Thousands of crew members have already come back onboard as more and more cruise lines announce service resumptions.
But how far in advance do operators notify their employees about work opportunities, and what do they need to go through to get back on ships with COVID-19 still affecting travel?
Cruise Industry News spoke with seven crew members, who asked not to be identified, but were working for MSC, Viking, AIDA and other major American and European cruise lines to find out how smooth their return onboard was after the pandemic-related pause in operations.
Crew members get contacted a couple of weeks before the joining date – with some having reported that they were contacted a couple of times: first time asked if they would like to resume working and second time with further details about their return.
“I was contacted approximately three to four weeks prior to expected embarkation,” said one crew member. “I was asked in an email if I would like to return, and once confirmed, I got a call from the office via phone on two occasions.”
One person said that they agreed to join the ship as “almost all of the crew members are still waiting to get onboard,” while another said that crew members of his nationality tend to accept any job offer just to return onboard.
“I am happy to still have a job,” the crew member said. “I am not really happy to have been left at home for one year and then sent to the last and oldest ship in the fleet with a substantial pay cut.”
Preparation To Return
Once the contract was confirmed by both the cruise line and the employee, finalizing all the paperwork took more time the usual, the crew members told Cruise Industry News.
“Processing all the required documents before getting onboard was not that easy. Considering the surge of COVID cases in (the capital of my country), I was worried about my health since we need to have a negative swab test prior to our flight. I was glad that the result of my test was negative but sad for those crew who tested positive,” one crew member currently onboard a megaship said.
“I stayed in (the capital) for three weeks just to process all the necessary docs (visa, medical, etc.) since I normally live in the province,” they added.
On average, crew members had to undergo two to three coronavirus tests to resume working. Depending on the rules in the country they come from, they might need to test before flying and then twice in their embarkation country: the first time with usually a PCR test done while staying in a hotel and then a rapid antigen test onboard.
Several crew members said that their quarantine took place in several stages.
First, they had to quarantine in a hotel to take a coronavirus test before going onboard. Then, there was usually about a week of a “hard quarantine” onboard followed by a week of “soft quarantine.”
“After embarkation, I got into a so-called ‘hard quarantine,’ which means that I had a passenger cabin with balcony and had to stay there for the next seven days. I could choose between different meals, and it was delivered without having to get into contact with the staff. Also, orders from the crew bar like soft drinks, beers, cigarettes and sweets have been delivered straight to the cabin. Daily temperature checks and a quick talk to the doctor on the telephone ensured that I don’t have any symptoms,” one crew member said.
“After seven days of preparing my paperwork, enjoying the sun on my balcony, mentally preparing for work and another antigen test, I got into so-called ‘soft quarantine,’ which meant that I had designated areas for my free time and had to eat in a different place in the restaurant (which is now the crew mess). Apart from this, working was allowed as usual. After this soft quarantine, I was finally free to work, eat and spend my free time as usual,” he added.
All the crew members said that they were allocated into a guest cabin for their quarantines, while some highlighted that it had a balcony.
“During the quarantine, we went through the new COVID-19 protocols and some videos about that. Apart from that, we were relaxing and waiting,” said one crew member onboard the Viking Jupiter.
Some crew members highlighted that a selection of films was available in their rooms, as well as free WiFi, although not all found that usable.
“Complimentary internet was also provided, but mostly unusable due to the weakness of the WiFi,” one crew member said.
None of the crew members that Cruise Industry News spoke with reported having had to get vaccinated.
One crew member added that continual testing is also crucial for crew members.
“It is very important to test the crew once they are onboard because even though they have tested negative with a PCR test, some turn out to be positive after two to-three days and they are then being sent to hospital locally to be immediately treated,” they said.
Changes and Well-Being
The vast majority of crew members said that they were happy with how their return was handled. One crew member even highlighted that their cruise line was helpful during the pause in operations, too.
“I am happy returning onboard, and it was well organized,” they said. “Even when we are on vacation, our company Viking supported us financially during the hard times.”
Some crew members highlighted that there were changes in regulations that took time to get accustomed to, but overall, they were pleased.
“The life onboard has changed completely. We are only allowed to stay in the crew area. No party, no activity and a lot less fresh air. You have to eat in a 30 minutes time slot for every mealtime,” said one employee who works as a chef.
Having fewer people onboard was also described as a big change, as well as having to socially distance and have less socialization in general.
“It was a weird experience,” said one crew member who’s still working onboard. “We didn’t have a specific role onboard. All departments helped each other.”
Top photo: Crew aboard the World Dream | Credit: Singapore Cruise Society
Welcome back to the fantastic crew.