What was it like cruising during coronavirus? We have been asked this question by many people so here is our experience….
Yes (unfortunately), we were on a cruise from India when the coronavirus impacted travel all over the world. Below we have detailed our honest experiences cruising during coronavirus.
When we came aboard Costa Victoria, we had already completed a wonderful month of travel in Sri Lanka and 4 days in Mumbai, India, which was our port of embarkation. We had meticulously planned our trip including what we would do in each port and our European travels after the cruise in Italy, Bulgaria and Romania. We aren’t normally so organised in our planning but knowing we would have limited Wi-Fi access for the duration of the cruise, we ensured everything was planned to a “T”.
Cruises are definitely an indulgence in our normal travels and budget, but we got a fantastic deal, so we were really looking forward to an exciting month at sea. The itinerary was amazing (see below) and we had wanted to do a longer relocation cruise, ideally ending in Europe, so this ticked all of our boxes.
In January, prior to our departure for Sri Lanka, we watched as the numbers of coronavirus cases in Wuhan began to rise and as the Chinese government imposed measures to keep residents within the city’s borders. We spoke at length about it but without any real concern for our own travels. We decided to take additional appropriate measures such as wearing masks when travelling and take more hand sanitiser than we normally would and use it more regularly as a precaution.
About 2 weeks into our Sri Lanka trip (mid-February), we hear reports of an outbreak of coronavirus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama. There had also been concerning reports of cases confirmed in Italy and other parts of Europe. Even at this stage, we weren’t too concerned about our own cruise but regardless, we contacted our travel agent to ask for an update on whether our cruise would be going ahead as scheduled and what safety precautions would be taken at embarkation. Colleen Baez at Avoya Travel (huge shout out – she is amazing and we highly recommend her for cruise bookings) responded to our email very quickly and all seemed positive.
We again contacted Costa directly once we arrived in Mumbai to confirm the cruise would still depart on 28 February. We received confirmation and a reiteration of the health screening process upon embarkation. They also stated that if we chose to cancel our cruise, we would not receive a refund. Cancellation for us then was not an option but we were confident in the fact the cruise would not sail if there were concerns over safety.
Day 1 – Saturday 29 February
Boarding the Costa Victoria on Saturday 29 February, we were really looking forward to the next leg of the trip: a month-long cruise including 3 full days in the Maldives, Petra in Jordan, and Dubrovnik and Split in Croatia. There were still no major travel warnings or bans at the time for any of our destinations.
Ship life on the day and evening of embarkation was cheerful and festive. We met quite a few new people and we spoke in general about our fears of the virus, but mostly about the excitement of the upcoming days ahead at sea and the many destinations we would visit.
Day 2 – Sunday 1 March
We spent Day 2 on an organised Costa tour whilst we were still at port in Mumbai. We had a fantastic day and really enjoyed seeing Mumbai from an air-conditioned bus, which was quite a relaxing contrast to walking the hot and hectic streets on our own self-guided day trips, as we had been doing on the previous days.
Once returning on-board, we showered and headed up to meet some new friends for drinks before dinner. It was at this time the rumour mill started and the itinerary of our cruise seemed a bit more uncertain.
On Day 1, day of embarkation, there were lots of Italian guests on board. This was not surprising as Costa is an Italian owned cruise company and the approximate number we were given was 1000 Italians on board. By the afternoon on Day 2, there were no Italian guests on board. Whilst we had been on our tour of Mumbai, approx. 1000 people had been asked to pack their bags and disembark. The Maldives Authorities had contacted Costa and said they would not allow the ship to port in Male if there were any Italians on board. Italy was now quickly becoming Covid-19 hotspot No.1, so Italian tourists were no longer welcome.
We felt bad for all those passengers, but at the same time those of us still on board were thankful to Costa for making such a tough decision so the rest of the passengers could enjoy The Maldives. Also, this meant less passengers on board overall which was great for the rest of us passengers (but not so for the cruise staff relying on tips to subsidise their meagre wage). I forgot to mention that approximately 1000 other passengers chose not to board and cancel their cruise. As a result, the cruise was at about one third its capacity for total number of passengers.
READ MORE: 2 DAY ITINERARY FOR MUMBAI
Day 3 – Monday 2 March
On Day 3, we had a day at sea cruising on our now very spacious ship from Mumbai to New Mangalore. We spent the day exploring the ship further and enjoying the facilities. Upon return to our room at about 4pm to find a letter in our mailbox explaining the Maldives Authorities had made the decision to refuse the ship entry to Male and as a result, our itinerary had been adjusted. We would no longer be visiting New Mangalore or Male and instead, we would have 2 days in Dubai on the 7th and 8th March. In addition, 2 additional ports were included – Fujairah in UAE on the 9th March and Muscat, Oman on the 10th March.
We were hugely disappointed by missing out on the Maldives as this was probably our absolute highlight of the cruise, but we hadn’t been to Dubai, Fujairah or Muscat so at least these would be new and exciting places to experience. That evening, the ship was abuzz with the itinerary changes and there were many very unhappy people on board. We tried not to get too embroiled in negative conversations and instead tried to keep a positive outlook.
Day 4 – Tuesday 3 March
We spent Day 4 in Cochin, India on an organised Costa tour and thoroughly enjoyed our day. We visited Fort Kochi, a fascinating tourist attraction called the Chinese fishing nets, the Dutch Palace in Mattancherry district and a commercial laundry area. Coming from hectic Mumbai, we really liked the laid back feel of Cochin and put it on our “we could come back here again” list.
Day 5, 6 and 7 – Wednesday 4 March to Friday 6 March
Day 5, 6 and 7 were relaxing at sea days spent eating, reading and relaxing by the pool. Talk in the evenings was filled with both positive and negative conversations related to the future of cruise ports, but we were lucky enough to spend our time with an interesting group who were happy to focus conversation around other things.
Day 8 and 9 – Saturday 7 March to Sunday 8 March
The 7th and 8th March (Day 8 and 9), we disembarked in Dubai and organised a 2 day hop-on-hop-off bus pass in order to the make the most of our stay. Dubai is a wonderful city and we in no way were prepared for how modern it was. With its bold architecture and audacious style, the United Arab Emirates’ largest city is a distinct fusion of its Bedouin heritage and an ultramodern style all its own. We loved it!
In the evening on Day 9, we received a letter in our mailbox informing us Al Fujairahs’ port had been closed to us and as such, we would stay in Dubai until 1pm the following day and then cruise slowly towards Muscat. As a compensation for this, we received 50 Euro cash-back credit each.
Again, we were trying to remain positive but the rumours had well and truly been spreading…. Two staff told us Israel wouldn’t allow us entry, and another staff member told us we wouldn’t be ending the cruising in Venice. The following day, different staff said we wouldn’t be visiting any of the scheduled ports in Greece and that our final disembarkation port would probably be Barcelona, Spain.
It was at this point we noticed more crew spraying disinfectant on surfaces and putting out more hand sanitiser stations. Also, staff seemed to be a little more serious about enforcing use of a hand sanitising at the buffet.
READ MORE: ONE DAY IN DUBAI: MUST SEE AND DO
Day 10 – Monday 9 March
Monday 9th March, we left Dubai at 1pm and it was at this point, passengers were starting to get quite upset. The biggest complaint was a lack of communication by the Cruise line about the future of the cruise and whether the rumours we were hearing were true. The Captain remained quiet and the front desk staff were either clueless as to what was happening or had been informed to respond with “due to uncertain times, we cannot answer your questions”.
Day 11 – Tuesday 10 March
Muscat, Oman on Day 11 (10th March) was a really enjoyable cruise port. It was not on our original itinerary but luckily I found an Oman Lonely Planet Guide in the library. We spent the day following a suggested walking tour which took us from the port, all the way into the old town with lots of fascinating stops in between. For me, Muscat was one of the highlights of the cruise.
Day 13 – Thursday 12 March
Our next port of call was Salalah, Oman on Day 13, Thursday 12th March. This port was on our original itinerary so we had done some research and decided to walk towards the Oasis Club. On the way, we found the most beautiful bay and ended up swimming here in the water for hours. The water was crystal clear and blue, and the sand was so white. Such an unexpected find! Unfortunately, a bit later, many other passengers from our ship also found this ‘hidden’ beach and as such, we decided to leave as the numbers in the water became a few too many.
Later than afternoon, we heard from the staff that Eilat, Greece and Croatia now had been removed from the itinerary and that an announcement would be made. We headed off to the show that evening only to find a sign saying the show, and all other entertainment had been cancelled – no explanation was given and no staff we asked could / would tell us why.
N.B. From this point on, there were no shows in the evenings and very little entertainment available. The gym and spa are also closed for the duration of the cruise.
We returned to our room at 11pm to find yet another letter from Costa. Once again, a new itinerary and the ports of Aqaba, Jordan and Eilat, Israel had been cancelled. Instead, added to the itinerary were Rhodes (19 and 20 March), and Piraeus (21 and 22 March). Costa also offered another 200 Euro per person on board credit for the inconvenience. So, our plans for Petra had been ruined, as was yet another one of the highlights and reasons why we booked this cruise.
