Why I’m about to get on a cruise ship. This week. Really

Nov 5, 2020

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You may have heard that cruising is shut down in North America through at least January, and that’s true. For the most part.

In the wake of a restrictive new “conditional sailing” order from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all the world’s major cruise lines this week extended their cancellations of sailings in North America through the end of December.

But one small line, SeaDream Yacht Club, is going ahead with plans for a limited restart to Caribbean cruising scheduled for Saturday.

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Assuming all goes as expected, the brand’s yacht-like, 112-passenger SeaDream I will become the first cruise vessel to depart on a Caribbean voyage since early this year.

It’ll also be the first cruise ship that I have stepped foot on since early this year.

Yep, that’s right. The Points Guy’s cruise guy is getting back to cruising.

SeaDream I will depart from Barbados on Saturday on a seven-night voyage to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada, and I’ll be there. I’m flying down to Barbados on Friday.

A relatively low risk

It might seem like a crazy time to head off to a cruise ship. COVID cases have been rising sharply in many parts of the United States in recent weeks. Some states are requiring residents to quarantine after taking trips to certain places. The CDC still is cautioning against cruise travel.

But there’s an argument that the sort of limited cruising that SeaDream is about to restart in the Caribbean is relatively low risk.

For starters, the home port that SeaDream has chosen for its Caribbean restart is on an island with almost no cases of the new coronavirus. Barbados recorded just a single new case of COVID-19 on Monday, the last day for which data is available. It recorded zero cases on Sunday.

SeaDream I is a small, yacht-like vessel that carries just 112 passengers. (Photo courtesy of SeaDream Yacht Club).

Like New Zealand and a handful of other places around the world, Barbados essentially has shut COVID-19 down.

SeaDream I also has become something of a no-COVID bubble amidst the coronavirus outbreak. While the ship is just starting up sailings in the Caribbean for the first time this weekend, this won’t be the first time it has sailed in this new era of COVID, and it has implemented a range of anti-COVID measures that — for several months, at least — have kept it COVID-free.

SeaDream I was one of the first cruise vessels to restart operations in Europe over the summer — way back in June. It operated sailings along the Norwegian coast for months with little trouble. It had a brief COVID scare in August when someone who had sailed on the ship tested positive for COVID-19 after returning home. But that turned out to be a false alarm.

Anti-COVID measures

The anti-COVID measures that SeaDream has been taking include testing every passenger for COVID-19 at the pier before they are allowed to board. In Barbados, that’ll be the second line of defence, as every visitor to Barbados is required to test negative for COVID-19 within three days of flying to the country. Barbados requires some visitors to be tested again after landing.

In theory, some SeaDream passengers could run a gauntlet of three COVID tests over several days before boarding.

SeaDream also has implemented some truly rigorous cleaning and sanitising measures on board, including using the same sort of ultrasonic foggers that hospitals use to sanitise rooms, as well as a germ-killing UV light system.

Related: MSC Cruises has success in Europe with new anti-COVID measures

The line also has imposed a social distancing requirement and is taking passenger temperatures daily.

Also adding to the bubble during the upcoming Caribbean sailings: During island stops, passengers won’t be allowed to wander around on their own. This is designed to minimise the chance of interacting with local residents who might be ill.

No official barrier to restarting

One reason the world’s major cruise lines cancelled sailings in North America this week through the end of December was that the CDC’s new “conditional sailing” order requires them to get a Conditional Sailing Certificate to restart voyages — something that will take at least 60 days. But that requirement is only for ships that sail in U.S. waters.

Unlike the major lines, SeaDream doesn’t typically operate in U.S. waters when it offers Caribbean sailings. The Caribbean trips that the line is starting on Saturday — it’s planning a series of 22 departures through next spring — don’t include any passages through U.S. waters. That means SeaDream isn’t subject to CDC regulation.

Even if it sailed in U.S. waters, SeaDream would be exempt from the CDC’s new order, as the order only applies to vessels that carry more than 250 passengers and crew.

A glimpse of what cruising will be like

After reading all of the above, you still may be questioning my decision to sign on for Saturday’s cruise. I will say, for starters, that I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t feel that — for the reasons explained above — the risk of getting sick was very low.

It’s my job to analyse and understand the procedures that cruise lines are putting in place, and after extensive study of what SeaDream and other lines have planned for their restarts in this new era of COVID, I have a lot of confidence in the relative safety of cruising going forward.

By far the biggest risk for me in taking this trip, I believe, will be in the hours I spend travelling to and from the ship from my home near Philadelphia.

But I also will say there is some risk to everything we do. Life is about calculated risks. I will take a calculated risk on Friday when I get in my car to drive 30 miles to the Philadelphia airport.

There’s also an important story to be told out of this trip, one that I think is worth the small risk that I think I am taking. In the coming days, I’ll be able to see what cruising really will be like in this new era of COVID and, in turn, pass on my experiences to thousands of cruisers who right now are weighing what to do about upcoming trips.

Most of the anti-COVID measures that SeaDream is implementing are the same as what the major cruise lines plan for when they restart sailings as early as January.

Related: A preview of the new COVID-related cruise restrictions

Just how onerous will COVID-related restrictions be on board SeaDream I? Will the cruise still be enjoyable with limits on how passengers can tour in ports? I hope to answer these questions and many more in the coming days.

I’ll post live from the ship starting over the weekend. To see all my posts, check back regularly at my author’s page here at The Points Guy.

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Featured image of courtesy of SeaDream Yacht Club

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