It's a strange time for the cruise industry, with all ships currently out of operation and cruise agents concentrating on rebooking or refunding passengers who should be enjoying their floating holidays now and in the near future. In the midst of the crisis, stories of hope have emerged, showing how the cruise industry is supporting the NHS, helping the most vulnerable and keeping spirits raised in in lockdown.
Free river cruises for NHS and key workers
AmaWaterways is offering free river cruises to frontline medics, key workers and employees of essential services. Eligible applicants will be given a future cruise certificate to be used with one paying guest in the same cabin for any Europe or Asia sailing until December 31, 2021.
Donations and health worker discounts
Greek cruise company Celestyal Cruises has donated 5.5 tons of non-perishable food, first aid kit and hygiene products to an estimated 7,500 residents in need, in the Metropolitan area of Piraeus, where the port of Athens is located. Piraeus Nursing Home is among the beneficiaries. The cruise line has also provided 12,000 surgical masks and 1,100 litres of liquid disinfectant for health centres dedicated to Covid-19 patients. In addition, it is giving away 50 three-day cruises for two people, to first responders, as well as offering a special discount policy for all frontline health workers. Chris Theophilides, chief executive, said: “Going through one of the most difficult times in modern history, our goal is to both support and offer relief to the socially vulnerable groups from the effects of the pandemic, as well as to demonstrate our gratitude to those who are at the front lines of this fight. In these extremely difficult and unpredictable times worldwide, it is values such as humanity and solidarity that matter most."
ROL Cruise is aiming to raise £100,000 to show their appreciation to the NHS staff working tirelessly to save lives. For every booking made with the cruise agent, the company will donate £25 to the NHS Charities National campaign that supports the health and emotional wellbeing of those at the frontline of the NHS, including NHS Staff, volunteers and patients. The money raised will help fund wellbeing packs, accommodation, travel, parking and volunteer expenses and also help support the longer term mental and rehabilitation of NHS staff, volunteers, patients and carers after the pandemic is over. ROL Cruise hopes to reach its target by the end of June.
Beds for nurses
CroisiEurope’s 149-passenger river cruise ship Botticelli, usually operating on the Seine, is being used as temporary accommodation for nurses treating patients with coronavirus. The Pompidou Hospital in Paris has brought in nurses from other parts of France to supplement its workforce, and a group of these are being offered complimentary accommodation, breakfast and dinner on board, to save time on their commute. Due to strict health and safety rules, the ship can accommodate up to 25 nurses at any one time, and the crew have been trained to follow a tight protocol in terms of cleaning and wearing masks.
The crew of Saga’s Spirit of Discovery, docked at the London International Cruise Terminal at Tilbury, awaiting the resumption of operations, have been baking bread and cakes for local NHS teams. Spare medical and sanitary supplies from the ship were also donated to Cedar House – a mental health facility based in Kent. Captain Kim Tanner, Master of the Spirit of Discovery, led the charge to donate excess food, including thousands of eggs, to a local homeless charity in Essex.
Lights and horns
Cruise lines have been sharing messages of hope during their shutdown, using lights on board their ships. Princess Cruises' Sky Princess carried the message #We will be back, sister ship Majestic Princess went with #Princess Proud and P&O Cruises' Britannia and Saga Cruises’ Spirit of Discovery both had messages of solidarity for the NHS.
Ships have also been joining in with the nationwide clap for the NHS and key workers taking place every Thursday night at 8pm. Fred Olsen Cruise Line’s four ships, all docked in the Firth of Forth, have been sounding their horns in unison and all the cruise ships in Southampton, including Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 and P&O’s Britannia, have been joining in the chorus of horns, which can be heard up to six miles away.
Helping crew home
The Dunkirk spirit was invoked by the coronavirus crisis, when a small 25-cabin cruise yacht helped 19 Cuban crew from a mega cruise ship return to their homeland. Variety Cruises’ vessel Panorama made a special 14-day diversion in the Caribbean to repatriate the group. Panorama’s captain Vasilis Mazarkis came across the plight of the Cubans when his ship called into Barbados to refuel ahead of a transatlantic crossing. Panorama was empty other than her crew. She berthed near MSC Preziosa, which carries up to 4,360 passengers and 1,300 crew. Nineteen healthy staff were keen to return home but given the constraints of Covid-19, had no realistic option for doing so. Mazarkis agreed to repatriate them to Havana, a journey which took the cruise yacht seven days. The Cuban government covered the cost of the fuel but Variety Cruises made no other charge for their brotherly act.
As they wound down their operations, cruise lines donated their surplus supplies to food banks. Fred Olsen Cruise Lines ended up with extra food parcels after putting together care packages for passengers who flew back from a disrupted Caribbean cruise on board Braemar, which they donated to the Families in Need food bank near its offices in Suffolk. The cruise line also worked with its port agent in Barbados to support local charities with a donation of fresh produce from a container of food supplies intended for its ship Braemar, comprising 18 pallets (17,598kg) of chilled fruit and vegetables. Senator Lisa Cummins, chairman of the Barbados Port, said: “We very much appreciate this donation and engaged with local partners like the YWCA, who have local feeding programs. We have been able to provide food supplies for 130 families and boosted The Red Cross ‘Meals on Wheels Program’, giving valuable support to our most vulnerable families. During this crisis, we have had no end of traumatic stories. But we have also had wonderful stories of people helping others in difficult times. This is one of those wonderful stories.”
Windstar Cruises donated seven pallets of fresh produce and dairy, worth $8,000, to Feeding South Florida in Pembroke Park, near Miami, part of Feeding America, the US’s largest hunger relief organisation. The pallets were bound for Windstar’s 342-guest motor sailing yacht Wind Surf in the Caribbean. Windstar also donated a pallet of milk and butter to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. The donation, worth $1,500 came from the 148-guest Wind Spirit. “We’re finding a silver lining in this abrupt cancellation of operations,” said Chris Prelog, Windstar’s chief operating officer. “We don’t want this good food to go to waste.”
Meanwhile, P&O Cruises handed over more than eight tonnes of fruit, vegetables and fresh produce from Ventura to UK Harvest, which distributes surplus food from businesses to charities, homeless centres, refuges and youth centres. The food was sent to good causes across Bognor Regis, Portsmouth, Worthing and Brighton, plus food banks in Eastbourne, Hastings, Crawley, Croydon and Southampton.
Carnival Corporation offered select ships from its brands including Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises to be used as hospital ships. As the continued spread of COVID-19 continued to exert pressure on land-based healthcare facilities, including a possible shortage of hospital beds, the world’s largest cruise company called on governments and health authorities to consider using cruise ships as temporary healthcare facilities to treat non-COVID-19 patients. Carnival Corp’s ships each have the capacity to provide up to 1,000 hospital rooms and seven intensive care units in their medical centers.