Cruises are back! But here's what they look like in a COVID-19 world
Travel agent Valeria Belardi was anxious as she prepared for her seven-day Mediterranean cruise in a world where COVID-19 is rampant.
She was one of 3,000 pioneering cruise passengers onboard the MSC Grandiosa, which is the first cruise liner to return to the Mediterranean after the shutdown of the cruising industry.
The voyage was a different experience, as there was constant COVID-19 testing, social distancing, hand sanitising and temperature checks, but according to Belardi, it was "relaxing and enjoyable".
While MSC Cruises wouldn't confirm exact numbers, the Grandiosa was operating at about 60 per cent of its 6,300 passenger capacity.
Belardi on board the cruise liner enjoyed pre-packaged snacks, swims in the pool and trips to the spa.
"I think cruises could be the safest holiday, right now," said Belardi to CNN.
Before boarding, passengers are tested for COVID-19 via a primary antigen test and a secondary molecular test.
MSC Cruises representative Luca Biondolillo told CNN that one embarking passenger tested positive at both stages.
"In accordance with the protocol, the passenger, as well as his travelling party, were denied boarding," said Biondolillo.
"Additionally, other passengers who had reached the ship with the same van were denied boarding as they were close contacts of the one passenger who tested positive."
The cruise involved day trips, with sightseeing in Malta and the Sicilian city of Palermo.
However, the trips and excursions are pre-planned and tightly controlled. One family broke the rules during a port stop, who were denied reboarding the ship.
"The health and safety protocols are put in place for the benefit of every single person," Biondolillo said. "There can be no breaking of the rules.
"These people risked jeopardizing everybody else's holidays and health."
Cruise operators are desperate to figure out a solution to travelling that keeps people safe.
"We know that for every 1% drop in cruising that occurs worldwide, up to 9,100 jobs can be lost," Bari Golin-Blaugrund, a spokeswoman for industry body Cruise Lines International Association, told CNN.
Golin-Blaugrund says CLIA is confident that cruising will recover as demand is already being seen for 2021 vacations and beyond, but, she says, with most cruise operations still suspended, that means up to 2,500 jobs being lost per day.
"By the end of September, the worldwide impact will be $77 billion, 518,000 jobs and $23 billion in wages lost."
Cruise lines are now finding themselves with excess ships, with Carnival Corporation announcing plans to remove at least six cruise ships from its fleet. The company has since posted a $4.4 billion loss for the second quarter of 2020.
Meanwhile, Holland America also announced plans to offload four of its 14 ships: Amsterdam, Maasdam, Rotterdam and Veendam.
"It's always difficult to see any ship leave the fleet, especially those that have a long and storied history with our company," said Stein Kruse, chief executive officer of Holland America Group and Carnival UK, in a statement.
Former crew members are not eager to return to cruise liners without it returning to normal either.
Austrian dancer Conny Seidler has been keeping an eye on the cruise industry, but she's not sure about the new regulations.
"I understand all the precautions and everything -- there is a reason behind it. But for me, it takes away all the reasons why people would go and work on the ship," Seidler tells CNN.
"Because you would go on a ship because you want to travel the world, you want to see places."
"People from poorer countries come to the ship to earn money and send it back home," she adds.
"But what keeps those people sane, if you never go out, is you go to the gym or you go and socialize with your friends in the crew bar, these kind of things and that's all kind of been taken away."
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