September 22, 2020

Caribbean Cruise runs into Covid-19 Port Closures

The 30,000 ton Sirena is s smaller ship carrying 688 passengers.

By Steve Blake

The cruise industry is reeling as a result of cancelations and port closures due to Covid-19 (coronavirus) issues. We had several cruises planned for the winter season and first ran into problems when our ship, the MS Westerdam, was denied entry to ports. That story has been told in my previous post. We arrived home from that cruise for a three-week interval before flying to Miami for a Caribbean cruise onboard Oceania’s MS Sirena. We did not expect problems because we left March 7, 2020, before the worldwide concern set in.

We arrived in Miami one day before our cruise was set to depart. Life appeared pretty normal in Miami. We shopped for food and wine and stayed overnight in a boutique hotel. Our Uber driver took us to the port the next morning to find our ship, the MS Sirena. Seven large cruise ships were in port and traffic was heavy. We could see lineups of happy passengers waiting to check-in for their cruises. We finally found our ship by itself at a different berth.

Check-in was easy but we could see stepped-up health checks. Our temperature was taken prior to being allowed to go upstairs to enter the registration hall. We were given an additional health questionnaire specifically dealing with the Covid-19. After completing the two forms, we went to a security post where we handed in the forms and were allowed into the registration hall. The rest of check-in was similar to other cruises.

After boarding the ship, we were aware of more thorough cleaning and disinfecting of the ship. However, it was not until a couple days into the cruise that the Captain told us that the ship was going to increase further the health and disinfecting protocols for the safety of passengers and crew. Things that were immediately noticed were increased vigilance on hand sanitizing. You could not enter a public room without a crewmember there reminding you to sanitize. Constant reminders to wash your hands were made throughout the day.

The dining room was not preset with dishes. Once you were seated, your table was set. You no longer had bread, butter, salt or pepper at your table. These would be brought to you as needed. All items in the buffet were served to you rather than helping yourself.

Plastic covers were placed over the elevator buttons to protect the internal wiring from the strong disinfectants being used. More staff were assigned to cleaning and disinfecting and would be seen constantly wiping down handrails and arms of seats. If you got up from your chair in the buffet to get food, your chair arms would be disinfected before you returned to your seat. With the closed environment of a cruise ship and how easy it is for colds and other viruses to spread, this should be the new normal.

We had two sea days before arriving at our first port in St. Barts. The seas were rough, sometimes as much as an 18-foot swell, and we had a strong headwind. The Captain informed us that we could not make St. Barts in time and that, unfortunately, we would be missing the island, spending another day at sea, and making our first port in Martinique.

Oceania’s Sirena at Martinique.

We arrived in Martinique and the following port of St. Lucia with no problems. The shore excursions went ahead and everyone enjoyed the charm of the islands. When we were in Martinique, we saw the first signs of trouble brewing. A Costa cruise ship was anchored offshore and we could not see any tender boats going to and from the ship. We were told there were a couple passengers with Covid-19 and the ship was waiting for a solution as it was being denied entry to the port.

After St. Lucia, the Captain came on the PA to tell us that as of March 13, 2020, Oceania had “voluntarily and temporarily paused cruise operations” due to Covid-19 issues. Ports had started to close to cruise ships. We were to cruise back to Miami where we would disembark. First we would make a “technical” stop on the island of Antigua to off-load the EU passengers who were no longer allowed to enter the USA. We would tie up in the port but nobody else was allowed off the ship. About three dozen passengers disembarked. The UK passengers were allowed to enter the USA for their flights home.

The next five days were spent at sea as we slowly made our way back to Miami. We missed the scheduled ports in Antigua, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas. Flying home was easy as the airports were very empty. We were asked general health questions before boarding flights and then upon arrival in Vancouver, were informed of the need to self-isolate for 14 days. The world is different today and we only hope that the problems resolve so the cruise industry can return to its former glory.

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