Cruising the During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Is cruising possible during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic? Is it safe? What are the protocols in place to ensure passengers’ safety?
Our answer is yes! It’s possible to cruise during COVID-19 pandemic. On April 18th, 2021, we returned from a seven-day Mediterranean cruise onboard the MSC Grandiosa. This article will explain to you all the protocols we experienced to ensure passengers’ safety. We will also cover what it is like to cruise during COVID-19 pandemic.
In April 2021, the only cruise line running in the Mediterranean was MSC. They offered a singly 7-day itinerary in Italy and Malta. Only passengers resident in the European Union and Switzerland were allowed on board.
We did not care very much about the itinerary. All we wanted was to be on a ship. We were not able to cruise since our last South America and Antarctica adventure in January 2020.
We were also really excited to try a new cruise line because we had never cruised with MSC. Considering that MSC cruises the Mediterranean sea year-round, we need to try them out.
The cruise line has some strict safety protocols to ensure that the cruise runs smoothly and no passengers get exposed to the risk of contracting COVID-19on board.
MSC was one of the first cruise lines to start cruising again after the COVID-19 pandemic. With a short pause at Christmas, MSC has been sailing weekly since September 2020 with no problems.
COVID-19 Test Prior Departure
Our cruise preparation started four days before departure with an antigenic COVID-19 test. Indeed, for passengers living in Italy, the first requirement before embarkation was a negative PCR or antigenic test at 96 hours before departure. Passengers residing outside of Italy required a negative test 48 hours before departure.
We had to provide two copies of the test results at embarkation. Luckily for us, we could have a test done at the local pharmacy in 15 minutes without requiring an appointment. Fortunately, the test was negative, and we were good to go!
Rick is 42, and I am 53. And here in Italy, only those over age 70 are currently eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Indeed, we believe this is common at this time (April 2021) throughout Europe. As a result, COVID-19 vaccines are not (currently) required to cruise in Italy. However, as Europe advances with vaccination efforts, we believe it’s only a matter of time before vaccination becomes a requirement.
The boarding procedures were smooth and not that much different than regular times. One of the main differences was the boarding time. The boarding time assigned is now really strict and can not be changed. The cruise line recommends the passenger show up at the terminal no earlier than a half-hour before boarding.
We dropped off our bags and then drove the car to the garage at the cruise terminal. The cruise line offers the opportunity of booking the parking directly from their website, which makes the process very smooth.
The second step for boarding was the document check. A cruise line agent checked that all the documents, and the COVID-19 test results, in particular, were accurate before proceeding to the third step.
The third boarding procedure was the newest addition, a COVID-19 test! We got directed to a room where we had our rapid COVID-19 Antigenic test. After the test, we reached the check-in counter, where we got our cruise card, passport checked, and our new MSC contact tracing bracelet (more on that later).
While we were dealing with the check-in, our COVID-19 test results were processed. We were then able to reach our final step before boarding, a comfortable lounge where we could wait for the test results.
Less than 20 minutes later, we were finally walking on the ship, excited and delighted with the efficiency and smoothness of all processes. From the time we dropped off the car to the time we were in our cabin, it only took 45 minutes.
Contact Tracing Bracelet
At check-in, we received a contact tracing bracelet. We had to wear it at all times while onboard. This bracelet was working as a cruise card. It looks very much like the Princess Medallion. More importantly, it also allows the medical team to quickly identify anyone who was in contact with a person who might have turned positive.
The staff on board had a similar contact tracing bracelet. However, the bracelet vibrated if it was getting too close to a passenger.
In our opinion, a great extra level of safety was put in place by the cruise line.
Our first impression of the MSC Grandiosa was quite good. The ship was immaculate. Every little part of it was immaculate.
When we walked into our cabin, we immediately noticed that it was also spotless and 100% sanitized. That was quite reassuring and made us even more comfortable with the safety on board.
Very very low capacity!
One thing that we immediately noticed was how few passengers were on board. The MSC Grandiosa can accommodate 6300 passengers, and we found out that only 1400 of us were on board.
