No one can forget the dramas of 2020, in particular, the quarantining of Diamond Princess and the subsequent “Covid Cruise” headlines. Thankfully the whole industry has pulled together to get us back to cruising safely. In January this year, one of our lovely Cruise Addicts Bev Coverdale, joined a cruise from Southampton aboard P&O Iona down to the Meditteranean. We have asked Bev to share her experiences of Cruising and Covid in 2022, as it’s fair to say that not everything was plain sailing. This could have happened to any one of us who sets off on a cruise and it may be useful to know what happens. Bev has kindly written us a full accoun
Bev has kindly written us a full account so in her own words…
Cruise Planning with Covid Rules
Hello fellow shipmates, my husband Rob and I absolutely love the cruising life. That was until the dreaded Covid began its travels and, along with thousands of other cruise fans, we well and truly had our wings clipped!
Back in August last year when we booked the cruise on P&O Iona, Covid figures were very low and the Omicron variant wasn’t even a thought. So, the excitement began! The diet was in full swing and the suitcases were out and dusted off in anticipation. Yes, we like to be well prepared! Our paperwork was organised along with travel insurance which included mandatory cruise cover. Our Covid vaccinations and boosters seemed but a dim and distant memory.
By December the cruise date was looming large and approaching at a fast rate of knots. Naturally, we were both quite apprehensive around the virus now Omicron was making international headlines but we tried not to let it spoil our enthusiasm for our long awaited cruise. We decided to pack some boxes of LFTs into our luggage so that we could actively keep a check on our Covid status.
Boarding and testing at Southampton
All of the paperwork, forms, and photographs for our onboard ID had been completed at home to help minimise time spent at check-in. On Monday 3rd January 2022, after a long journey armed with all of the necessary documentation Rob and I arrived at the port in Southampton. Prior to embarkation we had to have our complimentary, mandatory, pre-cruise Lateral Flow Tests (LFTs) taken. Shortly after, armed with our negative results which had been sent to us via text to our mobile phones, we made our way through to the ship.
P&O had carefully thought of everything to keep us all safe, including our cruise cards which had been left in the box by the cabin door, (my husband – affectionately known as The Bilge Rat – insists on calling it the stateroom!) These safety measures are all to reduce needlessly touching the cards, therefore reducing the risks of cross infection.
Covid precautions on board
The rules surrounding mask wearing on the ship were carefully observed by everyone. The rules were that we could only remove our masks whilst in our own cabins or if we were eating or drinking in restaurants, bars or lounges for reasons which do not need an explanation! People out on the open decks did not have to wear a mask unless they were walking about. Anyone walking around inside of the ship, in the theatre or cinema had to adhere to the mask wearing rules with no exceptions. Drinks were not allowed whilst in the theatre and the seats were marked out for social distancing.
Well stocked, automatic sanitising stations were situated absolutely all over the ship and staff openly encouraged everyone to use the hand gel, especially on entry to and from the dining room.
The highlight of our day was having our temperature taken each morning on entrance into the Horizon buffet dining room, for one thing, it meant we weren’t overheating and another was that we were still alive!
We had chosen to pack 3 boxes of LFTs and carried out our tests every 2-3 days, These remained negative over the next 12 nights of our cruise.
Life on Board
Our preferred dining room was the Horizon buffet, I cannot comment on the procedure in the other dining venues onboard as apart from Horizon, we only used the Olive Tree restaurant once. In the Horizon everyone had to wear their masks when moving around. Once seated, your mask could be removed. In our experience, the Horizon dining room never became overcrowded, so we felt quite safe and I believe the ship was only sailing with a 55% occupancy. We had more than enough room to move around safely and there were lots of seated areas to relax in. Whilst on our cruise we had both felt very safe and happy.
We had chosen to pack 3 boxes of LFTs and carried out our tests every 2-3 days, They remained negative over the next 12 nights of our cruise.
Within a few days of embarking on our cruise, I had taken great delight posting messages on the “Cruise Addicted Group” and gloating to people back home that we were on the P&O Iona and loving every minute of it, living the life of luxury. I became the group’s live roaming reporter! No doubt about it, Iona is one amazing ship.
