At least seven passengers aboard the first cruise ship to set sail in the Caribbean since the coronavirus pandemic began have tested positive, according to two passengers on the ship.
Ben and David Hewitt-McDonald, who operate a YouTube channel and cruise blog about their sea travels, confirmed to The Daily Beast on Thursday that a ship-wide announcement went out saying five members of a family from the U.S. had been diagnosed with COVID-19 after being tested twice. A few hours later, they said a sixth person had tested positive and at least one person was taken to the hospital.
On Friday morning, the ship’s captain told passengers that the wife of a person who tested positive the night before had also been tested positive.
“The original passenger who tested positive had another two tests along with all family members,” the British couple said. “We are anxious to get off to be honest, we would like to be somewhere with more fresh air and space, to stop any spread of the virus.”
The SeaDream Yacht Club’s cruise ship received their first positive test result on Wednesday, prompting the captain to make an announcement for all guests to return to their rooms to quarantine. The vessel immediately headed back to Barbados from the Grenadines.
The news came just four days into the ship’s seven-day trip. It departed from Barbados on Saturday before making several stops—including Saint Vincent, Canouan Island, Tobago Cays, and Union Island—before it was set to end on Saturday.
Instead, all passengers are now stuck in their rooms as the crew and local authorities in Barbados figure out the best strategy to contain the virus.
“We are really upset because we really felt like the passengers, crew, and cruise line took COVID very seriously yet it still managed to get on board. SeaDream requires double the amount of the tests as the CDC will require going forward,” said the couple, who have been aboard the ship for almost three weeks. “So we ask ourselves is testing the way forward if it can still get onboard such a small ship?”
The trip was the first time SeaDream had resumed its West Indies route since the start of the pandemic, which has killed almost 240,000 Americans. It came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new cruise ship guidance to help an industry paralyzed by the pandemic to resume operations in a phased approach.
In March, cruise ships were banned from sailing in U.S. waters after the CDC issued a no-sail order due to several outbreaks, including on the Diamond Princess and the Grand Princess, where 10 people died and more than 800 tested positive.
The SeaDream had relaunched with extensive testing requirements. Every passenger had to test negative before boarding the ship—and again after boarding. The goal, SeaDream stated in September when announcing their upcoming 22 roundtrip sails from Barbados, was “to create a COVID-19 negative bubble, where guests can relax and enjoy the safety of the ship.”
But, in a Thursday statement issued when the first passenger tested positive, SeaDream Yacht Club stated the ship had paused its voyage “after a guests’ tests for Covid-19 returned assumptive positive results.”
“The ship’s medical staff has tested all crew members and all tests have come back negative. SeaDream is currently retesting all guests,” the statement said.
It’s not the first time the SeaDream, which was one of the first cruise liners to resume service in Europe, has had a COVID-positive passenger. In August, the company said an asymptomatic passenger tested positive after disembarking from SeaDream I in Denmark.
Despite the latest drama, three passengers who spoke to The Daily Beast on Thursday said the quarantine process had been surprisingly rigorous.
Gene Sloan, a cruise writer for The Points Guy, stressed that the ship’s crew had kept passengers informed of developments and had an “extensive” virus plan before the quarantine began.
“The first few days of the trip were pretty normal,” Sloan said. “There were changes on the ship, like social distancing and discouraging passengers from mixing with one another, but overall everything was always sanitized and people were taking it seriously. The passengers on board were really excited to be back cruising.”
He said that everyone was tested multiple times during the trip, and the Hewitt-McDonalds said that there were three PCR rapid testing machines on board that could test nine people per hour. At each location stop, Sloan said passengers were instructed not to interact with locals and were shuttled to empty beaches and resorts.
The Hewitt-McDonalds, who boarded the ship in Portsmouth and have been traveling with the ship on its various voyages, said that 40 new passengers, mostly from the U.S. and Canada, boarded on Saturday.
“We were very shocked with a positive test, after the rigorous pre-cruise actions we had to take we would have thought it almost impossible for COVID to get on the ship,” the couple said.
“Before boarding, we were required to take a full COVID antigen test no longer than 72 hours before boarding. On boarding day in Portsmouth, U.K., the ship’s doctor gave us another rapid PCR test. We also had our oxygen levels and temperature taken. There is hourly cleaning of the ship as well as daily temperature checks.”
Sloan did admit, however, that there was a controversy at the start of the voyage because the ship didn’t require passengers to wear face masks on board. By Monday, after complaints from worried passengers, the policy was changed to include a mask-mandate.
“The ship assumed they could block COVID-19 at the door, you could say,” Sloan added. “But people wanted to be extra careful.”