ROME–When the Costa Deliziosa drops anchor in the northern Italian port of Genoa on Tuesday, it will mark the end of a travel era. The 12-deck cruise ship is the last major passenger vessel on any sea anywhere in the world to make final landfall with passengers after completing a voyage. On Monday, the only other ships at sea still with passengers came into harbor—the MSC Magnifica docked in Marseille, France, and the Pacific Princess docked in Los Angeles.
But, like the other ships, the Deliziosa’s last port of call is important for another reason than just marking the end of cruising as we know it. The ship set sail on Jan. 5, back in a pre-pandemic world, and doesn’t have a single case of COVID-19 onboard among the remaining 1,631 passengers and 900 crew members. For the last two months, since the pandemic all but killed the cruise industry, Deliziosa’s passengers and crew members have been living in a safe bubble. The ship has only been allowed to disembark passengers twice in the last two months, on March 14 in Australia and Monday in Barcelona when more than 400 passengers disembarked.
During the 115-day voyage, that was scheduled to end April 26 in Venice, three people were airlifted off the ship for health reasons, but none of them tested positive for COVID-19, making the vessel one of the safest places on earth right now—at least until it docks. “I want to stay on the ship, it is much safer here,” an Italian passenger named Flavia, who does not want her last name made public, told The Daily Beast by Twitter message. “Imagine stepping onto land after being so safe and getting the virus right away! We have all asked if we could just stay on the ship.”
The Deliziosa visited five continents and seven seas, but most of its 40 scheduled stops across 18 countries were canceled as the virus took hold. Supply stops and technical checks were made offshore, and no one who wasn’t a passenger or crew member was allowed on or off the ship for any reason at all.
Sportswriter Carlos Paya, who got on the ship in Venice, Italy, said it was a “stroke of luck” he and his wife chose the lengthy holiday and escaped the worst of the pandemic. When he finally disembarked in Spain on Monday night, he said it was like stepping into a time warp. “We followed the situation on television, on the news, but the impact on arrival is tremendous. We were in a paradise and we saw that the world was turning into a hell,” he told AFP upon arrival. “My heart sank when I stepped outside in Valencia, the empty streets, without people… in a way it was beautiful, but seeing it like that makes your heart sink.”
The cruise industry has been especially hard hit since the pandemic began, with the most famous ship of them all, the Diamond Princess with its more than 712 COVID patients and nine deaths even garnering its own category on various contagion counters. At least 17 cruise ships have had multiple positive cases since the pandemic began and the Centers for Disease Control issued a “no sail” order and more than 100 passenger-less ships of various sizes are now off U.S. waters with 80,000 crew members who aren’t allowed to disembark. A further 20 ships are docked in U.S. ports with crew members from other countries prohibited from getting off the ships.
Carnival, the world’s largest operator which runs its flagship line as well as Costa Cruises, Holland America Line, and Princess Cruises, has said it needs $6 billion to keep the company afloat until the pandemic is over.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control extended its “no sail” order in the U.S. until the end of the pandemic is eventually declared. Other popular cruise destination countries, including Italy, have also instituted similar restrictions, that will keep the ships anchored for the foreseeable future.