Christmas with Carnival Cruises, 2018

Before my I very nearly died during our 2019 Atlantic crossing, my husband and I had become frequent cruisers. The ports of Ft. Lauderdale and Miami are a short drive from our South Florida home, and we enjoyed cruises through the Caribbean, on the Mediterranean, and on the Baltic Sea.

Two years ago, my husband and I sailed the Caribbean over the Christmas holidays. From over-the-top decorations to hilarious ugly sweater contests to heartwarming musical interludes, it was a celebratory week. Others may have prepared by creating wonderfully tacky sweaters, but we made a statement by wearing crazy Walmart hats and jingle bell slippers to breakfast on Christmas morning. “Nice hat,” a passenger said. “You with the guy in the other hat?” Yep, I have one very good sport of a husband.

That memory was nearly wiped out by my dramatic illness in 2019. Had we been in the middle of the ocean instead of docked in Amsterdam when I took ill, my story would have ended abruptly. We’ve kept an eye on the cruise industry this year, shuddering as ships became floating Coronavirus incubators in the spring.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ended cruising in March and forced the industry to develop new protocols to protect crew and guests from COVID-19 when sailings resume. It all means new challenges for the on-board medical team.

Pandemic cancelled Cruising

There was no cruising for anyone these holidays. The CDC issued a “no sail” order on March 13, that infamous Friday last spring when the reality of the coronavirus was suddenly unavoidable.

Just before Thanksgiving, the CDC issued its highest warning against cruise travel, according to a USA Today article by Morgan Hines. Passenger operations out of the United States continue to be suspended, and the CDC recommends avoiding travel on any cruise ship worldwide.

Industry and florida suffer economic losses

South Florida is home to the cruise industry, which has suffered record losses during the shutdown, and hundreds of employees of support organizations have lost their jobs, including longshoremen, travel agents, shuttle systems. The economic impact on the industry has also been felt in Miami-Dade County, as these harmonious quotes demonstrate.

A ship can be safer than anywhere else in the world.

Frank Del Rio, CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings said in May

A cruise is a hotel in the middle of the ocean that the doors and windows open all the time, and we have an incredible amount of wind coming in and out making it a safer place.

Rebeca Sosa, Miami-Dade County Commissioner

Cruise industry covid protocols

The Miami Herald reported that the 74 recommended protocols submitted to the CDC by the cruise industry include testing all passengers and crew before boarding, requiring social distancing and masks, and expanding medical capabilities on cruise ships. A protocol that was floated [pardon the pun] in March would have barred passengers over 70 years old, who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. It was scrapped. We old people are huge component of the cruise industry’s customer base.

As Cassie Shortsleeve recently wrote in Condé Nast Traveler, the job of medical crews will take on new urgency once passengers are once again allowed on board. Medical staff will be more involved in pre-screening protocols. Passengers with respiratory symptoms — like I had during our Baltic Sea voyage and that my husband and hundreds more came down with bronchitis on our 2019 Atlantic crossing — will be quarantined in their rooms. Medical facilities will be separated into a control area — for those with infectious diseases — and an area for non-infectious patients. Some ships will strip down passengers rooms to create isolation units.

It’s hard to square these images with the true ER/ICU centers that saved my life in Amsterdam last year.

But are we ready?

Morgan Hines writes that there is pent-up demand for cruising. The industry continues to build new products to entice us to re-board.

The Carnival Mardi Gras, which has been under construction in Finland, will enter service in early 2021, sailing from Port Canaveral. Among the features of Carnival’s largest ship, with the maximum capacity of nearly 7000, is a roller coaster.

That seems like a really unnecessary addition. We’ve been terrified for months. Why would we go on vacation and purposely put ourselves into the very situation we’ve been trying to escape from? After a year like 2020, do we really need more ups and downs?

Nah. I’m sitting with the images of holiday cruises past, waiting for the day when the harsh 24/7 ER light of 2020 has shifted into the benign healthy glow of a sunset at sea.

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