Even a pandemic does not discourage cruise lovers

I am not the kind of person who chooses to go on cruise ships. I have been on long ocean voyages as a boy three times between Sri Lanka and England but that was back in the day when travel by ocean liner was the cheapest or only way to go to distant places. The idea of being on a ship for days and even weeks on end without any specific destination in mind that I could not reach any other way does not appeal to me. This is perhaps because I am not a very sociable person and these cruises seem designed, if the many advertisements I see are any indication, to be essentially floating holiday resorts that cater to people who enjoy spending most of the day in the company of others, many of whom they have never met before, and taking part in all manner of social gatherings and organized entertainments.

I am sure it must be great fun for those who enjoy such things and can afford them. I know people who go on them every year and I have discovered since coming to Monterey and playing the game of bridge more often that bridge players seem to be big fans of them. There are cruises catering to them, and I have started getting inundated with ads for bridge cruises where experts offer lessons. The people at the bridge club exchange information about the various cruises.

You would have thought that the pandemic would have put a damper on cruises, especially when you recall that when the pandemic broke out in early 2020, there were cases of people being stranded on ships that were not allowed to dock because of infections on board. But it appears that people love them so much that when things seemed to be getting better on the pandemic front late last year, people started going on them again. That I find hard to understand. Even though all passengers have to show proof of vaccination, we know that breakthrough infections occur. Given that you have no choice but to mingle with a lot of people who are leaving the ship for excursions at various ports of call, the environment seems ripe for rapid infectious spread. Couple that with limited medical facilities on board and the great difficulty of getting to a major hospital if one falls really sick, I would have expected people to avoid cruises, even if they were the kind of person who liked them.

And it appears that those apprehensions are well-founded.

A surge in Covid infections on cruise ships is causing mayhem across the industry, leaving passengers stranded aboard ships, exacerbating staff shortages and prompting the CDC to warn US passengers against all cruise travel.

The CDC director said this week that Covid cases have increased 30-fold in just two weeks. Every one of the nearly 100 cruise ships currently carrying passengers in US waters has reported enough Covid-19 cases to merit investigation by the CDC, according to the agency’s website.

Over the holidays, passengers found themselves floating around on ships that couldn’t dock because foreign ports were turning them away or facing long, onboard quarantines before being allowed to come home, after testing positive for Covid. Dozens of cruises have been cancelled and some ports in the Caribbean and South America are turning ships away from making daily visits.

“It wasn’t the cruise we signed up for,” said Janet Silver Ghent, a Palo Alto retiree and editor who was stuck onboard a South America cruise for eight days, when ports in Chile and Argentina refused to let passengers disembark because of Covid cases.

On December 30, the CDC issued its highest travel warning, advising the public to avoid cruise ship travel even if vaccinated. The agency said, at the time, that the number of infections reported on cruise ships had jumped to 5,013 between 15-29 December – up from only 162 in the first two weeks of December.

CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky, speaking at a senate health hearing on Tuesday, said that the numbers have continued to skyrocket, though the agency did not respond to requests for updated case counts.

“Just over the last two weeks with Omicron, we’ve seen a 30 fold increase in cases on ships,” Walensky said.

But the case surge is nonetheless causing headaches for cruise operators and passengers. Florida maritime attorney James Walker said that thousands of cruise ship crew members have tested positive and that many are quarantining on a handful of out-of-service ships.

“Given the number of crew members who are ill, there are significant staffing problems,” said Walker, who believes cruise lines should suspend their operations until after the Omicron surge. “For the people who pay to go on a cruise, the service isn’t there.”

The people interviewed for the story seemed to have made the best of the situation and fortunately there have been no reports of deaths.

The CEO of a cruise line went a little overboard in putting a good face on the situation.

Officials in the cruise industry, which has lost a lot of money since the start of the pandemic, were also trying to take the setbacks in stride.

“Omicron is having a big short-term impact on everyone,” said Richard Fain, CEO of Royal Caribbean in a statement, but argued that cruises are one of the safer places for people to vacation because everyone aboard is vaccinated. “Many observers see this as a major step towards Covid-19 becoming endemic rather than an epidemic.”

