Dispatch, American Countess christening: Taking 2021’s protocols in stride

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As with everything related to travel in the age of Covid 19, it seems, my first planned river cruise in more than a year couldn't start without a little drama.

Two days before we were to depart, it almost fell apart due to last-minute confusion over whether the American Queen Steamboat Company's new paddlewheeler, the American Countess, met CDC requirements for sailing with no more than 250 people on board.

But the wrinkle was ironed out quickly, and the company on Sunday was able to pull off the christening and launch of the Countess under health and safety protocols with efficiency that has so far has had minimal impact on the guest experience.

American Queen has announced that it will require all passengers to be vaccinated starting with its July cruises -- by that time most of the country is expected to have access to the shots. But passengers on its early sailings need only have proof of a negative Covid-19 test. And the company has made testing as easy as possible, by conducting PCR tests free of charge the day before embarkation at the hotel where guests stay overnight as part of their normal itineraries.

The process was seamless. We arrived in New Orleans Saturday afternoon, checked into the Hilton Riverside, then walked down the hall where Vikand Solutions had representatives waiting to conduct our pre-boarding health screenings and tests.

From there we were able to wander down Bourbon Street and enjoy an evening outdoors in New Orleans, confident that the line had made arrangements to ensure all results would be back in time to sail.

Indeed, when we woke up the next morning, an email was waiting, assuring us our tests had come back clean.

From there, we headed out Sunday morning to the pier where -- save for the fact that we were all masked -- the christening went off much like any other. Initial ceremonies were held indoors, where chairs and tables were set up to help guests maintain some distance.

On board, we found kits with hand sanitizers and masks. And guests and crew were diligent about wearing masks in public spaces when not eating or drinking.

A year ago that might have seemed restrictive. But after a year of social distancing and mask wearing, it hardly seemed odd to continue the practice on the ship.

And when the masks do come off for drinks, dining and lounging on outdoor decks, I have to admit, it's highly reassuring to know that everyone around you had tested negative within 24 hour of boarding.

In fact, the  only thing that really felt different between this sailing and other cruises I have been on prepandemic was the luxury of space afforded by the fact that the first ships heading out are at reduced capacity.

By | Mar 22, 2021