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Holiday

The choice for 300 Australians: stay on cruise ship with possible Covid-19 cases or disembark in Italy

More than 300 Australians on the Costa Victoria cruise ship face a choice between staying on board the potentially Covid-19-stricken vessel, or disembarking in Italy, now the global centre of the virus outbreak.

International flights are being cancelled by airlines across the globe – Qantas is set to stop all international flights by the end of the month – meaning those who disembark in Italy could be stranded there for weeks if repatriation flights can’t be organised.

Many of the Australians on board the Costa Victoria are elderly, and some have underlying health issues, putting them in the highest risk category for a severe infection.

At least one passenger on the ship tested positive while on board. The man disembarked in Crete.

Cruise ship passengers to be quarantined on Rottnest Island in Western Australia

The Italian-flagged Costa Victoria, at sea for a fortnight, docked in Civitavecchia, a port town on the Tyrrhenian Sea 60 kilometres north-west of Rome on Wednesday (Italian time).

Australians Brenda and Dave Rondo say while the ship has docked, they have still not been allowed off.

“We have to stay in the cabin, they knock on the door and leave food and they step back. The staff has gone from lovely to now, if you ask nicely for milk for your coffee in the morning, they yell at you and say ‘no!’

“We have heard different things, but not from the Captain, that we may go to Rottnest Island in Western Australia for quarantine, but … the last we heard we will have to stay in Rome in a motel for two weeks.”

Costa Victoria passengers may be mandated to follow a similar isolation course to passengers from the Costa Luminosa which docked in Savona in northern Italy earlier this week. The ship also had confirmed Covid-19 cases on board.

Passengers from neighbouring European countries were allowed to travel home to isolate, but Australians, South Africans and others from more distant nations were forced to remain in Italy to isolate for a fortnight.

Confirmed cases of Covid-19 were left on the ship in Savona, while other passengers were put on buses and driven to Rome, more than 560km away.

However, some passengers say the hotel rooms, which they will be unable to leave for two weeks, are worse than the ship.

“It’s smaller than our cabins, no hanging space and barely room to walk around,” said Ivan Maronian.

Others have complained of no pillows, taps not working and only tiny meals being provided. Many have been unable to wash any clothes since the ship entered lockdown weeks ago.

Even worse is the fear of what might happen if they get sick.

“It’s completely terrifying because if he got coronavirus on there I’m really not sure what kind of medical care he would be getting, given the situation,” said Laura Bendlin, whose father was on board.

“Worst-case scenario, he dies.”

Italy has now surpassed China for total Covid-19 deaths: nearly 75,000 cases have been confirmed, and more than 7,500 people have died.

But cruise ships have posed acute problems for health authorities around the world. The inescapably confined nature of the vessels has seen them become rapid incubators of Covid-19.

For several days in February, the ill-fated Diamond Princess which was put into isolation in Yokohama Port, Japan, after isolated cases were detected on board, was the second-largest outbreak site for coronavirus in the world, behind mainland China.

During a two-week enforced quarantine on board, nearly 700 people were infected, and seven died. The quarantine was abandoned and crew and passengers ultimately disembarked (most were placed into a further fortnight’s quarantine in their home countries).

Currently, on board the Zaandam – carrying about 100 Australians and stranded off the west coast of South America – at least 80, and reportedly up to 140, passengers and crew are sick with flu-like symptoms. A quarter of the crew is reportedly quarantined and passengers are said to be “terrified and stressed”.

Anatomy of a coronavirus disaster: how 2,700 people were let off the Ruby Princess cruise ship by mistake

The ship is being replenished by another ship, Rotterdam, which will bring extra supplies, staff and Covid-19 test kits aboard (there are none at present). The ship intends to sail to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to disembark by the end of the month.

Even ships without any Covid-19 cases are being treated with extreme caution by ports around the world.

The Norwegian Jewel was turned away from four countries – including Australia – before being allowed to dock and passengers disembark in Hawaii, despite being at sea for weeks and having no suspected or confirmed cases.

Stung by the excoriating public reaction to infected Ruby Princess passengers being allowed to disembark unchecked in Sydney – Australian governments have tightened all movements for cruise ship passengers.

NSW has said no ships will disembark in the state until new protocols are established, while the federal government has taken nearly 300 Australian passengers from the Norwegian Jewel flown back into Sydney from Hawaii overnight, into quarantine in a Sydney motel, guarded by police.

Around the world, 3,000 Australians are stranded on more than 20 cruise ships because countries have shut their borders because of coronavirus.

The Australian government says it is aware of the dire situation faced by many of those onboard: the lack of ports for ships to dock and the rapidly shrinking avenues for repatriation once ashore.

