The first cruise to nowhere in Singapore departed on Nov 6, with close to 1,400 passengers aboard the World Dream ship, sailing the Straits of Malacca and South China Sea for two nights before returning to right where they started  — at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre.

But before they can even board the mega-ship for their sea-cations, all cruise passengers aged six months and above are required to undergo a Covid-19 test at a makeshift medical facility at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre car park. The test costs $60 and has been included in the cruise fare. Passengers are assigned time slots for their pre-embarkation antigen rapid test, so that there’s no risk of overcrowding. Passengers will also have to do a post-departure testing after their trip. was on board the World Dream for a few hours to suss things out before it set sail. While we were not cruising passengers and were only on the ship for a few hours, we still had to take the Covid-19 swab test prior to boarding

This is what the pre-departure Covid-19 test for World Dream passengers is like.

02 mbcc

I make my way to the third storey of the Marina Bay Cruise Centre car park, where the entire level has been transformed into a makeshift medical facility for swab tests. It’s a sprawling space, but everything has been clearly marked out, including the route you’ll have to take. There are staff members at every turn and corner to guide you along.

After checking in to the testing facility via SafeEntry, I'm given a pre-boarding health questionnaire to fill up (cruising passengers can also choose to do this digitally), while seated at a waiting area. This takes all of one minute, and after I'm done, I schlep over to the swab registration counters.

03 waiting area 1

At the swab registration counter, someone takes my temperature and hands me a bunch of labels with my particulars on it. This is to be handed to medical personnel later on in the process. All of this takes less than five minutes.
04 reg

Now for the main event. I shuffle along to the test area, where there are two rows of swab test stations lined up. It looks like an examination hall of sorts. It's all quite quiet, and people are speaking in hushed tones. Everything is so systematic and orderly. Clearly, these folks from Raffles Medical, who are helming the testing here, know what they’re doing.
05 test area

I head to my designated station and hand over the labels to a medical staff, decked out in full PPE.
06 test id

She asks me to recite my name and IC number to double check that I'm not masquerading as someone else. She nods and tells me to proceed to the cubicle behind her. This is where the test will be carried out.  This is my first time doing a nose swab, and feedback I've heard over the months ranges from “It’s just ticklish” to “It goes right up to your brains”.

“Is it going to be painful?” I ask the swabber, a genial middle-aged man. “Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle,” he says with a chuckle. “One side or two sides?” I probe further. He tells me it’s both. Before I get a chance to ask anything else, he holds up the swab stick, which is like a longer and thinner Q-tip, and in it goes. 

07 covid test

As the swab stick inches in slightly, I hardly feel anything since it’s thinner than a usual Q-tip. No sweat, I think to myself. Then it continues moving up, and up... and up. He twirls the stick slightly. Right, it's getting weird now — I’ve never felt any sensation in this part of my head before. But it's not exactly painful, so it's a bonus, I guess? Before I know it, my right eye starts to tear. 

Then he does it all over again on the left.

The test takes about two minutes to complete. The swab stick is put into a container and handed over to someone else to process. 

I stand up to leave, tears welled up in my eyes like I’ve just watched a K-drama tearjerker. I’m trying to inconspicuously dab them away as I figure out what to do next. A lady comes up to me to usher me to the next waiting area.

“Does everyone cry?” I ask her, suddenly self-conscious (I’m no fan of crying in public, okay?). “Yes!” she assures me. I later find out that she was just being nice. Not everyone tears up — some have no reaction, some tear, others sneeze.

I take a seat at the waiting area, which is segregated into various zones, and wait. 

08 waiting area 2

Occasionally, there are people decked out in PPE who slink around sanitising the area.
09 sanitise

About 20 minutes later, a lady saunters over with a clipboard. She verifies my identity once more and hands me a slip of paper which reads: “Rapid antigen test for Covid-19 done is negative.” The word 'negative' is in bold and underlined, just to make it doubly clear.

Organisers will tell you that the entire pre-departure testing will take about one hour. For me, it was over in half an hour, from registration to results. The whole process went more smoothly than I expected. Well, apart from weeping in public.

What happens if a guest tests positive for Covid-19 at the pre-departure screening?
Apart from getting denied entry to the cruise, the Covid-19 positive case will be required to go for further examination and testing at medical centres designated by the Ministry of Health. Their close contacts and travelling companions will also be denied boarding. 

Prices for World Dream's Super Seacation cruise packages start at  $359. More info at . 

Photos: Kelvin Chia