What to Expect When Cruising Now

What to Expect When Cruising Now

Cruising is a great experience, and if you’ve never done it before, it is not too late to try! Booking is done in a second, and you can enjoy the perk of having everything included. However, since COVID hit, many people are worried that cruising will never be the same again.

Fortunately, cruising is not lost forever, and it is making its comeback with cruises being available today. Things will be a bit different from what you might be used to on a normal cruise, but they promise that the revamped buffets, smaller group sizes, and ‘vaccinated only’ zones are well worth the wait.

More Health & Safety Measures in Place

There are many more health and safety measures put in place since they re-opened the docks. One of the biggest is that those who are riding on the ships need to be fully vaccinated if they’re over the age of 16, this includes the crew. This safety measure is being used on many different transportation systems, as well as in hotels and other places of interest.

These health and safety measures also include distance planned events and activities, as well as reduced capacity inside the ships. If you are feeling any sort of sickness coming on, they have medical facilities that you can visit and be quarantined in before the sickness can get any further.

With so many precautions in place and more information on this disease, these cruise ships are now becoming more prepared in handling these sicknesses. These cruise ships have plans in place and know that it is a possibility that a breakout can happen. Minimizing the risks is what they are doing, so you never have to worry about getting sick with the knowledge of knowing they have you back.

Less Spots, Less Crowds, Less People in General

Since the capacity levels are much lower on these ships, this brings less people in general in the many common areas that you’d find yourself. Not just that, but there are going to be less crowds, which means less lines, and more to see and do without the hustle and bustle you’d normally have from a touristy area.

Whether you’re cruising across the world or just to the Caribbean, being able to get a spot and enjoy the time is good. Booking in advance is important to do because of this. Many people are already booking their spots on the ships, and they are booking out further. Even half capacity on some ships is making it harder for some to reserve spots on these boats.

More Money Saving Deals

To make these ships more appealing to those who are looking to explore more, they are offering additional money saving deals. Even though these ships are at a reduced capacity and are highly in demand, these cruise lines are still offering money saving promos to take advantage. Not only can you grab 40% off many of the rooms on the lines, but you can also even get most of the cost off your second passenger booking with you.

However, it is important to note that you must make sure to take advantage of these deals now. The lines are long for waiting lists, and many of them are booked out to 2023. Shipboard credits are a big seller for many, as well and not just price saving on the cruise itself. Now is the time to book these ships, especially if you want shorter lines and less crowds.

Your Vaccination Status

This is important to keep in mind because now, when you go anywhere, you must show proof of your vaccinations. The same is true for a lot of these cruise ships that are looking to book their rooms with those who are fully vaccinated. Not every cruise line requires them, and it is important to check whether the cruise line you’re going on requires them or not.

It has been shown that for many of them, like the Royal Caribbean cruise line, that you must show the original card when you are boarding the ship to have proof. Then, to go back and forth through the Bahamas, you have to have it uploaded online. This way, it can continuously be checked by authorities, should it be needed.

The same goes for those areas that you want to visit while you’re on land. Many of them only let those who are vaccinated inside the places. Therefore, you need to bring the vaccination paper along with you wherever you choose to go.

The same goes for the masks that you should wear in many of the common areas. This is for on and off the cruise ship. Many places might still require you to wear the mask in them, so having them on hand when you’re on and off the ship is recommended to be prepared.

Buffet Changes Being Made

The buffets that come included with the favorite meal choices are still going to be there and ready for you to enjoy. The only difference is that the passengers are unable to serve themselves. They will have to point at the food choices, and someone will serve them on a plate. You can still have as much as you’d like to have, because it is still a buffet after all! You just must do less work to get your food.

Cleaner Ships Mean Healthier Passengers

Since the CDC recommends regular cleanings for surfaces to reduce the spread of COVID, this means cleaner ships for all. This, in turn, means healthier passengers. The surfaces have to be regularly cleaned, the chairs, and everything that is being used in the common areas have to be sanitized regularly, as well. This extra layer of clean extends to the guest rooms, as well.

