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Setting a shining example of what cruise travel may soon look like from the U.S., MSC Cruises has been sailing safely for months in Europe. Amid regional restart challenges posed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — which, following recently revised guidelines, look to be easing up — TravelAge West spoke with Ruben Rodriguez, president of MSC Cruises USA, about the line’s views on the current status of cruising here and abroad.
As MSC Cruises continues to expand its operating fleet in Europe, what lessons can be learned for restarting in the U.S.?When MSC Grandiosa restarted sailing last August in Europe, MSC Cruises became the first major cruise line to resume full-service operations, leading the charge in the restart of cruising. Since then, we have safely and responsibly carried more than 60,000 guests onboard our ships, all under the protection of our comprehensive health and safety protocols. Our protocols have set a standard for the industry.
Given our experience over the last nine months, we will leverage our key learnings and insights as we look to restart in the U.S.
We know that our robust health and safety measures are, of course, key to our success. A critical benefit of our protocols, as we’ve learned, is our ability to quickly adapt to the evolving situation onshore, which continues to be vital as we restart in other regions around the world. For example, last November, we responded to changing circumstances by further enhancing our measures to include mid-week testing and expanded sanitation procedures on top of practices already in place.
Our technology onboard also allows us to be nimble and quickly respond to any suspected cases by tracing close contacts, using the interactive MSC for Me wristbands provided to all guests. This form of contact tracing and quick isolation of any affected individuals can only happen in this kind of environment, and we’re able to quickly identify and mitigate the situation.
Alongside our added measures, however, we have worked hard to ensure that our guests still enjoy the MSC Cruises experience they know and love. We have learned a lot along the way, but we’re pleased that the atmosphere on board continues to be very positive. Our guests are enjoying all the dining, entertainment and activities onboard as they’d expect, while also feeling reassured that the appropriate health and safety measures are in place.
In the U.S., while we continue to work closely with the relevant authorities to determine specific measures, we will plan to implement the key pillars of our protocols that have been successful in Europe. These include safety measures such as universal COVID-19 testing of all guests and crew, wearing of face masks, social distancing and using our interactive wristbands for contact tracing. We will maintain increased levels of sanitation; 100% external fresh air supplied to all staterooms and public areas, with no recirculation of air between staterooms or within the ship; a fully equipped medical center with highly qualified staff; and a contingency response plan in close coordination with authorities ashore.
Is the hope that the additional rollout in Europe will further serve as proof of concept to the CDC here in the U.S.?Our robust restart in Europe this summer is a testament to the success of our health and safety protocols and our experience sailing safely and responsibly. As the largest restart effort in the industry to date, we will bring 10 ships back to sea in the Mediterranean and across Europe, representing more than half of our fleet.
We began with MSC Seaside on May 1, joining MSC Grandiosa in the Mediterranean, and then MSC Virtuosa [will set sail] on May 20 in the U.K. As shown by our proven track record and continued progress in Europe, we have demonstrated that that we are ready to restart safe and enjoyable cruising from U.S. ports.
What is your message to U.S. government authorities to encourage regional resumption?We are actively engaged with the CDC and other relevant authorities to continue our ongoing dialogue and determine the best way forward. We feel confident in our ability to sail safely from the U.S. similarly to how we have in other parts of the world.
We feel confident in our ability to sail safely from the U.S. similarly to how we have in other parts of the world.
Moreover, we are hopeful that the decision to allow the resumption of cruising from the U.S. will happen soon. Ultimately, our collective goal is to work toward bringing cruising back to the U.S. by this summer, and we are ready to [resume operations] with the appropriate measures in place, just as much of the hospitality industry has been doing.
Will this summer’s European sailings be available to book by North American cruisers?Our sailings in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe will be open to non-European guests as of July, but this is dependent on the [international] travel restrictions put in place by the different governments in the countries of embarkation.
As soon as the authorities allow for [international] travel into Europe, we will align accordingly. Our sailings on MSC Virtuosa will still only be available to U.K. residents per the government guidelines in place.
The DetailsMSC Cruiseswww.msccruisesusa.com