Guests left behind when a ship sails away is usually an unfortunate situation no cruise line likes to talk about. But when it happened last week in Naples, cheers rang out around the world.
The guests weren’t late, which is usually how guests miss ships.
Earlier this summer, Europe-based MSC Cruises had announced its new COVID-era health and safety protocols, developed closely with European authorities that included measures you’d expect plus:
· pre-screening every guest and crew member before boarding;
· daily checks and onboard virus detection machines along with additional medical staff and a fully detailed plan to deal with suspected cases on board;
· only permitting guests to disembark when participating in MSC Cruises shore tours or excursions, to maintain the passenger health ‘bubble’ and also protecting local communities from any risk of exposure from the ship; all while
· maintaining the pleasures of cruising.
Shortly after, it announced it would begin cruising in the Mediterranean with European-only guests. Bubble cruising, but open to a quite broad group of passengers from different EU countries.
Could cruising be done safely?
It would be the first return of the cruise industry’s mega-ships. And even cruise lines with smaller ships – considered more likely to be able to manage new COVID requirements – had not successfully sailed without cases of COVID arising.
Last week, the MSC Grandiosa set sail at about half-capacity under the line’s new protocols and everyone watching travel held their breath.
Within days, the word spread that while in port in Naples, guests on the ship were denied boarding.
It might seem an awkward footnote to this momentous sailing. In fact, it was celebrated around the world.
The guests had broken the rules. Apparently, they disembarked with an MSC Cruises tour, according to protocol, but then broke away from the tour and went off to explore the destination on their own.
When they returned on their own to the ship, they were not allowed back on board.
The System Worked
The new protocols designed to maintain a seal against infection coming on board were upheld.
And when the Grandiosa arrived in Genoa at the end of her cruise, she became the first big ship to resume cruising post-COVID - and complete a cruise with no COVID cases on board.
It’s a huge victory for MSC Cruises. And it’s a big win for all of us who love cruising, and for the entire industry.
MSC’s successful sailing proves that there are safety measures that can be put in place and maintained for cruises to operate and stay COVID-free.
There were other positive events, too.
The cruise line also says that on the final day of that first cruise, when the Grandiosa was en route back to Genoa, all guests who went ashore outside of Italy were tested as required by Italian authorities before the ship could re-enter Italian waters to disembark. All the guests tested COVID-free.
It’s also been reported that during its turnaround call in Genoa after that first, COVID-free sailing, while the ship was being disinfected for its next group of guests, pre-boarding guests underwent testing in the terminal. One guest tested positive twice, so he – and his family who had all traveled together by van to the port – were not permitted to board.
These protocol successes are a triumph for the future of cruising, confirming cruise travel can return safely.
MSC notes it’s not all testing and protocols, “Life on board during the cruise ran smoothly, with guests enjoying every bit of the specialty restaurants, cafés and shops that our flagship has to offer. Similarly, many of the shore excursions on offer – we call them protected ashore visits, were sold out.”
So if you’ve been missing cruising, too, this news from MSC should give you hope you’ll be safely back at sea soon.
By: Lynn Elmhirst, BestTrip producer/ host and cruise expert
Image: the Grandiosa in port in Genoa prior to her first post-COVID sailing. Courtesy MSC Cruises
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