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Thursday, August 26, 2021

Are Cruise Lines Being Transparent with the Public About COVID-19 risks of Infection or Required Quarantine?

We aren't sure the risk of traveling on a cruise is worth it right now.  One risk is trip interruption due to becoming exposed to a COVID positive passenger or crew member. But now that the CDEC has updated their guidance about those at high risk, exposure to the virus may be a concern too. One clear example of this risk has been with Carnival. Carnival Cruise Lines is having a difficult time with COVID-19 cases on board its inaugural sailings.  Unfortunately Carnival and the cruise industry is not being transparent about the cases.  

A 77 year-old Carnival Cruise Line passenger died after contracting Covid-19, the company confirmed Tuesday. It is the first reported death since cruises resumed in June in the Caribbean and United States.  Carnival CONFIRMED her death after TEN DAYS.  She was having difficulty breathing in Belize on August 4th, and was removed from the Carnival Vista.  The hospital in Belize demanded $5,000 for ventilator treatment. That was when her family air lifted her back to Oklahoma, where she died on August 14th. Carnival Carnival Cruise Line says that the passenger did not contract the virus on board.  

Cruise companies have a vested interest to not report cases of COVID-19 to the media or to passengers.  While we sailed on Viking Jupiter in Iceland during July, a passenger tested positive for the virus.  As a result, some passengers were quarantined for the remainder of the cruise due to contact tracing.  Viking never told us as passengers, that there was a confirmed COVID case or that other passengers were in quarantine.  In fact, the rumor was circulated that the case was a false positive and was never confirmed.  We suspect that rumor was circulated intentionally.  The Viking Sky, on the same itinerary, three days ahead of us had the entire second half of their cruise cancelled due to a COVID-19 case. 

According to Cruise Law News, the Carnival Vista has continued to have crew testing positive: 26 on the inaugural sailing and 16 on the next sailing.  This is according to anonymous sources. Also a second person from the inaugural cruise was hospitalized in "bad shape".  

Carnival struggled to downplay these positive cases.  The question remains, how safe is cruising and how many cases are not being reported?  Should the companies be required to report these cases? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on August 20th that travelers who are at high risk of severe complications from Covid-19 should avoid taking cruises, regardless of their vaccination status.

The updated guidance also recommended that travelers who are not fully vaccinated avoid taking cruises. 

We’re not fans of laminating our cards because you may need to add information about a booster to it later.  Of course you can use a sandwich bag to protect it, but we prefer a sleeve where the card can be removed and updated if booster shots become recommended in the future. Click the photo below to find these on Amazon:

Carnival's troubles continue

At least eight Carnival Cruise Line guests have tested positive during the first two weeks on the Carnival Mardi Gras‘ sailings. This is a totally different ship and as was the case for the Carnival Vista, Carnival Cruise Line has not disclosed all of these cases or other COVID-19 cases on the ship. Carnival was forced to comment on the death of the Carnival Vista passenger, because the GoFundMe page to help cover medical costs for Marilyn Tackett, the retired Sunday school teacher, age 77, from Oklahoma, gained so much attention. 

A guest of the Mardi Gras' posted on Twitter that he tested positive for COVID-19 when after returning home but had now way of notifying the company.  

Carnival implemented the "Have Fun. Be Safe." COVID-19 guest protocols that were updated earlier this month. All passengers, regardless of vaccination status, must present a negative COVID-19 test result from within three days of embarkation. Unvaccinated guests must take another test prior to embarkation and a third test 24 hours into the voyage if the cruise is longer than four days. AXIOS reported last week that Carnival  announced new mask guidelines, which say that all guests are required to wear masks indoors.

However, Carnival’s COVID protocols state that:

“Vaccinated guests are not required to maintain physical distance on board the ship.

It is recommended that unvaccinated guests maintain physical distancing as follows:

Outdoors – Remain at least 3 feet from others when not wearing a mask and not in your cruise companion group.” From various posts on Twitter and Facebook it appears that those protocols are loosely followed

Thinking of cruising? What can you do?

Good luck if you would like to know how many people infected with COVID-19 from being aboard cruise ships. Clearly you won't be provided that information by the cruise industry.  Fortunately, the CDC is making efforts to inform the public. 

