'We were treated like toxic freight on our Covid-stricken anniversary cruise'

·9-min read
iceland cruise stuck on board covid coronavirus
iceland cruise stuck on board covid coronavirus

A long-awaited anniversary cruise for Maurice Flynn turned into a trip from hell this week when he contracted Covid and was moved to a tiny room and treated as “toxic freight”.

Flynn, 46, a business journalist from Marlborough, Wiltshire, and his husband departed Southampton on Enchanted Princess on July 21 for a two-week cruise around Iceland and Norway. It was the couple’s third attempt at taking the holiday after Covid cancellations and family illness, and after an arduous year spent bouncing around Airbnbs between houses.

“We have recently relocated to be near my ageing father who is suffering with dementia and only got the keys to our new house the week before coming away,” he says. “So we needed a holiday more than ever.”

“My husband originally booked this for our anniversary in March. We are travelling in Club Class with a full suite including drinks package. It’s hard to quantify the cost because of the rebooking but we spent around £6,500 plus an additional $1,200 on excursions,” says Flynn.

cruise cabin on board
cruise cabin on board

“For the most part, it’s been brilliant. Norway and Iceland are breath-taking, the crew on board are very friendly, but then disaster hit on day nine and we went from feeling like people to toxic freight — and while we haven’t done many cruises we have never before experienced this level of dehumanisation.”

Under the strict pre-boarding Covid policy the couple were required to take an antigen test, on camera, to prove they were healthy and fit to join the trip. But once aboard, Flynn says the ship’s hygiene policy was less impressive with crew seemingly unconcerned about maintaining advertised standards.

“The ship docked in seven different ports in three countries and passengers aren’t re-tested every time they get off and back on, and we’ve noted how many hand sanitiser dispensers are broken or empty. There are no visible signs of high-traffic areas such as lift buttons and handrails being cleaned at or after busy times, nor enforcement of hand-washing before the buffet despite sinks being provided for that purpose,” says Flynn.

When the 46-year-old came down with a fever on Sunday (July 31), he immediately told the medical centre, tested for Covid and was negative. He chose to isolate, however — aware that other passengers were not in as robust health as he and his husband.

“The next morning I felt much better but now tested positive — though I wasn’t shown the result of the test — and we were told that I had to be moved to quarantine and that my husband, as a close contact, could either stay in our room or come with me. Naturally, we decided to stick together,” explains Flynn.

covid cruise coronavirus isolation
covid cruise coronavirus isolation

“We were given some time to pack and then escorted from our 34sqm room on Deck 17 with a balcony, indoor seating area, bathroom and separate toilet, to Deck 9, a 15sqm room with twin beds and a dressing table covered in sanitising equipment but nowhere to sit or eat other than on the bed. Thankfully the room had a small balcony so we at least had access to fresh air but by no means any space to move or walk.”

While the couple were left with six bottles of water, any drinks and food ordered to their room were now being charged to their bill — despite the fact they were booked on an all-inclusive package.

“We weren’t drinking alcohol so I’m talking cola here — we sat there watching each charge hitting our on-board bill as we went and food, when it did arrive, was cold,” says Flynn. “We had to put the footstool from the room in the corridor so the crew could place our meals on it, and as time went on we saw more and more footstools appearing outside rooms in this corridor — until it filled and the inside rooms with no balcony started to fill.”

He says: “There was no concern for my health — we were locked away to sweat out our illness alone. Under their Covid policy... it doesn’t say you will be stripped of your passenger status and effectively thrown in a prison deck. At no point have we tried to shirk isolation, we’re actively happy to isolate for others’ protection, but they’ve sent a clear message that if you’re honest with Princess and declare any illness your holiday ends and so too does your right to being treated like a person rather than freight.”

cabin cruise isolation covid
cabin cruise isolation covid

After two days on Deck 9 and getting nowhere trying to reason with the onboard crew, Flynn contacted the Telegraph and the Princess media relations team, and the couple were last night (Tuesday August 2) moved back to their original Deck 17 suite — and extra charges for food and drinks removed from their account.

“We’ve been told by the doctor this morning that Deck 9 is vented separately, so the aim is to confine any illness,” says Flynn. “We’ve also been told that we’ll be retested the night before we disembark and if I’m negative we can leave with the other passengers, if I’m positive we leave with the Covid passengers. I’ve not been allowed to speak to anyone else with Covid because of course we’re isolating.”