Day 14 – Friday 13 March
So, we now have 6 sea days ahead of us as we head to Eilat ready for the Suez Canal transit. As the days go on, people are getting very frustrated and a meeting for all Australians is called by a group of Australians booked through Trip A Deal (there are approximately 300 Australians on board our ship and some of them are very vocal about their disappointments). The Captain was invited to attend this meeting but he did not show up. This meeting resulted in a chosen group of representatives to get information on behalf of the rest of us.
Day 15 – Saturday 14 March
On Saturday 14th March at 12:10pm, the Captain put a message over the loud speaker that there would be a meeting in 20 minutes at 12:30pm. The Captain reiterated what had been repeatedly said in the letters we received in our rooms, which was very little i.e. uncertain times, health and safety of guests and crewmembers is his priority, blah, blah, blah… The one thing he clearly stated was that under no circumstances would he be sailing us “into the lion’s den” i.e. disembarking in Venice as Italy was the biggest hotspot in the world at this time.
He also explained that he had made visiting the doctor on board free of charge for all passengers. When asked if there had been a case of coronavirus on board, he denied this. It was also explained to us the Costa Care Team would be making contact with each us to arrange alternative flights from the new (to be announced) port of disembarkation once this destination had been finalised.
Needless to say, we left this meeting feeling quite uncertain and a little peeved, as were most of our fellow passengers. The next days on board at sea are spent guessing what will happen, and everyone has their own opinion on this. A lot of speculation, but in the end nothing we could do about it.
As of Sunday 15th March, new rules are put in place for service at the buffet and in the breakfast dining room. Passengers are not to serve themselves and instead all food will be served to you according to what you would like. This is a very slow process and can be quite frustrating i.e. asking for a few olives results in 50 olives being put on your plate. So, much food is wasted over the coming days as a result.
Day 18– Tuesday 17 March
On Day 18, 17th March, we receive a letter informing us that from this point on, only technical calls, whenever they will be allowed, will be made and the ship will be heading straight to the designated Port of Disembarkation, Venice. This letter almost caused a mutiny following the Captain’s speech only 3 days earlier promising he would not sail us “into the lion’s den”. Outrage by most guests was an understatement and again, pressure was being put on senior staff for another meeting by the Captain.
In addition, the Buffet is closed for dinner with no announcement. It remains closed for the remainder of the cruise with the dining room as the only available option for dinner. This did not really affect us but others were livid with this arrangement.
Day 20 – Thursday 19 March
On Day 20, Thursday 19th March, we picked up our convoy at 3:30am in order to transit the Suez Canal. Jonas and I scouted out our location on the ship to see the crossing the day prior, and at 3:00am we made our way to the library. From our spot we had front row seats to enjoy the next 12 hours of the crossing. It was a very cool and windy day, so this was an awesome spot to have as our base. Jonas spent hours running around on deck outside taking photos. He caught some great shots, and the day after, a decent head cold. This was also a highlight of the trip and one we aren’t sure we would ever be in a position to do again.
In the afternoon, the Captain agrees to provide an update to passengers. As we enter the theatre, the ‘feel’ of this meeting is very different with security everywhere. We decided to film the Captain speaking so we didn’t miss anything he said but it was made very clear by security we could not record and they even threated to take our Go Pro and phone if we continued. They did not want anything from this meeting recorded.
Once again, the Captain reiterated that his priority was the safety and health of all and that we would be disembarking in Venice. The Captain also proudly mentioned that, as we were no longer going into ports and we had no Covid-19 cases on board, his ship was one of the safest places in the world right now. The company guaranteed our safety and health and that we would be staying on board until we could get on a flight back home. We were told we would be contacted in a few days (by whom no-one could tell us) regarding our flights. The most reassuring part of his speech was that we could stay on the ship until it was safe to be repatriated.
Day 21, 22 and 23 – Friday 20 March to Sunday 22 March
Sea days with no on board entertainment made for very long days for some. Jonas and I can entertain ourselves easily and we quickly filled our days doing laps of the walking track, reading, watching movies and TV shows we had access to offline, and chatting over a few drinks with fellow guests.
Day 24 to 28 – Monday 23 March to Friday 27 March
By this stage, we were at anchor off the coast of Crete. We had just returned to our room when at 6:10pm, an announcement by the Captain went over the loudspeakers. A passenger had been disembarked from the ship the previous day for medical reasons and taken to a hospital in Heraklion where they tested positive to Covid-19.
From this point we were in lockdown in our cabin and were under no circumstances allowed to leave our rooms. We had no fear or trepidation over being quarantined necessarily. Our main thought at that time was regretting not having purchased a cabin with a window or a balcony.
