The trip continues – so far, so good. There are many who told me we were insane for taking a cruise during a COVID pandemic, but so far at least, it seems safer than wandering around our neighborhood at home. We’ll see.
Enjoy the attached status report.
The ship, while being a bit long in the tooth at the ripe old age of 24 (it was built in 1998 by the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard in St. Nazaire, France for, now-defunct, Renaissance Cruises), has had a complete make-over while in dry dock and looks brand new. I tend to compare it to the former Prinsendam of the Holland America Line (sold to Phoenix Reisen and now the MS Amera) which was in the same size class. While the Prinsendam was built for long journeys and had a full-sized walk-in closet in each cabin, the Insignia was built for short cruises and has about half the storage space. We don’t find this a problem as we pack light - we have four full-sized suitcases – one of which is half-filled with face masks and another of which is empty in case we buy stuff. We gave two in to the ship for storage and two are laying flat/opened under the bed for storage of items we won’t be using for a while. We did buy a narrow hanging shoe holder for ten pairs of woman’s shoes (my steamship sized clodhoppers being relegated to the closet bottom). We have space left over, but I’ve seen some cabins which look like Ikea showrooms to try to accommodate the vast quantities of clothing some passengers think is necessary to take.
The week is being pretty much spent by the five day ocean voyage from San Diego to Honolulu, Hawaii.
While the ship still distributes ID cards which double as cabin keys, all the ID to board is being done by facial recognition software. In my opinion, this gives them the advantage to catch “look-alike” stowaways (yes, we have actually seen that take place, only to be discovered around a week later and resulting in a couple of conspiring passengers being chucked unceremoniously ashore on a Pacific rock – Vanuatu, I think). There is no overt COVID-tracking taking place and my guess is that the ship-wide surveillance cameras are being used, in conjunction with the facial recognition software for this purpose (on a “covert” basis, so as not to creep people out.
The lead-up voyage to this one saw a COVID infection of the ship’s entertainment staff (by a guest entertainer) and they have just left a ten day quarantine. In addition, at least four passengers were quarantines. So far, on this leg, there are no (announced) cases.
The passengers are almost universally masked with N95, KN-95, KB-94 masks and the like and the only time one sees a bare face is in the bar and at eating tables. The crew will rush to supply a mask to those who erroneously left theirs in the room. One hundred percent of the passengers and crew are fully vaccinated and most of the passengers seem to have had booster shots as well.
The entire crew is prohibited from going ashore at any port and, since one of the primary reasons for those trips is to get free Wi-Fi, the ship is providing the entire crew with unlimited free Wi-Fi (and one of the perks of this company is that all the passengers get this as well). While there is an enhanced Wi-Fi contract available, I was able to play a game of bridge, with my partner John (who we missed seeing when the ship was re-routed away from San Francisco) without any objectionable latency on the standard free contract. That said, once we hit the stretch to Hawaii, between the crew using their Wi-Fi in their isolation and the location of satellites, Wi-Fi speed has gotten noticeably slower.
Time during the sea days, for those who don’t just want to veg out in the sun with a good book is spent at activities like Hawaiian arts and crafts, duplicate bridge (a bit nervous about that COVID-wise, but so far, so good), various interesting “enrichment” talks about a variety of subjects and so on. And then, of course, there is always eating – and this particular cruise line (Oceania) is deservedly famous for both the quality and the variety of their food. There is a constant personal battle to keep the noshing of “good stuff” to a minimum. On this line, the specialty restaurants do not incur an additional charge, but after a while, one craves the variety of the “regular” restaurants. The buffet service on this cruise line also differs from most, in that it is not self-service and all selected food is assembled on your plate by uniformed crew members (so other passengers don’t get anywhere near the food you are selecting). All crew members are also fully masked, of course.
Our ship seems relatively unique because of its requirement of 100% vaccination of crew and passengers and Hawaii has allowed us to dock and go ashore without additional COVID testing. Let’s hope no one picks up the bug while we visit the islands and that other ports, down-itinerary, are as accommodating. That said, we are not advertising the fact when we wander ashore that we are associated with a cruise ship (as I suspect many locals would feel uncomfortable around us.
Overall, with the exception of masking, and the subconscious additional care we are taking as far as social distancing, etc., the “feel” of this cruise is pretty close to most others. That said, the “cloudiness” of a fictional itinerary is providing a bit of humorous speculation as to where the hell (or whether) we are headed.
I just found out that India has closed its borders to cruise ship passengers – joining China, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, etc. Other cruise lines, such as Viking and Regent have completely changed their itineraries, done an about-face and headed eastward, but we intrepidly continue westward. I am retaining an expectation that, once we complete our tour of French Polynesia, we will be informed of dramatic routing changes (possibly even reversing direction) – we’ll see. On a previous trip when we rode an “adventure rain” in Africa for a month, every time something went wrong, they chalked it up as part of the “adventure”. I suspect we are approaching a substantial adventure in a week or two.
