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Confident passengers bring cruises back to life, bigger and better

Amid pandemic restrictions and COVID outbreaks, the cruise industry looked to be dead in the water just a couple of years ago.

In April 2020, the Ruby Princess drew attention to the risks of cruise travel when it became the single largest source of COVID-19 cases in Australia at the time, with the outbreak alleged to have led to 28 deaths.

During the following years, it was reasonable to question whether the industry would ever regain the trust of travellers, especially when COVID outbreaks persisted even after cruises were allowed to resume operations in April 2022.

A 2021 survey found 67 per cent of UK and Australian respondents were less willing to cruise as a result of the pandemic.

But when TND stepped onto a cruise ship this month, we found it teeming with passengers whose love of cruising remains undiminished.

John and Wendy Andrews, hailing from Derbyshire, England, are frequent travellers, even keeping a holiday home in Florida to escape the biting UK winters.

When TND met them at the start of their cruise from Sydney to Bali, they were fresh off a cruise around New England and Canada, and already planning their next cruise around Japan.

They had been on a cruise ship when COVID first broke out, travelling from Australia to Hawaii, and experienced first-hand not being allowed to set foot in countries that were trying to prevent the spread of the virus.

But today, they’re happy to set sail, despite still taking preventative measures like wearing masks in confined spaces and sanitising their hands regularly.

“People are spaced out,” Mr Andrews said.

“The world’s a big place and there’s lots of places to see. We’ve been to lots of places [but] there’s lots more to do.”

He said the world could soon get to a point where COVID was considered no different from the common flu.

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Viking Cruises’ passengers had few concerns about COVID when questioned by TND. Photo: Viking Cruises

Australian cruise operators have testing and vaccination requirements for crew and passengers, and Viking Cruises is no different: TND had to provide proof of vaccination and a negative COVID test to board.

But rather than finding the new measures reassuring, Mr and Ms Andrews were left anxious as they awaited their pre-boarding test results, worried they’d be locked out of the ship after spending a few days travelling with a large group to Uluru.

Pam Talbot, travelling from the US, also held misgivings over the accuracy of RAT tests used before boarding.

“I don’t trust the test, because the test has been proven that it is not 100 per cent,” she said.

Canadians Linda and John Stather tested positive for COVID after disembarking from a cruise last year; they found out fellow passengers had tested positive soon after the trip as well.

“But as far as the cruising, I’m no more hesitant to cruise now than I was before. Not at all,” Ms Stather said.

“I was never afraid of COVID on a cruise.”

These passengers are not alone in their eagerness to hop back on board; the Cruise Lines International Association predicts the number of cruise passengers this year will surpass pre-pandemic numbers, with more than 31 million passengers expected to embark on cruises in 2023.

When asked what drew them back to cruise ships time and time again, the answers from the passengers TND spoke to were fairly unanimous in praise for the chance to socialise with other passengers, along with getting to travel the world and only having to unpack once.

Disclaimer: The New Daily was invited on a cruise courtesy of Viking Cruises.

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