Why I Won’t Stop Taking Cruises—Even After Coronavirus

A frequent cruiser shares her thoughts on cruising past the pandemic.

It’s hard to believe that it was not all that long ago that I was enjoying a glass of wine with fellow passengers on the top deck of an expedition cruise in the Galapagos. It was the last evening on board and we were celebrating an incredible week shared together with experiences and encounters with wildlife that I will never forget. As the sun was setting, we were mesmerized by schools of dolphins that danced in and out of the waves alongside the ship and magnificent frigate birds that hovered in the wind following us overhead. It was nothing short of magical. This magical cruise moment was during the first week of February.

The coronavirus pandemic

Then, suddenly the world turned on its head with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Destinations around the world shut down for tourism and business, flights were canceled, and travelers became stranded abroad. Instagram and Facebook feeds quickly migrated from inspiring photos of beautiful places to images of eerily apocalyptic-like empty streets and tourist sites, major event venues that went silent, and airports with no people.

Cruise ships had become the focus of much of the disturbing news as we watched and read about the horrors of passengers and crew members confined to their staterooms that were suspected of or had confirmed cases of COVID-19. Meanwhile, ships scrambled to find a safe harbor to disembark their guests and crew. Some are still at sea, trying to find ports that will allow them to dock.

Life changed overnight.

Cruise ship statistics for COVID-19

To put things in perspective during this rapidly changing situation, here is some additional information. Johns Hopkins University reported that as of April 21, there were over two million confirmed lab-tested, clinically diagnosed, and presumptive cases of COVID-19 worldwide (that number is increasing daily). CLIA’s (Cruise Lines International Association) tracks its own member ship’s data, and these confirmed cases included:

  • 899 confirmed cases of COVID-19 onboard 15 CLIA oceangoing cruise ships based on the most recent information, although they are still in the process of collecting data. This accounted for .06 percent (.0006) of confirmed cases globally (as of April 13). They are also still determining how many of those confirmed cases are crew members or passengers.
  • There have been 13 deaths on the CLIA ships.

“CLIA only reports information on an aggregate level, but CruiseMapper.com has a working list of the ships that have been reported to have suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19,” Bari Golin-Blaugrund, senior director of strategic communications at CLIA, says. “With the caveat that some of their information includes cases that were confirmed or suspected following debarkation and therefore it is not possible to confirm whether those cases were contracted on-board a cruise ship,” she adds.

It’s difficult to compare coronavirus statistics as there are too many variables and differences in gathering techniques. When we look at CruiseMapper.com, so far, on cruise ships, coronavirus has affected 2,477 people (passengers plus crew, only officially confirmed cases) of whom 43 passengers died and it’s concentrated on a few ships. And like the general population, where the New York area has experienced almost half of all coronavirus deaths in the United States, there have been a few cruise ships that represent the majority of cruise cases while there are ships with few or no people impacted. Several lines stopped operations early on and were not adversely affected at all by the virus. Here’s how much coronavirus is costing the world (so far).

What will it take to get people cruising again?

cruise ship covid19Courtesy Pratesi Living

I think it’s going to take time for all of us to get the confidence to travel again, but cruises are especially vulnerable after what has happened during this pandemic.

For me to feel comfortable with cruising and even flying again, I need to know that procedures are in place to ensure the safety of all passengers and crew. This would mean implementing mandatory screening of temperatures, knowing where passengers have traveled to before embarking, enforcing hand washing, and sanitizing, especially at restaurants on the ships. I would also want to be sure that we could disembark safely if my husband or I became ill. It’s also very possible that by the time cruise lines sail again, there will be local virus detection kits at the ports of call, and the government may issue certificates of “having the antibodies for COVID-19” to those who were infected and recovered.

I also prefer smaller ships, and for now, I may stay closer to home, too. I have only cruised on three large vessels since 2000. The rest of the ships I’ve sailed on have been expedition or river cruises with approximately 100 passengers or more and oceangoing vessels under 1,000 passengers. Here are 11 tricks to staying healthy while on a cruise.

Why would I cruise again after coronavirus?

Cruises have been one of my favorite, if not preferred, way to travel for many years. There’s always a sense of anticipation and excitement when I’m about to embark on a journey. No matter how many times I experience the first evening’s sail-away, as the ship pulls away from the port, it still feels like the first time.

