Wait, you mean to tell me that over 10% of the passengers on the first Caribbean cruise since the pandemic started caught coronavirus? All on a cruise line where no one was wearing a mask? That can’t be!
SeaDream resumes Caribbean cruises
While most major cruise lines have suspended operations in the Caribbean through next year, that’s not the case across the board. SeaDream Yacht Club became the first cruise line to resume international operations in Europe over the summer, and this past week it became the first cruise line to resume operations in the Caribbean.
Starting November 7, SeaDream intended to operate 22 roundtrip cruises from Barbados, mostly lasting a week. The first cruise departed last Saturday, with 53 passengers and 66 crew onboard.
The cruise line required testing but no masks
What kind of precautions was the cruise line taking?
- Travelers needed a negative COVID-19 PCR test 48-72 hours before arriving in Barbados, per country requirements
- Then upon boarding the ship, passengers got a rapid test using Abbot ID NOW technology
That’s all fine, but the bizarre part is that both employees and guests weren’t encouraged to wear masks. Why? According to the cruise line’s SVP of Hotel Operations:
“So far, we do not want people to be wearing masks. That’s why you get tested before. We want you to enjoy the SeaDream experience.”
You’d think resuming cruising as such would defy common sense enough, but then on top of that they don’t want to take the precaution of requiring people to wear masks, because apparently life can’t be enjoyed with a mask? It’s a little concerning if this person doesn’t understand that masks are supposed to be an additional layer of protection beyond testing, rather than one replacing the other.
At least six people tested positive for coronavirus
I think the story of what happened on this cruise can best be summed up by headlines from The Points Guy cruise writer Gene Sloan, who decided to take the cruise for whatever reason.
How it started:
“Surprisingly normal: What it’s like on board the first Caribbean cruise since March”
How it progressed:
“Day 2: I’m stuck on a cruise ship lockdown due to COVID”
How it ended:
“Breaking: More passengers test positive for COVID on Caribbean cruise ship”
What happened is that one person tested positive, then four more people tested positive, and then a sixth person tested positive. Yes, that represents over 10% of the passengers.
As you’d expect, this required the cruise ship to turn around and go back to port, though passengers haven’t actually been allowed off the ship, since no country wants to let in a bunch of people with coronavirus. One person has been allowed off in order to be hospitalized — hopefully s/he is okay.
Why are people being so easy on the cruise line?
I’m a little bit confused about how the people who were on the cruise to document it are giving the cruise line a free pass.
There were some vloggers on the cruise. I’m not sure about their financial relationship with the cruise line, but their website indicates that they “work” with cruise lines on exposure, so…
Here’s a 10 minute video from them, where you can see things progress from “we’re totally comfortable” to “get us the hell off of here now.”
They also don’t understand how testing works. They say “testing doesn’t work,” and they base that on the fact that everyone had a test but there were still people with coronavirus. And that’s a completely outrageous claim, but I guess it’s echoed by the cruise company, which claimed that if everyone was tested there’s no way anyone could have coronavirus.
Then there are their Tweets. The cruise line didn’t even take the most basic precaution of requiring passengers and crew to wear masks, yet they suggest that they’re sure the cruise line will take good care of those with coronavirus:
One more passenger has tested positive. That brings the total to 6 now. One passenger has been taken to hospital and 4 others are only showing mild symptoms. We really hope they are ok. We know SeaDream will take good care of them. #Covid #Cruise pic.twitter.com/kF4Tgh3Tnt
— Cruise with Ben & David (@CruiseWithBD) November 13, 2020
Really? The cruise line that’s telling people not to wear masks? Do they really deserve the benefit of the doubt?
And then there’s this:
SeaDream is doing everything they can to resolve this situation. We feel very confident & well cared for. After 5 tests, rigorous daily screenings, and social distancing we honestly can't fault anything. It's such an unfortunate situation. We can't commend the crew enough. pic.twitter.com/DaPPbrTBPs
— Cruise with Ben & David (@CruiseWithBD) November 12, 2020
Again, really? “We honestly can’t fault anything?”
Meanwhile Gene Sloan of The Points Guy reports on how there started to be a mask requirement a few days into the cruise, presumably around the time the first case was discovered:
“Initially, as the cruise began, SeaDream didn’t require passengers to wear masks, and not a single one of the 53 passengers on board chose to do so. The consensus among passengers on board was that the COVID testing regime was so rigorous that mask-wearing was redundant.
But on Monday evening, the ship’s activity director announced that the line was tightening its rules. Passengers now are required to wear masks when moving around the ship. Crew are wearing masks at all times.
Many passengers are angry at SeaDream because of the tightened mask-wearing mandate. One passenger on Tuesday blew up at me, too, suggesting that SeaDream had changed its mask-wearing rule due to my presence on board. A SeaDream representative told me that was not the case.”
Gene truly seems like a nice guy, so I’m not trying to pick on him here. But why was he reporting in the first place on how everything on the cruise seemed “normal,” not expressing he was uncomfortable with the concept of a bunch of anti-maskers getting on a ship together?
Instead he just regurgitated the cruise line’s talking point that the ship is effectively a COVID-free “bubble” where mask-wearing isn’t critical.
Isn’t this the point at which someone reporting on this should step in and say “and that’s something I’m not comfortable with and disagree with, and this is in direct contradiction to what health authorities recommend?”
What a disaster for the cruise industry
The travel industry on the whole has a long road to recovery, but the cruise industry in particular is in an even more challenging situation. You’d think that resuming cruising in the Caribbean would come with great responsibility, and that a cruise line would go over-the-top with precautions, realizing the whole world is watching.
The success of SeaDream’s first several sailings has impacts for the entire cruise industry — if they went well it would do a bit of good for helping people start to feel better about cruising. But when on the very first cruise over 10% of passengers (and counting) get coronavirus? Well, not so much.
SeaDream’s little 53 person cruise has done an unbelievable amount of damage to the cruise industry recovering, in my opinion.
The unique challenges cruise lines face
I’ve written in the past about the general challenges that people face when traveling internationally nowadays, but these problems are only exacerbated when you’re on a cruise. That’s also why I don’t think the cruise industry will recover anytime soon.
Think of the logistics of international cruising. Did cruise ships six months ago being stuck at sea for weeks not teach us anything? If someone on a plane or hotel has coronavirus and you weren’t in close contact with them, you can monitor symptoms and can go on with your life and leave.
Meanwhile if this happens on a cruise ship, you’re potentially stuck there until the situation is resolved, with no way out. No country wants to let you in, and given how coronavirus spreads, you could potentially be stuck at sea for weeks with limited resources.
And this disaster was on a cruise ship with just over 100 people including crew. Can you imagine how much worse this situation would be on a mega-cruise ship with thousands of people?
Over 10% of the passengers on the first Caribbean cruise in months have coronavirus. Go figure it was not only a cruise ship where passengers weren’t required to wear masks, but based on all reports it sounds like the cruise line actively discouraged wearing masks, and that was specifically the reason many people booked the cruise. And that was all based on the cruise line’s incorrect understanding of how testing works (“everyone was tested twice, so therefore this is a COVID-free bubble!”).
If only someone could have seen this coming!
Anyway, most importantly, I hope that those with coronavirus recover and are okay…