A Princess Cruises spokesperson said: “The health and safety of our guests and crew are of the utmost importance and we continue to operate in accordance with government health guidance that regulates the cruise industry and monitors all cruise ships where there are positive cases identified on board. Consistent with that guidance, when any guests or crew members test positive on board, those passengers are isolated while monitored and cared for by our shipboard medical team. In the case of Mr Flynn and his husband, those established protocols were followed in an effort to maximise onboard containment.

“We have apologised to Mr Flynn and his husband for the inconvenience and, in accordance with our passenger contract, we are refunding 100 per cent of the missed cruise days spent in quarantine with a Future Cruise Credit as well a complete refund to their onboard account for missed prepaid onboard experiences and shore excursions purchased through the cruise line.”

The couple’s experience illustrates how, despite Covid rules being scrapped around the world, cruise holidays remain governed by strict protocols. Testing and vaccine requirements are still in force, and, as Flynn’s story reveals, for those unfortunate enough to actually catch the virus, a rather grim experience can be the result.

It appears that the industry is caught between a rock and a hard place. While some passengers would prefer a relaxation of the rules – and a number have contacted Telegraph Travel criticising the lingering restrictions – others no doubt prefer a cautious approach. After all, a typical cruise passenger is older, and therefore likely more vulnerable to Covid, than your average holidaymaker.

What Covid rules are still in place on cruise ships?

It depends on which cruise line you travel with, but the rules of P&O Cruises are typical: all passengers aged 12 and above must have had two jabs, or, if they are aged 16 and above and their second dose was more than 270 days before, three. Everyone aged five and above must also provide evidence of at least one negative test – something that typically costs in the range of £30-£50 per person. This all applies even if the ship’s itinerary is limited to British waters, or only visiting destinations that have scrapped all their entry restrictions.

Princess Cruises has eased its rules slightly, with unvaccinated passengers now permitted – but only in limited circumstances and if they take an extra pre-departure test.

Virgin Voyages recently became one of the first cruise lines to scrap testing. They still require the majority (90 per cent) of passengers to be vaccinated.

What happens if I catch Covid on board?

Exact protocols vary, but if you’re suspected of having Covid, or test positive, you will almost certainly be required to isolate.

The Princess Cruises website explains: “Anyone reporting or exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms will be reviewed by the shipboard medical staff and tested. Covid-19 cases will be assessed and treated either in their stateroom or in a designated area of the Medical Center in a single occupancy ward.

“Positive cases that do not require admission to the ship’s medical center, or medical disembarkation, will most likely be moved to a different stateroom for the duration of isolation.”

Royal Caribbean International states: “A guest that tests positive for Covid-19 will need to isolate onboard for a period of time — either until they can be safely disembarked at a port of call with private transport home, or when the sailing concludes back at the homeport where it started. Those guests who meet the threshold to be deemed a close contact will need to meet necessary quarantine and/or testing requirements based on their vaccination status.

“Guests who must isolate due to a positive Covid-19 test result will remain in their stateroom or be moved to a stateroom near the medical centre where medical staff and Guest Services will check on them regularly, depending on availability. Complimentary amenities including room service and Wi-Fi will be provided.”

Am I entitled to compensation if I contract the virus on board?

All major cruise lines have policies in place to compensate customers if they are forced to spend any of their time on board in quarantine. This will be either a voucher or a refund.

Princess Cruises states: “If you or your immediate travel party tests positive while on board, you will receive an future cruise credit worth 100% of the per-day cruise fare for missed days and a refundable credit to your on board account for missed prepaid onboard experiences and shore excursions purchased through the cruise line.”

What if I catch Covid before we depart and cannot travel?

If you contract Covid in the period leading up to your departure your rights depend on who you are sailing with. For example, Royal Caribbean International will refund 100 per cent of the fare, while Cunard explains: “We appreciate that guests may be looking for some added flexibility with any bookings, and currently prior to the balance due date on any booking, guests can transfer their booking to any Cunard voyage currently on sale, to a voyage of higher or lower value, an unlimited number of times with no administration charges.”

Would you go on a cruise holiday this year? Or would you prefer to wait until more restrictions are lifted on board? Please let us know in the comments

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting