Also know that, despite all the testing, temperature checks and new procedures, cruise ship personnel and islanders are genuinely happy to see you, and happy that tourism has restarted. We have been on two cruises since the restart, and thought it might be a good idea to talk about how the cruise lines are implementing their health and safety protocols.
Cruising is back. Hooray!
Is it different? Of course. COVID is still very much among us.
First, it’s fair to point out cruise lines have prioritized health and safety long before COVID hit. Ships have had sanitizers in place at restaurants and other venues for some time, mostly as a preventive measure against the norovirus. With the advent of COVID, they’ve added more, both on and off the ship.
Our first foray back to cruising wasn’t actually a cruise — it was a media preview of Carnival’s new ship, Mardi Gras, at Port Canaveral in August. To participate, we had to complete health forms, a health questionnaire (not a new thing — cruise lines have required it for some time) and present proof of vaccination to board. We now treat our vax cards with the same importance as our passports.
In September, we had another media preview, this time for Virgin’s Scarlet Lady. Along with our vax cards and filling out health questionnaires, this time medical personnel were on site to administer antigen tests. We had to go to a waiting area until our results arrived via email, which took 10-15 minutes.
The following month, we had our first real cruise: 10 days on Atlas Ocean Voyages’ new ship, World Navigator. We would spent 10 days cruising the Caribbean, embarking from St. Maarten and returning from Barbados. So not only would we be making our first cruise, but also taking our first flight in over two years.
As you might expect, arrangements were a little more complicated. For starters, to visit St. Maarten you must be pre-approved via their travel portal, as well as submit a negative PCR test (at your expense) within 72 hours of arrival. After some initial technical issues with the pre-approval were resolved, we worried about the timing of the test results. If they were outside the 72-hour window, our cruise would be over before it started. We had the test performed at a local clinic and got them back fairly quickly.
Negative tests in hand, along with vax cards and passports, we headed for Miami International, where we had to show our passport at every turn. But other than that, the flight portion was uneventful, if you don’t count being folded like an accordion in your seat.
Once on the ground in St. Maarten, we joined a line to show our travel authorizations and negative COVID test, collected our luggage and boarded a bus to the cruise terminal. At the terminal, the World Navigator medical team and crew had set up a tent to administer yet another antigen test before we could board the ship.
We later found out the crew is tested on a weekly basis, as are passengers who are on board for longer than a week. We of course were, so we had another antigen test mid-cruise, and another at the end to re-enter the United States.
Visiting the ports has changed as well. Most require a temperature check when you arrive; some require guests to remain in a controlled “bubble” during shore excursions (no travel outside the group).
Earlier this month, we took our second cruise aboard Celebrity Apex, marking its long-delayed U.S. debut with a naming ceremony. They require passengers be fully vaccinated and submit a negative antigen test result (at your expense) within 48 hours of sailing. By this point, we are COVID-test veterans and know the routine pretty well.
The best advice: Do your homework. Find out what kind of test is required — antigen or PCR. Find out who is paying for it (probably you in most cases). Look into the status and protocols of the ports or countries you are slated to visit.
Also know that, despite all the testing, temperature checks and new procedures, cruise ship personnel and islanders are genuinely happy to see you, and happy that tourism has restarted. Everyone is holding their breath that more people will get the vaccine and we can put this COVID nightmare behind us.
Until that happens, be prepared for the extra requirements you’ll encounter, and know it’s all about making cruise vacations the absolute safest way to travel.
Our tour group lines up for a temperature check in St. Lucia