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How cruise ships set sail during COVID

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Nasal swabs, temperature checks, buffet buddies. Welcome to your cruise, ladies and gentlemen. As U.S. cruise lines plan to reopen, they are doing everything possible to reassure potential passengers that it is safe to board. It won’t be easy. Coronavirus outbreaks aboard ships last spring have imprinted the image of cruises as petri dishes of disease.

The outbreaks prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue a no-sail order last March for ships carrying 250 or more passengers in US waters. On October 31, the order was changed to allow for a gradual reopening, but many cruise lines continued to suspend operations.

“Personally, I don’t see them starting until spring,” says Sheri Griffiths, owner of

Yet the cruise lines have been busy. Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings have consulted with medical and scientific experts to develop best practices for safe navigation. U.S. cruise lines are also learning from Asian and European cruises that have already set sail, and the CDC has issued its own protocols.

Cruise industry has not said if it will require passengers to get vaccinated once it becomes widely available, but some cruise lines are considering it. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio said Weekly trip for his company’s lawyers to review the legal aspects associated with a passenger vaccination warrant. The vaccine, he said, will be necessary for the crew.

Gene Sloan, the cruise and travel editor for The Points Guy website, sailed the SeaDream 1, which in November became the first Caribbean cruise to sail since the pandemic. SeaDream 1 holds 112 passengers and was sailing at about half of its capacity for a seven-day trip. Sloan, who wrote about his experience on The Points Guy website, says he had to take a COVID-19 test within three days of sailing and then again on the day of departure. His temperature was also taken and his hands, shoes and hand luggage were sprayed with disinfectant.

Nothing was particularly invasive or bothersome, he says, and once on board, no one was required to wear masks, a decision which was partially overturned days later. But social distancing has been a big change. The cruise is “a very social experience,” says Sloan. “People like it because they can meet other people. I had to sit alone at a small table.

In the bar, all the other bar stools were taped. He had to make an appointment for the gym and was limited to a 30-minute workout with three other people in the room. After every half hour of training, the gym was closed and disinfected. All meals were outside except the first night before departure. Despite the precautions, three days after the start of the cruise, seven people tested positive – mostly from the same family – and passengers “were immediately asked to return to their cabins to self-isolate,” said Sloan. The ship then sailed to Barbados.

From Wednesday to Saturday, Sloan was quarantined in his cabin as the government of Barbados began contact tracing. The crew members slipped menus under his door; he filled them up and slid them back. The crew delivered their meal tray, placed it in front of the door, knocked, and then walked away.

Someone is believed to be unknowingly carrying a low level of the virus that was not detected by testing, Sloan says. The ship’s owner Sea Dream Yacht Club did not respond to requests for comment. “There’s going to be a lot of learning from this one,” Sloan says. “Two rounds of testing and someone slipped out.”

Many cruises went off without a hitch. Some Genting cruises have been sailing since July 26 in Taiwan. Another started on November 6, with no reported cases of COVID-19 so far, said Kent Zhu, president of Genting Cruise Lines.

Morgan O’Brien, a travel video blogger based in Hamburg, Germany, took three cruises: two on a German cruise line through northern Europe in June and one on an Italian ship around the Mediterranean in October . Some safety measures made for a better trip, he says. Because boarding times were strictly adhered to, “boarding has never been easier. I sometimes waited an hour and a half to board.

O’Brien, who loves buffets, was happy to see that they hadn’t been done away with, although the food was served by a waiter, whom he referred to as a “buffet pal”.

He joined an excursion on the Mediterranean cruise, noting that “it was framed like in high school. Everyone had to wear a brightly colored vest and we had to stay with the group. You couldn’t interact with the locals or make additional purchases.

O’Brien might not be a typical cruiser, but he liked social distancing. “I hate being put on with different parties,” although he admits, “if you’re a social butterfly who after every cruise has 10 new pen pals, that’s not going to happen now.”

He was also pleasantly surprised at how compliant almost all of the guests were, and when someone wasn’t, how quickly the crew responded. “I forgot to put on my mask while walking, and I was told very quickly and firmly, ‘Remember to wear a mask. “”

For those who want to go back but fear the cruises may not be the same, O’Brien, himself a cruise enthusiast, says go. “It’s much more like a cruise than not a cruise.”

While the coronavirus remains a threat, here is what cruise ship passengers can expect:

  • Mandatory tests for COVID-19 from a few days to 24 hours before your embarkation.
  • A health check, including temperature measurement at the terminal and possibly daily checks on board.
  • Mandatory wearing of a face mask in public spaces, with a few exceptions, such as for meals.
  • Fewer passengers and crew, with some cruises at 50% capacity.
  • No need to dine with strangers anymore, and no self-service buffets.
  • No port stopping except in isolated areas or where group outings can be closely supervised. No wandering on your own.
  • Better ventilation systems that limit or eliminate recirculation air.

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