We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves, eating plenty and socialising and we had taken part in various daily quiz sessions. We called our team “The Mixed Nuts” and by the second week, we were joint winners on the leaderboard in the progressive quiz!
It all goes wrong…
Unfortunately on the morning of Thursday, 13th January, two days before we disembarked Iona, I awoke feeling unwell. My throat felt like I had swallowed a razor blade, although I don’t remember the last time I actually ate a razor blade! I was totally fine before I went to bed on the evening before.
Each morning at “silly o’clock” , Rob would go up to the Horizon restaurant for his breakfast, unlike myself, I’m like..”I’m on my holidays and I refuse to get up at the crack of dawn, I’m having a lie in!”. I prefer a much later breakfast, I am definitely not a morning person, especially one called Dawn!
As I was awake on this particular morning when Rob went for breakfast, and not feeling too well, I decided I would take an early morning LFT. After about 3 minutes, (30 minutes not needed, though I did watch for the full time in disbelief) 2 bright red lines appeared on the test, showing a positive result.
To say I was shocked, distraught and upset, was an understatement. All alone in the cabin and crying like a daft thing, Rob returned to find me sat on the bed. By now I had my mask on, (the good old saying, shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted sprang to mind) and in the half light of the cabin, I said to him that I was Covid positive! We were both shocked.
Rob rang the medical centre and explained that my LFT had shown a positive result. A nurse came to our cabin and took a PCR test from us both, at a distance… I bet she wished she had Inspector Gadget arms! Around an hour later, the nurse rang with the news confirming what we already knew, that my PCR test was positive. Robs LFT test however was negative. So, we were both confined to quarters… we had to go to Covid prison, cast into the depths of the bilges along with the bilge rats!
We move cabins – like Ghostbusters…
The ships protocol states that anyone testing positive to Covid must be isolated in a balcony cabin. So I couldn’t quite understand the reasoning for moving us because we were already in a balcony cabin. Maybe our cabin was booked out for future guests two days later and needed fumigating once we had left? 🤔 I guess we will never find out!
A short while after we had received our test results, the “ghostbusters” arrived to escort us to our “new” cabin. This might sound silly but I kid you not, understandably, the guys had the full PPE kit on from head to toe and were sporting a backpack with a spray attachment and nozzle. As we were escorted to the other cabin, the “ghostbusters” walked behind us and everything was disinfected as we walked along!
Our luggage had been placed onto a trolley where it was sprayed with a disinfectant of some sort. We thought the next step for us was to be thrown into a sheep dip! Joking apart, we know Covid is very serious, but we had to smile.
Our Covid Cabin
In fact the cabins were absolutely identical in every way, except that original cabin was on deck 9 and the isolation cabin was on deck 14. When we arrived at Covid prison, there were around half a dozen bottles of drinking water and tea, coffee and milk sachets in abundance. Minutes later someone arrived at the door with dinner menus.
We were told as we were in isolation that we were entitled to free WiFi. This was all sorted out very swiftly. Shortly before lunch and dinner, we would receive a phone call from the catering staff asking for our food choices..there was no shortage of choice for us. The only one time we weren’t happy was when our meals arrived to our cabin and we had been given wooden cutlery and cardboard plates/bowls. We realise the reasoning behind this move as it’s easy for these items to be incinerated. Our argument was that patients in hospital are not made to eat from wooden cutlery and cardboard plates, so after that, we were given civilised cutlery and plates etc. The thought of eating with wooden cutlery turned my stomach and made my teeth almost stand on end! Staff from the catering department would ring us in the evening to ask us our breakfast choices. Everyone was fantastic, we did not go without.
With two sea days ahead of us we were sad to miss our quiz, we had really enjoyed taking part and taxing the old grey matter! Our 1 brain cell had really been put through its paces! But at least our absence gave the other quizzers an opportunity to win! 🤣
Things get even worse
On the morning of Friday 14th January, Rob took a LFT which showed a faint positive line. He rang the medical centre and again, the Inspector Gadget nurse came to our cabin to take a PCR test from him. Shortly after this, he received a phone call confirming his positive result. We were already isolating so nothing had to change.
