Almost two and a half years ago, the global cruise industry completely shut down with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. All around the world, cruise lines grounded their ships in a move that has never been seen before.
With the fast rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations that started at the end of 2020, most cruise lines were able to resume sailing again by summer 2021…but with adjustments. Additional admin and forms, such as an online health questionnaire, mandatory testing, social distancing, proof of vaccination and mask mandates have all played a role in what it's like to cruise right now. With the unpredictability of the pandemic, the return to cruising has been anything but smooth sailing.
As the pandemic has gradually shifted towards a normal part of life, here's a look at what it's like to cruise right now.
Most Cruise Lines Require Passengers to Be Fully Vaccinated
Cruise lines require passengers and crew that are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to be fully vaccinated. This means if you want to enjoy a cruise vacation, you’ll need to have received both doses of the initial round of vaccines at least 14 days before sailing. Some cruise lines also recommend passengers receive the booster shot but have not required it to sail.
Some cruises lines have made exceptions to allow families to travel with unvaccinated children. Usually there will be additional protocols in place for them though like additional testing or mask wearing.
Cruise Lines Are Moving Away From Mandating Masks
In general, most cruise lines are moving towards recommending masks to be worn onboard versus mandating it. While sailing in May with Celestyal Cruises, masks were still mandated. Sailing in July with Royal Caribbean, masks usage had already shifted to recommended. This shows how fast things are changing in cruising towards getting back to normal.
Be careful though…come prepared with your masks.
Depending on your ports of call, masks still may be required in certain settings and venues. In Bermuda, everyone had to wear a mask to go through the port entry/exit terminals.
Cruise Lines Are Still Mandating Pre-Cruise Testing
Almost all cruise lines require passengers (vaccinated and unvaccinated) to test prior to embarkation as directed by CDC guidance. Depending on the cruise line, this might involve testing 48 or 72 hours before boarding. Some cruise lines also have added in testing at the terminal as well. Just weeks ago in early August, several major cruise lines announced that they would be dropping pre-cruise testing requirements for vaccinated passengers. See? The evolution continues.
Most Cruise Lines Are Still Sailing Well Below Full Capacity
Expect to see far fewer passengers on your next cruise. Almost all cruise lines are voluntarily operating at less than full capacity with some still operating at less than 50%. This is likely out of a combination of caution and a lack of demand.
Social Distancing Has Been Relaxed
Since the re-start of cruising, cruise lines implemented things like spaced out seating in restaurants and reduced capacity at theater shows to help passengers and crew to support social distancing onboard. However, these measures are relaxing and can be seen aboard most ships. Some people are taking extra precautions and doing their best to create space with others, but this is not something that’s being enforced by the cruise lines.
Health Measures Have Been Enhanced
Cruise lines have continued to reassure passengers with their enhanced cleaning and sanitization protocols, including the use of medical-grade disinfectant, hand-washing stations, and hand sanitizer dispensers available throughout every ship. Cruise lines have improved their air-filtration systems too to remove most pathogens.
Cruise lines have also included more medical personnel onboard including nurses and doctors trained to manage a broad range of medical conditions, including COVID-19. Many ships also support COVID-19 testing at sea.
Digital Solutions To Prevent Crowding
Many cruise lines have introduced new digital solutions like apps to support contactless transactions and prevent overcrowding. Cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, have leveraged their digital apps to encourage passengers to make contactless reservations, order drinks and book activities.
Remember the old days of gathering in muster groups to take part in a safety drill in cause of an emergency at sea? No more! Most cruise lines have adopted an e-muster that allows the drill to take place with social distancing. Passengers can watch the muster drill and listen to the emergency signal on their mobile devices using the cruise lines’ apps or on their stateroom TV. To complete the process, you will have to check in at the physical muster station to complete the process.
Overall, cruise lines are making their way back to a new level of normalcy. But much like every other industry, it will forever be changed to reflect everything that was learned during this global pandemic.
Hey, I'm Ronda Wright 👋🏽
I’m the founder of The Wright Getaway. I love all things travel and helping other people experience the world.
Let's chat about your upcoming travel plans!