Unsure about cruising in this pandemic era? We’ve got ten tips to ease your mind in these crazy times.
The cruise & travel landscape is evolving by the day and if you’re planning to travel in the coming months, you may be feeling unsure about what to expect and how to plan.
Cruise travel is more complex than it was pre-pandemic, but the good news is, the lines remain laser-focused on making travel by ship one of the most stress-free & easy ways to travel. Not only that, but the cruise industry’s future depends on YOUR safety on a ship, so they have your best interests in mind.
Despite that, planning a cruise requires more research and undoubtedly, more steps than it did a few years ago. Gone are the days of packing the night before your cruise, showing up to the terminal with your passport, and leaving the rest of the details behind. Getting on a ship requires a few more steps – vaccination, pre-cruise testing, and more paperwork, at minimum. But it doesn’t have to be a recipe for stress. We’ve been on several pandemic era cruises, and each time, we learn more about how to dial back the anxiety, and turn UP the fun!
Today, we’re sharing our guide on how to navigate pandemic era cruising. These 10 tips will prepare you for how cruising is different and help you to feel confident about getting back on the high seas again so you can focus on relaxation and fun once onboard. Please note that we’re sharing these tips in October 2021, and travel protocols are changing by the day.
Our piece of advice is to choose cruise lines and airlines with flexible cancellation and booking policies. Several cruise line assurance programs, like Royal Caribbean’s “Cruise with Confidence” program, have policies that allow you to cancel your cruise and get a future cruise credit without hefty penalties. The best way to ensure your cruise line of choice offers this is to work with a travel agent who can guide you.
This next tip is probably the top tip we can share during these ever-evolving times. EXPECTING CHANGE is KEY if you choose to cruise right now. Changing ports & itineraries, altered embarkation and debarkation times and cancelled flights seem to be the flavor of the day. If you’re not ready to roll with the punches, you may want to wait a while before you choose to cruise. Oh, and be sure to plan flights accordingly – with lots of padding before & after your cruise.
This isn’t new advice, but it’s more important than ever. Not are cruise line itineraries subject to flux, airlines are still changing & cancelling flights, leaving travelers frustrated and stuck if their plans are too rigid. If you can, fly in early to your cruise destination, and consider flying home the day FOLLOWING your cruise, not the same day you get off the ship (and definitely not the morning of debarkation).
Choose at-home COVID tests
In recent months, as the CDC and cruise lines have amped up their pre-cruise COVID testing requirements. Most lines require cruise passengers to take a COVID test no longer than 2 days before their cruise begins, putting travelers in a time-crunch to get tested, fly or drive to their destination, and get results back in time to cruise. Thankfully, several cruise lines have formed partnerships with at-home testing companies to ensure their guests get reliable results in a timely manner.
While it may cost you a bit more to order these tests (in lieu of free local testing), we suggest you take advantage of the fact that many cruise lines are now allowing you to take “at home”, medically supervised COVID tests before you cruise. Don’t waste your time waiting for lab results when you test in the comfort of your own home. Just be sure to ONLY use the cruise line recommended test kits (not the drug store home kits that don’t require medical supervision).
The health and safety section of the cruise line websites will point you in the right direction – they may even offer a link to the exact test you should order. Most kits come in packs of two. While it’s advisable to purchase a two pack for each cruiser, you could share a pack. Just know that if the test is faulty or inconclusive, you may not have time to purchase another.
Pack safety essentials
When putting together your cruise packing list, we recommend you take your own safe-cruising supplies along with you. Face masks, hand sanitizing wipes & a small supply of medications are good to have on hand. A travel size pack of Clorox wipes is nice too, particularly for wiping down airplane seats and tray tables. We’ve also started to pack disposable face masks for flights so we can toss them out after a long day in airports and on planes.
This comes in handy on port days too. Many cruise destinations currently require face masks in port, indoors and out, and disposable masks can be tossed out after a humid (read: sweaty) day of sightseeing. Our amazon store, linked in the description is a good place to start for this stuff.
Print it all!
It may seem counterintuitive to print things off in a time when contactless travel is becoming more common, but we suggest you print all important documents before your cruise. Use a binder (here’s how) or a folder with physical, printed copies of your boarding passes, COVID test results, the original copy of your vaccine card, custom wall-mount itinerary & any other docs you may need. Fumbling through your phone is NO fun, especially when internet connections in cruise terminals can be sub par. Think of your smartphone as your backup for these circumstances. Tuck your vaccine card into one of these handy waterproof cases, and avoid wear and tear.
While we’ve always recommended this, being patient is more important than ever. It really boils down to this – expect to wait more in general. Allow more time at the airport, and for embarkation and debarkation on your cruise, and understand that the cruise lines are adapting as they go too. Sure, some cruise lines may breeze you from “car to bar” in 15 minutes on embarkation day, but the norm these days is that lots of processes just take longer.
We also suggest heeding your cruise line’s suggested arrival time for your cruise. You could be turned away if you show up early, and that’s no fun – especially in extreme weather, or when traveling with kids!
The app is where it’s at
During the peak of the pandemic, we heard about how the cruise lines were building new technology concepts to make cruising safer than ever. What we’ve seen so far with the cruise restart is that cruise line apps have become more and more a part of the cruise experience, and you’ll be expected to use your app more than ever. From completing a portion of your muster drill, to making and altering dining & show reservations and checking out the daily activities, at least one person in your party is gonna need that app. We suggest downloading it in advance of your cruise, and getting familiar with it in advance.
You may have mixed feelings about this (we certainly do), but we can assure you the apps are easy to use, and shouldn’t make you feel strapped to your device. If you prefer paper menus, paper newsletters, etc, just ask the staff & crew – they’ll likely oblige.
While a travel agent can offer huge value in the cruise planning process, one mistake we’re seeing cruisers make is to rely on their travel agent to understand and communicate ALL current safety protocols. Instead, we suggest you do your own research, and take control of knowing your cruise lines testing policies, onboard safety rules, and vaccine requirements and check them frequently for changes. Don’t assume protocols are the same across the industry or that they haven’t been modified since you booked your cruise. Don’t wait for your travel agent to keep you up to speed.
Give people space
Cruise travel is still in the restart phase, and the other passengers you cruise with are likely to be at varying stages of comfort with travel and personal space, in general. We suggest you observe the same common sense safety protocols you would on land, – like giving fellow cruisers a little bit of physical space in lines, not crowding elevators, and just being thoughtful about safety protocols. Just because everyone on our cruise is vaccinated doesn’t mean that we should throw all caution to the wind.
Insure your trip
Now, more than ever, it’s a good idea to invest in travel insurance. It’s relatively inexpensive and can offer protection against cancellation, illness & travel delays. Definitely use your travel agent to explore your insurance options, and buy the best policy you can afford. In our experience, you can’t go wrong with either a cruise line or outside provider’s policy. The key is understanding what coverage is offered, what your coverage needs are, and making the investment.
Ready, set, book!
Our hope is that you plan a cruise when it feels right for YOU. If you’re ready to get back to cruise travel in 2021 – we think you’ll find the experience during the restart phase to be particularly enjoyable and unique, partly because ships are sailing at reduced capacity.
If you’re ready to hit the high seas again, don’t wait. There are SO many reasons to book a cruise for 2021 and beyond.
Let us know YOUR tips for cruising in these uncertain times by sending us a DM on social media! Come hang out with us on Instagram or Facebook for weekly updates, news & travel fun.
Until next time, we’ll see you on the high seas!
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