A major intruder was invited this Friday morning on the quays of the port of Dubrovnik (Croatia). " How awful ! Looks like a floating building. Can you imagine if someone is declared positive on board! In the bus that brings them back from an excursion in the old town, cruise passengers are not stingy with comments. They do not embark on the MSC Orchestra, giant of the seas with its 1,275 cabins spread over 12 passenger decks. The ship that awaits them is much more modest ... and much more chic and secure from their point of view. La Belle de l'Adriatique, that's its name, is the first of the French company CroisiEurope to take to sea for many months. Pandemic obliges, the 55 boats of the Strasbourg shipowner who usually sail on the rivers of Europe or along the Mediterranean coasts had to drop anchor,some since March 2020, and their crews have been waiting on land, technically unemployed.
Cruise tourism as a whole has particularly suffered from the pandemic.
According to the estimates of the Protourisme cabinet, the sector lost 40 billion euros in turnover in one year.
The health context remains very fragile and can very quickly disrupt the resumption of activities.
The catastrophic episode of the Diamond Princess, this liner quarantined in Japan in February 2020, where it only took one sick passenger to contaminate 700 others, has left traces.
The risk of seeing boats becoming giant clusters has still not been lifted.
Read also Cruises: after the crisis, a difficult recovery
But aboard the Belle of the Adriatic, which crisscrosses the Croatian coast from Dubrovnik to Split until Thursday, passing through the islands of Mljet, Korcula or the mouths of Kotor in Montenegro, there is no question of letting your vacation spoil. for fear of the virus. Most passengers were looking forward to this trip after seeing their cruise plan, initially scheduled for 2020, postponed for several months. “It feels great,” says Anne-Sophie, 42, IT sales representative in Nantes (Loire-Atlantique), who came with her extended family with her brothers and sisters to celebrate the 70th birthday of their parents Guillemette and Christian. We were first reassured by the human size of the boat. The idea, for us, is to make the most of it and let ourselves be carried away by the navigation program.We have always been very careful about the virus since last year and, as we have not yet been vaccinated with my partner, we continue to do so. This cruise is above all, for us, an important family event and we mainly planned to stay between us. "
85% of passengers vaccinated
Anne-Sophie, her partner Stéphane, her brothers and sisters and "attached parts" are a bit of an exception since 85% of the 150 passengers embarked this week aboard the Belle de l'Adriatique are vaccinated and received their second dose there. Several weeks. All, without exception, also had to present a negative PCR test before they could fly from Paris to Dubrovnik. And their frontal temperature was checked during the first boarding. “The vaccination effect does a lot in the peaceful atmosphere that reigns on board, admit Régine, 71, and her husband Bernard, 77, both retired in Caen (Calvados). We left last September on another cruise, along the Douro in Portugal, and the sanitary restrictions were even more severe.You had to go to a disinfectant footbath and have your temperature checked every time you entered the boat. This time, it's both more relaxed and more reassuring since almost everyone on board is well immunized with two doses of the vaccine. "
On board the boat La Belle de l'Adriatique, meals are taken without too much respect for distance.
LP / Aymeric Renou
As the ship leaves Dubrovnik, offering its passengers a little detour to the setting sun in front of the ramparts of the old town, the aperitif and petits fours served on the upper deck lower the guard of the diners a little.
Masks, which must be worn as soon as you leave your cabin, have an unfortunate tendency to slide from the nose to the chin or even disappear to take refuge in a pocket or a handbag.
The conviviality is at the rendezvous and an air of carefree floats in the conversations, centered on the beauty of the architecture of the old town of Dubrovnik, visited that same morning, and on the a little more relaxed atmosphere which reigns there. in comparison with France.
The morning excursion was indeed an opportunity to release the pressure a little and kick off this long-awaited vacation.
During the visits, it is indeed possible to take off the mask outside as long as a distance is possible.
Another rare pleasure, even unimaginable a few years ago: strolling through the alleys of the old town of Dubrovnik without having to elbow with the usual crowd of tourists from all over the world between ramparts that are struggling to accommodate so many visitors.
"We can't do the police all the time"
The enthusiasm of the local guides, relieved to finally be able to resume their activity after months of famine, does the rest. “While I usually did one to two a day before the pandemic, I have only been able to make 5 or 6 visits to the city since March 2020 and none with groups,” explains Marijana Varezic, 40, a French-speaking guide in Dubrovnik since 2005, Today, I find French tourists and my work. I am smiling and I can look to the future in a much more positive way! All I hope is not to return to the situation and the hard blow of last summer, when the summer season was able to resume but was very quickly interrupted because of the second wave. "
Marijana Varezic, tour guide on a cruise ship excursion in Dubrovnik's Old Town, in front of the Rectors' Palace. LP / Aymeric Renou
This idyllic scene obviously delights the crew of the Belle de l'Adriatique, who are also relieved to finally be able to go to sea. A man is keeping watch on board. For the latter, responsible in particular for the safety of passengers, the announcement of the discovery, Thursday, of two positive cases aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean where everything reminds us that the greatest caution must remain in place. "There is always apprehension," recognizes Georges Avenel, 55, commissioner on board the ship. If that were to happen, it would be a real disaster! We do everything to minimize the risks with an adapted health protocol. All cabins are thoroughly disinfected every day. Wearing a mask is compulsory on board and passengers generally follow the instructions.»It is more difficult to observe the single direction of traffic on board, indicated by small posters near the stairs allowing to go from one bridge to another. “We can't do the police all the time,” Georges Avenel puts into perspective, “because we also have to keep in mind that our passengers are on vacation. We remain vigilant and attentive by reminding them that it is essential to protect themselves so as not to jeopardize the entire cruise. "We remain vigilant and attentive by reminding them that it is essential to protect themselves so as not to jeopardize the entire cruise. "We remain vigilant and attentive by reminding them that it is essential to protect themselves so as not to jeopardize the entire cruise. "
"This return is perhaps a little premature"
The majority of passengers - even those who allow themselves a few brief deviations from the sanitary rules - are on the same wavelength.
Like Marie-Jo and her husband Michel, both 60 years old, nurses in Liège (Belgium).
“Our profession has taught us to always be very careful,” remarks Marie-Jo, “even if we have been vaccinated for a long time.
From a strictly health point of view, this return of cruises is perhaps a little premature.
I might have introduced two services for lunches and dinners because all the tables are occupied and, in terms of distance during meals, the count is not there.
But we must also move forward, bring the whole tourism economy back to market and regain the happiness of a life as before, or almost.
Michel and Marie-Jo, on the left, nurses in Liège, and Christiane and Jean-Luc are enjoying the cruise aboard the Belle de l'Adriatique.
LP / Aymeric Renou
Another area of concern is emerging among some.
The concept of the cruise is not that of staying for a whole week on board the boat, excursions and walks outside are all opportunities and risk to rub against the virus.
This Sunday, the Belle of the Adriatic docks in Sibenik before setting off again towards Split, Hvar and the mouths of Kotor. On the program of this day for its passengers, a new excursion to discover the maze of cobbled streets, the Saint-Jacques cathedral listed as a Unesco heritage or, a little further, the magnificent waterfalls of the Krka river. Enough to push back the deadline for an end of the trip and a return to France that no cruise line passenger wants to hear about for the moment. And the mandatory PCR test to which it will be necessary to undergo, and which all hope negative, before having the authorization to set foot in the Hexagon without having to go through the quarantine box.