How to return to sailing: the example of Costa Cruises
Costa Cruises has begun to sail again as of September 6, after a long safety protocol planning phase and attentive health evaluations coordinated with the Italian government. Let’s take an in-depth look at life on board post-Coronavirus and in particular at the new Safety Protocols.
In order to return to sailing, Costa Cruises has developed new safety protocols in collaboration with independent scientific experts who are specialized in public health and coordinated with the V.I.H.T.A.L.I. (Value in Health Technology and Academy for Leadership and Innovation), part of the Cattolica University of Rome. The project is within the framework of the national and international guidelines, with further customization by the company to ensure more precautions and safety.
The protocol includes a series of wide-reaching measures and procedures that cover every aspect of the cruise, from the safety of the crew and the check in and embarkation of passengers, to life on board and excursions.
For the crew, Costa Cruises has arranged for preliminary screening in their country of origin, which includes two Covid-19 swab tests. Upon arrival in Italy, the crew are then given a third swab test and only those who are negative are allowed on board where they must remain in quarantine for 14 days. During the entire time on board, their health condition is constantly monitored through daily body temperature checks and swab tests every 30 days.
On board, the health services have been expanded and are now free for those who develop flu-like symptoms and want to undergo checks. The air conditioning system no longer recirculates air and has been modified for greater sanitation. Cleaning and disinfection are more thorough and more frequent.
Check in and boarding
During passenger embarkation careful attention is paid to avoid crowds forming, as much as possible, both in the terminals and while in the port area. For this reason, it is necessary to complete check in online before arrival and a self-certification of the absence of flu-like symptoms and other health problems. The online check in procedure assigns a boarding time which must be adhered to as closely as possible in order to avoid an influx of people arriving simultaneously.
During the embarking process, you proceed to the baggage drop off and document verification. A swab test is done, the results of which are obtained after just one hour of wait time. After this, it is possible to go on board.
The cabins undergo a complete disinfection process which is then certified by a special sticker displayed on the external door of the room. Inside you will find masks and basic instructions for behavior to observe during the cruise which are in line with the new procedures.
To avoid the formation of crowds, on the day of embarkation it is possible to participate in individual emergency drills by presenting yourself at the muster station at any time, with a life jacket, to quickly complete the procedure with the on-board staff.
Life on board
Life on board has not be turned upside down by the new safety protocols. The feeling on board is that most of the services are completely at your disposal, without any annoying limitations and without needing any special procedures. The onboard personnel are fully prepared to help the passengers with their every need.
Masks are obligatory in all the communal areas and in the places where it is not possible to maintain a distance of at least one meter between people. However, given that we have gotten used to wearing a mask in every communal environment for months now, it doesn’t seem like much of a limitation. Of course, it is not mandatory when sitting at the bar, in a restaurant, on the sun beds, or on the external decks if you keep a 1-meter distance.
As a safety precaution, it is necessary to track the movements of the passengers, which is done by scanning the cruise card during stops at restaurants, bars or at the theater. At the smaller venues, you will find at the entrance a maximum capacity sign with the maximum number of people allowed at any one time. The same is true for the public restrooms, the hydro massage (max 1 person or a family of up to 7 people) and the pools (the number of people is large in proportion to the number of people on board).
The elevators, which on a ship like the Costa Deliziosa are normally able to have up to 18 people, are limited to a max of 4 people. Some areas, such as the buffet restaurant, have become one-way with access flowing only one direction in and out. On board you will also find a few stations set up for voluntary temperature checks.
Shows and entertainment
Onboard entertainment has undergone some changes but hasn’t been radically changed. The entertainment team still conducts games, quizzes and sports tournaments as is the tradition of the company. However, close contact between the participants is avoided as are games that require proximity as well as all contact sports. Tennis, for example, is allowed. Fun new games are offered every evening in the central Lido area, which is wide and well-ventilated, relying on video technology and the charm of the entertainment staff.
At the theater, the seats have been distanced and at the moment there isn’t a dance troupe on board due to the inevitable contacts that they would have with each other during their performances. The shows include solo singers, acrobats and illusionists.
The nightclub is temporarily closed, but dancing is allowed in other areas on board featuring live music. The casino is open without any restrictions, not only in the table area but also the slot machines and the arcade for kids. The Teen Club and the Squok Club are also up and running, with the necessary precautions in place.
There are no gala evenings or cocktail events planned to avoid crowds forming. However, the evening dedicated to the Costa Club, with a special souvenir photo, has been kept.
Restaurants and bars
The major change to dining service on board has been the removal of printed menus and the buffet dining, obviously for hygienic purposes. At every table in the restaurants and in the bars you can find QR codes to be scanned with your cell phone to be able to consult the complete drink and food menus using the free onboard Wi-Fi.
