Update (August 19, 2020): Both the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 Voyages have been canceled.
After careful consideration and consultation with key partners, Semester at Sea has made the difficult decision to cancel the Spring 2021 Voyage. Due to COVID-19, protocols and directives do not exist to ensure the health and safety of all voyagers, crew, and the communities we visit around the world. We are preparing safe, impactful, and engaging voyages for Fall 2021, Spring 2022, and beyond. We hope you’ll stay in touch and join us in the future. Please contact our team with questions or to discuss your transfer options.
The health and safety of our voyagers and crew are the most important considerations on any Semester at Sea voyage. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are continually monitoring and adjusting our protocols to comply with best practice guidelines and recommendations set by the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, U.S. State Department, International Maritime Organization and the Cruise Line Industry Association. Guidelines and recommendations are continually evolving as the science and knowledge base grows. ISE will continue to adapt and adhere to all applicable policies and regulations as they are solidified and post updates here. Given the dynamic nature of the pandemic and the global response, all information provided here is subject to change.
Will future voyages still happen if travel advisories remain in place?
We are hopeful that by FA21 many of the countries that are currently level 3/4 will be downgraded and will then be viable for travel and inclusion in our itineraries.
How are you handling future itinerary planning?
COVID-19 isn't going away... how can I be sure future voyages will be safe?
It will take time for the world to continue adapting to our new reality of living with COVID-19 and for the best practices for preventing and treating the disease to be refined. This is one reason why Semester at Sea has chosen to cancel two voyages. Our staff will be planning and bench-marking off of best practices identified in higher education, the travel industry as a whole, and the cruise industry specifically. Semester at Sea is uniquely situated as a member of each of these industries and relies on expertise from each of them to help guide our health and safety decision-making.
During the voyage, all public areas and surfaces will be disinfected multiple times a day by our dedicated crew.
In April, the World Odyssey ventilation systems will be upgraded to allow constant fresh air exchange, minimizing recirculated air. Air filters will also be installed to increase filtration of airborne particles, including viruses and bacteria.
As a ship-based program, Semester at Sea is accountable to full compliance with all policies and guidelines set forth by the International Maritime Organization. By the time SAS sails again, we anticipate ship-based travel will be well underway worldwide and best practices for preventing and responding to COVID-19 will be more fine-tuned with practices that are proven effective.
Will masks be required on future voyages?
Wearing masks will be mandatory when not outside on the decks, in your cabin, or eating in the restaurants.
What are the medical services and capabilities like on the ship?
Trained Medical Staff
One of the great parts about studying abroad with Semester at Sea is that you travel with a team of U.S. licensed health professionals ready to support you 24/7 no matter where you are in the world.
While sailing, the clinic is staffed by two MDs, two nurses, and two additional high-level medical providers (MD, DO, PA, or NP). There is a provider call system in place, so help is always available. In addition, Semester at Sea has made the decision to add 1 additional physician to the medical team onboard to manage the coronavirus prevention, testing and treatment protocols.
The clinic aboard the MV World Odyssey is staffed with U.S. licensed health professionals and is equipped to handle common emergencies, urgent cases, & provide short-term follow-up for exacerbation of chronic conditions. The facility is most consistent with that of an urgent care clinic in the United States or Europe. We are capable of stabilizing voyagers with severe respiratory distress, including that seen with COVID-19. This includes oxygenation, intubation, and ventilation with a transport ventilator before an emergency evacuation is commenced.
Going forward, the medical clinic will have improved and enhanced medical equipment and PPE for treating critically ill patients with COVID-19 or other serious illnesses. The clinic will be redesigned to separate and treat those passengers with suspected infectious diseases from those without.
The clinic is not established to take the place of a primary care provider & participants are instructed to bring ample supplies of the home medications with instructions for appropriate use for the entire voyage. If evolving medical conditions cannot be adequately addressed at the clinic, we work with numerous health care partners to meet the medical needs of the voyager in port. Occasionally, there are emergent needs that require a voyager to return home for additional medical care to ensure their safe recovery.
In cases requiring advanced and/or emergent medical attention, the onboard health team works closely with our international crisis management partners to determine the most viable course of action (including helicopter evacuation.)
How will the medical screening process work in the future? What if I'm at high risk for severe illness from COVID?
All voyagers must visit their primary care physician and complete a health history form within six months of embarkation. Each health history form is reviewed by our medical staff on an individual and confidential basis and follow-ups are conducted as required.
Acceptance to sail with Semester at Sea is made on an individual, case-by-case basis. ISE does reserve the right to deny participation to any individual deemed too high-risk to sail for their own good or the good of the shipboard community.
Individuals in COVID-19 high-risk categories (such as age 70 or older, immunocompromised, or those with chronic diseases such as heart, lung, liver, or kidney disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, or cancer) are encouraged to apply for future voyages. These individuals, however, will require a higher level of screening by our medical team and will need current documentation from their private physician regarding their ability to travel.
During the voyage, all participants should anticipate additional and frequent screenings and testing according to the best practices for prevention and treatment available at the time.
Can we/will we test every participant before they get on the ship?
The World Odyssey will have COVID-19 testing capabilities on the ship, and all voyagers and crew will be tested prior to boarding and multiple times throughout the voyage.
