Cruising Is Back
It's been nearly 16 months since the COVID-19 crisis was officially declared a global pandemic, prompting the suspension of cruising. However, voyages from the United States have finally restarted with cruise lines implementing COVID-19 vaccine requirements, capacity limits and elevated health and safety measures to protect passengers and crew. Here's what you need to know.
Cruising is not only back but in high demand, with Carnival Corp. recently announcing that second-quarter 2021 cruise bookings had risen 45 percent over the first quarter of 2021 and that cumulative advanced bookings for 2022 cruises are surpassing the numbers seen during 2019 as of May 31. Travelers have also been eager to volunteer for cruise lines' test sailings as well.
Destinations and Itineraries
The Caribbean was one of the first regions to reopen to tourism amid the COVID-19 pandemic last year and many cruise lines have their sights set on these inviting island destinations as they resume operations from the U.S. Several notable ships will cruise the Caribbean this summer but passengers sailing out of the U.S. will also have options in places like Alaska, Bermuda, Mexico and Central America. Travelers will also continue to have domestic options like Mississippi River sailings and other iconic waterways on river cruise lines operating smaller ships like American Cruise Lines, Victory Cruise Lines, and American Queen Steamboat Company.
While not required in every case as states like Florida and Texas have pushed back on "vaccine passports" for cruise passengers, most cruise lines are requiring staff and crew to be fully inoculated against the coronavirus. Travelers who have been fully vaccinated will give themselves many more options, of course, and will undoubtedly have an easier time once onboard as they'll be able to remove their face masks and have more freedom exploring the ship and various ports of call. Unvaccinated individuals who are permitted to sail are likely to encounter mask, social distancing and COVID-19 testing requirements. Being vaccinated will also mean faster and cheaper pre-boarding testing in many cases. Children who are too young to receive the vaccine may be allowed to sail in some cases if they test negative for COVID-19 prior to embarkation.
Royal Caribbean recently revealed special protocols for unvaccinated passengers, barring them from some areas of its Freedom of the Seas ship when it sets sail from Miami this summer. Select restaurants, entertainment venues and public spaces will be off-limits to travelers who haven't yet been vaccinated, including the Vitality Spa, Casino Royale, RED Party and several bars and restaurants, the cruise line announced. Royal Caribbean is also requiring unvaccinated guests over the age of 12 who are traveling from Florida to provide proof of COVID-19-related insurance covering medical expenses, quarantine and evacuation.
Limiting contact between staff and guests will continue to be a priority for cruise lines setting sail post-pandemic. Therefore, guests can look forward to more convenient ordering and booking options such as Carnival Cruise Line's newly enhanced HUB app, which now offers new food and beverage features, spa and shore excursion booking capabilities, virtual queues and health and safety information that passengers can access from their smartphones. Seabourn has also expanded its mobile app.
Deals and Incentives
The return of regular sailings from the U.S. means savings, special offers and perks for customers like free airfare for second guests for eligible Norwegian Cruise Line customers. In addition to discounted itineraries and freebies, guests will benefit from added peace of mind with cruise lines rolling out flexible cancellation and rebooking options for travelers who need to make a last-minute change.
Talk To a Travel Advisor
Working with an experienced travel advisor to book your first cruise vacation since the pandemic is highly recommended as these travel professionals can help you settle on the ideal cruise line, ship and itinerary based on your situation as well as book your flights, schedule any shore excursions and help you choose the right travel insurance plan to protect you and your investment. With travel advisories constantly being updated and vaccination and testing requirements changing from cruise line to cruise line, working with an expert is the way to go.
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