The return to cruising was long-awaited by those of us who hold it dear to our hearts. But in a world that damned cruise ships as ‘plague ships’ after the outbreak on Diamond Princess, the question remained how do cruise ships operate safely? MSC was waiting in the wings ready and willing to share the answer with the world! MSC has been cruising out of Italy safely since August 2020; they have health protocols down pat. This allowed them to lead the charge and I will be forever grateful that they did.
Before any of us even set foot on the ship there were rules we had to obey. If you have been double vaccinated then you must provide proof of your vaccinations. If you are a young cruiser like me or have kids with you, they require you to provide proof of a negative test. This proof can be in the form of an email, a text, or a letter and the test must have been taken in the 72-hour window before you board the ship.
Once inside the cruise terminal, everyone is tested again! If you have little ones and you are worried that this will cause an issue, there is absolutely no need to worry. It was quick and painless – a simple swab of one nostril completed by a professional. I find that it tickles more than anything. As long as you test negative you will be permitted to board the ship.
These happen at least once a day if not multiple times a day! Your first one will be when you arrive at the port in Southampton; someone will check your temperature before you are even allowed into the terminal building. The rest happen every time that you enter a restaurant. The crew uses a temperature gun for this so it is fast and efficient.
Temperature checks are also conducted anytime that you disembark the ship. So if you are popping off on an excursion or if you are weeping on disembarkation day then someone will make sure that you are nice and healthy before they let you go into the outside world.
This is something that we are all used to by now! Masks are mandatory on MSC for all guests over the age of six. Now don’t worry this doesn’t mean that you have to lay on a sunbed wearing one because we can all only imagine the tan lines that would cause…You must wear one when walking around the inside of the ship. If you are seated eating or seated drinking you are permitted to remove your mask; this rule is very similar to restaurants on land. On the outside decks, it is only necessary to wear a mask if you cannot socially distance yourself from other people. But since the number of people aboard is capped it is always possible to find a quiet spot.
If you lose your mask at any point, don’t worry your cabin steward leaves fresh ones in your stateroom daily. The crew also wears masks for your safety and comfort whilst on board.
Hand hygiene has always been a big deal on cruise lines in order to prevent an outbreak of Norovirus. So the constant hand-washing was not a surprise! There is hand gel at the entrance of every venue on the ship and the crew will do their best to enforce that it is used. In certain venues such as the buffet, sinks are provided and the crew ensures that you give your hands a good old scrub with soap and water before they permit you to enter.
Once you are onboard an MSC ship you will find that certain seats are blocked off with a label that reads “health is our priority”. This is designed to ensure that there is adequate room between your cruise party and other cruise parties. Table sharing is frowned upon! Which I enjoyed greatly as I am really not a fan of people asking to share.
Track and trace:
When you board the ship you are handed a wristband similar in shape and design to a Fitbit. This clever piece of technology must be worn on your wrist at all times for the duration of your cruise! These ingenious wristbands ping one another so that if there is a case of Covid on the ship; MSC can easily work out who was a close contact. As well as keeping you safe this wristband also functions as a cruise card. You can use it to open your cabin door or make purchases around the ship.
The crew also wears a wristband for the purposes of track and trace. This allows the crew and the guest’s peace of mind throughout the sailing.
Menus are a thing of the past! As they would be touched by multiple people, MSC has done away with them. Instead, you can find the menu on the MSC For Me app or you can scan the QR code on your table. Before you set sail, ensure that your phone has a QR reader as I was the only member of my family who actually had this function.
But did people follow the rules?
Rules are all well and good but they rely on people following them; they rely on collective responsibility to do the right thing. We were regularly reminded to do the right thing over the public address system, tv channels, and signage around the ship. Thankfully, the majority of people did do the right thing! I did see one person avoiding hand gel, a couple of people sharing tables when they shouldn’t have been and I am not sure how accurate the temperature guns were…But overwhelmingly being on a ship felt a lot safer than being on land!
MSC has got safety down to a fine art! And I for one am glad that they have stepped forward to show other cruise lines the way.