MSC Cruises' protocols: Guests ashore must be on the line's own excursions

MSC Cruises is the latest line to detail its sanitation and safety protocols, but it was the first to add a very specific restriction: guests going ashore at ports of call can only do so on an MSC-approved shore excursion.

"Our approach has been holistic," MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato said during a media briefing.

For now, the protocols aren't immediately applicable to U.S. guests: The line hopes to start Mediterranean cruises this summer on two ships, the MSC Grandiosa and the MSC Magnifica, and those itineraries will only be open to residents of Europe's Schengen Zone.

Still, MSC's plans provide a glimpse of what might be offered for U.S. passengers on closer-to-home itineraries.

The line said the shore excursion requirement would "meets the appropriate standards of health and hygiene, ensuring that transfers are properly sanitized, tour guides and drivers are wearing PPE, and venues and sites to be visited are pre-screened to ensure there are reserved areas for MSC Cruises guests."

Its planned itineraries include Greece and Malta, where MSC said authorities "have approved the health and safety protocol to support MSC Cruises' restart of operations."

Itineraries have been designed according to the accessibility of ports and are planned to reduce, when possible, the need for passengers to make use of public transportation or flights.

MSC's plans to "prevent and mitigate" the risk of transmitting Covid-19 among passengers also include the requirement of  a negative test for Covid taken within 72 hours of joining the ship; the use of hospital-grade disinfectant products and UV-C light technology onboard to clean surfaces and the air; a reduced ship capacity to 70% and required social distancing; enhanced medical facilities; and ongoing temperature checks and health monitoring of passengers and crew. A response plan will be in place if a suspected case is identified.

It's also introducing an insurance plan. MSC said its Covid-19 Protection plan would cover a guest if they became infected prior to their departure and are unable to travel and would also cover onboard medical expenses after the cruise begins, should a passenger fall ill. It said the plan, too, is currently only available to passengers in the Schengen Zone, and encouraged passengers to also get complementary travel and health insurance coverage.

A redesigned embarkation procedure, with specific check-in timeslots, aims to reduce interpersonal contact. And passengers on the Grandiosa will be provided with an MSC for Me wristband that would facilitate transactions onboard and enable contact and proximity tracing, the line said.

The onboard experience is being altered in to provide passengers with entertainment, childcare and dining options but with social distance and safety in mind.

Onorato said the protocols were taken in order to preserve the essence of the traditional cruise experience. "Our new procedures designed to protect the health and safety of our guests and crew, but we have worked hard to still offer an enjoyable and rich experience as MSC Cruises has always done," he said.

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