Cruising is Back and Better than Ever: Part 2, What’s Different and What You Need to Know

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TouringPlans is happy to welcome Billy Hirsch for this two-part guest series about the return of cruising.

In part 1 of this series, we talked about the types of cruises and the general experience. Here, we’re going more in depth about what you can expect if you cruise this year.

Differences You’ll Notice

One very simple difference is that on many ships, crew members are still wearing masks.  This is changing quickly, and in fact on Celebrity Millennium it’s no longer required.  After the first week on Celebrity Edge, crew weren’t required to wear masks on deck.  Of course if you are on a ship with lower vaccines rates, the crew, just like the guests, will be donning them all the time.

When dining in buffet venues on some ships, you’ll find you can no longer serve yourself.  The staff plates your food for you.  Ask for whatever you’d like, however much you’d like, and they’ll take care of it.  We like this change, and it’s supposed to be sticking around on Celebrity.  Interestingly, Carnival Cruise Line is not going with this approach and will operate their buffets just like in the past.

Passenger capacity has been reduced on all ships, and will likely stay depressed for a few months, regardless of vaccine rates, countries of embarkation, and so on.  On the first Caribbean cruise back, Celebrity Millennium was at 36%; Celebrity Edge’s first cruise was around 40%, and her second at around 50%.  Ships have a full compliment of crew – which means you should experience excellent service and little waiting for anything you’d like.  It also keeps places from filling up, even during popular shows in the theater, for example.  This week on Edge though, it doesn’t feel quite as sparse, despite being 50% full. We suspect because cruisers are so excited to be back that they’re just taking in everything they can, and being a bit more active.

One more change you’ll notice?  Muster drill.  Gone are the days of every guest piling into their muster stations while the bars closed and ship services came to a halt.  Now you watch some safety videos on your phone, and then head to your muster station within a large window of several hours on embarkation day just to check in and get a 30 second spiel, before leaving and enjoying your cruise.  It’s quick, easy, and a welcome change that will be sticking around.

What You Need to Know to Cruise

The hardest part of cruising right now is simply that the requirements and logistics are changing every day.  We even had testing requirements pop up just a couple days before one of our cruises.  Cruise lines are working hard to make it easy and minimize impact though, and there is a secret weapon available to anyone reading this to keep things stress-free: booking with a good travel professional.  

I’ve cruised well over 100 times, and my sailings are always booked with my agent.  TouringPlans Travel has a great team of folks that will make sure you have the latest info for your specific cruise.  If challenges pop up, they’ll help.  I consider myself a pretty apt traveler at this point, but I really can’t imagine going at this on my own.  So, usually I appreciate my agent helping find the best deal, identify sailings I’m interested in which I may have missed, and coordinating pre/post cruise plans, but now I rely on them to keep the ever-changing sea of rules straight so that I don’t have to.

The Big “What If”

What if someone gets COVID onboard the ship?  We know exactly how this will work.  The measure of success for the safety protocols and vaccines is a lack of community spread (transmission of infection between separate parties).  There will be, for the foreseeable future, some COVID cases on land and sea.  On ships where most guests are vaccinated though, it’s easy to prevent community spread.  This has actually happened twice so far on North American sailings – including one we were onboard (see a video report we filed here).

Vaccinated persons aren’t likely to get very sick if a breakthrough infection occurs, and while infected persons may be isolated, most others will continue their cruises as if nothing else is going on.  Cruise lines have several high-tech ways of contact-tracing, to identify who may have had over 15 minutes of close contact with infected persons, and those individuals, if vaccinated, may be isolated very briefly while they’re tested onboard the ship.  

Gone are the days and worries of long periods of isolation.  In fact, the two asymptomatic guests on Celebrity Millennium last month were flown home by private jet (courtesy of Celebrity Cruises), and didn’t even need to isolate at the disembarkation port of St. Maarten.  

How to See What It’s Really Like

Follow along with us virtually.  You can follow my travels on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and at CrusieHabit.com.  You’ll find live and recorded videos, photos, live blogs, and more.  I’m happy to answer any questions you have, whether about the special considerations for cruising right now, or about cruising in general.  This means talking about the ports of call as well, as some are buttoned up a bit, but many are just waiting for vacationers to come and enjoy the sights, sounds, and flavors of the Caribbean – and we’ve been excited to put some money into the local businesses in these economies that have had a rough 15 months.

One thing I’ve struggled to show during these cruises however, are the differences onboard, because quite frankly, the last souple of weeks I’ve spent at sea have been even more relaxing than cruises in the past.  Many of the changes have been transparent to guests, and others have actually made the cruise better.  As more folks see their friends posting selfies on deck though, the number of people taking the plunge and booking cruises are likely to spike – which means if you’re looking to cruise in the future, you should consider booking as soon as possible to get the cruise, accommodations, and rate you want. 

If you want an even closer look, then join us in person!  We’ll be checking out Virgin Voyages’ Scarlett Lady in September, and hosting the first ever CruiseHabit group cruise on Celebrity Apex (new sister ship to Edge) in January.  There are special rates, exclusive events, and of course, the opportunity to cruise with friends.

Have any questions about the cruising experience right now? Let us know in the comments.

 

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.  

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