Are cruises fun again? COVID rules have been relaxed, but some things may never go back to how they were.
By Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell
As cruise lines rebuild their reputations, here are some tips from a pro to help you make the most of your trip
This article is reproduced with permission from NextAvenue.org.
In 2019, I discovered the joys of offshore cruising. I love the all-inclusive meal and drink packages, the myriad of entertainment, and the ability to experience different ports of call – often seeing several different countries in a week or less.
I enjoyed my first cruise so much that I booked another one to another part of the Caribbean and purchased a discounted package for more cruises before I even left the ship.
Two short months later, COVID has changed the world, both on land and at sea. The cruise industry shut down and my second scheduled excursion in 2020 was cancelled.
Since then, my travel companion Jeanie and I have scrapped our plans for a second Caribbean cruise and instead decided to go to Alaska in September of this year.
“What? I wouldn’t get caught in one of those floating Petri dishes,” many friends and family members have told me. When COVID numbers spiked again last spring, we decided to rebook our Alaska cruise, this time for September 2023.
Signs of a (slow) recovery
Since that time, Jeanie has had COVID, and with the reported easy transmission of the latest variant, I am once again wary of being outside too much. However, it seems that we are in the minority of cruise passengers.
Writers and others who follow the industry for a living say people are returning to this form of travel, an observation supported by financial records from the three largest cruise lines. Carnival (CCL) was back at 69% capacity at the end of May, at the end of its last quarter, compared to 31% a year earlier; Royal Caribbean (RCL) was at 82% capacity at the end of June, compared to 27.5% previously; and Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCLH) was at 64.6%, down from 58.1% a year ago.
“For the most part, everyone is thrilled to be back, and the crew and passengers want it to work,” said David Yeskel, travel journalist and cruise expert for Santa Monica-based Cruise Guru. in California.
See: Royal Caribbean’s stock gains after revealing bookings significantly surpass pre-pandemic levels
People could return in part, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped its risk advisory for cruise ship passengers in March and issued new guidance in July.
Susan Stafford, co-founder of The Event Architects in Tallahassee, Fla., which books many event cruises for her clients, says she was on a cruise in November 2021 and another in April 2022. Although the cruises didn’t only happened five months apart, there was a world of difference.
Improving the passenger experience
In November, Stafford says, all passengers were required to mask up and maintain social distancing when in any public space on the ship. Stafford adds that the November cruise wasn’t as fun as the pre-COVID ones. “They were at 50% capacity and there just wasn’t the energy that you find and love on ships,” she says.
In April, however, the cruise line she was sailing on (and declined to name) had relaxed her mask and some social distancing restrictions and streamlined vaccination requirements and boarding protocols.
“Three years ago, if you were on a cruise, you checked in at the dock and collected your keys there,” Stafford says. “They don’t want a lot of people gathered in a waiting room anymore, so many are letting you check in and pick up your key cards which are hanging on your room door.”
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Climbing up carefully
Most cruise lines have also scanned proof of vaccination documentation (although some still require you to show a hard copy at check-in) and negative COVID test results, which must be taken 48 hours prior to departure. boarding. Tests can be self-administered but must be proctored remotely.
For now, at least, passengers should be prepared to produce proof of vaccination. Stafford says cruise lines currently allow few exemptions. The CDC recommends that between 90% and 95% of passengers be vaccinated
“I found that with the easing of restrictions, we were treated much more like adults on the April cruise,” Stafford said. The cruise line she was on had also increased capacity to 75%, giving passengers the chance to have more social interaction and shared energy that is expected from the cruise experience. “It still wasn’t crowded, but there were enough people to make it fun.”
Stafford noted that stores on board no longer carry painkillers.
“If you have a headache, they don’t want you to take a Tylenol,” she says. “They want you to go to the infirmary immediately.”
Medical experts mostly agree that COVID-19 and its variants are likely to exist for a long time, if not forever, much like the flu virus. Those who specialize in cruises say they expect cruise lines to stick to the protocols, at least for the next few years.
See also: Health experts appalled by President Biden’s view that the pandemic is over: ‘Hell no – not even close’
See you soon, self-service
Yeskel says a permanent change could be made to self-service buffets that have allowed hundreds, if not thousands, of passengers to step in and use the same serving utensils. “I don’t know of any cruise lines that do that anymore,” he says. “There are still buffets, but you are served by the staff.”
While most cruise lines have relaxed mask rules, many still require staff to always wear them and passengers to keep them on in crowded theaters and other cramped spaces. “They want to stay in business, their priority is to rebuild their reputation,” says Stafford. Some cruise lines have already committed to or installed fresh air filters.
The CDC believes cruise operators have the tools they need to prevent and manage coronavirus transmission on their ships. So he recently shut down a digital dashboard that tracked virus outbreaks across the industry.
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Advice from a professional
Still, it can pay to be careful, especially when traveling overseas. Jeremy Clubb, founder of Rainforest Cruises, which offers small river and river cruise packages, offers these suggestions to help you get the most out of your cruise:
Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell is a full-time freelance writer and writer living in the Ozark Mountains. She is the founder and administrator of the public Facebook page, Years of Light: Living Large in Widowhood and a private Facebook group, Finding Myself After Losing My Spouse, dedicated to helping widows/widowers move forward.
This article is reproduced with permission from NextAvenue.org, (c) 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.
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