I spent five years of my life living on cruise ships. It was a surreal, fantastic, challenging life experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. With all the time I’ve spent cruising, it may come as a surprise that I’ve never actually been on a cruise. All my time spent at sea was as a crew member, a cruise line employee. I’ve always daydreamed about going on a cruise as a real guest: staying in a stateroom, eating big meals at the restaurants, popping into the spa, letting someone else plan my days, dropping my child off to play in the kids’ club without a care in the world.
And then, a global pandemic happened.
With so many people confined to one enclosed ship, it’s easy to see why cruise travel was one of the first things completely shut down all over the planet. In the spring of 2020, when COVID began spreading, I remember thinking, “No one will ever cruise again.” I said goodbye to my dreams of taking my family on a cruise and grieved over the loss of so many of my friends’ life’s work. As time has passed, however, and vaccines have become available and cases and mortality numbers have (however slowly) begun to decline, I see a glimmer of hope. I see friends returning to the sea. And I am reminded of why I always felt safe on cruise ships to begin with.
When you think of safety on a ship, you may think of life vests, ring buoys, lifeboats, rafts, and floatation devices in general. Those are important! But a safety concern of equal or even greater importance for anyone working or traveling at sea is preventing the transmission of illness. This is accomplished in two parts that, after the last year and a half, will sound very familiar: mandatory frequent hand sanitizing and full quarantining. Long before the pandemic began, every bar, cafe, restaurant, and kids’ club on board most cruise ships had a crew member stationed at the entrance to provide a pump of hand sanitizer for every single person who entered. The biggest concern pre-pandemic was norovirus, (also called acute gastroenteritis or “AGE”) a stomach bug on steroids. Guests and crew members alike were required to immediately report any symptoms of digestive distress to the medical center, and depending on their level of illness, would promptly either be quarantined in their own crew cabin or stateroom, or put in isolation in the medical center so that their living spaces could be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. If more than a handful of infections were present and an outbreak seemed imminent, the cruise line would have the ship return to port, cancel the following cruise, and disinfect the whole ship top to bottom.
So, will a cruise be in our future? I can’t say. Returning to “normal” in the world right now all comes down to personal risk assessment. But knowing what I do about the rigorous disease prevention protocols already in place, I can certainly see it as a possibility.