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What’s it like cruising during the Coronavirus Pandemic?

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What’s it like cruising during the Coronavirus Pandemic?

I was excited to be departing on yet another adventure on March 7 even though friends and family suggested I cancel due to Coronavirus fears. This holiday was an 11 night South Pacific cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas.

Voyager of the Seas

Voyager of the Seas

Considering the Diamond Princess was docked off the coast of Japan riddled with Coronavirus, their concerns were warranted. I did have doubts whether we would actually sail as on its prior cruise, the ship was denied entry to Port Vila, Vanuatu due to several cases of flu onboard. This heightened my concern, however I was not worried, as I knew if it wasn’t safe, the ship wouldn’t depart.

In the days leading up to the departure, Royal Caribbean sent regular emails keeping passengers informed of the latest updates. Enhanced health and safety protocols had been adopted and mandatory temperature screenings were to be conducted on all guests and crew members on embarkation day. If someone’s temperature was above 38°C, a secondary health screening was required. If boarding was denied, the passenger would receive a 100% Future Cruise Credit for the cruise fare paid.

I had chosen this voyage for its itinerary as well as the ship. As a solo traveller, I wanted options to occupy me on sea days and the ice skating rink, waterslides and rockclimbing wall won me over.

Perfect Storm Waterslides

Perfect Storm Waterslides

Arriving at Circular Quay at midday, excitement filled the air. It appeared as if no one was concerned about Coronavirus. The queue was massive. After dropping our luggage off we were required to complete a form from the Vanautu Government advising whether we had experienced a fever, runny nose or flu like symptoms in the past month.

Once onboard, cruise life began. Heading up to the Windjammer buffet for lunch on my first day, I realised that hygiene standards had increased significantly since prior cruises. Two lines formed on either side of the entrance to reach the hand washing stations. Five handwashing basins were placed on either side and crew members ensured that everyone who entered the buffet had washed their hands with soap and water, their motto: “No washy-washy means no yummy yummy.”

Life on board was a typical of cruise – sail away parties, dance classes, bingo, entertainment, formal nights and trivia. We were a world away from the Coronavirus events that were unfolding back home.

Anchors Aweigh Parade

Anchors Aweigh Parade

An updated itinerary had been received the day prior to departure. Lifou, Mare and the Isle of Pines had been cut and we would now be spending an extra day at Port Vila and two additional ports – Luganville, Vanuatu and Newcastle, Australia. It was disappointing but I was excited to be spending more time in Vanuatu and Newcastle was a new destination for me.

With the itinerary change we docked in Noumea at an earlier date and as a result my shore excursion was no longer proceeding and was refunded.

The following day was Mystery Island, Vanuatu. Mystery Island was paradise- crystal clear waters, pristine sand and pure relaxation. It’s a small island and guests could walk around it in 40 minutes comfortably. I signed up for the turtle lagoon cruise, which was touted as a cruise for “old people”. We cruised the waters searching for turtles. It was great! $25 for 30 minutes plus we spotted lots of turtles.

Turtle

Turtle

Later in the afternoon when we were back on board, dinging from the loud speaker caught everyone’s attention. It was the captain. We had been denied entry to Luganville so we would be spending an extra day at Mystery Island. We would cruise that night and dock again in the morning.

 

As a result of this itinerary change we were provided with $50 USD which was credited to our onboard account.

 

I was stoked to spend another day at Mystery Island as I was keen to do the turtle snorkel, however many passengers I spoke to were opting to stay on board.

Mystery Island

Mystery Island

As the ship was preparing to leave Mystery Island, another announcement from the captain came through: we had been denied entry to Port Vila and we would now spend two days cruising back to Australia before docking in Brisbane. We were assured that everyone on board was healthy. It was as if everyone on the pool let out a collective groan. Passengers were upset and disappointed.

Over the next two days, further itinerary changes came. We were unable to dock in Brisbane and they were attempting to dock at Eden. We were denied entry into this port and Newcastle. After we departed Mystery Island we spent five days at sea.

The crew kept passenger spirits up and the crew up in the Windjammer, created a song with the lyrics “Washy Washy, always wash your hands”. More activities were also added to the Cruise Compass so there was plenty to do onboard.

 

Towel Animal

Towel Animal

 

People were also starting to hear more news from Australia and anxiety levels were starting to rise. The queue for purchasing Internet was also getting larger each day as people were trying to contact people back home.

As a result of our unexpected itinerary we were also provided with a two days refundable cruise fare credit, a 50% Future Cruise Certificate.

Cleaning on board also appeared to increase. The gym equipment was constantly being cleaned as well as railings and common areas. One day I even noticed two security people checking the locks from the outside of each cabin, which I found unsettling as I was not excited about the prospect at being confined to my cabin.

 

My cabin

My cabin

 

We did make two trips to Sydney, for medical emergencies and then continued cruising until we were due in port on Wednesday.

Even though suitcases were collected Tuesday night, I was half expecting to be denied entry but we were allowed off which was a huge relief. The majority of passengers I spoke to at breakfast were excited to reach dry land with one or two saying this was the last cruise they would ever go on. One couple were of the belief that we were safer on the ship and would more likely to come in contact with Coronavirus flying home. I was expecting huge queues like I experienced on boarding and to have my temperatures taken but we were just provided with a one page document outlining the self-isolation requirements.

As a result of our unexpected itinerary we were also provided with a two days refundable cruise fare credit, a 50% Future Cruise Certificate.

The crew’s positivity was a delight in these unexpected times. The stirring rendition of “I Still Call Australia Home” by the wait staff in the main dining on the final night gave me goosebumps. Around 110 Waiters and 110 Assistant Waiters gathered on all three levels and sang with the majority of guests joining in. After this unusual cruise, I was ecstatic to call Australia home.

Main Dining Room

Main Dining Room

Lawn mower

High Country Legends

IMG_4755

An Alluring Voyage

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