By Keri Vivecot Campbell
As cruise lines rebuild their reputation, here are some suggestions from a pro to help you enjoy your cruise to the fullest
This article is reprinted with permission from NextAvenue.org.
In 2019, I discovered the joy of ocean sailing. I love the all-inclusive food and drink packages, the myriad of entertainments and the opportunity to try different ports of call – I often see many different countries in a week or less.
I enjoyed my first cruise so much, I booked another one to a different part of the Caribbean and bought a discount package for more cruises before I got off the ship.
After two short months, COVID has changed the world, both on land and at sea. The cruise industry has come to a halt and my second cruise planned for 2020 has been cancelled.
Since then, my travel buddy Jenny and I canceled our plans for a second Caribbean cruise and decided instead to take an Alaska cruise scheduled to sail in September of this year.
Several friends and family told me, “What? I’m not going to get caught on one of my floating Petri dishes.” When the COVID numbers spiked again last spring, we decided to rebook the Alaska cruise, this time for September 2023.
Signs of recovery (slow)
Since that time Jenny has contracted COVID, and with the reported easy transmission of the latest variant, I’m once again worried about going out a lot. However, we seem to be in the minority of cruise passengers.
Writers and others who track the industry for a living say people are returning to this type of travel, an observation backed by financial deposits by the three largest cruise lines. Carnival (CCL) was back at 69% of capacity at the end of May, the end of its most recent quarter, up from 31% a year earlier; Royal Caribbean (RCL) was at 82% of capacity at the end of June, up from 27.5%; and Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCLH) reached 64.6%, compared to 58.1% a year earlier.
“For the most part, everyone is happy to be back, and crew and passengers alike want to make it a success,” says David Yeskel, travel journalist and cruise expert for Cruise Guru, based in Santa Monica, California.
SEE: Royal Caribbean stock gains after bookings revelations were ‘dramatically outstripping’ pre-pandemic levels
People may return in part, because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped risk guidelines for cruise ship passengers in March and issued new guidelines in July.
Susan Stafford, co-founder of The Event Architects in Tallahassee, Florida, which books several event cruises for clients, says she was on a cruise in November 2021 and another in April 2022. Although the cruises were only five months apart, That there was a world of difference.
Improve passenger experience
Stafford says that in November all passengers were asked to disguise and maintain social distancing while in any public place on the ship. Stafford added that the cruise in November wasn’t nearly as fun as the one before COVID. “Its energy was 50% and there was no energy to find and love on ships,” she says.
However, by April, the cruise line I sailed on (I declined to be named) had relaxed its mask and some social distancing restrictions and simplified vaccination requirements and boarding protocols.
“Three years ago, if you were taking a cruise, you should check in at the dock and get your keys there,” Stafford says. “Now they don’t want to crowd many people in a waiting area together, so many of them let you check in and collect key cards hanging on your room door.”
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Step up your backup, with caution
Most cruise lines have also digitized proof of vaccination documentation (although some still require you to show a paper copy at check-in) and negative COVID test results, which must be done 48 hours before boarding. The tests can be self-administered but must be monitored remotely.
For now, at least, passengers should prepare to provide proof of vaccination. Stafford says cruise lines currently allow some waivers. The CDC recommends vaccinating 90% to 95% of passengers
“I found that with the relaxation of restrictions, we were treated a lot like adults on the April trip,” Stafford says. The cruise line’s capacity has also increased to 75%, giving passengers the opportunity for more social interaction and the shared energy one would expect from a sailing experience. “It still wasn’t crowded, but there were enough people to make it fun.”
Stafford noted that the shops on board the ships no longer carried painkillers.
“If you have a headache, they don’t want you to take Tylenol,” she says. They want you to visit the dispensary right away.
Medical experts mostly agree that COVID-19 and its variants will likely be around for as long, if not forever, as the influenza virus. Those who specialize in cruises say they expect cruise lines to maintain protocols, at least for the next few years.
SEE ALSO: Health experts upset with President Biden’s view that the pandemic is over: ‘Hell no – not even close’
Yeskel says permanent change may come to self-service buffets that allowed hundreds, if not thousands, of passengers to board 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 comfortable mask bases, many still require employees to always wear them and passengers to keep them in crowded theaters and other confined spaces. “They want to keep going, and their priority is to rebuild their reputation,” Stafford says. Some cruise lines have already committed to or installed fresh air filters.
The CDC believes cruise operators have the tools to prevent and manage transmission of the coronavirus on their ships, so it recently shut down the digital dashboard that tracks virus outbreaks across the industry.
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Tips from a professional
However, it can be helpful to be careful, especially when traveling abroad. Jeremy Clubb, founder of Rainforest Cruises, which bundles small ship packages and river cruises, offers these suggestions to help you enjoy your cruise to the fullest:
Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell is a full-time freelance writer and author who lives in the Ozark Mountains. She is the founder and director of the public Facebook page, Years of Light: Living Big on Widowhood and a private Facebook group, Finding Myself After Losing My Spouse, dedicated to helping widows/widows move on.
This article is reprinted with permission from NextAvenue.org (c) 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. all rights are save.
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