Cruising is Back - Healthy Sailing
I recently had the opportunity to sail onboard Royal Caribbean’s brand new Odyssey of the Seas and experience first hand what is it is like to cruise right now. Cruising has always been and will remain at the top of my list of favorite ways to vacation and I’m so excited about the return of cruising after a long 15 months of full shut down. In partnership with the CDC, panels of doctors and experts, and governments around the world, the cruise industry has successfully implemented the best protocols in the entire travel business to ensure the most safe environment for guests while onboard.
What is being done to keep everyone safe and healthy?
All cruise lines are currently requiring full vaccination for all passengers 12 and older. With the recent approval of the COVID vaccine for children ages 5-11 we are still waiting to see if it will become a requirement for ages 5 and up on the cruise lines that have been allowing children 11 and under to sail unvaccinated. However, in a question and answer session with the CEO of Royal Caribbean International this past weekend that question was asked and for Royal Caribbean they will be continuing to monitor the data before deciding a course of action in regards to requiring the vaccine for ages 5-11. Royal Caribbean has already announced however that they will continue to allow passengers ages 5-11 to sail unvaccinated through March 2022 while they take the time to really study the data in making a decision. There are other cruise lines such as Norwegian that are strictly enforcing 100% vaccination for all guests regardless of age. The difference you will notice onboard between these two approaches is that on a Norwegian ship you will be able to sail mask free on any of their sailings because every guest and crew member onboard is fully vaccinated. In contrast because Royal Caribbean has made the decision to give families time in making a vaccination decision for their young children and to also allow time to follow the data of the direction the virus is heading before lowering the age requirement for vaccination on their ships, you may have to wear masks while moving through indoors spaces onboard the ship if the vaccination rate on your sailing is below 95%, however masks are never required outdoors. For ships sailing at 95% or higher vaccination rate masks then are optional at all times while onboard. In their theaters they have designated one floor only for fully vaccinated passengers, so those that choose may enjoy the shows mask free and the other floor of their theater is for families with unvaccinated children ages 11 and under, however masks are required while in the theater on that floor.
Another measure of precaution on cruise ships is all passengers regardless of vaccination status are required to present a negative COVID test taken no more than 2 days prior to embarkation. For children ages 11 and under they will also be tested again at the pier before boarding if not vaccinated. You will not find a hotel or resort that is requiring not only full vaccination but also testing before check in.
What happens if during the cruise a passenger does become ill with COVID?
The cruises lines have all implemented very stringent mitigation procedures to isolate infected and exposed individuals and have partnered with the governments and medical facilities in every port of call for disembarkation of an infected passenger. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity have taken it one step further, and in the event a passenger does become ill and tests positive for COVID while onboard, the cruise line will pay for that passenger to fly home from the next port of call on a private plane and will arrange for and pay for transportation from the airport to their home. The days at the start of the pandemic where ships were stranded at sea are over and that will not happen again as there are now plans in place and agreements with all ports of call to isolate and evacuate any passenger that may test positive while onboard and provide as little disruption to the rest of the passengers as possible.
Can you still independently explore on your own in ports of call?
That is dependent on the port of call. There are some ports that are only allowing passengers to disembark if they are on a cruise sponsored excursion, however many others are allowing all vaccinated passengers to explore independently while in port and only unvaccinated passengers are required to have a cruise sponsored excursion.
What are they doing to keep the ship clean and minimize the spread of germs?
Everywhere you go you will see staff cleaning at all hours of the day and night. I couldn’t walk up or down a staircase without at some point coming across staff cleaning the railings or vacuuming. There is hand sanitizer located frequently throughout the ship and on the newer and revitalized Royal Caribbean ships there are sink stations as you enter the Windjammer Cafe and everyone is required to wash their hands before entering. In the past, guests were able to serve themselves in the buffets, that is no longer the way of operation, guests are now served by staff. I challenge anyone to find so much as a speck of dust onboard a ship, they have always been very clean environments and now even more so.
Will my experience be the same as before COVID?
Cruises have always been known for their extremely friendly, happy, and attentive staff, I was a bit concerned prior to sailing that I might not get to experience the great interaction I have always enjoyed with every staff member onboard a ship due to the requirement of all staff to be wearing masks at all times. I was so happy that the masks did not in any way inhibit those interactions. All staff wear buttons with their smiling faces showing and you can see the joy and smiles in their eyes. I still was able to have conversations with the bar and dining staff and room stewards as I always have in the past. The service staff onboard ships have always gotten to know their guests and truly take an interest in you as a person, you can’t help but feel so welcomed everywhere you go and that has not changed at all.
Whether seeking the sun and ocean or wanting to taste destinations and cultures around the world, cruising offers travelers the convenience of unpacking once and traveling from port to port to take in the sun and sand, the landscape of breathtaking locations, or the history and culture of lands of old. There truly are cruise lines, ships, and itineraries out there for everyone. Whether it be a family vacation, romantic getaway, group of friends, or a multi-generational family reunion I know the best lines and ships to suit your needs. Now is the perfect time to start sailing again. Contact me today to book your next cruise vacation.