This means less germs that are being passed around on these boats. The best is yet to come, because on some of these ships, you can expect to get the best air quality. The ships have spent money to make sure that each passenger is able to breathe their own air in their state room.

This cleaner air, extra layer of sanitation and cleaner ship overall means less sickness for all the passengers, and not just from COVID. It protects them from other types of sicknesses that would otherwise end up getting everyone on the cruise ship sick.

Reservations and Technology Advancements

In the past, you could enter a ship and just walk around and find something to do as you please. This was a great way to learn how a cruise ship works. However, it is important to note that now you might just need a reservation for that thing you want to do for the night. This is not just for shows that are ongoing, but the gym and any of the other amenities that they are offering.

This is not only to reduce the amount of people allowed in a room, along with cleaning and sanitation reasons, but the cruise ship is easily able to do tracing should someone end up sick. This makes it easier for the cruise ship to contact anyone who might have been in contact with each other when they’re sick.

The technologies are also changing, not just the reservations. You can expect contactless and person less meeting in many of the places. You can look up the menus and other information with QR codes, but also virtual reservations and check ins, and virtual lines. Contactless payments are recommended and preferred, giving you more chances to spend time with those you came on the cruise ship with, instead of being around large crowds of people at once.

Slowly Returning to Normal

Even though everything seems to be different in these ships, they will slowly return to normal with time. The way that things are being done now are going to be done different in the coming months or even years. It might take some time to get back to normal.

Even now, many of the activities already seem to be back to normal for many of the passengers. This is something that is making the cruise ships, and even the passengers who regularly ride on them, hopeful for the future of cruising ahead.

Even though mostly everything is done digitally or virtually, including safety instructions and checks, it might be a little bit before you’re able to get more from the cruise. Things might seem weird now, but they might just check out for you in the end.

Just remember that the rules vary from cruise to cruise and place to place. It is important to check and know that being vaccinated is very important in order to get on many of the cruise lines and ships.

Be Flexible and Ready!

If you can be flexible with your times and hours that you can cruise, you have many more options to choose from. Since there are minimal spots on these ships, the more flexible and open you are for when you want to go or are able to go; the more chances you have to pick a spot and be able to head out on one of the ships.

One of the best ways to do this is by booking your cruise on a whim. If you are ready, choosing a cruise that is last minute and has one or two more rooms available is going to give you a great deal, but also open up more possibilities.

If you’re booking further out, then being flexible with what is available is good. A lot of people will not cruise during specific times of the year because of the cruise conditions. If you’re open to cruising during these times, you have more to choose from when booking a cruise and heading out.

Simulation Cruise and New Health Protocols

By: Leah Jorgensen

On July 28, I received an email. I was offered a 4-night Caribbean sailing on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas’ Simulation sailing. The kicker? It was sailing on August 1, and only available to fully vaccinated guests. So I quickly contacted my mother since she is retired and always up for an adventure, made sure we both had our passports and vaccination records, and accepted the offer! Three days later, my father and brother drove us down to Galveston to the ship!

For a Simulation sailing, just about everything is the same, but the guests are at 10% capacity, and the CDC was disguised onboard. Having 400 guests on a ship that has the capacity for 4,370 passengers made it feel like the ship was just ours! It was a little eerie how empty it was, but there was never a line or a wait for anything! The entire crew is vaccinated and had been in quarantine on the ship for 2 months already. They were thrilled to be working again after 15 months, and so happy to just see other people on board. I’ve never seen a happier crew, happier entertainers, and happier guests.

Embarkation was seamless! We could only arrive at the port at our assigned time, and everything was organized. Passports were checked, vaccination records were checked, recorded, and photographed, quickly went through security, and then we were allowed onboard!

One of the biggest headaches of starting any sailing is the safety drills. Due to Covid, they are no longer safe since social distancing needs to be followed. But Royal Caribbean now has a fantastic app for your phone! Once we made it to our rooms and picked up our Sea Passes, we watched a video on our apps of how to find and wear lifejackets, what to do in an emergency, and played the sound clip of the ship’s emergency notification horn. Then it was time to find our assigned lifeboat. Once there, a crew member verified we had watched the safety video and placed a sticker on our Sail Passes to show we had completed the safety drill.

