Cruising during the Coronavirus Pandemic
Our Personal Experience
The Novel Coronavirus, Covid-19, was beginning to spread worldwide just as we began a 2 week Panama Canal Cruise from New Orleans to San Diego on the Disney Wonder. At that time, the virus was mostly limited to Seattle in the U.S. We really did not have reservations about going. It was too late for a refund if we canceled. Also, Disney Cruise Line has an excellent health record, is always clean, and had no incidences of Covid-19.
What was it like to be Cruising during the Coronavirus Pandemic? While we were literally isolated from the outside world, it did affect the experience all passengers and crew. Read on for details.
- More questions added to pre-boarding health screening
- Passengers temperatures taken prior to boarding
- Crews temperatures taken every day
- Hand sanitizers everywhere
- No more self-serve at buffet, drink or ice cream stations
- Constant cleaning of stair rails and elevators
- PA announcements encouraging hand washing
- Tutorials and reminders on Cruise TV channels
Disney Cruise Line stepped up pre-boarding precautions. Added to the normal health screening questionnaire, they asked if you had travelled to any countries with travel bans within the past 2 weeks; at that time China, Iran, Italy, Japan, and South Korea. Nurses took everyone’s temperature in the cruise terminal before allowing to board. Every day of the cruise, nurses took the temperature of each crew member to screen for the dreaded infection.
Disney always enforces hand sanitizing to enter the dining areas. On this cruise, hand sanitizers were everywhere on the ship. Fortunately, it seemed like people were taking it seriously from day one.
Fountain drinks, ice cream, coffee, cocoa, and tea are always included with Disney cruises and have always been self-service. No more. About 5 days into our cruise, they blocked off all of these self serve stations. Crew members tirelessly fixed the drinks and ice cream. It created occasional lines, and sometimes the coffee or tea were not prepared exactly how we wished. All in all though, it worked well. People adjusted. I think it was a good idea.
Cabanas breakfast and lunch buffets ceased being self serve, too. This really had no affect on service or quality. More passengers did choose to take advantage of more formal breakfast and lunch at Triton’s.
Disney ships are always impeccably clean, but this too was stepped up. While cruising during the Coronavirus Pandemic, crew members climbed up and down the stairs all day with cleansing solution, continuously cleaning the hand rails. They also repeatedly cleaned the elevators and elevator buttons. I was very impressed.
Additionally, Intercom announcements reminded passengers to wash hands frequently and to cough into the elbow. Disney Cruise Line TV stations also showed demonstrations on hand washing and other safety measures.
We heard of a few families who chose not to risk cruising during the Coronavirus Pandemic. The vast majority, like us, did, though. Many families upgraded their rooms from interior staterooms or rooms with porthole windows to rooms with balconies and suites, just in case we were quarantined. During the cruise, everyone was upbeat. Any apprehension at the start of the cruise faded day by day. By the end of the cruise, we all felt protected and safe, but had concern about those on land and about returning home.
Effects on the Cruise
The 2020 Westbound Disney Panama Canal Cruise began like any other. Leaving New Orleans, we spent one day at sea followed by port days in Cozumel, Mexico and on Grand Cayman Island. Shortly after leaving Grand Cayman, a fellow passenger had a medical emergency requiring surgery. The Wonder turned around and took them back to Grand Cayman. We lost 7 hours, which caused us to miss our next port of call, Cartagena, Colombia.
Captain Henry’s First Announcement
In the outside world, the NCAA March Madness and all winter and spring sports had just been cancelled. Travel bans were being placed. The infection rate and death toll continued to rise. At lunch, our captain made his first of many announcements that we all came to dread. He announced that our port day had been cancelled. Fortunately the patient was okay.
The Wonder would still dock for about an hour to get supplies and to swap entertainers. 2 days prior to this, the first cases of Covid-19 had been diagnosed in Cartagena.
At lunch on the day at Cartagena, the Captain made another announcement. Since passengers would not be disembarking, the Colombian government chose to ban anyone from leaving or boarding our ship to protect us from the virus. The original entertainers would have to stay and the new batch would not join us. This meant that the second week’s entertainment schedule was gone. Our cruise director, Ashley, scrambled to salvage things. With the help of Assistant Cruise Director Mike, the cruise staff team, the stranded entertainers, and others, she pulled it off in remarkable fashion, creating a memorable experience.
