‘Safe Cruise’ Program in place for Spirit of Baltimore - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

‘Safe Cruise’ Program in place for Spirit of Baltimore

The Spirit of Baltimore sails against the backdrop of Baltimore's beautiful Inner Harbor. (courtesy Hornblower Cruises and Events)

The Spirit of Baltimore sailing at night against the backdrop of Baltimore’s beautiful Inner Harbor. (courtesy Hornblower Cruises and Events)

BALTIMORE — With summer weather here at last and pandemic restrictions on the wane, many Marylander’s are looking for safe entertainment options which combine exhilaration with a breath of fresh air. One such option – a turn about Charm City’s waterfront aboard the Spirit of Baltimore – is once again in the offing thanks a new safety program which has been put into place by the ship’s parent company, Hornblower Cruises and Events. The line – which also operates similar pleasure vessels in Philadelphia, New York and San Diego — is sailing ahead with an effort fittingly called “Safe Cruise.”

The company says:

To provide reassurance in the current pandemic environment, we have expanded already stringent sanitation processes to incorporate further health-driven measures to guard against the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses. This includes:

• Mandatory daily crew member health screening, and wearing of appropriate PPE
• Revising boarding and ticketing procedures to allow for social distancing and touchless entry
• Requiring guests to wear face masks while cruising, except while eating and drinking
• Reducing the number of guests on board, and adapting all seating and table spacing to allow for a minimum 6-foot distance between guests while they cruise
• Implementing enhanced sanitation and disinfection procedures, with hand sanitizing stations available throughout

“Everyone wants to be safe as we start to get out and about, but we believe it’s just a good thing for folks to be able to go do something different in addition to the normal routine that they’ve been doing over the past three months,” said Chad Barth – General Manager of Hornblower Cruises and Events here in Baltimore.

Barth said, like every other “Non-essential business” in the state of Maryland, the Spirit of Baltimore has been idle since mid-March.

What has such a prolonged mooring cost the company?

“We cruise year-round, but the spring is really our peak season. We host a lot prom and graduation events, which of course didn’t happen this year. Also school trips and tour groups from outside the area – Pennsylvania, Virginia, and so forth.

“Then the milestone holidays of Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Easter are all traditionally sellout sails for us.

“By this point of the year, we would typically be running our sightseeing tours Wednesday through Sunday – anywhere between three and four times a day – in addition to doing our dining cruises and evening special events.

“So we’ve definitely missed out on quite a bit of revenue.”

Barth said the shutdown also delayed the launch of a larger Spirit of Baltimore II.

“We were going to have a dedication ceremony for that back in April, but the completion of that ship has also been put on hold. Our hope is that we’ll be able to get back underway with that work in the next month or two and still get it into use sometime late summer or early fall.

“But yeah, the lockdown has certainly changed everything that we anticipated to do this year. Of course, this has pretty much been the case for everyone else.”

Locally, the “everyone” Barth alluded to would include convention promoters and Baltimore Orioles games. Foot traffic from these events usually crowd the Inner Harbor — and boost walk-up sales for cruises on the Spirit of Baltimore.

“As far as traffic on an annual basis, we normally average about 100,000 passengers throughout the course of a year,” noted Barth.

ADDRESSING CONCERNS

Even with the absence of such incidental traffic, Barth was able to take the ship out a number of times last weekend. Thanks in part to near-perfect weather, the Spirit of Baltimore had no trouble attracting some 400 passengers – a fair figure considering the presence of protesters in the area.

Barth said concerns over health and physical safety – for both passengers and crew – are at the forefront with management at Hornblower Cruises. Crew members who are reticent to return to work, for example, because of concerns over COVID-19, are encouraged to use their best judgment.

“We recognize the fact that there are going to be crew members that may not feel safe coming back to work right away,” explained Barth. “And that’s okay. There’s no retaliatory aspect of that for us. Hopefully, at some point in time, they’ll be able to rejoin our operation.”

And what of legitimate concerns about crime around the Inner Harbor?

“I can tell you we’ve always had a very good relationship with the officers who police the Inner Harbor,” affirmed Barth. “They know our crew schedule and when we are cruising. That’s not to say that they would always have somebody around when the boat came back. But just knowing that they are aware of when our guests would be in the Inner Harbor area has been very reassuring – regardless of whether we are sailing in the daytime or even when we’ve had our 12 A.M. to 2 A.M. moonlight cruises.”

Spirirt of Baltimore - 2 credit Hornblower Cruises and Events

Spirit of Baltimore (courtesy Hornblower Cruises and Events)

Barth believes that, moving forward, the measured lifting of lockdown restrictions will help the Spirit of Baltimore better serve its clientele.

“For our reopening, we’re just kind of easing back into it,” explained Barth, “doing outdoor (top deck) sightseeing and happy hour cruises three to four times a day. As more people are able to get out, we hope business will continue to pick back up. Then, of course, whenever we can, we’ll get back to offering our dining cruises.

“We’re really looking forward to being a destination in Baltimore once again for those celebrating an anniversary or taking a romantic moonlight cruise. I’m glad to say that our office has been fielding a steady stream of calls, asking when we’d be reopening and what kind of cruises we’ll be offering. We’re anxious, too, but after weathering this pandemic we are determined to make sure that we turn our protocols up one more notch.”

What kind of training have crew members undergone for executing these new protocols?

“Three of us have continued to work to maintain the ships throughout this crisis, so we’ve done additional safety training for some of our hourly crew coming back on board. They’ll have additional training before we get underway, as will everybody going aboard. Of course, wearing masks and gloves will be the order of the day, and we’re trying to encourage cashless payments, just as many of the other restaurants and retail shops are doing.

“Now, on top of those practices, we’re going to have sanitation practices that will be implemented in between each one of the cruises. We’ll sanitize any of those surfaces that guests may interact with – both while boarding and during the cruise.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on having good sanitation practices to go along with our great safety records. And now, as I said, it’s just taking it up to the next level.

“Investing in new sanitation equipment and upping the degree of training is something that we all know we have to do to be successful moving forward.”

Spirit of Baltimore credit Hornblower Cruises and Events

Spirit of Baltimore (courtesy Hornblower Cruises and Events)

We asked Barth if he felt his crew would have sufficient time for clean-ups once the number of trips out begin to increase?

“Yes! We have enough time built into our cruise flips, if you will, to sanitize any of our guests areas. We’ve gone over this very carefully with our planning and we are confident in the approach we are taking.

“The bottom line is we are not going to take any chances. Our entire team’s goal is making sure that everyone feels safe and comfortable out on water aboard this ship.”

Will these reopening cruises be family friendly?

“Oh yeah, absolutely,” assured Barth. “I mean, with the exception of our moonlight cruises or nightlife experiences, we always pride ourselves in offering a family friendly environment.

“A lot of families visit the Inner Harbor, and we find they ask about what kind of cruises we offer. We’ve had people stop us as we were getting the ship ready, asking us when we’re going to start cruising again? They were excited to see our prep work and now we have new passengers standing in line. That’s always a great sign. There’s nothing better than generating that kind of that word of mouth excitement.

“It’s been a stressful time for all of us and I’m glad that we can be a part of the recovery.”


About the author

Anthony C. Hayes

Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A one-time newsboy for the Evening Sun and professional presence at the Washington Herald, Tony's poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore!, Destination Maryland, Magic Octopus Magazine, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Voice of Baltimore, SmartCEO, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. If you notice that his work has been purloined, please let him know. As the Good Book says, "Thou shalt not steal." Contact the author.
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