SeaDream 1, one of the world’s smallest cruise ships, departed Barbados on Nov. 7 with 53 passengers and 66 crew — the first cruise ship to venture back to sea in an industry docked since March by the global coronavirus outbreak.
But by the fifth day of the cruise, the ship was forced to halt what could have been a ‘watershed moment for the cruise industry’ after a passenger onboard tested positive for COVID-19.
“People are shocked,” Gene Sloan, a passenger on the SeaDream Yacht Club cruise said. Sloan has been writing about cruise and travel for the past 20 years, boarded the ship on Saturday to see what it’s like to go on the first Caribbean cruise since the shutdown in March.
“The Caribbean is the world’s biggest cruise destination,” he wrote in an article for the Points Guy, “accounting for at least a third of all cruises taken in a normal year, and a resumption of sailings in the region is critical to the cruise industry’s long-term health.”
Standing in line to board the ship on Saturday had been a “strange” experience, Sloan said. Each passenger had to undergo a COVID-19 test, a body temperature check, a pulse test; sanitize their hands, have their luggage sprayed with disinfectant as well as show several medical-related forms.
All passengers had been required by the SeaDream cruise line and the Barbados government to test negative for COVID-19 via a PCR test three days prior to boarding.
SeaDream also has started new cleaning and sanitizing measures on board the ships, with the help of ultrasonic foggers used by hospitals to disinfect rooms. They also installed a germ-killing UV light system.
While this would have been the first cruise in the Caribbean, SeaDream had already conducted some cruises in Europe, all of which went off without a hitch. Given the “level of rigorousness” with which the line had prepared its ships, it was easy to be skeptical of anyone coming down with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis once onboard, Sloan said.
After the exhaustive screening, the first few days aboard the ship had been “surprisingly normal'” Sloan said. People could still lounge by the pool, enjoying a drink by the bar, take a kayak out for a paddle or a swim. Most meals were served in the outdoor restaurant and people kept to their own groups.
The ship, he said, was built to serve 112 passengers; Carrying only 53, which amounts to 47% of capacity, made it easier for passengers to maintain social distancing, as requested by staff.
Unlike in pre-COVID times, most activities off the ship would be planned on islands where passengers wouldn’t meet locals. Passengers were also required to have their temperature checked daily by staff — a reminder, Sloan wrote, of the pandemic.