The low capacity gave the passengers the opportunity of maintaining the most amount of distance from each other. For example, only four people at the time could use each elevator. Yet, we never had to wait more than a few seconds for an elevator to arrive.
There were clear signs on the floor to enter and exit each bar, restaurant, buffet, lunges, etc. Rick called them the “Dots”. More on that later. In any event, these signs assisted with social distancing by ensuring gatherings were at a minimum.
Mask wearing on board
Onboard we had to use our mask all the time except when we were in our cabin, eating/drinking, or outside. Indeed, we were allowed to remove our masks while sunbathing or using the pools and the jacuzzi. Three or four times a day, the ship made an announcement reminding us about wearing the mask and all the other safety protocols on board. We have to admit these announcements became a little repetitive (and long) after the first day. Further, it was our view that nobody seemed to care about listening anymore.
Mask wearing in the common areas was probably the most peculiar aspect of cruising during the COVID-19 Pandemic. However, no one had an issue with us taking off our masks for a brief moment to take a photo, or a sip of a drink, etc.
At the restaurants, the wait staff wore masks and plastic shields while serving food or interacting with passengers.
Restaurants and Buffet
Like every other area of the ship, even the main dining room had some protocols in place to ensure passengers’ safety. Tables got spread out, and some of them were not getting used. We could not share a table with any other passengers other than people in the same family or cabin.
Overall we thought the dining experience was exceptional. Other than the wait staff wearing masks and plastic shields, it felt quite normal considering we were cruising during the COVID-19 Pandemic. But, we did not have to wear a mask while seated at the table.
The main difference regarding the buffet was that we were not allowed to grab our food, but a staff member passed it to us. Plexiglass shields were in front of each station to prevent people from taking food. Also, there was only one way in and a one way out of the buffet. These protocols were to prevent gathering.
Specialty restaurants were closed for the first few days of the cruise. When asked, the staff gave us many different excuses. However, we think that it was due to the low passenger capacity.
Shows and onboard entertainment
The theatre was open, and each night they had two shows. Passengers had to sit on alternate chairs even though they were traveling together in the same cabin. We thought that was quite peculiar, but it was part of cruising during COVID-19 Pandemic.
We have to admit that the cruise line did a perfect job ensuring the shows and entertainment in the theatre. Other onboard entertainments such as karaoke, live performers, and games were also running as usual, just with low capacity.
We did find the dance lesson rather comical. Each dancer had a blue dot to dance on. They were spaced about two meters apart from each other dancer. For this reason, we came up with the “Dance on the dot” nickname!
Pool deck and solarium
The pool deck was probably the area of the ship that felt the most normal about cruising during COVID-19 Pandemic. Because masks were not required while suntanning, we could sit in the sun. It felt like a regular cruise.
The only protocol in place on the sundeck was that it was impossible to move the sunbeds. They could be rotated toward the sun but not put close to each other.
The sad part excursions
Before departure, the cruise line told us that excursions were possible only with the ship-organized tours. We were happy with that compromise, and we booked few excursions online.
Unfortunately, the local authority of most of the ports decided not to allow cruise excursions in that specific city. The Italian Government also put a five-day quarantine for every person visiting any other European country. That meant that if we wanted to have a tour in Malta, we would have to quarantine for five days once back home.
For these reasons, we canceled all our tours and decided to stay on board for the entire cruise duration.
Overall we sincerely enjoyed our 7-day cruise in the Mediterranean. It felt like a good compromise between safety and fun, and if this is what Cruising during COVID-19 Pandemic will be for the near future, we will gladly take another cruise (or 4) soon.
We hope you enjoyed this article. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below.
-Rick and Andrea
Andrea was born and raised in Northern Italy. At the age of 30, he moved to Vancouver Canada. Over the years he traveled extensively in North America, Europe, Central America, and Asia. He is passionate about traveling, cruising, and travel photography. He likes to write about his traveling and shows his travel photos.