The COVID-19 pandemic seriously hampered cruise ship operations. Given that coronavirus outbreaks did occur on cruise ships and the high risk they pose with semi-enclosed areas, high population density and limited medical resources, the industry is nervous about extending pre-pandemic shore liberties to crew.
There’s only so much cruise ship companies can do about passengers, but they have greater control over crew behaviour. All companies across the world had suspended shore leave for crew through the pandemic, although it is slowly starting to open up, with Carnival Cruise Line leading the way.
Even pre-pandemic, not all staff were able to leave the ship and explore the ports. Maintenance and vital ship functions carry on through the day and night, and guests who decide to stay on board still need food and beverages, room service and housekeeping.
Typically, a roster system ensures everyone has some opportunity or the other to go on shore leave during the duration of their contract. Since the itinerary is repeated regularly, they will have a chance to visit every port at some point in their career on board.
If they are permitted shore leave, cruise ship crew can join excursions organised for them by the company or if there is a last-minute non-refundable cancellation. Most, however, prefer to go it alone – on sightseeing tours or trips. However, it’s important that all crew who go on shore leave return an hour before departure. There can be dire consequences – even termination of employment – if a crew member delays and is left behind.
Most cruise ship crew find it useful to spend their shore leave in what’s often called ‘crew areas’. These are restaurants, bars and pubs that cater to them, offering inexpensive food and alcohol, high-speed internet and a variety of other facilities. Good Wi-Fi is in high demand since crew can spend time catching up with family and friends around the world.
One of the most exciting parts of working on cruise ships is the opportunity to explore different places. Crew often get inside information on secret beaches and hidden gems tucked away from the tourist eye. These are great places to unwind, relax and get away from the constant requirement to cater to guests all the time.
Many cruise ship crew also utilise shore leave to buy gifts for family back home, wire money or send and receive mail. There’s an entire emotion involved in seeing a hand-made card sent by your child or a parcel of birthday wishes from near and dear ones. It also offers you a fun way to surprise your family back home with things as simple as a postcard or a small port souvenir that says you’re thinking of them.
With a dreary two years without shore leave of any sort, cruise ship companies are slowly easing restrictions for shore leave in the wake of the pandemic. Carnival Cruise Line allows all crew members who are fully vaccinated to go out in any port on independent shore leave.
They must adhere to strict rules including staying two metres away from others, washing and sanitising their hands frequently, and monitoring their health after returning to the ship. They have also been advised to stay away from large gatherings and crowds and must wear a face mask if they need to go indoors.
Local health authority protocols are still in force while in port, and shore leave may be restricted depending on prevailing health conditions on board or as required by port authorities.