What it’s like catching Covid on a cruise
These days, catching Covid is nothing new. However, I was still hoping to be one of the lucky few who never caught the virus.
Alas - that was not to be. And I unfortunately did not catch it at home , but whilst on a 4-night media sailing hosted by Royal Caribbean, visiting Port Klang and Penang from Singapore on Spectrum of the Seas. I was covering the sailing for a cruise publication, so it was a workcation.
I tested negative when doing a compulsory, supervised pre-departure ART the day before my sailing. And I was fine on Day 1 and 2 of my sailing, even doing a shore excursion on Day 2 from Port Klang.
However, Day 3 was when things really started to go south. I woke up with a scratchy, ticklish throat, and by afternoon was in so much discomfort that I could barely speak. My throat had gotten so swollen that swallowing was a huge pain, even gulping down my own saliva was unbearable and made me wince. I felt really fatigued, with a runny nose that escalated into a full-blown cold by the evening.
I had forgone the hosted shore excursion to Penang ( which was a shame, I've heard George Town has some lovely attractions). And my symptoms were so unbearable that I called Royal Caribbean's Medical Centre by 1pm, requesting a consultation.
What happens when you report your symptoms
Royal Caribbean staterooms all include a slip of paper detailing the number for the Medical Centre, encouraging you to report Covid symptoms.
When I called the Medical Centre, my call was answered by the nurse. I was asked to describe my symptoms and its onset in detail. A while later, I received a follow-up call from the doctor, and was deemed fit enough to head down to the Medical Centre for a check-up.
I was also instructed to pack my bags. In the event that I did become positive, a crew member would removed it from my room as I would have to be shifted to an isolation cabin.
If negative, guests are usually charged for medication, but can go about their business and need not be shifted to an isolation cabin. Of course, if you're really sick, you'll likely be advised to stay in your cabin anyway until you get better.
Visiting the Medical Centre
On Spectrum, the Medical Centre is located on Deck 2 at the ship's aft section. It was completely empty except for the ship's nurse and doctor.
Post-pandemic, Royal's Medical Centres are extremely well-equipped, and even include a few ward-like rooms with hospital beds and medical equipment for more serious conditions.
The nurse did a art test for me and took my blood pressure. As I suspected, I was indeed Covid-positive.
Once you get Covid on a Royal Caribbean sailing, the line covers all Covid-19 related expenses, including medication, room service whilst in isolation and transport back to your home/hotel once arriving in Singapore.
If you're fly-cruising in from another country, do get travel insurance anyway to cover your quarantine in Singapore.
Once I tested positive, I waited about 15 to 20 minutes in a holding room for the doctor to examine me. She listened to my heartbeat and breathing, and prescribed me medication for my runny nose and throat pain.
Both her and the nurse had really good bedside manners as well. They were calm, reassuring and polite when talking to me and diagnosing my condition.
You'll also be asked by the nurse about your close contacts, including the people you are travelling with and any one you had mask-off activities with (such as eating) for at least 15 minutes.
Your close contacts will be asked to monitor their symptoms and do a daily ART. There's no need for them to isolate, they'll be able to go about their usual activities unless they test positive.
Entering isolation in the ship's Red Zone
As for me, I was moved to the ship's Red Zone to isolate until the morning of Day 5, which is when the ship returns to Singapore.
At present, catching Covid onboard isn't the big deal it used to be. When cruises-to-nowhere first resumed in Singapore post-pandemic, just one positive case would spark a complete lockdown.
The ship would make an announcement, and all guests would be required to return to their cabin and isolate until the end of the sailing. The ship would turn back back immediately to Singapore, and all activities would be ceased.
Now, everything goes on as per normal, and most guests won't even know there's a Covid-positive passenger on board.
I waited about 30 minutes for my luggage to be taken down to the Medical Centre, and was then moved to an isolation cabin in the ship's Red Zone on Deck 3.
I was led by one of the ship’s crew in a protective gown and face mask. Another crew followed behind me, also wearing protective gear and sterilising my trail behind me with a device that producing a fog-like mist. To be honest, I found the sterilising part a little hilarious and over the top. After all, it's not like I was spitting all over the air behind me!
My isolation cabin
Fortunately, my isolation cabin wasn’t the tiny interior stateroom I pictured it to be.
It was spacious - obviously not as big as compared to the balcony stateroom I stayed in previously, but very similar. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had a sofa and an oceanview window.
It also came equipped with a big one litre bottle of water, and two bottles of steriliser spray. You can also request for as many bottles of water as you want, unlike on a normal sailing where you only get bottles on the first day.
