You can probably recall the stories of cruise ships being stuck at sea during the early stages of the pandemic; whether the virus had found its way on to the ship, and ports and health authorities were trying to manage this, or countries we’re restricting access due to a fear of spread, it wasn’t a great time for cruise liners. Once all had managed to make their way back to shore, cruise ships remained docked for much of the next year. However, now there is a greater understanding of how the virus behaves and as we’ve had success with the vaccine rollout, cruise ships are taking to the seas once more. And over the weekend, I boarded the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady and thought I’d share my experiences with you.
I feel it is important to state that cruise ships are known to have incredible safety measures on board. Due to the nature of travel and a close proximity to other passengers, they’ve had stringent health measures in place since before the pandemic. You were always told and encouraged to wash your hands before entering the dining room and at the slightest symptom, of anything, to retreat to your room and speak to the medics. They were already well versed at curbing spread already. I equally feel it is important to state that I have health anxiety. So this, was very much, an interesting experiment for me too.
Firstly, you were not allowed on board if you were not double vaccinated. More so, you couldn’t come aboard if your second vaccine was less than 2 weeks prior to sailing. As we know, vaccination against COVID can help curb the spread and help reduce severe symptoms so many liners are taking the strong approach that it’s double vaccine or you can’t travel (and they’ll provide you with a refund if you aren’t). This was one of the first comforting measures in place.
The second, you had to have a COVID test before boarding, at the port, at a cost to the travel company. As those who’ve been double vaccinated can have reduced or no symptoms at all, it can be hard to know if you have the virus at any time. Testing is the simplest, quickest, and most convenient way to ensure you do not have the virus at that moment. This provides confidence that at point of boarding, no-one, not the passengers or crew (who are all also tested the morning before boarding) do not have the virus. Additionally, as the test has to be conducted and verified at the port, this helps to ensure there can be no falsifying of results.
On board cleaning
There was an abundance of staff, throughout the trip, that could be seen cleaning down various facilities. At some of the busiest toilets on board, there were often staff permanently there cleaning down the facilities and even holding the doors open (though signage on those that weren’t staffed would encourage you to use a paper towel to open the main door with a bin very close by too). There were sanitising stations, hand washing facilities, and even disinfecting wipes at numerous places throughout the ship; it was no trouble finding any facilities to clean your hands or even wipe down touchpoints at any point during the trip when you needed or wanted to.
In addition to the multiple measures in place, many are operating on a reduced capacity. The ship we were on were not accepting more than 62% of total occupancy. It wasn’t to say that it wasn’t busy, there were still plenty of people around and particularly in the restaurants and during the shows it was booked up and you were in closer proximity to others but there was certainly a feeling of more space available.
All staff on board were wearing masks. The only exception was during the entertainment unless they were interacting with the audience. Additionally, we noticed during the cabaret act they were changing the microphones with each new interaction and even commented that they too are stringently sanitised and cleaned each night!
State of the art filtration
We know that circulating the air is really important to help reduce the spread of any virus. Since the pandemic began Virgin like many other travel companies – airlines and cruises- have updated and advanced their filtration systems to ensure the air in planes and on ships, where fresh air isn’t widely available, it as a clean as it can possibly be. The systems they use pump fresh air through a virus-catching filtration system.
With all these measures in place, advertised and promoted to us in advance, it felt that this trip would be as safe as it could possibly be- I mean what more could you do? Having experienced it, I can whole heartedly say it did. The only thing different they could do, on reflection, is have someone at the doors of the restaurants or food services and ask everyone to wash or sanitise their hands before entry. Overall, they provided an experience that felt safe and as normal as it could possibly be. It was nice to be able to eat in nice restaurants, enjoy some quality entertainment, relax and be pampered at the spa and sit on a sun deck with a cocktail in hand with the sun beating down whilst the beats play and for once forget about the virus.