As I write this I am on the last great transatlantic ocean liner, the Queen Mary 2 (QM2), and this is the final full day of a 7 day crossing from Southampton, UK, to New York City, USA. This is my first voyage since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. I believe this might also be the first westerly transatlantic crossing of the QM2 since the pandemic, and as you might imagine, there have been changes in ship-board protocols, hence this brief post to let future voyagers know what to expect.
If you are one of those who feel that people who go on cruises are crazy, that cruise ships are floating petri dishes, or that taking 7 days to accomplish a trip that takes 8 or 9 hours by jet is a complete waste of time—well, you should not waste any more time reading this post either and exit via the next high-speed taxi-way. This post is not for you.
Okay…lots quieter in here now, but also a lot calmer and more peaceful. Much like a transatlantic voyage by ship.
The Cunard Line clearly takes the threat of COVID seriously. There are only half as many passengers on board as usual. Tables and chairs are marked as unavailable in an attempt to enforce social distancing. Masks are required except out on deck and while eating, and the staff is not afraid to enforce the mask requirement. The passengers are mostly cooperative, and the occasional person without a mask seems to have simply forgotten, and is usually embarrassed when their naked face is pointed out. The majority of the passengers are polite, perhaps because the majority of the passengers are British.
There is more hand-sanitizer than usual scattered throughout the ship. The buffet, where food is served nearly 24 hours per day, has undergone some changes. You no longer serve yourself at the buffet. The staff now ladles the food on to your plate. Whether this results in more or less food consumption during a cruise would be an interesting question to study. Personally, I am less likely to pile up the food on my plate when someone else is doing the piling.
Unfortunately there is one loophole to the mask requirement, and people have been taking advantage of it. In the lounge area, people can order drinks and thus technically don’t need to wear masks while drinking; however, the majority of people just sit there without drinks, neither wearing masks nor practicing social distancing. My wife pointed this out to the crew, but it seems that there is little incentive to close this loophole. It seems that Cunard has decided that despite precautions, COVID will occur onboard, and their mission is to limit the spread of the virus as much as practical.
All passengers had to prove they were triple vaccinated before coming on board. They all had a COVID test at the pier before they were allowed to embark. Since then all the passengers have been COVID tested twice more, the most recent test being today, the day before arrival in New York.
As expected, there are guests who have tested positive, despite vaccination and screening at the pier. These positive tests are announced over the intercom, where Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so are asked politely to return to their cabin and contact the Purser’s Office.
I did not hear all these announcements, but it seems that there are perhaps a few dozen passengers who tested positive for COVID. We know that the forward area of three decks have been sealed off as a quarantine zone. You can see the door to one of these areas in the picture above. Behind this door there are unhappy passengers, but there is no contact with these passengers, so they don’t spoil the fun of the others.
The onboard activities continue. There are lectures, concerts, movies, and shows. It’s actually nice having fewer passengers and having a less crowded ship. There are minor inconveniences and there is always the low-grade fear of becoming seriously ill, but that is life in the COVID era, whether on sea or on land. Regardless of the necessary precautions, there is nothing like sailing across the ocean on a great ship, and I am glad it is once again possible.