Sky Princess would have been cruising the Adriatic at this time of the year with 3,660 guests on board and 1500 crew members. Now, there are roughly 110 masked crew members, empty staterooms and nothing but ghost ships and ocean as far as the eye can see.
But it’s not all bad news.
As an Italian national living in Sandiego, Captain Michele Tuvo, knows the horrors of COVID all too well, from both sides. Captain Tuvo has been in isolation both on and off the ship since March 11 after hearing first hand tales from the Italian front line at the peak of the pandemic.
He still says: “I am ready to cruise today”.
Captain Tuvo is one of the skeleton staff keeping Sky Princess afloat and improving his fitness in a completely empty gym, much to his disappointment, the onlookers usually keep him motivated.
“I’m an early riser, I get the whole gym to myself but it’s hard, there is nobody watching me I can just say okay I am done for the day. I work much harder when there are eyes on me,” he said.
Currently berthed off the coast of Cyprus soaking up the last of the European sunshine, Captain Tuvo has spent the last two months and and two weeks on board and has two weeks left until he leaves the ship to visit his family in California. The Sky Princess crew work shifts of three months on and three months off.
“Having passengers on board is like having family visiting. We are separated by distance like so many families at the moment are, but we will see each other again when this is all over,” he said.
Captain Tuvo said his job reminds him of when he worked on cargo ships but it hasn’t changed too much today. He said: “I am still responsible for the vessel and crew, there are challenges every day but they are not too different”.
There are a few people from each department on the ship, it is running almost as usual to make the return to cruise as easy as possible. The ship is still cleaned each day and there are no dust covers in theatres or bars.
Although, he said the Sky Princess crew feels a lot more like a family. “You go from having 1000 crew and 3000 passengers to just 100 crew and you know everyone really well, we play ping pong tournaments, play bean bag toss and have movie nights,” he said.
The crew will eat dinner together each night as prepared by Princess chefs, appropriately spaced apart. Even though the crew have been together for the last two months, they wear masks whenever they are close together indoors but on the open decks, masks are not needed.
“I think we have to wear them each day to get used to it, this is just how the world is now, I can’t wait to be able to make memories again without these things but for now, we wear them,” he said.
One crew member posted a photo to Instagram of a crew wine and cheese night on the man deck earlier this week.
Captain Tuvo was elated when he realised mid-sentence he will be able to see his family in just two weeks. He video calls his wife Amy and his son Luca, who just turned 11, three times a day. “I like to call them at 7pm their time to catch them at dinner time, we talk over a meal,” he said.
When he is not onboard a Princess ship Captain Tuvo cooks his family Italian food from scratch and loves road biking. When he is on board, the most he moves is sailing in a small loop, once a month to keep water moving through the ship and keep it running and ready to have passengers back on board.
Like many, Captain Tuvo said he is keen to have guests again as soon as possible. Until then, he said: “Keep looking forward, we miss you”.
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No doubt 2020 will go down in cruise history as the year of the pandemic – a once in a generation event. And this year’s Cruise Passenger Readers’ Choice Awards will reflect it.