Now I’m not one who wants to keep my phone on me when I’m on vacation (isn’t the point to get unplugged and out of reach?), but the app really was handy! Easy to use and find scheduled activities, we were able to make dinner reservations, reserve show tickets, and make our own personalized schedule. If you’re not sure where something is, the deck plans are there at your fingertips! Don’t worry about waiting in line at Guest Services- your on-board account is already in your hand!

Speaking of hands, we are still living in a pandemic. Every doorway now has hand sanitizer, but instead of just sitting there available, we were asked (required) to use it every time. And outside the Windjammer restaurant, soap and water stations have been installed, and are required to be used before entering. The amount of food has not changed, and the crew will happily put whatever you would like on your plate for you. (Really- I suggest taking the stairs as much as possible so you can fill up with less guilt!) The crew was constantly sanitizing hand rails, chairs, tables, anything that could be touched, and often disinfected the walls. The ships have always been clean, but it was spotless- all of the time.

Relaxing in the pool

Being vaccinated, I was allowed into any venue, activity, public area, and restaurant. But being a simulation, there were some people that were chosen to be “un-vaccinated”. Those who are vaccinated are given a purple plastic bracelet to wear- and they were often checked too. Those who were un-vaccinated had specific shows, time and location for main dining, and activities they were allowed to enter. They still had a full schedule and throughout the sailing were still allowed to see and do everything, but there were just specific times they were allowed to do certain activities. Everyone is still required to wear masks while moving around the ship, but we were allowed to take them off while sitting and actively eating and drinking, and while outside. The crew is still required to leave their masks on even while outside.

When we arrived in Cozumel, we parked next to the Adventure of the Seas, that is currently sailing out of Nassau, Bahamas. Vaccinated guests are allowed to leave the ship, but unvaccinated guests are only allowed off for a Royal Caribbean excursion. On the docks, we got the chance to talk with some very happy folks from Michigan who told us what a fantastic vacation they were having! Their sailing had about 900 guests and they were getting the Royal treatment as well! Mom and I were able to find a taxi (William in taxi 318) to get us to a beach to stick our feet in the water, which is all we were looking for, and back to the dock (I do not normally suggest ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ as there’s always a chance of being late and being left!)! All of the shops in Cozumel were ecstatic to see people shopping there again- the pandemic and halting of travel has really affected us all.

All-in-all, I felt extremely safe. The safety protocols are working and people are able to be back at work. This sailing was a dream, but I hope we don’t have to live through this again in my lifetime. If you do get a chance to sail on the Independence of the Seas, especially before January (and contracts move workers), tell pianist Timothy Boaz, guitarist Darla Fox, and waiters Sanjay and Red that I sent you!

Return to Ocean Cruising Coming Soon

Whether you love to cruise the high seas or want to take another type of ship-sailing adventure, you can set your sights toward cruising in the near-distant future, or in 2022 or 2023. A current news release (April 2021) announced the next phase, issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of its Framework for Conditional Sailing Order. These guidelines will direct cruise ships on what they need to do to resume sailing.

Hastening the Process

Cruise operators have urged the CDC to give them additional instructions to hasten the return of sailing in the U.S. The cruise industry, during the past year, has practically shut down because of the pandemic, despite the fact that voyages have taken place in other places around the globe.

In its most recent press release, the CDC stated that the second phase of the sailing order will enable cruise operators to schedule trial voyages to adapt to new COVID-19 procedures. These voyages will use volunteers before sailing commences with paying passengers. Thousands of people have already inquired about being a volunteer through cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean.

While the CDC says people can travel safely, they still advise cruise travelers, for the time being, to stay at home. The new update by the CDC, defined as technical guidance, mandates that the reporting frequency for COVID 19 take place daily.  A new color-coding system will classify ships, so routine tests can be conducted of crew members, based on a vessel’s color.

