During a 30–plus year career as a specialist cruise writer my seagoing adventures have included encounters with hurricanes and walls of water, being grounded on a sandbank, as well as sailing through pirate-infested waters escorted by the Royal Navy, but never have I witnessed anything as seismic as the events that unfolded during my cruise in the West Indies last week.
Viruses are not uncommon on board cruise ships and in recent decades the tabloids would go into overdrive with headlines such as ‘Gastro bug strikes hundreds at sea’ when an outbreak of norovirus – or stomach flu – occurred on a cruise ship. Back in June 2011, I was aboard a Princess cruise in Alaska when a norovirus outbreak was so severe the ship went into ‘code red’ protocols which meant complete barrier-hygiene regulations came into force and the ship’s itinerary was curtailed.
Since the beginning of this year the world has been in the grip of a much more sinister virus and the ensuing pandemic has impacted the cruise industry in a manner that’s been swift and unprecedented.
When I climbed aboard the 112-guest yacht SeaDream I in the port of Bridgetown, Barbados on Sunday March 8 the spectre of coronavirus was already making an impact in Europe – particularly Italy. The ship’s doctor asked all guests to complete a questionnaire about recently visited countries and took our temperatures. We all passed with flying colours and the first squish of sanitising gel was dispensed.