While the majority of the cruise industry has been eagerly waiting to start-up throughout the course of the Covid-19 Pandemic, MSC Cruises have boldly been sailing since summer 2020. In doing so they have developed a safe approach to cruising and in starting UK sailings have adapted this already successful formula – sufficed to say, they know what they’re doing.
In this section, we’ll take a closer look at the various Health & Safety measures found on board. I would say in summary that they are stringent but not overly onerous, which is a good balance.
Health & Safety Approach
I previously wrote about the guidelines for MSC Cruises and what you need to do ahead of a cruise this summer. Key information to note is that MSC Cruises do not require you to be vaccinated, and in fact they are the only major cruise line in the UK that have this rule.
Pre-cruise & Embarkation
Overall, I was really impressed with the embarkation process for the ship. Embarkation really has six key steps.
As I spoke about before, for the cruise you need to take a Covid-19 test (Lateral Flow or PCR) and show that you are negative of the virus. On top of this, you need to make sure you have the appropriate insurance on top of your usual cruise documents and passports. You can read all about this here.
You will be given a check-in time or window during the day and MSC Cruises ask that you stick to this. The reason is simple, it is to keep numbers manageable for staff in the terminal and to ensure not too many people are in the terminal at once.
As we arrived at the terminal, we were greeted by the helpful terminal staff who made sure we sanitised our hands and they checked our insurance info to make sure that it covers Covid-19. It’s pretty easy and the staff were very helpful. It is here that you also have the opportunity to offload your luggage to be forwarded on board the ship.
As with any cruise, you then pass-through security – all fairly simple and easy with the x-ray machine and metal detector.
Health screening and check-in
Once through security, we joined another queue where we waited for our health screening . This was relatively short and soon enough we were greeted by terminal staff who checked out our prior 72-hour covid test documentation.
MSC Cruises ask that you undertake a Covid-19 test at the terminal. This consists of a nose-only swab and lateral flow test (and no I didn’t take a selfie of the test itself!). The test only takes a few minute before you are released to the main check-in area to collect your cruise card and importantly, your track and trace bracelet. For the duration of the cruise, you are expected to keep this on so that in the event of positive cases they can test and trace. Handily, the bracelet also acts as a cruise card so will open your cabin door and you can purchase items on board.
Once you collect your cruise card and bracelet, you are given an embarkation number and are asked to wait at the terminal for a while until your group is called. We again found this to be really easy and simple.
On board experience
The question I’ve been asked over and over again is how was the on-board experience? And truth be told, it was great. On our cruise there were 997 guests (of a 1,000-guest limit) which for a ship the size of Virtuosa (which can take 6,500 guests) meant there was plenty of space to use on board.
I will go into more detail about this in the following sections of this review, but throughout the trip health and safety measures were in place. This mean a daily temperature check during breakfast, limited capacity in venues (though still plenty of space), one-way systems, hand sanitisation points everywhere (washing and sanitiser) and wearing masks when not seated at a venue.
In terms of the masks, and to guests’ credit, the vast majority of people abided by this and MSC called out people who did not do this – particularly in venues such as the Theatre where you were asked to wear a mask even when seated (unless drinking). There was a couple of incidents where people were not doing this, and they were asked to do so very quickly. Overall, this didn’t for me detract from the cruise experience – it’s all very much how it is on land and in line with the UK Government’s rules.
All venues on board are socially distanced. That is to say, chairs have signage that encourage you to sit spaced apart where possible. I also noticed that they cycled tables so that you aren’t constantly sat at the same table one after another. The thing is, because of the number of guests on board, it was never a problem getting a good seat wherever you are and most venues had plenty of space too spread out.
One of the most noticeable changes to cruising will be mustering. Classically, you would have had to go to your muster station and sit through the safety demonstration and sign-in (which legally you must do as part of SOLAS maritime regulations). This process has been totally simplified and, in my opinion, improved significantly. Now on MSC Cruises, you visit your cabin and watch a safety demonstration on your cabin TV. Following this, you get a code which you enter on your telephone. This signifies you have been present while watching the video. You then quickly visit your muster station and sign-in. I cannot express how much more efficient and quicker this was, which leaves you to crack-on with your holiday sooner. Other lines will be following suit with similar approaches.
With this cruise, there was only one port of call – Portland in Dorset. The only way you can leave the ship is through one of the organised excursions on board (as all passengers and crew are ‘bubbled’ together). As a result. the vast majority of people decided to stay on board and make a day of it.
Disembarkation was a total breeze in honesty and not dissimilar to what you’d expect. You can opt to carry off your own luggage first thing or wait to be called your disembarkation number to depart. You are asked to return your trace and trace bracelet upon leaving and your luggage is disinfected as well. It couldn’t have been easier.
Casual observations from my time on board
- Staff to guest capacity – One thing you quickly noted is just how many staff there are on board and this reflected in the overall service. This will of course change as more people are allowed back on board and linked to the UK Government’s 21st June roadmap.
- Getting a drink – Was actually really easy. Most people were encouraged to have a seat and you’ll be served at the table, but if you chose you could also go up to the bar. Very easy.
- Cleaning – For those that don’t know, cruise ships are being constantly cleaned from top to bottom, and something I really love about the cruising. But this has been taken to a whole other level with cleaning and deep cleaning taking place all day long.
- One-way systems – Personally, I’m a stickler for the rules and if there’s a one-way system, I’ll follow it. Alas the majority of people either didn’t see the signage or ignored it. But overall, the signage on board was great.
- On board Spa- Yes! The Aurea Spa was open during this cruise and available for use. There was a limited menu of wellbeing activities available including massages. In fact, I had a massage and can say it was near enough as normal experience as any – and staff were taking the right precautions and appropriately wearing the right PPE to ensure everyone’s safety – without detracting from the overall experience.
What do you think about the Health & Safety approach to MSC Cruises? Let me know in the comments and across social media.
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