The failed cruise was just the latest in a string of mounting evidence that the coronavirus is spoiling everything.
A few years ago, I visited and toured the mammoth new billion-dollar Royal Caribbean cruise ship Quantum of the Seas. The 348-metre vessel was docked in Port Klang and had disgorged its passengers, who all dutifully boarded buses to be shuttled off to Kuala Lumpur, while the media were led about for a couple of hours and fed a rather sad cruise ship lunch, as I recall. If it sounds like I’m not a vocally enthusiastic fan of these gargantuan 5,000-passenger ships, it’s only because, well… I’m probably not.
Though the current crop of huge cruise ships serve up plenty of onboard diversions (including a bionic bartender on this one), most cruising aficionados unsurprisingly name the great ports of call as one of their favourite parts of the itinerary. Still, these are strange times, and desperate times call for desperate measures, so that very same Quantum of the Seas offered a four-day, three-night ‘cruise to nowhere’ to travel-starved residents of Singapore. And just like I didn’t go anywhere during my time on the ship, neither would they.
It all sounded pretty workable. In order to ensure adherence to hygiene protocols, the ship planned to depart from and return to the same spot, with no port calls in between. It would also operate at no more than 50% capacity, and the cruise was available for Singapore residents only. However, crew members from around the world were required to spend 14 days quarantining in the city-state before they could be cleared for working, so the logistics of carrying out a ‘corona cruise’ are undoubtedly fairly complex.
Additionally, on top of the reduced passenger load and nonexistent shore excursions, strict sanitation guidelines were put in place, with passengers required to show a negative Covid-19 test before boarding. They’re also required to wear masks while outside of their staterooms, and both boarding and disembarking is staggered to avoid crowds.
What could possibly go wrong?
As it turns out, just enough. That old saying about “the best-laid plans” comes to mind, because no sooner did Quantum blunder out to sea than an 83-year-old passenger onboard conducted a check with the ship’s medical staff after feeling unwell and subsequently tested positive for Covid-19, apparently despite producing a negative test required to board the vessel in the first place. The ship relayed the report to Singaporean officials and promptly returned to port, ensuring it really was a ‘cruise to nowhere’ in every sense of the word. At least nobody could complain about a lack of truth in advertising. (In actual fact, the grand voyage was only cut short by a day or thereabouts, so passengers did get a little bit of bang for their buck, at least.)
Adding to the disgrace, passengers were not permitted to disembark until full and thorough contract tracing measures were carried out. Additionally, beginning just hours after the ship returned to port, the suspected Covid passenger tested negative twice for the virus. Still, crewmembers are all undergoing PCR Covid tests, and Royal Caribbean is offering the passengers of the affected cruise full refunds for cutting their “vacation” short, apparently unnecessarily.
Annie Chang, who is the Director of Cruise with the Singapore Tourism Board, told The Straits Times that all of the infected passenger’s close contacts tested negative for the coronavirus, but are being isolated as a precautionary measure.
Following another quick round of sanitation protocols being carried out, the floating behemoth is expected to give the ‘cruise to nowhere’ idea another go, with tomorrow’s sailing (December 10) still set to happen. (UPDATE: Now they’ve cancelled it.)
Hopefully, if Royal Caribbean remains intent on continuing with this particular scheme, any future ‘cruises to nowhere’ will have happier endings. It’s certainly worth noting, however, that other voyages have quite unintentionally wound up being ‘cruises to nowhere’ and suffered far more ignoble endings than a hasty return to port and refunds all around… so as with many things in life, it really could have been a lot worse.
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