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  • Celeste Auger Munshi

The Elephant in the Room

Cutting Through the Noise Concerning Cruising

Cruise Lines have become a scapegoat in the press for being responsible for spreading the Coronavirus. Some public have been so enraged by what they read they feel they should punish the cruise lines. This extreme nature of the accusations couldn't be farther from the truth. I thought it was important to point out a few things that might help you put it in perspective whether you are an avid cruiser or you haven't tried sailed yet. Only 5% of the US population have cruised before, so there is bound to be much misinformation about the form of travel preferred by so many.

What you may not know…

They do not require airlines and hotels to report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) if any of their guests or passengers are sick. Cruise Lines have always been held to a higher standard, and while 99% of the time a guest picks up something before they ever arrive onboard the ship, it is the ship that must report the illness to the CDC and local officials around the world, and hence be forever associated with it.

Cruise Ships are meticulous in their sanitation practices.

The CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) sets these standards through their Vessel Sanitation Program. Extremely rigorous inspections govern them by the U.S. Public Health Service (USPH). Every vessel that has a foreign itinerary and carries 13 or more passengers is subject to twice-yearly unannounced inspections and, when necessary, reinspection. These inspectors grade cruise ships on a myriad of benchmarks far beyond hotel and restaurant standards, including but not limited to: chemical systems, water systems, sanitation systems, emergency systems, food preparation systems, cleaning systems, basically all aspects of a 291-page VSP Operations Manual. And they need a score of 85 out of 100 to pass. Few public facilities could ever compete with a cruise ship on cleanliness.

More impressive is that they involve the CDC in the shipbuilding process from the very beginning, frequently inspecting the cruise ship at various times of construction and ensuring that the codes the CDC has provided are being implemented. They provide input and specifications on how to have the most hygienic work environment, including using the highest quality and materials, having surfaces that are stainless steel and covered, ensuring the maintenance of the equipment is continual and that cleaning is of the highest standards. Ok, so with all that oversight, why are they getting such a bad rap?

A few things we have learned this last year are:

1. Coronavirus is highly contagious. 2. It can be spread despite not having any symptoms. 3. It tends to hit those of us who are older and have underlying health issues much harder.

Hindsight is 20/20literally, but we (and a lot of foreign governments) made some big mistakes early on with cruise ships. By not allowing the healthy passengers to get off the ship as soon as possible and self-quarantine, inevitably, the numbers of infected would increase. It is also a fact that cruise ship guests skew older, simply because they have the time in their retirement years to travel. At the time that our government encouraged us not to travel and specifically on cruise ships, there were 40 cruise ships still at sea, and many are still looking for a port in which to offload their guests. While I understand that fear and selling ad space can be a significant driver of some of this coverage, let us not forget that the cruise industry shut down immediately when asked by the government. They reported to the CDC when guests showed flu-like symptoms and immediately took action. There were a lot of additional extenuating circumstances that exacerbated the situation, entirely out of their control.

I have great respect for those working in the cruise industry, employing thousands and thousands of Americans directly and indirectly. It is an extraordinary industry filled with professionals doing the right thing, striving daily to find fresh ways to lessen our carbon footprint while still allowing us to connect with our families and see the world.

Looking Forward

If you had asked me last year where we would be today, I never thought I'd see Canada extend their cruise ship ban for an entire year into February 2022 Thursday. The Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) mandates that foreign-flagged ships call on at least one foreign port on any U.S. itinerary. All cruise ships over 100 passengers must stop by or start/end in Vancouver or Victoria. Without the US Government giving the cruise lines a pass with this law, we will miss another Alaska cruise season. This is devastating for so many families and small businesses along the routes. The Canada/New England season is also unlikely to operate. I'll keep you updated on the end decision.

There are a few small cruise lines that will sail the Alaska waters, and land tours are a desirable commodity as well. There's plenty of space for social distance in Alaska! Interested? I would recommend contacting me ASAP, as space will be limited for the summer. There are only so many hotels in Alaska!

There are presently ships sailing in Asia, Europe and the South Pacific. It's a matter of time before they start up elsewhere. Now that I've addressed the elephant in the room, I feel better. Now if I could book NEW travel rather than rebooking the same trips over and over things would be so much better in the world.

Shout-out to my friend Lise-Marie Wertanzl, of Sterling Journeys, for sharing the bones of this article with me.

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