The health crisis of the past year and a half has impacted every aspect of our lives. But perhaps nothing was as affected as an industry quite like cruising. From widely reported outbreaks early in the pandemic to a global halt of sailing to tough new rules required from the CDC to sail again, the industry has seen a long road in order to get back to cruising.
The good news is that if you are vaccinated — and you are sailing on a fully-vaccinated cruise where at least 95% of passengers have the shot — then the experience is largely the same, at least right now. You can enjoy dinner, play in the casino, hang out by the pool, or watch an evening show in the theater, just like before the pause in sailing.
Even so, there are still a number of things that you shouldn’t do now that cruises have returned — even if you have the shot. After sailing on one of the first cruises to return, here are our suggestions for things not to do as you get ready to get back on the ship.
When it comes to sailing without the shot, many people won’t have a choice. Cruise lines are largely requiring the vaccine for most passengers on most cruises. The one exception is from Florida. There, a law says that businesses can’t require proof of a vaccine from customers. As a result, unvaccinated passengers are allowed to sail.
Even so, it’s not a good idea to sail if you haven’t received the vaccine. Not only does it increase the risk of cruising at this time, but it can also hurt your enjoyment of the cruise.
For instance, cruise lines require multiple tests before and during the cruise if you don’t have the shot — and charge hundreds of dollars for testing those who sail unvaccinated. There are also travel insurance requirements. And on some ships, many places like the casino and spa are off limits if sailing without the vaccine.
The bottom line is not only do you put yourself and others are risk on a cruise ship, but it will also cost you more and lead to a cruise that’s not as much fun.
Going Maskless Into Port
If you’re a cruise passenger, then masking might be a little confusing. You’ve heard about the danger of spread on ships — but if on a fully vaccinated cruise, masks aren’t required at this time. They are needed if the ship doesn’t meet that criteria, but can be off if outdoors or in spaces where access is limited to only vaccinated passengers.
Even so, many ports of call do require masks, even if you have the shot and you are outdoors, unless swimming or eating. So on the ship you can enjoy yourself without covering your face in many cases. On shore — even if there is more space — the masks go back on.
You don’t want to make the mistake of going maskless in port. These are federal guidelines for other countries. So in addition to the general courtesy of following the rules in a foreign port, there’s the potential to get in more serious trouble if you aren’t following the laws.
Is it likely that you’ll get in serious trouble if you don’t wear a mask? Not if you put it on when asked. Even so, you don’t want to run afoul of the laws of another country when on vacation.
Not Washing Your Hands Frequently
One of the big points of emphasis as cruises return is on hygiene. That’s why when you sail you’ll see more hand sanitizer stations and more hand-washing stations. For instance, on a Carnival cruise we took, there were machines that you insert your hands into, and it spins around spraying soapy water to wash your hands automatically.
Even before the health crisis, keeping clean hands was important on a cruise ship. With people in close proximity it’s easy for viruses to spread. There are also a number of shared surfaces such as elevator buttons and handrails.
With the pandemic, the importance is greater than ever on keeping your hands clean before and after eating, using the restroom, and after touching shared surfaces.
Forgetting Your Phone
What does your smartphone have to do with cruising? Oddly enough, a whole lot. And you definitely don’t want to sail without it.
With cruising after the return, many things have gone digital. Now you access what was normally on printed paper via your phone. For instance, you head into the restaurant and instead of being handed a paper menu, you scan a QR code to pull up the menu. And instead of having the paper daily schedule delivered to your cabin each night, it’s all on the cruise line app.
Personally, we’re not fans of the change and expect many others aren’t either. Having to pull out your phone at the dinner table isn’t fun. Yes, you can get paper copies of things if you don’t have your phone. As well, not every cruise line may do things the same. Still, just be sure that you don’t forget your phone in your cabin as you may need it around the ship.
Free Exploration for Unvaccinated Passengers
If you’re sailing unvaccinated, or you are traveling with someone that doesn’t have the shot, then don’t expect to be able to easily get off the ship.
