Setting Sail After Covid-19

There has been something on my mind that I have wanted to share for a few days now, but I have taken some time to think how to share my thoughts with you effectively, so I hope my words this have clarity.

There has been much that has happened this past few weeks that have made me at different times nervous, sad, even heart broken, however the last few days I have been feeling angry. I am watching the news, reading social media, getting angrier day by day about the ill-informed and thoughtless comments being made about our cruise industry during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Those of you who know me know what I do – I am a home based travel agent with a passion for all things cruise. I don’t expect you all to share my passion enjoy cruising. We are all different and entitled to our own opinions. What is making me angry is that so many opinions that are being shared and published have little or no basis in fact, and are presenting a distorted picture of the reality of modern day cruising. What I have written below is my opinion, in my own words - I hope that I have found the words to share it with you in a balanced way - that is my goal.

I will acknowledge that there always has been, since the days of Vasco da Gama and Captain James Cook, the knowledge by seafarers, that the health of any group of people confined to a ship for a long journey is vitally dependent on everyone staying well – one person gets sick and the entire complement of passengers and crew are at risk due to the fact everyone is in a contained area.

HOWEVER when I see all the negative comments about today’s liners being germ infested cesspits of illness, and the accusation that the Captains and crew of these vessels are irresponsible it makes my blood boil.

For those of you who are spreading the negativity I simply ask that you consider a few basic points.

When I started cruising with my family, before I boarded a ship I had to complete and sign a declaration that asked if in the week before boarding, we had experienced and cold/flu like symptoms, or any vomiting/gastro type symptoms? PRE COVID we were health checked to ensure we did not bring illness on board. I do not recall EVER having been asked these questions pre COVID when boarding and aeroplane, coach or train service – do you?

These checks were recently increased to include temperature checks on all passengers and discovering where passengers had been in the last 14 days and who they had been in contact with.

So then what happens when you get sick on board a large cruise ship? People are referencing the big ships operated by major cruise lines in their social commentary, so my comments and personal thoughts below will also refer to these types of large ships.

If I get sick on a cruise ship I can be confined to my cabin, which has a super comfortable bed to rest in, a balcony to let in fresh air, a TV for my entertainment, internet access for me to stay connected to the world, my own private bathroom which I can ask to be cleaned and sanitized as many times a day as I need, room service delivery of food – I have no need to leave my private isolation unit.

If I get sick on a cruise ship, I have instant access to doctors and nurses, to prescription medication from a dispensary, and usually to Cardiac and Intensive care facilities in the Medical Centre. The bigger the ship, the more beds and better facilities are on board. You don’t get that on a plane, train or coach.

Every time I enter a dining or entertainment facility on a cruise ship there is a station for me to wash or sanitise my hands. The larger ships have extra crew with bottles squirting your hands on entry and exit just in case you get lazy and skip the self-service option. You don’t see this at your local takeaway/club/fine dining establishment. Some of the newer ships I have been on personally have automatic sliding doors so that you do not even need to touch a door to open it and move between public areas.

In almost every case that I see people bagging out the “cruise lines” if you dig a little deeper you will discover that the Captains of the vessels are only making decisions trying to balance the wellbeing of their passengers and crew in each port they visit based with the legal requirements of the local governments they are dealing with. If you were on board a ship right now, you would want the Captain looking out for your best interests I am sure.

Many people want to express their heartache at the Australian economy poised to go downhill rapidly in foreseeable future, and for the loss of so many jobs which we are seeing. I understand. I really do, I am one of those whose livelihood has been taken away from them for the time being.

But before using your words to tarnish the cruise industry with a reputation that may take years to recover from, consider how many thousands of jobs have been lost in industry directly related to the cruise lines that call on ports all around Australia. Then the many more jobs indirectly related to their business. The billions of dollars that are injected into our economy each year by the cruise sector. Hotels and their suppliers, coach companies (drivers and guides (and their families), sites and attractions they visit, the service stations they buy their fuel from, the cleaners and mechanics who maintain the vehicles, the cafes they call on with 50 people at a time for morning tea), waste management services who service the ships every port call, the port taxes the ships pay into government coffers, the food and beverage suppliers who sell to the ships, the drivers who deliver provisions to the ships, the ferry/taxi/uber drivers who move up to 3000 people around each day as they are getting on and off a ship, the businesses around Circular Quay in Sydney (and the other major ports) who lose all that trade in food and coffees and souvenirs, the retailers in each port they visit - the domino effect is endless.

Look to the future people! I can promise you that the conversation in the cruise line industry will be moving in a direction to make sure they are equipped better than ever to deal with anything like this in the future. Ideas like keeping empty cabins on board to use as quarantine facilities, increasing the medical services beyond what is already excellent, keeping the boarding health screens as stringent as they are now long term…all ideas I bet will be on the table. Unfortunately what the cruise lines cannot control are the ignorant people who get on board and still don’t wash their hands after they use the toilet and practice basic good hygiene procedures. I have seen this with my own eyes.

I know my ramblings are long winded, but there is so much more to say that I have left out.

This has been a time of rapid change, and policy on travel and daily life restrictions have been updated on an almost daily basis at times. The cruise lines, airlines and other travel providers have all responded to the changing environment as developments have unfolded. Sure, hindsight is always 20/20. But everyone has been making decisions on their business, health, and lifestyle, based on the information available to them at the time. The challenging part has been that this information and the expert advice to accompany it has changed rapidly and it has been a struggle to keep up.

At the end of the day, I don’t expect every single person out there to enjoy cruising as I do, or feel as passionately positive about it as I do.  That would be unreasonable. What I do hope is that people who make broad sweeping statements, slinging around criticism and inflammatory statements for all to hear and read, not just about the industry I love but any topic that is in the public arena, please do a little bit of research and present a balanced argument. At the moment the balance is often skewed way too far the wrong way.

Yes, there are lessons to be learned. All industries in travel and beyond have learned from experiences in the past, and will continue to do so into the future. How about we all just take a breath, comment positively on what we know about and understand, and focus on how we can all support each other in every line of business, so that we are all here on the other side of these crazy times.



By Sarah Fenton

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