A Dfat spokesman said the department had raised concerns with Italian authorities about cruise ships disembarking passengers in areas already hard-hit by Covid-19, urging authorities to find safer alternative ports.

The foreign minister Marise Payne said her department was working “around the clock” to help Australians home. She said the government was speaking with Qantas and Virgin about launching repatriation missions for stranded Australians, but has conceded it will be impossible to reach all Australians who wish to come home.

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Cruises

Princess Cruises pauses operations coronavirus

Princess Cruises is shutting down global operations for 60
days in response to the coronavirus pandemic, affecting voyages through May 10.

The move comes the morning after President Trump announced a
coronavirus containment plan that includes sharply restricting passenger travel from 26
European nations to the U.S.. The White House is also in the midst of considering a plan
proposed by CLIA that would help prevent and
contain the virus on cruise ships. Viking on Wednesday night also suspended river and ocean
cruise operations until May 1.

“Princess Cruises is a global vacation company that serves
more than 50,000 guests daily from 70 countries as part of our diverse
business, and it is widely known that we have been managing the implications of
Covid-19 on two continents,” Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises, said in
a written statement. “By taking this bold action of voluntarily pausing the
operations of our ships, it is our intention to reassure our loyal guests, team
members and global stakeholders of our commitment to the health, safety and
well-being of all who sail with us, as well as those who do business with us,
and the countries and communities we visit around the world.” 

Princess has had at least four ships affected by the
outbreak. In February, about 2,600 passengers were quarantined on the Diamond
Princess in Japan, and more than 700 people were infected with the virus. The
Grand Princess, with 2,422 guests and 1,111 crew members, is still disembarking
at the Port of Oakland after days of circling international waters off the
coast of California. So far, 21 individuals — 19 crew members and two guests
— have tested positive for coronavirus. 

The Regal Princess also had to sail up and down the Florida
coast while two crew members who had come from the Grand Princess were tested
for coronavirus. They tested negative. And the Los Angeles-based Royal Princess
was put under a “no-sail” order while a crew member was tested, forcing the
cancellation of a seven-day cruise to Mexico that was scheduled to start March
7.  

Passengers onboard a cruise that will end in the next five
days will continue to sail through the end of the itinerary. Voyages that are
underway and extend beyond March 17 will end at “the most convenient location
for guests, factoring in operational requirements.” Princess said it would do “everything
possible to return each guest home with the greatest amount of care possible.” 

“During this time, our operations and medical teams across
the fleet will remain vigilant in their care and service for guests and crew
onboard,” the company said.

Princess is offering guests on any canceled sailings during
the shutdown a 100% credit toward a future cruise. They will get another future
cruise credit on top of that. Those travelers who made final payment on a
cruise and canceled the booking on or after Feb. 4 will get a credit toward any
voyage departing though May 1, 2022. 

The company also promised to protect travel advisor
commissions on bookings for canceled cruises that were paid in full and for the
total amount of the future cruise credits.

Those who do not wish to take a future cruise with Princess
can request a cash refund by filling out an electronic form on Princess.com.

“While this is a difficult business decision, we firmly
believe it is the right one and is in alignment with our company’s core values,”
Swartz said in a video posted on YouTube. “Rest assured the long-serving and
dedicated professionals at our company will make best use of this time to
prepare Princess Cruises’ fleet of cruise ships for a successful return to
operation to serve our guests by delivering an exceptional vacation experience.”

Princess plans to resume operations with cruises departing
May 11.

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Categories
Cruises

Windstar Cruises Eases Cancellation Policies Amid Coronavirus Fears

To ease worries about cruising amid a coronavirus outbreak, Windstar Cruises is changing its policy so travelers can cancel up to 15 days before departure and not lose their money.

They will receive a future cruise credit for 100 percent of the cruise fare paid. The credit is good for the cruise fare only on another Windstar departure within one year.

“We recognize some people are hesitant to plan ahead for vacations due to concerns about coronavirus,” said Windstar Cruises President John Delaney. “We want to help people feel comfortable. Our new Travel Assurance plan lets you book now knowing you can change plans up to 15 days before your cruise departs.”

The new policy automatically applies to new and existing cruises departing on or after June 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2021.

Under the current policy, passengers would lose 100 percent of their money if they cancel up to 29 days before departure.

“The new Travel Assurance Booking Policy acknowledges the challenge of booking vacations in advance and aims to allay travelers’ concerns about losing money due to unexpected illness or other world events,” a Windstar statement said. “Windstar believes vacations enrich people’s lives. The new Travel Assurance Booking Policy is an extra effort to ensure travelers feel comfortable booking a well-deserved cruise vacation now without fearing loss should they need to cancel.”

