Can a gay cruise keep 4,700 people safe amid COVID?

Published on : Monday, January 17, 2022

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned Americans to avoid travel on cruise ships.

But the tour operator insists that its health protocols are safe enough.

As the Omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to surge onboard cruise ships, forcing several cruise lines to cancel and postpone voyages, Atlantis Events, a gay and lesbian tour operator, is preparing to launch one of its biggest events on Sunday- a 4,700-person Caribbean cruise marking the company’s 30th anniversary.

Even as the pandemic is raging around the world and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a stark warning telling Americans to avoid travel on cruise ships, regardless of their vaccination status, Atlantis insists that its vaccination mandate, testing requirements and health protocols are enough to provide a safe environment for guests throughout the voyage. Many passengers are convinced.

For the hundreds of cruise passengers who contracted the coronavirus on board other ships in recent weeks, many falling ill and spending days in quarantine, their experience couldn’t have been further from the carefree vacation that Mr. Mayer anticipates.

After testing positive, many hoped to isolate in their airy rooms with balconies, but were transferred to basic quarantine facilities some of them without windows and served food that they described as cold and hideous.

For some booked on the anniversary cruise and other Atlantis events, these reports and the Omicron wave of the virus is causing them to reconsider their plans.

But the company’s strict cancellation policy does not offer refunds for changes made within 60 days of departure, forcing guests to weigh health risks against losing thousands of dollars.

Rich Campbell, chief executive officer of Atlantis Events, said that his events company was not able to offer the same flexibility as billion-dollar cruise lines, which have many fleets and sailings to transfer bookings, and the financial resources to offer refunds.

Out of the 2,700 rooms sold, Mr. Campbell said only 35 have been canceled since Jan. 1.

For guests who cannot travel because of government restrictions or lockdowns, Atlantis is showing more flexibility and issuing credits for future cruises, Mr. Campbell said.

Because of the fast-changing circumstances of the pandemic, he said, the company is approaching cancellation requests on a case-by-case basis and trying to accommodate as many people as possible.

Before the pandemic, Atlantic Events hosted more than 25,000 guests each year, organizing specialty gay and lesbian events on cruise ships and resorts around the world.

Last year it was forced to cancel or postpone several events, including its 30th anniversary cruise.

While the company does not offer refunds, it says that the health and safety of its guests is a top priority and it will be enforcing Royal Caribbean’s health and safety protocols, which includes a mask mandate indoors except while eating and drinking and in crowded spaces outdoors.

Royal Caribbean officials say that while the Omicron variant has driven up cases on board its ships in recent weeks, most infections have been mild and have not resulted in severe illness.

Still, with a growing number of crew members and passengers contracting the virus, the cruise line, like other cruise companies, has canceled several voyages this month in what it said was “an abundance of caution” as a result of “ongoing COVID-related circumstances.”

Passengers booked on the Atlantis cruise are closely watching the Celebrity Millennium cruise ship, which was chartered by another L.G.B.T travel company this week for a seven-night Caribbean cruise.

The capacity for that ship is much smaller, at 2,218 passengers, but coronavirus cases have been reported to the C.D.C. and reached their threshold for an investigation.

Mr. Campbell, the Atlantis chief executive, says that while the 30th anniversary cruise will be a big event for the company, it will be more restricted compared to previous years.

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