Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

Although Americans are still on the sidelines when it comes to cruise vacations, there's a lot to learn from what is happening in Europe, where smaller vessels began testing the waters as early as June, and where this month the first large ships are setting sail.

And one takeaway from MSC Cruises, which last week launched its first sailing since March: There is a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to its Covid-19 protocols.

The European line last week refused re-embarkation to a family that ducked out of one of its organized shore excursions while in Naples. By leaving the excursion, the family violated MSC's new rule that requires passengers only leave the ship on group tours organized and sold through MSC.

The line said that by leaving the excursion the family "broke the bubble," putting other passengers at risk.

The cruise wrapped up without other major incident, and MSC declared the sailing a success and said its protocols were effective. By way of example, it said that a passenger had tested positive at embarkation and, as a result, he and his traveling party, and other passengers who had traveled in the van with him to the pier, were all denied boarding.

As far as travel advisors are concerned, the way MSC handled the violation was not only the absolute right way to do it but the only way to ensure a successful industry restart.

"Good! This is the only way any of this is going to work -- if everyone follows the policies and rules set forth by the cruise lines and if the cruise lines are actively enforcing them," Judi Laplante, founder and managing partner at It's All About the Mouse Travel, said in Travel Weekly's Facebook post about MSC's decision.

Laplante wasn't alone. Grant Hartley of Hart Travel posted that "Passengers need to realize the cruise companies are serious and not just paying lip service to sailing safely. It is the only way to rebuild confidence and get people cruising again. Good on them."

And Laura Harkless Varnau, owner of Occasions Travel Advisors, posted, "Great job! People need to see that they're not messing around."

In a follow-up conversation, Laplante said that "as an agency owner, I am obviously passionate about cruising again and traveling. I just want suppliers and guests to obey and enforce the rules so we all can get back to doing things we love."

Having traveled to Walt Disney World during its reopening week, she said she was able to see first-hand how well they handled their Covid-19 policies, and she said guests were doing a great job following them.

"It's very nice to see suppliers and guests working together like this," she said.  

The new world of cruising will not appeal to everyone -- many travelers simply won't take a cruise if they can't wander freely during a port call. But if cruising is going to resume service during a pandemic, passengers will have to commit to the protocols in place. 

And not everyone minds the "protected shore visits," as MSC is calling its excursions. It said that many were sold out.

This report was updated with new information from MSC on the cruise and its protocols.

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