Sarah Buitendach Contributing editor at FM
Buses lined up to transport the first batch of passengers disembarking from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, in quarantine due to fears of Covid-19, in Yokohama, Japan. Picture: AFP/CHARLY BRIBALLEAU
Buses lined up to transport the first batch of passengers disembarking from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, in quarantine due to fears of Covid-19, in Yokohama, Japan. Picture: AFP/CHARLY BRIBALLEAU

Long before I’d even clocked the existence of novel coronaviruses, if you’d asked me to describe my idea of hell it would have involved being stuck on a super cruise liner, playing drinking games for eternity.

So you can imagine my sense of vindication then, when at the start of this whole Covid-19 debacle, one of the first ports of call that the pox docked at was über cruiser the Diamond Princess (ill-informed landlubbers should not be allowed to use nautical metaphors so recklessly, I recognise).

“You see!” I was quick to exclaim. “This is why a holiday on a floating colossus, with 2,669 other passengers, 1,100 crew and many buffet queues is a shocking idea.”

At one point early in the game, this buoyant entertainment extravaganza boasted the largest Covid outbreak outside China, which really sealed the deal for me cruise-wise.

Then I read this piece by Katie Glass for The Times (of London) which details the experiences of a handful of passengers and crew on the plague ship’s nightmare voyage.

It’s a viscerally unsettling account that includes repellent vignettes of the disaster, like this: “Cooped up in her windowless cabin, Elaine was not faring so well. She and John ‘tried to have some sort of routine to make things easier’. Each morning they would run on the spot for 30 minutes. In the evenings they would call friends in England. But at night Elaine could hear coughing and crying through the thin walls.”

Not for me, chaps. Not one bit. And, I presumed, many others – until I read the comments on that article. Readers are terribly sad to be missing their planned sea-bound jaunts and have already booked for them once they’re a go again.

Curiously, the cruising bug is apparently a strong one – more virulent than even a pesky pandemic – so it seems the going aboard must continue. And it will shortly.

This Vanity Fair article describes how in the US, cruise companies can’t wait to reopen. True, for now it’s just a couple of steamers that are going to be paddling up and down the Mississippi from the end of June with fewer than 200 passengers.

But it’s the same concept: many people, confined space. Still, whatever floats your boat. If you’re hopeful about the whole thing, then you might want to read this Bloomberg story that details how ye olde cruise holidays are set to change. It may make you feel more confident about booking your next berth.

Whether or not you’re on team “ships ahoy”, you’d do well to dip into this excellent summary of the industry from the Financial Times. It paints a depressing picture of the big cruise companies during Covid – especially as far as crew treatment and finances are concerned.

As a result of the virus, profits have plummeted and there’s been a mad dash for cash.

Norwegian, the big liner brand, even had to offer two of it’s cruise ships and two islands as part of fundraising collateral. And that’s before it even gets to the rather more thorny issue of how it’s going to be able to offer safe, germ-free cruises for people in future. It won’t be easy.

As you can probably guess, I’ll be quayside, waving to you as you depart.

But likewise it’s going to take me a while to come round to flying – especially long-haul. Mind you, I’ll be impressed if Joburg adman Jono Hall gets on a plane soon. His account of the repatriation flight that he took last week to get back home to SA from London – or rather, the story leading up to the flight – will make you sweat.

It is an epic saga that should leave anyone in senior management at our department of international relations & co-operation and SAA cringing with embarrassment.

*Buitendach is the FM's Life editor and editor of Wanted magazine.

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