What the cruise looks like right now, according to 7 people who have spent weeks at sea

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Cruises have returned to North America since last month, but operations are still far from normal.

And while cruises have sailed to other parts of the world for months now, more lines are resuming service everywhere, many of which allow Americans to fly overseas and board in places like Greece. and Iceland.

As ships venture out of the Caribbean; Miami; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Galveston, Texas; and Seattle, those who make a living writing or selling cruises have been spending more time on the water in recent weeks. Many have already made two or three trips.

“I feel like I’ve been on ships every two weeks since June 4,” said Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic, a news and reviews site. “It’s kind of a frantic pace. “

Those who have spent time aboard ships have a lot of questions about what it is on board – what are the rules of the mask, the fate of buffets, and what they can and cannot do ashore. Based on interviews with seven people who have each taken at least two cruises, here’s what potential passengers can expect.

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Immunization status matters a lot

Many ships are sailing with a vaccine requirement as they restart operations. Even those who don’t require passengers to be vaccinated will ask you questions about your status as part of a comprehensive health examination.

In the United States, those with at least 95% of passengers and crew fully vaccinated are allowed to relax safety rules. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the operators of these cruises “may advise passengers and crew that they do not have to wear a mask or maintain a physical distance in any area.”

If less than 95% of passengers are vaccinated on board a ship, areas may be reserved for those who have been vaccinated. In these only vaccinated areas, passengers can travel without a mask. But in other interior areas where all passengers are together, vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers may be required to wear masks unless they are eating and drinking. Those who are not vaccinated must also pay for additional tests.

The CDC recommends that people who are not fully vaccinated avoid cruises.

Despite being vaccinated, McDaniel had to wear a mask at many indoor sites on Freedom of the Seas, which sailed from Miami with vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers.

She said she could not easily tell who was and was not vaccinated based on their experiences, although the vaccinated passengers were given a bracelet to wear. She noticed that the bracelet mattered: when she entered a pub on the ship, reserved for vaccinated passengers, she was wearing long sleeves. “The crew said, ‘May I see your bracelet?’ ” she said.

Crowds are smaller

Ships are sailing at reduced capacity at the moment, although the reduction depends on the cruise line. There have not been many complaints about this new and temporary reality.

“It feels like you’re on a very large yacht with so few people,” Stewart Chiron, CEO of CruiseGuy.com, said in an email from Greece, where he is on Celebrity Apex. “Sometimes you wish there were more people, but without queuing or waiting for anything. The levels of service are extraordinarily high.

On her three cruises so far, on Celebrity ships in the Caribbean and Mediterranean, capacity has been less than 40%.

Travel consultant Peggy Mellen, owner of Bucket List Buster – Dream Vacations with her husband, said she noticed the difference right away on the two cruises she had taken, Bahamas and Miami, on Royal Caribbean International.

“Normally on a ship you have to get there early enough in the morning to get the best pitch for a lounge chair that overlooks the pool,” she said. “At the moment, that’s not a problem. “

Carnival cruises have been more comprehensive, said Doug Parker, the creator of Cruise Radio. He took a six-night cruise on Carnival Horizon earlier this month and said the ship was about 70% full. While the trip lacked the camaraderie one might find on a fuller cruise, he said people still had a good time.

“Selfishly, it was a lot nicer,” he said. “You kind of walk over to a lounge chair or you can go to customer service without having a mile-long queue.”

Safety drills are mostly digital

Every cruiser interviewed for this story was a fan of Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Carnival’s new approach to the “muster drill,” a safety drill that in pre-covid times required passengers to congregate in. large group to where they would. be assigned to go in an emergency.

“You would unpack your suitcase in a cabin and all of a sudden they would announce that you have to show up for this rally exercise,” Mellen said of the previous routine. “You would be lined up in rows. Depending on the ship, you would spend a lot of time outside in the heat.

Instead, passengers on several recent cruises have said they can watch safety information on video and then simply check in at their emergency location within hours of boarding a ship. No crowds, no waiting in the heat, no long protests.

“Everyone loves it,” said Adam Martindale, a Cruise Planners travel consultant who has taken back-to-back cruises in June and July on Celebrity Millennium in St. Maarten.

The buffet continues (in some cases with adjustments)

On some cruise lines, such as Celebrity and Royal Caribbean, buffets have crew members who serve passengers. But Carnival lets passengers serve themselves – with a crew around to keep an eye on behavior.

“You can use the buffet like before the pandemic,” Parker said of his Carnival cruise. “They change the tongs and everything, and there are people standing there to ‘patrol the buffet’ – maybe just to make sure nobody is doing what they shouldn’t be doing.”

McDaniel, who has been on two Celebrity cruises and a Royal Caribbean cruise since June, said she was a fan of the do-it-yourself approach she experienced. She pointed out that the buffet was closed for dinner while cruising aboard Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas.

“Really, it cuts down on the number of people touching tongs or directly reaching and grabbing food, which we’ve all seen happen on cruise ships occasionally,” she said. “It also really reduces waste. “

Someone could test positive. This shouldn’t spoil the cruise.

Routine testing has revealed positive covid cases on a few crossings so far – which cruise passengers expected. Their goal is to make sure that a few cases don’t turn into an outbreak that would force a cruise to end sooner. So far, the efforts have been successful.

Mellen was on Adventure of the Seas in June when two unvaccinated children tested positive – one asymptomatic and one with mild symptoms – and had to be flown home. The captain announced the cases and “that’s all we’ve heard about it,” she said. All persons 16 years of age and over had to be vaccinated on this navigation.

“No one said, ‘Oh no,'” she said. “We know the protocols are working, we saw it in action and we continued the rest of our cruise.”

Mellen said she was happy to be able to explain to clients how the situation was handled after experiencing it herself.

McDaniel was also on cruise when two vaccinated passengers tested positive in an end-of-cruise test. Those who had come into close contact with these passengers had to be isolated pending further testing, but no one else was infected while sailing, which also required anyone 16 and over to be vaccinated.

“It didn’t really disrupt this vacation,” she said. “No one has been locked up for an unusually long period of time.”

Rules vary by port – on board and ashore

Cruise passengers will not have the same rules for testing and wearing the mask on each ship as these measurements are dictated by the ports from which they depart. Passengers should expect to be required to wear masks in terminals, but the experience on board will vary.

“So far we’ve been on three cruises from three different cruise lines; each has different protocols in place, ”Don and Heidi Bucolo, who run the cruise review site EatSleepCruise.com, said in an email from Iceland, where they are on the cruise. “One thing that stands out is that there is no consistency between cruise lines in health and safety measures.”

The couple have been cruising Royal Caribbean International from the Bahamas, Celebrity Cruises from Florida and Viking Cruises from Iceland since June 12.

The rules for what you can do on board ships will also vary.

“Depending on the port of call, the cruise line and your vaccination status, you may not be able to explore independently,” the Bucolos said. “While we could explore freely on two cruises, one cruise required all guests to book shore excursions with the cruise line for two of the three ports of call.”

Martindale, of Cruise Planners, said these rules are also frequently changing. Two days before arrival, one island said passengers could not disembark on their own; he changed course the next day during his cruise.

“It changes every day,” he said.

McDaniel said flexibility is key for anyone booking a short-term cruise. On one of its crossings, a destination country changed its schedule to test negative before the visit, forcing passengers to scramble.

“You can book a cruise today for a month from now, and they’ll send you the protocols and what to expect on board,” she said. “Things keep changing. So what are the protocols today, it will not necessarily be the case in a month. “


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