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Published on Friday, November 13, 2020

UK passenger tells of 'shock and disbelief' at Covid cruise drama

A British journalist has told of the 'shock, disbelief and disappointment' among passengers after a Covid outbreak rocked the first Caribbean cruise to set sail since the pandemic.

Five passengers on the SeaDream Yacht Club voyage have so far tested positive despite all apparently returning a negative test prior to boarding last Saturday.

The voyage was immediately aborted after the first guest tested positive on Wednesday and the ship returned to Barbados.

Several other passengers have since tested positive with all those infected thought to be from the same travelling party.

Passengers are still being quarantined in their cabins ahead of further shoreside tests.

The development is a PR disaster for the cruise line - and the wider industry - which earlier in the week faced a barrage of criticism after photographs showed crew were not wearing face masks.

The Times and Sunday Times Cruise Editor, Sue Bryant, was among 53 passengers and 66 crew on the SeaDream 1.

"The mood was happy and upbeat as we felt secure in our bubble," Bryant told TravelMole as she remained quarantined in her cabin. "This changed to shock, disbelief and disappointment as the captain told us there was a possible positive case on board and we had to go into our cabins immediately and isolate.

"But we're being well looked after with room service and regular announcements."

Bryant said masks were not compulsory when passengers boarded, nor had they been on SeaDream's repositioning cruise from Norway where the vessel has operated an incident-free programme.

Photographs showing crew without masks prior to departure from Barbados last weekend drew criticism on social media.

Bryant said the policy changed mid-cruise when the wearing of masks became mandatory.

"I was aware before I joined that masks weren't compulsory on board but wasn't surprised when they were made compulsory," she said.  

"The Captain made an announcement to say that the sudden introductions of masks was not related to criticism on social media. He said they had been advised by their shoreside medical team that we should comply with local regulations. Here in Barbados, and in the Grenadines, everybody is wearing a mask.

"The passengers were perfectly happy to wear masks….although some of the people who had done the crossing were pretty disgruntled."

However, Bryant said she did not think the Covid spread was related to the absence of face coverings.

"I doubt it is related to masks as we are all very socially distanced anyway and spend virtually all our time outdoors," she wrote in an earlier tweet. "There was very little time before mask wearing was introduced."

SeaDream Executive Vice President Andreas Brynestad said in a statement: "After completing a successful summer season in Norway, we implemented even stricter health and safety protocols for our Barbados winter season. All guests were tested twice prior to embarkation and we are in the process of re-testing guests.

"We are working closely with local health and government authorities to resolve this situation in the best way possible. Our main priority is the health and safety of our crews, guests and the communities we visit."  

Bryant, a cruise veteran, said she had been impressed with the protocols.

"I didn't get the feeling that any of the passengers were angry at all. The protocols have been really impressive and I don't think they should have done more. They did everything they could.

"Everybody was social distancing, there were no stand-up-and-mingle cocktail parties, no self service buffets and there were limited numbers on the zodiacs. 

"Cruise executives are being much clearer now about the fact that Covid will get on board, like any virus does. It's how it's dealt with that matters."

In September, when announcing the series of 22 Barbados voyages, Brynestad said sailing in a Covid era 'undoubtedly presents some new challenges'.

"But as the first luxury line to begin sailing again, we have learned many lessons and are confident we can provide a safe environment without sacrificing luxury," he said. "We are thrilled to offer our guests a much-needed escape and the dream vacation they deserve onboard SeaDream."

Because of the size of its vessel - its capacity is fewer than 250 passengers - SeaDream falls outside the remit of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and CLIA.

On its website, SeaDream said it was able to 'successfully implement a comprehensive COVID-19 prevention plan that resulted in zero positive cases during the entire Norwegian summer season'.

The company said it has since improved its procedures further, with three machines testing guests prior to departure.

"The goal is to create a Covid-19 negative bubble, where guests can relax and enjoy the safety of the ship," the cruise line says.

"Guests will be asked to observe social distancing guidelines and take temperature checks daily.

By Steve Jones, Contributing Editor (UK) 

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