Cruise Lines Pre-screen for H1N1
Written by: Paul Motter
(Saturday, May 2. Los Angeles) All passengers boarding cruise ships are now being be given a questionaire to reveal if they have been in the presence of anyone with the H1N1 flu virus lately. In addition, people who are exhibiting signs of flu symptoms such as sneezing or sniffles will be subjected to special screening before they are allowed to board.
The goal, naturally, is to prevent the flu virus from boarding a cruise ship. In truth, cruise ships have been giving passengers similar questionaires, asking if they have been vomiting or throwing up, for many years now to stop norovirus from coming aboard. But the questionaire now also asks about a cough, runny nose or sore throat.
Passengers exhibiting flu-like symptoms will be evaluated by the cruise line’s medical staff free of charge, but such persons may be denied boarding.
“The cruise industry is taking these proactive steps out of an abundance of caution,” CLIA President Terry Dale said in a statement.
Cruise agents say most passengers are still sailing, especially on Caribbean sailings where the changes have been relatively minor. Such itineraries have dropped Mexico ports like Cozumel, Progresso and Costa Maya and substituted extra days in Key West, Grand Cayman or added ports like Ocho Rios Jamaica.
Michelle fee, CEO of the large nationwide home-based travel agent company, Cruise Planners, said, “For the most part, cruisers with itineraries that have been rerouted to the Caribbean are thankful that the cruise lines are making safety a priority, and still enabling them to enjoy their fun-in-the-sun vacations.”
“Caribbean cruises are not [Mexico] port-intensive cruises,” said Ralph Santisteban, owner of CruiseOne Miami. As a result, consumers are less concerned with the ship’s course, he said.
But West Coast cruising is an entirely different story since that is the source of Mexican Riviera Cruises that usually start in California and sail to Mexican ports Cabo San lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and sometime Acapulco or Ixtapa. While none of the cities above are considered hotbeds of the H1N1 flu outbreak, cruise lines have voluntarily stopped visiting all Mexican ports, leaving West Coast cruisers with itineraries they didn’t expect when they purchased the cruise.
“Travelers who were originally bound for the Mexican Riviera and are now being diverted to ports like San Francisco, Victoria and Seattle, are quite disappointed.” says Fee. That is what CruiseMates readers have told us as well. Most people who have travel scheduled to Mexico even in the next few weeks still want to go there.
All ships that had been sold as Mexico Riviera cruises have had U.S. ports substituted, the most impact being to the newly repositioned 110,000-ton-plus megaships Carnival Splendor and Mariner of the Seas.
Each of these ships only began regular cruises to Mexico in 2009, Mariner having arrived in January and Splendor in March. These two are the largest ships ever to have regularly scheduled cruises on the West Coast were both too large for the Panama Canal and had to circumnavigate South America to relocate to California.
These ships are now both sailing on revised itineraries that include San Francisco, Seattle and Victoria Island in British Columbia.
This itinerary would actually be a boon for people who have never seen these great American cities, much like west coasters who have never seen Philadelphia, New York and Boston. The price is right as well with cruises starting as low as $399 per person. Unfortunately, most Mexico Riviera passengers come from the West Coast and have already seen these cities.
There is also compensation for the people who had already paid for their cruises. “Cruise lines are working overtime to do everything in their power to keep passengers sailing, like offering onboard and future cruise credits,” added Fee. Royal Caribbean is allowing any cruiser booked on Mariner of the Seas a cruise credit or the opportunity to cancel and book a different cruise entirely, for example.
Carnival is offering Splendor passengers a $75 credit or the offer to rebook the cruise on a different cruise anytime through December 31, 2010. The line is specific that refunds will not be given, however. Caribbean cruises missing Cozumel or other Mexican ports only receive a $20 credit but they still have the same generous offer to rebook you on another cruise sailing before end of 2010.
The shorter cruises normally scheduled to go to Ensenada are now going to the island of Catalina west of California only. These three or four-day cruises, skipping Mexican ports Ensenada and sometimes Cabo San Lucas, are giving an onboard spending credit, usually $20 to $30.
“Cruise Planners’ agents have not experienced a notable amount of cancellations due to the outbreak, thankfully. The cruise lines have done a superb job of keeping us up to date, and in turn, our Cruise Planners agents have kept their clients informed and accommodated their needs,” Michelle Fee told us.
Most of the cruise lines plan to return to Mexico cruising as soon as May 10. Some are holding off until June. Naturally, that is a fluid situation as conditions could change at any time. In fact, if anything concern about the virus has lessened in the last few days. It is also notable that the West Coast ports of Cabo, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan have not been hotbeds of viral activity even in Mexico. most of the action has been between the East Coast city of Veracruz and Mexico City in the center.
For the record, here are the latest stats according to a May 2 article in the NY Times:
Worldwide there are still only 615 cases of swine flu confirmed.
Worldwide (including Mexico) only 17 people have died (all in Mexico but 1, but the one toddler in the U.S. who came from Mexico).
There are only 397 CONFIRMED CASES of swine flu in Mexico according to Mexico who has been sending their specimens to US and Canada.
There are only 160 confirmed cases in the United States according to the CDC.
To date only 13 people have been hospitalized with H1N1 in the US, the rest of the cases are SO mild the people are staying home.
I ask you, if this government REALLY believed this was an “eminent pandemic,” as CNN calls it every 15 minutes, would they really allow verified infected carriers to STAY HOME? Only 13 people are hospitalized and only 160 cases are confirmed in the U.S.
I have a hard time calling that an epidemic at all, let alone a world pandemic.
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