While cruising used to be as simple as packing a bathing suit and setting sail, COVID-19 protocols have complicated many travelers’ vacations.
A New Hampshire woman, who had recently recovered from the virus, found that out the hard way when she headed overseas for a two-week cruise.
Kimberly Day’s mother was treating her and her daughters to a May cruise on the Oceania Sirena that they considered the trip of a lifetime.
"It was a 14-day trip around the Mediterranean, stopping in Greece and Cyprus and Israel and a number of other ports," said Day. "We were really excited."
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Around April 21, Day had some symptoms, eventually testing positive for COVID-19 on April 25. By the end of the month, she felt fine, had negative antigen test results and a doctor’s note saying it was OK to travel.
"I immediately began to look at all the paperwork, both electronic paperwork or online websites to see how did they treat recovered people," she explained. "I looked at the CDC guidelines, I spent hours and hours going over everything, and I fit the criteria for a recovered person who has the ability to cruise on the date that I was supposed to get on that ship."
According to Oceania’s policy, all guests needed a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test result from a verified lab taken within 72 hours of arriving at the terminal to board. On-site testing would also be provided and Day assumed she could take an antigen test there.
The CDC website recommends traveling with your positive test result and a doctor’s letter which are considered "documentation of recovery." And, it warns that people can continue to test positive for up to 90 days and not be infectious to others.
Day flew to Turkey with her family to board the cruise ship on May 5, but was turned away.
"I tried to show them my positive test from April and all the information that I had," she said. "Unfortunately, I was denied an antigen test at the port and they requested only a PCR test. And so, since it was more than 10 days from when I originally tested, it was still in my system. So the PCR test tested positive."
Dayhad to quarantine for five days at a hotel in Istanbul and said she couldn’t get in touch with anyone from Oceania over the weekend to discuss her options. She said she eventually heard from the ship concierge that they were awaiting guidance from the Miami corporate office relating to her request to reboard the ship.
So she booked a flight to Israel in the hopes of rejoining her family on the cruise. As she boarded the plane, she said she got word from Oceania that she would not be permitted to get on the ship in Israel.
"I would never have traveled to Tel Aviv if from day one they told me there was not a chance that I could reboard the ship," Day said. "If someone had told me that, I wouldn’t have been happy, but I would have accepted it."
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Day met up with her daughters on a private shore excursion in Israel and then flew home. Her mother was refunded Day’s portion of the trip, but she is still out thousands of dollars she spent on hotels, food and transportation when she couldn’t sail.
A spokesperson for Oceania Cruises tells us:
First and foremost, the guest has received a full refund. Our policies and protocols are clearly stated so that guests can easily follow them.
While the vast majority of our guests gladly embrace and follow our protocols, some guests believe that rules do not apply to them and/or flagrantly and willfully disregard them.
- Our policies clearly state that any guest that tests positive within two weeks prior to travel should contact us and we will provide a future cruise credit or refund.
- All guests are urged to test prior to travel and not to travel to the ship if they test positive.
- All guests were required to provide a negative covid test to enter Turkey and to board the vessel.
- Israel has VERY strict regulations on testing for entry.
- The specific requirements for that voyage were emailed to guests multiple times and placed in the online check-in section of the website.
- “Recovery Certificates” are not accepted in lieu of or to offset a positive test result.
- Our policy about “downline embarkations” has been crystal clear and has not changed since our restart of operations in August 2021 – they’re neither permitted nor accommodated.
- We do not cover costs incurred as a result of guests flagrantly and willfully disregarding covid positive isolation, testing, and return home requirements.
- Guest Relations has been highly engaged with the guest’s travel advisor throughout the entire episode.
- With this response to NBC we will consider the matter closed.
We asked Day what advice she had for travelers who might find themselves in a similar situation.
"Make sure you see what their policy is in terms of if you are denied boarding, are you denied boarding? Is your entire party denied boarding? What are they going to do? What costs are they going to cover?" she said. "Oceania said that they would help with the arrangements, the travel arrangements, and they would also cover the costs. I haven’t seen anything. I have not seen a dime."
Day is waiting to hear if she can recover some of the money she spent through a travel insurance policy.
In the wake of the pandemic, many cruise lines have developed their own individualized requirements for passengers to fulfill. Contact the cruise line before you sail to ask questions about specific policies and scenarios.