Cruise Lifestyle

8 key takeaways from MSC Cruises’ return to service in the Mediterranean

What is it like cruising during the pandemic and is it even worth it, if you’re able to?

MSC Grandiosa is MSC’s newest and largest cruise ship

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MSC Cruises is the first of the big ship cruise lines to return to service, the first of four that are resuming cruises in Europe in what is being seen as a major experiment for the global cruise industry.

Cruise Critic published an article about the experience aboard MSC Grandiosa as she becomes the first cruise ship to try to do post-pandemic cruising, and there are eight key features of the ‘new normal’ aboard cruise ships for which passengers should be prepared.

You could be denied boarding mid-cruise

MSC Cruises is taking no chances whatsoever as it tries to demonstrate that cruising can be a viable and safe holiday option amid the ongoing pandemic. The cruise line has implemented a comprehensive set of protocols to protect passengers, crew and the public, and if passengers don’t abide by the rules, they’ll be refused boarding.

This is what happened this week to a family who wandered away from an arranged shore excursion during a call in Naples, Italy. MSC Cruises denied the family back onboard over concerns that they may have come into contact with members of the public who have not been tested for COVID-19.

“By departing from the organized shore excursion, this family broke from the ‘social bubble’ created for them and all other guests, and therefore could not be permitted to re-board the ship,” MSC said in a statement.

Atrium aboard MSC Grandiosa

The ship feels half empty (because it is)

MSC Grandiosa is designed to carry 6,200 passengers with both lower berths in every cabin occupied, but bookings are limited to 2,600 passengers, less than half of her capacity. This makes it easier to ensure social distancing in key onboard hotspots, such as the buffet, pool area, bars and theatre.

In addition, the cruise line is only taking bookings from residents of Schengen countries on its resumed cruises. And if you try to trick the system, you’ll get turned away at the terminal. This is what happened to a few people from high-risk countries outside the Schengen area.

Temperate checks and COVID-19 tests are mandatory

COVID-19 antigen swab tests are done before boarding, as well as temperature checks in the terminal before boarding, and throughout the cruise. If a passenger tests positive for the rapid test, they’ll be given a secondary screening and retested with the RT-PCR molecular COVID-19 test. Passengers who show a high temperature on scans before re-boarding in ports on the itinerary will have to undertake a rapid covid test again, and may get turned away if it comes back positive, so there is an element of risk to these cruises (beyond health concerns).

MSC has adapted its wearable tech for contact-tracing

Your movements and social interactions will be tracked

MSC’s wearable tech has been repurposed for contact-tracing while on-board and in port. MSC for Me can still be used for its original purpose, making payments, opening doors, finding friends and family, but will also log all social interactions between passengers. It may raise some privacy concerns for some passengers, but is a mandatory requirement for these cruises, and MSC says the data is deleted after 14 days (the incubation time for coronavirus).

You are reminded constantly of the rules

Cruises are designed with everyone in mind, and in the pre-COVID cruise industry it was an environment in which thousands of people could by and large have the cruise experience they wanted. That isn’t necessarily the case anymore.

Signs reminding passengers to wear masks, practice social distancing, wash their hands and look out for symptoms of the virus are visible all throughout the ships. Everyone is constantly reminded of the risks inherent to cruising during a pandemic, and the need for everyone to follow the rules in order to mitigate those risks.

Social distancing is enforced throughout the cruise

Social distancing starts before passengers even board the ship, arrivals are staggered so there are no crowds when passengers take their tests. MSC Cruises continues to allow passengers to embark and debark at different ports, which prevents large crowds in one terminal. Social distancing remains in place throughout the cruise with many of the tables, chairs, and even toilet cubicles in public passenger areas, blocked off to prevent use.

The main pool area aboard MSC Grandiosa

You can use the pool, but with strict safety measures in place

One measure that is sure to be welcomed by all cruise passengers is the half-empty pool area. There are limited, spaced out sun loungers and tables and numbers around the pool are restricted so that masks aren’t necessary for swimming and tanning. Numbers are also restricted at the ship’s indoor pool, and the sauna and steam room are only open for single use.

Shore excursions keep passengers isolated from the public

MSC Cruises has taken a very strict approach to its shore excursions, as mentioned at the start of this article. Passengers can only go ashore with ship-organized shore excursions where all interactions and experiences are strictly monitored and controlled to prevent accidental spread of the virus between passengers and the public, or vice-versa. For many potential cruise passengers, this would likely be the main deal-breaker in deciding whether to cruise during the pandemic.

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