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Cruising during a pandemic | Passenger’s Confession

March 26, 2021Special Guest

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to go on a cruise during a global pandemic? I am a cruise addict and was already onboard cruise ships for 164 days since 2012. My husband and I already had 4 cancellations in 2020, when the german cruise line TUI Cruises (50% owned by Royal Caribbean) announced in August 2020 that they will set sail from Crete, Greece beginning in September 2020. After their announcement, we made two bookings for cruises with the Mein Schiff 6 around the Greek Isles. Our first cruise embarked in September and the second cruise in October 2020. Shortly after we returned home after our second cruise the Greece authories announced another lockdown for Greece and therefore the Greek Isles Cruises had to stop. Both stays onboard were associated with a lot of emotional impressions for me, like the step from the gangway to the cruise ship, which I experienced very consciously, because at these uncertain times, I did not believe I would board a cruise ship in 2020. However, a moving moment had brought tears to my eyes, when the ship has finally set sail and the view of the cruise ships’ wake became visible while I listened to the sound of the effervescent water left behind in the wake of the ship. It’s my most favorite scenery from onboard a cruise ship and I missed that view a lot. If you want to find out more about my experience of cruising during a pandemic, keep reading!

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A ship with a capacity of 2534 passengers with a 60% pandemic-owed maximum occupancy still offers space for 1500 cruise enthusiasts. We were 922 on our first and 702 passengers on our second cruise on board of the Mein Schiff 6!  Whether this difference might be appreciated by one or the other, for me, it reveals a problem that I didn’t expect: apparently not enough bookings were made. The cruise fans ashore are responsible for the difference between what is maximally possible and what is currently done. Of course everyone has the right to have their opinions against a cruising during a pandemic. For me, however, waiting for the “post pandemic” times to cruise is just as little pointless. Nobody knows how long we will have to deal with the „new reality“. Since my husband and I were onboard, I hope I can dispel many concerns. I felt at least as safe onboard as on land – NO, I personally felt safer in this „bubble“. I watched, how with unbelievable commitment, from morning to evening, crew was sanitizing, cleaning and paying attention to safety and health measures with „eagle eyes“. We as passengers have the duty, in my opinion not very restrictive in our freedom, to add our parts to these measures by wearing masks, practice social distancing, wash and sanitize our hands frequently. And it worked out fine onboard! 

How, you may ask? 

Out of respect for the crew members and their jobs! 

Out of respect for my fellow passengers onboard and on land (to make it possible for those on land to be able to cruise again soon!)

Out of respect for the cruise company, which restarted as the first cruise line in the world at the end of July (from Hamburg, Germany), in spite of the high risk to the cruise economy and politics. 

Ultimately out of respect for the entire industry and the companies involved!

I received a lot of cruising-during-a-pandemic questions after I returned from both of our cruises from many of my cruise friends around the world. These are some of them along with my answers, that might reveal themselves to be helpful to you too:

Did you get tested for COVID-19 before the cruise?

We needed a negative RT-PCR test, not older than 72 hours when entering Greece. Therefore TUI Cruises used the 86 Helios clinics in Germany as an ideal and supra-regional partner for conveniently carrying out the COVID-19 test for their guests. The Helios clinic directly reported the results of the RT-PCR test to TUI Cruises. The fees for the tests were already included in our cruise fare.

How did you get to the cruise ship?

Since our cruises were departing from Crete, Greece we had to fly to Heraklion. TUI Cruises carried their guests to the cruise ship on their own chartered aircraft – thus avoiding uncontrolled contact with other travelers. That was made with the private charter flights with TUIfly. We had the possibility to choose between six airports in Germany (Munich, Hamburg, Hannover, Dusseldorf, Berlin, Frankfurt). Since we were flying to Greece, we had to complete a PLF form until the day before entering the country, providing detailed information on our point of departure and the address of our stay while in Greece. We received the PLF with a unique Quick Response (QR) code on the day of our flight. At the check-in counter of TUIfly we had to show our passports, valid PLF QR-Code, set sail pass of TUI Cruises and a highly current health questionnaire. While boarding the airplane social distancing was possible. Sitting in the plane, I have to admit that social distancing was non-existent – all seats were occupied. Of course all passengers had to wear proper mouth and nose masks, except when they were eating or drinking. After landing in Heraklion, TUIfly emptied the airplane beginning with the rows in the front until the rows in the back. Since we had no gangway, we ended up in a bus that drove us to the terminal – inside the bus there was no possibility for social distancing. Before entering the airport terminal we had to show our PLF QR Code to the Greek authorities. They were also randomly testing flight passengers upon their arrival. After collecting our luggage at the baggage claim we went to the exit of the airport.

There were TUI Cruises crew members already waiting for us and showing us to a bus. Before entering the bus we had to sanitize our hands. Inside the bus the first rows were unoccupied to keep distance to the bus driver. It was a 10 minutes drive from the airport to the cruise terminal. Before we were allowed to exit the bus, crew members entered the bus to check on our documents. After exiting the bus we were waiting outside in a row with social distance to other passengers, before being allowed to enter the port terminal. Crew members collected and controlled our health questionnaire. The questionnaire had to be completed by all travelers. Afterwards there was a mandatory temperature screening in order to better protect guests and crew against the spread of coronavirus COVID-19. After the security screening we went to one of the many check-in counters inside the cruise terminal. The staff was standing behind a glass screen barrier. We had to place our passports on the glass and the staff member was taking a picture of our passports. Then, we were ready to finally embark the cruise ship Mein Schiff 6. 

