Note: We are live-blogging each day aboard Carnival Vista on the first Carnival cruise to return to sailing since March 2020. You can read other days here:
- Day 2, At Sea for the First Time in 15 Months
- Day 3, Gorgeous Weather For a Second Day at Sea
- Day 4, Roatan: First Port of Call Post Pandemic
- Day 5, Belize and the Biggest Drink on the Ship
- Day 6, Cozumel and Our First Excursion
- Day 7, Heading Home (and a COVID Test)
Cruising is back! After more than 15 months since cruises were suspended due to the pandemic, once again passengers are able to head back to sea… albeit with a few more precautions (and a lot of vaccines).
This weekend both Carnival and Royal Caribbean head back to sea with their first trips from the United States. Royal Caribbean departed on Friday, July 2 from Miami aboard Freedom of the Seas. Carnival is setting sail with two ships — Carnival Vista and Carnival Horizon.
Carnival Vista is the first ship from the cruise line to depart, sailing from Galveston Saturday, July 3. The 7-day cruise includes two days at sea before stops in Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel. There is one final day at sea before returning home.
We are on the ship, checking out exactly what the experience is like. Over the coming week, we plan to provide regular updates on Cruzely, giving you a first-hand look at just what it’s like to return to sailing.
Arrival & Check-In
There’s not much that can get you excited quite like getting that first look at the ship in port. That’s especially the case when it’s been more than a year since sailing.
We live within driving distance of the Port of Galveston, making it our homeport. Seeing the ship for the first time as we drove over the causeway onto the island was something that we’ll never forget given everything that’s happened since the last time setting sail.
Since we drove, we needed a spot to park. For this trip, we decided to park at EZ Cruise Parking. This is an independent lot, but it’s very close to the cruise terminal. Rates run close to $100 after taxes and fees, but if you don’t take the shuttle to the port, there is a discount.
We opted to skip the shuttle and paid about $75 total to park for the week. That’s a considerable discount off the port’s official parking, and it’s only about a 5-minute walk to the ship.
Luggage in hand, we made the short walk to the ship. There you start to see the hints of the biggest difference we’ve noticed so far in cruising — signs about health and masking. Throughout the terminal and ship, there are signs with details about properly wearing masks. Masks are required in the terminal, but not on the ship (they are highly recommended if unvaccinated).
This trip is said to be fully vaccinated with 95%+ sailing with the shot. However, a small number of unvaccinated passengers who are ineligible for the shot are allowed to board.
Sailing as a family, we have a child that’s not old enough for the vaccine, and they were granted one of the few exemptions to sail. That means at the terminal, Carnival required testing before boarding. This made our boarding experience a little different than most.
Entering the terminal, it becomes clear that with a fully-vaccinated cruise, things are just about back to normal. While the area wasn’t that crowded, there are no distancing rules in place — even when sailing with an unvaccinated child. The only difference was the use of masks for everyone in the terminal until boarding the ship.
Checking in, we were led through security up to a testing area for the embarkation COVID test before boarding. (We previously tested our son a couple of days ago as required by the cruise line.) The test took about 20 minutes, and we received a negative result via email. Showing the staff the results, we were then led to the traditional check-in area.
While we checked in online ahead of time, there was still about 10 minutes of processing before being allowed to board. One change from the last cruise we took is that the port now uses facial recognition. A quick photo is taken and then you are checked-in on the ship instead of scanning a boarding pass or keycard.
From there, we headed up the gangway onto the first cruise ship we’ve sailed since early 2020.
First Impressions, Muster, & Sail Away
Walking onto Vista, you instantly see the reason that Carnival elected to sail fully vaccinated cruises instead of taking the “simulated voyage” path that would mean a bigger mix of unvaccinated passengers sail.
Entering the center atrium was as if cruising had simply pressed pause and now the play button was pushed again. Crowds of people were going everywhere — heading to cabins with luggage, grabbing a drink at the bar, or simply looking around the ship. There is no distancing, no masks, and no real noticeable differences for passengers other than a crowd that seems especially excited to be back onboard.
For instance, heading up to our room meant taking the elevator, which was packed shoulder to shoulder. I’ll admit it is still taking some time to get used to things like that, even with the vaccine.
Our cabin is located on the same deck as the buffet, which is also fully operational, just as it was before the pause in sailing. Passengers serve themselves and it was plenty busy in the mid-afternoon.
After finding our cabin and taking a few minutes to settle in, we decided to knock out the new muster drill before exploring our ship. This is one area where things have changed.
Before COVID, the ship would shut down as everyone grouped in their muster stations for the safety drill. Now Carnival has a new procedure. Your muster station is written on your keycard (as usual). You find where the station is on the ship and go to visit on your own schedule — just as long as it is before the ship leaves.
Once you arrive at your station, a crew member scans your card to check you in. Then, you are given a demonstration of how the life jacket works. The entire process takes only a few minutes. Compared to the old way of waiting for everyone to arrive and then sitting through the entire demonstration, it’s a definite improvement.
After muster, we spent some time simply exploring the ship and getting our bearings. While we haven’t sailed on Vista before, we have been on her sister-ship, Horizon, and the ship is very similar.
Walking around, one thing we noticed is the energy onboard. It’s always exciting on embarkation day, but the fact that this is the absolute first Carnival ship to sail is not lost on the passengers. There are a number of people with t-shirts commemorating the event, and in general everyone just seems extremely happy to be back cruising.
Of course, that made sail away memorable. People packed the rails, but also the waterfront next to the ship. Given the holiday, there were a number of American flags waving. There was also a bi-plane cruising overhead doing maneuvers and tugs spraying water. If you’ve ever been on the inaugural sailing of a new ship, it was a similar feel.
The party at the lido deck was also the most energetic we’ve seen, complete with dozens — if not hundreds — of passengers participating and even more watching from the rails.
Bottom line: Apart from masks being required in the terminal, the experience so far is nearly identical to before the pause if you’ve had the shot. The feel on the ship is energetic and upbeat as people are definitely excited to be sailing again.
Our plan for this evening is to continue to explore the ship, settle in, and find some dinner. Tomorrow is a day at sea, where we plan to take full advantage of the pool deck and water park.
Interesting Notes and Observations
- We asked several people in the terminal how full the ship is sailing. No one seemed to know the exact answer, but all estimates were between 2,500-3,000 passengers. Vista holds about 4,000 passengers at normal capacity. The ship certainly feels like it is sailing with plenty of passengers, but not quite full.
- The new muster drill is dramatically better, but might be too easy to forget. There were multiple announcements close to departure time telling passengers they needed to go to the drill before the ship could leave.
- All crew are masked throughout the ship, without exception. We noticed they are also wearing pins with a smiling photo of themselves unmasked so that passengers can see their face.
- Carnival emphasized the importance of the HUB app, but we are having trouble logging in. After several tries we were finally able to get it on one phone, but it continues to cause issues on another.
- There is no printed daily schedule on this trip, as confirmed by our room steward. We feel lost without it. Since we don’t have access to the HUB app, it makes it difficult to know what’s going on around the ship.
Continue Reading: Day 2, At Sea for the First Time in 15 Months