Although the CDC’s “Framework” has sidelined the majority of cruise vessels in the U.S., it still opens up the way for cruise vessels to eventually sail. This is especially helpful to know after a no-sail order was extended several times before the Conditional Sailing Order took effect in October 2020.

The CDC’s sailing order applies to U.S. passengers’ ships, operating overnight cruises from the territorial waterways or territorial seas in the U.S. It does not apply to small cruise operators with less than 250 passengers and crew. Therefore, the order primarily applies to areas, such as Alaska, Hawaii, San Juan Puerto Rico, and St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. The order applies to foreign-flagged and American flagged ships that, again, carry over 250 people.

If you want to set sail now, some cruise operators with the lower passenger count currently accept reservations that allow you to travel now versus the far-distant future.

Current Legislation

 As of April 20, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives joined the Senate in asking that the CDC revoke the Conditional Sailing Order that was established in the fall of 2020.

Two representatives, Don Young (R-Alaska) and Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Florida) introduced legislation to end the no sail-order, requiring the CDC to offer guidelines for the safe return of cruise operations in the U.S. Moreover, the bill includes the establishment of an interagency work group so passenger activity can resume July 1, 2021.

Another bill has already been enacted called the Careful Resumption Under Improve Safety Enforcements Acts, known as the CRUISE Act. The CRUISE Act legislation was introduced by senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Rick Scott (R-Florida). 

The 2 Congress members and 3 senators supporting the above legislation come from states that have been hit especially hard by the CDC mandates.

While some cruise ships have resumed operations in Europe and other international destinations, most vessels, based from U.S. cities plan to resume operations in June or July. In these cases, base ports for the ships will be in places, such s Nassau in the Bahamas or Bermuda. The CDC currently blocks ships from sailing from U.S. ports, something that has triggered a lawsuit in Florida.

Therefore, you will find it easier to cruise on the smaller cruise lines in the U.S. at this time. While things may be slow at first, cruisers will again enjoy cruising if the remain patient.

For example, AmaWaterways will not feature any cruises until the end of May 2021. The cruise line states it will assess sailings beyond that time, 45 days in advance of start dates.

The smaller ship line, American Cruise Lines, has resumed cruising along the waterways of South and Carolina and Georgia. The line’s 100-passenger ship, the Independence, set sail on March 13, 2021. It also has one ship sailing the Mississippi River. The company plans to schedule 13 more cruise ships on U.S. waterways in the coming weeks. 

Avalon Waterways plans to suspend operation through the month of May for U.S. passengers.

Azamara will cancel sailings until the end of June.

Carnival Cruise Lines

The popular cruise line plans to pause service until June 30.

Celebrity Cruises

The cruise line has extended its suspension of U.S.-based voyages until June 30, 2021. It plans to beign sailing again in North America, leaving St. Maarten on June 5, 2021.

Celestyal Cruises, which features Greek cruises to the Greek Isles, plans on restarting cruising in the area May 29.

Costa Cruises plans to resume European cruises on May 1, 2021, using the Costa Smeralda. The line’s Costa Luminosa will depart ports in Europe, beginning May 16, 2021. 

Crystal Cruises plans to resume cruise operations on July 3, 2021, starting with the Crystal Serenity, out of Nassau, Bahamas. The line’s Crystal Symphony will begin sailing again on August 5, 2021, with sailing out of St. John’s, Antigua. All sailings for the Crystal Esprit have been postponed until August.  

As an alternative to ocean cruising, you may contact Crystal Cruises about river ship cursing, scheduled to start between June 4 and June 7, 2021. The cruise company has delayed introducing its new expedition ship, the Crystal Endeavor, for the time-being.

Cunard Line has canceled its departures for its 3 vessels, the Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Mary 2 until August 27, 2021, October 11, 2021, and November 12, 2021, respectively. Instead, the cruise line, which is based in the UK, plans to feature UK-only cruises for residents living in the UK. The Queen Elizabeth will feature summer 2021 cruises.

