Cruise reviewer: TA is ‘exercise in annoying bureaucracy that creates anxiety’
The Government’s controversial Travel Authorisation policy has been condemned as “an exercise in annoying bureaucracy that creates anxiety” in a review of a cruise trip to Bermuda.
The review of the trip on board the Celebrity Summit liner from New York, which took place earlier this year, appeared on the Beyond Ships website, which features reviews of cruise ships and their ports of call.
Author Richard Wagner had some positive things to say about the island, noting that, along with beautiful beaches, golf courses and resorts, “it also has an additional element of sophistication”.
He wrote: “The people are polite and there is not the poverty that haunts many of the other islands. The infrastructure has been nicely developed without building cheap tourist traps.
“Overall, it was an enjoyable cruise but it was not without its problems.”
Mr Wagner went on to describe the frustrations and anxieties he and fellow passengers felt when waiting to have Travel Authorisation applications confirmed.
He questioned why the form was necessary in the first place, as it provided no additional level of testing than was already required by the cruise company.
He added that many passengers had found the process so stressful — with forms only being approved at the last minute — that they vowed never to return to the island.
Mr Wagner wrote: “Bermuda requires people coming to the island to obtain a travel authorisation from the Bermuda Government.
“To obtain such an authorisation, cruise ship passengers on cruises going directly to Bermuda must take a Covid test two days before embarkation and send proof of a negative result to the Bermuda Government.
“Once the government receives the proof, it processes the application and sends the passenger a travel authorisation. A $40 fee is charged. All of this is done online.
“Inasmuch as Celebrity already required that passengers take a supervised antigen test two days before embarking, the Bermuda requirement did not involve any additional testing. Seemingly, all one had to do was send a copy of the results from the test mandated by Celebrity to the Bermuda Government.
“Since you cannot even board a cruise ship bound for Bermuda without receiving an authorisation from Bermuda, passengers are left on tenterhooks until they hear back from Bermuda. Judging from both this cruise and our cruise to Bermuda last fall, Bermuda has difficulties processing these applications in a timely fashion.
“I sent in my test results as soon as I obtained them and received a reply that my application was fully submitted and was being reviewed. I checked the Bermuda website the next day and the status was still the same.
“I sent an e-mail to the Bermuda Government pointing out that I needed the authorisation as I was sailing the next day. No response.
“My travel agent was told by Celebrity that there would be people at the cruise terminal to help people who had not received their authorisations. However, that meant that up until the day of sailing, I would be unsure whether I would even be going on this cruise.
“In the predawn hours of embarkation day, I received a ‘provisional authorisation’, which would allow me to board the ship but not to disembark in Bermuda. It indicated that further review would be done by the Bermuda authorities.
“When I arrived at the cruise terminal, I found that there were two lines at the entrance. One for people who had received a provisional authorisation and one for people who had not received anything. The second line was much longer.“
After he had boarded, Mr Wagner said he was told that Bermuda officials on board the Summit would review all TA forms.
He said: “I received no notification that day or during the sea day as we sailed to Bermuda. I asked again and was told that the on-board review would take place soon.
“Finally, as we were sailing up the channel to the Royal Naval Dockyard in Bermuda, I received an e-mail saying that my application was approved.
“However, before I could get my authorisation I had to visit the Bermuda website and electronically sign a document. Considering that Summit's internet connection had thus far been unreliable, this further step filled me with trepidation. However, I was able to get the authorisation onto my smart phone.
“Because of the Bermuda authorisation process, there was much anxiety among the passengers as to whether they would be allowed ashore in Bermuda until the very last moment.
“More than a few passengers confided that they were not going to return to Bermuda as long as this authorisation process was in effect.
“The Bermuda authorisation process involved no additional testing. Thus, as a practical matter, all that the Bermuda process involved was having someone in Bermuda look at the same evidence of a negative test result that was submitted to the cruise line. No one conducted any further medical review.
“Furthermore, once we arrived in Bermuda, no one asked to see our travel authorisations. Therefore, the authorisation process provided no additional protection for the people of Bermuda. It was just an exercise in annoying bureaucracy that creates anxiety for people seeking to cruise to Bermuda.
“Since the cruise industry restart, I have visited numerous islands in the Caribbean and the Bahamas and none have had a requirement similar to that of Bermuda.
“If Bermuda is unsure whether the cruise lines are enforcing their own testing requirements, a much less intrusive process would be to conduct spot audits rather than inflicting this processing regime on cruise ship passengers.”