As of September 6, Costa Cruises has once again set sail, after a lengthy safety protocol planning phase and careful health evaluations done in coordination with the Italian government. We will take a detailed look at post-Covid-19 life on board, specifically regarding the new Safety Protocols.
To be able to return to sailing, Costa Cruises has created new safety protocols in collaboration with independent scientific experts who are specialized in public health, together with the V.I.H.T.A.L.I. (Value in Health Technology and Academy for Leadership and Innovation), which is part of Cattolica University of Rome. The project fits within the national and international guidelines, with further modifications by the company to ensure more safety precautions are taken.
The protocol includes a series of comprehensive systems and procedures that cover every aspect of cruising, from the health and safety of the crew and the check in process for passengers, to life on board and excursions on land.
Costa Cruises has arranged for preliminary screening for all crew members in their home country, including two Covid-19 swab tests. Upon the crews arrival to Italy they are required to take a third swab test and only those testing negative are allowed on board where they are however quarantined for two weeks. While the staff is on board, their health is constantly monitored through body temperature checks done daily and swab tests once a month.
The health services offered on board have been expanded and are now free-of-charge for those who develop flu-like symptoms or that require further examination or testing. The air conditioning system has been updated to no longer recirculate air as well as modified for greater sanitation. The cleaning and disinfection of all areas is now more thorough and more frequent.
Check in and embarkation
Careful attention has been given to the process of passenger boarding to avoid crowding at any time, both in the terminals and while in the port. It is now required for all passengers to complete check in online before arrival and to fill out a self-certification regarding the absence of flu-like symptoms and other health issues. The online check in procedure gives each passenger a specific boarding time which must be observed as closely as possible to avoid too many people arriving at the same time.
During the boarding process, you then proceed to the luggage drop and document verification. A swab test is done, the results of which are given after a one-hour wait time. Following this procedure, it is possible to board the ship.
All the rooms undergo a complete disinfection process which is then certified and a special sticker is affixed to the door of the room. In the room, all guests will find masks and basic instructions for the rules to be followed during the cruise, all of which are in line with the new protocol.
To avoid crowding, on the day of embarkation it is possible to participate in individual emergency drills by going with a life jacket to the muster station at any time to quickly complete the procedure with the on-board staff.
Life on board
Life on board has not radically changed, even with the new safety protocols. Onboard, the atmosphere is relaxed and feels fairly normal with almost all of the regular services and without any annoying limitations or complex procedures. The onboard personnel are ready and able to help guests with whatever they need. Masks are now obligatory in all the shared spaces and in the venues where it is not possible to maintain a distance of at least one meter from other people. But, given that we have gotten used to wearing a mask in the last few months, it doesn’t seem like much of a limitation. It is not mandatory when sitting at the bar, in a restaurant, on the sun beds, or on the external decks as long as you keep a one-meter distance.
On a ship like the Costa Deliziosa, the elevators normally hold up to 18 people, but are now limited to a total of 4 people. In certain areas, such as the restaurants, there is now a one-way flow coming in and going out. On board you will also find some stations set up for temperature checks which are completely voluntary.
As a precaution, it is necessary to record all passengers’ movements. This is done by scanning the cruise card, given to all guests, during their stops at restaurants, bars or at the theater. At the smaller venues, you will find a maximum capacity sign at the entrance with the total number of people allowed inside. The same is true for the restrooms, the hydro massage (max 1 person or a family unit of up to7 people) and the pools.
Performances and other entertainment
The entertainment on board has undergone a few changes but hasn’t been drastically altered. The entertainment team, in the tradition of the company, still hosts different games, quizzes and sports tournaments. The one difference is that now contact between the participants is avoided as are games that require proximity and contact sports (tennis, for example, is allowed). Entertaining new games are offered in the evenings in the central Lido area, which is large with good air-flow, relying on video technology and the captivating entertainment crew.
The nightclub is temporarily closed, however dancing can be found in other areas on board featuring live music. The casino is functioning normally, without any restrictions, not only the table area but also the slot machines and the arcade for kids. The Teen Club and the Squok Club are also functioning as usual, with the necessary safety precautions required. There are no gala evenings or cocktail events planned during these initial cruises to avoid the creation of crowded environments. However, it is still possible to get your special souvenir photo and participate in the evening dedicated to the Costa Club.
The seating at the theater has undergone a change in seating to allow for social distancing. At the moment, there isn’t a dance troupe on board due to the inevitable contact that they would have with each other during their shows. The performances include solo singers, acrobats and illusionists.
Dining and bars
Restaurants on board have seen the removal of printed menus as well as buffet dining, both due to health and safety concerns. In the bars and restaurants, every table has QR codes that need to be scanned with your cell phone using the free onboard Wi-Fi to visualize the complete drink and food menus in each local. Bar service, inside, is both take out and at the table while in the outside areas it is only take out. Your cruise card will not be touched by staff members but instead will be scanned to record your expenditures.