Our meals were served to us in our cabins which caused its own set of problems. There was no butter, no salt, no milk, no sugar, as the food served was meant to satisfy only hunger, not the palate. Our decadent vacation at this stage was very much over.
The majority of the food was served cold and at random hours of the day. Initially, we received cold black coffee each morning (no milk, no sugar), a 500ml bottle of water each also at breakfast, and a softdrink for dinner. Jonas and I drink a lot of water each day and we struggled with this. Even though we had paid for a drinks package on board, we were unable to order water (or any other type of drinks) to the room. After a couple of days, and I believe a lot of complaints, they finally started giving us more water.
We had a TV in our room but the only channels we could get were news channels and after a while, especially when locked in your cabin on a cruise ship with an unknown number of cases of Covid-19, you want more positive and uplifting things to listen to and watch. Luckily for us, as I mentioned earlier, we always travel with TV shows and movies we can access offline. Our days passed very quickly binge watching Suits and Narcos.
Communication by Costa was limited. We received an occasional message over the loudspeaker and via letters to our cabins providing the standard update – Costa is working with local authorities and relevant Embassies to arrange a safe and smooth disembarkation and return home for all Nationalities on-board. It felt like we received the same message time after time. No news, no updates and a very vague plan ahead.
Day 29 – Saturday 28 March
We arrive in Civitavecchia Port, Rome (not Venice as planned), and here we sit until final disembarkation arrangements are organised. An announcement comes over the speakers stating we have to undergo a health check and we head out of our cabins and downstairs where a temperature check is done. No masks are provided for this and physical distancing is not adhered to.
We are of the understanding today is supposed to be the day we disembark but the day comes and goes and we hear no further information. At 11pm we decide to go to bed and at 11:45pm our phone rings and we are told to have our bags packed and outside our cabin ready for collection by 4am. We were to be transported at 8am the following morning by bus to the airport for a flight to Perth, Australia. No further information was provided.
So, up we got again, packed our bags, put them outside in the hall, and returned to bed to try and get a couple of hours sleep in preparation for the unknown.
Day 30 – Sunday 29 March
As you would imagine, we got very little sleep and were awoken at 6am with our breakfast. We ate, showered, dressed and sat waiting for a phone call to explain the disembarkation procedure. 8am came and went so we tried to call reception as we feared we may have been forgotten. We were told to be patient and we would be called when it was our turn.
At 10:30am the call finally came. We were greeted by staff as we got out of the elevators and handed our Medical Certificates to fly, 2 masks each and another letter from Costa outlining what we were to do in case we showed any symptoms. We continued down the hallway, disembarked the ship, found our suitcases and headed for our allocated bus.
The buses were lined up as far as the eye could see and full of Australians all catching the same flight as us. The buses were filled to about half their capacity to assist with physical distancing and there we sat for a further 1 hour whilst waiting for all buses to be filled.
We finally left at 11:30am in a convoy with army personnel and police lining the roads. Traffic was stopped on all highways and roads as bus after bus drove towards the airport. The experience was so surreal that we forgot to take photos of this part of the trip.
We finally arrived at the airport to be greeted by the Australian Ambassador in Rome, Greg French, in a full hazmat suit. He gave a short speech and wished us all well, and was rewarded with applause and thanks from all of us for his great work behind the scenes.
We finally boarded the Qatar flight (we were told that Costa paid for this charter flight) early in the afternoon, and with relief, we were finally heading home – well, at least to our home country.
Three weeks later, quarantined and ready, we bought our own AUD$600 each tickets and flew from Perth to Sydney, and finally to Brisbane before driving home to the Sunshine Coast.
On reflection, there were many enjoyable aspects of the cruise but the lack of communication by Costa caused unnecessary frustrations for all. We did receive compensation from Costa in the form of on-board cruise credit for cancelled ports, which was refunded to our credit cards prior to our disembarkation. In addition, after long negotiations and thanks to our excellent travel agent Colleen Baez, we came to an acceptable level of compensation from Costa.
Will we sail on Costa again? Yes, but only to use the cruise credit we have been given. We have until the end of March 2021 to book a cruise to sail by April 2022 when hopefully, things with Covid-19 are under control, not only on cruise ships, but across the world.
The Exit45 Rating scale runs from a low of 1 to a high of 5 in each of the 9 categories. As such, the higher the score out of 45, the better the Exit45 Rating. N.B. These scores are our own personal opinions and are based on our experiences, budget constraints and what we love doing i.e. adventure seeking foodies who love snorkelling and water related activities.
|Value for Money||4|
|Friendliness of Locals||3|
|Ease of Language Barrier||4|
|Activities and Tours||1|
|Ease of Travel||2|
|TOTAL EXIT45 RATING||27 / 45|
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