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The ‘trip of a lifetime’ ruined by coronavirus – but saved by family’s ‘ingenious’ virtual experience

Benjamin Parker
Queen Mary 2 close to New York City

When the coronavirus outbreak halted the entire cruise industry, a Norfolk couple’s dream golden anniversary trip was left in ruins.

But for their daughters that wasn’t good enough. If their parents couldn’t fly to New York and cruise home, the Big Apple – and the Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 ocean liner – would have to come to them.

Ed and Barbara Higgins had been due to fly to America on May 9 for a 10-day holiday that would see the couple arrive back into Southampton after sailing the Atlantic. As well as their 50th wedding anniversary, Barbara would have celebrated her 70th birthday while they were away.

By putting together an itinerary of online tours, meal deliveries and immersive experiences, Alex Ozansoy and her sister Anna Griffiths recreated the “trip of a lifetime”.

Mrs Ozansoy told The Telegraph that this was her parents’ first cruise, and a voyage which they had been planning for a decade.

Barbara and Ed Higgins on the deck of Queen Mary 2 – though not all is as it seems - Alex Ozansoy

“From when they were young the transatlantic crossing has always been something they have dreamed of.

“I was on a video chat with my mum on at the end of April and she said ‘two weeks today we would have been going on our once in a lifetime holiday’. My mum is normally so strong but as she spoke she welled up. It broke my heart.”

Following this call, the sisters began organising the ‘trip’, which they intended to be an “uplifting experience rather than give the feeling of sadness and regret of missing out”.

The night before Mr and Mrs Higgins had been due to leave, their children emailed a presentation of 150 slides containing information on where they would be going each day and links to various videos, streams of Broadway shows, 360º tours, 3D maps and guided walks.

Without leaving East Anglia, their journey began with drinks at the airport before they flipped through an airline magazine for their flight and, after they ‘landed’, they watched a time-lapse video of taxi ride from John F Kennedy Airport to their planned hotel in Times Square.

The Empire State cruised into Norfolk for the Higgins' anniversary - BYELIKOVA OKSANA

Included in their New York itinerary was a helicopter tour of Manhattan, the Metropolitan Opera performing The Marriage of Figaro, a visit to Grand Central Station, shopping on Fifth Avenue, a performance of Kinky Boots, among others.

Several workshops that would have been available on board Queen Mary 2, such as towel art creations and scone making, were replaced with online tutorials.

On the night the Higgins should have been attending the ship’s formal gala dinner they still got all dressed up in their glad rags, but instead of the Britannia Restaurant their daughters arranged for a meal to be delivered from their parents’ favourite local restaurant.

And so they didn’t miss out of those all-important photo album snaps, the Higgins were digitally added to pictures of the ship.

It took almost two weeks, with hours of work each day, to get the virtual trip ready, and resulted in an emotional response.

In her Facebook posts documenting each day, Barbara wrote: "This afternoon I went virtual shopping on Fifth Avenue. Ed was pleased it was only virtual."

“My mum called me in tears of joy and quite overwhelmed. Dad was really moved and quite choked up too,” said Mrs Ozansoy.

Mrs Higgins said that “after the disappointing news of the cancellation of our once in a lifetime trip, the virtual holiday was a wonderful surprise”, with her husband’s adding that his highlights included a “beautiful but eerie empty” Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral and the “extremely moving” National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

The couple hope they will be able to take their trip once travel restrictions have eased.

Cunard described the gesture as “ingenious”, with a spokesperson telling Telegraph Travel that the cruise line loves seeing “ways our guests are bringing their dreams of sailing with Cunard and on the Queen Mary 2 to life.

“The touches and thought that went in to recreating this virtual transatlantic crossing were truly brilliant. We look forward to welcoming this wonderful family on board when we resume sailing again.”

Along with the rest of the cruise industry, Cunard has paused operations due to the spread of coronavirus. It plans to resume service on August 1.