So Many Lessons Learned About Travel And Cruising During The COVID-19 Pandemic
We were just two of many who learned a lot about travel and cruising during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these lessons will carry forward to any trip we plan going forward. It will take awhile before we feel completely safe about travelling. And our diligence when we travel will be higher.
We Were Cruising South America When The COVID-19 Pandemic Hit
We had an amazing cruise around South America with Oceania Cruises. The cruise started before the COVID-19 pandemic became a serious worldwide issue. We were 2 days away from finishing our cruise in Lima, Peru. But then we were stranded at sea when first Peru and then Chile refused us entry to their ports. Even though our ship had no disease on board.
It took many days before a firm plan was in place to land our cruise ship. We were at sea for 12 days. Luckily we were resupplied with food and fuel while we were anchored offshore of Panama City. And when we landed in Miami, it was a quick departure for us and an easy flight home to Toronto. Albeit, on the last day that Air Canada flew from Miami.
We ran in the Miami airport to catch our plane. And saw not another human being after checking in. Our plane was only about 5% full. And most of the people practiced great physical distancing. Except the full Business Class section!! And when we reached Toronto, we saw few people as we left the airport. We were happy that our risk of picking up an infection was so low on our travels home.
Many other passengers had much longer trips to get home. And delays getting off the ship. But it was sadder to learn that most of the crew did not get off the ship. The crew came from around the globe. And most of their home countries were closed with no flights to and from Miami.
We certainly felt grateful to be at home. But we sure learned a lot about travel and cruising during the COVID-19 pandemic
Then The Reality Of Being At Home During The Pandemic Hit
We left the cruise ship healthy. Even though there was nobody sick with COVID-19 on the ship, there were the usual cases of colds onboard. The ship instigated strong hygiene measures early in our South America Cruise. But in the last 12 days at sea, we self isolated and limited the times when we left our cabin. We did not want to arrive in Miami or Toronto looking like we might be sick. And be subject to harsher quantines!
Friends, family and social media prepared us for the escalating measures at home in Toronto for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though we were not sick, we planned to self isolate for 14 days when we returned. And the day after we got back, Canada went to mandatory self isolation for anyone returning from travel.
We live in a 47 storey condo. With many elderly people. So the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in this microcosm was high. Luckily our condo management and board put in place strict guidelines to reduce the risk to staff and residents. It meant that we did not go outside during our period of self isolation.
But the condo was proactive about dealing with our needs. Mail and packages were left outside our door. Volunteers in the building shopped for us. Cleaning was increased in all public areas. And public areas like the pool were closed. We knew that once we got out of self isolation, the risk travelling inside our building would be reduced.
We learned a lot about travel and cruising during the COVID-19 pandemic. But we also learned about minimizing the spread of COVID-19 once we got home. Since we had started self isolation at the end of our cruise, we had already developed great habits by the time we got home.
Some Good Lessons Learned Will Not Be Forgotten
There were so many great lessons learned about travel and cruising during the COVID-19 pandemic. As this pandemic runs it course, there will be many others learned too.
While many of these lessons may seem to apply in a pandemic emergency, many of these were worth remembering for travel and cruising in the future.
1) Pack Some Supplies For An Emergency Situation
I have confessed before about not being a light packer. Despite the advice that says don’t pack for all circumstances, we still pack for “just in case”.
We always travel with a good supply of medicines. We know which ones work well. And we had trouble finding them on international travels before. Travel to the USA is usually a bit easier.
On this cruise to South America, we visited the travel doctor before our trip. There were a number of shots we got before we left. But we also travelled with malaria pills for our trip down the Amazon River. And we brought antibiotics for both of us. While the antibiotics were primarily for travellers diarrhea, they would offer relief if we caught another infection. I always have antibiotics in my travel case.
We have a small first aid kit in our bag. But we have reassessed what we should have in there. News of COVID-19 started to come out when we started our cruise in Miami. We added a few things to our “just in case” supplies. The first aid kit now includes masks, antibacterial cleaner and gloves. These certainly were all handy when we wanted to keep ourselves safe on our trip home from the cruise ship.
We learned that we cannot always count on being able to buy essential supplies in an emergency. So we will accept a heavier bag and be prepared. Just one of the lessons learned about travel and cruising during the COVID-19 situation.
2) Make Sure You Know What Your Health Insurance Covers
We have pretty good medical coverage at home in Toronto through the country’s health plan. And then we pay to top up our medical insurance for things not covered on the Provincial plan (e.g. alternate therapies). When we travel, we always buy travel insurance to cover problems when we are away. But we like most others did not read the micro-print on the insurance paperwork.
Luckily we did not have to travel home because we got sick. But we were not sure what our travel insurance would cover. Next time we add out of country coverage, we will read the policy closer.