The Medical Centre gave me a digital thermometer to take my temperature too, as well as a pulse oximeter to measure my heart rate and oxygen level.
I also saw some other medical gear in the drawers, though I believe you won't really need them.
I was also provided with essential numbers to call, including the nurse on duty, guest services, housekeeping as well as room service.
How I was treated in isolation
As soon as I was moved to the cabin, I begin receiving calls every half an hour from the crew checking in on me, how I was doing and if I needed anything.
I did appreciate their efforts to be proactive, and not leave me to my own devices in quarantine. However, my throat was in extreme pain, and I could barely speak.
As such, it did prove a tad frustrating to have to pick up the phone frequently, and have different people from guest services asking the same questions about how I was doing. In that regard, I did wish there was more coordination on their part.
Once I requested to be contacted by WhatsApp instead, things got a lot better. The Front Desk Manager reached out to me, and I was able to send texts to order room service through him and make other requests as well.
He was very responsive to texts too, though if you really need something asap or in the middle of the night I recommend calling guest services instead. He would also check in with me from time to time, asking for my breakfast order, if I felt better and if I needed anything else.
As the meds I received weren't really helping my runny nose and throat, I requested stronger ones. Within 10 minutes, I was sent a very effective nasal spray, as well as stronger anti-inflammatory meds.
I left my wallet in the safe in my other stateroom, and it was promptly sent down when I requested it. It's really impressive how fast and responsive crew members are with requests on Royal Caribbean, especially when you're in isolation!
Killing time in quarantine
I spent the last two days of my sailing being miserable about the pain I experienced each time I swallowed.
However, I was happy that I was well-fed. In isolation, you can order anything from room service ( all complimentary and unlimited of course). There is quite a varied selection to keep you happy for a few days, but bear in mind that it's mostly western food (Royal's western food has always been better than their Asian offerings anyway).
You get to choose from items like pizza, pasta, quesadillas, chicken wings and grilled salmon. There's also a variety of appetisers, sandwiches, burgers and desserts. The food is tasty with generous portion, far from what I pictured ( I was imagining daily healthy bento boxes or something like that) .
I ordered meals like pizza, Philly cheese steak and pasta. Royal Caribbean makes a particularly yummy Philly cheese steak, and I also enjoyed the desserts like cookies and New York cheesecake ( when I wasn't wincing in pain from swallowing).
If you prefer something lighter, you can always order stuff like chicken noodle soup, ramen soup or salads. There's also a variety of beverages, including coffee, tea, hot chocolate, milk, water, soda and juices.
So rest assured, you won't starve in isolation or be forced to endure miserable meals. I was already so sick, so I thought: Why not just eat what I want!
Once you enter isolation, pay-per-view movies also become complimentary. There was a rather limited selection of about 7 to 8 movies, and somehow the choices dwindled on the last day (the animation movies mysteriously disappeared from selection). There weren't any recent ones as well. I reckon most people in isolation would rather log in to their Netflix account instead.
Nevertheless, I ended up watching Pixar’s Turning Red and Harry Potter’s 20th Anniversary Reunion, enjoying them as much I could while my throat was on fire.
Disembarking and returning home
If you contract Covid on your cruise, you’ll be refunded for the days of your onboard quarantine, according to your original form of payment. Mine was a media sailing, but most guests can expect a refund within 30 days.
On the morning of my last day, a crew member conducted another ART test for me, which was still positive.
As such, I was led off the ship at around 10:15am, after all the other guests had disembarked. I then found out that another family had contracted Covid on the sailing, and they were led off together with me. We were all given protective gowns to wear as we were being disembarked as well.
Disembarking was an extremely smooth procedure, even more so than if you are negative! Royal Caribbean settled all the paperwork on my behalf, so I didn't even have to go through customs.
I was led to the dock, after which a port agent checked my passport. I was then ushered into a sleek-looking 7-seater car, and ferried straight home to quarantine until I recovered, with my driver in a protective gown as well. The crew will ask for your address a few days in advance, so you don't have to supply that to the driver.
Whilst it's never fun catching Covid overseas, I was grateful that Royal Caribbean took such great care of me as I was recovering. I even felt like a VIP ( or Very Infectious Person) as I was driven home in my snazzy black car with a "private chauffeur".
It still sucks to not be able to enjoy the cruising experience, but you aren't treated like a leper and the whole ship doesn't have to turn back anymore.
Here's to the return of port-of-call voyages, and the normalization of Covid in Southeast Asia!
Ever caught Covid on a sailing? Do share about your experience in the comments below!