(MSC Meraviglia at port of Miami last November. This is similar to the ship that has begun sailing again in Italy.)
Cruise enthusiasts like me may have been wondering when we can get back out to sea. While we still don’t know exactly when all the travel restrictions will be lifted and when we will be able to freely travel the world again, I have new reason to be hopeful!
A few smaller ships have ventured out recently in Europe. Even though Europe has had a recent surge in virus numbers and they are in search of a vaccine just like we are, they seem to have a different attitude about getting back to life and finding ways to safely move forward. We can learn a lot from these efforts. If you can screen people really well before/as they are boarding, it’s easy to keep a protective bubble on board with no port calls. Think “Cruise to Nowhere,” where you just make circles for a few short days then come back. Small ship size makes things even easier to control. But last week, the MSC Grandiosa did something groundbreaking (wavebreaking?) in these pandemic days. For those of you not familiar, it’s one of these new giants that holds more than 6,000 passengers. It sailed last week on a 7 night Mediterranean itinerary, complete with port calls, successfully with no cases of Covid-19.
(Please note, all ship pictures used here are of a similar MSC ship, Meraviglia, which I had the pleasure of sailing on in November, 2019.)
Reduced capacity on the ship, strict guidelines, and screening before boarding all played a part in the success of the sailing, and the ship is now on its second similar run. This week, one man tested positive before boarding, so he, his family, and all passengers riding in the same van with him to the terminal were denied boarding. While disappointing for those 15 or so people, it was unquestionably the right call.
If passengers want to enjoy one of the ports of call, they must be on an MSC excursion to get off the ship. These excursions have carefully planned transportation, strict protocols, and handpicked destinations to ensure that the ship’s “protective bubble” stays intact. And this certainly not to say that the protective bubble is perfect and fool-proof, but it should make it far less likely that someone picks up the virus in port and brings it back on board. You are not allowed to just walk off the ship and go where you please as would normally be the case. One family last week decided that they were entitled to do/see what they liked. They broke protocol and left their excursion group, then later returned to the ship. They were denied boarding, and I applaud MSC for adhering to their rules. The message is clear. If you don’t like the extra guidelines and restrictions, don’t go yet. Wait until all of this is over and the rules become a little more forgiving again. While this was an Italian itinerary with only Italian and French passengers, MSC has developed what seems to be a good system of rules for getting us back to sea.
Pictured above is one of many handwashing stations in a long hall leading to the pool deck buffet on MSC Meraviglia. Also throughout the hall are many hand sanitizer dispensers. I can't imagine what more they could do now to improve these corridors which were already a haven for germ freaks like me.
In the meantime, other lines like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian have been putting their heads together, working on how to satisfy the CDC and get Americans safely back to sea, so my best guess is that this successful MSC effort will boost their study and their conversation with the CDC. We still don’t know exactly when we will be back on the ocean, but this is so encouraging. It was also just announced yesterday that they hope to begin using new 15 minute rapid result tests in airports in NYC. This would make screening at the terminal even easier moving forward.
So many moving parts have to work together to get us back to sea. Crew members have to come back from their homes. Ports have to be open to accepting passengers again. But we will get there eventually, and this first successful sailing of a large ship is a massive step forward.