Test cruises help industry prepare for when sailings begin again
BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. - It's a restless cruise fan's dream come true: a safe vacation away from the harsh realities of the past year.
Cruise lovers Ben Hewitt and David McDonald got just that, aboard SeaDream’s first return to cruising in the Caribbean in November of last year. They got to document the cruise for their video blog.
Before boarding, Hewitt and McDonald say they had to take two COVID tests, pass a medical review at the port, including temperature and blood oxygen checks. Things went swimmingly until they hit rough water.
Three days into that cruise, the captain announced that a case of COVID had gotten on board the vessel. One passenger who was feeling ill approached the medical staff and then tested positive.
"I wouldn’t say I was shocked that it got onto the ship, just that it got through the rigorous testing that they had in place. It really shows how dangerous COVID can be. It can be invisible and get on board," Hewitt said.
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Seven out of 54 passengers on their ship and two crew members tested positive.
With the industry in limbo, industry experts say future test cruises could help major cruise lines chart a recovery.
Cruise industry virtuoso Stewart Chiron, "The Cruise Guy," who's taken almost 300 cruises, explains how things could be different.
"For them to restart, they have to do the test cruises. One, it is required by the CDC. The first test cruises, they'll have just crew and then allow some paying passengers to go on. It will not be anything we have experienced before," Chiron said.
In 2019, the cruise line industry contributed over $55 billion to the U.S. economy.
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No state has a bigger stake in the cruise industry than Florida, home to the world’s three busiest cruise ports: Port Miami, Port Canaveral and Port Everglades.
Chiron predicts passengers will have to pack a lot of patience, along with their sunscreen and flip flops, in order to sail safely.
"It is a test period. They have to be able to show that they can provide us with a safe environment to be able to offer cruises. They will all share that information so that everyone in the industry will be able to benefit in the industry," Chiron said.
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