My folks are particularly ardent cruisers who tend to book their annual World Cruise a few years in advance. One of the perks of this, for me, is that I am usually invited to join them, for my choice of segments. *
When Crystal Cruises announced its 2022 World Cruise, back in 2019, I was booked to go on the so-called “Amenity Voyage,” wherein the ship repositions from the Caribbean (where it spends the winter holidays) to Los Angeles (where the World Cruise was to have begun). As a matter of fact, I was on a version of this cruise in 2020, as COVID was just beginning to change the world as we knew it.
Shortly thereafter, cruising came to a screeching halt and remained as such until the expiration of the CDC’s “no-sail” order that ran from March 2020 to June 2021. And while my family has been exceptionally fortunate—as of this writing, my parents, brother, sister-in-law, nephew, niece, and I have all been vaccinated and boosted, and remain COVID-free—we continue to be vigilant about masking and social distancing and the like.
So, why would we consider going on a cruise, especially with all the reports of cruises being “floating Petri dishes” and the like? Well, there are a few reasons.
First, like any land-based property, it’s a numbers game, in that the higher the number of people in an enclosed space, the higher the likelihood of spreading the contagion. Unlike most of the ships that have been rife with cases of COVID, there is simply a far greater Per Guest Space Ratio on the Crystal Serenity (as well as other luxury ships from such cruise lines as Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Silversea Cruises). What’s more, while the ship’s capacity is usually 980 guests and 650 crew, this voyage has only 309 passengers and 523 crew. Needless to say, with fewer than a third of the number of guests than usual, that Per Guest Space Ratio triples!
Further, as CDC Director Rochelle Walensky pointed out, last week, in a Senate HELP Committee hearing, following the 2020 prohibition of cruise lines from docking in the US, the industry “has stepped up and is now interested in doing and exceeding ... compliance with the sail order—without the order even necessarily being in place—is a testament to how that order has worked and our collaboration with the industry.”
So, what did this entail? First, every passenger had to provide proof of vaccination, while every member of the crew has been vaccinated and boosted. Then, prior to boarding, a PCL Rapid Antigen Test was administered to each guest, and only upon receipt of a Negative result, was that guest allowed to board. An electronic tracking device was assigned to each passenger, which was rather akin to an Apple AirTag worn around the wrist in a rubber “watchband” that kept track of who was near whom, for contact tracing purposes. This tracker is required to be worn at all times, with guests trying to enter any of the restaurants without theirs told to return to their cabin and retrieve it. And even then, every guest’s temperature was taken upon entering a restaurant.
Any guest or crew testing positive for COVID (on my voyage not a single passenger received a Positive test, though a few crew did) is not sent back to their cabin to quarantine, but rather, did so in special medically attended cabins set-up and maintained in a cordoned-off part of the ship.
As part of the CRYSTAL CLEAN+ initiative, the cruise line’s Responsive Mask Policy was stringently observed, and I cannot recall anyone causing a fuss or not wearing their mask when they should have. The RMP includes a mask mandate in all public areas of the ship, excluding venues for eating, drinking, swimming, or outdoor ship activity. But, seeing as I found myself on the young end of the age bell curve on this voyage, it’s safe to assume that nobody was raising the roof poolside, nor do I even recall seeing anyone in the pool, at any time (masked or otherwise).
As far as the ports of all were concerned, there were a couple of islands where nobody was allowed off the ship unless part of a private tour booked through the ship, and another where those not booked on such tours were allowed only in the port, but no further. And, in the case of St. John (part of the US Virgin Islands), we skipped it, altogether, resulting in our last three days being “sea days” (which was just dandy as far as this group was concerned.
Once, when I decided to roam the ship in the middle of the night, I was pleased to see a number of crew members in full HazMat gear—with canisters not unlike those used by exterminators—spraying the hallways with what I can only assume was some sort of antiviral mist.
So, am I saying that everyone should drop everything and book a cruise? No. But I am saying that I have spent fewer than ten minutes contemplating COVID since boarding the Crystal Serenity a couple of weeks back. That I got some fresh air, sun, and relaxation while partaking in such activities as riding a horse for the very first time, visiting a sensational botanical garden, and seeing the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton: That’s what I spent my time thinking about. Well, that and the food, of which there was a lot. But you can read all about my activities and the plethora of culinary delights in some future articles. Ahoy!
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[Editor’s Note: While originally coined in reference to a circumnavigation of the globe, a “World Cruise” usually commences in January, runs through April or May, and is comprised of multiple segments (usually 12-20 days, each). The itinerary might be the Pacific Rim (think: Los Angeles to Alaska to Asia to Australia to Los Angeles) or it could include an oceanic crossing or two (i.e., Miami to South America to Africa to Europe to Miami).]