In addition, all voyagers and crew will have their temperature taken every day while at sea and ALL individuals boarding the ship, including passengers, crew, vendors, immigration officials, etc. will be screened for symptoms consistent with COVID-19 (or other infectious diseases) and have their temperature taken upon boarding.
SAS will continue to monitor this evolution and adapt the program accordingly as required (without compromising our commitment to our mission!)
What if someone tests positive onboard?
When possible, “Cabin Calls” will be made by the medical team to evaluate and treat passengers with fever and/or significant respiratory illnesses in their cabin, to limit spread of infections.
Semester at Sea has dedicated at minimum 9 cabins (1 cabin per 100 persons onboard) to isolate voyagers or crew suspected of having COVID-19.
At present, the protocol will be to isolate the infected individual and test/ isolate anyone else who has been in contact with the individual. (The future programmatic structure may need to look different than past voyages to help establish a structure that allows for more effective contact tracing.)
The World Odyssey will have thorough debarkation scenarios in place for individuals with COVID-19 that require a higher level of care to ensure rapid and safe transfer from the ship and travel transport home, if necessary.
There is a chance that if one person tests positive, the entire ship would require a quarantine period before being allowed into the next port of call. Each country has their own unique entry requirements and the details of what the quarantine would look like will be entirely depending on the specifics of the situation (and the WHO and CDC guidelines for quarantine at the time.)
The Academic staff and faculty are committed to working with students to fulfill their academic coursework regardless of any quarantine or other voyage alteration.
We can assure there are more than adequate resources to respond to emergencies, including COVID-19, for extended periods of time at sea. This includes fuel, food/potable water, and relevant personal protective equipment.
What will the SAS-provided travel insurance cover related to COVID?
Treatment for pandemic-related illness is covered on the medical side (doctor visits, medication, hospitalization, medical evacuation, etc.)
The policy Semester at Sea provides through Cultural Insurance Services International has two components: medical and security. While services deemed medically-necessary ARE covered, security evacuation for fear of catching a pandemic/epidemic illness is NOT covered. This is not a covered occurrence under the benefit due to the exclusion for endemic or epidemic diseases or global pandemic disease (this is not just this case for this policy — most insurance carriers do not consider it something that is insurable, at least not at this time.)
Voyagers are encouraged to read the full policy and consider purchasing additional coverage for items not included (for example, trip interruption/ cancellation if desired.)
The provided travel insurance will cover Covid-19 testing as long as the individual being tested is experiencing symptoms or has been exposed to someone with Covid-19. There is no limit on the number of times someone can be tested (as long as they are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to someone with Covid-19.)
Are there medical facilities in each port that can treat COVID-19 should I acquire it during the voyage?
Through our contract with CISI (Cultural Insurance Services International), Semester at Sea receives medical capability briefings for each country prior to arrival from AXA Assistance. These briefings provide lists of preferred medical facilities that indicate they have been vetted by their local representatives to provide quality and reliable care. These preferred facilities also have an established direct-bill arrangement with AXA to assist with prompt care and logistical response.
In the event that on-site medical care does not meet the needs of an individual (related to COVID-19 or otherwise), AXA would coordinate a transfer to another facility that can meet the needs.
How do we anticipate future voyages will look different?
While we can’t predict the trajectory of this pandemic nor how the science will evolve to inform decision-making, we can all assume that the next SAS voyage WILL look different than past voyages.
One of the reasons SAS has decided to cancel two voyages is to allow time for the best practices in prevention and treatment to become more fine-tuned and proven effective. We will be closely following lessons-learned as other organizations in higher education, travel/study abroad, and the cruise industry navigate restarting.
Even in the presence of a potential vaccine, we are planning for the following:
- The capacity of the ship will be reduced to a smaller number than normal to allow for appropriate social distancing.
- Social distancing will be very important at all times when on the ship so capacity in all public spaces and rooms will be reduced to allow for a minimum of 1.5 meters/5 feet of social distancing.
- There will be required and ongoing education and training of all crew and passengers regarding signs and symptoms of significant illnesses, reporting them in a timely manner, and how to prevent and reduce the spread of illness.
- Food will be served by restaurant crew to voyagers from behind the buffet to limit contact with utensils.
- Dining hall tables will be spaced for proper social distancing.
- It is most likely that meal seating times will be assigned to voyagers.
- The World Odyssey has ample outdoor dining options which will be utilized as much as possible.
- Field Programs and Field Classes will be carefully planned with approved Tour Operators to ensure safe protocols are in place in each port including hygiene, mask wearing, social distancing and venue/activity planning.
- The potential for modifications to the program structure to allow for more effective contact tracing and exposure management.
As evidenced by our decision to cancel two voyages, ISE is committed to running a program that exceeds health and safety standards AND stays true to our mission. SAS will sail again. It will look different (just as everything in our lives is now looking different), but it will still be the transformative adventure of a lifetime. Semester at Sea is committed to remaining the leader in comparative, international experiential travel.
Examples of initial enhanced COVID-19 preventative protocols (on top of routine best practices) include:
* Future voyage protocols may vary, depending on the state of the virus (and any other public health concerns).