We bought enough travel health insurance to cover our planned trip plus a few travel days. When we were stranded at sea and did not know when we might land, we knew we needed to add days to our insurance coverage. Multiple emails were unsuccessful at getting the coverage extended. They wanted a phone call. But that was kind of hard at sea on not so great internet! Ultimately we ended up with about 7 days uncovered on our trip home. But we sure hoped nothing went wrong medically!
Travel and cruising during the COVID-19 situation taught us to ensure we understand our health coverage. And maybe it is smart to add a few buffer days to the days covered.
3) Understand Your Trip Costs Of Things Not Covered By Trip Cancellation Insurance
Travel cancellation insurance is a thing we have not worried about as much. When our children were younger and we had older parents, we always travelled with cancel for any reason travel insurance. This ensured we could cancel or interrupt travel almost at will. The premium was worth the peace of mind.
Today our standard travel interruption insurance was pretty minimal. There was also some coverage for travel booked through credit cards with insurance coverage. On the return from our cruise to South America, we cancelled several travel bookings since we never finished in Lima, Peru. Travel bookings with Air Canada and Marriott were cancelled without issue.
But there was a growing concern about travel booked with Avianca home from Peru. Our ticket had a cancellation cost. And while we wanted that cost waived, Avianca felt our cruise ship COVID-19 issue did not warrant a no fee cancellation. So we submitted our request for a refund and accepted the fee. Weeks after the claim, Avianca offered a full fare credit. But since we had no immediate plans to return to South America, the credit was worthless.
At the time of writing, we still have not got our Avianca refund. And each additional day deepens our concern. But it we don’t, we have no faith that any travel interruption insurance we have will cover this loss.
In the future, we will read our tickets and insurance policies far more carefully. We can accept a known risk. But we don’t want to think we are covered when we aren’t. Just one of the hard lessons learned about travel and cruising during the COVID-19 pandemic.
4) Assess The Situation And Make Decisions Early
Early on our cruise, Oceania implemented enhanced hygiene measures “in an abundance of caution”. When we took on new passengers and crew, the screening was tightened. And some people were not allowed to board. We were happy to see the tightened processes before the situation became critical in South America. And we made sure we were especially diligent “just in case”. We were happy to act early.
After we left Buenos Aires and headed towards Peru things around the world deteriorated at an accelerated rate. Every time we approached a cruise port, we wondered if we would be allowed to land and what enhanced screening might be in place. We were sure that the ship’s officers hoped that landing orders never changed after we were cleared to land.
Hindsight is indeed perfect. When we docked in San Antonio, Chile some passengers left the ship early and headed home. They worried about getting to their home countries as borders started to close. We really did not consider leaving early when North America was still operating as normal. But in hindsight, we wondered if we would have headed home sooner if we had more information.
As we got denied ports in Peru and then Chile, the Captain and Oceania made decisions based on policies of the day. But as the situations moved at an unheard of pace, even that information turned out to be wrong. We could not have known as we cruised back to Chile that they would closed borders due to an already infected cruise ship.
The Captain and Oceania were totally responsible for making decisions. We believe they acted as quickly as they could to the information they had. And we were updated when a decision was firm. But it was indeed very stressful to not be in control of decisions. We no longer had options.
There were many opportunities to leave the ship early. We did some assessment of the risks and costs. But in the end, we did not act quickly enough. We sure wished the cruise ended early in Chile. Or that the ship got to Peru faster!
One of the lessons the world has learned is that action was needed earlier. A very costly lesson learned about travel and cruising during the COVID-19 pandemic.
5) Make Sure You Have Ways To Communicate
We wrote many times about ways to stay connected when travelling. On our South America cruise, we had slow WiFi onboard. And when we were in port my international SIM provided unlimited data. But I must admit that most of the time we did not use this connectivity to be updated on world events.
While we were aware of the growing COVID-19 situation, we often got updates late. The cruise line, captain and his executive team were given much better and complete updates. We were delighted that the information was often passed to us quickly. Often more quickly than I got the same updates from my travel agent.
As the situation became more dire, we actually took to watching news on the tv in our room. The nightly newspaper summary we got on the ship was just not enough, information was days old. But even that view of world events was a tiny sliver of what happened in the world.
We were glad we had some way to get updated on world affairs. It helped keep us informed as we travelled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
6) Social Media Was A Great Way To Get Updated But ….
Staying connected while cruising ensured we got steady updates through social media and email from friends and family. But it soon became clear that a filter was needed for information that streamed in from all directions. There was often a time lag in information. And everyone seemed to be a medical or epidemiology expert!