One of the safer places to vacation? A large number of people in a confined space far from emergency health care for an extended period of time? I don’t think so.


  1. billseymour says

    I’ve done it once, or twice if a round trip is considered two trips.

    I had some meetings to attend in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in November of ’19; and this geek thought it would be Really Cool to make the whole trip on the surface.  That included the Queen Mary 2 both directions across the Atlantic.

    The QM2 isn’t the usual over-the-top “party ship;” but there are opportunities to meet others, usually over meals.  There were bridge clubs for different levels of players, the occasional game night or other kind of themed party, and music performances of various kinds.  Like Mano, I’m not a very sociable person; and I happily spent most of my time in my cabin reading books or working on my computer.  I did attend three or four interesting lectures in one of the ship’s two auditoriums.

    Since then I’ve discovered that ocean-going ships are pretty big polluters; and, of course, COVID makes such a trip a non-starter these days.  Also, ever since the trip, Cunard has been spamming me incessantly.

    But that was a tertiary reason for the trip.  The secondary reason (the meetings in Belfast being the primary one) was riding trains in the UK.  I can honestly say that I’ve been from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, although downhill, and by train, not bicycle. 😎

  2. K says

    Can confirm; last week, one of my coworkers took a cruise with their whole family. This week, the same coworker is home with Covid…with their whole family. Cruise ships are floating infection vessels at the best of times--norovirus, the common cold, flu, etc. They’re also high in sexual assault and alcohol and drug overdoses.

    Now there’s Covid. And they’re always surprised they get sick after taking great risks during a pandemic.

  3. says

    I don’t get the point of cruises, either. Back in 2014 I flew to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and visited a friend from Chile (which owns Rapa Nui). While there, we met some folks who were on a round-the-world cruise. That put them on a ridiculous timetable on the Island, seeing a few super-touristy things, and then getting back on the ship to wait for it to get to its next destinationL Pitcairn. Rinse. Repeat. The next day, we hiked to the top of its highest mountain and got to see the ship departing. https://ahcuah.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/im-on-top-of-the-world/

  4. sonofrojblake says

    “It wasn’t the cruise we signed up for,”

    Unless you booked it before January 2020,it was exactly the cruise you signed up for, you stupid Ghent.(bonus points if you spot the Hitchhiker’s guide reference there…)
    Don’t these people read the news?

  5. says

    Given that cruise ships profit by cramming as many people in a ship as possible, and that facilities like ventilation and food distribution are shared it is no wonder that these ships are breeding grounds for contagion.

    A cruise ship built with an eye for contagion safety would probably be massive more expensive and unprofitable.

    So yeah, if you go on a cruise now I think it’s fair to say you’ve inherently accepted a significantly increased chance for a bout of COVID-19.

  6. K says

    A decade ago, I took a cruise as part of a family reunion thing. Hated every second of it. Drunken louts vomiting in the hallway all night long, adults and small children always screaming, the constant press of deplorables…how does anyone consider this fun?

  7. Jörg says

    ahcuah @#3 (off-topic): I followed your link to the tab “Ahcuah?’.
    In German, we use “nein” only as an answer to a question, not as a negation of the following word. “No branch” in German would be “kein Ast”.
    I would pronounce “Neinast” like “Nai-nast”, and “Neinaß” like “Nei-nass”. The ancestry.com explanation makes sense.
    (I have been a German native speaker for almost 60 years.)

  8. Jörg says

    @8: Sorry, typo. “Nai-nast” --> “Nei-nast”, or, for American ears approximately: “ny-nast”

  9. jrkrideau says

    I am not sure who seems more foolish, the cruise company executives or the tourists. Mobs of people packed into close quarters in an environment with poor ventilation. What could go wrong?

    I did a cruise once but it was for 3 1/2 days up the Nile. Lovely. We stopped at major ancient Egyptian sites usually twice a day. Transit time from boat/ship to Valley of the Kings ~20-30 minutes and then back for quick shower and afternoon tea on the upper deck. We would see other, land-bound, tourists loading themselves somewhat wearily onto a bus and feel a bit sympathetic.

    In our case if we did not want to go ashore, we could just lounge around.

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