“It’s a great emotion, I’m moved to tears, being able to go back on a cruise is like a rebirth for me”, exclaims Roberta Cappelletti, a 60-year-old singer from Predappio (north) just before passing his antigen test to be able to board.
Repeatedly postponed, the departure of this flagship of the Italian group Costa Cruises, number one in Europe, finally took place, around 6.15 p.m., with around 1,500 passengers on board, i.e. a quarter of its theoretical capacity.
This journey in the Mediterranean will last from three to seven days, depending on the formulas, with stopovers on the Italian coast in La Spezia, Civitavecchia, Naples, Messina and Cagliari.
In the boarding terminal that welcomes them in the port of Savona, passengers patiently line up to have their temperature taken, undergo an antigen test and fill out a health form: this is the key to boarding the ship, once all the required criteria have been met.
“I’m absolutely not afraid to go on a cruise, with all these health checks, it’s reassuring, we will be in a ‘Covid free’ bubble, even if zero risk does not exist”, confides smiling, Enrico Bergamini , a 35-year-old bank employee from Genoa.
All of the 1,300 crew members also underwent tests and observed a 14-day quarantine before departure.
Looking like a floating city, the Costa Smeralda, with 11 restaurants, 19 bars, a spa, a theater and several swimming pools, is as long as three football fields.
Arrived on this gigantic boat, the first steps of the tourists are somewhat hesitant, after having passed multiple health checks, then it is the joy of being on vacation that prevails, after so many months of confinement.
“A year and a half without moving is a long time! It was time to leave, the sea, the atmosphere, the view of the landscapes, we missed all that, ”says Jean-Pierre Faux, a 74-year-old retiree who came from Belgium with his wife Martine.
Among the attractions, vacationers discover the Piazza di Spagna, a huge staircase on three bridges with a glass floor that gives a bird’s eye view of the boat and the waves.
“The crew has waited so long for this moment, everyone is enthusiastic about the idea of leaving, the ship is like a family for us”, testifies its captain, Pietro Sinisi, contemplating the view from the top of the bridge. in the port of Savona.
Her last cruise dates back to March 2020: “what I missed were the passengers, a ship without them is a bit sad”.
Stateroom with balcony
After navigating through troubled waters for a year, the global cruise industry hopes to ride the crest of the wave this year, while respecting strict health protocols.
And it is above all a question of turning the page on the traumatic images which have gone around the world showing passengers stuck on board liners wandering from port to port, prohibited from docking for fear of the Covid.
“Cruises were booming before the Covid pandemic, and I am convinced that they will start again after this sad parenthesis”, estimates the boss of Costa Cruises, Mario Zanetti.
Costa, a subsidiary of the American giant Carnival, had returned to sea in September 2020, stopping in Italian ports only, before suspending travel again at the end of December.
Rival MSC resumed cruises in August 2020, interrupted only during the Christmas holidays due to a ban in force in Italy, and has since carried more than 60,000 passengers.
Cruises have left, “under high control”, in Europe, Asia and the South Pacific, carrying between August 2020 and March 2021 around 400,000 passengers, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
To be sheltered from the crowds and enjoy the view of the sea in peace, far from the virus, many passengers have opted for a cabin with a balcony, like Julia Hüll, from Zurich: “there we breathe, we is in our bubble.
Last February, a judicial investigation was opened against Costa Cruises after complaints from passengers on a ship, turned back in March 2020 from Caribbean ports because of Covid-19, of which three cruise passengers subsequently died.