TouringPlans is happy to welcome Billy Hirsch for this two-part guest series about the return of cruising.
Traveling of all sorts can be wonderful, but above all else, I’m a cruiser. For over 15 months I had one goal: get on the first cruise I can. Sailing right away meant being prepared for some compromises and inconveniences – but it turns out my mental preparation was for naught. The cruises I’ve enjoyed have been nearly flawless, and as I gaze at the open ocean from my verandah, I’m glad I didn’t wait–and you probably shouldn’t either. In short, I’ve cruised three times since June, and trust me — cruising is back and better than ever.
On Some Ships, Preparation Instead of Restrictions
Months ago we imagined multiple tests, social distancing, dining restrictions, and yes, masks everywhere onboard. This would have been okay for me personally, as I’d have done anything to cruise safely. In fact, in the summer of 2020, this type of cruising existed and was safely enjoyed by around a half-million cruisers in Europe and Asia. While we’d have been delighted to have been among those cruisers, it’s fair to say that cruising like that wouldn’t be as pleasant as cruising was before March of last year.
For those of us fortunate enough to be fully vaccinated and ready to cruise, we have the option of enjoying all the hard work and preparation that the cruise and pharmaceutical industries spent months on – with almost no restrictions for guests. This means dining with old friends and new ones, taking in shows by awe-inspiring performers, participating in a myriad of onboard activities, or doing nothing at all – whatever floats your ship.
There are other science-driven enhancements to cruising as well, that happen behind the scenes and didn’t even require you to refresh your local pharmacy’s website 30 times a day. This includes upgraded ventilation systems that replace all the air inside the ship every couple of minutes, hospital-grade filtration systems, enhanced surface disinfection, and high-tech contact tracing.
Two Flavors of Cruising This Summer
Without going into all the various regulations, policies, and even lawsuits for each state and line, let’s focus on two different types of cruise experiences that North Americans can enjoy this summer.
Fully/Mostly Vaccinated Cruises
Some ships are sailing with every crew member and guest (ages 12 and up) fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This could mean 100% of persons are vaccinated, or on some ships, that 100% of crew and 95%+ of guests are vaccinated, where some (especially children) are not fully vaccinated. On these sailings, things are not much different at all from the last cruise you took. Onboard capacity has been reduced, initially for social distancing reasons, but now, largely to allow lines to slowly ramp-up service. Some COVID testing may be required depending on the itinerary. Masks aren’t required for vaccinated guests anywhere on the ship.
Unvaccinated adults may have a rather different experience on these sailings though, being relegated to specific areas of venues, unable to enjoy some lounges or restaurants, and even denied embarkation in certain ports. These guests will be tested multiple times before, during, and after the cruise. Lines like Royal Caribbean and Celebrity are even requiring them to pay for their own testing, and as of August, carry special insurance policies. These guests are generally required to wear masks, except when distanced on deck, or eating and drinking.
Cruises With Lower Vaccine Rates
Some ships are sailing with fully vaccinated crews, but with guest populations that are well below 95%. These low rates are largely because of families traveling with children, but may include more unvaccinated adults as well. The rules on these ships are quite different, where all guests (regardless of vaccination status) must wear masks when inside. They also have enforced social distancing, which requires reservations for activities or venues that wouldn’t usually require such coordination – such as at buffet restaurants.
On a recent cruise, we chatted with friends that went from Adventure of the Seas (a ship with a lower vaccine rate) to Celebrity Edge (a ship requiring a 95%+ vaccine rate). They told us how “normal” it felt to be back to cruising when they were on Adventure, despite the restrictions, and how when they stepped on Edge they thought, “oh no, this really is what normal cruising is like.”
So far, we’ve sailed Celebrity Millennium out of St Maarten, and Celebrity Edge out of Ft. Lauderdale. In both cases the crew, staff, officers, and of course guests, have been absolutely thrilled to be back. People are always happy to cruise, but everyone here is glowing. Adding to this is the scheduling of events. Cruise lines are doing a great job packing in even more live music and entertainment than ever – there aren’t gaps in schedules and the feeling that anything is missing.
These have generally been “normal” cruises but where the overall emotion onboard is one of amazement and delight. Whether relaxing in a lounge, taking in a show, or going for a swim on deck, you’re only likely to notice a couple of things different on these cruises.
In part 2 tomorrow, we’ll cover what is different with 2021 cruises, and what you need to know when sailing.
Billy Hirsch is the creator of CruiseHabit.com where he shares tips, insights, and reviews of various cruises and related activities. He’s a Disney nerd, a cruise nut, a tech junky, and a former travel agent. Having started cruising as a baby, Billy has been fortunate enough to have taken over 60 cruises on various lines in different parts of the world. He has had a lifelong obsession with cruising, both as a leisure activity and the inner workings of the industry itself. You can frequently find him as CruiseHabit on Twitter and Facebook answering cruise questions or broadcasting live from ship and shore.