Crew Members on Cruise Ships: How Has Covid-19 Changed Ship Life?

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Crew Members on Cruise Ships: How Has Ship Life Changed Since Covid-19?

Disclaimer: This article is based on observations and personal experiences of a crew member, the author of this article. Keep in mind that cruise lines and cruise ships may have different practices that depend on the evolution of the current Covid-19 pandemic situation. Rules and regulations constantly change and are defined by cruise companies and the countries’ health authorities. 

Crew Member’s Story

When the pandemic struck, the whole world economy was affected. It had a domino effect on everything, especially the workforce of every company in every country. This did not spare the employees of the tourism industry and it hit badly.

In the cruise line industry, crew members were repatriated back with no certainty of what the future holds. You can imagine crew members coming back to their home, hearts happy to see their families, all in good health, hearts full of joy, yet their minds clouded with the thought of what will be happening next.

Like most of the people on the planet, they were involved in one of the most challenging situations of mankind. Then, there came the vaccines, new hope as people would say, a new hope for crew members…. a hope that comes perhaps at the right time as months have passed since the repatriation.

Cruiseline companies started calling back crew members to work, with the offer to get vaccinated onboard, vaccines that some countries have not received yet due to the early stage of their deployment. It was a path to safety, health, protecting one another and to start work again in this wonderful world of cruising, another chance to make a living with a smile, as the world is slowly starting to rise from its ashes, like an old phoenix.

New Rules and Regulations

During a pandemic, for the protection and good health of everyone around us, conditions have been implemented according to the severity of the crisis. Social norms are shattered and rebuilt, behavior and normal routines are altered and adjusted.

For the safe return to service, cruise lines have to abide by safety protocols with various countries that they are docking. Therefore, crew members are briefed thoroughly on these protocols and how to respect and adhere to them.

All crew members must wear masks at all times, except in their private quarters and when consuming food and drinks. That is the basis of all safety protocols. You will always see all crew members with their company-approved face masks on all the time…. even in public areas.

Getting back Onboard

Let’s take a situation when the crew member is being called back by the company to start working again.

First, it would be easier for a crew member to have taken the company-approved vaccines back at home. These company-approved vaccines are normally approved also by the countries the ship will be sailing to. Other vaccines could complicate things in more travel paperwork and approvals, thus delaying the procedures.

If the crew member is not vaccinated prior to joining the ship, they are still able to travel as the immigration authorities are definitely certain that they will be vaccinated onboard.

However, before each travel, crew members are advised to check with the company on their travel requirements. It is very important to get all these travel documents validated and correct, otherwise nobody is getting past the checking counter at the airport.

Some of these travel documents are, but are not limited to:

  • a passport;
  • a vaccination card with the appropriate date of vaccinations (2 doses and beyond);
  • letter of employment (issued by the company prior to joining the assigned ship);
  • health questionnaires (downloadable from countries’ immigration websites) for each country being transited until the final destination.

At the arrival of final destination, crew members will be quarantined in hotels before boarding the ship. The quarantine period will be set as per country regulations.

Before the pandemic, 2 crew members would be assigned to 1 room for the night and sign on the next day on the ship. Now, only 1 crew member is allowed per room. All crew members get room service, as no conglomeration in hotel buffet areas is allowed. But hotel room service food is always nice.

Before the end of quarantine at the hotel, all crew members will be subject to a COVID test prior to signing on. Upon successful negative test results, crew members will be able to sign on the ship.

Upon arriving at the ship, crew members will have to go through another quarantine period which can last up to 14 days.

During this period, crew members will be in single occupancy in guest cabins and will have room service where they have to pre-select their order on a set menu for each day of the quarantine.

Guest Cabin onboard Anthem of the Seas
Crew members joining the ship are normally quarantined in guest cabins for up to 14 days.
Crew members lunch
While quarantined, crew members are provided with room service.

Free internet for the crew members is provided only for the duration of the quarantine which is a good initiative that crew members appreciate a lot. They can be in touch with their family and transition into their work environment.

However, during their quarantine period, all crew members have to do online trainings (which is one of the purposes of free internet also) to familiarize themselves with the new safety protocols on the ship. It is imperative they are aware of what is expected of them for the operations to run safely.

During the quarantine period, regular health checks will be done for each crew member.

