS St Helena from Cape Town or Ascension Island.
The only viable alternative way, assuming the majority of my readers do not own their own ocean going yacht, of getting to St Helena and/or Ascension Island is to join a cruise which stops at either or both these islands. Typically if one island is on a cruise itinerary the other will also be on it.
The Queen Mary II does not stop at either St Helena nor Ascension Island – I just included the picture here just because I like it!
If you arrive by cruise ship you will have around 4-6hrs on each island assuming you get to go ashore at all and therein lies the problem. Assuming you do get ashore, 4-6hrs will only give you a cursory appreciation of either place which is, I accept, all some may want or have time for and, of course, it is better than nothing.
The problem I refer to is that it is reasonably common for cruise ships to arrive at both islands and for passengers not to be permitted to disembark – the reason given is typically ‘safety concerns’. Neither island has a pier at which any boat can dock so all ships anchor at sea and passengers are transferred in by tender. Unloading and reloading 1,000-2,000 passengers in daylight hours is a challenge in perfectly calm seas and it becomes dangerous even with a slight swell.
In the case of Ascension Island, I can understand a captain’s concern in getting 2,000 people up and down the steps depicted below in 6-7 hrs – and at the same time permit everyone time for a quick tour.
My picture is a clearly a night shot making the steps look much more scary than they are during the day when arrivals/departures actually occur. The landing area on St Helena is marginally better then this one.
Remember that cruise ships do not have to stop at either island as they do not refuel here or take on provisions. Accordingly, if the captain has any concerns re safety, passengers will not be let disembark – also if the ship has lost time elsewhere not stopping here lets it make up lost time.
While we were on St Helena the Holland America Line cruise ship MS Amsterdam visited and passengers were let off. On its previously scheduled stop a couple of weeks earlier passengers were not allowed to disembark. A few days later the Amsterdam pulled into Ascension Island but did not let anyone off due to ‘safety concerns.’ The sea appeared dead calm to me but, to be fair, I am not a ship’s captain.
Bottom line – arriving by cruise ship is hit and miss so if you must visit either place I recommend you use the RAF flight or RMS St Helena as appropriate. The RMS St Helena, given the nature of the ship, always stops and passengers get off.
Another factor worth mentioning is that, quite frankly, neither island can properly cope with up to 2000 people popping in – facilities are limited.
This blog entry is one of group (loop) of entries which will take you on a virtual tour of St Helena as experienced by The Rambling Wombat. Do continue with me on this tour via my next entry – Getting around St Helena. If necessary, go to my St Helena Introduction entry to read this loop from the beginning.