For the past five months I had just been reading all the (mostly negative) news related to cruises, writing articles while waiting for the restart, cheered on the ships and followed the decisions of the Italian government -- until the announcement that MSC would restart cruising in the Mediterranean.
On August 16, MSC Grandiosa got back to operations. I saw it from afar: a colleague from Genoa, looking out from the balcony overlooking the harbor, sent me the video of the ship that was finally returning to sail.
Then on August 31 it was my turn for the third itinerary. A very welcome invitation: I wanted to personally try the new protocols and experience this new era of cruises.
I live in Rome and I arrived at the port of Civitavecchia with a transfer organized by Msc, with masks and spaced seats. I had just two days on board, sailing to Palermo.
Here are my thoughts from my brief voyage onboard MSC Grandiosa.
Taking the Covid Test
I have never taken the test before, and I must say it is a relief to know that every person who will board must do the test. You travel with a light heart when you feel safe.
We waited for an hour approximately after the test (a swab), and then the result: negative for me and for the group I was travelling with.
It's time to walk down the gangway and finally get on the ship. I'm excited. Steps that seem new, even if I had already been on Grandiosa. There are about 2,000 passengers on board, on a ship that can accommodate more than 6,000. The distancing is, in fact, ensured.
Health is the Priority
The departure is heart-pounding, more so even than a christening, while the port of Civitavecchia is slowly moving away. It seems light years have passed since the last time I was sailing.
That the shipboard experience has changed is immediately clear. There are sanitizing gel stations distributed throughout the common areas.
As I walk along the promenade I meet other guests: they all wear a mask, even when the distances would allow them not to wear it. And even on the outdoor decks I see more masks than I expected. Perhaps we all share a desire to feel safe.
On the other hand, the strength of the maritime sector -- always -- also lies in its system of rules and in the ability of those who go to sea to respect them. Even when they change our habitual behaviors.
There is the staff who supervise the ship to ensure that the new rules are respected. But in two days I have not come across a single person who broke them.
The cabins are sanitized and every day equipped with protective devices available to the occupants.
A maximum of four can enter the large elevators at a time; on the floor are indicated the four stations, also these suitably spaced.
Like everyone else, I wear the MSC for Me bracelet. It's like having another cruise card, I can also open the door to my cabin. And above all, while respecting privacy, it is able to locate and trace the contacts with the other guests on the ship.
Before meals, whether at the restaurant or at the buffet, it is mandatory to wash your hands in the special stations and the staff measures the body temperature at the entrance. So you sit down more lightly, while choosing what to eat.
What is the Buffet Experience Like?
It takes a few minutes to get used to the buffet served by the staff. But it doesn't take much, given the always abundant offer and the quality of the dishes that hasn't changed. The waiters, in addition to face masks, wear gloves while preparing the dishes. An additional guarantee.
Indeed, in my opinion the new system teaches us to choose in a better way. Without filling the plate more than we would be able to eat.
We Still Have Fun
With or without masks, we have fun. After dinner, theatre shows, live music, and for those who want to play, there is the 4D cinema where you can shoot zombies or bandits, the Formula 1 simulator or the casino.
And the face mask doesn't stop us from socializing and laughing. And it doesn't excuse anyone from making jokes when for the fourth consecutive time I don't hit a pin with the bowling ball. Sanitized too, of course.
Is half face covered? It does not matter. I enjoy imagining the hidden half, I pay more attention to the eyes.
And even the days go by as before: outdoor and indoor pools (with capacity restrictions), the thermal suite (also with capacity restrictions, and the sauna or steam room are open only for single use) massages, whirlpools, entertainment.
For children and teenagers, in addition to the play areas and the mini club, the water slides and the adventure park are open (though not every day, and with capacity restrictions).
Excursions in a Bubble
But you don't necessarily have to stay aboard the ship during the day. For me, the stop in Naples has become an opportunity to visit Capri for the first time. But how does a protected excursion work?
Transfer only for MSC Grandiosa passengers, reserved and sanitized. Obligation to wear masks on board the hydrofoil and buses. The tour guide also becomes a bit of our babysitter. Agostino, the tour guide is always with us and he knows every corner of the island.
We have headphones to listen to him, but we don't go far from him. We know that he has an important task to ensure safety and compliance with procedures. We joke with him a little, good-naturedly, but we all follow the rules.
First Time Cruisers
With the restart of the cruises, you expect the first to book are the repeaters, yet this is not the case: on board there are many guests who are new to cruise. They chose it for the safety guarantee it offers and once on board they are discovering its infinite possibilities.
But then there are the true aficionados, those who make you smile instantly. There is a couple, he is 96, she is 83. They have already done about 180 cruises and couldn't wait to get back on board. "We want to have fun and we are not afraid," they tell me. "We have already booked another cruise for November."
The Arrival in Palermo
The arrival in Sicily, in Palermo, is tinged with melancholy. It's time to say goodbye and get off the ship, while I feel so good being on board.
Perfect organization from the first to the last moment, pampering, comfort and a sense of protection: going on a cruise today is a nice gift to give to yourself -- and one of the safest ways to travel.