Enhanced health & safety protocols didn’t take the joy out of cruising for Rebecca Rachel Wong, who embarked on one of Singapore’s first sailings in eight months.
As I stood on World Dream’s deck and watched it sail away from Singapore, an overwhelming sense of anticipation came over me.
Like most travellers, I’ve been stuck in my home country the past year and have been patiently waiting for the chance to travel again. To my pleasant surprise, the Singapore government approved cruises-to-nowhere last month. Dream Cruises’ World Dream is the first ship to restart operations in early November, solely for Singapore citizens and long-term residents.
Granted − I’m not visiting another country on a cruise-to-nowhere. But as someone who loves being out as sea, it was very much the perfect getaway.
Of course, cruising in a COVID-19 era isn’t quite the same as before. I used to take for granted the quick boarding process – just show your cruise ticket, go through customs and you’re done with it.
Now, World Dream passengers are given specific reporting times to take a Covid-19 swab test before embarkation. The whole swabbing exercise takes about an hour. This includes filling in an online health declaration, registration, temperature checks, swabbing at test stations and waiting for your test results.
Once my swab test proved negative, I waited another two hours at Marina Bay Cruise Terminal before boarding the ship. All passengers are also issued a small, pink-coloured ‘Mice pod’ for contact tracing. The pod has to be carried everywhere onboard, and alerts passengers if they are clustered too closely together.
Long wait aside, the rest of my voyage was smooth-sailing (no pun intended) and honestly, not starkly different from cruising pre-COVID.
Most of Dream Cruises’ health & safety protocols are already implemented at public places on land. These include the wearing of masks and temperature checks at each entry point on board, such as restaurants, the theatre and pool decks. Hand sanitising dispensers are installed at most entrances and some restaurants even have mobile hand-washing stations.
To aid contact tracing, you’re also required to tap your room keycard at each entry point. Numerous safety ambassadors have also been hired to ensure guests adhere to social distancing measures, like not crowding around in big groups. The crew are vigilant in reminding guests to pull their masks above the nose too.
I was quite tickled to hear the captain’s daily announcements, in which he reminded guests to wash their hands and even went into detail on proper hand-washing techniques!
Despite all the protocols, I never once felt policed. In fact, I was impressed by how seriously the line and its staff prioritised guests’ health and safety.
And though the pandemic has put a temporary end to self-serve buffets and deck parties, there was still plenty to eat, see and do on board. To those asking if cruising is safe and worth doing in this climate − my answer is a resounding yes.
Here are the highlights of my three-night cruise:
The only post-COVID difference worth noting is World Dream’s newly refurbished medical centre. We were given a tour by the medical officer Mark, who is on call 24/7.
It was reassuring to see more facilities and equipment, such as isolation wards dedicated to Covid testing. Dream has also invested in a $109,000 PCR COVID-testing machine, which even detects 22 other respiratory viruses like H1N1.
In the event a patient does get diagnosed with COVID, the ship is equipped with seven isolation cabins and 34 additional cabins for close contacts. Isolated passengers are still given a set menu to choose from as well, albeit rather limited.
All onboard activities are immediately ceased if a guest tests COVID-positive, and the ship heads back to Singapore within five to six hours to evacuate passengers. Rest assured − you won’t be turned away from the port and stranded at sea.
Entertainment and activities
Lounge performances, karaoke and parties are still banned for now, which means you won’t find much nightlife on board. As per local government regulations, the sale of alcohol isn’t permitted after 10:30pm, though you can still order drinks in your stateroom.
Even with the limitations, Dream succeeds in keeping guests occupied. The cruise timetable is filled with activities for all ages: craft workshops, dance and fitness classes, wellness talks, Nintendo game sessions and family-friendly movies at the Zouk Beach Club.
Capacity limits are placed on the main pool and Jacuzzis. But with passenger capacities halved, we never found ourselves having to make pool reservations. At its peak timing in the late afternoon, there were only about 10 people on deck.
I also had good fun at the waterslide park, rock-climbing wall and ESC Experience Lab which is packed with VR games.
Whilst the Zodiac Theatre’s capacity has been reduced to 250 guests, Dream ensures everyone gets a chance to catch their highlight Christmas show. Two shows were held on the final evening, with timings assigned based on your deck number. As per new sanitisation measures, the theatre undergoes extensive fogging after each show.
All-inclusive dining is available at The Lido and Dream Dining Room. At The Lido’s buffet, servers now dish out food for you and only 5 guests are allowed per table.
Nevertheless, this didn’t affect my dining experience. Being served my food meant that I didn’t go overboard in piling my plate. The friendly servers are happy to give you as much as you want and don’t shoot you judgmental looks if you come back for seconds or thirds.
There was hardly any bottleneck or even queues when I visited during lunch on my first sailing day. However, I felt that the food variety was rather limited in comparison to other cruise lines. Being an international buffet, it surprisingly lacked signatures like pizza and juices.
As a Palace guest, I was entitled to meals at the exclusive Palace restaurant as well as other specialty restaurants on board. My favourite was Umi Uma Teppanyaki, where our chef delighted us with his knife-twirling antics and expertly-grilled fillet mignon with garlic fried rice.
The Palace restaurant is highly recommended too. Wait staff are extremely attentive, and the food is consistently well-executed. Thumbs up for the cream pasta with truffle oil and char kway teow (stir-fried noodles).
We stayed in a Palace Suite. Suites are conveniently positioned near the Palace’s private elevators, which take you up to the private pool, spa and gym.
At 37 square metres, the cabin was sizeable, pristine and well-appointed. With both a bathtub and standing shower, the bathroom was extremely spacious− a luxury one doesn’t always get in other cabin categories.
I also enjoyed the exclusive bath amenities for Palace guests, as well as the complimentary minibar and desserts like chocolate-dipped strawberries and pastries.
Suite guests enjoy a 24-hour dedicated butler service, and my butler Clarence was extremely receptive and patient with my requests. He even managed to find a seamstress to fix a tear in my clothing, and was proactive with checking dinner reservations on my behalf.
Most importantly, the Dream Bed was an absolute delight. With plenty of pillows and a luxe duvet, I never quite wanted to get out of bed in the mornings.