Disney Cruise Line

Sailings for the ships, the Disney Dream, Disney wonder, and Disney Fantasy have been canceled until May 31, 2021. Scheduled trips on Disney Magic have been stopped until August 10, 2021.

Emerald Waterways plans to cancel sailings through the end of June.

Hurtigruten did resume cruise sailing to the Arctic in July 2020. However, cruises will not resume, until announced, as one of the vessels reported a COVID-19 outbreak.

Holland America will not resume sailings at this time, until, possibly, July. The line cancelled 2021 sailings to Alaska that depart or end in Vancouver, British, Columbia, Canada.

MSC Cruises has cancelled departures out of North America, at this time, through the end of May. However, the company has scheduled cruises departing the UK, beginning May 20, 2021.

Norwegian Cruise Line

The cruise line, along with its brands, plans to suspend travel until, at least, June 30, 2021. The company states it will restart sailing on July 25, 2021 with one of its ships featuring Greek Islands sailings from Piraeus, Greece. It then plans to begin Caribbean sailings out of the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. One ship will be used out of each of the ports. 

Oceania Cruises states it will cancel sailings on all of its ships until the end of July.

Paul Gauguin Cruises plans to cancel all of its sailings until, at this time, May 15, 2021.

Princess Cruises

Cruises featured by the Princess Cruise line that leave Seattle have been cancelled through June 27, 2021. Los Angeles, Rome, and Ft. Lauderdale cruises remain cancelled until June 30, 2021 and voyages leaving Southampton, England have been postponed until September 25, 2021.

Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, a new cruise line, associated with the Ritz-Carlton, is delaying its first voyage until November 10, 2021. The line was first slated for debut last year in February.

Royal Caribbean International

The cruise brand and provider announced it will suspend all U.S.-based sailings until June 30, 2021 and restart North American voyages from the Bahamas on June 12, 2021.Cruises from Bermuda will begin in June and cruises from Cyprus in July. Royal Caribbean plans to deploy one ship on each of the new routes. 

Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours will not sail again, according to current plans, until after June.

Seabourn has made plans to reinitiate operation in July, with one ship sailing, out of Piraeus, Greece, to the Greek Islands. All sailings to Alaska have been cancelled. 

Tauck has cancelled cruises until after May 2021.

Viking plans begin cruising again on May 22, 2021, featuring UK-only sailing for local UK residents out of Portsmouth, England. It has also scheduled “welcome back” voyages from Bermuda and Iceland in June and July 2021. Other than those scheduled itineraries, the cruise line has cancelled other sailings until the end of July.

Most of the cruise lines will initiate sailings in North America, primarily from the Caribbean in June or July. You just need to check with cruise providers to get a sense of where you stand. 

Cruises Will Be Shorter

At this time (April 2021), you will have more success scheduling any cruise vacations in 2022 or 2023. You will also find that many cruise schedules will be shorter, which is not necessarily bad. You can see a a lot of great attractions, even if you narrow the itinerary from 12 to 6 days.

Be prepared to follow any quarantine guidelines and get the instructions on COVID-19 sailing requirements.

Because the space inside a cabin is close, more restrictions have been placed on taking trips on a cruise ship in the wake of the coronavirus. Therefore, your choice of a cabin may also be important.

Unfavorable Cabin Locations

Certain cabins are not good choices anytime. For example, you do not want to choose a cabin close to stairways or elevator banks. Not only are they noisier, more people tend to congregate in the areas – not the best places to practice social distancing.

This can be especially problematic if air vents have been built inside the cabin doors. While the vents are meant to improve the flow of air, they also allow sounds from the hall to drift into a room. 

Stay Away from the Anchor and Bow

While you may not be able to find the location of a ship’s anchor on a deck plan, it normally is close to the front of the ship. If you book a cabin close to the anchor, this can be an issue if you sail to several tender ports. 

Tender port represents spots where a ship anchors offshore and passengers tender to land on small watercraft. You also do not want to settle near the ship’s bow at the front, as you can feel the ship’s teeter-totter motion, something that can be rather distracting during a storm or high waves.