There did not seem to be a lot on the news media about the situation on our ship. So we regularly got emails or contacts asking for an update. One person actually contacted me through Twitter because his parents were onboard our ship. And he wanted an update.
In additional to private communications, we used our social media channels to provide updates on our situation. But we were careful to only post when the facts were solid. We did not want to be adding false news!
Getting updates and providing updates was an import part of our day cruising during the COVID-19 pandemic.
7) Do Everything You Can To Stay Healthy
Staying healthy was always an important priority when we travelled. Not only did it mean we did not have to travel sick. It also meant a strong immune system fought off new threats.
On this cruise in South America, it was even more critical that we stayed healthy. We never wanted it to appear that we might have symptoms of COVID-19.
We became a bit OCD about sanitizing our hands. And anything we touched. We made sure we got good sleep, exercise and sunshine. We spent more time to ourselves on this cruise to stay away from crowds. Not hard for this introvert! And despite the situation, we tried to watch our stress levels.
We were happy we did not get sick on this 60+ day cruise. But it was not luck. It was hard work! And these practices learned through travel and cruising during the COVID-19 pandemic will stay with us.
8) Don’t Count On Others To Keep You Healthy
We all like to believe that people will act in the best interests of all. We liked to believe that everyone would take hand sanitization seriously. But day after day, we saw people pass the disinfecting station on their way into the dining room. And then they coughed in their hands before handling everything in sight. This was such an insult to those of us who grew up knowing to cough into your arm or tissue like the World Health Organization recommended!
People with colds did not limit their activities. Barking coughs caused us to exit immediately on more than one occasion.
People seemed to think that the precautions applied to everyone but them!
When we came home, we learned that social distancing guidelines were ignored far too frequently. There were virus parties held so people chose to increase their risk of infection for immunity.
We learned very early on through travel and cruising during the COVID-19 pandemic that we could not count on anybody else taking care of our health. We could only protect ourselves. And anyone else we came in contact with. A sad statement about humanity.
9) Self Service Travel Booking Has Some Added Risks
People often ask about how we book our travel. Other than using a travel agent to book cruises, we do all the rest of the travel planning on our own. And generally book directly with the travel brands. In the past, we learned that problems are so much easier when we booked directly.
This takes a lot of time. But it is sometimes easier to assess the full range of options when we do it ourselves. And we never have to worry about losing points and loyalty status with third parties. But we still had a few lessons on our travel and cruising during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our hotel booking in Peru for the end of the cruise was non-refundable. Luckily Marriott’s COVID-19 policies and our Ambassador Elite contact managed to cancel this booking. And when we booked a Chile hotel when we thought we were landing there, we booked it refundable.
When we booked our airfare home from Peru, we did not want to take the 3am flight offered by Air Canada. So we looked for a Star Alliance partner. Avianca was a much better option with a connection to Air Canada in Miami. But we should have put up with the time on the phone and booked that Star Alliance flight through Air Canada. Rather than online with Avianca. It would have been so much easier dealing with changes and cancellations with Air Canada than a Columbia-based airline!
Oceania Cruises bundles flights with their cruises. We usually got a credit for the flights and booked directly. This gave us flexibility, sometimes cost savings and let us collect and use points and loyalty status. There was a risk involved if the cruise line had to make changes, especially on the first or last ports. On this cruise, the end ports of our cruise kept changing. So while Oceania made travel plans for those that booked travel through them, we were on our own. And while they planned to cover some of the costs of changes, we are not sure if all of the costs for changes would be covered.
We also learned that it would have been easier if we had booked through a travel agent. They would have had access to priority numbers and good internet to make the changes and inquiries needed. And there may have been some added insurance booking through a registered agent.
Self service travel booking has lots of advantages. But travel and cruising during the COVID-19 pandemic showed us some of the risks and costs of this approach.
10) You Won’t Get Much Sympathy Travelling On A Luxury Cruise Line
We had an amazing cruise around South America. We experienced customer service excellence from the moment we boarded until we left in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. There was great food onboard, lots of entertainment, sunshine and hot weather. We could not have been in a better place to get stranded at sea.
And while people were worried about how and when we might get home, we got very little sympathy from most people. After all, we were trapped on a luxury cruise ship that had no cases of COVID-19. We even got a bonus cruise through the Panama Canal.
Luxury travel and cruising during the COVID-19 pandemic made our experience so much easier than so many others. Especially when we were all healthy!
So Many Things We Learned About Travel And Cruising During The COVID-19 Pandemic
We learned so many things about travel and cruising during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of them were reinforcement of things we knew. And practices we already had in place. But some lessons will make us a little more cautious when we start to travel again. And we will travel again!
What did you learn about travel and cruising during the pandemic of COVID-19? How anxious will you be when you start to travel again?
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