So far it seems that private islands are treated as an extension of the ship as the cruise lines have control and can ensure vaccinations for the vast majority of people there. However, other ports of call will see requirements that people without the shot only can l go ashore on approved “bubble” tours.
Simply getting off the ship and heading into port isn’t allowed. So if you were thinking that you’d be able to simply walk into port, do some shopping, eat at a restaurant, etc., that’s simply not the case unless you are vaccinated.
Going Maskless in the Terminal
As we’ve said, there’s some confusing rules regarding masking. On the ship? It’s not required when the vessel is fully vaccinated. Off the ship? You have to have it on while in port, despite having more space.
Another thing to know is that masks are required in cruise terminals. So when you head to the ship on embarkation day or you get off the ship to head home, U.S. federal rules require that you have that mask on. It doesn’t matter if you have had the shot or not. Everyone has to have the mask.
It’s the same rule that requires masks in airports and airplanes that’s seen throughout the country and it has to be followed.
Bringing Smaller Kids on 7-Day Cruises (At Least Right Now)
As we’ve mentioned, sailing unvaccinated isn’t ideal. But what about kids who aren’t eligible for the vaccine? In that case, they can often still sail, but the experience just won’t quite be the same for them.
For instance, Carnival is sailing with the kids clubs closed for kids that are under 12 years old. And if they want to visit ports of call, then it will have to be on a “bubble” tour as simply going off the ship to explore is against the rules, unless it’s a private island. That limits the opportunities to get off the ship.
Kids can still enjoy the activities on the ship, but the experience is different enough that we’d suggest holding off on longer cruises of a week until things are more normal. Trips of 4-5 days should be fine as that’s enough time to enjoy the ship without getting bored.
One other thing to keep in mind is that if you are on a ship where the kids clubs are closed, it means mom and dad are going to have their kids with them all day, every day. So be prepared.
Not Giving Others Space on the Ship
On ships where 95% or more of passengers have the vaccine, life onboard is surprisingly similar to what it was before the pause. In these cases, masks aren’t required, nor is social distancing. Other ships have distancing rules in place.
Either way, you shouldn’t unnecessarily crowd people. In some cases, it’s inevitable that crowding will happen. If you need to take an elevator, then expect there to be others that you’ll share it with. But there are instances where crowding happens that it doesn’t have to.
If you are in the line at the buffet, you don’t need to be rubbing shoulders with the person next to you. The same goes being in the Guest Services line, or if you’re at the pool with plenty of open chairs. Be cognizant of the space around you and realize that even if vaccinated, not everyone is comfortable being so close to others given everything that’s happened in the past year-and-a-half.
Forgetting Your Vaccine Card
You’ve done exactly what’s required. You got the shot and now you’re ready to set sail. The last thing you want to do is forget to bring your vaccine card with you. Think of it as your passport or birth certificate — you need it with you to sail.
If you don’t have proof of vaccination, it could be that you aren’t let on the ship and could lose your fare as a penalty. At best, you’ll have to pay up for testing and travel insurance, which could cost you hundreds of dollars and lead to more restrictions on the cruise and in port.
What we suggest is attaching the card to your passport or birth certificate with paper clips so that you can’t accidentally forget it at home when it comes time to head to the port.
Entering Restricted Areas Without the Shot
If after everything we’ve mentioned you still want to sail without the shot, then in some cases that’s allowed. For instance, Royal Caribbean does allow passengers without the shot to sail from Florida as laws in that state say a business can’t require proof of the shot. (Although this is under legal challenge from Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.)
But in addition to testing fees and travel insurance requirements, Royal Caribbean sharply restricts where unvaccinated passengers can go on the ship. For instance, on Symphony of the Seas there are nearly 20 events and areas that are off-limits if you don’t have the shot. This includes the casino, a number of shows, certain bars, and more.
What you don’t want to do is try to skirt these rules. Cruise lines are serious about health and safety — especially right as they return to sailing. In addition, federal regulations are behind the protocols, so cruise lines could get in trouble if the rules aren’t enforced.