Splurging on a Suite

Because of the location of some cabins and their lack of space, you may want to splurge, especially because of the pandemic, on a larger suite. Not only do you enjoy more space, you also receive priority embarkation and more pampering – something worth getting after waiting a long time to cruise.

The perks of staying in a suite on an ocean cruise make spending the extra money worth the experience. Suite guests have their own special check-in area when they arrive at the terminal. Also, some suite guests can access a private lounge area where they can rest and enjoy a snack. If you book a suite, you will be one of the first guests to board the ship, allowing you to begin your holiday sooner.

Suites on cruise ships are far bigger than regular cabins, thereby reducing the threats associated with getting a virus in a closer space. As most cabins are smaller than hotel rooms, enjoying the sprawling comfort of a suite, which can be bigger than a house, does make a difference.

Some luxury suites cover a space of 2,000 to 4,000 feet. Comparatively, most major cruise lines feature cabins that measure 150 to 185 square feet, with balcony suites spanning 175 to 220 square feet. If you cannot afford to spend extra on a suite, it is better to choose a cabin with a balcony.

Suites on cruises have more space and feature better locations as well. Many suites are located in the middle, or the equilibrium point – the most stabilized area during rough sea voyages. This is a good location to select if you are prone to getting seasick.

When taking an ocean cruise during more restricted travel times, it’s nice to have those extra upgrades that come with a cruise suite. These upgrades include spa-type toiletries, higher-thread counts, and coffee and tea service. Suites frequently come with a private butler, at your service 24/7, or a private concierge. 

Because cruises, in the current travel environment, are typically shorter, it might not hurt to take a shorter cruise and spring for a suite instead of the more confined cabin.

During this time, it is important to remember that most cruising will only be available to those who get vaccinated for COVID-19. Again, you need to check with the cruise line to find out about the protocol you’ll need to follow.

Some of the Popular Cruise Holidays

At this time (April 2021), Greece is a destination of choice featured by many cruise operators, such as Norwegian, Seabourn, and Celebrity. all planning routes around the Greek Isles in summer 2021. MSC Cruises will also be running several itineraries in European waters in May, with calls at ports in Malta, Italy, France, Spain, Croatia, Spain, and Montenegro. Included in MSC Cruises’ routes is Venice. However, embarkment from the port will be rerouted to an industrial port nearby, following a new environmental guideline.

COVID-19 Testing Documentation

To give you a snapshot of what to expect during most sailings, as defined by Carnival, you will need to arrive at the terminal, tested and with the proper documents. Guests who are 2 years or older will need to show that they have been tested negative for a SARS-CoV-2 test taken from 24 hours to 5 days before setting sail. The negative test report document must be legible, identifying the approved and licensed testing service, and include a sample collection date, test type, and identification of the tested person.

Carnival cruise guests must complete a health questionnaire 72 hours before sailing and have their temperature taken during boarding. Only guests who book appointments will be allowed to access the terminal and boarding area. Guests must complete an online check-in and choose an appointment for an arrival time by midnight (Eastern Time) before the date of embarkation. 

You can resume ocean cruising soon, if you so choose. Also, keep in mind that passenger ships carrying under 250 people are scheduling regular cruising now. Most of these cruises are taking place, in the U.S., along the Mississippi River. So, if you are waiting to take an ocean cruise, for instance, from Nassau in the Bahamas in June, you might still think about traveling on one of the river cruises in the U.S. 

As noted, it is important to follow the instructions for onboarding and follow other rules, such as wearing a mask, during the voyage. While these rules have changed the activity of cruising, they will not take away form enjoying a memorable cruise holiday.

Review: 7 Night Western Caribbean With Carnival

By: Jim Leary, Sales Development Specialist

Winter time is a great time to flee the cold and enjoy the wonderful weather of the Caribbean. Cruise prices are typically low between Thanksgiving and Christmas so I decided to escape to the Western Caribbean with Carnival onboard the Carnival Vista. Houston’s proximity to the Port of Galveston makes it easy to drive to the ship in less than an hour.

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