How different is cruising during COVID?

Photo courtesy of Windstar Cruises

Last December I took my first cruise since the pandemic began. I was so excited about the voyage, but I was more intrigued to see how cruising is different from what I know. So let me share with you the “new normal”.

Embarkation is timed and takes longer
Gone are the days when you can show up at the pier any time and waltz into the terminal. Due to social distancing rules, arrival at the terminal is now staggered. You will be given a specific time slot to arrive for check-in, and forget about showing up early. You will be asked to wait outside - which may not have seating available or be sheltered. And if there isn’t space, you may even be asked to leave the area.

Many cruise lines are also testing guests at the terminal before being allowed to board. This extra step adds at least 30 minutes to your embarkation process.

A few more protocols onboard
By now we are all used to hand-washing, sanitizing, mask-wearing, and social distancing in our daily lives. All of this is of course enforced onboard. Some cruise lines also perform daily temperature checks, and on longer voyages, there is periodic testing during the cruise to ensure any infection is detected early.

More touchless technology
Even before the pandemic, many cruise lines have moved towards touchless cruising by way of wearable technology. In the form of a coin-sized medallion or wristband, the electronic device opens stateroom doors, is a touchless way to charge for goods and services, and also serves as an efficient contact tracing tool.

Public areas onboard ships also have numerous touchless features such as sensors that open doors, hands-free faucets, and automatic sanitizer dispensers. The buffet still exists, however, all food is served to you or ordered through table service.

Some services are affected
As all ships are sailing on reduced capacity, some of the public venues may be closed, entertainment and activities may be limited or operate under shorter hours.

Direct contact between crew and guests is also reduced. On my cruise onboard a luxury cruise line, normal services such as a personal escort to my suite, handling of my carry-on, unpacking and packing services were temporarily suspended. Another element that I missed dearly is the waiter laying the napkin on my lap after I have been seated in the restaurant. However, trading these little touches for safety is certainly appreciated at this time and I know they will return.

Exploring ashore
Cruise lines are only working with ports of call that can adhere to the strict protocols required to safeguard the ship’s guests and crew. Port staff and shore excursion operators that come in direct contact with guests must be fully-vaccinated and tested before conducting the tour. Hand sanitizing, mask-wearing, and social distancing are enforced onboard tour vehicles and indoor venues.

Some ports of call may not allow cruisers to wander on their own. In that case, you will be required to purchase the ship’s shore excursion to leave the ship.

Going home
Antigen and PCR tests at the end of the cruise are available, it is complimentary on some cruise lines while others charge a nominal fee. Testing procedures vary between cruise lines and port of disembarkation. It may either be performed onboard the ship the day before arrival or inside the cruise terminal after disembarkation.

Make sure your return flight time doesn’t leave too early as you need time for testing (if done after disembarkation), waiting for results, and the extra time required at the airport for check-in and security. Ensure you have all the necessary paperwork and required test results to travel home.

Most importantly, don’t miss the boat to begin with! Read my tips on getting to the pier on time.

Bon voyage and happy cruising!