Last week I sailed aboard MSC Cruises’ Meraviglia, though it is an ocean cruise, there is relevant information for river cruisers. I will cover that trip in the coming weeks on our sister site Avid Cruiser, but before I do I want to talk about something that is on every traveler’s mind recently – COVID-19, better known as Coronavirus.
There has been a lot of panic about Coronavirus since December when the disease was beginning to spread in China. Panic has worsened, and rightfully so, as the only continent with no cases of COVID-19 is Antarctica.
It seems impossible to go on a cruise right now without thinking about the threat of COVID-19. People have been reaching out to their traveler advisors, cruise companies, and experts, like us, to seek advice on what to do during this time. Should they cancel their cruise vacations? Should they try to reschedule them? Or, should they simply try to go? The trouble with these questions is that the answers vary depending on who’s asking.
Those who have preexisting health conditions might have to be more careful, especially seniors. If you are worried about contracting the flu or the common cold because of underlying health issues, you should definitely be cautious with COVID-19. So, if my 75-year-old grandmother were asking me whether or not she should cruise, I would probably say no. She has had three terrible colds this year, and had an awful reaction to the flu shot.
Obviously, the threat of COVID-19 did not stop me from going on my sailing aboard Meraviglia, nor did it stop my 51-year-old mother who joined me. We are both in good health, we are young, and neither of us have any pre-existing health conditions.
Take a look at these charts from Our World In Data. They have compiled research from COVID-19’s emergency response team to show who is most likely to have fatal complications from the disease:
These charts don’t need very much explaining, but they do a good job of showing which groups of travelers may want to take extra precautions.
There have been more concerns raised about cruising during this outbreak during the past few days as another Princess cruise ship has had possible COVID-19 cases on board. US Vice President Mike Pence met with several cruise executives in an attempt to understand how to best handle this issue. At this time, it is a bit unclear what the solution is; however, the US State Department had advised people to stay off cruise ships. At first, the message was directed only towards older passengers and those with preexisting conditions. Now it seems that message is intended for all US passengers.
Many people in the travel industry are outraged by the State Department’s statement. Many are also outraged at journalists for sharing the State Department’s message, saying that the media is sensationalizing the spread of the virus – especially on board a ship. Perhaps this is true, but the bottom line is that people are worried, and that this coverage is important. If the US government tells you not to do something, you might not want to do it. So hearing these messages from the State Department and the CDC can be alarming.
It seems like the issue for most travelers, though, is the threat of quarantine. I have said numerous times that I am surprised we got off Meraviglia without any issues, especially after the press conference that took place with Pence and the cruise executives over the weekend. It seemed that within three to four days, many people on my ship had a cough. Was it COVID-19? Maybe not. On a sailing at any other time, I wouldn’t have thought twice about anyone coughing. But this time, my mind immediately went to my dog who was being boarded at a kennel. It would have been devastating to leave him there longer due to a quarantine. Luckily, I am back home with two dogs sleeping next to me.
Many comments I’ve read have expressed similar concerns. People say that they are okay with the thought of catching the virus, though I am not entirely sure that’s what they mean, but will be discouraged from taking a cruise because of quarantines. When I expressed concerns about quarantines on my trip, someone responded, “Two ships have been quarantined. Think about how many ships are sailing at the moment.” While this is true, the recent spread of the virus throughout Europe and North America will almost definitely make quarantines more likely.
So, now that I have likely told you everything you already know, we should look at how MSC dealt with screenings and added precautions on board due to the threat of COVID-19.
After arriving at the terminal, guests were given a health questionnaire.
I am not sure what good these questionnaires do. If someone wants to get on the ship, they are probably going to lie in regards to questions about fevers or coughs. They know that if they say yes, they will likely be turned away.
We also had our temperature taken with thermal scanners.
As we got closer to the ship, my mom looked at me and said, “I can’t believe they didn’t take our temperature.” There was no discussion with us about what the thermal scanners were for. I assume most guests thought they were getting their photo taken, as we were simply instructed to stand on a mark. However, having our temperatures taken as we got on the ship did make me feel a bit better about boarding.
Another concern of mine is that MSC hosts a large number of Italian guests every year. As you can see on the questionnaire above, guests were asked if they had visited certain regions in Italy recently, but that was as far as it went. I asked about the precautions for travelers coming from Italy and was surprised to find out that MSC was not allowing any guests who held an Italian passport on board. In fact, there was an Italian passenger with a residency card from Switzerland, where he had lived for three years, who was turned away because he held an Italian passport. So they seemed rigorous in their efforts to keep passengers traveling from potential hubs on the virus off the ship.
Once we got to our stateroom, we received a letter that went into more depth on the measures MSC had taken. This letter included the number for the Medical Center and encouraged those showing signs of illness to contact the center immediately.
It seemed as though there were fewer precautions once we were on board. But I can assume that a lot of measures were being taken in the background, like cleaning elevator buttons and handrails.
One precaution that was very obvious, though, was the, almost forced, sanitizing and washing of our hands. Outside each public area, there were hand sanitizer dispensers. We have come to expect seeing those on ships. But there were also members of the crew standing with bottles of sanitizer to ensure that guests were sanitizing. In fact, outside of one of the theatres, I heard a man tell one of the crew members he would rather not sanitize his hands. The crew member’s response? “I must insist. If you don’t wish to use the sanitizer, you can visit one of the restrooms and wash your hands before you come in.”
This is essentially what we have been told to do by the CDC. They have advised people against using masks, and have said that the best precaution anyone can take against COVID-19 is regular handwashing. That was apparent on board as well.
So what is the bottom line here? It feels like I have just spewed a lot of information. In essence, that is what I have done. I am not a doctor, I am not a scientist. I have no authority when it comes to telling you whether or not you should take a cruise. But having just gone a large ship with travelers around the globe, I can say that my concern about COVID-19 was no worse than it is now that I am back home than it was when I was on board the ship.
My best advice? Go with your gut. Do your research.
In the end what’s more important, making sure you don’t contract COVID-19, or losing the money you’ve invested in your vacation?
If you choose to go through with your cruise plans, happy cruising; but if you choose to cancel, that’s okay, too. Let’s just hope we can all start cruising without worry again soon.