In February, cruise ships became an early symbol of how rapidly the coronavirus could spread in confined spaces, when more than 700 passengers on the Diamond Princess became infected as the ship idled off Japan. As social distancing grew more common in February and early March, cruises were among the first activities Americans started avoiding.

David Yaffe- Bellany, NYT

About two weeks ago, Carnival Corporation, which owns a whopping 50% of the cruise industry, reported that it had 25 ships with as many as 6000 passengers in open waters off the Florida coast, awaiting permission to land. Governor DeSantis balked at allowing anyone but Floridians to disembark, moving Congresswoman Donna Shalala to liken his position to the turning away of the ship carrying hundreds of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.

DeSantis eventually relented and passengers are off the seas, but now it’s the employees who are stranded aboard. These are the waitstaff, the dancers, the room attendants, the masseuses, contractual employees whose contracts are terminating before they will be able to make their way home.

I loved this gentleman’s title….

Now, there are still 100 ships at sea off the American coast, with nearly 80,000 cruise employees stranded aboard.

Dave Sebastian and Costa Paris, Wall Street Journal
This trio performed nightly on our 2018 Caribbean Christmas cruise

My husband and I discovered the pleasure of getting on a boat, unpacking once, and seeing the world from a balcony over the water — several on the Caribbean, a Hawaiian island tour, a perfect Mediterranean journey, our 2019 Atlantic crossing from Florida to Amsterdam. Now, it seems likely that cruising may not recover, not without making a big change in how it handles illness.

It was on that final cruise, in May of last year, that Ray was stricken with bronchitis, for which the boat had no real medication. The ship doctor said that about half the ship was sick, and he had aspirin and lozenges only.

[We stayed in Amsterdam instead of going on a tulip tour just to get Ray antibiotics on May 5, which is why I survived my arterial rupture that day, but let’s not give the boat credit, maybe a higher power.]

Long before the coronavirus shut down the world, we knew we’d never again put ourselves at risk on the seas without a health safety net. The small print on the boarding documents make it very clear that the boat is not responsible for keeping you safe. The choices you make — the amount of alcohol you drink and the stupid things you might do under the influence, let’s say — fall under the “at your own risk” category.

But there is a difference between being stupid and being attacked by an illness. Our boat could offer Ray no help in beating back a crippling bronchitis. We were on our own to find help on land.

Here’s the standard description of what you can expect when you get aboard a cruise ship:

The ship’s medical center contains several beds and is set up to treat minor nonemergency conditions or to stabilize passengers facing life-threatening conditions…the facility should have wheelchairs, a stretcher, back board for spine immobilization, lab capabilities for tests, oxygen, EKG capability, two defibrillators, cardiac monitors and other equipment to gauge vital signs…it is important to view the ship’s medical facility as an infirmary and not as a hospital.

The Cruise Critic

Now, in comes the coronavirus. Although Carnival Corporation (which owns Holland America, on which we sailed last year) says they have ICU beds and ventilators that make some of their ships appropriate back-ups for mainland hospitals, these are limited at best: passengers requiring acute medical care and hospitalization were transferred off Carnival’s Grand Princess in March. We know how Ray suffered in our room, unable to sleep. We cannot imagine the anguish of those suffering with the coronavirus in similar circumstances.

When the Grand Princess sailed back out of the San Francisco harbor, it had on board 1,100 crew. They are part of the 80,000 who are no longer working and not yet home, drifting at sea as the coronavirus lockdown bars them from finding their way. We wish them Godspeed in getting home, but also in finding employment again. The cruise industry has a lot of work to do to earn the public’s trust.

UPDATE: Costa, an upscale Cruise line, is being sued. The lawsuit alleges that the cruise line was negligent in a number of ways such as failing to use reasonable care to provide and maintain a safe voyage — Transatlantic voyage that left Fort Lauderdale March 5 — failing to warn passengers that a prior passenger had shown Coronavirus symptoms. “Simply put, Costa recklessly and intentionally put thousands of passengers through a living nightmare so he could protect its bottom line.” Susan Salisbury, The Palm Beach Post.

3 thoughts on “Rethinking Cruising

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