Inside the bar service is both take out and at the table while in the outside areas it is only take out. Your cruise card is not handled by the staff but instead is scanned remotely to record your expenditures.
The table settings have been reduced and the tables are set with napkins, silverware and glasses only at the moment in which the guests sit down at the table. All the meals are served at the table to avoid lines and contact between people or with food. The classic buffet lines are used to make quick made-to-order dishes.
In the main restaurants, the tables have been spaced out further and at the moment there are not the two standard dinner seating times, but instead a sort of open time. However, on each person’s cruise card there is a dinner time indicated that should be adhered to, of course with some flexibility.
For breakfast, there are sweet and savory dishes brought directly to the table (to avoid wait times for ordering) and some additional dishes available upon request, always free of charge, such as the various egg based dishes. The same style applies to mid-meal snacks – a selection of sweet and savory treats are served by the staff directly to your table.
Gym and Spa
The gym and spa are open and usable. The gym is completely open, except for a few workout stations (such as treadmills and exercise bikes) which have alternating stations closed to maintain social distancing between people. You are also required to clean your hands and the machine after use. The outside sports area is open for individual use and for entertainment games that allow for social distancing between participants.
Unfortunately, the spa has been forced to temporarily close the thalassotherapy area, sauna and Turkish bath. However all the treatments are available, such as massages and other therapeutic treatments. To meet the needs of certain guests, a series of new “hands-free” treatments have been created which do not involve the direct use of the hands by the therapists.
Photos and Shops
The photography services and shops are all available and open for business. At the Photo Shop the staff is available to search for photographs for customers, as it is not possible to manually search on your own in the container boxes. The photos on display, on the other hand, can be touched after sanitizing your hands and with the assistance of the staff. To facilitate the search, with the guest’s consent, the cabin number is recorded at the time the photo is taken so that all the photos of the same passenger can be combined into a folder for them. The Shades service allows you to have a photographer at your disposal for professional shoots on board.
The shops are all open as normal, with a limit to the number of people (which is generous) allowed inside at any one time. With the help of the staff you can try both perfumes and clothing (which are then sanitized with vapor). Clothing can also be brought directly to your own cabin if requested.
A Shopping Concierge service has been initiated which allows you to order objects and products to be delivered to the store or directly to your room. The catalog can be viewed online by scanning the QR Code with your cell phone.
Reception and other offices
To avoid lines and contact with other cruisers, the in-person Reception and Tour Office services have been suspended and have been replaced with service by phone. The switchboard has been expanded and is able to respond to your needs without any wait times. If necessary, you can then go to the Reception by appointment to collect documents or resolve other issues in-person.
Payment of cash, account statements, booking excursions, and Costa Club discounts are all services facilitated by the Costa Cruises app and the information kiosks available on board. Credit card registration has been automated for some time.
No paper documents are brought to the cabin, for safety reasons. But everything can be consulted on the APP, on the on-board screens or on the telephone speaking with the Reception desk.
Going on land at the various ports of call is certainly the aspect of the cruise that has the most limitations. At the current time, the rules don’t allow for disembarking on your own in the ports of call, but only when participating in an excursion organized by the company. In the end the prices are absolutely affordable (99 euro for five excursions).
Costa Cruises has worked hard to plan multiple excursions in all the ports of call, guaranteeing the highest safety for all their guests. All participants must wear a mask for the entire duration of the excursion, never separate from the group, avoid close contact with outside individuals and avoid entering into any shops or venues besides those specifically indicated by the company for their compatibility with the pre-arranged health protocols.
The social distancing during the excursion is guaranteed by halving the bus capacity (max 25 people), restricting the number of participants in each group and with the use of earphones to be able to maintain distance when the guide is speaking.
The tourist guides and bus drivers undergo a swab test on the morning of the excursion to guarantee the highest safety, and the vehicles are sanitized before and after their use by passengers.
When exiting and returning on board, guests have their temperature checked and are given hand sanitizer.
Overall, the Safety Protocol created by Costa Cruises is a balanced compromise between guaranteeing complete protection and attention to health safety and the possibility of fully enjoying the cruise and your vacation. A huge effort on the part of the ground crew as well as the onboard crew, with just a small impact on the enjoyment of the ship by passengers. Unfortunately, we are coming off some very difficult months during which the use of masks and hand sanitizer have become daily habits, it will therefore not seem very difficult to continue using those same techniques on board. The sea, the sunsets, the good food, our beloved ships are, and will always remain, the same.
It is absolutely worthwhile to get back on board to enjoy a wonderful cruise and the magical world on the sea while at the same time helping the cruise ship companies to recover and resume normal operations. If, for the moment, we can’t enjoy excursions on our own in the ports of call, we can always take advantage of the well-organized and low-cost excursions organized by the company, and enjoy a half-empty ship filled with sunlight, good food, spa experiences and poolside relaxation.