Live from the Ponant: Expeditionary cruise during a pandemic!
French cruise line Ponant returned to sea this week, sending several of its expedition ships on a new series of French coastal cruises designed to encourage Europeans to explore their own shores.
Belgian photojournalist Mike Louagie is one of 24 passengers on the Le Dumont d'Urville, which is currently sailing off the coastal regions of Normandy. In addition to him, there are also French and Dutch on board. The famous cruise news site Cruise Critic (CC) recently did a short interview with Mike.
CC: What was it like preparing for the trip? What did you need to do to prove that you are not sick with COVID-19?
Mike: First, I had to get tested for COVID-19 no earlier than 48 hours before departure and get a negative result. In addition, I had to fill out a special medical form on two pages.
CC: Tell us about boarding. Did the crew wear masks or other protection?
Mike: The first time the ship's staff met us at the Le Havre cruise terminal, where we were landing. Most of the crew, including the captain, wore plexiglass masks at all times, while the rest of the expedition wore ordinary textile masks made of fabric. Next, it was necessary to transfer the test results for COVID-19 to the ship's doctor and fill out a special medical questionnaire. After the doctor carefully read all the answers, we measured the temperature with a "pistol". After visiting the doctor, it was necessary to go through passport control. In addition, our suitcases, passports and even mobile phones have been thoroughly disinfected.
CC: How does the ship deal with social distancing on board? Do you feel any inconvenience or discomfort? Do I need to wear masks on the ship?
Mike: We need to wear masks in all public places and around other people - on excursions, during tender landings, etc. It was a little awkward on the day of landing, but then you get used to it. There is an automatic temperature check at the entrance to the restaurant. It is necessary to put your face in front of a special device and measure the temperature. Additionally, you need to disinfect your hands before each trip to a restaurant, bar and theater.
CC: Is the entire ship operational? Are the sauna and pools working? Are there any special restrictions?
Mike: The ship is almost completely open. The sauna does not work, but the pool can be used (maximum 2 people at a time).
CC: Please tell us about the meals on board. In what mode does the buffet work? How are passengers feeling: are they happy with the precautions the staff is taking, or vice versa?
Mike: The restaurants serve as always excellent, but the buffet is not open yet. Passengers understand the situation and appreciate the efforts of the staff.
CC: Has anything changed in terms of disinfecting your cabin? Did the changes affect things like minibars?
Mike: You can smell the disinfectant right after cleaning, but the smell doesn't last long. Minibars and espresso machines work as usual.
CC: Are passengers prohibited from gathering in public places for entertainment or lectures?
Mike: No, since we are now on board 24 people, this is not a problem. If the ship was full, we would be divided into two groups: English-speaking and French-speaking.
CC: The group went on a tour of the beaches of Normandy. What was the excursion protocol?
Mike: Yes, everyone in the band was wearing masks. If someone forgot about her, the staff always reminded about it. Once, during the tender landing, I thought a little about my own and took off my mask - I was immediately reminded of the protection in the most polite way. Temperature checks are also carried out after excursions, but not on a regular basis.
CC: How do your fellow travelers feel about the new way of travel?
Mike: Everybody is adjusting. The cruise vacation is so interesting and varied, and with such a great team like Ponant, that nothing worries. I have never heard anyone complain about anything. True, there was one strange moment when we went ashore in Boulogne-sur-Mer. The vessel was supposed to enter the port, but for some reason did not enter and we had to make a tender landing. We had a private visit to Nausicaá, the largest aquarium in Europe. From the tender to Nausicaa, we had a maximum of five minutes walk. But we definitely had to put on masks and get together in a group. The locals looked at us as if we had flown in from Mars. But funny moments also happened. Once in a restaurant I needed to use a napkin, and I accidentally wiped my face with a mask.
CC: You have been on many cruises in your life. Does a cruise with all these safety precautions still sound interesting? Do people still meet in lounges and drink in bars? Or more often they just return to their cabins?
Mike: Of course! People meet all the time, although you can't sit near the bar. You must sit on a high chair at the table and keep your distance. The ship is pretty quiet because there are only 24 passengers on board. However, the atmosphere is just great, we have a wonderful time with each other. My opinion - Ponant does an incredible job! They really do their best to ensure maximum safety while cruising. They do not bother you about their cool air ozonizers and ultraviolet lamps. They make you believe they have the right security protocols. After a few days on board, I realized that they were taking them very seriously.
Mike Louagie is a freelance marine photographer and writer who has cruised countless ships and ferries around the world. You can see his work at the following link.
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