Cruising in the Age of Covid-19 — Part 2


So, now, following Monday’s setup article you have the lay of the land, so to speak, on this week’s topic. But to quickly recap, this week’s series is on the impact on Covid-19 health protocols upon the cruise ship experience. And as previous noted, this is based upon two recent back-to-back Alaska cruises aboard Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas. For Voyage 1 Ovation contained approximately 1,600 passengers out of 4,180 at double occupancy capacity (total maximum capacity is listed as 4,905, but that’s a real stretch).

Ovation‘s “Bionic Bar” robots

The two main dining rooms are Silk, with an Asian flair; and American Icon, which has a Route 66/1950s-open-rode vibe going for it. Unlike the less formal dining venues, such as Sorrento’s, the Windjammer buffet, La Patisserie, etc., the seating arrangements in Silk and American Icon were hardly what I would call “socially distanced,” which is rather odd considering that every other table in Sorrento’s and Windjammer were blocked off with “Table Unavailable” signage to keep passengers distanced.

Silk host station
Silk main dining room

So, just how close were the tables in Silk and American Icon? Close enough that Ursula and I were easily able to converse with diners at adjacent tables without the need to even raise our voices above normal conversation levels. No. We did not in any way feel uncomfortable at this arrangement. The mains are airy and well ventilated, and all vaccinated passengers were readily identifiable as they wore bright green Royal Caribbean-issued wristbands made of a comfortable silicon-like material. Remember: all adult passengers met a vaccination requirement, and were required to produce negative antigen test results prior to boarding. Unvaccinated children also had antigen test requirements to meet and, because they were unvaccinated, they were prohibited from leaving the ship at any port of call so as to avoid potential exposure to the virus.

American Icon main restaurant entrance
American Icon main dining room

Indeed, we felt so comfortable with this arrangement that we set up permanent dining on Voyage 1 with two fellow Texan couples we met in American Icon on Day 2 of Voyage 1. One couple was even from our very own El Paso, and we plan to stay in touch. For Voyage 2 we went back to our originally assigned dining room, Silk, where we met and chatted with several different groups, including three lovely ladies travelling together from Los Angeles.

Silk main dining room

Which brings us to the other, more socially distanced dining venues aboard Ovation. Below is an image I first presented on Monday’s article. This is Sorrento’s, a pizzeria and salad venue. Note the numerous “Table Unavailable” placards at every other table. These tables are shared with the adjacently located Café Promenade, which only increased demand for them. So, was this a problem? How about the Windjammer, which is quite popular for breakfast and lunch, but which was closed for dinner on these two voyages?

Sorrento’s pizzeria with 50% of tables made unavailabe

During Voyage 1, which was at about a third capacity, this was not an issue. Tables only seldom required even a minimal wait. The Windjammer could be a challenge to find an available table after one entered, but people had their cruise cards scanned upon entrance. If all available seating was taken, then Windjammer would start metering. During Voyage 1 this situation never arose for us.

La Patisserie
La Patisserie

But the system started showing signs of strain during Voyage 2, when 700 more passengers awaited accommodation. Seating became sometimes difficult to find, and in the Windjammer there was at least one point in which metering into the buffet area was initiated. Ursula and I had difficulty getting an elevator to the Windjammer floor that morning (I’ll explain why in a moment), and when we arrived there was a long line of hungry diners being metered into the room. I can only imagine what transpired on the voyage after this one, as Ovation was slated to have 3,000 passengers onboard for that final Alaska cruise of the season.

Amber & Oak Pub — a great place for poutine with crispy fries

The elevators. Now, where do I begin on that fiasco? Royal Caribbean had in place a stated four-person maximum policy in place for the elevators. If you’ve ever been on a cruise, then you know elevator space is often at a premium even without a social distancing limit. Most people appeared to feel comfortable with six, or even up to eight people aboard, but some would actually freak out if a fifth person attempted to enter. Really? Every passenger save children vaccinated? All wearing masks, as required? All in possession of negative antigen test results? A ride that would, at most, last under a minute? And you’re going to panic?

Now, Ursula and I are as cautious as anyone could possibly be, and we have ever since this pandemic broke out. We still mask up whenever we’re out and about here in El Paso, and we avoid tightly packed venues like the plague (pun intended). But, come on… really? You’re going to go ballistic if a fifth person tries to enter your elevator that was designed to hold over a dozen? These are the people who do not need to be cruising, or even going out in public for any reason whatsoever. They will obviously never feel comfortable in this environment, and their sole purpose in life appears to be exercising some form of childish control over others over what the vast majority realized was an entirely unworkable and arbitrary number on the part of Royal Caribbean. The elevators aboard Ovation would easily accommodate eight without being overly crowded to the point where one should feel endangered during a brief ride, especially considering the vaccination, antigen, and masking requirements.

On Friday: How protocols worked in other venues.

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