We asked Chris Gray Faust, managing editor of Cruise Critic, for her advice on navigating the ever-changing world of cruising during COVID.
What changes can passengers expect onboard these days, as COVID is looking more like a permanent part of the travel picture?
I’ve sailed on nearly a dozen cruises since the industry’s return and, while there are certainly differences onboard, the overall experience is very similar to what it was before. While there are some changes, most cruisers are just glad to be traveling again.
Cruising resumed with a very methodical return, including the implementation of onboard capacity limits, but most lines have done away with them at this point. So, you’ll likely see ships sailing closer to 100 percent occupancy.
That said, cruise lines are still implementing a number of changes. Many of these updated protocols have actually improved the onboard experience from pre-pandemic days. Most lines have staggered boarding to alleviate crowds at embarkation, and many ships now have virtual muster drills, sometimes even doable before boarding.
Served buffets vary by cruise line, and even by ship. While many lines have returned to the traditional self-serve buffet, some still have their buffets served by staff. Some lines still rely on QR codes for menus in their main dining rooms and specialty restaurants, although you can ask for a printed menu if you prefer.
Given the spike in flight delays, what should passengers do to make it to their embarkation port on time?
We recommend arriving at your departure port a day early — even two days, if possible — to allow for extra room for any potential delays. Why start your vacation with the stress of worrying that you’ll miss your cruise?
If you’ve yet to book your flight, booking through the cruise line could help alleviate this. The line will be much more likely to work with you to ensure you get to your cruise (if you’ve booked flights with them) versus if you’ve booked independently. We also recommend purchasing travel insurance with a solid trip interruption policy, particularly for a cruise vacation that includes many moving parts, from flights to hotels.
What should we know about vaccination and booster requirements?
We’re beginning to see lines do away with vaccine requirements, but that varies by the cruise line and even specific ships and sailings. (Note: Unvaccinated passengers, if allowed, are required to produce a negative COVID test prior to boarding.) Rather than a blanket requirement across the entire fleet, many policies are guided by local government requirements, either from the departure port or ports of call on the itinerary. Some lines are also continuing to require vaccines based on the length of the cruise — longer cruises will likely still require vaccination in order to sail.
Here’s the latest on each cruise line’s requirements: www.cruisecritic.com/articles.cfm?ID=5872
Cruise lines continue to experience staff shortages. How might this impact the experience?
Staff shortages could mean certain areas or venues onboard will have limited hours or availability. We’ve seen some sailings canceled for this reason, but that’s not the norm.
Anything else we should know to make that cruise the best vacation possible?
Be flexible. Understand that there could be some changes to your travel experience, whether in the air or aboard. As cruise lines continue to update their policies and procedures, it’s important to be familiar with your chosen cruise line’s requirements. Know that those policies may change as you approach your sail date, so stay in close contact with them.
That said, crew members and passengers are excited to be back at sea. Cruising is just as fun as it ever was. And on a positive note, there are more lines than ever sailing expedition itineraries [cruises that get you close to nature and wildlife, often with experts onboard]. You can now visit these regions — including Antarctica, the Galapagos, and Alaska — on all kinds of different vessels, based on your preference.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com