Gambling, pampering and many of the other vices of cruise passengers have been taken off the itinerary, as Explorer Dream becomes the first ship to return to the South China Sea

Taiwan welcomed back its first cruise passengers this week since the coronavirus pandemic brought the industry to an abrupt standstill.

900 guests were present to sail out of the port of Keelung on the Explorer Dream, according to Reuters. Social distancing measures mean this voyage a little over a third normal capacity – though there appears to be no shortage of demand. The company is offering travel-starved tourists their first 'overseas' trips in almost half a year, with itineraries to the islands of Penghu, Quemoy and Matsu.

"I don't worry about the epidemic too much, because I think it is pretty safe in Taiwan," one guest told Reuters reporters.

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"Due to the coronavirus, we can't go abroad but I still feel like travelling, so I signed up for the island-hopping trip."

Hygeine stations and social distancing provide a very different experience for cruise passengers and crew. Photo / Supplied
Hygeine stations and social distancing provide a very different experience for cruise passengers and crew. Photo / Supplied

Crew is also reduced, at just 500-strong all workers have had to quarantine for three weeks prior to sailing. With on-board casinos and spas shut, and reduced capacity one might imagine the ship would feel empty. However, much of that space has either been cordoned off or reclaimed for isolation wards.

There are 22 Covid-19 wards separated from other passengers to isolate crew or passengers falling ill.

What Genting describes as "enhanced hygiene practices for guest cabins and crew member quarters" and a dining arrangements dubbed "Flexi-Feast" has meant passengers are spread out throughout the ship to avoid bottlenecks and crowding in certain areas.

The ship experience has been designed to give comfort of mind to passengers much like the new designation devised by risk management agency DNV GL, which helped oversee many of the changes.

"Certification in Infection Prevention (CIP) for the Marine industry (CIP-M) and Explorer Dream is the first cruise ship in the world to receive the CIP-M certification," said Kent Zhu, President of Genting Cruise Lines.

"It is a great honour for Genting Cruise Lines to continue its long and fruitful partnership with Taiwan which began over 20 years ago," said Zhu.

Explorer Dream crew have had to undergo 21 days quarantine and testing before the sailing. Photo / Supplied
Explorer Dream crew have had to undergo 21 days quarantine and testing before the sailing. Photo / Supplied

In a statement the cruise line said the restart had been made possible by "swift and effective handling of the Covid-19 crisis and their foresight in resuming the tourism industry".

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Taiwan had a remarkable success in dealing with the pandemic, recording under 500 cases in a population of 23 million. However the swift action has meant that the country's tourism and cruise industry virtually shut down over night.

Genting Cruises has proposed the next step would be to establish "cruise bubbles" between Taiwan and islands with sufficiently low coronavirus risk. Zhu identified the "outlying islands of Japan" as a logical travel bridge for travel-starved Taiwanese tourists.

At the beginning of the month Songshan Airport in Taipei auctioned 60 tickets on a "flight to nowhere" which were drawn from a lottery of 7000 tourists who couldn't wait to get back on a plane.