My husband wasn’t quite as enamored with the idea of cruising until we sailed onboard a small luxury ship in Europe during fall 2009. He had been dealing with stage 4 colon cancer for four years and asked me to look into a cruise so that we could take a vacation. I used to plan elaborate land-based two-week trips that involved a lot of moving between cities, but that had become too stressful. I canceled many vacations I arranged for us during that time because he wasn’t well enough to travel. With a cruise, if he didn’t feel well that day, he could stay on the ship, and I could take an excursion or wander in a city on my own. He has been cancer-free for 12 years (which is amazing), but this method of travel still works well for us, and many of our most memorable travel experiences have been on cruises. These are a few of my favorites. Not sure what’s the right cruise for you? These are the best cruises for every type of traveler.

An ocean cruise in Northern Europe

One of the most notable cruises was our Viking itinerary through Scandinavia and the Baltic region with 11 ports of call. This cruise visited the grand Northern European cities of Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, and St. Petersburg, which was one of the most incredible (and opulent) cities we have ever visited. I’ll never forget the enormous palaces and museums with sweeping corridors and ballrooms filled with priceless treasures, antiques, and works of art. One of the most impressive collections of art was at The Hermitage, where we visited the Rembrandt Room, a hall filled with the artist’s paintings, including The Return of the Prodigal Son.

A river cruise in France

Courtesy Pratesi Living
The author and her husband on a cruise in Monaco.

A river cruise along the Seine with AmaWaterways sailed from Paris to Normandy to visit the Normandy Beaches with other small towns along the way. This trip was special because it was our wedding anniversary and the year of the 70th anniversary of D-Day. One port of call brought us to Giverny, the former home of Impressionist painter Claude Monet where we marveled at his stunning gardens, which looked just like his paintings with the way the light reflected on the ponds and through the trees. On the last evening, when we arrived back in Paris, our captain took the ship as close as he could to the Eiffel Tower so we could see the brilliant nightly spectacle of twinkling lights overlooking the city.

An expedition cruise in the Galapagos

Then, some cruises pushed my physical boundaries and comfort zone, such as the Lindblad Galapagos expedition. For the first time in my life, I went on a deep-sea snorkel for an hour and swam with white tip sharks, giant manta rays, sea turtles, marine iguanas, and sea lions. I never dreamed I would have the nerve to swim with sharks or some of these giant sea creatures, like the manta rays. I hiked over precarious terrain and hills because I didn’t want to miss a photo opportunity or the views from every possible angle of any of the islands. I also tried to learn a new skill, wildlife photography, working with their National Geographic photographer while on board. It’s also one of the best bucket list cruises.

My first trip to Southeast Asia

In Vietnam and Cambodia, I sailed along the Mekong River on an intimate Avalon Waterways river ship to explore this fascinating part of the world. This adventure was the farthest I had ever traveled from home, and I did it solo. I climbed into hidden bunkers from the Vietnam War and saw the disturbing remains of the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. I held a Burmese Python (totally out of my comfort zone), climbed to the top of Angkor Wat, and received blessings from Cambodian monks. However, the images that remain with me the most are the small villages where the smiles of the children were infectious, even living in what we would consider extreme poverty. This trip was one of the most profound and emotional life-changing experiences I have ever had.

Where I’ll be traveling to next

cruise after coronavirus Courtesy Pratesi LivingAs of now, my next scheduled trip is a river cruise in Europe, and I’m hopeful that by then we will have more answers around COVID-19 and I’ll be able to travel. I am confident that I will not stop cruising, whether my next trip happens in 2020 or 2021. I will continue to select ships and itineraries wisely (as I always have). There’s so much to discover and learn about in our incredible world and I’ve just started exploring. One of the best ways I’ve found is to do it is by cruise ship. I’m looking beyond today and planning for the future.

Next, read on for photos of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Editor’s note: The opinions here belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Trusted Media Brands. To submit your own idea for an essay, email [email protected].

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Gwen Pratesi
James Beard Award Finalist in Journalism and award-winning food and travel writer, blogger, book author, social media expert, and culinary travel business owner that is pursuing her passion for food, travel, and experiencing world cultures by working with and sharing the stories of extraordinary destinations and unique culinary artisans around the world.