Back to Service

After the quarantine, crew members will go to their assigned crew cabins and get ready for work.

No matter how many years you’ve been on the job, starting that first day feels like a rebirth, immersing yourself in a totally new environment, because so much has changed after so long time off the ship.

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Using cruise line terms, you’re in unchartered new waters. But despite new regulations, everything comes back to you slowly, just like getting back on a bicycle. Every staff is wearing a mask, practicing social distancing while engaging with the guests.

Greeting them with a sign of the hand (sometimes I do the Vulcan greeting which cracks up guests), no fist bump, no elbow bumps, no handshake. Just a warm smile behind the mask, and the eyes tell it all. You can always see the emotions of someone just by looking at the eyes.

The public areas are sanitized more than ever, you will always see a staff nearby walking with a cleaning kit, inspecting all the corners to make sure that everywhere there is high traffic, the area is cleaned and safe.

Crew Life during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Social gatherings are not recommeded for crew members.

Before, there were themed parties that lasted until late. It was one of the moments where crew members could release the pressure and enjoy themselves. Now, there are no such parties, but this has changed to chill-out sessions at the crew bars, still with some music but just like what you would find in a regular pub.

However, I do feel that also a pleasant way to end the evening or the shift, is just a nice socially distanced sit (no more than 4 per table), with other people or alone (whatever rocks your boat) engaging in pleasant convos without any loud party music. One can actually hear the other person speak, haha!

It’s the same thing for the crew mess. Food is still always good, but the only place you will need to remove your mask at the table to eat. Here again, no more than 4 people per table. Some tables are left empty so that the groups are not too close to each other.

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In crew elevators, the maximum gathering is 4. If you’re the 5th, tough luck, wait for the next one. 🙂

Crew gym is carefully sanitized by every crew member using it. Chemicals and clean rags are available on the spot, and so far, everyone is doing their duty with respect for others. Those who are entitled to guest gyms also follow the same rule. Every crew member seems to be doing their part to ensure that they keep each other healthy and safe.

I believe that kudos should also go to the medical facilities through the ships, as they are doing a huge amount of heavy lifting for the organization of testing and vaccination while making sure that all crew members are healthy and safe.

The HR team is also working hard to keep the crew members entertained and busy. Every cruise, activities are organized for the crew members. Crew activities can be bingo, sports activities and brain teasing activities and also crew tours. Every cruise it’s different to cater to the interest of everyone.

However, all these activities are done with respect to social distancing as they are closely monitored so that everyone is safe while participating. It’s a tough job for the organizers, as they have to innovate all the time, but the only satisfaction for them will be the satisfaction of the crew members so that during these dark times, the word ‘fun’ hits pleasantly the heart of everyone working onboard.

Crew members are getting tested every week and booster vaccination takes place whenever it is the right time. Crew members with mild flu symptoms are closely monitored to make sure that it does not become anything worse.

Now, coming to shore leaves for crew members, all cruise lines have different regulations.

Some allow their crew members to go out in port, some allow a certain controlled amount to go off, some not at all. In this last case, crew tours are organized to the shopping mall, where crew members can register and go out to do the shopping and come back with the group. It is all about trying to keep the bubble intact.

They all miss those days of free flow in the ports, roaming around in the streets, eating delicacies of every country, getting souvenirs and gifts for the family back home. But there is still hope that one day we will be back to enjoy port days like in the old days.

Final Thoughts

Spending a few months onboard, I feel that much has changed, but it’s all for the safety of everyone, the one thing we need to think about during these dark times, safety for the people, safety for the ones we love.

Working on the ship is difficult, especially at reduced capacity, but it all depends on the reason you want to come back and work on the ship. If it’s for the fun and travels in ports, parties, then better stay home because things have changed.

But if it’s for the love of the job, to earn and save for your future, and to grow in your career, then most definitely take the step into the gangway, because this is what you will find.

Like the captain on the bridge, at this time, we can only look forward towards the horizon.

Disclaimer: This article is based on observations and personal experiences of a crew member, the author of this article. Keep in mind that cruise lines and cruise ships may have different practices that depend on the evolution of the current Covid-19 pandemic situation. Rules and regulations constantly change and are defined by cruise companies and the countries’ health authorities.

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