THERE was no hint of a global pandemic on the horizon when the P&O Arcadia sailed from Southampton Docks on January 3 to begin a 101-day world cruise.

Among the 2,000 passengers on board - in a small, two-berth cabin with its own balcony - were Terrington couple Mike and Anita Barber, embarking on what was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime.

There had been something in the news about a mysterious new virus somewhere in China, Anita admits. But it was a long way away, and seemed to have nothing to do with her or Mike. "It didn't really register in my brain," the 75-year-old says.

The Arcadia was an 11-deck floating resort, equipped with every comfort - pools, jacuzzis, shops, a cinema, a salon, a choice of five restaurants or dining halls, dance floors, even its own small theatre for live performances.

And the itinerary was spectacular: Southampton to Madeira; across the Atlantic to Barbados; a hop across to Curacao in the Lesser Antilles off the north coast of Venezuela; through the Panama Canal; up the west coast of Mexico and the United States to San Francisco; then out across the Pacific to Honolulu, Tonga and Samoa before voyaging south to Australia.

There was the chance to go snorkelling off the Great Barrier Reef and then a voyage up to Shanghai and a chance to take an overland trip through China to see the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army. They'd then rejoin the Arcadia at Hong Kong, before sailing home via Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Dubai and the Suez Canal to Valletta, Lisbon and finally Southampton again.

It was that chance to see a bit of China which really sold them on the cruise, Anita says. "Mike had always wanted to see the Great Wall and the terracotta warriors."

The first part of the voyage went entirely according to plan. A highlight was sailing through the Panama Canal - from the Caribbean to the Pacific in a few short miles.

The Arcadia was a big ship - almost 1,000 feet long, and more than 100 feet wide at the beam. "There are only inches to spare on either side for big ships as you go through the canal," Anita says. So instead of sailing through under her own steam, the Arcadia was pulled through by 'mules' - special tug trains - on both banks of the canal.

Passengers stood on a horseshoe-shaped deck on the ship's prow as she was pulled slowly through: a journey that took the best part of 12 hours.

They enjoyed a couple of days in San Francisco and then, at the beginning of February, steamed west across the mighty Pacific for Honolulu.

It was then, as they approached the small group of Hawaiian islands deep in the Pacific, that they got the first inkling that things may not go quite to plan.

The ports at Tonga and Samoa had been closed, their captain announced - and they wouldn't be able to call there. They would sail for New Zealand instead.

Ironically, it wasn't the coronavirus that had led to this change of plan: it was measles. There had been an outbreak at Tonga and Samoa.

The ship docked at Honolulu on February 2 and 3. Every cabin had its own TV, and there was also a daily shipboard newspaper, 'Britain Today'. So passengers had access to news. Awareness of the coronavirus was growing. It was still mainly confined to China, though a few cases had begun 'popping up' elsewhere in the world - including the UK, where the first two cases had been confirmed in York at the end of January.

The virus began to feature in conversations around the dinner table. "The chat was all about 'I bet we don't go to China'," Anita says.

Sure enough, the captain confirmed that the China leg of the cruise was off.

There was huge disappointment. "But we accepted that health and welfare was paramount," Anita says.

They sailed to New Zealand, then Sydney and Brisbane in Australia, where passengers were able to disembark and see the sights. But then came another disappointment. The voyage to Airlie Beach in Queensland and snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef were off. Coronavirus was given as the reason.

Passengers weren't going to take it lightly. So many complained, Anita says, that eventually P&O relented and laid on a smaller excursion to the reef for just 15 passengers, based from Cairns and not Airlie Beach.

Anita and Mike were among the 15 who went: snorkelling the reef was another of Mike's long-held dreams. It didn't disappoint. The water over the reef was a bit too choppy for her, Anita admits. "You could have sunk the Titanic with the amount of water I swallowed!" But Mike loved it. He was equipped with a special prescription visor, so he could see clearly underwater. "He said it was absolutely amazing," Anita says. There's even a photo of him swimming with a sea turtle...

They rejoined the Arcadia, and sailed round the Australian coast to Freemantle, the Western Australian port near Perth.

At Freemantle, a new captain came aboard, Luko Vojvoda. He was confident at first that they would be able to 'pick up' the world cruise again, and that while they wouldn't be able to go to China or Malaysia, they would be able to call in at Colombo in Sri Lanka.

But by now, the Coronavirus was beginning to spread around the world. The ship headed north west through the Indian Ocean. But passengers following the ship's route on on-board trackers then noticed that the route took a big kink to the west. An announcement from the captain followed: 'Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has closed her ports'.

The ship was in the 'middle of nowhere' in the Indian Ocean, and suddenly had nowhere to go, Anita says.

They were told that the ship would head to Durban in South Africa, and everyone was upbeat. "But then it was announced that South Africa was closed."

In the end, they found every every port they might have wanted to visit closed to them. There was no voyage through the Suez canal. The ship docked briefly at Durban, but only to refuel - no [passengers were allowed on or off.

They sailed past Cape Town, and could make out Table Mountain in the distance, but couldn't land. The ship docked again at Tenerife: but again, only to refuel. No-one was allowed on or off. They could see two other ships in harbour at Tenerife. One was a cruise ship which had been turned into a floating isolation hospital.

In all, after leaving Freemantle, they spent 33 day at sea, without making landfall. That, Anita thinks, is a record for a cruise ship.

Off the coast at Durban, they spent four days tracking in a circle waiting to be allowed in to refuel. And on March 21, passengers were informed that, in keeping with guidelines in the UK, social distancing would be introduced from March 23.

Group activities like dance lessons and even bridge classes were cancelled, several restaurants along with bars and shops were closed, and dining was restricted: only passengers sharing a cabin were permitted to sit near each-other.

But morale remained high, Anita says. In fact, better than high: it was fantastic.

There wasn't a single case of coronavirus on board: so as the virus spread around the world, passengers felt safe in their on-board cocoon.

They were fed and entertained, they made friends, and there was a real sense of camaraderie and even family, Anita says.

Yes, some passengers were desperate to get back home to be with family. "But others were saying 'why can't we do the whole voyage again in reverse?'" And the crew - mainly Indian and Filipino - were brilliant, Anita says. "They didn't know when they were going to get off the ship, or how they were going to get home, but they always had a ready smile."

The ship docked at Southampton on April 12, Easter Sunday. P&O had promised to make sure everyone got home. But Anita and Mike made their own way home, by pre-booked coach and taxi. They were shocked, Anita says, to see how empty and deserted the motorway was.

Neighbours had got in some basics for them when they arrived home at Terrington - and then they went into self-isolation for 14 days. "We actually feel far more isolated now than we ever did on the ship!" she says.

She is, by and large, impressed with the way British people have handled lockdown - although some could do better at the social distancing, she says.

But the couple have no regrets at all about their cruise through a world gradually closing down because of coronavirus.

They'd do it all again tomorrow, Anita says. "Although we're lucky that we didn't got to China. We would probably still be there now!"