Unfortunately, also on this day I had to call for a consultation with the ships doctor as my chest and ribs were very sore from all of the coughing, all due to the Covid. She examined my chest, I was wheezing and I was prescribed a course of antibiotics and steroids.
Getting an “in cabin” consultation is quite a luxury by todays standards, something we don’t get very often back at home with our own doctors! I was a little concerned because of the cost but I needn’t have worried my head. The medical bill including the cost of my prescriptions, delivered to the cabin about an hour later, amounted to £70.00. I didn’t think this amount was too extortionate, considering that on one of our last cruises with a different company, I managed to get cotton wool stuck deep down in one of my ears and it cost $150 for the said foreign body to be removed!
On this day we had a phone call from management asking details of where our car was parked, make, model, colour, and registration number so our car could be brought closer to the ship in Southampton.
Leaving the ship
Our pre-ordered breakfast arrived at our cabin, along with a carrier bag for each of us which had several lunch items in it. We had a 6-7 hour drive home so P&O had provided us goody bags for the long journey. We really thought P&O had gone above and beyond for us, at least we didn’t have to think about having to stop for refreshments.
Before we disembarked the ship, we received a phone call asking us if we could have our luggage ready to be collected from outside of the cabin door and for us to be ready to leave the cabin at 11 am after the “clean” passengers had left the ship. We were shown down to the ships gangway where we were able to log out. We were escorted through to the luggage hall where our disinfected, isolated belongings were waiting for us to collect. Our car was there, close to the ship ready for our journey home… Thank you P&O.
After our cruise, on return to our home, we had to contact track and trace. At the time of our cruise the the law at the time stated that we had to complete our Passenger Locator Forms before leaving home and to book and pay for a Day 2 post holiday private PCR test. (£35 each). We legally had to order the tests as we were unable to complete the Passenger Locator Forms unless we had a reference number proving that we had booked and paid for our PCR tests. So we completed our PCR tests on day 2 and had no surprises at all when the tests came back positive for us both.
What I will say, most people say “you were lucky, you had most of your cruise before you had to isolate”… and yes, maybe we only had 2 days in isolation on the ship but we have had to stay inside for 10 days since returning until we tested negative on 2 consecutive LFTs 24 hours apart. Covid rules change regularly, they have done even since we have been back home.
Some people aren’t too nice when they hear we contracted Covid on our cruise, they reckon it’s Karma to us for booking a cruise in a pandemic! Some people are very unkind!
Has this experience put us off cruising?
We will be honest, yes it has somewhat, we have postponed the cruise we had booked for this October and rebooked it for October 2023. As yet we are still going ahead with our 5 night Christmas markets cruise. 🤞🤞 watch this space!
Happy cruising folks!
A Final Word from us…
We just want to make it clear that we asked Bev to write this so that people understand the reality of the situation if you test positive for Covid at sea. She is talking about her personal experience on a P&O cruise in January 2020. Obviously, a positive Covid test might have been handled slightly differently on different cruise lines but ,although Government rules with regard to testing are changing constantly, the protocols for this situation are pretty standard industry-wide. There isn’t much discussion about what is going to happen if you are unlucky enough to find yourself in this situation.
One thing that might have made things worse would have been if the ship still had cruise ports ahead of her rather than only sea days remaining. Local Port Authority regulations and ships protocols would probably have meant that Bev and Rob were disembarked to quarantine ashore. At that point you transfer from the care of the ship to being the responsibilty of your insurance company. This is why insurance is ESSENTIAL. So it could have been a lot worse and I’m sure that I don’t need to say that Bev is not complaining here but is giving a factual account of her personal experiences as we asked.
I hope you enjoyed this long read, there is definitely some food for thought here – says the person who has just booked two cruises – one for next month and one for later this year. Fingers crossed!!
If you’re planning your next cruise you will find our latest YouTube video below…