Planning Our Next Cruise – What Will Be Different?

We are getting close. After months of hearing how our European friends have booked cruises only to find they are cancelled or rolled into the future, we are ready to book. As Americans, I’m thinking a trip to the Caribbean starting and ending in New York will avoid the complications of European travel. What are we expecting?

  1. Aiming towards November. As cruising returns, the kinks will gradually be ironed out. The trend in the US has been easing of lockdown restrictions. Ever the optimist, I’m assuming planning four months in advance will mean life will be closer to normal.
  2. Covid testing. We are vaccinated. I’m assuming we will need more than a small handwritten card to prove it to the cruise line. By then, there will be something on our Smartphones. I’m assuming we will need Covid tests with negative results before we walk up the gangway and upon our return. This will likely be our responsibility leaving NY and the ship’s when bringing us back to terra firma.
  3. Boarding the ship. I’m guessing we will retreat to the recent past: six foot spacing on line, masks for everyone and hand sanitizer everywhere. As the British say: Hands, face and space. The lines will be longer. The many people entering data will likely need much more time because now there’s new details to capture.
  4. The cabin. Psychologically I would want a cabin with a balcony. Fresh air is a good thing. Realistically, I think they’ve got the ventilation system figured out. Unlike an airplane, recycled air isn’t a big problem psychologically.
  5. Lifeboat drill. This will probably be on TV, although wearing those orange flotation vests easily keeps you three feet from your neighbor. Overall, requiring people to gather in a small space wouldn’t be considered a good idea.
  6. Walking around the ship. I’m envisioning two worlds. Indoors it will be masks and social distancing. Probably every other seat in the theaters will be kept open. On deck, I’m assuming being out in the open air with a continuous breeze will mean masks are optional and social distancing won’t be a big issue.
  7. Shore excursions. I’m guessing this will be an issue. Yes, Caribbean ports want tourists. I don’t know if they want the risk of outsiders wandering through shops and rubbing shoulders with local residents, especially since the majority of residents might be unvaccinated. I’m expecting leaving the ship will involve highly secure, escorted tours, much like we experienced when visiting St. Petersburg.
  8. Dining and drinking. I’m expecting this will be similar to life back home. No masks. No plexiglass shields. The dining room staff will likely be wearing masks and gloves, but not passengers.
  9. Buffet and casual dining. I think buffets will return. It will follow the protocols in place when they used to announce a norovirus outbreak. Staff will serve you with tongs. They will wear gloves and masks. Passengers will wear masks while not seated. Tables will be spaced farther apart.
  10. Welcome parties, galas and receptions. I’m guessing these are off the schedule. “Let’s put 1,000 people in a room” isn’t going to work. Even if you required masks, people are eating and drinking.
  11. Shows and movies. The theater might be filled to 50% capacity, but I think evening shows and afternoon lectures will take place as in pre pandemic days. New York is talking about a return to Broadway shows in September. This decision is likely taken concurrently with the unions for Broadway actors and performers. If they are allowed to perform in NYC, they will likely be allowed to perform at sea.

What’s the bottom line? The return to normality depends on how you spend your time aboard ship. If you are hardly ever in your cabin, lounge on deck and dine in the restaurants, it should look pretty similar. If you attend lectures, favor indoor activities and are used to exploring ports on your own, the experience will be quite different. Safety will come first.

Cover photo: Cruise ship at Key West’s Mallory Square with schooner on sunset cruise in background ©Dennis Cox/WorldViews

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