(updated 1:30 p.m. EST) -- SeaDream Yacht Club cut its voyage short, after a group of five passengers traveling together tested positive for COVID-19. Two more positive cases have also been confirmed, for a total of seven passengers, as well as one crew member.
All of the positive patients have left the ship, either for an isolation center at Harrison Point or flying home by private plane. The crew member is also recovering at the isolation center in Barbados.
Most of the other passengers, who all passed multiple COVID-19 tests and remained negative, have returned home to their respective countrries, mostly through commercial air. The November 14 cruise has been canceled; SeaDream has yet to make an announcement about the rest of the season.
The ship, SeaDream I, was on its first Caribbean cruise since the pandemic caused sailing to cease in March. The line had already had a successful transatlantic sailing, picking up passengers from Oslo, Rotterdam, the U.K. and Funchal, Madeira.
Most of the 53 passengers on the affected cruise had boarded the ship on November 7, although some had stayed on from the ship's transatlantic crossing. The ship had already called at St Vincent, Canouan, the Tobago Cays and Union Island, with trips ashore to empty beaches and for snorkelling in a carefully orchestrated bubble, with no contact allowed with local people.
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Passengers were required to take a COVID-19 test at home before flying to the island and test negative within 72 hours of travel. They then were given another PCR test by the cruise line's ship doctor at the dock before boarding.
Part way through the weeklong voyage, the passenger who tested positive asked for an additional test as they were feeling ill. Subsequent testing turned up a total of five positive tests within a six-person American family group traveling together from the West Coast. Once the tests came back positive, the entire ship was put into quarantine.
The crew were also tested and everyone showed up negative as of November 12. But then a sixth passenger outside the family group tested positive with a ship test that was later confirmed with a subsequent test by the Barbados authorityes, as well as his wife. The rest of the passengers have all had negative results from two tests -- one by the ship's doctor and another by the Barbados authorities.
After a quarantine in their cabins, passengers onboard who continued to test negative for COVID-19 were allowed to leave the ship and fly home on Saturday, November 14.
Cruise Critic had freelance writer Sue Bryant onboard the ship, covering its first sailing back in the Caribbean.
On Wednesday, she sent a message via WhatsApp, telling us about the positive test.
"At the moment, we don’t know what to expect," Bryant wrote. "Meals are being served in the cabins and we should be in Barbados later today.
"The ship’s doctor is testing everybody as we sail. We are all hoping the test was a false positive but what will happen when we reach Barbados, of whether we will all have to isolate there, nobody knows."
She added: "Until now we have felt completely safe."
Since then, Bryant has written a full account of the sailing and how the ship has handled things. Meals were delivered to passengers' cabins, as well as drinks. The captain arranged for people to go out for fresh air (SeaDream I does not have any balcony cabins). The staff even brought by caviar and Champagne, as a morale booster and to replace the signature event that is usually done on a beach.
On November 14, passengers who had tested negative multiple times were allowed to take their regulalry scheduled commercial flights home. Bryant reported that this was on order from the Barbados authorities, who preferred to have the passengers leave the island than quarantine there. While the passengers were transfered to the airport in government-approved vehicles, the subsequent scene at the airport was described as one that did not have adequate social distancing measures in place.
The positive passengers, meanwhile, went to isolation facilities on the island. It has been subsequently reported by Bryant that the original family who tested positive took a private plane back to the United States. The cruise line has confirmed that a crew member tested positive.
It's a sad conclusion to a sailing that the industry was hoping would be a watershed moment for cruising's returrn.
The line instituted a bevy of health protocols onboard before it resumed sailing, and still other requirements were put in place by Barbados.
Testing aside, social distancing was required and tables, chairs, loungers and bar stools were separated. The gym was open but you have to book your slot in advance. Hand sanitiser was everywhere. Temperatures were checked daily and cabins sanitised with UV light every day.
In a controversial decision that might actually keep cases down, SeaDream Yacht Club began requiring passengers and crew to wear masks only on Monday night. Previously, the line had not required masks, because of the frequent testing protocols.
The ship carried 53 passengers onboard and 66 crew, Bryant said. The sailing had a mix of nationalities, including passengers from Austria, Denmark, Germany and Sweden. Ten people are from the United Kingdom; six of those had been on the previous crossing, Bryant said. There are 37 Americans, all of whom embarked the ship in Barbados on November 7.
It's not the first time that SeaDream has had a COVID scare onboard. In Norway, the line had to quarantine its ship after a passenger from a previous cruise tested positive, which ended up being a false result. None of the subsequent passengers ended up getting the virus, and the line finished a successful season in Scandinavia.
Cruise Critic is covering this developing story and will update with more news as it comes out.