In the main restaurants, the tables are further apart and there are no longer two standard dinner seating times, but they have been replaced by a longer “open” time. Each person’s cruise card has a dinner time indicated that should be adhered to, of course with some elasticity.
Each table has reduced table settings and only upon sitting down to a table will it be set with napkins, silverware and glasses by the attentive staff. All dishes are served at the table to avoid lines of people and of course any contact with other people’s food. The classic buffet lines are used to make quick made-to-order dishes. At breakfast, there are both sweet and savory dishes that are brought directly to the table (now no wait times for food!) and a few additional dishes are available upon request, always free of charge, such as egg based dishes. The same service style applies to mid-meal snacks that offer a selection of sweet and savory treats that are served by the staff directly.
Gym and Spa
Both the gym and spa are open and ready for guests. The gym is open, except for a few workout stations (such as treadmills and exercise bikes) because some have been roped off or removed to maintain social distancing. Guests are required to clean their hands and the machines after each use. The outside sports area is open for individual use and for entertainment games only when social distancing rules can be respected.
The spa has been forced to temporarily close the thalassotherapy area, sauna and Turkish bath. But, fortunately, all the spa treatments are available, such as massages and other therapeutic treatments. A series of new “hands-free” treatments have been developed which do not involve the direct use of the hands by the therapists.
Photos and Stores
Stores and photography services are all open for business and available. At the Photo Shop, the staff will search for photographs for you as it is not possible to look on your own through the boxes. However, the photos that are on display can be touched after sanitizing your hands and with staff assistance. To make the search easier and faster, with the guest’s consent, the room number is recorded at the time the photo is taken so that all the photos of the same passenger can be combined put into a single folder. At the Shades it is possible to book the services of a personal photographer for a professional shoot on board.
The shops are all open as normal, with a limit to the number of guests allowed inside at any one time. With the help of the staff you can try both perfumes and clothing, which are then cleaned with vapor. You can also request for clothing to be brought directly to your room, if desired.
A Shopping Concierge service has been instituted that allows you to order objects and products to be delivered to the store or brought directly to your room. By scanning the QR Code with your cell phone you can visualize the online catalog.
Reception and other offices
The in-person Reception and Tour office services have been suspended to avoid lines and contact with other passengers, and have now been replaced with service via phone. The switchboard has been expanded and is able to respond with virtually no wait times. When necessary you can still visit the Reception but by appointment only, to do things like collect documents or resolve other issues.
The Costa Cruises app and the information kiosks on board allow you to make payments, view account statements, book excursions, and see Costa Club discounts. Credit card registration has already been automated for a long time.
For health safety reasons, paper documents are no longer brought to the cabin. However, everything can be consulted by using the APP, on the on-board screens or via telephone speaking with the Reception desk.
The aspect of cruising that has changed the most is certainly the excursions and going on land at the various ports of call has necessary limitations. Presently, the rules don’t allow for doing excursions you have arranged on your own at the various ports of call but only participation in excursions organized directly by the cruise company. The prices are surprisingly affordable at 99 euro for five excursions.
Costa Cruises has worked hard to arrange various excursions in the ports of call, all while ensuring the highest safety standards for guests. All guests participating in the excursions must wear a mask for the whole excursion, must never separate from the group, must avoid contact with individuals not in the group and must avoid entering into shops or venues that have not been pre-approved by the company for their adherence to the strict health protocols.
All the tourist guides and bus drivers must undergo a swab test the morning of the excursion to ensure the highest safety, and all vehicles are sanitized before and after their use. Social distancing during all excursions is made easier by the bus capacity being reduced by 50% (max 25 people), and by restricting the number of participants in each group as well as with the use of earphones for being able to hear the guide while maintaining distance from others. When disembarking and embarking, guests have their temperature checked and are given hand sanitizer to use.
Generally speaking, the Safety Protocols created by Costa Cruises are a well-thought out compromise between ensuring protection and attention to health and safety while at the same time allowing guests to fully enjoying their cruise and vacation. A big effort is required both by the ground crew and the onboard crew, with a minimal impact on the enjoyment of the ship by passengers. We are coming off some challenging months during which the use of masks and hand sanitizer have become daily habits, it will therefore not seem like such an imposition to continue using those same techniques on board. The sea, the sunsets, the good food, the wonderful ships are still there to provide the incredible experience we are looking for.
It is definitely worth it to get back to cruising and to enjoying amazing cruises in a truly magical world on the sea. By taking a cruise you will also be helping the cruise industry to resume normal operations and get back on their feet after such a difficult time. And if, for the time being, we can’t create our own excursions in the various ports of call, we can always take advantage of the nice, low-cost excursions organized by the company. What’s more, we will find half-empty ships with plenty of space to socially distance while enjoying the sunlight, good food, spa experiences and poolside relaxation that these magnificent ships have to offer.
Written by Gabriele Bassi