What were the “restrictions” onboard?  

For even more distancing on board, the number of passengers was limited to a maximum of 60 percent per cruise. All guests and crew members were required to keep a mutual safety distance of at least 1.5 meters in the public areas of the ship. In some cases we found structural changes such as glass screens or marked walkways. We had to wear a proper nose and mouth mask indoors and outdoors if we couldn’t practice social distance. Whenever we were talking to crew members we had to wear a mask. Once a day there was a mandatory temperature screening for all passengers. Inside the elevators there were only 4 passengers allowed – markings on the floor signaled where each passenger had to stand. In the restaurants and bars, the tables and seatings were set up at a generous social distance from one another. Drink orders in the bars of the ship were possible at the table – there were no seats at the bars. No events such as pool games or pool parties!

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Was the buffet restaurant open and how did the safety and health measures look like?

Before entering the buffet restaurant, which is called Anckelmannsplatz onboard the fleet of TUI Cruises – Mein Schiff, we had to wash our hands. Afterwards we needed to sanitize our hands too. Of course, we had to wear a proper mouth and nose mask. Crew members were over watching it. After we were finished with washing and sanitizing our hands, a crew member showed us to a table. We were able to request a special table, if available, for example by the window. We were seated at a table, which was already prepared with silverware sealed in an envelope. Tables without placed silverware on top were closed, they also had a sign showing no availability. The crew member asked for our stateroom number and documented it in their tablet-PC. So the cruise line was aware of where we were seated and who could be a contact person in case of an outbreak of coronavirus Covid-19 onboard. At the buffet counters we found markings on the floor, which signaled how near we were allowed to stand in front of the counters. Crew members were serving the food. We told them what kind and how much of dish we would like to have. At each buffet counter we received a new plate. Crew members weren’t allowed to place the food on a plate that was already in our hands. So we ended up with many plates when we wanted dishes from different buffet counters. As for drinks, these were served by crew members at the fountain station. We had to let them know what kind of drink we wanted to get. The crew member operated the fountain machine and placed the glass on the table. If we wanted a refill, we received a new glass – no refills in an used glass! If anywhere in the buffet restaurant there would be other passengers waiting, we had to wait with a social distance behind them. As soon as we sat down at our table, we were allowed to take off our masks. I personally hope that a few of these measures will stay post Covid-19. I always avoided the buffet restaurants due to the many people touching the serving cutleries. Another big plus would be the decrease of food wasting – due to people getting their dishes served. On my YouTube Channel you will find a walk through the buffet restaurant showing the health and safety measures when it comes to cruising during a pandemic.

Was the theater open and could we watch shows during our cruise?

There were plenty of shows available during our cruises. We had to reserve seats in advance on the TUI Cruises App. In front of the theater there were crew members waiting to guide every guest to their seats inside the theater. We were able to request a seat in a section (main level or upper level), but within that section we were seated with a social distance of 2 seats next to the other passengers. Also the seats directly in front and behind of us were kept unoccupied. The crew member documented our stateroom and seat numbers in their tablet-PC. While we were seated we were allowed to take our masks off. The first 5 front rows were kept unoccupied as well, due to safety of the show artists. After the show, there was an announcement through the ships speaker system, that guests in the last row were the first to exit the theater. In this manner the theater was emptied, until the guests in the very front rows. There was no pushing or shoving. In my opinion this could be a process that could also stay post Covid-19, not only while cruising during a pandemic. 

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Was it possible to go on a shore excursion in a port of call?

On both of our cruises we have had the same ports of call: Piraeus/Athens and Corfu, Greece.

When it comes to cruising during a pandemic, we were only able to reserve shore excursions though the TUI Cruises App in advance. There were plenty of different shore excursions on offer, we decided to go to the beach in Piraeus/Athens, Greece. The shore excursion to the beach went to the Divani Apollon Palace & Thalasso Hotel in Vouliagmeni. We were a small group of less than 40 people. The bus ride was about 45 minutes from the port of Piraeus to the Divani Apollon Palace & Thalasso Hotel in Vouliagmeni. At the beach, there was a whole area reserved for „Mein Schiff“ guests and our tour guide was observing that nobody left the beach area due to COVID-19 measures. It was a clean and nice beach with comfortable sun loungers and beach umbrellas. It was the only time that we had sand under our feet and could swim in the Mediterranean Sea in 2020 – therefore this shore excursion was wonderful and very special for us!

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Resume of cruising during a pandemic:

In my opinion, all these health and safety measures gave a feeling of security, which of course were never one hundred percent, but I felt more secure than in some places and in some situations on land. For me, both the COVID-19 RT-PCR swab test before and the measures onboard were therefore an added value! 

If you are right now unsure about going back on board of a cruise ship to enjoy this indescribable feeling at sea, let me say in my capacity as a cruise enthusiast: Yes! For sure! Yes! Try it and it will be fun – even with all these measures! Book if the restrictions of your country and your personal health situation allows it! I am neither a representative of a cruise company nor a travel agency. I am a cruise blogger, who wants to go back on board of a cruise ship in 2021! Get the cruise ships sailing again. Get back to what we all love – CRUISING!

About the Author

Stefanie lives in Germany and is an experienced cruise and world traveller. She blogs about her personal memories of cruises before and during COVID-19 and shares recommendations for shore excursions in ports of call. You can find more about Stefanie and her travels on her Instagram and find her cruise cabin reviews on YouTube.

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