Disney Cruise Line

Is Disney Cruise Line Fully Back to Normal?

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When Walt Disney World re-opened following its COVID-era shutdown, it came back with hundreds of modifications designed to enhance guest and cast safety. It took the better part of three years for most of the COVID precautions to dissipate, with one of the last holdouts – the reopening of 1900 Park Fare – happening just within the past few months.

It has now been about three years since the post-COVID restart of Disney Cruise Lines. We’re here to take a look at what happened at DCL and what precautions remain.

The Stop and Restarting of Cruising

Disney Cruise Line first acknowledged the existence of the novel coronavirus on January 26, 2020 by adding a COVID-19-related question to its pre-embarkation screening questionnaire. Then, on March 12, 2020, DCL announced that it was suspending all cruise operations beginning on March 14 “through the end of the month.” That initial two-week shutdown turned into a full pause on sailing for well over a year.

When sailing returned, DCL resumed limited operations with a handful of two-, three-, and four- night “staycation” sailings (minus port stops) of the Disney Magic from ports in the United Kingdom, with passage restricted to UK residents only.

Test sailings of the Disney Dream were conducted in mid-2021, with the first regular sailing of the Dream embarking on August 9, 2021—marking the end of 513 days without a regular US departure of a DCL ship. The Disney Fantasy then resumed sailing on September 11, 2021, and the Disney Wonder resumed sailing on October 1, 2021; both ships’ initial itineraries were altered from their original postings.

Early Precautions

When the DCL ships resumed sailing in the U.S., the ships returned to service with dozens, if not hundreds, of changes to procedures, protocols, and physical spaces. These changes included everything from minor inconveniences to major overhauls of standard practices. In addition to their own modifications, DCL had to accommodate the COVID rules of the dozens of ports they visit. Understandably, small islands with modest healthcare facilities were particularly wary of an epidemic brought by tourists.

Just some of the changes implemented during DCL’s early post-COVID sailings included:

  • Required COVID vaccinations first for adults, then for passengers ages 12 and up, and then for passengers ages 5 and up. There were several variations of the requirements, with frequent updates and revisions.
  • Pre-cruise COVID swab tests, first at the embarkation port, then at home, then various testing intervals in combination. Many guests had their tests monitored by online proctors.
  • On cruises of five nights or longer, guests had to have COVID tests prior to debarkation.
  • Guests on back-to-back cruises had to take COVID tests between sailings.
  • Face coverings were required at all indoor locations other than your stateroom or while eating or drinking.
  • Sailing were filled at only partial guest capacity to allow for social distancing.
  • The It’s a Small World nurseries were closed.
  • Reservations were required for the other kids’ clubs.
  • The Sail-Away celebration and other deck parties were discontinued.
  • Some stage shows were not offered. Others were shown on multiple nights to allow for social distancing in the theater.
  • Dinner seatings were with only members of your immediate traveling party.
  • Palo stopped serving buffet-style meals at brunch.
  • The Cabanas pool deck restaurant stopped serving dinner.
  • Cabanas buffet food was served by cast members rather than being directly accessed by guests.
  • The pool deck soft-serve ice cream and fountain soft drinks were served by cast members rather than being directly accessed by guests.
  • Characters greeted guests from a distance, rather than standing close for photos and other greetings.
  • The spa’s rainforest room only allowed one party to enter at a time.
  • Guests were required to upload boarding documents online rather having them first checked at the port terminal.
  • The safety drill (muster) was conducted virtually rather than in person.
  • Restaurant and menus were accessed via QR code to cut down on touch points.
  • The paper Personal Navigator disappeared, replaced by just the Navigator app.
  • Chairs at the pool and on Castaway Cay were separated to facilitate social distancing.
  • Key to the World Cards were distributed at guests’ staterooms rather than in the port terminal.
  • Room service tipping could only happen via the Navigator app rather than in cash or via signing to the room account.
  • Port arrival times were aggressively enforced.
  • Guest-initiated activities such as Fish Extenders were discontinued.
  • Guest Services Cast Members prioritized guest interaction via the app or phone rather than in person.
  • Reservations and time limits were placed on pool use.
  • Castaway Cay 5K format changed. Rather than meeting on the ship, the run was self-directed from the island.
  • Halloween on the High Seas trick-or-treating was modified.
  • … and on … and on … and on.

Most of these precautions were in place through the return to sailing in 2021 into mid-2022. The Disney Wish debuted in July 2022 with some, but not all, of the COVID rules in place. For example, vaccination and testing were still required, but most social distancing rules had been relaxed and masking had become optional for guests but continued to be required for cast members. By fall 2022, the majority of COVID rules were gone.

Mostly Back to the Old Procedures

As of today, there are a few COVID-era procedural modifications that remain, but they are no longer codified under the COVID umbrella. What remains is more likely due to cost-cutting or environmental concern rather than disease control. Most of them may eventually happened anyway.

As of now there is still no Palo buffet or Cabanas dinner service. These seem now to be relics of the past. The paper Personal Navigator is gone, though you might be able to get a one-page summary from Guest Services. You will need to submit identification documents online prior to sailing. The 5K continues to be self-directed. And you’ll still get your Key to the World Card at your room.

What’s Next?

Disney Cruise Line continues full steam ahead, with the recent opening of Lookout Cay, a new private island, and the upcoming launches of three new ships. Other than the procedural changes that remain on the existing ships (collecting keys at your door, for example), we don’t expect to see them have any COVID-related signage or protocols.

That said, COVID does still exist, as do other respiratory and gastrointestinal maladies. While neither DCL or the CDC currently report about COVID, in monitoring cruise-related social media we do still see occasional reports of ship-based outbreaks of illness. Most otherwise healthy individuals will have only moderate symptoms, particularly will baseline immunity gained from vaccinations or previous infections. However, if you are immunocompromised, cruising may still be a less than optimal vacation choice for you.

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Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel (now PlanDisney), a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater.

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