SeaDream Yacht Club’s ‘Barbados bubble’ has burst, temporarily at least. I’ve been on board SeaDream 1 since Saturday, sailing the Caribbean.
This is the first cruise line to restart here so there was a lot at stake – and a great deal of planning had gone into the operation.
The sailing, with 53 passengers and 66 crew on board, was meant to usher in a new era of Caribbean cruising, with multiple COVID-19 tests for passengers and crew, strict health protocols on board and shore excursions focusing on private beaches and water sports, instead of any kind of cultural exchange with locals.
The ship’s health protocols are super-strict: two Covid tests to get on board (one to enter Barbados, one to board the ship), social distancing and mask wearing. In addition, we have to check in at Reception every day to log our temperature.
The crew do the rounds of the cabins in the evenings with UV lights, treating each room for 15 minutes; these lights are used in hospitals and kill 99.9 per cent of germs, including viruses. Five days into the cruise, there would normally be another COVID test – the third for most of us — so passengers can re-enter Barbados on Saturday with a clean bill of health.
Yet COVID is sneaky and now, I am isolating in my cabin, where, at the time of writing, I’ve been for 30 hours since an American passenger tested positive.
Of this passenger’s group of six, a further four have tested positive and one has antibodies. We’re all isolating so we haven’t had any further contact with them, but I do tend to keep thinking: did we speak? Did I stand near them at the bar?
We’d enjoyed five days of carefully isolated activities. Part of this bubble cruise is the fact that we were not allowed ashore to mix with local people, so all the stops have involved empty beaches or snorkelling tours.
We swam off the black, sparkling Mount Wynn beach on St Vincent, supervised by police in an RIB. We also enjoyed a day at the posh on Canouan, which was exclusive to SeaDream. In the Tobago Cays, I paid $99 for the day’s excursion, a catamaran cruise to the marine sanctuary where I snorkelled among stingrays and sea turtles.
Other than that, I’ve been swimming off the ship every afternoon, from the watersports platform.
On Wednesday, we were lounging by the pool when Captain Lund announced that a passenger had felt unwell and had tested ‘presumptive positive’ for COVID-19. The ship would turn around and head straight back to Barbados. All passengers and non-essential crew were to isolate in their cabins immediately.
There wasn’t even enough time for a last drink at the bar. The mood was one of shock, disbelief and then disappointment.
Now we’re back at the dock in Barbados. All crew have tested negative using the onboard Abbott PCR testing machines, and all had a second test last night from the local authorities.
Passengers were tested today by the ship’s doctor and the captain’s last announcement confirmed that all results in so far were negative. A team from the local health authority then did a second round of passenger tests, pushing a stick up my nose until it hurt. These took place at the reception and I sneaked out on deck for two minutes of sunshine afterwards. Feeling fresh air after a day cooped up was bliss.
We’re being really well treated, with gourmet meals and whatever booze we request delivered to our rooms.
It’s a waiting game, as we’re not quite sure how long our isolation will end or whether our travel plans home will be affected. The biggest hardship is boredom, uncertainty about the journey home and not being able to go outside. I’ve spent the day working, doing some yoga and staring at two container ships docked opposite, watching the sun cross the sky but unable to feel it on my face.
Tomorrow, when all the test results are in, the local authorities will decide if we can leave Barbados. The next cruise is cancelled and at this point, we don’t know when or whether SeaDream’s Barbados dream will resume.