Return to Cruising
As someone who works in the travel business, I typically take four-six cruises a year – and in between, I travel extensively. I disembarked from my last cruise on March 1, 2020, just two weeks before all travel came to a grinding halt. It wasn’t until August 1, 2021,17 long and lonely months later, that I finally found myself back on a ship. Honored to receive an invitation to participate in a CDC (Centers for Disease Control) mandated “Test” cruise on the Royal Carribbean’s Independence of the Seas, I happily climbed aboard. With many precautions in place, I felt very safe and comfortable on the cruise.
Check-in was carefully orchestrated to provide a smooth experience for all. Covid vaccinations were mandatory, and guests pre-registered using the Royal Caribbean app. Registration included taking your own security photo, then uploading it along with your passport and proof of vaccination card. Each passenger had a specific time to check-in. All these requirements were in place to minimize contact and facilitate easy and quick processing at the terminal.
We arrived a few minutes before 11:30 am, our designated time slot, to find a short line of people waiting to enter the terminal. Terminal employees strictly enforced social distancing protocols. Once inside, the process went easily and quickly. We pulled up the app on our phones, then scrolled to whatever the staff needed to see. They then snapped a picture of our information with their iPad. Finally, they gave us each a purple bracelet to wear for the entirety of the cruise to serve as proof of vaccination. I learned crew members required vaccinations as well as the passengers.
A few minutes later we headed up the ramp to board the ship. When I crossed the threshold, I felt like I was finally home. It was great to travel again! Passengers and crew members wore masks indoors in all public areas except when eating or drinking. Staff members wore pins with smiling photos of themselves, which was clever and fun. The crew, thrilled to see passengers once again, could not do enough for us. With only 394 passengers onboard for this test cruise instead of the usual 4,000, you can imagine how pampered we felt!
What about those who did not receive vaccination shots? Good question. I learned that moving forward, cruise lines plan to allow a very small percentage of unvaccinated individuals onboard. The unvaccinated passengers allowed include those who did not receive the Covid vaccine for medical or religious reasons, or are under age 12. However, these guests have designated dining rooms and venues, and are not permitted in many public spaces on the ship. In addition, these passengers are monitored closely for the duration of the cruise.
Dining & entertainment
Everyone asks about the famous buffets cruise ships offer. Do they still exist? The answer is yes, but they are no longer self-serve. Everyone must wash their hands prior to entering the dining room and staff members check passengers in and out at all dining venues. The dining crew serves the food as you walk through the line. Tables are spaced out for social distancing, and, once seated, waiters bring you anything more you might need, including condiments.
Entertainment was a big part of cruising prior to Covid, and continues in full swing now. The only difference is the venues require reservations to control the numbers, and social distancing protocols are in place.
The bottom line
Did any of these safety protocols impact our enjoyment of the cruise? Absolutely not. Our experience was outstanding from start to finish. Best of all, we felt extremely safe and worry free. I really needed this getaway. It was great to connect with fellow travelers and enjoy entertainment with others instead of alone in my family room.
Royal Caribbean passed the test with flying colors and Independence of The Seas set sail for her first revenue cruise on August 15th with the blessing of the CDC. I have no concerns now about booking cruises for myself or my clients moving forward, especially since ships plan to stay at about 50% occupancy for now. The plan is to slowly increase the number of passengers over several months.
So, should you book a cruise? I highly recommend it and wish you safe travels. I look forward to my next cruise with Celebrity Cruise Lines in October!!
About the author
Debra Kerper, CATA, ACC, has helped people explore the world since 1993. She owns Easy Access Travel, a Cruise Planners Franchise that is part of the American Express Retail Travel Network.
The goal of Easy Access Travel is to ensure that everyone, regardless of age or physical limitations, has the opportunity to travel. Debra, an older adult, has lived with lupus since age 20 and is a bilateral lower limb amputee. She travels extensively using various types of mobility aids (scooter, wheelchair, etc.). Debra speaks nationally about “How to Travel with Special Needs” and loves to share her expertise with everyone. Learn more at easyaccesstravel.com or call Debra at 800.920.8989.