A table on the CDC website, which promises to be updated several times a week, assigns each ship a color status—green, orange, yellow, red or gray. 

The color-coding is based on both surveillance data collected over the previous 7-day period as well as the findings of any CDC investigations. (When cruise ships notify the CDC of a suspected or confirmed case of the virus, the agency determines whether an investigation is needed.) 

  • Green status means the ship has no reports of cases of COVID-19 or COVID-19-like illness.
  • Orange status means the ship has reported cases of COVID-19 but is below the threshold for CDC investigation.
  • Yellow status means the ship has met the threshold for CDC investigation, which includes one of the following criteria:
    • at or above the investigation threshold for crew COVID-19 cases,
    • at or above the investigation threshold for passenger COVID-19 cases; or
    • state or local health department notified CDC of passenger COVID-19 cases occurring within 5 days of disembarkation.
  • Red status means the ship is at or above the threshold for passenger and crew COVID-19 cases. Based on CDC’s investigation, additional public health precautions, such as returning to port immediately or delaying the next voyage, will be taken to help ensure the health and safety of onboard travelers or newly arriving travelers.
  • Gray status means CDC has not reviewed or confirmed the cruise ship operator’s health and safety protocols. This status only applies to cruise ships arriving in, located within, or departing from a port in Florida that chose to not follow the CSO on a voluntary basis.
The major limitation of this system is that it only informs us about cruise ships operating or planning to operate in U.S. waters. For example, we cruised in Iceland during July 2021 on Viking Ocean and data on that line is not available.  Click here to see our series of videos from Iceland on YouTube. 

Click below to check out these combined vaccine card and passport covers at Amazon! You can use them to organize all the documents needed to travel internationally these days! 

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Convenient and Comfortable Oasis in the Middle of Reykjavik: The Konsulat Hotel is the Perfect Base for Exploring Iceland

Iceland was one of the first countries to reopen to tourists after the worldwide pandemic with certain requirements for quarantine or proof of vaccination.  Shortly after the reopening, offers for cruises, land tours and low cost airfares flooded our inbox.  We opted for a Viking Ocean cruise for the itinerary and because Viking had set the bar early on for its COVID-19 precautions. Because of the 4 hour time difference with an overnight flight to Reykjavik, we opted for a comfortable stay in the capital of Iceland prior to boarding our cruise. The Konsulat Hotel met our standards for location, luxury and amenities.

We've stayed at many boutique hotels over the years, some of which have bore witness to absolutely amazing events, like the Southern Hotel in Covington, Louisiana, and Reykjavik Konsulat Hotel, a Curio Collection by Hilton, opened in 2018 and is situated in the oldest part of Reykjavík at the junction of Icelandic history and style. The reconstruction of this building, which in the 19th and 20th century housed a grand department store run by Consul Thomsen and his family, was completed in 2018.

The Sun Voyager sculpture on the Reykjavik waterfront

1. Location

The Reykjavik Konsulat Hotel centrally located in the oldest and most-visited part of Reykjavik. The most beloved attractions, like the Harpa Concert Hall and Hallgrimskirkja church, restaurants and day-tour bus stops are within walking distance. They are next to the popular Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hot dogs (in fact we could see it from our window). Reykjavik is safe and easy to walk.  Reykjavik is located about 45 minutes from the airport and it is possible to take the FlyBus, but we opted for a car service prearranged with Hreyfill

Hallgrimskirkja church

2. Check-in

We were greeted promptly and checked in without difficulty from very accommodating employees wearing masks appropriately. Unfortunately our room was not ready for about 1.5 hours since we arrived early.  The staff told us we could enjoy breakfast in the dining room if we wished, and that was a pleasant place to wait.  Another option was that we could spend time in the indoor bath (geothermal spas are very common in Iceland) and sauna where we could nap or shower if we wished. The entire staff is eager to engage you and tell you about the hotel's history or make you comfortable.  They are proud of the hotel, Iceland reopening and it shows in their enthusiasm. Since it is a Hilton-affiliated property, we were greeted and treated appropriately for our Hilton status. The staff oriented us to the hotel and the surrounding area. The hotel itself had no COVID restrictions such as not providing housekeeping services, and this was a refreshing change from our recent stays in the USA.