By Shannon McMahon
When the MSC Grandiosa set sail from Genoa, Italy, last Sunday – with only citizens of Europe’s Schengen-area countries and below its 70 percent capacity limit – it became the first ship in MSC’s fleet to return to cruising since spring coronavirus lockdowns halted cruising in Europe.
But it wasn’t long before the cruise line’s stringent Covid-19 guidelines were breached by a family on a shore excursion in Naples, which MSC says led to them denying those passengers re-entry to the liner.
“In line with our health and safety protocol, developed to ensure health and well-being of our guests, crew and the communities we visit, we had to deny re-embarkation to a family who broke from their shore excursion (Tuesday) while visiting Naples,” an MSC Cruises spokesperson said in an email. “By departing from the organised shore excursion, this family broke from the ‘social bubble’ created for them and all other guests, and therefore could not be permitted to re-board the ship.”
MSC says the health and safety standards for shore excursions are the same as those on board: frequent sanitising, social distancing, health screenings and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks. To board an MSC Cruises liner, passengers must complete “a temperature check, medical review of a health questionnaire and an antigen Covid-19 swab test,” the cruise line said in a statement.
After receiving a negative rapid-test result in the cruise terminal, guests can board the ship with their newly sanitized luggage. Onboard health measures include frequent cleanings with “hospital-grade” disinfectant, an enhanced medical center with testing equipment and isolation cabins, and ongoing health screenings that include daily temperature checks.
The Washington Post reported earlier this month on MSC’s plans to tightly control its shore excursions, with designated tour groups led by health-screened guides, face-mask requirements, and “strictly forbidden” independent sightseeing. Despite the strict screenings and rules, as well as the loss of communal dining on ships, cruise loyalists are returning to the high seas.
Other shore excursions on the trip included port of calls in Palermo, Italy, and Valetta, Malta, after a stop in Rome, according to an earlier MSC Cruises news release about the Grandiosa’s return to sailing. “Some of the guests will visit Rome – taking in all the attractions of the Eternal City – while travelling on sanitized transfers with social distancing in place, accompanied by tour guides and drivers who are also adhering to strict health and safety measures.”
Another MSC ship, the Magnifica, is scheduled to return to cruising on August 29. MSC is only allowing residents of Europe’s Schengen area – the 26 European countries that allow border-free movement within them – on board for the rest of the summer 2020 season. It says it will only return to cruising in the United States “when the time is right, following approval by the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and other relevant authorities across the region.”