The news background today included:
The United States averaged more than 754,200 new Covid-19 cases daily over the past week, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
More than 145,900 people were in US hospitals with Covid-19
The World Health Organization has warned that half of Europe will have caught the Omicron Covid variant within the next six to eight weeks.
On the ship, we were introduced to our cabin stewards, a Peruvian lady and an Indian gentleman on the first day. They then disappeared and have been replaced by an Indonesian gent with the explanation that they were temporarily working “elsewhere on the ship” and would return soon (the Peruvian steward reappeared after a week of isolation because her roommate tested COVID-positive). We are now seeing butlers who work in the suites laying out silverware on the tables near the buffet. On the other hand, the band and most of the entertainers are back from quarantine. There is a passenger cabin on our deck to which room service is delivering food wearing full PPE garb which may account for the disappearance of our cabin stewards on day one. While there is little evidence of significant spread of COVID among the passengers, the attrition of crew and staff members entering isolation has become obvious.
Apparently, we are carrying COVID-19 as an uninvited stowaway, but the topic is never mentioned by the ship’s officers or staff. Figuring that the low hanging fruits have been picked, at least for the next few days until we hit Hawaii, I may downgrade my masks to the more comfortable surgical masks, but once people mingle ashore again, I’ll switch back to the big guns (KN95, etc.).
The sea swell has picked up noticeably and “barf bags” are now in view in containers near the elevators, but it’s really not uncomfortable and probably is only on the mind of those who have never traveled by ship before (likely very few on this trip) and those with specific medical issues (who should avoid traveling this way in the first place.
The ship can carry 800 passengers, but currently has only 380 (a number which I suspect will drop when we hit French Polynesia. The reduced number of the crew (because the rest are in COVID-induced solitary confinement) is still able to keep up a high level of service. Because crowds of passengers are frowned on, rather than the more traditional cocktail party shortly after boarding, the bars will be open for a couple of hours of free drinking tonight and the “Captain’s Party” will be split into thirds on consecutive nights (with the captain missing for his protection as a safety precaution).
Last night there was an underwater volcanic eruption near the Pacific island of Tonga which caused the issuing of a tsunami alert. We were in mile-deep water when it [passed and didn’t even feel a speed-bump.
On the other hand, the temperature is about 80F/27C degrees, it’s sunny and we are in Honolulu, so I’m not complaining.
I sent out the above status as an email earlier today and received a bunch of expected responses. I also received the following two. One of them (Richard’s – shown as “R”) is from a guy who is a trauma doctor who spends much of the year traveling as a doctor on cruise ships, the other (Donna, AKA “D”) is a widow of a banker who spends much of the year traveling somewhat more than we do. I have decided not to debate with either, but I thought you would get a kick out of their comments (which greatly differ from my own views)
Jeff thanks for the update
One requirement before we will cruise again is no requirement for masks. Becoming clear now even on major media that masking was a joke. Now promoting N95’s.
Number of cases rising due to infectious nature of omicron and because of wide spread testing. One catches more fish when one goes fishing, eco iff one puts lots of hooks on one line.
Now uncle Joe is sending out 4 test kits per person, What to do with the information?
CDC director now says that 4 or 5 deaths in patients pos for covid are due to comorbidities.
When I work in the ED and admit someone for whatever, they must be first tested for covid even though no sx (symptoms?) or signs of covid. But then labeled as covid patient.
The doctor that discovered the omicron variant in South Africa said it was the fastest spreading of the variants but was no harsher than a mild cold and no mandates should be issued because of it, but of course the US is not listening to him. After all it’s an election year so they need to keep the people in fear so they can justify all the mail in ballots! LOL I find it very interesting that they’ve finally admitted that masks do not stop the virus from going through them, yet still require them in “certain” states. They can’t wait to tell you how many people have contracted omicron but they neglect to give you the numbers of deaths from it. I’ve also read that the majority of the patients in the hospitals now had been fully vaccinated and that they are the biggest spreaders of the variant, which they call “shedding”! Are you aware that the hospitals receive large compensations for each patient that is listed as a covid patient? No figures on how many people have the flu? I guess that disappeared in the last two years so flu shots shouldn’t be necessary anymore?LOL While you’re in port pick up some Hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin and start taking it if you think you might have one of the viruses or if you test positive. You can also swab your nose with Zicam swabs and gargle with Listerine every night after being in crowds, especially since those are the two areas of entry. Some people are on their 2nd and 3rd booster shots and are still coming down with the viruses!
Sounds like you weren’t exaggerating when you said it was a cruise to nowhere! LOL
I wouldn’t worry about getting the virus unless you have comorbidities and if you did, I don’t think you’d be on this cruise. I’m sure you and Joy will be fine, so enjoy being away from this country while you can. Hopefully by the end of the year there’ll be some big changes here!…./D