Spirits and confidence were soaring high on board World Dream as the ship casted off from the Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore (MBCCS) on Friday evening, sailing into the Malacca Strait at 50% capacity with some 1,400 excited guests on board.
World Dream—operated by Genting Cruise Lines (GCL)—was one of two ships given green light to resume short sailings as part of Singapore Tourism Board (STB)'s pilot scheme, some eight months since the government suspended calls from cruise ships in mid-March.
But unlike the uncertainty that enveloped the cruise sector at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Singapore's cruise restart in November is defined by pent-up excitement, renewed vigour and an abundance of new health and safety protocols designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
World Dream, prior to its 6 November inaugural sailing in Singapore, had obtained the CruiseSafe Certification from the Singapore Tourism Board and DNV GL, as well as the Certification in Infection Prevention - Maritime (CIP-M) from DNV GL following assessment of the GCL’s infection prevention and control system.
The two certifications are a reflection of the company's longstanding safety culture, as well as the tremendous efforts made to ensure that its cruise ships remain most up-to-date on health and safety protocols in the wake of Covid-19, said Michael Goh, president of Dream Cruises and head of international sales, Genting Cruise Lines.
Safety, stressed Goh, remains a top priority for the cruise line. “Our experience over 27 years has allowed us to implement new health and safety standards not just for our fleet, but for the industry," he said, speaking to Travel Weekly Asia from aboard the inaugural sailing.
“When we launched [the inaugural sailings], 6,000 people were already booked within the first five days—that’s a clear indication of demand. With so many measures taken to safeguard the safety of passengers, we are optimistic of cruising’s potential.”
“It is a remarkable occasion for the cruise and tourism industry, at last, the passport can be used again,” said Goh. “Cruising evokes the sense of a vacation away that travellers cannot get with a traditional staycation in a hotel.”
Safe 'seacation' bubble
A major difference marking the return of cruising in Singapore is the requirement of passengers to undergo Covid-19 testings prior to embarkation.
Passengers first register themselves at any of the multiple stations set up at the cruise terminal, before undertaking the actual antigen rapid test. Following the test, passengers were separated into different zones to wait for the test results. For Travel Weekly Asia, which participated in World Dream's inaugural sailing on November 6, the testing experience was a swift affair of 20 minutes.
Once onboard World Dream, the spaciousness was immediately apparent. In adherence to STB’s mandate for sailings to operate at half the original capacity, this meant the approximate 1,400 passengers—instead of 3,000 pax—literally had free run of the 19-deck ship.
Also, Travel Weekly Asia was told that there were 1,100 crew onboard, which translated to an almost 1-to-1 ratio, in line with Dream Cruises’ pre-Covid standard as well.
One of the many wash stations that automatically dispenses water and soap. Photo Credit: Natalie Joy Lee
Furthermore, the ship has wash stations that automatically dispenses water and soap, sanitising stations outside restaurants, and increased cleaning frequency of high-touch surfaces.
Not only that, World Dream has a dedicated medical centre with its own PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) lab to allow for instant Covid-tests on board, and dedicated isolation wards completely isolated from the rest of ship.
During the two-night inaugural sailing, guests could be seen on the deck enjoying the sea breeze with friends well past 1am, parents with excited children in tow, elderly couples exploring the 19-deck ship after dinner, and late-night owls either at the slot machines or catching a movie on the big screen from their vantage seats across the Lobby on levels six and Desert Bar on level seven. Supper was also possible until 2am at Mixt.
However, mingling onboard is not allowed to take place in groups of more than five, because “whatever standards you see on land, we strictly adhere to onboard,” said Goh. Cruise ambassadors, whose role is to ensure safe distancing requirements are met throughout the entire sailing journey, are recruited to keep up the safety standards.
Notably, a sizeable number of these cruise ambassadors are made up of Singaporeans, as are various other positions on board, a move on GCL’s part to soften the pandemic's blow on job losses in the local economy, said Goh.