Windstar canceled all Asia sailings in 2020, “out of an abundance of caution,” and updated its screening policy due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Crew travel through mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and South Korea has been suspended. No one will be allowed to board a Windstar ship who has traveled from or through China, Hong Kong, Macau or South Korea, or has had close contact with anyone suspected or diagnosed as having coronavirus COVID-19, within 30 days before embarkation. Also, all passengers and crew will be administered a no-touch thermal scan to screen for fever, and anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will not be allowed to board the ship.

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Categories
Travel

Saga Cruises launches epic 83-day adventure across South America

Want to travel the world in a short space of time?

You may want to consider booking a cruise.

Saga is giving customers the chance to stop off at 30 different places in just 83 days.

But the luxury trip doesn’t come cheap.

  • Royal Caribbean splashes £132 million on Allure of the Seas re-vamp – take a look inside

The over 50s travel firm has just launched South America: A Grand Voyage cruise.

This gives holidaymakers the chance to sail around on the luxury of the Spirit of Discovery ship.

And when they’re not soaking in everything the boat has to offer, they can roam around in plenty of exciting destinations.

The ship is dropping anchor in countries such as Brazil, Peru, Argentina and Chile.

This allows travel fans to experience plush rainforests, islands and mountains.

The cost of the tour is the only downside.

Those who want a balcony cabin can expect to fork out £17,300.

This pays for all food and drink onboard, along with other gratuities.

It also covers evening entertainment and activities.

The ship boasts its own theatre, spa and library, so there’s little chance customers will get bored at sea.

  • World’s longest cruise to depart on epic 113 destination venture this week

Spirit of Discovery’s destinations

  • Funchal, Madeira
  • Mindelo, Cape Verde
  • Amazon River Parintins, Brazil
  • Manaus, Brazil
  • Santarem, Brazil
  • Fortaleza, Brazil
  • Salvador, Brazil
  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Montevideo, Uruguay
  • Stanley, Falkland Islands
  • Cape Horn Ushuaia, Argentina

  • Punta Arenas, Chile
  • Puerto Chacabuco, Chile
  • Puerto Montt, Chile
  • Valparaiso, Chile
  • Callao, Peru
  • Machaia, Ecuador
  • Guayaquil, Ecuador
  • Flamenco Marina, Panama
  • Panama Canal
  • Colon, Panama
  • Cartagena, Colombia
  • Santa Marta, Colombia
  • Willemstad, Curacao
  • St John's, Antigua
  • Ponta Deelgada, Azores
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Cruises
  • Space

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Categories
Travel

Virgin launches new cruise line for millennials with drag queens, DJs and outdoor yoga

Virgin Group is launching a new luxury cruise line aimed at millennials, with yoga, exercise classes, DJs and drag artists onboard.

Its first ship, Scarlet Lady, was launched in Dover today by Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson.

Routes on offer include Costa Maya in Mexico, Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, Key West and The Bahamas.

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But forget cringey entertainment and lacklustre food – Virgin Voyager is trying to attract a different kind of clientele by “redefining the cruise industry”.

The idea is to bring “the luxe of a boutique hotel to the seas”, with interiors created by designers including Tom Dixon and Roman and Williams, and a focus on wellness.

The adults-only ship has B-Complex gym programmes plus an outdoor yoga space, while the 20 onboard dining options include Razzle Dazzle, a vegetarian restaurant.

Other eating experiences have been created by leading chefs such as Michelin-starred Brad Farmerie, of PUBLIC in New York City, and Sohui Kim, from Insa in Brooklyn.

Entertainment is a far cry from the usual cruise fare too – think gigs, drag artists and DJ sets, plus special itineraries featuring personal appearances from talent including Mark Ronson, Diplo, MK and Sofi Tukker.

The big news for regular cruisers is that tips – usually £10-£15 added onto passengers’ onboard account every day unless they demand otherwise – are all included in the basic cruise price, as are all exercise classes, wifi, food and basic drinks (soft drinks, coffee and water).

Sir Richard said: “I have dreamed of starting my own cruise line since I was in my 20s and I’m thrilled that moment has arrived. 

“The Scarlet Lady is truly special and we’ve worked with some of the world’s most sought-after designers, artists and architects to craft an extraordinary experience. 

“The benefit of our five decades in business in so many industries is that we can offer a voyage like no other.”

Virgin Voyages is also one of the first cruise lines to use Climeon, a technology that uses heat from the ship’s engines to generate electricity, making it more fuel efficient.

Scarlet Lady’s sister vessel, Valiant Lady, will launch in May 2021 with seven-night itineraries around the Mediterranean. 

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