SeaDream Yacht Club became the first luxury cruise line to resume cruises to the Caribbean when it sailed the 112-passenger – 95-crew SeaDream I out of Barbados yesterday. The ship has 52 guests aboard this weekend.

The popular Cruise Radio blog wrote about SeaDream in an article published earlier last week when it discussed the company’s new health and safety protocols. Cruise Radio explained that guests are required to post a negative test for COVID-19 before flying to Barbados. Some guests from certain countries, “likely including the U.S. due to high infection rates,” will be tested again on arrival. The guests will then be subject to a touchless temperature probe before embarking the ship and daily temperature-taking for the duration of the cruise. Passengers will then be tested four days after the ship sails.  SeaDream is offering cruises as long as 28 days, far in excess of the 7 day maximum limit mandated for ships with over 250 people by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). SeaDream has also installed new “ultrasonic” machines which are used to disinfect common areas and cabins to what is described as  “a hospital-grade level.”

But I was alarmed to read that SeaDream is not requiring the wearing of masks aboard the ship by either its crew or guests on the ship. Cruise Radio wrote:

” . . . company officials say masks will not be required to be worn on the yacht, thanks to the extensive pre-departure testing designed to create a negative ‘bubble.’”

I commented on Twitter:

On Saturday, travel writer Gene Sloan, who hosts the popular Points Guy site, tweeted photographs which he took while boarding the SeaDream I. He wrote about the experience of sailing on the ship’s very first sailing in the Caribbean, which he characterized as a “watershed moment” for the cruise industry.

The photos show Mr. Sloan wearing a mask but crew members are not. Cruise Radio accurately commented on the no-mask policy as “irresponsible.”

Over twenty other notable travel writers, cruise bloggers, travel agents and cruise fans commented on Cruise Radio’s post, including the Cruise Guy (“Gotta be kidding! EVERYONE on #cruise ship should be wearing masks! . . . @SeaDreamYC not requiring cruise passengers and crew to wear a mask right now is ludicrous! Come on, man!”), Gary Bembridge (“The protocols by various regions and mainstream lines have masks / face coverings as part of the resumption so far, mirroring the case on land”), Wave Journey (” No masks = irresponsible, and a HELL NO from us!”), Adventures w/Chris (“Seems to go against everything the other cruise lines doing. I know you test negative multiple times to cruise but the fact that CDC  wants masks on everyone this has a chance to blow away everything the industry has done to show they take it seriously . . . “), CruiseWriter (“The CEOs of cruise lines have emphasized taking the common sense precautions. The sooner that happens, the sooner we are all cruising!! As falsely accused petri dishes, cruise lines are under the microscope. As much as we hate that ignorant implication, we all need to comply!”), and @EatSleepCruise (“We are shocked the cruise line does not require staff and passengers to wear masks!”)

Other comments include:

“Wow that is mind-boggling. I hate masks as much as the next person but I know a negative test is not always 100% accurate unfortunately.”

“. . . I watched a couple other travel bloggers on this ship last week and I was appalled that no one had a mask.”

“No masks is a deal-breaker for us. Testing is not accurate enough yet to know that a negative test is 100%.”

“. . . why aren’t the wait staff and employees wearing mask? We all desperately want cursing back, but if things are going to go like they appear in the pics it’s likely disastrous for this industry even more then they are now.”

You can read several other dozen comments here.

Travel writer Dave Monk (ShipMonk) responded to the controversy. He suggested that crew members are suppose to wear masks at the terminal but are not required to do so on the ship. SeaDream also claims that its health protocols are vetted by the Barbados government, and its “medical advisors are aligned with CDC rules, the Healthy Sail Plan, and CLIA’s protocols.”

But this is hardly true. The CDC guidelines clearly require wearing of masks, on cruise ships carrying over 250 people or more. But the CDC’s conditional sail order does not apply as the SeaDream I is not calling on U.S. ports, and the CDC has no jurisdiction, which is the real point here. SeaDream does not require the wearing of masks because it is not subject to any requirement to do so.

The Healthy Sail recommended protocols, which have been adopted by CLIA, envision layered protocols which include testing, mandatory masks and social distancing at a minimum. The reality is that there will be false negative results with any testing protocol, which makes mask wearing and social distancing even more important.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA chairman and co-chair of the joint Royal Caribbean-NCL Healthy Sail panel appeared on Face the Nation, where he again advocated the wearing of masks. Dr. Gottlieb said: “. . . you need to take a layered approach. Testing alone can’t create a safe environment, a protective bubble . . .”

A fundamental part of President-elect Biden’s transition COVID-19 plan is to work with mayors and local health authorities to implement mask mandates nationwide. President-elect Biden will continue to call on “every American to wear a mask when they are around people outside their household.”

The wearing of a mask in public is a sign of caring for others rather than just for yourself.

SeaDream’s no-mask policy is a shocking display of ignorance, which places its guests and crew needlessly at risk for potentially contracting COVID-19. I predict that the company will quickly change its policy, failing which it will continue to face public ridicule and scorn on social media.

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November 9, 2020 Update: As a reader of our Facebook page said: “It’s the same old story – once you are outside US Jurisdiction they can do what they please. 😢

November 10, 2020 Update: ShipMonk updated his article and says that SeaDream “ has updated its protocols to require guests and crew to use masks on board if they are unable to socially distance.”  YouTube cruise bloggers Ben & David commented on SeaDream’s new mask policy and tweeted a photo of a letter from the company:

It seems that there is some drama taking place on the SeaDream 1. As reported by the Gene Sloan, the Points Guy, today:

“Many passengers are angry at SeaDream because of the tightened mask-wearing mandate. One passenger on Tuesday blew up at me, too, suggesting that SeaDream had changed its mask-wearing rule due to my presence on board. A SeaDream representative told me that was not the case.

Quite a few passengers on board this sailing have told me they signed up for this trip specifically because they were told they wouldn’t have to wear a mask, and they said they wouldn’t have taken the trip if they had known a mask-wearing requirement was coming.”

November 11, 2020 Update: Predictable. COVID-19 Breaks Out During “Watershed” SeaDream Cruise.

Photos credit: SeaDream I crew, without masks and, later, with masks  – Gene Sloan