April 11, 2003
Both Carnival and Princess have each introduced fleetwide procedures that essentially aim to weed out any passengers -- regardless of itinerary -- who may have traveled through, or made contact with people in, the key areas affected by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). These are, at present, Hong Kong, Singapore, Guandong Province, and/or Hanoi. Says Princess spokeswoman Julie Benson, "the illness has taken on such importance in the public health domain that we are looking at all of our ships." First, it must be said that no cruise line contacted by Cruise Critic is reporting any incidence of SARS and sources at these -- and other companies -- say that any new procedures are entirely preventative in nature. In Princess' case, it requires passengers to answer a simple two-question form asking whether travelers have stayed in Hong Kong, Singapore, Guandong Province, or Hanoi and whether they've transited through any airport in those areas within the past ten days. Answering yes to either question means the passenger will be denied boarding until the traveler has undergone a ten-day incubation period (similar to that employed on its Regal Princess, which is currently sailing in Asian waters). Because, in most cases, Princess' voyages fall in the week-long range, that means the traveler will miss-the-boat. Princess says it will pick up costs of airfare home, any necessary travel expenses, and provide a full refund (no penalties) or help with rebooking. Carnival's plan is pretty similar. Like Princess, all passengers waiting to board will be asked to fill out a two part form. But in this case the questions -- and the potential action -- vary slightly. Those who respond affirmatively to traveling -- within ten days -- to one of the four SARS-related hot spots, and/or have had personal contact within the past ten days with a SARS-diagnosed individual, will be denied boarding. There's another component to Carnival's plan; those who aren't impacted by the first two questions but who admit to personal contact with an individual who has traveled within the past 10 days to one of the SARS-related countries will be asked to meet with a Carnival nurse who will ask further questions and then make an evaluation. According to Carnival's web site, "those guests will be allowed to board the vessel solely at the discretion of the ship's medical professionals." If not permitted to board, they, too, will receive airfare home and a full refund. Norwegian Cruise Line is also carefully monitoring passengers flying in from impacted areas but says that only those international travelers will be exposed to any kind of questioning process. An NCL spokeswoman says it will identify passengers who are potentially at risk via Immigration and Naturalization lists. Benson says to date the program, which began last weekend, has yielded no passengers with symptoms but she does warn those who might be tempted to fib: "We have actually increased our passenger and crew health surveillance particularly in terms of respiratory illness. If you are actively symptomatic it's very apparent that you are ill." Adds Benson, "extra vigilance will be a factor in the safety of all our passengers."