What it’s like aboard one of the UK’s first international cruise ships

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(11:15 a.m. BST) – When Marella Cruises returned to international shipping, Marella Discovery set off around the Greek Islands on September 3, 2021 with 600 Britons on board.

I am on the ship’s fourth Greek cruise with around 900 passengers – UK residents only – as it tests the waters with Covid-19 protocols.

We sail from Corfu to Crete, Rhodes and Mykonos with two continental stopovers, for Athens and Olympia, so it’s a cruise in one country.

A number of cruise lines have successfully operated in Greece over the summer, but this is the first line exclusively for UK passengers to restart in Greece.

Here’s what it looks like aboard the Marella Discovery in the Greek Islands.

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Test, test, test

Unlike UK cruises, however, we had to pay for a pre-flight antigen test, one to be done two days before returning, and a two-day CPR test after we got home, which cost £ 125.

Unfortunately my Tui approved supplier Klarity did not get the result for me and several other passengers before the flight from Gatwick at 6:40 am, but I had an NHS test with me which was accepted at check-in, and other tests were available. at the airport.

It was stressful but after that everything went well. The 20 minute transfer took us to the docks where Marella staff inspected boarding passes, passports, proof of double vaccination and passenger tracking forms to allow us to enter Greece.

We did another antigen test and within 10 minutes we were on board. Our cabin cards were in a wallet on the doorknob, reducing the number of people touching them.

Discovery of Marella at the port of Souda in Crete

The Marella Discovery has about half of its 1,900 normal passengers, but that number is expected to rise to 85% by December, when the ship is in the Caribbean.

We must wear masks except in our cabins, on the deck or for eating and drinking and this is strictly enforced as it is EU law. If you don’t have a mask while you walk around the buffet, they will get you one.

Marella Discovery Deborah Stone scans her cabin card at a thermal imaging station

Another EU rule is daily temperature checks or our cabin cards will be suspended. It’s super simple. Thermal screening stations can be used until 4:00 p.m. Simply scan your cabin card and place your head near the screen. Medical staff are automatically alerted if you are over 38 ° C and resume your temperature and provide antigen testing. So far, says hotel manager Danielle Rowley, no one has failed.

So the big difference with overseas cruises rather than the UK is the paid COVID testing and Marella Cruises is aware of the confusion.

“A lateral flow test is required to board the ship but can be checked at your UK departure airport,” a spokesperson said. “We have measures to ensure that all guests are able to continue their vacation as planned. If a guest can show a negative test and is waiting for the certificate, they can continue.”

Marella Discoery Captain Chris Dodds introduces officers and key personnel in the atrium

Chris Hackney, Managing Director of Cruise TUI UK & Ireland, said the company is excited to sail in international waters but adds: “Implementing rigorous and robust COVID protocols has been a top priority to keep guests safe. and the crew, and to allow the return of the international cruise. “

Sanitation, buffets and social distancing

Hand spray is everywhere and a crew member makes sure you apply it before entering a restaurant.

You cannot serve yourself, which is the current practice on all cruise lines today, and you must be seated at a table for waiter service.

The exception is the pool bar on deck 9 with its Grab & Go queue area, and you can grab a ready-made drink from a bar cart – there is no charge on all-inclusive Marella cruises.

Main dining room Marella Discovery 47º with empty tables for social distancing

To maintain social distancing, you can only eat with your travel party, and if there are more than six in your party – or more than two households – you need to go our separate ways.

Elevators are limited to four people or a traveling party, and some seats in bars and lounges have Keep Me Free notices, as does the theater, where you are shown a seat.

Marella Discovery Social Distancing Notice by Main Pool Hot Tub

The outdoor pool is limited to 22 people and another under glass takes 20. For hot tubs it’s two or four from the same travel group. Likewise, the gym is limited to 18, with one-hour reservation slots.

All cruise lines with UK passengers must adhere to UK government guidelines and EU healthy gateways, but in Greece there have never been any restrictions on disembarking without boat trips.

These – and things like the gym or specialty restaurants – can be booked on the ship’s app, Navigate, to reduce queues.

You even watch the safety briefing on the app, then go to the muster station to have your cabin card scanned.

Passenger views

Marella Discovery Claudia and Jonathan Brunyee

Claudia and Jonathon Brunyee from Leeds are on their first cruise as they were unable to spend their vacation in America as planned.

“Wearing masks is painful but it is necessary,” explains Jonathon. “If people aren’t wearing masks, staff are very polite to remind them. Ninety-nine percent of passengers seem to adhere to them.”

Claudia would have liked clearer instructions on whether tests should be done at different ports – we have to take a mid-cruise test before we leave the ship in Mykonos – but she says: “Everything else has been enough. easy.”

Susan and Geoff Brittain, from near Aberystwyth, have booked a large suite so they have plenty of room if they catch Covid, but have been kept awake as more entertainment is held on the open deck above ‘them.

“I understand why they’re doing it. It’s just not good for us,” Geoff says. “They stick to their protocols and are very strict.”

Said Susan: “They are doing everything they can about cleanliness and hygiene.”

The couple flew from Manchester and many passengers said they were not asked to show the antigen test certificates generated by the £ 25 pre-flight test, which they consider “to be” wasted money “.

It’s not that this turns them off and like most passengers, they are delighted to be back on a ship, despite the unavailability of some beers. Just like the crew.

Conclusion

We are now in Mykonos, halfway through the cruise, memories of the stress of the airport quickly fading. I have no complaints about the efficiency and friendliness of the crew.

She is a happy ship and the groups on board are particularly good. But I’m glad there is a video to help us pass our second paid antigen test and I think the cruise line is doing their best to comply with the confusing international travel rules.

It’s a steep learning curve, and like all passengers, I’m just thrilled to be part of it, too.


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