Princess Cruise Line had been at the center of the Coronavirus Pandemic. A Princess ship, the Island Princess had followed the same coarse as us. We joked daily that we hoped that we didn’t dock downwind from them. While Colombia had banned anyone from coming or going to the Disney Wonder, the Island Princess was docked with passengers ashore in Cartagena.
When the Captain came on the PA for an announcement the next day at lunch, the entire ship fell silent. He announced that Walt Disney World and Disneyland would both close for a month and that all Disney cruises for the next month would be suspended. Our cruise was to continue as scheduled,..maybe.
We spent the next wonderful day passing through the Panama Canal. Four sea days followed. Then we were to visit Puerto Vallarta, followed by Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. There were no new announcements for the next two days.
As we had feared, at lunch the day prior to Puerto Vallarta, the captain announced that our cruise would make no more stops and would arrive in San Diego a day early to protect passengers and crew from the coronavirus.
When we docked in San Diego. Disney Cruise Line gave passengers the option of disembarking a day early. About one quarter, roughly 500 did. The rest of us stayed. To prevent crowding and long lines, the port authorities checked every passenger’s passport on the day we docked, whether leaving that day or not. The rest of the day was just like a normal sea day with loads of activities. When disembarking, you were only allowed to leave in small groups to keep less than 250 people in the cruise terminal at a time. It was honestly the quickest and smoothest disembarkation that we have had. We just walked out with no lines to check passports. Disney provided a free shuttle bus to the airport.
We have found Disney to be very generous when things don’t go well. Our West bound Panama Canal Cruise during the pandemic proved to be no exception. They gave everyone a 10% refund on this cruise and 40% off of a future cruise. Everyone was pleased and jumped at the offer.
Friends from Australia had a much harder time. They had planned to stay in California for a few days prior to flying home. With news a spread of Covid-19 all around the world, lockdown in California, cancelled flights, and Australia self isolating, they wanted to get home as soon as possible.
When they tried to call Air Australia, their estimated phone wait time was 11 hours! After 9 hours of waiting on hold with 2 dropped connections, they gave up. Concerned and stressed, they chose to skip the last day and take an Uber to LAX. There, they hoped to speak directly with an Air Australia representative and take an earlier flight home. We have not yet heard what has came of them.
Effects on the Crew
The Coronavirus Pandemic affected the crew as much if not more the passengers. Several crew members from Colombia and Mexico were excited to visit with their families while in port. One’s family had flown to Cartagena from another part of Colombia. They were not allowed to meet. Our favorite waiter on the Wonder hails from Cartagena. He was sorely disappointed, but continued on. He always keeps a smile on his face.
On sea days, the entire crew works all day. Port days offer a little rest with most passengers leaving the ship for several hours. Cruising during the Coronavirus Pandemic turned to the Disney Panama Canal Cruise into 11 consecutive sea days. They all worked tirelessly with amazing attitudes to make our experience good. It worked. I cannot commend them enough. If anything, the onboard activities were even better than usual. The service remained exceptional. A true bonding occurred between passengers and crew. We were all in this together.
As mentioned earlier, Disney Cruise Line suspended all sailings for a least a month. Crew members sign 3-4 month contracts during which they work everyday. Then, they take 1-3 months off and return home. At the end of our cruise, crew members with time remaining on their contracts will remain on the Wonder and sail back out to sea, and will not be permitted to leave the ship until the restrictions are lifted. They will do cleaning, repairs, and training. Those whose contracts have expired will leave the ship and try to find their ways back home around the world.
Surprisingly maybe, Cruising During the Coronavirus Pandemic turned out to be an amazing experience. We were isolated from but aware of the madness consuming the world. No one on the Disney Wonder fell sick of Covid-19, influenza, Norovirus, or any other infection. We all felt safe and secure. Passengers and crew kept good attitudes. Stuck together for so many days led to kind of community and bonding. The entire crew went above and beyond and stepped up already amazing service and activities. There was never a dull moment.
While the rest of the world seemed to crumble around us, we sailed in isolation, getting to know one another and enjoying each minute, knowing that the real world awaited. None of us will ever forget Cruising during the Coronavirus Pandemic.