With the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) providing a path for cruise lines to return to the water, it has many travelers trying to determine what being on a ship is like in this new era of travel.
Following a recent “simulation cruise” following CDC guidelines, Royal Caribbean’s Director of Sales, Lisa Falango, feels that travelers will have the same great experience they did before the pandemic.
“You will still have an amazing vacation experience regardless of some of the new protocols that we have to adhere to,” says Falango. “It’s a very safe and healthy environment with full crews.”
AN IMPROVED BOARDING PROCESS
One of the most recognizable changes to the cruise experience occurs during boarding. No longer will crowds swarm the port. Instead, travelers are assigned a time to check-in for their cruise to reduce wait times and promote social distancing. The list of required documents to board with most cruise lines has changed, too.
“The most important thing to have when you’re in the boarding process is your updated passport,” advises Falango. “You also need your vaccination card to show you’re fully vaccinated and show up at the terminals with a negative COVID test, as well. You’ll also need your boarding card or pass.”
These four simple documents will make the boarding process run efficiently for all guests. According to Falango, most cruise lines provide assigned boarding times based on the information you provided during online check-in.
"When you do your online check-in, there will be an area that will ask you if you plan to drive or fly and for your arrival time," says Falango. "We really encourage you to pick the appropriate time, and that's a way for us to make sure that the embarkation process is smooth and we don't have people waiting around the terminal. We just want to check you in and get you off to the boat as fast as we can."
MASK POLICIES ON CRUISE LINES
At present, most cruise lines like Royal Caribbean require that guests mask at times during their cruise. While mask policies vary from cruise line to cruise line, most involve masking while exploring indoor spaces on the ship.
“Masks are required in all indoor spaces,” says Falango of Royal Caribbean. "Outdoors, you don't need to have your mask on, but we do have different protocols for indoor venues depending on your vaccination status."
CHANGES TO ONBOARD DINING
In an effort to protect passengers, many cruise lines have shifted to a butler-driven buffet experience. But passengers can otherwise expect other dining options to remain unchanged.
“The Windjammer is our buffet serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” says Falango. “It’s just a bit modified, so you’ll still get the full dining experience, but now you’ll basically walk through the line, and someone will follow you through the stations and serve you. You still have the buffet element to pick and choose."
On most cruise lines, guests will be encouraged to make reservations in the main dining room and any specialty restaurants onboard.
ENHANCED MEDICAL FACILITIES
While cruise ships have always had robust medical facilities, the pandemic has changed how most operate. Many cruise lines have invested in increasing the size of their onboard medical staff, and in Royal Caribbean's case, have created separate areas for COVID and non-COVID medical issues
“Safety and health are our number one priority,” says Falango. “We’ve got full medical capabilities onboard. We have two physicians, and we also have six RNs. So on every shift, there will be two physicians, six nurses, and four other medical staff to assist the medical facilities we've expanded. You have top-of-the-line healthcare onboard."
As passengers return to the seas, the expanded health facilities and staff across the fleets of ships is something that can put travelers’ minds at ease, in addition to the increased number of hand sanitizing stations and enhanced cleaning protocols.
To avoid crowds forming when the ship arrives at the port, most cruise lines have developed a plan to disembark passengers in timed phases to make the disembarkation process more efficient and safer. Guests now have the opportunity to have a leisurely morning with breakfast options or to wait in their stateroom until their group is called for disembarkation.
“[Passengers] now can stay in their stateroom and are given a [disembarkation] time based on what is required or requested based on travel plans,” says Falango. “There is a note that comes to you midway through the cruise asking what time you’d like to depart. You do a quick little snapshot on your phone and fill out the survey, they send bag tags to your room the night before, which is your number for getting off the ship, but you stay in your cabin until your number is called."
These changes allow guests to enjoy breakfast, coffee, and finish packing, rather than rushing to disembark. This also improves the experience at customs due to the controlled flow of passenger traffic.
THE BOTTOM LINE
After a challenging 2020 and start to 2021, cruise lines are making the necessary improvements to adapt to a pandemic reality. With new safety and health protocols, guests will continue to have a great experience and may even see improvements to the travel experience due to implemented changes.
But if you have any lingering concerns, Falango has a recommendation.
“The most important thing you can do is talk to your Travel Advisor,” says Falango. “We get information out to [Travel Advisors] first and foremost. It’s very complicated as things keep changing, and requirements keep changing as well.”