Cruise vacations — what other vacation can you unpack once, visit multiple places, and have unlimited food and entertainment steps away from your room?
They seem like the perfect vacation, or at least until the COVID-19 pandemic hit and hundreds of people got stuck on ships while the virus made its way through cabins.
The cruise industry was one of the first industries to shut down worldwide, with little insight when it could return; the United States went 15 months without a ship leaving one of our own homeports.
From that moment, we began to see more and more companies begin their restart. With guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the form of the Conditional Sail Order, proper health and safety protocols were established, with each company adapting them for their clientele. Whether it’s voyages with all passengers vaccinated, encouragement to be vaccinated, mask requirements, or capacity limits, there certainly is a pandemic style of a cruise out there for everyone.
“Cruising this year has been a whirlwind of emotions. Some things are different and have needed to adjust, much like everything else post COVID,” said Josh Hocum of CRUISE WITH JOSH in an email.
I myself was able to cruise on Carnival Horizon out of Miami, Florida, almost three months after they were able to start sailing back on July 2, 2021. I can’t deny that I relied on multiple cruise vloggers who were able to jump on ships at the beginning of the restart so I could get an idea of what I would be in for.
One concern I had was whether I’d have access to the fun that comes with getting to meet all sorts of people and make friends. I didn’t know if I’d have that chance if no one wanted to be with strangers. As someone who would be cruising solo, this definitely made me second guess cruising during Covid.
Another complication was the constant changes in pre-cruise and onboard requirements. Would I have to wear a mask or get a COVID-19 test, and would the result get back in time? Nonetheless, the chance to take a cruise for the first time in almost two years was too tantalizing to pass up.
Due to the federal mandate of wearing masks on all forms of public transportation, ships are not fully mask-free zones.
They also aren’t excused from enhanced boarding health checks but take responsibility to encourage guests to make sure they are socially distancing and using sanitizer whenever possible.
Hocum said, “On the flip side, there are also some really great changes like a harder emphasis on handwashing, which I think we all can do more of, even off the cruise ship. With cruising today you’ll notice things that have changed, policies that have been updated, and schedules adjusted for more timing and spacing; however, the one thing that hasn’t changed is the fun and high-class service you’ll receive each time you step onboard.”
On my six-day cruise that went to Bimini, Bahamas, Half Moon Cay, and Amber Cove, the Dominican Republic, and not once did I feel a negative impact from the changes. If anything, there were some much-needed changes, like the infamous muster drill. Gone are the days of crowding the entire ship into open decks or venues, instead you complete the briefing on the Carnival Hub App then proceed to your assigned station for the life jacket demonstration.
Prior to sailing away, the ship’s staff do one last overhead announcement to do a much quicker run-through of the procedure. While all the deck parties at night stayed in place, I can’t deny I missed the almost nightly atrium parties. Overall, I took most of my days to relax and enjoy finally being on my long-awaited vacation. As I predicted, the socializing aspect was below the bar of previous trips, but it was to be expected.
As someone who works heavily with the public as part of my job, I felt probably the safest I could’ve since the start of 2020.
I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. “I also didn’t expect to feel SO safe on a ship,” said Sheri Griffiths of Cruise Tips TV in an email. “Since May, I’ve traveled by air, visited hotels & resorts, and have experienced dozens of travel venues & flights. The only place I feel safer than a cruise ship (perhaps), is my own home. At the moment, there is simply no other travel sector that is held to the safety and health standards cruise ships are mandated to meet.”
Overall, cruising in a pandemic world is just as fun and memorable as it was before the pause in service. I actually will be boarding Carnival Panorama in December and can’t wait to have another amazing vacation.